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Vol. 4 No. 27-30
Incorporating Tazriy'a, Metzoro, Pesach, Acharei Mos
The plague of tzora'as is not leprosy, as it is generally translated. Tzora'as is a Divinely inspired plague, which struck a Jew (man or woman) for one of seven sins (which we will list shortly). It was neither painful nor contagious, and it could occur exclusively in Eretz Yisroel (the only country in the world governed directly by G-d). And just as it came by the Divine Hand, on account of one's sins, so too did it depart by the grace of the Divine Mercy, as soon as one had sincerely repented from the sin which had brought it on in the first place.
Tzora'as was simply the physical manifestation of a spiritual deficiency. It came with the deficiency and went when the deficiency was remedied. True, tzora'as sometimes does mean "leprosy", but that is when it is used in connection with a gentile, such as Na'amon (the Syrian general mentioned in the Haftorah), since gentiles are not subject to the plague of tzora'as in its Divinely inspired context; but when a Jew contracts tzora'as, it is not leprosy, but simply tzora'as.
The seven "deadly" sins which can result in tzora'as are:
1) Loshon Ho'ra;
Needless to say, tzora'as only comes as an atonement for these sins under certain circumstances, so as not to clash with the regular punishment (i.e. the death-sentence for murder and adultery) which these sins warrant. (See Gemoro Erchin 16a)
A further proof of the Divine nature of tzora'as is the fact that it first affected the house and then the clothes, before striking the skin or the hair of the person himself. Both the fact that it affected the person's house and clothes (a phenomenon that could in no way be attributed to natural causes) and the sequence of house-clothes-person, indicate a powerful Divine planning, as does the plague's immediate departure no sooner had the stricken man repented.
The fact that the plague of Tzora'as no longer exists is due, writes the Ramban, to the very Divine nature of tzora'as of which we have spoken. Like the waters of the Sotoh, the purpose of this seemingly unpleasant occurrence was a symbol of the love that Hashem bore Klal Yisroel, that he wished the Jewish camp to be pure of adultery and of loshon ho'ra (the key sin for which tzora'as struck).
The immediate - if harsh - warning, ensured that the people would take great pains to retain their purity in the two areas most prone to sin (i.e. speech and morality - interestingly, areas affecting the two parts of the body with which G-d made a covenant with the Jewish people - the mouth and the bris milah). This is not to say that G-d is no longer with us. Indeed, the Torah writes that He dwells with us even when we are impure (Va'yikro 16:17).
It does however mean, that G-d no longer dwells with us at the same level as He did when we were worthy. It is as the Torah predicts in Parshas Va'yeilech (31:18): "And I will hide My face from you on that day," meaning that He will deal with us through "hester Ponim" (in a hidden way) - without open miracles and in a way that renders Him not so easily discernable.
When we were worthy and deserving of Hashem's intimate closeness, then He looked after us and guarded us, both physically and spiritually, in a personal, intimate way, just as He did in the desert, when His relationship with us was closer than at any other time in our history. And in the same way as every sin then was immediately dealt with and atoned for, leaving Klal Yisroel perpetually pure of sin, so too did Hashem devise a system to ensure the perpetual purity of Klal Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel. Part of the system comprised the institutions of Sotoh and Tzora'as. Like the surgeon's knife, it had the effect of keeping the body (of Klal Yisroel) in perpetual good health.
No sooner had the level of Klal Yisroel dropped and they were
no longer worthy of that intimate relationship with G-d, than
He withdrew this open style of hashgochoh, which inspired the
above system, with its miraculous ramifications, to operate, and
changed to the hidden style of hashgochoh. This system is devoid
of visible and regular miracles. It is a style of hashgoshoh which
leaves Hashem less in evidence and requires us to work our own
way towards spiritual perfection. The surgeon's knife no longer
operates. This inevitably means that we must languish for long
periods in our spiritual suffering. The passage of "good
health" is now a long and arduous one. It must be initiated
by the "patients" themselves, and entails a process
which requires much prayer and effort on our part, before the
"Good Surgeon" assists in bringing that process to a
On a number of occasions one is required to take two turtle-doves or two young pigeons, and invariably, the Torah lists them in that order.
The one exception is with regard to the Korban of a woman who gave birth. She is obliged to bring a lamb and either a young pigeon or a turtle-dove - and that is the order in which the Torah lists them.
Why does the Torah reverse the order here?
Presumably the Torah normally begins with the turtle-dove because it is older. And it reverses the order here, to give priority to the pigeon. Why?
Because a turtle dove is a particularly loyal bird (which is why Yisroel is compared to a dove, in Shir-Hashirim). Once it has found a mate it will never take another - even if its mate dies.
Now a Yoledes is the only case where only one bird is taken instead of the usual pair of birds.
And that is why the Torah places the pigeon first, as if to say - "Have a heart, take a pigeon, because if you take a dove, you will cause untold agony to its mate, who will mourn for the bird (that you took for Hashem) till the end of its days". (Ba'al Ha'turim)
A Time to Examine
"And on the day when raw flesh is seen" (13:14). Chazal deduce from the words "And on the day", that there are days when the Cohen sees, and there are days when he does not.
And when is it that the Cohen does not see?
There are two such occasions, say Chazal. A choson during the Sheva b'rochos was not examined, nor were his clothes or his house, should the signs of tzora'as appear on them. Nor would a Cohen involve himself on Yom-tov. In both cases, he would examine the tzora'as (which meant that the person, the garment or the house remained tohor) only after the mitzvah of intense simchah was over.
Chazal also derive (either from "ba'yom ha'shevi'i" or from "ke'nega nir'oh li" - 'to me, and not to my light'), that the Cohen cannot examine the tzora'as at night-time - and from the words "einei ha'Cohen" they preclude times of day when visibility is bad - such as early morning and at dusk, as well as cloudy days.
And they even restricted the examination to certain days of the week. The Cohen may not examine the tzora'as on Shabbos (because it is similar to judging, which is forbidden mi'de'Rabbonon), nor on Sunday, nor even on Monday because then, the seventh day (on which he is obligated to examine the "metzoro" again), will fall on Shabbos, and there again, he is prohibited from making the examination, and so will the thirteenth day, which will be the seventh day of the second week (should that be necessary) - Rabeinu Bachye.
The Torah makes it clear that tzora'as lies entirely in the hands of the Cohen. It was he, and he alone, who could pronounce that the person the garment or the house, which had the tzora'as, was tomei. And it was he, and he alone, who could pronounce that they were tohor. So much so, that if the Cohen was unlearned and did not know whether the person had tzora'as or not, they would show the tzora'as to a talmid-chochom, who would tell the Cohen, "Say, 'Tohor!'" or "Say 'Tomei!'". And the Cohen would say what the talmid-chochom had told him to say.
And why the Cohen, you may ask?
The Seforno explains because "the lips of the Cohen will guard knowledge" (Malachi 2:7). Their function as teachers in Yisroel (as the Torah writes in ve'Zos ha'brochoh) is to guide their fellow-Jews along the right path, and it is in that capacity that they will teach the metzoro to examine his deeds and to daven for his own cure, as well as adding their own prayer on the metzoro's behalf.
And besides, the Seforno adds, by designating the Cohanim to take charge of tzora'as, they will develop an expertise in recognising the various types of tzora'as, and in discerning between a plague which was tohor and one which was tomei.
Others say it is because the Cohanim were masters over their tongues, that they would, in the course of their handling of the various stages of tzora'as, bring to bear the right sort of positive influence on the man whose unrefined manner of speech had brought on himself the anguish that he now suffered.
"For the lips of the Cohen will guard knowledge, and they will seek guidance from his mouth - because he is an angel of Hashem Tzevokos." (ibid.)
It is commonly believed that a "Metzoro Musgar" (one who is house-bound for seven days, to ascertain whether his tzora'as is lasting or not), is not sent out of the walls of the city (a town without walls was in any case not subject to the laws of tzora'as). That, one tends to think, is the ultimate disgrace reserved for a "Metzoro Muchlat".
But that is a fallacy. In fact, both a "Metzoro Muchlat" and a "Metzoro Musgar" had to leave the precincts of the town, as is evident from the Mishnah in Megillah (8b), which writes that the only difference between the two metzoro'im is that the one requires shaving and birds (for his purification process), and the other does not.
Nor may one suggest that the Mishnah perhaps simply omits a few differences, one of which is being sent out of the walls of the city, because the Gemoro immediately comments there - 'but as far as sending out of town and tum'ah is concerned, they are equal.'
The Haftorah deals mainly with Na'amon, the Syrian general, highly favoured by the king, as the Novi describes him, because he was responsible for the deliverance of Aram. The deliverance, the Redak explains, was the random arrow which killed Achov, king of Yisroel. The random archer was none other than Na'amon.
The Redak quotes another remarkable Medrash. The Medrash goes back to the days when Ya'akov arrived at Lovon's house. The Torah records that Lovon gathered all the people of the town and made a party in Ya'akov's honour. So Hashem said to them, "You performed a kindness with Ya'akov, I will repay that kindness to your children" - in order to deprive the wicked in the World to Come - and that is why Hashem arranged the deliverance of Aram.
Na'amon was stricken with leprosy for sending out bands of marauders into Eretz Yisroel and because he captured a Jewish girl.
Although the plague of "Tzora'as" referred to in the Parshah is not really leprosy, it is nevertheless a Heaven-sent plague, similar to it at least in name, if not in appearance. In fact, it is because Na'amon's leprosy was a divine punishment and not a natural one, that the captive-girl advised Na'amon's wife to send Na'amon to pray before the Novi (Elisha) in Shomron. No natural cure is possible for a Divine punishment, explains the Malbim, only tefillah to Hashem, and that, only under the guidance of a prophet.
From King Achov's extreme reaction it appears that leprosy was, in those days, an incurable disease (see Melochim II 5:7). But the Novi Elisha was unperturbed. He suggested that the King send Na'amon to him. When he arrived, instead of the royal treatment that Na'amon expected for a man of his rank and stature, the Novi no doubt, to break his pride and to subjugate him before the G-d of Israel, sent a messenger with the instructions that he go and bathe in the River Jordan seven times. Na'amon began to rant and curse, "Why the Jordan River? The Syrian Rivers Avonoh and Parpar are far superior to all the rivers in Israel. I bathe in them daily and that hasn't helped, so what point is there in bathing in the Jordan?" (Redak)
Na'amon obviously failed to realise that, if he was stricken with tzora'as for attacking Eretz Yisroel, then his tzora'as would only disappear when he acknowledged Eretz Yisroel's superiority. It was his servants who convinced him of the wisdom of following the Novi's relatively simple instructions, whereupon his tzora'as immediately disappeared. Na'amon returned to Elisha and his first words were "Behold, now I know that G-d is nowhere else other than in Yisroel" - his acknowledgement was total.
When Elisha refused to accept the valuable gift that he had brought with him, Na'amon was so impressed that he became a "ger toshav" - a ger who remains a gentile but who undertakes to keep all his seven commandments, and above all, not to serve idols, but only the One G-d. Elisha's refusal was motivated by the fact that the gift contained avodoh zoroh (Rashi), while others maintain that he declined the gift because the sole purpose of the miracle was to sanctify G-d's Name. Whatever the case, Elisha created here a tremendous Kiddush Hashem, either because Na'amon learned that the Jewish G-d cannot be bought, or from the fact that the Jewish Novi is willing to heal the ailments of his enemy, without the least thought of remuneration - not to mention of course, the object lesson that he received concerning the greatness of G-d - that He is capable of performing the impossible. That is why, without a moment's hesitation, he submitted himself to worshiping from now on, the One and only G-d - exclusively.
Chazal do however, seem to hold it against him that he became only a Ger Toshav, and not a Ger Tzedek.
It is not often that the Torah embarks upon a lengthy and detailed description of punishments. The Torah prefers to clarify the prohibition - "Don't do this!" or "Don't eat that!" The resulting corporal punishment is in most cases only hinted, to be clarified by the Mishnah and the Gemoro, the Torah's oral branch. Even the four capital punishments (stoning, burning, killing by the sword and strangulation), are not described in the written Torah, only coming to light after extensive oral research. And even the "Tochochoh", the Parshiyos in Bechukosai and in Ki Sovo, which forewarn of the terrible retribution that will follow our own spiritual decline, is nothing more than a brief summary of the national disasters that have since befallen us only too prophetically.
Yet in this week's Parshah, we are given a rare, detailed and vivid account of tzora'as - a Divinely-inspired plague, which in turn was inflicted upon the individual as a result of one of seven sins (see main article - last week's edition), but chiefly for "loshon ho'ra" - evil speech and slander. The account incorporates tzora'as in all its possible forms - tzora'as of the house, tzora'as of the clothes, and tzora'as of the body - the latter being again subdivided into tzora'as on normal skin, on the location of a cured wart or burn, and on the location of the hair or the beard. The account also deals with the plague in all its stages, each of which would last a minimum of seven days.
The unusual lengths to which the Torah goes to describe tzora'as is unique, covering the whole of Parshas Tazriy'a and part of Parshahs Metzoro, which in turn, goes on to give us a further account, again detailed, of the purification process of a metzoro. They can be seen as a clear warning to us not to indulge in sin, and particularly to "guard our tongue from evil and our lips from speaking cunning". After all, the Torah's intention, when warning of retribution, is primarily to serve as a deterrent, as the Ramban explains, not as a punitive measure.
To speak evil about a fellow Jew requires no sophistication and no effort, bearing in mind the easy accessibility of the tongue, and all that is required in addition, are a nasty mind and (rarely in short supply) a willing listener. Verbal material, sometimes true and sometimes false, almost always blown out of all proportion, or at least misconstrued, never ever appears to be in short supply, so all the ingredients for this spiritual bomb are always readily available in wholesale quantities.
This week's Parshah should serve as a warning to curb this constant urge to downgrade and to hurt other people. When we meet our friends, there is surely plenty of good in the world to talk about, or even better, why not learn a Mishnah, a piece of Gemoro, a Halochoh, each word of which is a positive mitzvah. And if one finds oneself stuck for words, with the only alternative being something which is detrimental to somebody else, then it is a good idea to recall the beautiful saying quoted in the Gemoro: "If a word is worth a 'sela' (a coin) then silence is worth two!"
Being silent is not sinful, talking all too often is!
This Parshah deals with tzora'as of the house. What exactly constitutes a house?
We find constantly in Chazal that a room is also included in the term "bayis", and tzora'as is no exception. A room, as long as it comprises four by four amos, is subject to "nego'im".
A shul and a Beis Ha'medrash are also subject to "nego'im", though that is only if they have living-quarters attached to them.
A house built on a ship is not considered to be "on the ground" and can therefore not contract tzora'as, but one built on stilts or on a tree can, and so can an attic, because these are attached to the ground, albeit indirectly.
A house belonging to a gentile cannot contract tzora'as, and neither can a house in Yerusholayim - both of these because the Torah writes "be'veis Eretz achuzaschem" (and Yerusholayim was not distributed among the tribes - even though it was situated in the portion of Yehudah and Binyomin).
And for the same reason again, only houses in Eretz Yisroel are subject to tzora'as botim, but not those in Chutz la'Aretz.
The above requirements are all derived from one of three words "beveis", "eretz" or "achuzaschem".
A painted house, unlike coloured clothes, is subject to tzora'as.
The signs of tzora'as must be seen on the inside of the house, and not just on the outside, and the house has to have four walls - a round house or a house of any number of sides other than four, will not even be examined by the Cohen.
If, as we wrote earlier, a room is called a house, then we can assume that if tzora'as appears on the walls of one room, that it is only the walls of that room which must be demolished, and not the rest of the house.
The nego'im struck first a person's house, then (if he persisted in his evil ways), his clothes, and finally (only if he still did not do teshuvah), did they strike his body, causing him the most acute anguish and embarrassment imaginable.
Why is it then, asks Rabeinu Bachye, that the Torah describes them in the reverse order, first tzora'as of the body, then of the clothes and only then of the house?
The Torah's placing of tzora'as of the house, at the end of Metzoro, after the chapter of the Metzoro has been closed, so to speak, certainly lends weight to the Chazal which, based on the unusual expression "When you come to the land of Cana'an," etc. "I will put the plague of tzora'as on the house" etc., interpret the posuk as a piece of good news, as opposed to the not so good connotations of tzora'as in general. It seems as if the Torah is informing us here that when Yisroel come to inherit the land, something wonderful is going to happen and indeed it is - as they demolish their stricken houses, they are going to discover all the Cana'anim's wealth concealed within their walls. In that context, "tzora'as botim" has nothing to do with the unpleasant character of the other types of tzora'as.
However, that does not answer Rabeinu Bachye's question entirely, since we will still need to explain why the Torah begins with tzora'as of the body, and only then goes on to describe "tzora'as begodim"?
Rabeinu Bachye himself explains that, in actual fact, Hashem in His infinite kindness, brings the punishment in a merciful way, beginning with a warning to the person to repent from his evil ways, by striking his house with tzora'as, and only if he failed to do teshuvah, his clothes and then his body. The Torah's warning comes in exactly the reverse order, he continues, in order to avoid the impression of progressive punishment - once again, a result of Hashem's infinite kindness. Even when G-d finds it necessary to punish the evil-doers, he does it in a manner that not only modifies the punishment per se, but even the warning comes across in a way that is as mild and soft as circumstances permit.
Interestingly enough, ho'Rav Chaval, in his annotations to Rabeinu Bachye, points out that the Medrash itself gives virtually the opposite answer to the above question. The Medrash writes that, due to the harsh ramifications of tzora'as, and the seriousness of the loshon ho'ra for which tzora'as is mainly due, the Torah sets out to shock us out of our indifference by driving straight to the heart of the matter, so it goes immediately to the end-punishment, tzora'as of the body. Perhaps that will goad us into action, to take care to guard our tongues from speaking evil.
So great are the benefits of doing so, that that too, can be considered a kindness of Hashem.
Talking of the three kinds of tzora'as, it is interesting that we find in the Shema, a mitzvah to wear Tefillin, a mitzvah to put up a Mezuzah on the door-post of the house, and to attach Tzitzis to our garments.
Perhaps those three mitzvos are an antidote to tzora'as - when we wear Tefillin on our arms and on our heads, we insulate our actions, our hearts and our minds from the types of spiritual plagues that result in tzora'as of the body; and in the same way, the Mezuzah protects our house, and the Tzitzis our clothes, from becoming likewise infected by sin - and subsequently by tzora'as!.
The four Metzoro'im about whom the Haftorah speaks were none other than Geichazi, the disciple of Elisha, and his three sons. Following the episode with Na'amon in last week's Haftorah, Geichazi thought it a pity to decline Na'amon's generous offer, so he rode after the departing general and informed him that Elisha had received two unexpected guests. These were two poor student-prophets, and on their behalf Elisha was willing to accept the silver and the clothes that he had previously declined to accept. He even went so far as to swear to Na'amon that this was the case, and it was due to the false oath (one of the seven sins punishable by tzora'as - Erchin 17a) that Elisha decreed on him and on his three sons (who, it appears, were accessories to his sin) the tzora'as of Na'amon.
Geichazi's tzora'as, in contrast with the parshah, which deals with the healing-process of a metzoro, was permanent, as Elisha specifically declared.
Elisha is criticised for dealing too harshly with his disciple. He subsequently became ill three times, one of these for not leaving a loop-hole for Geichazi to do teshuvah. Nevertheless, Elisha did attempt to make amends. He later went to Damascus (where Geichazi eventually went to live), in an attempt to bring him back to the fold. But Geichazi refused. "You taught us", he reminded his Rebbe, "that Heaven does not give the opportunity to repent, to someone who sinned and also caused others to sin." (We will see later what Geichazi did.) But, of course, he erred terribly. G-d may not make it easy for such a person to do teshuvah. He may even place obstacles in his path. But nothing stands in the way of teshuvah, even if sometimes, the person has to battle to achieve it without initial Divine assistance (see Rambam Hilchos Teshuvah - end of Chapter 4).
A similar episode is told in the same Gemoro (Sotoh 47a) about Yeshu (though his name is omitted - presumably by the censors). The Gemoro relates how R. Yehoshua ben P'rachyoh was forced to flee to Alexandria from the persecutions of King Yannai. Upon his return journey to Yerusholayim, he stopped at an inn where he was extremely well-treated by the inn-keeper's wife. He praised the good middos of the woman, to which one of his discisples - Yeshu - added "Yes, and what beautiful eyes she has!"
"Is that what you are busy doing" retorted R. Yehoshua ben P'rachyoh (looking at married women! - Rashi).
He immediately placed Yeshu in Cheirem. Yeshu returned to his Rebbe, who refused to accept him. Like Elisha, who lived almost 500 years earlier, R. Yehoshua ben P'rachyoh is criticised by Chazal for not leaving an opening for Yeshu to return.
Some time later, R. Yeshoshua ben P'rachyoh was reciting the Shema, when Yeshu entered the room. It was actually his intention to accept him, and he made a sign to that effect. Unfortunately, Yeshu mistook the sign to mean that his Rebbe had again rejected him. In an act of defiance, he erected a brick and bowed down to it.
"Come back!" said R. Yehoshua.
"But didn't you teach us," retorted Yeshu, "that someone who sins and causes others to sin is not given the opportunity to do teshuvah?" Yeshu, the Gemoro goes on to say, was already guilty of black-magic, and he had led both individuals and communities astray, causing him to serve idols ("Meisis and Medi'ach").
And what was it that Geichazi had done that caused Elisha to reject him? In what way had he caused others to sin?
The Gemoro gives three versions of his sin: 1) Using a powerful
magnet, he raised one of the golden calves made by Yerov'om ben
Nevot (situated in Beis-el and Don), into the air, thereby giving
the impression that it possessed supernatural powers; 2) He planted
the Name of G-d in the calf's mouth, and it continually repeated
"I am Hashem your G-d" and "Do not possess any
other gods"; 3) He discouraged talmidim from coming to study
under Elisha. Consequently, the Beis Ha'medrash was constantly
empty. No sooner had Elisha sent him away, than the Beis Ha'medrash
became packed to capacity.
Wine for the 4 Cups
1. One should look for good quality wine for the 4 cups. Red wine is preferable, (unless the white wines are superior), because the possuk writes: "Do not see wine, for it is red", implying that wine is considered superior when it is red. And also because red wine reminds us of the blood of the babies whom Par'oh used to slaughter (to bath in their blood to cure his leprosy). (Someone who has difficulty in drinking wine, may dilute the wine with grape-juice and even use pure grape-juice if necessary.)
2. For "Karpas" many have the custom to use parsley. However, it is preferable to use celery, which has a pleasant taste when it is raw (unlike parsley which is not pleasant to eat, and therefore involves an uncertainty as to which b'rochoh to recite - in any event, parsley is not usually eaten raw, and its b'rochoh would therefore be "shehakol", whereas the required b'rochoh for Karpas is "adomoh", to cover the morror). But best of all is radishes (or tender spring-onions or potatoes; as long as it is something which necessitates the b'rochoh of "borei pri ho'adomoh" - M.B.)
3. For Morror, it is customary to use pure "chrain" (horseradish). However, since chrain is extremely sharp, it is permitted to grate it. Should one do this on Yom-tov, it should be done in an unusual way, e.g. by holding the grater upside down. Consequently, in order to ensure that the "chrain" retains its taste, the grating should not be done before one returns from shul, unless one covers it until it is ready for use.
4. It is however, preferable to use Romain lettuce (as that is the first mentioned of the five possible species, and also because it is known as "chassa", a derivation of the word "chus" which means pity, one of the meanings of Pesach and a principal quality expressed by Hashem when he set into motion the chain of events which culminated in the Exodus from Egypt. Lettuce is pleasant to eat and is also termed "morror" (because its stalk becomes bitter if left in the ground for a long time). But lettuce can be, and usually is, badly infested with tiny greenflies, so unless one is fully conversant with the method of examination and cleaning (in addition to having the time and the patience on erev Pesach to prepare lettuce for the whole family), it is best to use one of the other prescribed species. One may also use wormwood (which should only be used as a last resort, and over which a b'rochoh is not recited - M.B.). (Chicory may be used too, and is even recommended, as it is tastier than horseradish and, unlike lettuce, it requires little examination.)
Nowadays, it is possible to obtain "Gush Katif" lettuce, which is virtually worm-free, and provided it is Romain lettuce, it is highly recommended for use at the Seder.
To Combine the Species
5. Any combination of the above species is permitted, as long as they amount to a "kezayis" volume (one third of a medium-size egg for morror, which is only a rabbinical law nowadays). One may use both the leaves and the stalks, but not the roots, i.e. the little roots that spread out in different directions, whereas the larger root from which these little roots grow is considered to be part of the stalk, even though it grows in the earth. One should however, rather use a part of the plant that grows above ground-level, since, according to some opinions, whatever grows below ground-level is called "root".
The Leaves and the Stalks
6. One may only use the leaves as long as they are fresh (i.e. they have not dried up), but the stalk is permitted even after it has become dry.
The Morror Must be Raw
7. The Morror may not be cooked or pickled (and the horseradish must be pure and unadulterated).
8. The Charoses should be thick, to commemorate the cement. Prior to dipping the morror into it, one adds some red wine or some red wine-vinegar (to recall the blood), to liquify it, and also to render it fit for dipping into. The Charoses should be made of those fruits to which Klal Yisroel is compared, such as figs, nuts, dates, pomegranates and apples. Apples also remind us of (the miracle of) the Jewish women in Egypt, who gave birth under the apple tree, without midwives and without undergoing the usual labour pains. One should also add almonds, because sh'keidim (almonds) symbolise Hashem's hastening of the time of the redemption (shokeid means to hasten) and spices that resemble stalks of straw, such as cinnamon and ginger, which should not be properly ground, thus retaining the form of thin strands resembling straw, which they used to mix into the cement in Egypt. (Others say that they should not be ground at all, but should be long - M.B.)
Preparing the Charoses on Shabbos
9. On Shabbos, one should not pour the wine or the vinegar into the Charoses, since one may only make such a paste in an unusual way (as it is a derivation of losh - kneading). Therefore, (one should preferably thin down the Charoses before Shabbos, failing which) one must add the Charoses to the wine or vinegar (instead of the norm - vice-versa), stirring not with a spoon, but with a finger, or by shaking the plate.
10. One should prepare the salt-water (for dipping the karpas) on erev Yom-tov (even if Yom-tov does not fall on Shabbos). But in the opinion of the Shulchon Oruch and the Achronim (Si'mon 321 and 473), shortly before the meal one may prepare a small amount of salt-water for the current meal, even on Shabbos. However, because it is difficult to draw the line between a lot of salt-water and a little, when Yom-tov falls on Shabbos, one should prepare it before Shabbos comes in, otherwise one should make only a minimum quantity.
11. Should one prepare the salt-water on Yom-tov, one must adopt an unusual method of preparation, such as pouring the water in first, and adding the salt afterwards. (From the M.B. it would appear that on an ordinary Yom-tov one may prepare the salt-water as usual, and on Shabbos, if he did not prepare it before Shabbos, then he should make just a little, but no change in preparation is required. However, in the latter case, one should preferably use vinegar, if that is available.)
Two Cooked Dishes
12. After the destruction of the Beis Ha'mikdosh, the Sages instituted that during the reading of the Haggodoh one should have two cooked dishes on the seder-plate: the one in memory of the Korban Pesach, the other to remind us of the "Chagigah" sacrifice which they used to bring (to supplement the Korban Pesach under certain conditions) whilst the Beis Ha'mikdosh stood. It is customary for one of these dishes to consist of the shank-bone (fore-leg - preferably of a lamb or a kid-goat), to remind us that Hashem redeemed us "with an outstretched arm" (since the word for foreleg "zero'a" is the same as the word for arm). This bone should be roasted on coals in memory of the Korban Pesach (a lamb or a kid-goat) which was roasted on fire. (Should one have difficulty in obtaining a shank-bone, any bone will do and, if for some reason or other, no bone is available, then one may even use ordinary meat.)
Why an Egg?
13. The second dish should consist of an egg. This is because the Aramaic for egg is "bei'o", suggesting, in conjunction with the shank-bone, that Hashem should want ("bo'ei" in Aramaic) to redeem us with an outstretched arm.
14. The egg may be roasted or cooked (our minhag is to roast it - Remo), but should preferably be prepared before Yom-tov. If he forgot, then he should roast or cook it on Yom-tov, but then he must eat it on that day (since one may not cook anything on Yom-tov unless it is to eat on the same day). These dinim apply equally to the shank-bone, with the notable difference that, if one roasted it on Yom-tov, then the meat (if there is not meat on the bone you cannot roast it on Yom-tov) must be eaten by day, but not at the Seder-table, since roasted meat may not be eaten at the Seder.
To Use the Bone and the Egg
15. Even if one roasted the bone and the egg before Yom-tov, one should not just throw them away, but should make use of them, even the bone, which should if possible be used to put in the soup or to enhance another dish (as is the case with any object that has been used for a mitzvah).
To Arrange Special Seating
16. One should arrange one's seat with nice cushions and spreads according to one's means, before Yom-tov (to ensure that he has the facilities for reclining - a symbol of freedom - because in each generation, every Jew is obliged to demonstrate that he is now in the process of going out of Egypt). In this way, he will be able to begin the Seder immediately upon his return from shul, so that the children will not fall asleep. Some have the custom that the family prepare the seating whilst their father is still in shul davening. The seating should be arranged in such a way as to enable one to recline to the left, even if he is left-handed and he will now be forced to eat with his right hand).
17. The Seder-plate too, should be organised before Yom-tov, so that as soon as the men arrive home from shul, the Seder can begin without delay.
To Use One's Best Utensils
18. Throughout the year one should commemorate the destruction of the Beis Ha'mikdosh by minimising one's usage of precious utensils. On Seder-night however, one takes out all one's best utensils, even those that one does not actually require for the meal, simply to adorn the table. This is to commemorate the freedom that we acquired on Pesach.
The Seder-plate (cont.)
19. This is how the Seder-plate should be arranged: place three matzos on the dish, and spread a nice cloth over them. (The Chayei Odom is of the opinion that it is wrong to place a cloth between each matzoh, but the Kol Ya'akov substantiates the minhag.) On top, place the shank-bone on the right, and the egg on the left. In the centre of the plate, place the Morror for the b'rochoh, to form a triangle with the bone and the egg.
20. The Charoses should be placed beneath the bone, and the Karpas beneath the egg. The Morror for Hillel's sandwich should go below the Morror for the b'rocoh, to form a triangle with the Charoses and the Karpas. This is the order according to the Arizal. But the Remo arranges the Seder-plate in a way that one does not need to "jump over the mitzvos" i.e. the Karpas closest to him, then the vinegar or salt-water, then the Matzos, the Morror, the Charoses and furthest away the shank-bone and the egg. Others maintain that the shank-bone (and the egg, and perhaps also the Morror and the Charoses) do not have any special order.
The Cups for the Seder
21. The cups should be whole, without any chips or cracks, and should be washed clean. They must hold at least a revi'is (close to two egg-volumes).
To Wear a Kittel
22. It is customary to wear a kittel, because it is in a kittel that one dresses the dead, and remembering this will serve to prevent the wearer from becoming conceited, as a result of the joy and the freedom that he experiences on this night. (Many commentaries however, disagree with this reason, as there is no place at the Seder-table for reminiscences of death. Consequently, they prefer to connect the kittel with the service of the Cohen Godol, who wore white when he entered the Kodesh Hakodoshim (and we are all serving G-d on this night with the devotion of the Cohen Godol). Alternatively, they view the kittel as a symbol of purity, as visions of angels wearing white linen were seen by the prophets, and on this night we symbolise angels in their purity.
The Kittel - a Mourner
23. The kittel too, should be prepared before Yom-tov. An oveil (mourner - within twelve months for his father or mother, or 30 days for the other five relatives [son, daughter, brother, sister or wife] - in the latter case, only if he had not sat "shivoh" before Yom-tov) does not wear a kittel. (The Chayei Odom, quoting many poskim, holds that an oveil may wear a kittel.) However, he is obliged to recline (though he should do something unusual, such as use only one cushion instead of two). And he also recites Hallel, since Hallel is obligatory.
A Pupil and a Son, regarding Reclining
24. A talmid does not recline in the presence of his Rebbe, unless he receives express permission to do so, but a son in his father's presence is obliged to recline (even if his father has taught him all he knows - because it is assumed that a father would not object to his son's reclining in his presence, whereas a Rebbe would).
Women Do Not Recline
25. (It is customary for women not to recline, as they rely on the opinion of the Ra'avyoh, who maintains that nowadays, when one normally sits at a table rather than recline on a couch, there is no point in reclining.)
R. Bachye points out how, after the Egyptians had suffered the ten plagues, they still had to send Yisroel out to freedom - against their will - and what's more, Yisroel left with all their money.
He cites a Medrash which reads as follows: When Moshe first came to Par'oh (as G-d's emissary), Par'oh asked him who had sent him. "The G-d of the Hebrews," replied Moshe.
"And what did He say to you?"
"Send out My people and let them serve Me!"
"Is there such a G-d whom I don't know? By your life, I swear that all the gods have sent me letters! But not the G-d about whom you are speaking. He has never sent me a letter." (Par'oh then proceeded to search for the G-d of the Hebrews in his book of gods, but he could not find Him there.)
"You see," he said, "I told you that I have never heard of your G-d."
Then he summoned all the wise men of Egypt and asked them whether they had heard of Him.
"Yes," they replied, "we have heard that He is the son of wise men."
"You idiots!" Hashem retorted. "Yourselves you call wise men and Me the son of wise men? I will teach you a lesson. I will remove your wisdom. You say that you don't know Hashem. In the end you will know who He is! You say, 'I will not send Yisroel out!'. In the end you will send them out by hook or by crook!"
This can be compared to a king who ordered his servant to go and bring him a fish from the market-place. He went and brought him a fish which stank.
"You have a choice of three," said the king. "Either you will eat the fish, or receive a hundred lashes, or pay a hundred monoh."
The servant opted to eat the fish, but the taste of the fish so sickened him that before he could finish it, he changed to a hundred lashes. But again, he was barely half way through, when he could no longer bear the pain and chose to pay the hundred monoh. So he ended up by eating the stinking fish, receiving the lashes and paying the hundred monoh.
And that is what happened to Egypt. They could have spared themselves the plagues and saved their money, but because of their stubbornness, they were smitten with the ten plagues, they lost all their money - and above all, they still had to send Yisroel away!
Chazal point out how one of the reasons that the Egyptians died by the sea-shore was so that Yisroel should have the satisfaction of seeing them dying, and G-d's revenge would be that much sweeter.
The Zohar describes a similar scenario in Egypt itself at the time of the Exodus. And the Zohar refers to it as "Pirsumei Nisso".
First of all, the night of Makas Bechoros lit up like the middle of day, so that Yisroel could actually see the Egyptians suffering. And what's more, Hashem chose to punish them at night-time because in this way, all of their dead died in the same compact area, so that the impression of death was that much stronger.
The next morning, when Yisroel left, they found the Egyptians trying to bury their dead but encountering tremendous difficulty in disposing of so many bodies. And what could have been more painful to the Egyptians than to watch their slaves of one year earlier marching to freedom on the one side, as they buried their dead on the other.
The Meforshim add a further dimension to the Egyptians' frustration, when they describe how the B'nei Yisroel, in the course of eating their Korban Pesach the night before, would toss the bones (which they were forbidden to break) out of the window so that, in addition to the dead Egyptians that were lying everywhere when Yisroel left, there were also numerous bones - the bones of their beloved gods strewn around the streets.
Yisroel's vengeance was complete!
Every Jew left Egypt with ninety donkeys, says Chazal, yet they chose to carry the remains of the matzoh-dough on their shoulders.
It was because they loved the mitzvah of matzoh that they chose to carry the remnants of dough on their person rather than on their pack-asses.
R. Bachye writes that one Tzefardei'a remained in the Nile from where it attacked people - it is called "a crocodile".
From the moment that Moshe prays to remove the locusts from Egypt, not a single locust will ever plague Egypt again. In the plague of boils, their flesh cracks open, pus oozes from their boils and they stink.
During the three days of darkness many of the Jews die. These are people who did not listen to Moshe and who did not even believe that G-d had sent him. They decided not to leave Egypt, in case they will die of hunger in the desert. They die during the plague of darkness and are immediately buried, in order that the Egyptians should not gloat when they see that the Jews are dying too.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan of this year falls on a Thursday, as does the fifteenth - the day they leave Egypt.
When Makas Bechoros takes place, even the pictures of the first-born that are engraved on the walls of their houses collapse, and even the bones of the first-born who have already died and been buried, are dug out of their graves by the dogs, who proceed to drag them around in front of their own families.
Bisyoh accompanies her brother Par'oh and together they go to look for Moshe. They find the Jews eating and drinking and rejoicing. She complains to Moshe, and asks him whether this is her reward for saving him and bringing him up.
He replies by pointing out to her that she did not suffer during any of the plagues, and by reminding her that she herself is the first-born of her mother. When she persists further as to how distraught she feels at seeing her brother the King and all her household suffering so dramatically, Moshe replies that the King, who is also the first-born of his mother, will also survive on her merit.
Before leaving Egypt, Moshe discovers from Serach bas Osher, to whom the secret of "Pokod Yifkod" was revealed, the whereabouts of Yosef's coffin. Moshe writes on a plate "Come up ox!" and throws it into the Nile. When the metal coffin floats to the surface, he takes charge of it and makes sure that it accompanies them out of Egypt. Also the rest of Yisroel carry out with them the coffins of their ancestors and the founder-fathers of their respective tribes.
Rosh Chodesh Nissan of this year falls on a Thursday, and so does Pesach. In that case, Rosh Chodesh Iyar should fall on Shabbos and Sivan on Sunday. However, they make Iyar a full month, so that Rosh Chodesh Sivan falls on Monday. Consequently, the Torah will be given on Shabbos.
A total of close to five and a half million people leave Egypt.
For three days, the Egyptians bury their dead, after which seven hundred thousand men chase after the Jews to bring them back to Egypt. They find Yisroel eating and drinking and rejoicing by Pi ha'Chiros. When they ask why they have not returned to Egypt, Moshe and Aharon inform them that Hashem has said that they will never go back there. They try to take Yisroel by force, but they receive instead, a sound thrashing at their hands.
The survivors flee; they return to Egypt and inform Par'oh what transpired. Par'oh gathers all the remaining men in Egypt and sets out in pursuit of Yisroel. Some of the Egyptians want Yisroel's money, others just want to kill them, and there are those who want both.
There are four groups among the B'nei Yisroel:
The tribe of Reuven, Shim'on and Yisochor are afraid of the Egyptians, so they want to jump into the Sea. But Moshe tells them not to be afraid and to stand still and watch...;
Zevulun, Binyomin and Naftoli want to return to Egypt. To them Moshe says, "Because as you see the Egyptians today, you will never see them again.";
Yehudah and the B'nei Yosef want to fight, so Moshe tells them that Hashem is fighting for them;
And to Don, Gad and Osher, who want to instill fear into the Egyptians' hearts by making shrill noises. Moshe says to be silent and stand still - and to daven to Hashem for salvation.
All the Egyptians drown at the Yam Suf - except for Par'oh, whom an angel casts into Ninveh, where he ultimately does Teshuvah in the times of Yonoh. (Others maintain that Par'oh dies at the Yam-Suf together with his army.)
One of the main themes around which the Seder revolves is that of freedom, which we not only discuss at length in the Haggadoh, but actually demonstrate in what we eat and what we put on the table.
However, this freedom can so easily be misconstrued, to be viewed totally in the wrong context and out of perspective. If the freedom which we commemorate had entailed nothing more than the Exodus from Egypt, with the seder confined to a thanksgiving ceremony commemorating our release from slavery to freedom, then clearly much of the Haggadah would be rendered superfluous, as can be seen from a superficial glance at the extensive discussion contained there.
In fact, the Exodus can only be seen as a prelude and as a means to a new and profound relationship between Hashem and His people. It is a relationship which it had been impossible to develop as long as they were subjected to the dictatorship of another power - particularly that of the evil Par'oh, though the subjugation that they endured would later serve them well as a training for the service of Hashem, into which they would enter once they left Egypt. Consequently, the exodus was necessary as the first step towards developing that relationship with Hashem.
Thus, the true freedom was only to be realised when the B'nei Yisroel arrived at Har Sinai, to become the people of G-d. Before that, they were no more free than a captive orphan, who escapes from captivity only to find that he has nowhere to go, in which case he remains susceptible to forces and to influences as evil and as terrible as the ones from whose clutches he has just escaped. It is only when he has a loving parental home to which to return, a home that can afford him the love, the security and the discipline that he so desperately needs, that he can be considered to be truly free. He needs the discipline no less than the love and the security, for without discipline, he merely sinks to the level of an animal, thereby merely substituting one type of sub-existence for another. Therefore Chazal said that a free man is only one who studies Torah - the ideal code of conduct and discipline.
The Ba'al Ha'godoh first speaks of our initial physical denigration: "We were slaves to Par'oh in Egypt", only later referring to our humble spiritual beginnings as descendants of idolators (Avrohom Ovinu's ancestors). Chronologically, the order of these two paragraphs appears to be incorrect, since our ancestors were slaves to Par'oh, many generations after the era of Avrohom Ovinu. The Ba'al Ha'godah however, follows the chronological order of the end results: first of all, Hashem took us out of slavery and only then did He bring us close to His service (at Har Sinai). It was only after He had released us from physical bondage by delivering us from Egypt, that we were in a position to come close to Him at Har Sinai.
The Exodus from Mitzrayim was one of the greatest events in our history and is truly worthy of the attention it receives on Seder night. However, we must put it into the right perspective by remembering it as a prelude to a still greater event - the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai, not as an end in itself. And this idea is borne out by the counting of the Omer, a clear indication that Pesach is only the beginning of a much greater end, since one only tends to count towards a major event - and that major event is She'vu'os.
Shir Ha'shirim means the song that rises above all other songs (Rashi).
It enjoys this title because in all the other songs, either Hashem sings the praises of Yisroel (as in Shiras "Ha'azinu"), or Yisroel sing the praises of Hashem (as in "Shiras Hayam").
Shir Hashirim is unique inasmuch as it contains both Hashem's praises of Yisroel and Yisroel's praises of Hashem. (Medrash)
Rabbi Akiva said that the world was worthy of creation if only for the day on which Shir Ha'shirim was given to Yisroel - because all the (other nine) songs are Kodesh, but Shir Ha'shirim is Kodesh Kodoshim (therefore, unlike the other songs, it has no simple meaning - its true meaning is totally camouflaged. (Torah Temimah)
All of Kesuvim is Kodesh, but Shir Ha'shirim is Kodesh Kodoshim, because all of it is Yir'as Shomayim and the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. (Rashi)
The Book of our Heritage writes in the name of the Zohar that if we would understand Shir Ha'shirim properly, we would find in it the stories of the creation, of our forefathers, the exile and the Exodus from Egypt, the song of triumph at the Reed Sea, the ten commandments, the covenant made with Yisroel at Har Sinai and their wandering in the desert, up to the time that they entered Eretz Yisroel and built the Beis Ha'mikdosh.
It also contains an account of every period in history when Israel was exiled among the other nations. It tells of the resurrection of the dead and of all that has been and all that will be, until the end of days, when there will be a perfect Shabbos to G-d. (It is hardly surprising that we read Shir Ha'shirim on Pesach, the anniversary of our nationhood. The commentaries give the reason because Shir Ha'shirim deals prominently with the Exodus from Egypt, which Pesach signifies.) Because of the overwhelming importance of this book, our Sages have warned us against its misuse in picturesque metaphor: "If anyone takes a verse from Shir Ha'shirim and makes it into a secular song, the Torah itself puts on sack-cloth and complains before the Holy One, Blessed be He: 'Your children are using me as a subject for jesting, when they gather together for merrymaking'".
The Seifer Ma'aseh Rokei'ach explains why Shir Ha'shirim comprises one hundred and seventeen pesukim, no less and no more.
The Medrash Chazis points out that Shlomoh Ha'melech transgressed three sins - he amassed horses, wives and money, the very three things which the Torah expressly prohibits a king from doing. The Medrash goes on to compare Shlomoh to his father, Dovid Ha'melech who sang songs to G-d, and so did Shlomoh.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says that if one is already comparing Shlomoh to his father, one may as well go on to complete the picture - just as his father was pardoned for his sins, so too was Shlomoh pardoned for his.
The commentaries explain Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi's words, in the context of the earlier part of the Medrash by attributing Dovid and Sh'lomoh's forgiveness to their songs, for so Chazal have said: anyone who recites a song (of acknowledgement to Hashem) for the miracle which they experienced, is forgiven for all his sins.
For each of the three sins that Shlomoh transgressed, he was due to receive Malkus - 39 lashes, and 3 x 39 equals 117. So, for the lashes that were due to him, he sang a song of acknowledgement of 117 pesukim, which absolved him from punishment.
Perhaps, one may well ask, he should have added another three pesukim, to make Shir Ha'shirim compose 120 pesukim. Why?
Because the Torah writes that one receives 40 malkus and 40 x 3 = 120.
Therefore Shlomoh writes, in the very next possuk "Ki tovim dodecho mi'yoyin", from which Chazal derive that the d'roshos of the Sages are more precious than the actual words of Torah.
The Rabbonon darshened the possuk and detracted one of the Malkus to 39, which explains why Shlomoh wrote Shir Ha'shirim to comprise 117 pesukim and not 120.
It is well-known that the fires of Gehinom rest on Shabbos. The Zohar writes that, in addition to that, the souls in Gehinom are given respite each 3 x 11/2 hours, when Yisroel daven each day Shachris, Minchah and Ma'ariv and say "Yehei She'mei Rabbo" etc.
The six days of the week amount to a total of 144 hours, and if we deduct the 41/2 hours daily (27 hours), we will be left with 117 hours of Gehinom which the resho'im have to endure each week.
Now Chazal have already told us (in explaining the possuk "Hinei mikoso she"li'Shlomoh - mi'pachad ba'leilos" - from the fear of Gehinom which is comparable to night-time) that Shlomoh was afraid of Gehinom; therefore he wrote Shir Ha'shirim, consisting of 117 pesukim, in order to escape Gehinom.
That explains, concludes the Seifer Ma'aseh Rokei'ach, why the
Rabbis of old instituted the recital of Shir Ha'shirim every Erev
Shabbos, since it was originally written in order to escape the
117 hours of Gehinom of the week.
Chazal have taught us that the battle with Gog and Mogog will take place on Succos and Techiy'as ha'Meisim on Pesach. Therefore, we read the appropriate Haftorahs on the Shabbos Chol Ha'mo'ed of those two Yomim-tovim, respectively - the revival of the "Valley of Dry Bones" on the one, the battle with Gog and Mogog on the other.
Whereas most Haftorohs are directly connected with the Parshah with which they are read, this particular one, like most special Haftorahs, are connected with the special day, as we just explained, rather than with the current Parshah.
Exactly whose dry bones the "Valley of Dry Bones" comprised, is not indicated in the Novi, which explains why the Gemoro in Sanhedrin (92b) offers a host of opinions as to their identity (and the range of opinions covers the entire spectrum from tzadikim to resho'im). There is even an opinion (the Tanno R. Yehudah) which maintains that they are no more than a "moshol" who never really existed. But perhaps the two best-known opinions are the first (that of Rav) and the last (R. Yochonon).
In Rav's opinion, it was the two hundred thousand men of Ephrayim who escaped from Egypt thirty years before the Exodus and who were subsequently killed by the men of Gas (see "Links" in last year's Beshalach issue), whom Yechezkel revived. Whereas, according to R. Yochonon, "These are the dead of the 'Valley of Dura'". And who were they? R. Yochonon himself relates the following story. It took place whilst Nevuchadnetzar was leading his Jewish captives en route to Bovel. Among them were many strikingly handsome young men who "shamed the sun with their beauty". No sooner did the Babylonian women set eyes on them than they were physically affected, so deeply that they complained to their husbands, who in turn, informed the King. Nevuchadnetzar immediately ordered their execution. However, that did not help, since the young men's faces were still visible, so that they continued to affect the Babylonian women. It was only after Nevuchadnetzar had them trampled under foot that the women's lives returned to normal.
The Gemoro continues with a B'rayso: "When Nevuchadnetzar the Rosho cast Chananyoh Misho'el and Azaryoh into the furnace, G-d instructed Yechezkel to go and revive the dead bones in the Valley of Dura. As they were being revived, they came and tapped Nevuchadnetzar on his face and departed (see Rashi). When he asked what this was all about, he was told that the colleague of the men that he had thrown into the furnace was in the process of reviving the dead bones in the Valley of Dura. At that moment, Nevuchadnetzar was so awe-stricken that he began to sing the praises of G-d (see Doniel 3:32-33). Indeed, had an angel not slapped him on the mouth to silence him, he would have made all the praises of Dovid Ha'melech look insignificant.
Rashi (37:6) observes that, in this case, Hashem first formed their bones and sinews, and then their flesh and skin, whereas Iyov (10:11) describes the formation of a baby in the reverse order, first the skin and flesh, and only then the bones and the sinews. He gives a beautiful answer. A baby is in fact initially formed in the way described by Iyov. However, when he dies, his flesh and skin decompose first, followed by his bones and sinews, in the same way as when a person puts on his clothes after getting undressed, he does so in the reverse order to that which he took them off. So too, the parts that disintegrated first, are the ones that will come to life first. Consequently, by Techiyas ha'Meisim, that is the order in which the body will come to life - the bones and sinews first, then the flesh and the skin.
The Novi himself (37:12-13) explains the purpose of the great miracle that we are describing. "These bones" he explains, "represent the whole of Yisroel." He appears to be strengthening the people's belief in the vital principle of faith: Te'chiy'as Ha'meisim. Perhaps the people were not sure that the dead of Chutz lo'Oretz will be revived at Te'chiy'as Ha'meisim. In that case, all those who were destined to die in Golus, had no reason to look forward to the Ge'ulah (see Rashi and the Metzudas Dovid).
Rashi also explains the latter pesukim in another light. Those
dead who had been revived, he writes, were now afraid that they
would not be zocheh to be revived again, when all the dead will
ultimately come alive. Therefore G-d told Yechezkel to prophesy
on their behalf that they too, will come to life again, a second
The Ramban, quoting the Rambam, attributes the prohibition of drinking blood to the Kasdim, who drank large quantities of blood in order to make contact with the demons, whose staple food was blood. They did so in spite of the fact that drinking blood is generally considered to be an objectionable practice. The purpose of making contact with the demons was, in turn to gain knowledge of the future, a power granted to the demons (the turning to whom is a form of denial of G-d's Omnipotence). That is why the Torah uses the expression "And I will turn my Face to the Soul that eats blood" - the very same expression that the Torah uses with regard to someone who give his child to Molech (a form of idolatry).
The Seforno too, connects the prohibition of drinking blood with the power of the demons, and he uses that connection to explain why the mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam (covering the blood of shechitah) is confined to wild animals (e.g. deer) and birds, but does not apply to domesticated animals. It is, he suggests, because domesticated animals (e.g. the cow, the goat and the sheep), are generally to be found in the fields in the vicinity of the town, a location too close to habitation for the liking of the the demons. Consequently, there was little likelihood of using the spilt blood of the shechted animals to make contact with them. This fear, however, was far more real in the forests and in the areas surrounding the towns, which served jointly as the habitat of the demons and of the wild animals. Therefore, the Torah commands that, any wild animal that is shechted, must have its blood covered, to remove the temptation of calling the demons. (See Ba'al Ha'turim for another reason for covering the blood of birds and wild animals.)
The Ramban agrees with the Rambam in principle, but, he adds, the Rambam's explanation does not go well with the simple interpretation of the possuk, which repeatedly writes about the blood being synonymous with the Soul. He prefers, therefore, to explain that it is not befitting for one Soul to eat another, since the Soul of the animal, like the Soul of man, is contained in - indeed is synonymous with - the blood. The blood and the Soul of the animal, together with the blood and the Soul of man, belong to Hashem. It is therefore not for human consumption.
This is what the Ramban writes concerning this subject: "G-d created all of His creations for the benefit of man, since man is the only one of His creations who recognises and acknowledges Him. In spite of this, Hashem initially only permitted man to eat plants, not animals, as is clearly indicated in Bereishis. It was only after the flood, when all the animals were saved on No'ach's merit and after he had brought a sacrifice from them and it had been accepted that they become permitted to man. Even then, Hashem allowed only their bodies, which He had created in the first place for man's benefit. Their Soul (i.e. the blood), was reserved as an atonement for man's sins (a Soul for a Soul) but not to eat. It is not befitting for a Soul to eat a Soul since, in all respects, the Soul of an animal is equivalent to the Soul of man (the Nefesh, not the Neshomoh of course, which is entirely spiritual and has no physical connotations). That is why it (the animal) has the common sense to flee from harm and to go for what it enjoys; it acknowledges those to whom it is accustomed and shows them much love - like the love of a dog for its master.
"It is also well-known," continues the Ramban, "that what one eats becomes an integral part of the eater. Consequently, were man to eat the Soul of an animal and it would become part of him, he would adopt the coarse, unrefined nature of its character and would become animal-like in his behaviour. That is because the blood is absorbed in its natural, unchanged state - unlike the flesh of the animal, which, due to the process of chewing, enters the human body in a changed format (the Ramban has presented a second difference between the blood and the meat of the animal). He then goes one stage further, referring to a possuk in Koheles which draws a distinction between the spirit of a man, which goes to Heaven and that of an animal, which remains on earth. It is therefore wrong, he maintains, to combine the Soul which terminates, to that which is eternal.
The blood therefore, is used as an atonement on the Mizbei'ach, to create goodwill with G-d. This idea is clearly contained in the words of the possuk: "Therefore I said to the B'nei Yisroel, 'Any Soul from you should not eat blood'"...(17:12). Also, the previous possuk stated, "for the Soul of the flesh lies in the blood; and I gave it to you on the altar to atone for your Souls, because the blood shall atone for the Soul".
Perhaps we can conclude with a word of admonition against those who refrain from eating meat out of principle. G-d is clearly aware of the similarities that exist between man and animal - that is why He forbade the drinking of their blood. Yet He distinctly permitted the eating of meat (even to the point of rendering it a mitzvah on certain occasions - e.g. the Korban Pesach), in spite of those similarities.
The Torah has already warned us against being more righteous than
G-d Himself and (as actually took place in the case of King Shaul
and Agag) that "he who is kind to the cruel, will eventually
be cruel to the kind".
Why does the Torah mention the death of the sons of Aharon in the Parshah of Yom Kippur?
To teach us, says the Yerushalmi, that the death of tzadikim atones just as Yom Kippur atones.
The Torah Temimah explains this with a Pirkei de'Rebbi Eliezer. The Pirkei d'Rebbi Eliezer, commenting on a possuk in Shmuel, writes that, when Shaul died, the people performed their last kindness with him, by crying for him, fasting and eulogising him, and it was that ultimate kindness performed with a tzadik, which sparked off in turn, Hashem's mercy towards them.
That is what Chazal mean when they compare the death of tzadikim to Yom Kippur. It is not the death itself, but the kindness shown to the soul of a tzadik that serves as an atonement.
But why specifically a tzadik? If it is the chesed that is considered a kaporoh, then surely the kaporoh should be equally inherent in the death of any Jew?
Perhaps we can add another dimension to the words of the Torah Temimah. Perhaps it is not so much the chesed, but the assessment of a tzadik's high value, the significant role that he plays when he is alive and the dreadful loss that the world suffers at his passing. It is the deep concern that one displays at the death of someone who is, perhaps not his own personal relative, but a relative of G-d, so to speak.
It is the demonstration of the correct value system and the correct priorities, which atone.
In fact, it is similar to what the Gemoro writes in Shabbos (105b), "Anyone who sheds tears at the death of a tzadik, Hashem counts the tears and places them in his treasury".
The Zohar, interestingly enough, writes that, if someone cries on Yom Kippur, when the death of Nodov and Avihu is read in Shul, he is assured that none of his children will die in his lifetime.
Besides the Mitzvah of Shechita, there is an independent mitzvah of covering the blood of Shechitah which is not necessarily performed by the Shochet, (though he does have precedence over anyone else) but by anybody who sees that the blood has not been covered.
The mitzvah is confined to the blood of birds and the various species of kosher wild animals, but not to the three kinds of kosher domesticated animals. Their blood does not need to be covered. (See main article)
Because the Torah writes "ve'chisohu be'ofor", Chazal explain that two layers of covering are required, one underneath and one on top - as if the Torah was saying that there are two coverings, one in the dust and the other with dust. And the dust must be specifically prepared for the mitzvah, because the Torah writes "be'ofor" (with a segol) and not "be'ofor" (with a sh'vo) insinuating the dust - dust that has been prepared.
The Gemoro in Chullin concludes that the blood of Korbonos does not require Kisuy ha'dam, because the Torah writes "ve'shofach ve'chisohu" - only blood that needs no more than shedding and covering is included in the mitzvah of "kisuy ha'dam" to exclude the blood of Kodshim, which would also first need to be scraped off the Mizbei'ach in order to put blood underneath it, as we explained earlier.
And similarly, Kodshim belonging to Bedek ha'Bayis (the Hekdesh repair fund), would not require Kisuy ha'dam, since there too, the animal, which must be fit to eat before the blood needs to be covered, would have to be redeemed before covering its blood. The animal would not therefore require kisuy ha'dam, since it needs redemption, besides shedding the blood and covering it.
And it is by the mitzvah of Kisuy ha'dam that the Torah introduces
the concept of not performing a mitzvah disrespectfully. The Gemoro
derives from the juxtaposition of "ve'shofach" to "ve'chisohu",
that one covers the blood with the same limb as one schechted
- with the hand and not with the foot. And that is the source
of the principle not to perform a mitzvah disrespectfully - as
one would be doing if one were to kick the earth with one's feet.
The final section of the Parshah deals with the multiple forms of immorality, including incest, adultery, homosexuality and bestiality, which is simply not condusive with the inherent sanctity of Eretz Yisroel and which explains why anyone living in Eretz Yisroel, Jewish or otherwise, is expected to abolish such practices. Therefore the Torah writes that, as long as the Jewish people avoid such practices, the land will retain them, even though they may be guilty of other serious sins. It will not "spit them out" as it did the nations who had preceded them, and whom they replaced. In fact, the very same message is explicit at the end of Kedoshim. Clearly, that is why, contrary to the regular custom of leining the Haftorah of the second Parshah, we read this Haftorah, which deals with the same issues, as we shall see, even when Acharei-mos and Kedoshim are leined together.
In the days of the Novi Amos, who prophesied during the reign of Uziyoh, King of Yehudah, shortly before Yeshayoh, the people had already sunk to the levels of which the Torah had spoken and warned against, in the current Parshiyos. Consequently, the Novi informs Yisroel that the exile, which G-d had attempted to avoid, was imminent.
The opening possuk of the Haftorah compares Yisroel to the black-Africans. "Are you any different in My eyes than the blacks?" explains Rashi, for "just as the black African cannot change the colour of his skin, or the leopard his spots (Yirmiyoh 13:23), so too, do you seem incapable of changing your evil ways. So why should I not punish you for your sins? Nor should you pride yourselves on being the only ones whom I redeemed from exile," the possuk continues, since "I took you out of Egypt, because I also took the P'lishtim from Kaftor and in time to come I will redeem the Syrians from Kir. Yet I did not take them and make them My nation - but you I did!" (Rashi)
The Redak explains the possuk in the following way: "Are you not to Me like the black Africans?" says Hashem. "For just as they are slaves, so too, should you be slaves to Me, since I took you out of Egypt. Did I take the P'lishtim from Kaftor and the Syrians from Kir?
The Mayonoh shel Torah quotes the Malbim, who explains the Novi's comparison of Yisroel to a black African as a moshol to their inability to mix with the other nations - in the same way as the blacks cannot mix with the other nations because they have a permanent mark which cannot be erased and which makes them unacceptable to the other nations of the world.
He quotes further from the Ahavas Yonoson, who writes that it is a kindness from Hashem that He instilled in the nations a contempt of the Jews, whom they view as a lowly nation, just like they view the blacks. It is a kindness, because it ensures that we do not mix with them.
And he verifies the truth of this statement with a story of the Ba'al Shem Tov who once visited Constantinople. When he saw two Arabs approaching, he suggested to the man who was accompanying him to make a detour, to avoid physical contact - and Tumah.
However, before they came level, the Ba'al Shem Tov actually overheard one of the gentiles say to his friend, "Come, let's get out of the way of that Jewish leper, otherwise he will make us tomei."
And that is how the Ba'al Shem Tov explained the possuk "Behold they are a people who dwell alone and they will not be reckoned among the nations". The reason, he explains, that Yisroel are destined to remain alone, is because they are not considered important among the nations.
The Novi goes on to distinguish the ten tribes, all of whose kings were resho'im - from Yerov'om ben Nevot to Hoshei'a ben Eiloh, from the Kingdom of Yehudah. The former will go into exile and its kingdom will dissolve permanently, but not that of Yehuda. They will go through a painful sifting process, continues the Novi, which will destroy the worst among them, those who refuse to do teshuvah, as they are exiled from one nation to another. The rest will eventually witness the ge'ulah. Even those who have died, will see all that takes place in those times, provided they did teshuvah prior to their death.
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