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

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Vol. 7   No. 25

Parshas Shemini

Reflections on Parshas ha'Chodesh
Adapted from the Yalkut Yitzchok

Why Nisan? - Why Lamb?

The reason that the redemption from Egypt took place in Nisan, the Ramban explains, is because the Mazel of Nisan is T'leh (Aries - Lamb), the Mazel of growth, which the Egyptians also worshipped. So G-d ordered Yisroel to slaughter the lambs, and to eat them, to demonstrate that: 1. it was not through the power of the Mazel (which governs all the other nations of the world) that we were taken out of Egypt, but by Divine decree; and 2. that He had broken the power of the Egyptian god when it was at its height (not just in Nisan, but on the fifteenth of Nisan, the middle of the month, when the Mazel had reached its peak). And this is also the reason for the Korban Pesach.


It All Began on Rosh Chodesh

The reason that Moshe was commanded the Mitzvah of Korban Pesach already on Rosh Chodesh Nisan was to start the process of the downfall of the Mazel before it had even begun its ascent. This is because our acceptance of G-d's commands places us on a higher plane than the Mazolos (as was G-d's intention when He told Avrohom to look down at the Heaven - see Rashi Bereishis 15:5).

And that is what Rashi means when, quoting the Mechilta, he writes (12:28) that, as soon as Yisroel took upon themselves to fulfill the mitzvah of Korban Pesach, it was as if they had already fulfilled it, adding that even their going to fulfill the mitzvah was considered part of the mitzvah. From that moment on, the decline of the Mazel 'lamb' began.


Take it On the Tenth

And why did He order Yisroel to take the lamb on the tenth?

To deprive it of its powers of tum'ah, or, as the Shach explains - the four days represented the four letters of Hashem's Name, as well as the four redemptions. He also quotes the Zohar who connects the four days with the four hundred years of exile which had bound Yisroel and from which they were now about to go free. So they bound the Egyptian god to their bed-posts for four days.

Others explain that tying the lamb to their bed-posts was symbolical of the capture of the Egyptian god before slaughtering him four days later. (This seems to tie up with the Zohar's explanation - four days for the four hundred years that they were captives in Egypt.)


Examination, Occupation, Recuperation

Rashi ascribes the four days of preparing the lamb to the four days prior to the shechitah, that all sacrifices had to be examined for blemishes. He also cites Rebbi Masya ben Chorosh in the Mechilta, who explains that Yisroel were devoid of mitzvos, so G-d gave them the mitzvah of Pesach and the mitzvah of bris milah to busy themselves with, so that they would have merits with which to be redeemed.

And according to the Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, the mitzvah of bris milah was given to them on the tenth, together with that of the Korban Pesach, in which case they needed three days to recuperate before bringing the Korban Pesach on the fouteenth.


A Lamb - A Kaporoh

"And they shall take a lamb ... " (12:3). G-d said 'Let the lamb come and atone for Yisroel, who are called "a scattered lamb" ' (Yirmiyoh 50:17). The numerical value of 'seh' (lamb) is equivalent to that of 'kaporoh' (atonement), and the first letters of "ish seh le'veis ovos" is 'eishel' (with reference to the orchard or the inn that Avrohom Ovinu prepared for his guests). Avraham's prime characteristic was chesed (loving-kindness), and the Torah writes in connection with Avrohom "G-d will choose Himself the lamb" (22:8) Rabeinu Ephrayim. (It is significant that 'the world was created with chesed, and the Mo'adim begin with chesed too [Shavu'os represents Yitzchak, and Succos, Ya'akov]).

And Rabeinu Ephrayim adds 'Avrohom said "G-d will choose Himself the lamb", Yitzchok was tied like a lamb (besides the fact that the lamb mentioned by Avrohom pertained to Yitzchok), and Ya'akov said "Remove every lamb ... " (Bereishis 30:32)'. Because it is on the merits of the Ovos that we left Egypt.


The Lintel and the Two Doorposts

The blood of the Pesach-offering was placed on the lintel and on the two doorposts. This hints at the three major limbs that govern a person's actions: the brain (on top - corresponding to the lintel); the heart (to the left doorpost); and the liver (to the right doorpost).

These three limbs form the basis of the three parts of the soul: the Nefesh, the Ru'ach and the Neshomoh (the heart - the Nefesh; the liver - the Ru'ach; the brain - the Neshomoh), and they govern all one's actions inasmuch as the brain governs a person's hashkofoh (outlook), the heart, his desires, and the liver, his interpersonal characeristics - anger, pride, etc. The blood is a reminder of G-d's Midas ha'Din, that he overpowered the rulership of the foreign gods, and will lead us to accept the yoke of G-d's Kingdom, and use those limbs in His service - Kli Yokor.


Parshah Pearls


The Nail and the Stomach

Rebbi Yochonon and Rebbi Elozor both said that the people who lived in the era of the first Beis ha'Mikdosh, whose sins (idolatry, murder and adultery) were revealed, the end of their exile was also revealed (seventy years). Whereas those who lived in the era of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh, whose sin was not revealed (baseless hatred), the end of their exile was not revealed either'. To this, Rebbi Yochanan added "The nail (claw or paw) of the former was preferable to the stomach of the latter' (Yuma 9b).


The Gro explains Chazal's analogy to a nail and a stomach with a Medrash Rabah. The Medrash Rabah connects the four non-kosher animals specifically named by the Torah (the hare, the camel, the rabbit and the pig) to the four nations that subjugated Yisroel during the course of their history: Bovel (the camel), Persia and Medes (the rabbit), Greece (the hare) and Edom (Rome - the wild pig). The first three alude to the first Beis ha'Mikdosh, the fourth, to the second. It is a matter of fact that the sign of tum'ah of the hare, the camel and the rabbit (which have paws, and not split hooves) is external, whilst that of the pig (which has split hooves but only one stomach and cannot therefore chew its cud), is internal. The Medrash now becomes clear: the people of the first Beis ha'Mikdosh, whose sins were revealed, were delivered to three successive nations whose evil was revealed, and who are compared to the three non-kosher animals whose sign of tum'ah is revealed too. Whereas those of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh, whose sin was concealed, were delivered into the hands of Edom, who, on the surface were nice, refined people, and whose evil was concealed, like the pig to which they are compared, which sticks out its feet and says 'See, I am kosher!,' because nobody can see that it does not chew its cud.


The Magpie

In this parshah, the Torah refers to the magpie as a 'Rochom', whereas in Re'ei, where the list of kosher and non-kosher animals is repeated, it refers to it as a 'Rochomoh' ( with a 'hey'). To understand this, let us refer to a Gemoro in Chulin (63a). The bird is called Rochom, explains the Gemoro, because when it appears, it brings with it mercy (rain) to the world. What does it do? It heralds the rain by sitting on top of an object and crying 'sh'rak-rak' (which is why Unklus translates it as 'Shrakrak'). And we have a tradition that, were it to sit on the ground and cry out, Moshi'ach would come.


The reason for this, explains the Gro, is that we find in pesukim and in Chazal, the concept of 'birth' in connection with both the heaven and the earth. In the former case, it is refering to rain (as in the posuk in Yeshayah 55:10 - "and [the rain] causes it to give birth and to make the plants grow"); in the latter case, to T'chiyas ha'meisim (as in the posuk in Tehilim 72:16 - "and they [the dead] will sprout like the grass in the field").


Consequently, the magpie, the harbinger of mercy, adheres to this Gemoro: when it sits on top of something (removed from the ground) it is a sign that the mercy will come from the heaven (rain), whereas when it sits on the ground, it is a sign that it will come from the earth (techi'as ha'meisim)..


And that, concludes the Gro, explains why in Sh'mini, the Torah writes 'Rochom', without a 'hey', whereas in Re'ei, it writes 'Rochomoh' with a 'hey'. Rebbi Akiva says (in Bechoros 45a) that a man has 248 limbs, and a woman 253 - five more (hence the feminine 'hey'). When the posuk and Chazal refer to rain, they tend to use the masculine form: "Rain is the husband of the earth (Ta'anis 6b), whereas when they refer to t'chiyas ha'meisim, they use the feminine form "Because Tziyon became ill, she bore her children" (Yeshayah 66:8).

How apt therefore, for the posuk to describe the magpie once in the masculine, and once in the feminine - with an extra 'hey' (denoting its two functions of mercy).


The Twelve Fires

On twelve occasions, writes Rabeinu Bachye, fire descended from heaven - six of the fires were constructive, the other six, destructive. The first of the six constructive fires was the one that is recorded in this parshah - "And fire went out from before Hashem and it consumed on the Mizbei'ach ...". That same fire was later transferred to the Beis ha'Mikdosh that Shlomoh built, and was not extinguished until its destruction.

The second is the one that descended in the days of Gid'on, when he asked the angel for a sign that he was a messenger of G-d (Shoftim 6:17-18).

The third, the fire that descended in the time of Mono'ach (Shimshon's father), when the angel appeared to his wife (Shoftim 13:16).

The fourth, when Dovid purchased the granary from Aravnoh, as the site to build the Beis ha'Mikdosh, constructed an altar there, and brought on it sacrifices (Divrei ha'Yomim I 21:26).

The fifth, when Shlomoh completed the first Beis ha'Mikdosh, and needed to sacrifice many sacrifices on the ground of the Azoroh, because there was not sufficient space on the Mizbei'ach (Melochim I 8:63).

The sixth in the days of Eliyohu on Mount Carmel, when he confronted the prophets of Ba'al (Melochim I 18:37).


And the six destructive fires were:

1. The one in connection with Nodov and Avihu in this week's parshah (10:12).

2. When the people complained to Moshe in Beha'aloscho and G-d sent a fire (11:1).

3. At the rebellion of Korach, when it burned the two hundred and fifty men (16:35).

4. At the time of Iyov, where the posuk writes "And fire descended from heaven" (Iyov 1:16).

5 and 6. When Eliyohu requested that a fire should descend from heaven and consume, first one of the officers with his band of fifty men who had come to take him captive, and then the other (Melochim II 1:10 & 12).


History of the World

(Part 60)

(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)


Yochanan ben Shimon ben Mattisyohu succeeds his father as king. He is also known as Hurkenus and as Yanai. Ptolomy, King of Egypt, attacks Yerusholayim, but Yochonon drives him off, killing many of his men. Ptolomy escapes with his army to the city Togon, which Yochonon besieges. But when Ptolomy orders his men to lead Yochonon's mother up on the walls of the city and to flog her with sticks in full view of her son, he withdraws. Ptolomy nevertheless kills her and escapes to Egypt.



In the fourth year of his reign, Antiochus Pi'us, King of Greece, attacks Yerusholayim. Yochonon opens the grave of Dovid ha'Melech, from which he takes three thousand golden d'rachma and sends them as a gift to Antiochus, who returns to Greece. He sends a large gift to Hashem and three hundred golden kikar to the Beis ha'Mikdosh.

For the rest of Yochonon's reign, life in Eretz Yisroel is tranquil and the people flourish. He destroys Shomron, the capital city of the Tzedokim and the Kuttim (two hundred years after it is built). Others say it is the temple on Har G'rizim that he destroys.

At a banquet that he holds for the Chachomim (after capturing sixty cities in Kuchlis), a baseless man by the name of Elozor ben Po'iroh encourages him to confront the Chachomim by wearing the Tzitz of the Kohen Godol, despite the fact that they suspect his mother of having been captured and of having possibly born him from one of her captors. He follows the advice of Elozor, arousing the anger of the Chachomim, who are unable to prove their suspicion. Again on the advice of Elozor ben Po'iroh, he vents his anger on the Chachomim and has them all killed.

After serving forty years (according to the Gemoro in B'rochos [29a] it is eighty) he becomes a Tzedoki. (The Seder ha'Doros cites almost the identical episode with regard to Yochonon's grandson, Yochonon, in the year 3670. Assuming that the story belongs there and not here, what he wrote earlier 'that Yochonon died at a ripe old age, but in mourning over his son, whom he prophesied would not fulfill the Torah', makes more sense.)



The Romans' domination of Yisroel begins, a hundred and eighty years before the destruction of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh.



Lutrius, King of Rome, attacks Eretz Yisroel. A wicked man, he kills thirty thousand Jews on one day, and takes many captives, whom he starves - to the extent that they are forced to eat the flesh of corpses. In his days a severe earthquake occurs, followed by large-scale battles.



Julius Caesar is born. He is called by that name because he is born after his mother's death, and she has to be cut open (the meaning of caesar in ancient Latin), to pull him out. He is the greatest soldier since the creation of the world. He is also well-versed in many areas of knowledge, and is destined to succeed in any endeavour that he cares to undertake. As captain of the Roman army, he fights fifty battles, killing well over a million of the enemy. At the same time, he loves the Jews and is a just and kind man.

His successes go to his head, however, and when, in his pride, he fails to treat the elders of Rome with the honour that is due to them, they murder him in the sixth year of his reign in year 3718 (at the age of fifty-six).


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