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

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Vol. 13   No. 8

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Yehudah ben Maimon Kohen z.l.
whose Yahrzeit is 21st Kislev

Parshas Vayishlach

Bar-Mitzvah @ Thirteen

The Gemara in Nazir (29b) and in other places clearly considers thirteen as the age when a boy turns bar-Mitzvah. Indeed the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:21) says this. Yet nowhere does the Gemara cite an unambiguous source for it.

Rashi in Nazir (29b DH 'R. Yossi b'R. Yehudah') explains that since the youngest person to whom the Torah refers to as 'ish' is Levi (as we shall see shortly), who was thirteen when the incident of Sh'chem took place, that must be the age of bar-Mitzvah.

The Pasuk occurs in this week's Parshah, where the Torah relates how "the two sons of Ya'akov, Shimon and Levi, each man took his sword ... ". The Bartenura typically follows in Rashi's footsteps, but it is the Tosfos Yom-Tov who fills in the details. Bear in mind that Ya'akov continued to work for Lavan for thirteen years after he married Le'ah. Now assuming that Reuven, Shimon and Levi were born within about two years (seven months each plus the Tum'ah period in between), Levi would have been eleven when they left Charan. Add to that the six months that they traveled and the eighteen months that they spent in Succos (as Rashi explains [33:17]). Levi was then thirteen, and that is when the episode with Sh'chem took place. See also Torah Temimah on this Pasuk.

It is difficult to accept, however, that this Pasuk should serve as the sole source for bar-Mitzvah, because one would expect as important an issue as when a person becomes bar-Mitzvah to have a more direct source, particularly as the source itself is vague, inasmuch as there is nothing in the Pasuk to suggest that thirteen is the minimum age, and not twelve or eleven ... !


The Machzor Vitri therefore cites the Gemara in Nidah (46a) which explains that 'Ish' (in Parshas Matos, in connection with Nedarim) refers to a boy of thirteen because that is the age when two pubic hairs grow (which Chazal consider the ultimate sign of physical maturity), adding that the Torah too, refers to a thirteen-year old as 'Ish', as we explained.

This solves our problem admirably, and it also explains why a girl becomes bas Mitzvah at the age of twelve, since she becomes physically mature one year before her male counterpart.


The Torah Temimah cites the source for bas-Mitzvah at twelve as the Pasuk in Bereishis (2:22) "And Hashem built the rib ... ", which the Gemara in Nidah (45b), playing on the word "Va'yiven" translates as 'understanding', and explains the Pasuk to mean that He gave her superior understanding (Binah Yeseirah). Without the Machzor Vitri's explanation, this too would be debatable, and for two reasons. Firstly, the Gemara in Nidah interprets the Pasuk in other, more literal ways, so that "Va'yiven" really means 'and he built'. And besides, even in the context of Binah Yeseirah, from where do Chazal know that a girl's mental maturity precedes that of a boy, and not just that she is sharper than him (a point which the Torah Temimah himself discusses)?

According to the Machzor Vitri however, the real source for both bar and bas-Mitzvah is based on their respective physical maturity, in which case the Pesukim are what Chazal refer to as 'Asmachtos' (support from a Pasuk), and no more.


Commenting on the statement of the above-mentioned Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 'Twenty is the age of pursuit', the Bartenura, in his second explanation, explains that when a person reaches the age of twenty, he is pursued, meaning that the Heavenly Court now begins to take him to task for sins for which he is Chayav Kareis or Miysah bi'Yedei Shamayim. The commentaries also refer to the Gemara in Shabbos (89b), where, in a dialogue between G-d and Yitzchak, the latter specifically states that G-d does not punish a person up to the age of twenty; whilst the Machzor Vitri refers to the Gemara in Kidushin (29b) which describes G-d's angry reaction to someone who has not married by the age of twenty.

And we learn this, says the Rishon le'Tziyon, from Yisrael in the Desert, who all had to die for the sin of the Spies, but only those who had reached the age of twenty by that time. The Machzor Vitri cites this source too, but he queries it on the grounds that if that is so, then we should also exempt anyone over sixty from Kareis, since those who had passed the age of sixty did not die in the Desert either.


The Tosfos Chadashim cites the Rosh, who, when asked for the source for bar-Mitzvah, replied that it is 'Halachah le'Moshe mi'Sinai', just like other Shi'urim (measurements), which Chazal have said, are all Halachah le'Moshe mi'Sinai. If so, all the above other sources are merely Asmachtos, as we explained. In any event, that would resolve all our problems.

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Parshah Pearls
Adapted mainly from the P'ninei Torah

Eisav's Vulnerability

"And the gift passed in front of him" (32:22).

At least, that's what the Pasuk seems to be saying. Rashi, based on Chazal's common interpretation of "Panim" as anger (see for example Targum Yonasan ki Sissa, 33:14) explains that Ya'akov was angry that he was forced to go through all this hassle to be reunited with his brother.

The Be'er Yitzchak suggests that maybe "Panav" refers to Eisav (the recipient of the gift, and who was just mentioned in the previous Pesukim), and it was he, and not Ya'akov (or perhaps it refers to them both) who was angry.

And what would Eisav have been angry about?

Well, he explains, Eisav was just looking for an excuse to pick a fight and to get rid of his pesky brother once and for all. But then, being Eisav, he simply could not resist such a tempting bribe when it came his way. So all those groups of animals, first goats, then sheep, then camels, then cattle, then donkeys was just too much for him to refuse. Only that meant, that once he accepted the bribe, he would have to forego the fight, and he knew it. And that's why he was angry. He was frustrated at his own vulnerability.


Cut Out the Hatred

"And he took his two wives ... and his eleven children" (32:23).

"Eleven children" asks Rashi? Sure he had eleven sons. But where was his daughter Dinah? Afraid that Eisav might set eyes on her and marry her, he placed her in a box, he answers, where she would remain, out of sight, until Eisav had left.

And for that, Rashi concludes, Ya'akov was punished, and she was raped by Sh'chem, for withholding her from his brother. Who knows whether she would not have brought him back to the right path.

Since when is one obligated to give one's daughter to a Rasha, asks the Torah Temimah. Moreover, one may add, Le'ah her mother, had merited becoming Ya'akov's first wife precisely for the tears that she shed beseeching G-d to prevent her from falling into the clutches of Eisav (see Rashi Vayitzei 29:17). So what chance would little Dinah have had of succeeding where her mother was convinced that she could not?

Ya'akov knew, he replies, that Dinah had a good chance of turning Eisav around, (Le'ah no, Dinah yes) and yet he refused to allow Eisav to marry her, because he hated him (subconsciously to be sure). In fact, he translates 'perhaps she would cause him to do Teshuvah', not as a reason why Ya'akov ought to have given Dinah to Eisav, but rather as a reason why he refused to do so. Perhaps she would get Eisav to do Teshuvah, in which case he would no longer be punished, and that was not what he wanted. All this Ya'akov did not do consciously, as we explained, but in his heart of hearts, that is what he thought, and that was why he was punished.


Leaving One's Options Open

Perhaps based on the same premise, others explain that although there is no obligation to give one's daughter's hand in marriage to a Rasha, and certainly not one of Eisav's caliber, yet had Ya'akov contended with the possibility that Eisav might do Teshuvah, he would not have gone to such extreme lengths as to hide Dinah completely from Eisav. He should have left open the possibility that should Eisav really want to marry her, then maybe, with a little Divine assistance, good might come of such a union, and there would be a happy ending. And it was for closing all the options and not giving his brother a chance that he was taken to task.


Good Reasons to Cry

"And Eisav ran to meet him ... and they wept" (33:4).

They both wept, say the commentaries, but for such diverse reasons. Eisav wept because he had to kiss 'a Yid'; whilst Ya'akov wept because he knew that a kiss from Eisav would cost him dear. (See also Targum Yonason)


A Bit of Olom ha'Zeh ... for Eisav

"Take my blessing that was brought to you" (33:11).

Considering that Ya'akov would have been perfectly content with the World to Come (in keeping with the agreement that he had reached with Eisav whilst they were still in their mother's womb), why did he go to such great lengths to obtain the B'rachos, which really constitute the good things of this world, asks, R. Yosef Shaul Natanzon.

Ya'akov also knew, he answers, that Eisav was prone to bribery, and that he was extremely fond of the good things in this world. So he made a point of obtaining a B'rachah for Olam ha'zeh from his father. This would ensure that, when Eisav made life unbearable for Ya'akov, he had something with which to bribe Eisav.

And if we just adjust the translation of our Pasuk to "Take my blessing which was obtained (by me) for you", then this is exactly what Ya'akov was telling Eisav.


Not Good for the Children

"And he (Eisav) said 'Let us travel together' ... And he (Ya'akov) said to him 'My master knows that the children are tender ... Let my master go ahead of his servant, and I will go my own slow pace, in accordance with the children ... " (33:12-14).

The Maggid from Mezritch suggested that a person who feels lax in the service of G-d should learn a lesson from the Resha'im, to take note of the enthusiasm with which they perform their despicable deeds. That is what the Pasuk in Tehilim (119:98) means when it says "Make me wise from my enemies". David Hamelech was praying that Hashem should grant him the wisdom to learn how to serve Him, by watching the wicked deeds of the Resha'im.

The problem with this is that doing so endangers one's children, who seeing their father watching the wicked, are likely to become attracted to them and to go in their ways.

As long as Ya'akov lived with Lavan, says the Admur from Tchortkov, he watched him carefully and copied his methods in serving G-d, as the Pasuk writes "Im Lavan Garti (I lived with Lavan) and I kept the six hundred and thirteen Mitzvos". Living with Lavan, he was saying, served as an object-lesson on how to keep the Mitzvos.

Once his children began to grow up however, he no longer employed this method of growth, due to the danger that we spoke of earlier.

The Medrash explains that when Eisav suggested that they travel together, he was in fact suggesting that they go into partnership. This would ensure that Ya'akov would be able to watch him and learn from him how to serve G-d. But Ya'akov's reply was forthcoming 'Let my master go ahead of his servant ... and I will go at my own slow pace on account of the children ... ".

The message is clear; Ya'akov would have been quite prepared to regulate his speed and go with Eisav. But the children! How could he expose them to the wicked Eisav to learn from his evil ways?


Two Timnas

"And the sons of Elifaz were Teiman, Omor, Tz'fo, Ga'atam and K'naz. And Timna was a concubine of Elifaz ... " (36:11/12).

In Divrei ha'Yamim, the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro points out, Timna is also listed among the sons of Elifaz. This forces us to say that "ve'Timna" here has dual connotations. Besides being where it is (in Pasuk 12), it also belongs at the end of the previous Pasuk, as if the Torah had written " ... Ga'atam, K'naz and Timna. And Timna was a concubine ..." (a format not uncommon in the Torah).

After marrying Timna, the G'ra adds, Elifaz changed the name of his son Timna to Korach; and this will explain why, a few Pesukim later, the Torah lists Korach among the princes that descended from Elifaz, but not Timna. That is because the two were one and the same (only his current name was Korach. This explanation, by the way, also appears in the Rashbam).


Vital Information

"These are the sons of Se'ir the Chori, who inhabited the land, Loton, Shoval, and Tziv'on and Anoh" (36:20).

The question arises why the Torah deems it necessary to supply this information. Who's really interested to know the genealogy of the Cana'anim who inhabited the land before Eisav took over?

The answer, says the P'ninim mi'Shiulchan ha'G'ro, is that we are, and what's more, it's of great importance for us to know it.

You see, this was the territory that Eisav was destined to conquer, and the Torah warns us in no uncertain terms, not to take from him as much as one footstep. Now in order to adhere to this command, we would have to know which territory belonged to Eisav and his descendants, a problem, since the Torah does not define them.

The answer lies in this Parshah, for the names of Se'ir ha'Chori's children were names, not only of people but also, it seems, of the areas over which they ruled. So by learning the names of Se'ir ha'Chori's children, we would also know which lands belonged to Eisav, and would know to steer clear of it.

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Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 46:
Not To Withhold a Woman's Marital Rights

Someone who purchases a Jewish maidservant and 'marries' her, is not permitted to withhold from her sustenance ('she'eiroh'), new clothes ('k'susoh') and marital relations ('ve'onosoh').

And this prohibition pertains to every Jewish, married woman. For if the Torah forbids doing so to a former maidservant, how much more so will it apply to a regular, free Jewess. In fact this is what the Torah means when it writes in the previous Pasuk (21:9) "like the law of all daughters he shall do with her", on which the Mechilta comments 'It (a regular woman) comes to teach (or so it seems), but really it is derived from it (a maidservant)'.

Some Dinim of the Mitzvah ... What the Gemara says in Kesubos with regard to someone who betrothes a woman on condition that he is exempt from 'She'er, K'sus ve'Onah' ... and that a woman's status in this regard rises with the higher status of her husband, but is not lowered due to his lower status (ibid. 61a). Consequently, in the former case, we assess the woman's food and clothes allowance according to her husband's status ... In assessing the woman's marital relations, the Gemara there takes into account the arduous nature of her husband's work (e.g. a sailor, twice a year, a camel-driver, once a month ... a Talmid-Chacham, once a week (ideally, on Shabbos night) ... and the remaining details, are to be found scattered around Seider Nashim.

This Mitzvah applies with regard to a free woman everywhere and at all times, to men. Someone who contravenes it, deliberately withholding from his wife any one of the above three in order to cause her pain, has transgressed a La'av. He does not however, receive Malkos, since it does not involve an act.


Mitzvah 47:
The Obligation on Beis-Din to Kill by Strangulation

The Torah commands us to kill those who transgress certain Mitzvos by strangulation, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (21:12) "Someone who strikes a man and he dies shall surely die". By tradition, S'tam death ("Mos Yumas") refers to strangulation. And the Mechilta (based on the juxtaposition of the two Pesukim here ("there is no money ... Someone who strikes a man ... ") adds that whoever is sentenced to death is exempt from paying (should the same act which resulted in the death-sentence also cause a financial loss).

The reason for this Mitzvah ... is really obvious, because as the Pasuk writes in Mishlei (29:4) "A king retains order in the land by means of justice"; were it not for the fear of justice, people would kill each other without compunction. Therefore G-d commanded us to put a murderer to death, and in His wisdom, He saw fit to have him killed by strangulation. And His decision goes nicely with our own logic too, since "he receives the same treatment as he meted out to others", since a murderer generally wants to accomplish his heinous deed as expediently as possible, for fear that his victim gets him first. So the Torah sentences him to strangulation, the most expedient of the four deaths of Beis-Din, rather than to burning or stoning, which are more painful. The Torah's punishment for sins connected with incest, on the other hand, from which the sinner derives prolonged pleasure, is sometimes burning and sometimes stoning.


Mitzvah 50:
The Obligation to Kill by the Sword

The Torah commands us to kill those who transgress certain Mitzvos by the sword. This is what the Chachamim call 'Hereg'. It is one of the lesser severe forms of death, though it is more stringent than Chenek (strangulation, see Mitzvah 47). One of the sins that earns this punishment is striking one's Eved, even if he is an eved Cana'ani, provided the latter dies as a result of the stroke, as the Torah writes in Mishpatim (21:20), "he shall surely be avenged", which the Gemara in Sanhedrin (52b) interprets as putting to death by the sword. The author has already written earlier that the Ramban disagrees with the Rambam, who lists the four death penalties as four separate Mitzvos.

A reason for the Mitzvah is - because G-d wants to remove severe bad-heartedness and cruelty from His holy nation. Consequently, He sentenced to death anyone who loses his temper to the extent that he can viciously hit a servant who is in his house, and who has no-one to protect him, and kill him. Irrespective of the fact that he is his own personal property, and that what he did causes himself a loss too, a man with such a vile temper deserves to die.

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... such as there where the Eved survived a day or two before succumbing to his wounds ... and other details of the Mitzvah, are discussed in Bava Kama (90a) and in the Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin (Perek 14). Someone who contravenes this Mitzvah and fails to carry out death by the sword, assuming he is able to do so, has nullified an Asei,. He will be severely punished, since he causes many people to stumble.

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