Abortion

Parshat נח has references to the Torah prohibition against abortion. When the Noachide laws are given, included in murder is שופך דם אדם באדם, spilling the blood of man within man.

This strange wording implies terminating the life of one who is inside another human. This is interpreted as terminating the life of a fetus. This prohibition applies both to Jews and non Jews.

Rabbeinu Bechaye goes even further by saying that the ultimate corruption of the דור המבול is that they regularly killed their fetuses at forty days when it became a real viable entity. They were punished measure for measure with forty days of rain that put an end to their lives.

It is amazing that other Rabbis like the Rambam understood so much about the development of a fetus, and how the Torah made it so clear that abortion is absolutely forbidden.

חם בן נח

Among the sons of Noach, חם, also known as “Ham”, was the most problematic for several reasons.

There are some very strange Midrashim regarding חם. One says that he sinned by violating the prohibition against intimacy in the Ark. For this he was punished and his skin became black.(racist commentary?)

Ham also sinned in revealing his father’s nakedness. Rashi says he wanted to be sure that Noach would not father any more children. For shaming his father, his children would become slaves. Just as he mocked his father, his descendants would be mocked as slaves often are.

His list of descendants were very problematic as well. Kush descended from him as did Amalek. From his oldest son, כנען, other members of the Seven Nations also descended. They were: יבוסי, אמורי,גרגשי, and חוי.

The Jewish people suffered a great deal from the family of חם. Perhaps “stay away from Ham” has new meaning for us! שבוע טוב

Noach Verses Avraham

There is an annual debate concerning Noach and Avraham Avinu as to who was greater. Generally, we emphasize that the Torah tells us that Noach was outstanding בדורותיו, in his generation. The Rabbis add that he was great in HIS generation but not so great had he lived in Avraham’s generation.

Rabbeinu Bechaye believed that Noach was an outstanding individual. The reason he did not pray for forgiveness for his people, is that he knew he would not find ten righteous , who were worthy of salvation.

Avrahame did not know if there were any righteous. This is why he asked if Hashem would still destroy the cities if he found ten. Noach knew there was only eight with himself and his three sons and their spouses. Therefore, there was no point in even trying.

Rabbeinu Bechaye felt that Noach was a complete Tzaddik who was humble and did everything for the sake of Heaven. And he was one of those rare individual who “walked with G-d.”

This is a little different approach to the Noach-Avraham controversy. Shabbat Shalom

Accountability and Laws

At the end of Parshat בראשית, Hashem expresses His disappointment with man’s nature. He expresses regret in having created man.

The lesson to be learned is that it is extremely difficult to control the יצר הרע, the evil inclination. It is also attesting to the fact that when man is left alone without accountability, he will generally make the wrong decisions and self destruct.

It becomes abundantly clear that man needs some kind of system of reward and punishment in order to survive. True, there are individual Tzadikiim that appear and shine in the most difficult times, but the masses are not that way.

Hashem gives mankind the Seven Noachide Laws as a minimum basis for every society to live by. The Jews were given 613 Mitzvot in order to attain holiness.

This reality of the need for laws and accountability, cries out even louder today when there is such a lack of morals and principles.

Strange Midrash

The Gemara in Sanhedrin relates how the sixth day of creation was a rather long day to say the least. It is difficult to make complete sense of this explanation. But it could possibly prove that we are not sure how long a day lasted at the beginning of creation.

The Gemara relates the following regarding day six:

The first hour, Hashem took dust to form man. During the second hour, Adam grew. In the third hour, he was given veins and sinews to complete his form. He was given a נשמה in the fourth hour. In the fifth hour, he stood on his feet. In the sixth, he gave names to the animals. In the seventh, he was joined by Eve. In the eighth, she gave birth to Cain and Abel. In the tenth, they were commanded to stay away from the forbidden trees. In the eleventh, they sinned. And in the twelfth, they were judged and sent out of the garden.

As is the case with Midrashim, we are to glean whatever we can. I thought this was an unusual comment worth sharing.

Important Dates

The chronology of both פרשת נח and פרשת בראשית are significant in understanding the age of the world. There were twenty generations from Adam to Abraham.

The Kuzari adds an additional point that only the sons mentioned in the Torah, were righteous. Usually, there was only one good one in every family until Yakov Avinu came along where all of his children were pious. This family was chosen to become עם ישראל.

Rabbeinu Bechaye also emphasized the importance of knowing important dates. He points out that Avraham was נח (58) years old when נח died. So even though twenty generations passed, Avraham knew Noach who knew Metushelach who knew Adam.

The other two dates that are important to remember is that Avraham was born 1948 years after creation. And the year of our exodus from Egypt was in the year 2448.

All of these dates come together when we combine them with other events. Two such examples are the rise to power of Alexander the Great exactly 1000 years after leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. And Chazal tell us that prophecy existed for 1000 years which corresponded to forty years into the second Temple period. This probably was the same time as the famous meeting between Alexander the Great and the Kohein Gadol, Shimon Hatzaddik.

Dates are extremely important as they help verify the truth of the Torah and Judaism.

Clothing of Adam and Eve

Rabbeinu Bechaye brings a well known Midrash regarding the clothing that Hashem made for Adam and Eve after their sin. They are referred to as כתנות עור, robes of leather. The Midrash says that in the future, they will be known as כתנות אור, robes of light, when the world will be on a higher spiritual level.

These garments had images of birds and were given to Cain as a gift from his father. They were later taken by the power hungry Nimrod. Later, Eisav killed Nimrod and used the garments as a hunting device. Apparently, animals were attracted to the garments which made them easy to capture.

Whether this Midrash sounds a little hard to understand or not, we do see Hashem’s abundant Chesed. Even after Adam and Eve had sinned, Hashem did not forsake them. We must appreciate that Hashem’s kindness knows no bounds.

Good and Evil

Shavua Tov. Rabbeinu Bechaye uses the story of Cain and Abel that it is Hashem Himself that created good and evil. He quotes a Pasuk from Isaiah that specifically says that אני ה׳ בראתי אור ובראתי רע, “It is I Hashem who created light and evil.

It is further explained that Hashem did this as a means of rewarding the Tzaddikim of the world for their choosing good over evil.

Cain chose to be jealous of his brother. Instead of offering fruits of the שבעת המינים, the Seven Species, he offered inferior fruits as a sacrifice. Abel chose good and offered from the best of his flock in order to honor G-d.

This is a basic concept of Judaism. One can become a great Tzaddik if he applies himself and makes the right choices. On the other hand, one can be total evil where he has no place in this world.

This is why there is Amalek and the Seven Nations. It is considered an act of mercy to destroy them. For when evil is erased, the world becomes a better place.

סוד הקרבנות

Rabbeinu Bachye uses an expression called סוד הקרבנות, the secret of the sacrifices. He claimed that many of the biblical characters were privy to this secret.

Perhaps it was some kind of intuitive knowledge as to how to connect with Hashem on the highest level. It was not reserved only for Jews. Even בלעם הרשע saw the need to construct seven altars and offer sacrifices on them.

Cain and Abel understood סוד הקרבנות, as did Noach. And, of course, the patriarchs realized the importance of this spiritual connection by way of the קרבנות.

This is a different approach than that of the progressive, modern intellectuals, who see sacrifices as something very primitive and irrelevant in our day and age.

It is essential that we keep an open mind and realize that there are many concepts that are beyond our comprehension. סוד הקרבנות is one such concept. Shabbat Shalom

מצוות שכליות ומצוות מקובלות

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains in his introduction to the Torah that there are two categories of Mitzvot. One is called, מצוות מושכלות, and the others are called מצוות מקובלות.

The מצוות מושכלות refer to those Mitzvot that could be figured out by using one’s שכל, or intellect. They make sense as being necessary for the benefit of society.

These would include the prohibition against murder, adultery, stealing, honoring parents, and giving false testimony.

The מצוות המקובלות are not really logical but are accepted as having been handed down from G-d to the Jewish people. מקובלות implies an accepted tradition.

The examples of these Mitzvot are a little surprising. Rabbeinu Bechaye includes Lulav, Shofar, Succa, קרבנות, Shmitta and Yovel, and Shatnez as מצוות מקובלות.

The difference in the observing of these two categories is that the first brings תועלת, benefit, to the גוף, the physical, as it is necessary for קיום העולם, the world’s continued existence.

The תועלת in observing the מצוות מקובלות is that it helps the גוף as well as the נשמה. There is unique spiritual elevation that comes from observing the direct commandments of Hashem.

I think we’re going to gain a great deal from Rabbeinu Bachye’s insights.

רבינו בחיי

This year I’ve decided to learn the commentary of רבינו בחיי of Spain. He lived roughly seven hundred years ago and he was a student of the Rashba.

Rabbeinu Bechaye’s commentary included the four methods of interpretation: פשט, simple interpretation, רמז, that which was learned by hints, דרש, learning things through seeking things out, and סוד, the secrets of Torah. All four are incorporated in his commentary, making it difficult to understand.

We will do our best this year to glean from the wisdom of this great Torah sage.

Legend has it that the commentary of רבינו בחיי would have never been uncovered if not for one of the Anussim (those who practiced Christianity on the outside during the Inquisition and Judaism in private) who decided to stop the charade and not be ashamed of his Jewishness. As a result, he stumbled upon the original transcript of Rabbeinu Bechaye and revealed it to the world.

Torah Study

Shana Tova. A greeting at this time is חורף טוב, a good winter. Today we celebrated the completion of the Torah. This coming Shabbat is פרשת בראשית, when we start the Torah again.

When the sixth day of creation was completed, the Torah refers to it as יום השישי with an extra ה at the beginning of the word.

Our commentators explain that this ה refers to חמשה חומשי תורה, the five books of the Torah. Creation would not have been worthwhile without the Torah.

We are to appreciate this incredible gift that we Jews live by. The Torah is the source for that which is meaningful in this world.

Rabbi Soloveitchik described the magical effect that intense Torah study has on an individual.

“The Torah becomes absorbed into one’s very being. His personality, purified by his study, combines with sanctified inspiration. A mysterious intuition becomes a source for creativity.”

There is definitely something so special about Torah study when studied with great Kavana. Let this year be one where we all increase our study and love for Torah.

More on Kohelet

Shavua Tov. Moadim Lesimcha. I heard several comments today regarding Kohelet and what a depressing book it is. Actually, Chazal also had some debate as to whether or not this book should be part of Tanach.

It was felt that the whole book was worthwhile because of the last Pasuk that spoke of fear of Heaven כי זה כל האדם, for that is what is worthwhile to man.

The idea here is that יראת שמים is critical to the way that man must function. Life and worldly pursuits are futile if they are not accompanied by יראת שמים.

“There is nothing new under the sun,” is true in the sense that human nature does not really change. But what is “above the sun”, meaning the עולם הרוחני, the spiritual world, is that which makes life meaningful.

People cannot find true happiness if they are not heavily involved in spiritual pursuits. And when these pursuits include strong יראת שמים, then life suddenly becomes most fulfilling.

Kohelet

This Shabbat is שבת חול המועד. We read the book of Kohelet written by Shlomo Hamelech.

Since Succot is also known as חג האסיף, the Holiday of Gathering, Chazal felt it important to read this book to help get a good perspective on life.

We must not be bribed by focusing on material gains as they are fleeting pleasures. The joy from spiritual pursuits is much more permanent and long lasting.

Rabbi Doctor Avraham Twerski, a Torah scholar and psychiatrist, spoke of the importance of having goals as a reason for living. Shared goals cement a marriage. And as long as one has goals and a purpose, he has the motivation to move forward.

Reading Kohelet and reflecting on life is another aspect of Succot that prepares us for the coming year.

Succot and Humility

Rav Shlomo Mann זצ״ל, wrote about the idea of the אושפיזין, our esteemed Succa guests. We invite each of these unique figures each night of Succot.

Rav Mann felt that the attribute common to our seven guests was ענוה, or humility. Avraham, Yitzchak, Yaakov, Moshe, Aharon, Yosef, and David, all possessed this important character trait.

Truly humble people are very uncomfortable around בעלי גאוה, haughty or conceited individuals. They have a low tolerance for those who feel they can compete with Hashem.

If we would like these saintly individuals to visit our Succa, then we also need to act with humility. If there is strife and bad Midot, the holiness will distance itself from us. This is another important Succot lesson.

Simcha

One of the names of Succot is זמן שמחתינו, the time of joy. שמחה is a very powerful emotion and is a prerequisite towards achieving greater spiritual heights.

It is told that the Prophet, Yona Ben Amitai, of whale fame, felt the שכינה, Divine Presence, rest upon him when he participated in the festivities of the שמחת בית השואבה in the Beit Hamikdash.

The Rambam clearly wrote that in order to achieve prophecy, the prophet had to elevate himself with music, to raise his spirits. Once he was in a state of joy, he was able to communicate with Hashem.

In Chassidut, they speak of שמחה as a powerful tool in not only overcoming sadness, but even sickness. So we see that Succot is showing us how it really is a Mitzva to always be בשמחה.

Twenty Amot Succa

Moadim Lesimcha. One of the Halachot related to Succa, is that a Succa that is higher than twenty Amot ( about thirty-five feet ) is פסולה, not valid.

There are two reasons given for this Halacha. The first is that twenty Amot is considered more of a permanent dwelling. The Succa was meant to be a דירת ארעי, a temporary dwelling.

The second reason is that the Torah says, למען ידעו דורותיכם, in order that the future generations know that Hashem prepared Succot for us in the desert. A twenty Amot Succa is not adequately perceived by the eye.

The ultimate purpose in either case is to recognize Hashem’s abundant kindness and our complete dependence upon Him. This is the message of Succot.

Succot and Clouds of Glory

Shavua Tov. There is a direct connection between the Succa and the ענני הכבוד, the Clouds of Glory, in the desert. On Rosh Hashanah, the Haftarah praised the faith of עם ישראל for following Moshe and Hashem in a barren wilderness.

This faith was rewarded by the protection provided by the ענני הכבוד. Some commentators say that these clouds literally enveloped the Jewish people on all sides. They were not harmed by dangerous animals and they were able to feel how Hashem was watching over them.

This was the message of Succot. It is a time when we reflect on that which is permanent and that which is temporary. The Succa reminds us how fragile we all really are. Our hope and strength depends on our closeness to G-d.

This is what Succot and the ענני הכבוד teach us. We will succeed if we put our faith completely in Hashem. Chag Sameach

פרשת האזינו

This Shabbat we read פרשת האזינו. It is read as a שירה, a poetic song, describing the covenant between Hashem and the Jewish people.

Moshe Rabbeinu asks that the Heaven and Earth act as witnesses to this special relationship. Rabbi Soloveitchik describes Heaven and Earth as representative of the laws of nature.

The Rav notes that it is a paradox how the world accepts the laws of nature as G-d ordained. Physicists are forced to acknowledge that there is a plan and purpose to the world that can only be attributed to G-d.

Yet, when it comes to moral laws, the world has difficulty in accepting them. It is the same G-d that gave the laws of nature who also gave the world morality.

It was understood that the Seven Noachide Laws were meant to create functioning societies where there were boundaries as to how a human being should behave.

Moshe Rabbeinu is using האזינו to call out to the world to believe in the G-d of Nature as well as the G-d of Morality.

The Blessing of High Priest

Moadim Lesimcha. One of the beautiful Yom Kippur prayers was the request made by the כהן גדול after successfully completing the Temple service.

He requested that this be a year of abundant blessings and good decrees. It should be a year of prosperity with successful crops. It should be a year with adequate rainfall. Our women should have smooth and easy pregnancies and birth. It should be a year of peace where we are able to walk proudly and upright. We should be forgiven for all of our sins. And Israel should be independent without needing the assistance of any other nation.

May all of the כהן גדול’s requests come true for all of כלל ישראל. Gemar Chatima Tova!