A Vision Was What Was Required

Why was Moshe Rabeinu punished for striking the rock, rather than speaking to it?

And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: ‘Take the rod, and assemble the congregation, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes, that it give forth its water; and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock;

I saw in the book, Aizor Eliyahu, collected sermons of Rav Eliyahu Lehrman of Viskit, a student of the Kotzker Rav, that the gematria of the word סלע (rock), 160, equals that of the word כסף [kosef] (longing, aspiration) as in the verse: נִכְסְפָה וְגַם כָּלְתָה נַפְשִׁי לְחַצְרוֹת יְ-וָה.

And a thought entered my head.

What was the reason that God ordered Moshe to speak rather than to strike the rock?

He was seeking a spiritual uplifting result so that the children of Israel would be encouraged to overcome temporary physical difficulties, that despite the very real problems, such as thirst, a strengthening of the will is essential, especially as they were now about to enter Eretz-Yisrael and a vision was what would carry them through to victory.

Striking the rock, instead of speaking to it, was not the example that God wished for Moshe to present.  He was to simply speak to it, just like he would soon be speaking to the children of Israel to exhort them to enter then land, to wage war and the settle it.

They needed to be uplifted, to be able to see beyond the physical. Moshe did not supply that example.

Comprehended this way, we can also understand the severe punishment meted out to Moshe, that he will

not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.

If the ultimate goal of speaking to the rock was part of the preparation for entering the Land of Israel, then the preventing of Moshe from entering is the fit punishment.


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Out of Order But In Order

This past week’s parshah, that of Korach, Numbers 16, presented me with a problem. I wished to say a dvar Torah at the table of Dr. Sophie Simons here at Shiloh, but was stumped.

The parsha starts off so:

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; 2 and they rose up in face of Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; 3 and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?’ 4 And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.

Moshe Rabeinu is faced with a potentially catastrophic situation: revolt against his leadership. This is a devastating development of yet another of the ‘murmurings’ that the Bnei Yisrael were wont to express in the desert.

What would be the first thing he does?

I would presume he would discuss or argue with them and try to avert the crisis. Seek a peaceful resolution. Compromise. Negotiate. Convince them they are wrong.

But what follows?

5 And he spoke unto Korah and unto all his company, saying: ‘In the morning the LORD will show who are His, and who is holy, and will cause him to come near unto Him; even him whom He may choose will He cause to come near unto Him. 6 This do: take you censors, Korah, and all his company; 7 and put fire therein, and put incense upon them before the LORD to-morrow; and it shall be that the man whom the LORD doth choose, he shall be holy; ye take too much upon you, ye sons of Levi.’

He seems to invite them to a knock-down, High Noon event. ‘Just you wait until the morrow’, is his response. Is that the way to go?

And then we read:

8 And Moses said unto Korah: ‘Hear now, ye sons of Levi: 9 is it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them; 10 and that He hath brought thee near, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee? and will ye seek the priesthood also? 11 Therefore thou and all thy company that are gathered together against the LORD–; and as to Aaron, what is he that ye murmur against him?’

After fixing a time and place for the showdown, Moshe reverts to persuasion. Is that the logical order?

Next, he attempts a “divide-and-conquer” maneuver which is more in line with the attempt to avert the crisis:

12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; and they said: ‘We will not come up; 13 is it a small thing that thou hast brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, but thou must needs make thyself also a prince over us? 14 Moreover thou hast not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards; wilt thou put out the eyes of these men? we will not come up.’

At this, Moshe becomes quite angry and repeats the invitation to a show down, here, in its proper place:

15 And Moses was very wroth, and said unto the LORD: ‘Respect not Thou their offering; I have not taken one ass from them, neither have I hurt one of them.’ 16 And Moses said unto Korah: ‘Be thou and all thy congregation before the LORD, thou, and they, and Aaron, to-morrow;

Why do I sense a mis-constructed chronology? It seems obvious. Something is out of order. Why?

The commentators that I found in Rav Kasher’s Torah Shleima seem to imply that Moshe was of the opinion that what was amiss was not a matter of logic or rationality.  Rashi writes the oppositionists were ‘drunk’ as they had been at a party Korach had thrown (parties can be a bad as Achashveros found out). Another, Yilmadeinu, suggests the term “morning” was a metaphor for clarity and things that are all worked out and the phrase was ‘don’t you realize it is all as clear and the morning/’.

The Tanchuma has it that Moshe hoped that they would do teshuva by the morning and that there would be no need for verbal sparring, always a generator of further arguments, especially among Jews. Another midrash informs us that Moshe himself had eaten and imbibed and he didn’t want to go before God until the morning.

The Bamidbar Rabbah has it that Moshe was saying that just like you cannot alter the order of a separation that exists between day and night and between light and darkness, so, too, the difference between the Kohanim descending from Aharon and the Levites from the other families cannot be changed. Each has its place and job and position.

All this is fine except for my quite subjective feeling that Moshe should have been engaging Korach and followers before intimating, right up front, that in the end, there’d be a confrontation with God, not himself.

Of course, this may not have been the first time, and it wasn’t, that these fellows were being troublemakers and perhaps Moshe was fed up with their shenanigans.

That, too, can be a lesson.



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Bring In The Seder Early

The Talmud at Tractate Pesachim 108b-109a relates that

we distribute to them [children] parched ears of corn and nuts on the eve of Passover, so that they should not fall asleep, and ask [the ‘questions’]. It was related of R. Akiba that he used to distribute parched ears and nuts to children on the eve of Passover, so that they might not fall asleep but ask [the ‘questions’]. It was taught, R. Eliezer said: The mazzoth are eaten hastily on the night of Passover, on account of the children, so that they should not fall asleep. It was taught: it was related of R. Akiba [that] never did he say in the Beth Hamidrash, ‘It is time to rise [cease study]’, except on the eve of Passover and the eve of the Day of Atonement. On the eve of Passover, because of the children, so that they might not fall asleep.

The shi’ur of Rav Arele Harel last night noted this instruction, emphasizing that the commandment to “relate to your son” (Exodus 13:8) is an integral element of the Seder night.  If you cannot keep your children up, there’s a failure and not everyone can get his children to take a nap.

The main reason why the Seder is relatively late is that the evening service usually begins at nightfall, there is a long davening including, here in Eretz-Yisrael, the Hallel, and add on to that getting home and the last-minute preparations and we end up with the beginning of the seder, this year for example, at close to 9 PM.

Can anything be done? Rav Arele says something should be done.

Just like during the summer months, so, too, should the davening for the Chag be started earlier.  The main objection would be the instruction to say the Hallel as it belongs to the Chag.  Rav Arele, after consulting with Rav Yaakov Ariel of Ramat Gan and Rav Elchanan Bin-Nun of Shiloh, asserts that since the Hallel is also said during the Seder service, the problem of thinking that the Hallel must be said after nightfall is solved.  There is one Hallel for the prayer service (and that service can start before nightfall) and another for the Chag itself which is at the table.

And so, this evening at Shiloh, there will be a minyan (two, actually. one up the hill, the other in the middle) which will begin at 6 PM (mincha will be recited at 1:30, as we all do here). Then they will go home after finishing just after 7 PM and at 7:25 or so, the Seder begins and right after Kiddush, the Shema is repeated as that prayer need be recited after nightfall.

And the children should be able to enjoy the evening without falling asleep too early.


From Rav Arele:

בהמשך לשאלת רבים בעקבות דבריי אמש בבית הכנסת נעם יונתן, הרי כמה הבהרות:

א. ניתן להתפלל ערבית מוקדמת בערב פסח, בתנאי שהקידוש יעשה לאחר צאת הכוכבים (היינו 19:25);
ב. אמנם הדבר מעורר שאלה הלכתית לגבי אמירת ההלל בתפילה לפני צאה”כ (וחשש לזה הגר”מ שטרנבוך במועו”ז), אך למעשה הדעה הפשוטה היא שאין בזה חשש כלל, וכך פסקו הגר”ע יוסף והגר”מ אליהו זצ”ל ויבדל”א הגר”א נבנצל. כך גם הורה לי למעשה מו”ר הגר”י אריאל, ואף שבתי ושוחחתי עמו היום לאור השאלות ושב ואמר שאין כל חשש בתפילה כזו (והאריך בזה הרב יעקב אפשטיין בשו”ת חבל נחלתו ח”ט סי’ י”ג, בכל צדדי הענין, יעו”ש);
ג. ידידי הרב גבריאל גבאי הי”ו קיבל את אישורו של מורנו המרא דאתרא למנין כזה כבר בשנה שעברה;
ד. מה שכן חשוב להדגיש הוא שחייבים להתפלל מנחה לפני פלג המנחה, ועל כן כל המעוניין להצטרף למנין כזה יתפלל מנחה גדולה (יש כמה מניינים, ככל הידוע לי באחת וחצי למעלה ובשתיים למטה);
ה. כמו כן, יש לשוב ולקרוא קריאת שמע לאחר צאה”כ, והצעתי לעשות זאת מייד אחרי הקידוש.
למעשה, לוח הזמנים (למניין בנועם יונתן, שיתקיים בהיכל פנינה):
17:42 ואילך – הדלקת נרות
18:00 ערבית
סיום משוער ב19:00
עריכת השולחן וכד’  והכנות סופיות
19:25 קידוש
קריאת שמע (שתי פרשיות ראשונות)
המשך הסדר – רחץ , כרפס וכו’.
כל טוב,
בברכת חג שמח וכשר
מלא שמחה ואור,


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Tuna for Passover

Pesach is a complicated and complex holiday.

We do not sacrifice a lamb, although we should and actually could and at least practice for the event.

But we do banish chometz and any and all manner of leavened bread and grains.  The kitchen can become a battle place, with all the cleaning and scrubbing and covering and separating and hiding all-year-round food stuffs.

It can become even more difficult when you go to purchase items and seek out a Rabbinical supervision label. Which Rabbi, which Rabbinate, which company?

And here in Israel, with not-so-friendly rivalry, I found a problematic instance:


If you pay attention you can see that the tuna fish can on the right has contradictory declarations as to whether the contents can be eaten on the Pesach holidy.

Arrow 1 on the can to the left points to “Bishul Yisrael [prepared by Jewish employees], Kosher for Pesach” on the label.

Arrow 2 on the can to the right points to the same text and both are from the Tirat Carmel Rabbinate.

Arrows 3, however, pointing to a yellow label on the can to the right from the Badatz declares the tuna non-edible for Pesach.



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Dvar Torah on Parshat Ki Tissa

This Shabbat my wife and I were luncheon guests at Ilana and David B’s table and this is a summary reworking of my Dvar Torah.

I first mentioned that the whole series of instructions we have been reading these past weeks in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) presents an odd building plan.  The first thing to be described in the Aron (Altar).  But that’s like, as an example, noting a fireplace first and then working out.  But that was done to stress the importance of what is in the Mishkan, spiritual labor, rather than just the physical elements.

Then I noted two language oddities.

In the conversation Moshe has with God during the fiasco of the Golden Calf in Exodus Chapter 32, God tells Moshe verse 7

וַיְדַבֵּר יְ-וָה אֶל מֹשֶׁה, לֶךְ רֵד, כִּי שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

That is,

And the LORD spoke unto Moses: ‘Go, get yourself down; for your people, who you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly;

But Moshe comes right back and tells God

לָמָה יְ-וָה יֶחֱרֶה אַפְּךָ בְּעַמֶּךָ אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם

That is,

LORD, why are you angry against your people, that you brought forth out of the land of Egypt

It is almost comic.

Your people, no your people.

So, whose people are they? Of Moshe? Or of God?

Moshe does not retreat and argues: they are your responsibility. Do not pass it off to me.

A second language item that interested me was that the making of the Golden, or Molten, Calf had a second stage.  Aharon builds an altar.  Did he need to do that? Why?

וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו

The Hebrew word for ‘saw’ there is very close to ‘he feared’. Did he fear or,as the Midrash implies, he sought to delay as much as possible so that Moshe would return and resolve the difficulty?  He had what to fear as Hur, who was first asked to make the Calf, was killed after he refused (input from Shabtai).

But the main theme is connected to these verses at 30-31:

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל הָעָם: אַתֶּם חֲטָאתֶם חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה, וְעַתָּה אֶעֱלֶה אֶל יְהוָה אוּלַי אֲכַפְּרָה בְּעַד חַטַּאתְכֶם. וַיָּשָׁב מֹשֶׁה אֶל יְהוָה וַיֹּאמַר, אָנָּא חָטָא הָעָם הַזֶּה חֲטָאָה גְדֹלָה


And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses said to the people: ‘You have sinned a great sin; and now I will go up unto the LORD, peradventure I shall make atonement for your sin.’ And Moses returned unto the LORD, and said: ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin

The Rebbe Yitzchak  Kalisch of Worka comments that of all the things to say, why does Moshe seemingly increase the seriousness of the sin of the people? He had to say “a great sin”? Why needle God? What could he gain speaking thus instead of placating him?

His insight is that the situation could be compared to a case when a small child is playing on a table and falls off. If the injuries are minor, the father most probably would yell at the child and maybe even strike him.  But if they are more serious, the father would rush to the child, comfort him and take him quickly for medical attention. The admonition would be saved for later, if at all.

Similarly, Moshe seeks to appeal, in a psychological sense, to God’s realization that, yes, the sin was great, almost unforgivable, but now is not the time to admonish or even punish but to reach out and save the people of Israel. The danger of losing the nation of Israel is in the balance.

So should we all relate to those close to us, or even farther away, who have erred or strayed.



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שתי פורים תורות

פורים תורה


עוד פורים תורה



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Aryeh as an Acronym

As the Shelah HaKadosh, Rabbi Yeshayah Horowitz, records in his “Two Tablets of the Law“,


The period of Ellul through to Hoshanna Rabba is suggested by the word Aryeh – אריה – in the verse “The lion has roared, who will not fear?” (Amo 3:8) as an acronym.

The alef – א is Ellul.

The reish – ר is Rosh HaShana.

The yud – י is Yom Kippur.

The hey – ה is Hoshanna Rabba.

These are the four time elements of a month and days that instill in us awe, respect and even fear – of our doings this past year, of the things we could have done, of the things we could have done better, of the things we shouldn’t have done as we did them. And of what awaits us in this coming year and can we do better.

I thought to add that we have just celebrated Shmini Atzeret/Simchat Torah, a holiday of joy, of happy expressions. We have the Torah and we have the way to do better.

If we engage not in a feeling of fear and awe but, in a feeling of joy, we use the tools by which to do good, our joy and happiness will exponentially increase and erase that feeling of dread.

May we be blessed with a good new year.


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