Insight on Incense

Insight on Incense

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tissa, Moshe is commanded to: “take sweet spices… and you shall make it into incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, well blended, pure and holy; and you shall crush some of it very finely… it shall be to you holy for the Lord” (Shemot 30:34-38).

According to Abba Yose ben Yochanan in a beraita quoted in the Gemara (Keritot 6b): “The ketoret (incense) would be returned to the mortar for regrinding twice a year (in order to revitalize its fragrance)… And when he [the artisan blending the ketoret] would grind, a Temple appointee would say to him: hadeik-heitev, heitev-hadeik (‘grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind’).”

The Gemara states that this beraita supports a statement of Rabbi Yochanan. “For Rabbi Yochanan said: Just as speech is detrimental to wine (perhaps because breath/oxygen emitted is somehow injurious to the wine?), so is speech beneficial for spices.”

Similarly, in the words of the Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:5), which we say in the korbanot prayers every day: “Rabbi Natan said: As one would grind the incense, another would say (omeir): ‘Grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind’ – because the sound is beneficial for the spices” (mipnei she’hakol yafe la’besamim).

For some reason, then, speech has a salutary effect in spices that are in the process of being ground! Perhaps because the speech spurs the pounder to grind them properly, to the beat of a regular rhythm?!

In an earlier article (https://www.jacksonadvocates.net/parshat-teruma-why-would-a-17th-century-renaissance-doctor-write-an-encyclopedic-work-specifically-on-the-temple-2/), we analyzed why 17th century Renaissance doctor, Rabbi Avraham Portaleone (1542-1612) felt impelled to write an encyclopedic work on the Beit HaMikdash. We outlined his fascinating and detailed description of the architecture, furniture and rites of the Beit HaMikdash, and of how he relates the arts and sciences to the Temple.

Symptomatic of the period in which Rabbi Avraham lived was a greater awareness of the field of health and the science of medicine. Thus, he writes that, at the time of pounding the spices for the ketoret, the pounder himself (not a Temple appointee!) would say the words: hadeik-heitev, heitev-hadeik. This sound is good for him, the pounder, against the damage in the spices, he writes, because when they are properly ground the afrurit (earth) of the spices can enter the pounder’s throat dangerously, causing him to sneeze excessively or heat up the pounder’s throat, which can afflict the pounder with diphtheria. By saying these words, the pounder thus expels the ascent of the spices out of the throat!

It follows that Rabbi Avraham and other like-minded commentators read the Hebrew words of the above-cited Yerushalmi with just one small change: mipnei she’hakol yafe la’bAsamim (vowellized with a patach), rather than la’bEsamim (vowellized with a sheva); the former means “the sound is beneficial to the pounder,” rather than for the spices themselves.

Just a small insight on the incense and of how a tiny grammatical change can make a big difference in meaning…

Insight on Incense

In this week’s parsha, Ki Tissa, Moshe is commanded to: “take sweet spices… and you shall make it into incense, a compound according to the art of the perfumer, well blended, pure and holy; and you shall crush some of it very finely… it shall be to you holy for the Lord” (Shemot 30:34-38).

According to Abba Yose ben Yochanan in a beraita quoted in the Gemara (Keritot 6b): “The ketoret (incense) would be returned to the mortar for regrinding twice a year (in order to revitalize its fragrance)… And when he [the artisan blending the ketoret] would grind, a Temple appointee would say to him: hadeik-heitev, heitev-hadeik (‘grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind’).”

The Gemara states that this beraita supports a statement of Rabbi Yochanan. “For Rabbi Yochanan said: Just as speech is detrimental to wine (perhaps because breath/oxygen emitted is somehow injurious to the wine?), so is speech beneficial for spices.”

Similarly, in the words of the Yerushalmi (Yoma 4:5), which we say in the korbanot prayers every day: “Rabbi Natan said: As one would grind the incense, another would say (omeir): ‘Grind thoroughly, thoroughly grind’ – because the sound is beneficial for the spices” (mipnei she’hakol yafe la’besamim).

For some reason, then, speech has a salutary effect in spices that are in the process of being ground! Perhaps because the speech spurs the pounder to grind them properly, to the beat of a regular rhythm?!

In an earlier article (https://www.jacksonadvocates.net/parshat-teruma-why-would-a-17th-century-renaissance-doctor-write-an-encyclopedic-work-specifically-on-the-temple-2/), we analyzed why 17th century Renaissance doctor, Rabbi Avraham Portaleone (1542-1612) felt impelled to write an encyclopedic work on the Beit HaMikdash. We outlined his fascinating and detailed description of the architecture, furniture and rites of the Beit HaMikdash, and of how he relates the arts and sciences to the Temple.

Symptomatic of the period in which Rabbi Avraham lived was a greater awareness of the field of health and the science of medicine. Thus, he writes that, at the time of pounding the spices for the ketoret, the pounder himself (not a Temple appointee!) would say the words: hadeik-heitev, heitev-hadeik. This sound is good for him, the pounder, against the damage in the spices, he writes, because when they are properly ground the afrurit (earth) of the spices can enter the pounder’s throat dangerously, causing him to sneeze excessively or heat up the pounder’s throat, which can afflict the pounder with diphtheria. By saying these words, the pounder thus expels the ascent of the spices out of the throat!

It follows that Rabbi Avraham and other like-minded commentators read the Hebrew words of the above-cited Yerushalmi with just one small change: mipnei she’hakol yafe la’bAsamim (vowellized with a patach), rather than la’bEsamim (vowellized with a sheva); the former means “the sound is beneficial to the pounder,” rather than for the spices themselves.

Just a small insight on the incense and of how a tiny grammatical change can make a big difference in meaning…

The Clothes We Wear: Dignity or Deceit?הבגדים שאנו לובשים: לכבוד או לבגידה?

The Clothes We Wear: Dignity or Deceit?

In Parshat Tetzave, Moshe is instructed to “make sacred clothes for your brother Aaron, for dignity and beauty… They will be used to consecrate him and make him a priest to Me.” (Shemot 28:2-3). As my Rav, Rabbi Meir Wise, notes in his impressive translation and adaptation of Rav Kook’s words in Ein Eyah (http://pathsofthewise.wordpress.com/):

“Clothing has a dual purpose. Its first function is utilitarian, protecting us from the elements – the cold and the rain, the wind and the sun. In this respect, our apparel corresponds to the fur of beasts and the feathers of birds. Except that the animals have it better. They never need to change clothes, or worry about acquiring new garments when they wear out or no longer fit. Their wardrobe comes naturally.

The second function of clothing, on the other hand, is unique to humans. Our attire affects our state of mind; it influences how we feel about ourselves and the image that we wish to project. We feel unhappy when wearing unattractive or ill-fitting clothes, and feel good wearing apparel that is complementary. We feel comfortable in casual clothing, and dignified in formal wear.

This second aspect of clothing has great ethical value. It stresses those qualities that separate us from the animals and their simple physical needs. It enables us to attain a heightened sense of holiness and dignity. By covering our heads, wearing modest dress, and fulfilling the mitzvot of tefilin and tzitzit, we deepen our awareness of God’s presence.”

Rabbi Wise concludes his article by stating that clothing can thus contribute to human dignity and morality, raising us above the animals. It is due to its spiritual value in acquiring refined traits that we also enjoy its physical benefit – providing warmth and comfort. Stripped of its ethical function, however, clothing loses its true value.

Indeed, while clothes can also make a man, they can also break him, by disguising his true identity, by causing him to focus more on his external image than on his inner essence. As the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot states (4:27) – “Al tistakel ba’kankan, elah b’mah sheyesh bo” (“Don’t look at the jug, but rather at what is inside it”). The way a person looks, and attention to aesthetics in general, is significant, so long as we remember that, at the end of the day, “Ha’Neshma Lach, ve’ha-guf Po-olach” (“the soul is Yours, the body is Yours, [therefore] have mercy on Your handiwork”), as we say in the Selichot prayers. The Gemara tells us: “Three things broaden (marchivim) the disposition of a man’s mind: a beautiful dwelling, a beautiful wife and beautiful furnishings” (Berachot 57b); however, there is an alternative text of the Gemara there that most forget to quote: “Three things ruin (machrivim) the disposition of a man’s mind.”

The Hebrew language is infused with holiness by God Himself. It is not surprising that many Hebrew words and expressions encapsulate deeper ideas. Commentators with a linguistic bent have noted the connection between the Hebrew words “beged” (garment) and “begidah” (infidelity, treason), and between “me’il” (coat, covering) and “me’ilah” (duplicity, perfidy). Thus, Ibn Ezra (Vayikra 5:15) writes, “If anyone commit a trespass [“ma’al”]: I.e., he removes his “ma’al,” his covering, from the same root as “me’il,” cloak.” If someone casts off God’s yoke, he is a “ben beliya’al”, a person without a yoke [“beli ol”]. This expression connotes an evildoer, as we find regarding the apostate city: “Base people [bnei beliya’al] are gone out from the midst of you” (Devarim 13:14).

In a similar vein, the Malbim explains that me’ilah and begidah (“betrayal”) are alternative expressions for the same act and both derive from garments – me’il and beged (“garment”). Begidah was chosen to describe an untoward act done secretly “just as a person covers himself with a garment so that his real flesh is not visible, thus the betrayer hides his betrayal – he appears like a friend but hides his enmity,” while me’ilah was chosen to describe an act of open lying, like a coat which is an upper garment, seen by everyone, and therefore every open lie and visible, wrongful change is called me’ilah.

***

Rav Meir Kahane expands on this idea in his book “Forty Years.” Thus, in Me’ilah 18a we find: “Ma’al” can only mean “change” [i.e., acting differently from what God commanded us to do]. Thus it says, “If a woman deviates and commits a “ma’al” against her husband” (Bamidbar 5:12) [i.e., switching mates for a strange man]. It also says (I Chron. 5:25), “They committed a “ma’al” against the God of their ancestors and strayed after the gods of the nations of the land” [i.e., they switched from worshipping God to worshiping idols.] A woman who profanes her holiness by turning to harlotry is called a “zonah,” and a married woman who commits adultery is called a “sotah.” Both words convey deviation, altering the role one was commanded to follow.

In actual fact, change and deceit are one. Whoever veers from his role is untrue to it. Change, deceit and “me’ilah” are all one, as well, because our clothing symbolizes the Divine yoke and holiness God placed on Adam, naked of mitzvot and holiness, as a covering. ”Me’ilah” and “Begidah” indicate the removal of this spiritual garb, thus betraying one’s duty.

In the Temple, the Torah established a “me’ilah” offering to atone for the person who betrayed the holy objects of God, deriving benefit from them as if they were non-holy, and transferring the holy to a non-holy domain. Similarly, when the Jewish People substitute idolatry or a foreign culture in God’s place, this constitutes change, straying and betrayal.

***
In 1980, a revolutionary law was passed by the Israeli Knesset - the Foundations of Law Act. This stated that where a judge is faced with a legal question requiring decision, to which he finds no answer in statute law, judicial precedent or analogy: “…he shall decide it in light of the principles of freedom, justice, equity and peace of the Jewish heritage” (“Moreshet Yisrael”), rather than the principles of British law which were employed until that time.

In 1992, two special laws were passed by the Knesset relating to human rights (‘Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty’ and ‘Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation’). The preamble to both these Basic Laws states that: “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to anchor in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” And of immense significance is the provision that “None of these rights may be violated, except by a Law befitting the values of the State of Israel…”

According to this provision, laws of the Knesset must befit the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state - otherwise they can be struck down by the courts! Moreover, the courts themselves must take account of Jewish values when resolving legal-ethical questions which come before them. For example, in 1981 the court ruled that active euthanasia (‘mercy killing’) was illegal, because it negated the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state (Yael Shefer v. The State of Israel).

Every cultured nation engages in a dialogue with the heritage of its ancestors. Even if it chooses not to accept the values and norms of previous generations, it feels – or should feel – a healthy, natural need to justify its position in relation to the heritage of its national predecessors. We should be proud and not ashamed, as a people and as a nation, of our rich, Jewish legal heritage.

Former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Menachem Elon, who passed away on February 6, 2013. Elon was an advocate of the concept of Ha’Mishpat Ha’Ivri. By this effort he sought to incorporate traditional Halacha into the corpus of Israeli civil law. He felt that Shulchan Aruch, especially Choshen Mishpat, and the centuries of case law represented by our huge responsa literature, had a place in the legal system of the modern State of Israel, and indeed could facilitate the construction of a truly Jewish legal and judicial system. Among his efforts to achieve this goal is his multi-volume work, “Ha’Mishpat Ha’Ivri,” in which he combines his mastery of secular law with an astoundingly broad and deep understanding of traditional Halacha.

Thanks to Justice Elon’s legacy, Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset can now look proudly to our traditional teachings when they enact laws that govern a contemporary society, because Elon taught them that the wisdom of centuries of rabbinic study and debate can guide a modern society.

Why Do I Need a Notary in Israel? What’s Wrong With Going to a Regular Lawyer or Even to My Trusted Pharmacist?!מדוע אני צריך נוטריון בישראל? מה רע ללכת לעורך-דין רגיל או אף לרוקח הנאמן שלי?!

Notaries Around The World

The common perception of the term “Notary” is of a mature and respected person, authenticating a signature on a document bearing a red ribbon and tab, sealed with the notarial seal and signed by the Notary. Traditionally, notaries recorded matters of judicial importance as well as private transactions or events where an officially authenticated record or a document drawn up with professional skill or knowledge was required.

Notaries have had their “notarial acts” recognized worldwide for centuries and this, indeed, has permitted citizens and businesses to circulate freely. In this way Notaries facilitate commerce and the life for the ordinary citizen as notarial acts enable them to go about their daily lives and business freely at reasonable cost and without undue delay. A Notary holds an official seal and notarial acts have probative force. Notarial acts under the signature and seal of a Notary are recognized as evidence of a responsible official legal officer in all countries of the world. They may be received in evidence without further proof as duly authenticated in accordance with the requirements of the law unless the contrary is proved.

Israeli Notaries vs. US Notaries

To become an Israeli Notary, one must be a lawyer of 10 (until 2003 – 15) years seniority, with no criminal record, no complaints against him/her at the Israel Bar Association, and must have undergone a training course. This contrasts with other countries, such as the USA, in which notaries need not be lawyers. Notaries in the United States are much less closely regulated than notaries in most other common law countries, typically because U.S. notaries have little legal authority. Thus, in most states in the United States, a lay Notary may not offer legal advice or prepare documents and cannot generally recommend how a person should sign a document or what type of notarization is necessary.

Title companies in the USA have notaries attend signings for the purchase of real estate, because state laws generally dictate that the purchasers’ signatures must be “notarized.” This is because such companies essentially trust a Notary Public, by looking at the person’s original identification, to verify that the people signing such important documents are who they say they are. Similarly, financial institutions use notaries for loan signings, and other projects where monies or property are exchanged. This heads off potential problems down the road, if the question of identity ever arises.

Powers of Israeli Notaries


Section 7(1) of the Israeli Notaries Law, 5736-1976, clarifies that the first power and authority an Israeli Notary has is to authenticate signatures. But this is not the sole field of authority of the Notary, who is also authorized to witness and authenticate notarized translations of documents, notarized copies of documents, notarized Wills, irrevocable powers of attorney in favor of mortgage banks, powers of attorney in favor of non-lawyers, notarized pre-nuptial agreements, etc.

Signature verification/certification/authentication on a document by a Notary is mandated by Israeli law in a number of situations. These include

  • An irrevocable power of attorney in favor of a mortgage bank, empowering the bank to register the property to be mortgaged in the borrower’s name, and later also to register the mortgage, in the event that the borrower fails to perform these activities. This enables the bank to guarantee the payment of the mortgage.
  • An irrevocable power of attorney in respect to a new property (e.g. an apartment) in favor of a building contractor, empowering the contractor to undertake all of the registration formalities at the relevant land registration bodies (e.g. registering the building as a cooperative house (bayit meshutaf) in the Land Registry.

In view of the tremendous importance of these powers of attorney and because the rights of third parties are dependent on them, they will be irrevocable, meaning that they cannot be cancelled after they have been made. The special notarial stamp and seal on these documents is designed to prevent their forgery. By contrast, in other cases, which do not have such a significant impact on those involved, a regular (non-notarial) power of attorney may suffice, e.g. for the Municipality or cellular phone companies.

  • A power of attorney in favor of a relative or other third party, empowering such other person (the ‘agent’) to act on behalf of the ‘donor’ of the power, whether in general or for a specific purpose – for example:
    • to undertake banking transactions
    • to take any legal steps necessary to collect debts owed to the donor
    • to maintain/operate any business of the donor
    • to enter into binding contracts
    • to perform any other function (e.g. collecting mail) on the donor’s behalf.

Moreover, if a legal document is being signed in Israel to be used overseas, the foreign country will usually require the document to be witnessed by an Israeli Notary rather than a regular attorney/solicitor. This is because the Notary’s qualification is recognized abroad and the Notary’s signature can be verified. Common examples of overseas transactions that need a Notary include medical professionals applying to work abroad, granting power of attorney to a title company to buy or purchase land on one’s behalf in the USA or according an overseas law firm legal authority to sue a defaulting tenant for unpaid rent on property one owns overseas.

For the purpose of a notarial certification of signature, the signatory must present to the Notary original means of identification at the time s/he signs the document. Acceptable means of identification include a National Identity Card (teudat zehut) or passport. The Notary is required by law to confirm the identification of the person signing the document; hence the need for original identifying documentation.

Why Pay for a Notarized Translation?

The importance of having an accurate translation cannot be overstated. Any error in the translation can cost the client in valuable time and the expenses of having to redo an incorrectly translated document. The provision of an accurate translation ensures that the client is spared a myriad of potential hassles (for more on which, see here), including running back and forth between the translator and the Notary, who is responsible for the correctness of the translation. A notarized translation of a document is an internationally recognized guarantee that the translation accurately reflects what was written in the original language of the document. It is for this reason that many institutions (the courts, banks, most foreign governments etc.) will only accept notarial translations.

When Ought a Will to be Notarized?

By Israeli law, a last will and testament is valid if signed by its maker (known also as the ‘testator’/’testatrix’) in the presence of two ordinary witnesses. At times, however, a person making a will may choose to sign it before an Israeli Notary. The Notary confirms that the will has been read to the testator and that the testator declared of his own volition that it was his will.

The advantage of signing a will before a Notary is two-fold:

  • the testator may state his will orally or in writing in the Notary’s presence, without the need for any additional witnesses;
  • a notarial will has stronger weight than other types of wills under Israeli law (it is akin to a will signed before a judge), thus eliminating the potential for any future claims of fraudulent signature by the testator, such as on the basis of undue influence or duress, which might result in the will’s disqualification.

Conclusion

Notarial signatures carry more weight than non-notarized signatures. The assumption will be that the signatory has signed the relevant document in the knowledge that he is aware of what he signed and the legal consequences of signing it.

Notarized Wills can thus be kept totally secret – no-one need know of their existence; and the presumption will be that the testator was of sound mind and memory and free from any influence or duress whatsoever, when signing his Will.

Notarized translations are an internationally recognized guarantee that their content accurately reflects what was written in the original language of the document.

For further information on notarized signatures, translations, wills and pre-nuptial agreements, feel free to contact Simon directly at: simon@jacksonadvocates.net / 0737-40-60-40 / 0545-742-374.

Why would a 17th century Renaissance doctor write an encyclopedic work specifically on the Temple?!מדוע רופא מהמאה ה17, מתקופת הרנסנס, כתב ספר אינצקלופדי במיוחד בנושא המשכן?!

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Shiltei HaGibborim by R. Avraham Portaleone (1542-1612)

Rabbi Avraham Portaleone was an Italian Jewish physician of the Renaissance period. An annotated version of his encyclopedic work on the Temple, “Shiltei Ha-Gibborim,” first printed in 1612, was recently published by the Mikdash Kollel (“Beit HaBechira”) in Carmei Tzur, Gush Etzion.

Porta-l-e-o-ne, a Jewish family from northern Italy, derived its name from the quarter of Portaleone, situated in the vicinity of the ghetto of Rome. Why is this fact significant or interesting, you may well ask?!

Because in 90 encyclopedic chapters, Rabbi Avraham describes the architecture, furniture and rites of the Beit HaMikdash in great detail, and relates the arts and sciences to the Temple. It was printed in 1612 and stands alone among Hebrew writings of the early seventeenth century. A vast range of Mikdash related subjects are covered: from a description of Har HaBayit, the leshachot and the gates; through to a description of the musical instruments used by the Levi’im, the harmony in their singing; the Parochot, and the manner in which they were suspended; the Keilim of the Mikdash and the bigdei kehuna (including the prices and weight of diamonds!); the avoda of the korbanot; and the identification of the spices used in the Ketoret and the special anointing oil.

All of the foregoing – at a time when he, his family and community were languishing in a dark, gloomy, dingy ghetto in Rome, under constant threat of anti-Jewish decrees and violence!

The expansiveness of his mind is characteristic of the Italian Renaissance period in which he lived. He was a scion of generations of doctors. Whenever the Halacha touches on a certain point involving science, botany, zoology etc., he expands on the latter in his book. For example, when analyzing the different korbanot, he expands on the various kinds of animal life, including unique and even imaginary creatures. When dealing with the Menachot, the flour offerings, he compares the volume of liquids against the volume of solids. When describing the oil press for making the special anointing oil, he describes the area that is required on which to build the facility, how exactly the pot is constructed for cooking the spices, afterwards, a detailed description of the press itself, through to separating the oil from the water, and finally its storage in a fitting vessel.

Thus, when dealing with the topic of Kohen Mashuach Milchama, he turns to an expansive discussion of the methods of combat of his times, in which he reveals great expertise. Amongst other topics, he discusses the preparation of the fire powder for artillery, guerilla raids, the collection of intelligence, techniques of warfare, and even rest for the fighter. Typical of the Renaissance period was the grant of rights to all citizens of the state and their becoming partners in the duties owed to the state – this may explain the author’s emphasis on such topics as “ha’kibutz ha’medini”, the lengthy chapters on warfare.

As a preface to these chapters, he writes an expansive introduction to orientate the reader in the languages of the world, in which he surveys 42(!) types of letters in different languages (Greek, Latin, Ethiopian, Shomronit etc.). Typical of the Renaissance period was the quest to learn more about the ancient world.

Likewise typical of the Renaissance period is the attentiveness to beauty and external splendor. This in turn resulted in a great interest in jewels. Jews played an important part in trading in precious stones. Traders in Mantova were sent to bring rare stones, and for this purpose they needed a user guide. One was written by R. Meshulam mi’Volteira, which Rabbi Avraham praises.

In a similar vein, with regard to the two thick, heavy parochot that separated between the Kodesh and the Kodesh Kodashim – Chazal write nowhere about the way in which they were suspended. R. Avraham sees fit to describe a suspending device, it being clear to him that all of its components were made of gold, rather than of cheaper and lighter metals. The Torah and Chazal are similarly silent regarding the 3 steps on which the Cohen would stand when straightening the wicks of the Menorah; but R. Avraham insists it must have been made out of the finest marble, and particularly leucoplite, which is red with white spots, spread out on its external area…

Music appreciation likewise flourished during the Renaissance. Many artists actually emanated from the state of Mantova. Of its ninety chapters, ten along with comments in various appendices present the author’s views on the so-called ‘Song of Zion’ (Psalms 137:3), or music sung and played by the Levites for worship in the Temple. He assumes that all of the basic components of the complete orchestra must have been known already during Bayit Rishon, amongst Am Yisrael, with the finest kinds of musical instruments. Portaleone takes off from the premise that its components, thought to have gradually been forgotten by the Hebrews in their wanderings after 70 CE, were, from earliest times, imitated and preserved by Christians in their art music. He thus described it after the example, however historically incongruous, of late sixteenth-century Italian polyphony (music for two or more voices).

Although he quotes extensively from Chazal, the amazing thing is that, at the time he wrote the book, there were very few copies of the Talmud in Italy. In the year 1553, over 50 years before the book was written, the Pope, Julius III, all copies of the Talmud in Italy were burned and it was forbidden to own one. This would explain why the author, who frequently cites from sources, does not bring citations from the Talmud first-hand, but derives them from the Midrashim and Sifrei Ein Ya’akov, from the Rishonim and from the other commentators to which he had access. At the same time, he notes that he merited to learn Talmud directly, probably from books which were secretly concealed.

In his introduction, he writes of the motivating force for writing the work. In the year 1605 (שס”ה), he was paralysed on the left half of his body. He saw this as a sign and as reproof from Heaven to the length of time he was attracted to the Sciences and leaving aside the study of the Torah.

The Rabbis of the time wrote works, investigating the world of the Mikdash. For example, Sefer Chanukat HaBayit by R. Malkiel Ashkenazi; Kuntres “Binyan HaBayit” by R. Yehuda Altschuler (author of the ‘Metzudot’) at the end of Sefer Yechezkel, Tzurat Bayit Sheni that he drew and was printed in the large Gemarot after Masechet Midot; etc.

It is possible that the humanism that permeated the Renaissance era, with its emphasis on the human being, brought the Chachmei Italia to focus specifically on the world of Kodashim and the Mikdash (withהקב”ה at the center), as a counterbalance to their preoccupation with the sciences and the arts. On the other hand, it is also possible that the expulsion from Spain and the persecutions against the Jews strengthened considerably the feeling that the complete redemption was imminent, and this was what caused Torah sages to engage in Mikdash-related subjects.

To be continued!

Parshat Mishpatim - Not to Exploit Those Not of One’s Standingפרשת משפטים - לא לנצל אחרים שאינם במעמדו

Parshat Mishpatim

What is the connection between the fear and the splendor (Hebrew: Tiferet) of the experience of receiving the Torah in Parshat Yitro and the list of day-to-day laws that are cataloged in our Parsha, most of which deal with mundane matters of damages and money?

According to Ramban and S’forno, the mishpatim (civil laws) are a continuation of the last mitzvah in the Aseret HaDibrot, “You shall not covet,” in that the mishpatim define what belongs to us and what belongs to our fellow. Hizkuni cites an opinion that the mishpatim prescribe the penalties (punishments) for the last five of the Ten Commandments (i.e. those which deal with interpersonal matters). Rashi connects between the mishpatim and the end of last week’s parsha (building a mizbeiach), and emphasizes the importance of the Sanhedrin (the supreme judicial authority, who interpret the mishpatim) meeting in close proximity to the altar. In contrast to the foregoing commentators, R. Avraham Ibn Ezra, in his ‘long’ commentary, explains that all the mishpatim are a precondition to the covenant of accepting God’s kingship, which appears at the end of our parsha.

I would like to focus on a different answer offered by the Ibn Ezra in his ‘short’ commentary to the parsha:

The essence of the matter is that a person should not be coercive by exploiting those who are not of his standing.” Hashem wants to teach us that to be His people, it is necessary not only to strengthen the link between man and God, but also to be exacting in our conduct to others, and in particular those who are less well off than ourselves. Only in this manner can the Jewish nation be built, entitling us to become servants of Hashem.

This method calls to mind a famous story in Gemara Bava Metzia 83a. There the Gemara tells how the porters of Raba bar bar Hanan broke barrels of wine which they had been contracted to carry [according to Rashi – this act took place on an even surface, such that there was clear negligence on the part of the porters]. Raba bar bar Hanan confiscated their cloaks with the intention of recouping from their sale the price of the lost wine. The porters came to Rav and told Rav what their employer had done. Rav told Raba bar bar Hanan to return their cloaks to them. Raba bar bar Hanan then asked Rav whether this was necessary as a matter of law, to which Rav responded in the affirmative, quoting the first half of a verse from Proverbs (2:20): “So that you may walk in the way of good men.” He returned their cloaks. The porters then said to Raba bar bar Hanan: “We are poor, and have worked hard all day, and we are hungry and destitute,” whereupon Rav ordered Raba bar bar Hanan to pay their wages. “Is this the law?” questioned Raba bar bar Hanan, to which Rav replied in the affirmative by citing the second half of the aforementioned verse in Mishlei: “And keep the paths of the righteous.”

It is my hope (Hebrew: Tikva) that learning Parshat Mishpatim this Shabbat will remind us of the importance of acting beyond the letter of the law on all matters concerning our neighbors, workers and the poor, and will assist us to reach the level of “keeping the paths of the righteous.”

(by Elana Jackson; translated from the Hebrew by Simon Jackson)

The Shortcomings of Yitro’s Philosophyהפילוסופיה של יתרו והליקויים שבה

D’var Torah for Parshat Yitro

Moshe fled from Egypt as he was frustrated that none of the Israelities were prepared to revolt against their Egyptian overlords. He befriended Yitro, who as the High Priest of Midyan, was a philosopher, searching out the truth and investigating every religion on earth to do so, according to the midrash at the beginning of our sidra.

Like many other Biblical heroes, Moshe adopts the life of Yitro. Far from civilisation, he shepherds Yitro’s sheep in the desert. The life of the shepherd allows much time for thought and contemplation. Whilst the sheep graze, the shepherd can read, write or merely dream. Moshe appears to enjoy the quiet, pastoral life of the desert. He appears to have changed and is no longer the social activist he once was, rescuing downtrodden Hebrews from their Egyptian taskmasters or from receiving blows from other Jews. He becomes a philosophizing shepherd, a truth seeker, who develops his spirituality and connection with Hashem, but who is uninterested in social justice to relieve the misery and suffering of his people.

When he is approached by Hashem at the Burning Bush, Moshe reminds him that he cannot turn away from the fire of injustice and simply sit on the fence. Moshe has to take a stand, to fight for the rights of the Israelites. It is time for him to sacrifice his own spiritual connection to Hashem and instead to dedicate his life and talents to the community. This contrasts with Yitro, who in the book of Bamidbar, appears to leave the Israelities to return to his native Midyan and its abstract philosophizing, when the Jews are ready to travel toIsrael. To be part of the Jewish people, Hashem tells Moshe, you need to take an active interest in the wellbeing of the people of Israel and the land of Israel.

Shabbat shalom!

[Based on revolutionary book “Tzir ve’Tzon” by Rav Moshe Lichtenstein]