Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Noach 5771- The sins of the generation

Parsha question: What was the sin of the generation of the Tower of Babel?
Note: There are multiple answers to this question- from the mundane to the esoteric.

This weeks Parsha: Noach Bereishis (Genesis) 6:9-11:32

The Torah states in bereishis Chapter 11

6. And the Lord said, “Lo! [they are] one people, and they all have one language, and this is what they have commenced to do. Now, will it not be withheld from them, all that they have planned to do? ו. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה הֵן עַם אֶחָד וְשָׂפָה אַחַת לְכֻלָּם וְזֶה הַחִלָּם לַעֲשׂוֹת וְעַתָּה לֹא יִבָּצֵר מֵהֶם כֹּל אֲשֶׁר יָזְמוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת:

But it does not state what is that they were doing that was so terrible. What was wrong with them being united and building a tower to signify this unity?

The Midrash and various commentaries (Ramban amongst them) shed light on this incident. Earlier in the chapter it stated:

4. And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth.” ד. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ:

It is the the phrase “וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם” (make ourselves a name) there that gives an indication as to their intention. What does this mean? The Torah uses the idea of the “70 nations of the world’ as a symbolic indication of all the nations of the world. Thus why we see that for the sukkot sacrifces there were a total of 70 bulls- one to atone for each nation of the world. Mystically, each of the 70 nations is said to be linked to one fo the 70 Mazalot (a direct translation would be constellations or groups of stars- here the meaning is more symbolic, the mazelot being the heavenly angel assigned to look after the nation), and their fate could be read in the stars. The wise men/sorcerors of the nations saw there that a nation was due to rise that would not be under the mazelot but rather directly under G-d and beyond the boundaries of the natural world.

How do we know they were concerned with the natural world and its boundaries and did not look at this in siritual terms? In verse 3 it states

. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly”; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar. ג. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר:

In other words- they wanted to challenge G-d, but abandoned the spirtitual realm for the physical- emphasising theit attachment to the physical ( “clay was to them for mortar”). Here was their first sin- the abandoning of all elements of spirituality to emphasise their attachment to the ohysical. In effect, they denied G-d and the creation of the spiritual world and only looked at the physical world.

The second sin was that they sought to alter G-d’s plan for the world. they sought to block the creation fo the Jewish nation as they feared the giving of the Torah, foreseeing that in the time of Mashiach it would lead to the Jews having mastery over the world as they represented G-d to the rest of the nations. And this lead to the third sin: they sought to replace G-d! How did they plan to do this?

Here the Midrash states that they sought to place a statue on the top of the tower with a sword drawn to callenge th eheavens. But it was not just a statue, but meant to be a representation of one of the mazalot, in essence, they would choose which angel to worship and have all 70 nations worship that one angel exclusively, killing all that differed. In essence, they wished to create an alternate deity that would be worshipped and thereby block the emergence of the Jews into the world.

It was ultimately this plan that led to their downfall. The nations were fine while they built the tower, each telling itself it would be able to grasp power and rule over all when the time came. When the time came for them to choose which of the mazalot they would worship, the chaos began. G-d made each one desire to rule, and to realise that if the mazalot of the other nation was chosen, they would be subjugated by them. It was this argument that led to the fracturing of the alliance as each naiton saw in the stars they would have a cnace to rule, and they refused to subjugate themselves to another!

Thus we see the three sins of the dor haflaga (generation of the dispersion)
1) abandonment of the spiritual for the physical
2) they sought to alter and block G-d’s plans for the world (denying his divnity and rulership)
3) they sought to replace G-d.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parshas Ki Teitze 5770: Actions and consequences

Parsha Question:
Where how does this weeks Parsha teach that actions have consequences- how a bad decision at one point can have detrimental effects years later?

Parsha Ki teitze Devarim (Deuteronomy) 21:10-25:19


As Gabi says in his comment- the answer to this is in the start of the Parsha- the woman taken captive in war and married against her will. I have previously blogged about this aspect of the parsha (here) so I will not comment on the specifics as those interested can just read it there. Also there, I discussed the Torah sometimes trying to make the best of a bad situation- allowing something not desirable in order to prevent greater abuses.

There is another aspect to this- the fact that the Torah is stating the ends do not justify the means. We are all familiar with people making excuses for bad behaviour by stating that “I did X because the result was that Y would happen- and look at how fantastic Y is!” The Torah is stating the opposite here. It is showing that when the means are wrong- the end result will be wrong.

Lets look at this soldier- he goes to war and, in the aftermath, sees a woman whose family is dead, who has no protection or means to support herself, and his primary motivation is to help her. He reasons to himself “If I take her as a wife, I can protect her and provide for her. surely this is a better fate than just leaving her at the mercy of others?” He finds good reasons to justify his actions, though it is just that a justification. In the end, whether he is honest with himself and does it because he admits it is out of desire, or because he finds reasons to justify his action, the end result will be the same.

However, the rest of the process would seem to show the difference between the one who does it, knowing it is because he desires her, and the one who justifies his actions through finding a way to make it seem good. By making the woman unattractive, by making it that she is not beautiful, the one who did it out of desire is most likely to be able to fight off the urge to take her as a wife and send her away. On the other hand, the one who rationalised his desire into something greater is not going to be able to let go so easily. No longer would sending her away be a positive act, one in which he admits to defeating his baser nature; instead, it becomes a negative action, he cannot send her away because that would be acting against his expressed rationalisation that this is form mercy and a good deed! Since people want to be good, since they want to appear to be righteous, one who has rationalised negative behaviour to themselves will find it much harder to let go of that negative behaviour and to be able to repent it.

This persons justifying of the negative by positive motives is what ultimately leads to the corruption of this son. for every negative, for every time that the child should have been disciplined and taught better, there is a rationalisation. Thus the child grows up with a mother embittered by being taken away from her family and forced to marry one of those responsible for killing her loved ones, and a father who fails to discipline him. In this environment the child becomes the ben soreh u’moreh.

August 16, 2010 Posted by | Parshah, Torah, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Parshas Re’eh 5770: The disgusting pig

Parshas Hashavuah Question: The laws of Kashrut are revised in this weeks parsha- what is it about the pig that makes it be singled out for such revulsion? Other animals are listed- yet it is universally the pig that is seen as the symbol of an unkosher animal.

This weeks Parsha is Re’eh Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:26-16:17


The reason for the especial revulsion felt towards the pig is the manner in which it portrays itself as Kosher on the outside, but is unkosher on the inside. The Meforshim compare this to a perosn who misrepresents themselves, the one who puts themselves forward as being holy while sinning privately. Thus the pig becomes symbolic of the misbehaviour of people- the misleading of others in order to gain an advantage.

It is no coincedence that the rehash of the laws of Kashrus are directly before the Torah repeats forbidding worshipping as the Canaanites did, followed by the warning against the false prophet, meized (the one who entices people to convert secretly) and the city which resorts to idol worship. In essence, here we see the same priniciples as with the laws of Kashrus. First you have the blatant act- the obviously unkosher- worshipping in the same manner as the Canaanites had done, copying their worship.

With Kashrut, next comes the animals that chew the cud but are not kosher- they have a semblance of being kosher, but they display their non-kosher status openly. This is analogous to the false prophet- he appears to be a real prophet, performing signs and wonders, having his prophecies be fulfilled- but he shows his credentials fo being false by calling for a change in the Torah or in the halachah (Jewish law). He is openly showing that he is not Jewish as he tries to abrogate part, or all, of what G-d has commanded.

The laws of Kashrut then go on to discuss the pig, the animal which portrays dishonesty, pretending to be something it is not, trying to join a community to which it does not belong, to get others to accept it. Analogous to this is the meizid, the enticer. The Torah explicitly states that this is someone close to you, someone that to all intents and purposes looks and sounds Jewish. Someone, that because of their closeness, you would inherently trust. Yet this person abuses that relationship, they pretend to be something they are not and to try and get the person close to them to convert and to go after other religions!

Here we see the particular revulsion for the pig and the meizid highlighted even further. Just as the pig has been singled out as a paritcularly devious creature; so too the meizid had been singled out as being particularly devious. While the corpse of any treifah conveys tumah, this is emphasised with the pig where no matter how it dies, its corpse conveys Tumah. Where does the Torah convey its especial dislike and scorn for the meizid? When it tells us how to deal with the meizid it states in Devarim Chapter 13 v9: You shall not desire him, and you shall not hearken to him; neither shall you pity him, have mercy upon him, nor shield him.

This is emphasised in the Talmud where it has the meizid as the only case in which the witnesses may be hidden and no prior warning is give! (For a fuller treatment of this subject, see my post here) It is for this reason that you find Jews have an especial dislike for the antics of the “messianic jews”. They are the classic meizid, posing as a friend, as family, as a member of the community- and then enticing others to leave Judaism. Like the pig, they often appear kosher on the outside, taking on all the trappings of Judaism to pose as being Jewish. In truth, they are as unkosher as the pig, hiding their true nature to entice people.

In the modern era we may not have a Sanhedrin or court that can act against them- but we have the ability to reach out and to communicate in an unprecedented way. Just as the enticer’s can use the internet and other technologies to try and convert the uneducated- so we can use them to educate and innoculate people against the meizid, the dishonest missionaries that pose as Jews to destroy Jewish souls.

Note (added after Shabbos Parshas Re’eh)
After giving this drosha this morning one of the community memebrs asked the question: Haven’t I mixed things around? The laws about the various types of people trying to get us to leave idol worship are in chapter 13, and the laws relating to Kosher animals are in Chapter 14- yet I stated that the revision of the laws of Kashrut come first!

Their is an interestng split here- the laws relating to Kashrut actually start in Chapter 12 where the prohibition against the eating of blood is given- but it deviates from there to discussing how we offer some sacrifices while emphasising what we are NOT allowed to emulate- fromt here it goes into the issue of the various people trying to convert us and the city of idol worshippers- returning to the laws of Kashrut. So, yes, the laws relating to the specific animals come after- but the start of the revision of the laws of Kashrut comes first- deviating to highlight the exceptionally important laws relating to rejecting idolatry. Why would you have this sudden veering away only to return to it? Lets ask a question- when dealing with two crimes, one punishable by death and the other only by flogging, which is the ore important one to teach? Obviously the one where death and seperation form G-d is the reult- thus we learn about idolatry and its effects before we learn about the treif animals.

Another question raised on this was why I did not tie the city that converts into the laws of Kashrut. The answer is not that I w s lazy- but rather in the fact that the other categories deal with individuals and individual behaviour- not with a group. Since the follow on drosha to this later was related to Rosh Chodesh Elul that starts this week, I was relating it to individual responsibility and actions rather than that of a group

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Messianic, Parshah, Torah, Weekly Question/Issue | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments