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PARASHAT PINCHAS 5757
Ketia bar Shalom:
There was once a Caesar who hated the Jews. He asked his advisers, "If someone has dead flesh in his foot, should he cut it off and become healed or should he leave it and suffer?" They answered him, "He should cut it off and become healed." (He was referring to the Jewish people in his empire, whom he saw as a constant source of frustration.) Ketia bar Shalom, one of the advisers, then interjected, "Firstly," he said, "you will never be able to kill all of them, for they are dispersed throughout the four corners of the world ... and they are as important for the continued existence of the world as the winds. (Therefore other monarchs who have a greater appreciation for the indispensability of the Jews in *their* kingdoms will foil your plans -MK). Furthermore, if you execute all the Jews of your kingdom, your reign will go down in history as a bloody one!
The king responded, "You have argued cogently. However, there is a rule that whoever outwits the king must be put to death. As they were taking Ketia away, a Roman matron called out, "Woe to the ship that travels without paying its dues!" Ketia immediately circumcised himself, exclaiming, "I have paid my dues -- now I may pass through [the Gates of the World to Come] freely!" As they were throwing him to his death he cried out "All my property is granted to Rebbi Akiva and his colleagues!" A heavenly voice was heard saying, "Ketia bar Shalom is destined for the Hereafter!" (Gemara Avodah Zarah 10b)
The moving account of Ketia bar Shalom's defense of the Jews serves as an inspiring testimony to Hashem's protection of His nation. The selfless Ketia was in just the right place at just the right time to counter the murderous plotting of the evil Caesar. Let us examine the story more carefully now. That Ketia bar Shalom, specifically, stood up in defense of the Jews, is even more striking than is at first apparent.
In the Gemara (Berachot 7b) we are told that a person's name holds within it a clue to what his future destiny will be. In our case, it is immediately obvious that the name Ketia is intricately intertwined with the seminal event of Ketia's life (as pointed out by R. Reuven Marguliot in his "Lecheker Shemot VeKinnuyim BaTalmud," #1, letter Lamed). When the Caesar asked about "cutting off" the dead flesh, the word used is "Yikte'ena" (root: Kata, the same root as that of Ketia). When Ketia objected that killing the Jews would result in a bloody reign, the words he used were "Malchuta Ketia." And the word used to describe his circumcision is "Kat'ah" (root: Kata). The same root from which his name was derived described the problem with which he was faced (Caesar's challenge), his solution to the problem, and his dramatic circumcision, whereby he merited a share in the Hereafter.
Even Ketia's surname, or father's name, is appropriate in the context of this story. ("Bar," in Aramaic -- as in "bar Shalom" -- and "ben," in Hebrew, literally mean "son of." However, they are often used in a broader sense, meaning "from" or "of.") "Bar Shalom" would mean "son of peace," and indeed Ketia guaranteed the peace of the Jewish people. Furthermore, he acquired for himself eternal peace ("Shalom"), as the Hereafter is described in Yeshaiah (57:2): "He who goes on the straight path [in his lifetime] will attain *peace* and will rest in his place of repose." Ketia's very name was replete with references to his most outstanding achievement!
Ketia bar Shalom in the Torah.
"There is nothing that is not hinted at somewhere in the Torah" (-see Gemara Ta'anit 9a, Zohar 3:221). In fact, we find a allusion to the story of Ketia bar Shalom right in this week's Parasha. In Parashat Pinchas we are told that Pinchas saved the B'nei Yisroel from annihilation. He fearlessly slayed one of the sinners, who was a distinguished member of the tribe of Shimon, in public. Pinchas's reward from Hashem for his heroism was: "Behold, I am giving him My covenant of peace ('Shalom')" (Bemidbar 25:12). In Kiddushin 66b the Gemara tells us that the Hebrew letter 'Vav' of the word "Shalom" should be written "broken," i.e. in two disjointed pieces. As the Gemara puts it, "The Vav of "Shalom" is "Ketia" [=cut up]." This broken letter Vav (which is, incidentally the only instance of this phenomenon in the entire Torah) is thus a "Ketia" of "Shalom" -- or "Ketia bar Shalom"! This is clearly a hint to the events related in the story quoted above from Avodah Zara! (This idea was first called to my attention by a friend of mine, Rav Chaggai Preschel, who is presently Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Tikvat Ameinu in Moscow. I later saw that Rav Reuven Margoliot [ibid., footnote #17] alludes to this as well.)
There are actually several parallels between the episode of Pinchas and that of Ketia. Firstly, both men saved the Jews from situations which threatened them with total annihilation. ("Pinchas son of Elazar turned back My wrath from the Children of Israel, so I did not annihilate them...." -- 25:11.) Furthermore, the Sages tell us that Pinchas and the person referred to in Kings as Eliyahu Hanavi [=Elijah the Prophet] are one and the same (Bava Metzia 114b, and Rashi ad loc. s.v. "Lav"; Yalkut Shimoni, beginning of Parashat Pinchas). As a reward for the zealousness he displayed, Eliyahu was awarded a place of honor at every circumcision ceremony throughout the generations. This is why we prepare a "chair of Eliyahu" at every circumcision (Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, end of Chap. 29). This was what Hashem meant when He gave Pinchas (=Eliyahu) a "covenant ('Brith') of peace." (The word 'Brith' is commonly used to refer to the Covenant of Circumcision.) Thus, the ultimate rewards of Pinchas and Ketia also bear a similarity to each other. Both of their rewards involved circumcision -- Pinchas became an eternal witness to circumcision, and Ketia was himself circumcised.
Dama ben Netina:
Perhaps we can point out another example of such a case, where a man's name holds within it a hint at his future actions in life. We learn in Kidushin:
They once asked R. Eliezer: How far does the Mitzvah of honoring one's parents extend? He answered: You can learn from what a certain non-Jew named Dama ben Netina of Ashkelon once did for his father. One time the treasurers of the Temple offered him 600,000 dinar coins for a precious stone (-the Yashfeh stone, according to the Yerushalmi Kiddushin 1:6) that they needed in order to complete the breastplate of the Kohen Gadol [=High Priest]. But the keys to the jewel's box were under the pillow of Dama's father, who was sleeping! Dama decided not to disturb his father, and he passed up the deal. The following year, Dama's cow gave birth to a red heifer. The Temple treasurers wanted to buy it from him for the ritual of purification (Bemidbar 19). He told them, "I know that you would be willing to pay all the money in the world for this heifer. However, I will ask you only for the money which I declined in last year's gem transaction!" (Gemara Avodah Zara 23b, Kiddushin 31a)
In this story, too, the name of the main character ("Dama") is intertwined with the story told about him. The word that the Gemara normally uses for "money" is "Damim." Sleeping is expressed by the word "Damich," in the Yerushalmi's version of the story. And the word for *red* heifer is "Adumah." All three of these words are built around the core letters of DaMa.
It may further be noted that the stone Dama sold to the Temple representatives was the Yashfeh (as mentioned by the Yerushalmi). Rabbenu Bachya, in his commentary to Shmot 28:15, mentions that this particular stone has in it a power to control excess bleeding (blood = Dam). Thus, there is a further parallel between Dama's name and the stone that he was so famous for selling.
Dama ben Netina
in the Torah
Can an allusion to the story of Dama ben Netina also be found in the Torah? Let's take a close look at the following section, from Parashat Toldot:
Yakov was cooking lentil soup (lentils are a food traditionally eaten by mourners, and Yakov was making it for his father Isaac, who had just suffered the loss of *his* father, Avraham - Rashi). Meanwhile, Esav returned from the field, exhausted. Esav said to Yakov, "Give me some of that red stuff ("Adom"), I'm completely drained!" --this is why Esav became known to all as "Edom" [=Red]. Yakov said, "Sell me your birthright (the right to officiate at religious sacrifices, which was reserved for the firstborn in those days - Rashi)." Esav answered, "Here I am about to die, what do I care about the birthright?"... and he sold his first-born rights to Yakov. Yakov gave ("Natan") Esav bread and lentils... and Esav disgraced his birthright. (Bereishit 25:29-34)
Esav was called Edom ("Red") because his desire for the red lentils was so strong that he traded his birthright in exchange for it. Perhaps this is the hint to Dama ben Netina. "Adom" (Alef, Dalet, Mem) is spelled with the same letters as Dama (Dalet, Mem, Alef). The red lentils ("Adom") which were given over ("Netina") could be said to be the "Dama ben Netina" of the Torah! (Alternatively, Esav ("Edom") who gave away ("Netina") his first-born rights for a dish of lentils, was the Dama ben Netina of the Torah.)
But what does the story of Esav have to do with that of Dama? The Sages (Yerushalmi, ibid.) tell us that Esav was outstanding in his performance of the Mitzvah of honoring one's parents. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, the Nassi (spiritual and temporal leader of Israel), declared that in all his years of serving his father, he did not do for him even one percent of what Esav did for his father! Dama, who was a Roman general according to the Gemara (ibid.) and thus a descendant of Esav (see Rashi Bereishit 27:39, 36:43), also excelled in the execution of this Mitzvah.
Why is this particular event in Esav's life chosen to contain the hint to Dama's noble behavior? As the Torah itself says (Bereishit 25:34), Esav acted contemptuously by displaying such a cavalier attitude toward the birthright, which included the right to personally participate in the service of Hashem in the Holy Temple. On the other hand, there was a positive side to his actions as well. Yakov, who was obviously more fitting for the position, was enabled to become the one who would officiate in the service of Hashem. Because of this positive outcome, Esav was blessed with the righteous Dama as one of his offspring. Although it was already many generations later, Esav, through his descendant Dama, was given a chance to rectify his sin of spurning the sacrificial service of Hashem. A sin is considered rectified and proper repentance is considered to have been done, if the sinner later faces the same temptations as he did when he first sinned, but succeeds in overcoming them (Rambam Hilchot Teshuva 2:1). On a broader scale, perhaps such repentance can be accomplished even on the time scale of generations. The descendant of a sinner can "set the record straight," to a certain extent, by not falling into the trap as his father, when confronted with the same situation that his father had originally faced.
In the case of Dama be Netina, when the Temple representatives were looking for the components necessary to carry out the Temple service, the means to supply these objects fell into Dama's hands. Esav, the "grandfather," had shown his disdain for the Temple service in his exchange. Dama, on the other hand, showed respect for the Temple's needs. He was able to *support* the continuation of the Temple service, by supplying the Sages with the missing stone. Secondly, while Esav was willing to "sell" the service of Hashem in order to satisfy his uncontrollable desires for physical pleasure, Dama turned down the huge financial gain he was offered for the stone that he gave for use in the Temple services.
It is also interesting to note that just as Esav received something red -- red lentils -- in return for his sale, so too Dama was granted the *red* heifer as a reward for his.
"Has a mouth"
Another parallel may be drawn. As Rashi pointed out, lentils are a food traditionally eaten by mourners. Why is this? Rashi explains that just as lentils have no "mouth" ("Ein Lahen Peh" - lentils, unlike other beans, are perfectly round, and do not have an indentation), so too a mourner has no "mouth." He is forbidden to exchange greetings with other people (see also Bava Batra 16b).
As Yosey Goldstein of Baltimore, Md., pointed out to me, Dama, too, "did not have a mouth," as he conducted himself with abnormal restraint by not awakening his father to get his jewel. Yosey added that the name, "Dama," describes this trait as well. The Hebrew word "DoM" (as in "Vayidom Aharon," Vayikra 10:3) means "be silent."
Furthermore, each of the twelve stones on the Kohen Gadol's breastplate represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Yashfeh stone was inscribed with the name of Binyamin, as it represented that tribe. Rabbenu Bachya explains the connection between Binyamin and the Yashfeh stone:
"Binyamin knew that his brothers had sold Yosef into slavery, yet he did not reveal their shameful deed to their father, Yakov. Although Binyamin had misgivings about whether he should withhold this information from his father, he overcame his desire to reveal the secret. Yashfeh may also be read, by rearranging the vowel marks, as `Yesh Peh' -- `there is a mouth.' Even though Binyamin was able to tell his father about his brothers' conduct -- `he had a mouth' -- he refrained from doing so." (Rabbeinu Bachye, Shemot 28:15, from Midrash Bereishit Rabba 71:5)
The Yashfeh ("has a mouth") stone may be said to be the opposite of lentils (which "have no mouth"). Similarly, Dama was the opposite of Esav. At the time that Esav sold the birthright, by nature he should not have "had a mouth." He ought to have been mourning for his grandfather, not hunting himself weary and then demanding lentils. Dama, on the other hand, had every reason to "speak up" and awaken his sleeping father. Like Binyamin, he had a mouth, but he refrained from using it. How appropriate it is, then, that he demonstrated this restraint with the sale of a *Yashfeh* (Yesh Peh) stone!
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