Vol. 8 No. 34
This issue is dedicated to holy Jews everywhere
who take care not to talk during davening, Kaddish and Chazaras ha'Shatz,
and who recite the Ketores daily, bringing joy to Hashem and our people.
That Incredible Ketores
When, following Yisrael's accusation of Moshe and Aharon for causing the death of Korach and his two hundred and fifty men, the ensuing plague ravaged Yisrael, killing many thousands, Moshe instructed Aharon to take the pan of Ketores and to stop the plague (see Rashi 17:11).
Rashi puts Moshe's choice of the Ketores down to the fact that, after the episode with Korach, the people were grumbling that the Ketores was a poison, which kills whoever has contact with it. First it caused the death of Nadav and Avihu and then it caused the death of the two hundred and fifty men. So G-d responded by demonstrating publicly that the Ketores actually stops plagues, conveying the message that it was sin (and not the Ketores) that kills.
Based on the Gemara in Erchin (16a), the Oznayim la'Torah points out that Yisrael here were guilty of speaking lashon ha'ra publicly. In that case, the correct atonement ought to have been the 'Me'il' (the Kohen Gadol's cloak - as Chazal have said 'Let the thing that makes a noise come and atone for the one who made a noise'). The Ketores, on the other hand, which was prepared discreetly, was meant to atone for lashon-ha'ra that was spoken in secret.
Only, as Rashi explains, it was necessary to prove to the whole of Yisrael the life-saving qualities of the Ketores, and that explains why the Ketores took over the role of the Me'il on this one occasion (in the form of a Hora'as Sha'ah [a special ruling for a special occasion]). And it also explains, he says, why the Ketores was brought outside in view of the public, instead of in the seclusion of the Heichal, where it was normally sacrificed.
It seems to me however, that had it been a question of atoning for lashon ha'ra, for merely keeping the punishment at bay, to have used the Ketores in this way (usurping the role of the Me'il), would have been a gross abuse of the holy Ketores. And as for the need to demonstrate the inherent powers of the Ketores, Hashem is not short of ways and means of doing this (without having to violate the sanctity of the Ketores in the process). And besides, 'the proof of the pudding lies in the eating'; the Me'il was not in fact, able to prevent the plague. Clearly then, the sin was so severe that the regular channels of atonement were closed.
And it is in its unique capacity of stopping a plague in its tracks that Moshe ordered Aharon to use the Ketores. Because when it comes to stopping a plague that is already in force, it is the Ketores, and the Ketores alone, that has the power to do this, as he had learned from the Angel of Death on Har Sinai, and as is implied by Rashi and Chazal.
The Zohar Chadash relates that Rebbi Pinchas once met Eliyahu, who told him about G-d's covenant that was effective when the prosecuting angels would gather before Hashem to condemn a man for his sins. In the event that the guilty party recites the Korbanos that Moshe commanded, with meaning and devotion, he will be remembered favourably, despite the accusations.
And furthermore, He made a covenant that, even if a plague of pestilence strikes the people, if they enter the Shuls and the Batei Medrash and recite the Ketores and its spices with great fervour, the plague will cease.
And it goes on to tell the story of Rav Acha, who once entered the town of K'far Tarsha. When he arrived at his inn, people came to visit the great man, and asked him why he had risked his life in visiting a town where a plague was raging.
They explained to him that for the last seven days, pestilence had been ravaging the inhabitants of the town, and that the pestilence seemed to be gaining strength, showing no signs of abating. His response was to have them all gather in Shul to pray for the well-being of the residents. Even as they made their way to Shul, people were informing them that so-and-so and so-and-so had died, and that so-and-so and so-and-so had taken a turn for the worse and were at death's door.
Rav Acha urged them to hurry, because there was not a moment to be lost. He ordered them to designate forty of their most righteous men and divide them into four groups, including himself. Each of the four groups was to then make its way towards one of the four corners of the town. There they would recite the Ketores that Hashem gave to Moshe together with other Korbanos, with great devotion. They did this three times, passing through the entire town as they walked to each of the town's four extremities. Rav Acha then instructed the men to go to the houses of the residents who were at death's door. Some of them were to enter and repeat what they had said at the corner of the town. And finally, they were to recite the three concluding pesukim in the Parshah (17:11-13) "And Moshe said to Aharon, take the fire pan ... . And Aharon took it ... and he ran among to the midst of the congregation ... and he placed the Ketores ... . And he stood among the dead and the living, and the plague ceased".
They followed Rav Acha's instructions, and the plague did indeed cease.
They then heard a heavenly voice which announced 'Sickness, first sickness, wait above (in heaven). Do not descend to earth, because the Divine Judgement cannot rest there, since they know how to negate the sickness of the plague'. (Another version reads 'This secret [that the Ketores negates plagues] was handed down in ancient times'. In fact, it is the secret that the Angel of Death taught Moshe on Har Sinai).
Rav Acha was depressed at having annulled the decree before inspiring the people to do Teshuvah. However, he fell asleep and heard a heavenly voice which said 'Just as you achieved the one, so you will achieve the other. Go and tell them to repent, because they have sinned before Me'. When he awoke, he inspired them do to a complete Teshuvah. They undertook never again to be idle from Torah-study. They also changed the name of the town from K'far Tarsha to Masa Mechsaya.
Like Aharon, Like Korach
"And Korach assembled the entire congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting" (16:19).
This is very similar to the expression used with regard to the appointment of Aharon as Kohen Gadol, points out the Ba'al ha'Turim. There too, (Vayikra 8:3) the Torah writes "And assemble the entire congregation to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting".
Korach, after all, wanted the Kehunah Gedolah. It stands to reason then, that whatever was good for Aharon, was good for him., especially when it had to do with kovod.
"If these people die like everyone else, and what happens to all people will happen to them, then G-d did not send me" (16:29).
It is not at first clear what the Torah means when it writes "and what happens to all people will happen to them", which seems to be merely a repetition of the previous phrase.
The Ba'al ha'Turim however, explains that it refers to Hashem's practice of waiting three or four generations before destroying the perpertrators of sin (as the Torah writes in Ki Sisa 34:7).
Not so with someone who starts up with the Kehunah. There, the chance that He gives for all other kinds of sins will not apply. They will be punished immediately (see Rashi later, 17:23).
When Prayer is Futile
"And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying ... Separate (Moshe and Aharon) from this congregation and I will destroy them in a moment; and they fell on their faces" (17:9/10).
Why did Moshe and Aharon not daven, like they did earlier 16:22), asks the Ba'al ha'Turim?
It was because they tried to do so, but the words did not flow fluently from their mouths, as Chazal explain with regard to Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa (see Mishnah, B'rachos 32b). Presumably, this was because, due to the extent of Korach's sin, G-d's decision was final and irreversible. Moshe and Aharon realized this, and so they fell on their faces in utter helplessness (see Seforno 14:5), because of the futility of davening further.
Most other commentaries agree that they did indeed daven, since that is synonymous with falling on one's face (see for example Targum Yonasan). The Ba'al ha'Turim however, understands otherwise, because no prayer is mentioned here, as it is on the earlier occasion.
It Happened Three Times
"And it produced flowers, and it grew buds and they turned into almonds" (17:23).
The three expressions (or three stages), hint at the three people who attempted to usurp the Kehunah: Korach, Yerav'am ben Nevat and King Uziyahu.
" And it turned into almonds".
Assuming that this also hints at the different eras of the Kehunah, then this hints at the period when it reached its peak. And when was that?
It refers to the era of the Chashmono'im, who were descendents of Aharon.
That explains why the numerical value of "shekeidim" is equivalent to that of Chashmono'im (Ba'al ha'Turim).
Moshe Takes His Cue
"And Hashem said to Moshe ... as a sign for the B'nei Meri (the rebels)" (17:25).
When later, by the episode with the rock, Moshe will refer to K'lal Yisrael as 'mamrim' (rebels), it is not at first clear as to who gave him the authority ot call Yisroel names (indeed, according to the Rambam that was the sin for which Moshe lost his right to enter Eretz Yisrael. The Ba'al ha'Turim therefore points out that he took his cue from Hashem Himself, who called them by the very same name.
"This shall be for you from the Kodesh ha'Kodashim from the fire" (18:9).
According to Chazal, this is the source for the lug of oil of the metzora being one of the twenty-four gifts of kehunah, says the Ba'al ha'Turim.
Not surprising then, that the last letters of the words "mi'Kodesh ha'Kodashim min" spell 'shemen'.
Stick to the Same Species
"And you shall separate from it the Terumah of Hashem, Ma'aser from the Ma'aser" (18:26).
The opening words in this pasuk, comments the Ba'al ha'Turim, are "va'Hareimosem Mimenu", which can also be read as "va'Hareimosem mi'miyno" ('and you shall separate from the same kind'). This is in keeping with the halachah that requires Ma'asros to be taken from any particular species on that species only, and not from one species on another (e.g. from wheat on barley), nor even from one year's produce on the produce of another year (see also Ramban Chukas 20:1).
Bowing Down ...
We bow down four times during the Amidah, at the beginning and end of the first B'rachah, and at the beginning and end of 'Modim' (the first of the closing B'rachos). It is forbidden to bow down at the beginning or end of any other B'rachah.
At the word 'Boruch' one bends one's knees, at the word 'Atoh' one bows low quickly (in one movement, until all the vertebrae in one's spinal cord protrude), and one bends one's head too. And at the mention of Hashem's Name, one slowly unfurls and returns to one's previous position (according to others, one does this before the mention of Hashem's Name). All this is an expression of the humility we must feel when standing before the King of Kings in prayer.
The commentaries explain the apparent absence of Malchus ('Melech ho'Olom', which is crucial to all B'rachos) at the beginning of the Amidah, in one of two ways. Some explain that 'Elokei Avraham' represents Malchus (since Avraham spread the knowledge of G-d's Sovereignty throughout the world). Others connect 'ha'Keil, ha'Godol, ha'Gibor ve'ha'Nora' with Malchus (since these are all regal qualities).
According to the Kolbo however, Chazal deliberately omitted Malchus from the beginning of the Amidah, because when Avraham first came upon the scene, Hashem's Sovereignty was unknown in the world.
The first b'rachah is called 'Avos', because when we stand before G-d in prayer, asking Him for our needs, it is due to the covenant that He made with Avraham Avinu at the B'ris Bein ha'Besarim, and which he reiterated to Yitzchak and to Ya'akov, that He will answer our prayers. It is on their merits that He chose us as His people, and it is on their merit that He answers our prayers.
That is why the opening B'rachos (which are considered like one B'rachah) are based on the midos of the Avos. 'Mogen Avraham', on the chesed of Avraham, and 'Atah Gibor', on the gevurah of Yitzchak. 'ho'Keil Kadosh' is based on the emes of Ya'akov (whom Hashem called 'Keil', as Rashi explains in Vayishlach [34:20], and to whom Chazal also acribe the quality of sanctity, when they state that 'Reuven was born from the first drop' [when Ya'akov was eighty-four years old!]).
The Besomim Rosh writes that the first B'rachah was based on the salvation of Avraham from the fire at Ur Kasdim. Nevertheless, it makes a point of mentioning all the Avos, as Chazal derive from the pasuk in Tehilim "Ascribe to Hashem the sons of the strong ones", meaning that one should mention the strong men of the land (an allusion to the Avos, who were strong in spirit).
We begin with 'Elokei Avraham', and this too, is hinted in the pasuk in Bereishis (12:2 - see Rashi there) "And I will turn you into a great nation" ('Elokei Avraham' [the founder of our nation]); "and I will bless you" ('Elokei Yitzchak'); "and I will make your name great" ('Elokei Ya'akov').
Nevertheless, the B'rachah concludes with Avraham alone ('Mogein Avraham'), because the Torah (with reference to Avraham) ends with the words "and be a blessing" (in the singular).
Presumably, this is due to the eminence of Avraham, who was after all, the founder father of our nation, and to the prominence of chesed, with which the Torah begins - and ends.
'Hashem Sefosai Tiftoch ... '.
Hashem, spelt as it is pronounced, means 'my Master' the Eitz Yosef explains, as opposed to when it is spelt with the letters of Havayah, when it means 'Master of the World'.
And the significance of the pasuk being quoted here is based on its position in Tehilim (51), where it precedes the pasuk "Because You do not want sacrifices ... ". Due to the fact that David ha'Melech's sin with bas-Sheva (to which that chapter refers) was committed on purpose, sacrifices would not atone for it. Consequently, he was asking G-d to help him to concentrate on his tefilah, since that was what would now attain pardon for his sin. Likewise, we are living in an era when there are no sacrifices, and all we have is Tefilah to attain forgiveness from Hashem for our sins. That is why we begin our Tefilah with these very same words.
In 'The Mitzvos of Today' last week's edition, mitzvos 176,177 and 179 apply to men only, and mitzvah 178, to women only. None of these apply to men and women alike, as we mistakenly wrote. We apologize for the slip of the pen.
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