Sunday, February 18, 2007

relevant names

Parshat Mishpatim

This week's shabbos table question on the parsha was (drum roll please..):

Near the end of the parsha the Torah starts talking about other types of laws than most of the parsha. It mentions shabbos, working 6 days and resting animals on 7th. Shemitta. The 3 main holidays. Then it gets into removing the seven nations from Eretz Yisrael.

When the Torah describes the three holidays, it does not call them by their main names, rather it calls them by alternative names. Hag Hamatzot, Hag Ha'Katzir, Hag Ha'Asif. Why? Why not call them by Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot?

My 10 year old son thought maybe the Torah wants to teach us these alternate names.

I thought that maybe here the Torah is not really explaining the actual holidays. As a matter of fact the context seems to have moved into concentration on the land and agriculture. It says about shabbos that 6 days work and on 7th not work, so the animals will rest. Shemitta so the field will rest, Hag Hamtzot (this one it actually describes a little), Hag Ha'Katzir to bring the new fruit, Hag Ha'Asif to gather the grains. Throw out the goyim from the Land of Israel. etc..

Being that the main focus here seems to be on the land rather than on the actual details of the various holidays, I suggested that that is the reason the Torah used these alternative names - these names referencing the agricultural aspect of the holidays are more relevant than the more well-known names, at this point.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

human failings in Biblical figures

Parshat Yisro

This weeks question at the shabbos table was:

The parsha starts off with the story of Yisro showing up to join Bnei Yisrael after having heard of the various miracles. He sees the method Moshe uses for judging the people and gives him advice how to improve. Moshe implements the suggested changes and then sends Yisro back home.

Why did Moshe send him home? Yisro came to join the Jewish Nation? Right before Har Sinai and Matan Torah, Moshe sends Yisro home?

The discussion first partially answered, by my 11 year old daughter, the question by saying this is story is not in chronological order and happened after Matan Torah. This is an opinion offered by some commentaries and answers how Moshe could have sent Yisro away before Matan Torah. According to this opinion he did not. It happened after Matan Torah.

But that only answers the question about the timeframe. The question of why he sent Yisro away still remains unanswered. Yisro came to join the Jews and Moshe sent him away?

The discussion of this centered on Moshe's relationship with Yisro. Yisro was his father in law. Yisro shows up and right away criticizes the way Moshe is doing things. He even does so using fairly harsh terms. He says, "what you are doing is not good" (18:17), then he gives him advice how to improve the method of judgement and starts off by saying, "Now listen to my voice as I advise you (18:19)". Then Yisro concludes by saying, "If you do all this, you will be ok (18:23)".

Then it says, "And Moshe did all that he said (18:24), etc.... And Moshe sent his father in law and he went back to his land (18:27)".

Maybe Moshe did not like the way his father in law came and right away started telling him what to do and how to do it, so he sent him away. He figured he would not be able to lead Israel properly with the tension of having his father in law around.

But this leads to the question of do we treat the Biblical figures as having similar emotions and failings that we have? Was Moshe so selfish that he could not bear to have his father in law around? He was so selfish that he sent him away? Was Yisro so haughty that he shows up and right away starts bossing people around?

Maybe. But if we prefer not to ascribe such human weaknesses to our Biblical figures then we need to find an alternative answer to explain what happened between Moshe and Yisro.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

why the manna

Parshat B'Shalah

This week's question at the shabbos table:

Why did Hashem have to give them the manna? Why not do something more nature based? We know Hashem always prefers to minimize the miracle aspect of what He does and tries to do things as "naturally" as possible, so why not regarding the manna? Hashem could have told them to start of by eating from the many animals they had with them, He coul dhave sent them kosher desert animals, we know they did not actually travel that much but stayed in some locations for long periods of time, so Hashem could have told them to plant crops and harvest and make bread and other food.

Why did He have to do it the tremendously miraculous way He did?

The answer given by all was basically to teach Bnei Yisrael a lesson of emunah so when they would go into Eretz Yisrael and have to "get back to normal" they would realize that even their human efforts are fueled by Hashem and they are successful or failures because of Hashem