Parashat Beshalach: The Nachshon ben Aminadav Effect How can we explain the juxtaposition of Nachshon Ben Aminadav’s leap into the Red Sea and our annual Tu B’Shvat (Jewish Arbor Day), and who has been following in Nachshon’s footsteps in the last few generations? Rabbi Ohad Teharlev is the Director of Israeli Programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum …
Parashat Bo: The Significance of Hardening One’s Heart We need a real leader. We must seek out those who are most humble. The ones without personal interests. The strong. The ones who are up to the task, who can hear and listen to the nation and its advisors, and aren’t closed off or just “spewing.” …
The Fall of a Scholar: The importance of remaining in the communal dialogue
In Pirkei Avot we are introduced to Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of the Jewish people in Judea after the destruction of the Second Temple in the first century of the Common Era, and his five students. The Mishna goes on to describe the unique characteristics of each of those disciples, and mentions that Rabbi Eliezer ben Arach was the greatest of all. He is described as maayan hamitgaber, an ever-flowing spring of Torah knowledge and inspiration.
Rabbi Elazar ben Arach and his wife thought that he would be the natural successor of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai – but he was not chosen. Disappointed, he moved to a different location and started his own academy.
His students failed to follow him and the yeshiva did not flourish.
We are told in Tractate Shabbat that when Rabbi Elazar ben Arach returned to the Beit Midrash, after his time away, was called to read from the Torah. Reading from this week’s Torah portion, he came to the verse: “hachodesh hazeh lachem” – this is the way you consecrate the new month, instead he read, “hacheresh haya libam”- their heart has become deaf.
The Maharsha, , Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555-1631) in his commentary on the Talmud, asks: “why is this story of Rabbi Elazar ben Arach scripted and choreographed around our Torah portion, and the first mitzva of the Torah, the mitzva of consecrating the new moon?”
The Maharsha explains that this incident serves to highlight that when you walk away from the Torah conversation, the Beit Midrash, even if you are as great a scholar as Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, you can even forget how to read the first mitzva in the Torah.
I’d like to suggest a different answer.
How is the new moon consecrated?
It’s consecrated by two Jews going to a Beit Din, a court, and announcing that they saw the new moon.
These two Jews do not have to be great Torah scholars, they don’t even have to know how to read from the Torah, but if they can testify on what they’ve seen. That is sufficient.
The three members of the court are appointed by Beit Din HaGadol – and that is also sufficient.
A conversation takes place. Testimony is given, questions are asked and answered. And this conversation establishes the new moon. The entire Jewish calendar, the date that the festivals take place, is established through this conversation.
Even a great personality who has expertise in astronomy and in the orbit of the moon cannot contradict the outcome of that conversation on the new moon.
We follow the conversation, the dialogue that takes place between these two witnesses and the court.
What a powerful message! Even an astronomer or a professor of mathematics cannot contradict the consecration of the moon, the consecration of the new month that is established by these two individuals in their dialogue with the Beit Din, the Jewish court.
I think the message that the Gemara is trying to highlight is that no man, even a great scholar like Rabbi Elazar ben Arach, can work in a vacuum.
He made a mistake when he read the parsha, this week’s Torah portion, that speaks about the need for a dialogue, a conversation. The Jewish calendar is can only be established when Jews are in conversation with each other.
This is what allows us to orchestrate the holidays. And the question we need to ask ourselves, as individuals, is have we lost the ability to have a conversation? Have our hearts become deaf? Do we actively listen to others? Do we sanctify the calendar and time by actively listening?
Do we listen to our children, or do we have an automatic response?
Do we find time to listen to our spouses? Do we find time to listen to Jews who celebrate their Judaism differently than we do, or perhaps don’t even celebrate their Judaism at all?
Are we willing to listen to them? Are we willing to give them credence?
Rabbi Elazar ben Arach thought that he could be an island unto himself. That simply doesn’t work.
You need to have a conversation. The first mitzva in the Torah highlights the responsibility for us to celebrate the calendar, the freedom to be able to control our time through the establishment of a new month, through a conversation between people.
Parshat Bo. The first mitzva in the Torah reminds us of the sacred opportunity to actively listen and maintain a dialogue.
And when even the greatest of Torah scholars forgot that, he loses his Torah knowledge, because without the conversation, our Torah knowledge in many ways lacks intellectual honesty and remains incomplete.
Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1 – 13:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “When your children will say to you, ‘What is this service to you?’ You shall say, ‘It is the Passover service to God’” Why does the author of the Haggada call the questioner in this sequence “the wicked child”? The …
Parashat Bo: The Internal Process in the Exodus from Egypt Every external process starts with an internal process. The question here isn’t merely what a person is prepared to exhibit, out in the open. It’s mainly about how much that person is prepared to expose inwardly, or, in other words, a person’s self-identification and self-determination. …
Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And God said unto Moses: ‘Go in unto Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these My signs in the midst of them.’” (Exodus 10:1) Why does God declare that He has “hardened Pharaoh’s heart” …
Parshat Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16) Rabbi David Stav The saga of the exodus from Egypt reaches a climax in this week’s portion, Bo. After Egypt endures nine plagues in the course of one year, the Egyptians now face the final and most agonizing of them, the Plague of the Firstborn. The Torah provides a concise, piercing and …
This week’s edition is dedicated in memory of Edith “Ginny” Nusbaum (Frumit Bat Yosseif, ע”ה) by her loving husband, Dr. Mark Nusbaum and family Mr. Dan and Mrs. Shari Weil and family, Toronto Dr. Mark and Mrs. Suzy Pomper and family, Miami Beach Mr. Larry and Mrs. Naomi Pinczower and family, Ramat Beit Shemesh Dr. Joshua and Dr. Tammy Kruger and family, Modi’in …