Sunday 28 April 2019

The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah With the Commentary of Rabbi Abraham Isaac HaKohen Kook

From RRW
Kodesh Press
Rabbah bar Bar Hannah has been referred to as the Jewish Sinbad the Sailor. His tall tales, fifteen in all, are recorded in the Babylonian Talmud in Tractate Bava Batra (73a-74a). The particular chapter in which they are situated is named “The Seller of the Ship” (“HaMokher et ha-Sefinah”). Appropriately, these tales of seafarers (nehutei yama) were inserted in that legal discussion, as is the wont of the Talmud to mix Aggadah with Halakhah, thus tempering law with lore and legend.
Rav Kook’s commentary to the Legends first appeared in print in Jerusalem in 1984 in the second volume of his collected essays, Ma’amrei ha-Rayah. In this early work (written at age twenty-five), Rav Kook yet cites sources. Later, when his style of writing switched to “stream of consciousness,” sources were eliminated. For this very reason, the commentary to the Rabbah bar Bar Hannah legends is of extreme importance. Here, Rav Kook divulges the many and varied Kabbalistic sources that informed his view, and it is one of the few places that he openly includes Kabbalistic terminology in his writings.

Rav Kook continues a long tradition of interpreting these legends. The Vilna Gaon, as well as his rival Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, both wrote commentaries on the aggadot of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah.

Rabbi Bezalel Naor is one of the most prominent scholars and interpreters of Rabbi Kook.  In The Legends of Rabbah Bar Bar Hannah, Rabbi Naor presents – for the first time in any language – Rabbi Kook’s commentary along with much needed explanatory notes.  Rabbi Naor’s most recent works include Orot (Maggid, 2015), When God Becomes History: Historical Essays of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook (2016, Kodesh), and The Koren Rav Kook Siddur (2017).

Monday 22 April 2019

Sefirat Ha-Omer

originally published April 14, 2014

There are two very important links by Rabbi Doniel Neustadt that you may find of great value.

Link #1 - Sefiras Ha-Omer: Forgetting To Count One Day
Link #2  Counting Sefiras Ha-Omer Unintentionally
<> .
Lz"n Areyh Isser Ben Tzvi Hirsch Z"L

Kol Tuv,

Sunday 21 April 2019


origianlly posted May 3, 2014

Derech Emet:

Yalkut Shimoni, Isaiah, chapter 57, remez 490:
«[The Biblical Book of] Isaiah [chapter 57, verse 20] taught:
The first wave [in the sea] says:
I will ascend and flood the entire world; but when he arrives at the sand, he bows before it.  But the second wave does not learn from the first. 
Similarly, Pharaoh arose like a wave against Israel, but the Holy One Blessed Be He threw him down.

And similarly Amalek, and similarly
Sichon and Og, and similarly Bilaam and Balak; none of them learned from [the mistake of] the

Thus you find that all who cause Israel to worry, they [the aggressors] fall before them [Israel]:

Nimrod fell before Abraham;
and Abimelech [fell before] Isaac; and Esau [fell before] Jacob;
Pharaoh and the Egyptians
[fell before] Israel;
Amalek and Sichon and
Og and the 31 Kings [of the land of Canaan] [fell before] Moshe and Joshua;
[fell before] [King] Hezekiah;
Haman [fell before] Mordechai;
and in the future Gog
and Magog [will fall before] Israel…»
Yalkut Shimoni was compiled by
Rabbi Shimon HaDarshan of Frankfort (Germany) in the 13th century of the Common Era. 

One manuscript refers to him as chief of the preachers [Rosh HaDarshanim] of Frankfort.
The earliest known edition of Yalkut Shimoni is dated 1308 CE in the Bodlian Library (the
main research library of the University of Oxford in England), according to one of the appendices at the end of Love Your Neighbor
by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.

Kol Tuv,

Thursday 18 April 2019

Interesting Words in the Seder

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                          Some Interesting Words of the Seder

          Seder: A word with this root appears only one time in Tanach, at Job 10:22 (sedarim). As we would expect, it means “order.” 
          Karpas: This word appears in the Tanach only 1 time, at Esther 1:6. There it means “fine fabric, linen.”  In the Mishna, Tosefta and Talmud, it has the meaning of a plant, or celery/parsley, but it is never used in connection with the Seder.
              It is only in the Geonic period that we first find karpas (in the form “karpasa”) used in connection with the Seder. It is mentioned as one of the permissible options for the bore pri ha-adamah at this stage. The earliest such reference is in a Geonic responsum published in L. Ginzberg’s Ginzei Schechter, vol. 2, pp. 252-260. For another early reference to karpasa at the Seder, see The Complete ArtScroll Siddur, p. 922 (citing an 11th century piyyut).
              We are all misled by the introductory kadesh u-rechatz piyyut to view the word karpas as integral to the Seder. But many other such introductory piyyutim have come to light, and many of them do not include the word karpas. This stage of the Seder is there in these piyyutim, but it is represented by a different word or words. Some of these other piyyutim are collected at M. Kasher, Haggadah Shelemah, pp. 77-82.
             Maror: The word maror in the singular appears nowhere in Tanach. The word used in Tanach is the plural: merorim. It appears three times: in the commandment of pesach (Ex. 12:8), in the commandment of pesach sheni (Numb. 9:11), and at Lamentations 3:15 (hisbiani va-merorim; he has filled me with bitterness.)  Almost certainly, the original formulation of the mah nishtannah question described the herb in the plural: merorim. See, e.g., Siddur Rav Saadiah Gaon, p. 137, and Rambam, Hilkhot Chametz U-Matzah 8:2.

            In rabbinic Hebrew, the singular refers to only one of the five herbs with which one can fulfill one’s obligation. See Mishnah Pesachim 2:6.
            It is interesting that the Torah never tells us why merorim are to be eaten with the pesach and pesach sheni sacrifices. It has been suggested that merorim were merely added as a condiment to the sacrificial meat. See, e.g., Daat Mikra to Ex. 12:8. But the phrase va-yemareru et chayeyhem is found earlier in the story (at Exodus 1:14). Therefore, it is a compelling interpretation to understand the inclusion of merorim in the sacrificial pesach meals as symbolic of the bitterness of the slavery.
          Chasal (Chet-Samekh-Lamed): This word, which means “finish,” is used at the end of the Seder. The root appears seven times in Tanach. Six times it appears as chet-samekh-yod-lamed =locusts. The other time, at Deuteronomy 28:38, it appears as yechaslenu ha-arbeh (=the locusts will finish it/eat it away).  Most likely, locusts are called “chasil” because they finish off the crops.  This explanation is found in the Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit 3:6), and modern scholars  agree.

         Sipur: In Biblical Hebrew, the root samekh-pe-resh  means both “to count” and “to tell a story.” It means “count” in the kal. It means “tell a story” in the piel. Can we find a common ground here?

            Interestingly, there is such a phenomenon in English as well: “to count,” and “to recount” a story. Also, an “accountant” works with numbers, but a newspaper “account” is a retelling of a tale. The relationship between counting and telling a story is found in words of other languages as well. See Ernest Klein, A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, p. 626.The simplest explanation for all of this is that a story is the sum of details and that, in telling a story, there has been a counting and an ordering of all the details.       

         Interestingly, the English word “tell” also has the connotation of “telling a story” and of “counting.”  (Think of a bank “teller.”)      
            Cherut: The root chet-resh-tav only appears one time in the Tanach, at Exodus 32:16. It means “engraved,” so we have to look elsewhere for the origin of this word as “freedom.”
               One approach is to relate it to chet-vav-resh=nobleman. This word appears many times in Tanach (always in the plural).  That this is the origin of the word “cherut” for freedom is the approach taken by R. Joshua b. Levi at Mishnah Avot  6:2. Here the word  from Exodus 32:16 is cited  (charut al ha-luchot) and then the following statement is made: “ein lekha  ben chorin    ela mi she-osek be-talmud Torah.” Of course, the statement is only a homiletical one, so the etymology may be homiletical as well.
             A different approach to “cherut =freedom” derives it from an Aramaic root “chet-resh-resh”  that means “to be or become free.” (See, e.g., the word “shin-chet-resh-resh.”  The shin here is not a root letter. )                     

              The word in the Tanakh for freedom is “dror” (occurring 9 times).   It is interesting that the text of the Kiddush uses the word “cherut”  instead of the word “dror.”      
        Hesebah: The meaning of the word “hesebah” is ingrained in all of us. Wake any of us up from our reclining position in the middle of the night and we will tell you that “hesebah” means “recline.”  But wait a minute. Everyone will agree that the root of this word is S-B-B, which has a meaning of “round.”  What is going on here?  How did this root S-B-B turn itself into a root meaning “recline”?
         Surely the process was as follows.  The root first evolved into a word for “eating a meal,” since meals were eaten in a circle. Then it evolved into eating a meal with couches around the table, where the practice was to recline on the couches. Eventually, it came to mean “recline,” even when no couches were involved!
           The above discussion is taken from my new book Roots and Rituals. (There I also discuss the words “matzah,” and “haggadah.”)
Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. He enjoys his freedom and his couch. There he reclines and counts the number of times difficult words appear in Tanach and recounts this material to others, all the while avoiding those all-consuming locusts. He can be reached at            

Monday 15 April 2019

Interesting Words in Hallel

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First

                                Interesting Words in Hallel

         I previously wrote about interesting words in Az Yashir and the Amidah. Now I will turn my attention to Hallel, which comprises Tehillim chapters 113-118.  I will discuss these words in the order they appear. I will use ḥ (and Ḥ) for the letter “ḥet.”
        Akeret: Here the meaning is “barren, without children.” Most of the time in Tanach, the meaning is similar, as the root Ayin-K-R means “uproot.” But we know in Hebrew today that the “ikar” is “the main thing” (not “the missing thing”!)   How could this root have these two almost opposite meanings?
         The answer is that there are two different Ayin-K-R roots in Tanach. Yes, the Hebrew root means “uproot.” But there is also an Aramaic root Ayin-K-R. This root is found in Daniel, in the fourth chapter, in the Aramaic section of the book. Here the meaning is “the main part.” The Hebrew and Aramaic roots are not related.
         The reason this is interesting is that people today sometimes refer to an important woman as an “akeret ha-bayit,” borrowing the expression from our Hebrew verse in Tehillim. They intend the Aramaic meaning “main.” But the verse they are citing is Hebrew, where “akeret”  means “barren/uprooted”!
         Loez:  The root of this word is Lamed-Ayin-Zayin. This is the only time this root appears in Tanach. Fortunately, the root appears in the Mishnah. Mishnah Megillah 2:1 tells us: “korin otah le-loazot be-laaz”= we may read [the Megillah] for those who speak a foreign language in a foreign language. So “am loez” means a nation that speaks a foreign language.
        Ḥalamish: This word appears five times in Tanach. From all these verses, it is easy to determine that it is a kind of “rock.”  I always found this word intriguing as it has all these different consonants. With investigation, I thought I would find that it was of foreign origin, or at least better understand why it has all these letters.  But it does not seem to be of foreign origin and I still don’t understand why it has all these letters. But I did find out something else intriguing.
          There is a word Ḥ-Sh-M-L that appears three times in Yechezkel (1:4, 1:27, and 8:2).  Many scholars believe that this word is related to our Ḥ-L-M-Sh, even though the letters are in a different order! According to Hayim Tawil, the Akkadian version of Ḥ-L-M-Sh (“elmeshu”) refers to a “precious stone with the characteristic sparkle and brilliancy of fire.” That would fit the context in the verses in Yechezkel.  (As is well known, the modern Hebrew word for “electricity” was derived from this difficult word in the book of Yechezkel.)

          Atzabeihem: The root here is Ayin-Tzade-Bet.   This Hebrew root has two different meanings: 1) pain/grieve (many times) and 2) form/shape (see Job 10:8 and Jer. 44:19). “Atzabeihem” means “their idols.” This obviously comes from the “form/shape” meaning.
              It is hard to believe that these two different Ayin-Tzade-Bet meanings are somehow related.
              Now I would like to mention some very creative (but very unlikely) approaches that have been suggested to connect “idols” to “pain/grieve” (instead of to “form/shape”): 1) Solomon Mandelkern theorizes that the root Ayin-Tzade-Bet could fundamentally mean “avodah”=hard work that makes you tired. The word was then transferred to idols because they too have “avodah” done for them! 2) Matityahu Clark, in his Etymological Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, suggests that the “idol” meaning really means “a rejecting God.” i.e., a God who causes pain. (See also Rav S. R. Hirsch, commentary to Gen. 3:16.)
             Sheol (=netherworld):  Most likely, the root is Shin-Aleph-He=desolation, and the lamed is just a suffix, and not part of the root.
           Ḥilatza: The root here is Ḥ-L-Tz, which means “release.” The interesting question is what the root means in Birkat Ha-Ḥodesh (based on Isa. 58:11): “ḥilutz atzamot.” I discussed this at length in a past column and also address it in my new book: Roots and Rituals. (I also discuss Sheol there as well.)
          Ethalekh.  The root here is the well-known root H-L-Kh=walk. But what is the role of the hitpael  here?  We are all taught that the typical hitpael meaning is to do something to yourself. So is the meaning here “I will walk myself”? The truth is that the hitpael has other functions as well. One of them is to do something continually. When H-L-Kh is in the hitpael, it means to “walk continually.”
         Shaar:  The noun “shaar” with the meaning “gate” appears many times in Tanach. But two times in Tanach we have the word “shaar” with the meaning “measure”:  as a noun at Gen. 26:12 (“meah shearim”), and as a verb at Mishlei 23:7. (We all know later versions of this word, “shiur”=measure, and set measure of learning.) Are the “gate” and “measure” meanings related? After all, the price of merchandise may have typically been negotiated at the town gate. Standard measures may have been posted there as well.
               With the discovery of Ugaritic in the early 20th century, we can finally answer this question. Ugaritic is a Semitic language that is earlier than Hebrew. Ugaritic has a word for “gate” that evolved into the Hebrew “sh-a-r” and it has a word for “measure” that evolved into the Hebrew “sh-a-r.” But the two Ugaritic roots are different and most likely do not derive from a common root. See the entry in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament for details.
      Afafuni Ḥevlei Mavet: The Complete ArtScroll Siddur translates this as: “The pains of death encircled me.”  Is this correct?
           The root Ḥ–B-L has four different meanings in Tanakh: 1) cord, 2) take a pledge, and 3) cause damage, and 4) the anxiousness and/or labor pains that the expectant mother feels approaching birth. 
          The Complete ArtScroll Siddur is adopting the fourth meaning. But this is a strange metaphor: a combination of a pre-birth image with a death image.
           The full sentence of Psalms 116:3 reads:  afafuni ḥevlei  mavet, u-metzarei Sheol metzauni...” The last three words mean “the confines of Sheol have found me.” This suggests that ḥevlei mavet is utilizing the “cord” meaning. Also, our phrase afafunei ḥevlei mavet is found at Psalms 18:5. There, in the next verse we find: ḥevlei Sheol sevavuni (encircled me), and a reference to mokshei mavet (snares of death).These phrases also suggest that ḥevlei mavet is utilizing the “cord” meaning.
            One of the main functions of cords in Biblical times was to trap and kill animals by tying them to a stake. That is the image that ḥevlei mavet of Psalms 18:5 and 116:3 is trying to conjure. The image is one of imminent mortal danger, of one entwined in the bonds of death.
            The Complete ArtScroll Siddur chose the “pains” translation because many Rishonim chose this translation at Psalms 18:5 and 116:3.
           But the Daat Mikra commentary realizes that all the contextual clues point to ḥevlei mavet meaning “cords of death” and that the image is one of the trapped animal. However, the Daat Mikra commentary is hesitant to give this as the primary interpretation, because usually the expression “cords of” is vocalized as ḥavlei (with a pataḥ), not ḥevlei (with a segol) as it is here. (This is also probably why the Rishonim avoid the “cords of death” interpretation.) Therefore, the Daat Mikra commentary concludes that the literal meaning of ḥevlei mavet must be “pains of death,” but that the underlying image of “cords of death” and a trapped animal is surely intended as well. (Their main discussion is on verse 18:5.)
         My own review of Ḥ-B-LY in Tanach reveals that even with a segol, the meaning is sometimes “cords of.” See Psalms 18:6 and II Samuel 22:6. So there is no bar to adopting the “cords of death” meaning as the primary meaning of ḥevlei mavet.  Of course, even if the primary meaning is “cords of death,” perhaps the other meanings of “anxiousness/pain,” or “damage,” were intended to be alluded to as well.

Mitchell First is a personal injury attorney and Jewish history scholar. Analyzing that root Ḥ-B-L caused him a lot of anxiousness and left him fit to be tied! Now that he has freed himself, he can be reached at