Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha -- hope you enjoy
Friday 22 January 2021
Thursday 21 January 2021
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
The Meaning of “Erev Rav” (Ex. 12:38)
When the Israelites left Egypt, Exodus 12:38 tells us that an “erev rav” also went with them. One of the meanings of the root ערב is “mix,” so a common translation here (following the King James Version) is “mixed multitude.”
Can we say anything more about them? Let us review some interpretations:
-Onkelos: “nuchrain sagiin”= many strangers
-Rashi: “taarovet umot shel gerim.” Another view is that the reading in the last word here is “Mitzrim.”
-Ibn Ezra: people from Egypt who mixed themselves in with them.
-R. Aryeh Kaplan: “a great mixture [of nationalities]”
Now let us review some of the commentators who write more expansively:
1. S.D. Luzzatto (“intermarriage” interpretation): He cites to Neh. 13:3: “They separated all the ‘erev’ from Israel.” From Neh. 9:2, it seems likely that “erev” at 13:3 is referring to an intermingling by way of intermarriage. (See also Ezra 9:2.) Luzzatto concludes: “It seems to me that this ‘erev rav’ had previously mixed with the Israelites, and that they were Egyptian men who had married Israelite women and Egyptian women who had married Israelite men…”
My comment: While “erev” with this meaning fits the context in Nehemiah, it does not fit the context at Ex. 12:38. (Note that there is evidence of such intermarriage at Lev. 24:10.)
2. Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz (“riffraff-opportunist” interpretation): “The mass of non-Israelite strangers, including slaves and prisoners of war, who took advantage of the panic to escape from Egypt...”
My comment: This approach sounds reasonable. See similarly Daat Mikra, first interpretation.
3. Daat Mikra, second interpretation: Non-Israelites who came now in support of the Israelites, to join them. The Daat Mikra does not elaborate but cites to Philo (1st cent.). Here are his words at Life of Moses I, sec. 147: “There also went forth with them a mixed multitude…collected from all quarters, and servants, like an illegitimate crowd with a body of genuine citizens. Among these were those who had been born to Hebrew fathers by Egyptian women, and who were enrolled as members of their father’s race. And, also, all those who had admired the decent piety of the men, and therefore joined them; and some, also, who had come over to them, having learnt the right way, by reason of the magnitude and multitude of the incessant punishments which had been inflicted on their own countrymen.”
See similarly Ex. Rab. 18:10, which the Daat Mikra also cites. See also the first sentence of Luzzatto quoted below.
My comment: Prior to the time of the plagues, there also may have been non-Israelites living among the Israelites, perhaps in preparation for being part of the people, or temporarily for any reason.
Note that both Deut. 29:10 and Josh. 8:35 refer to the גר living among the Israelites. (גר did not mean “convert” until Mishnaic times.) Of course, all these individuals may have come after the Exodus, during the desert years.
Luzzatto also writes at 12:38: “It has been said that these were Egyptians who mixed with the Israelites in order to become proselytes, upon seeing the prodigious wonders that God had done for them…It seems to me, however, that even if some people were stirred to become proselytes, there would have been no reason for them to leave with the Israelites, for the Israelites had never said they were going away permanently, but were supposed to return immediately….”
Luzzatto has raised an interesting issue. From Moses’ statements to the Israelites at 12:17 and 25-26, it seems that they knew they were not coming back, but Moses did not share this with Pharaoh. Pharaoh seemed to assume that they would return after the holiday he granted. See, e.g., 12:31 (“ke-daberchem”). What the non-Israelites would have thought is a difficult question. If they were living among the Israelites, presumably they would have known what the Israelites’ plan was. But if they had not been living among the Israelites, probably they would not have known. Nevertheless, in my view, they likely would have attempted to leave with the Israelites anyway. Once out, they could have continued on their own.
A scholar Shaul Bar suggested a novel interpretation in an article in Hebrew Studies, vol. 49 (2008). There are three verses in Tanach where the word “erev” is used and it could mean “mercenaries,” i.e., people that are paid to fight on your side. This would come from a different meaning of the root ערב, the “take on a pledge” meaning, or the “exchange” meaning. The three verses are Jer. 25:20 and 50:37, and Ezek. 30:5. (Admittedly, there is a segol under the ayin in each, different from the tzere in “erev rav,” but this does not have to be significant.) For example, Jer. 25:19-20 reads: “Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants, and his princes, and all his people, and all the ‘erev’….” The word that Targ. Yonatan uses in all three verses comes from the root סמך, which means “support.” See also Rashi on all three verses and especially on Jer. 25:20: “u-mishanto aleihem le-ezrah” (=he relies on them for help). See also Soncino to Jer. 50:37: “foreign traders or mercenaries.” So perhaps “erev” meant “mercenary” at Ex. 12:38. Bar also argues that if it does, we can better understand how the Israelites can be described as “chamushim” when they left, assuming that this word means “armed.”
(But at the end of his article, Bar comes to the surprising conclusion that the reference at Ex. 12:38 is to “intermarried ones”: mercenaries who intermarried with the Israelites. He does not claim a “double meaning” to the word at Ex. 12:38, although he could have. )
Another scholar points out that there is also an Akkadian word “urbi” that refers to a type of soldier.
My comment: The “mercenary-soldier” interpretation may fit the context in the three verses cited above, but it does not fit the context at Ex. 12:38. Moreover, the story of Moses and the Israelites at the sea depicts a helpless people without any help from mercenaries/soldiers.
- There are no passages in either Talmud giving an interpretation of “erev rav.” There is a passage at Beitzah 32b where an Amora who was not treated with kindness criticized those who treated him and said that they must be descendants of the “erev rav.” He observed that the seed of Avraham, in contrast, are “merachem al ha-briyot.” But this is not the kind of passage that was meant to be taken more than homiletically. (But see Rambam, Matanot Aniyim 10:2.)
-Another issue is whether the “erev rav” are to be identified with the “asafsuf” of Num. 11:4. The identification is more compelling if we can view “erev rav” as one word. The Samaritan Torah has this reading. In this reading, the fourth and fifth letters are just reduplicative, like “yerakrak.” The reduplicative term may also be disparaging. Many sources, ancient and modern, make the identification. The fact that “mix” and “gather” are words with a similar meaning supports the identification. On the other hand, if the groups were the same, why was the same word not used. On this topic, see D. Zucker at thetorah.com, “Erev Rav: A Mixed Multitude of Meanings.”
Mitchell First is an attorney and Jewish history scholar. Unlike “erev rav” and “asafsuf,” these terms in no way mean the same thing. He can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com.
Wednesday 20 January 2021
for Parshat Bo
Parsha: Bo, "Makkat Hoshech and Posh'ei Yisra'el"
Parsha: Bo, V'yameish Hoshech Onkelos, Rashi and Sinai"
Parsha: Bo, "Rashi on P'shat and D'rash"
Tuesday 19 January 2021
Some of my favorites“The more there are riots, the more repressive action will take place, and the more we face the danger of a right-wing takeover and eventually a fascist society.”“In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.”“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”“The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.”“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
And 1 about MLK by RFK:“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization – black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King Jr. did, to understand and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion and love.... What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”―Robert F. Kennedy
Monday 18 January 2021
This evening-- Monday, January 18th -- at 7:30 pm EST, Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa, Canada will be hosting a Worldwide Prayer Rally for its Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who, sadly, has been diagnosed with prostate and liver cancer.
In his over 50 years as Rabbi and, more recently, as Rabbi Emeritus, of the congregation, Rabbi Bulka has served his congregation and congregants with distinction while also becoming a most positive force in the entire community be it the city, the province, the country or globally, There is a reason why 680 News, the 24 hour news radio station in Toronto refers to him as Canada's Rabbi. (See, further, Worldwide virtual prayer rally to be held for 'Canada's rabbi' after cancer diagnosis at https://www.680news.com/2021/01/17/worldwide-virtual-prayer-rally-to-be-held-for-canadas-rabbi-after-cancer-diagnosis-2/ ). His life's efforts have truly been a kiddush Hashem)
For more information on this gathering of Tefilla, please see www.aprayerforrabbibulka.ca
Sunday 17 January 2021
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”~Martin Luther King, Jr.
“True love is boundless like the ocean and, swelling within one, spreads itself out and, crossing all boundaries and frontiers, envelops the whole world.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.” ~Albert Einstein
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”~Nelson Mandela~The Buddha
“Not to mend one’s ways when one has erred is to err indeed.” ~Confucius
“Hatred ever kills, love never dies. Such is the vast difference between the two... The duty of a human being is to diminish hatred and to promote love.” ~Mahatma Gandhi
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” ~Victor Hugo
“When we see God in each other we will be able to live in peace.” ~Mother Teresa
“In this world, hate never dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible.”
Saturday 16 January 2021
From our friend Cantor Richard Wohlberg [and our Mentor Rav Sholom Gold]:
A deeper meaning of the striking Mishnah in Avos 2:10,13,14), which adds yet another dimension to our interpretation:
"Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai had five disciples… He said to them, 'Go out and see what is the best characteristic to which an individual ought cleave. R. Eliezer says, a good eye; R. Yehoshua says, a good friend; R. Yose says, a good neighbor; R. Shimon says, ha'ro'eh et ha'nolad to see that which will be born. R. Elazar says, a good heart.
[Rabban Yohanan] then said to them, 'Go out and see which is the worst characteristic from which an individual ought flee?' R. Eliezer says, an evil eye; R. Yehoshua says, an evil friend; R. Yose says, an evil neighbor; R. Shimon says, to borrow and not repay; R. Eliezer says, an evil heart.
One of the fascinating aspects of this Mishnah is that only R. Shimon seems to have bypassed the parallel structure of the two halves of the Mishnah: according to him, the good characteristic towards which one must aspire is the ability to see what is yet to be born, the outcome of events and experiences, the opposite of which he defines as to borrow and not repay rather than as not to see that which will be born, not to be aware of the outcome of events (which we could expect to find). It could very well be that his intent is precisely the parallel structure; after all, one who borrows and doesn't repay was generally not sufficiently aware when he borrowed the money that pay-day will soon arrive, and that he'd better be prepared for that day with sources from which to repay his debt. Be that as it may, R. Shimon's unique formulation within the Mishnah cries out for further commentary.
I saw the following beautiful vort: Rav Shalom Gold of Har Nof, Jerusalem once suggested another interpretation for ha'ro'eh es ha'nolad: not one who sees that which will be born (which in Hebrew would be yivaled) but rather one who sees from whom he was born, one who understands that he did not emerge from an empty vacuum and realizes that he has a certain debt to pay to the previous generations which formed him. Once we realized our debt to pay to the previous generations (which formed us), we would possess a good eye, choose good friends and neighbors, and contain a good heart. It's all about remembering the past, applying it to the present and recognizing the consequences to our future.
-Cantor Richard Wohlberg
Kol Tuv / Best Regards,
Rabbi Rich Wolpoe
Friday 15 January 2021
Rabbi Eliyahu Safran on the parsha -- hope you enjoy
Thursday 14 January 2021
Guest Blogger: Mitchell First
The Origin of Our Prayer for the Government (Ha-Noten Teshuah)
Every Shabbat, after the haftarah, our custom is to recite a prayer for the government. The prayer begins “Ha-noten teshuah la-melakhim..” (=He who gives salvation to kings…). Where did this prayer come from?
Before we address this, it is important to point out that there are many sources in Judaism for the idea of praying for the government. The most widely quoted source is Jer. 29:7, where Jeremiah instructs: “Seek the peace of the city where I caused you to be exiled and pray to the Lord for it…” Even before this, at Gen. 47:7, Jacob bestows a blessing on Pharaoh. There is also R. Chaninah’s statement at Avot 3:2 that we must pray for the welfare of the government since otherwise men would swallow each other alive. (This statement was made when the hated Romans were ruling Palestine. So even government by the hated Romans was viewed as preferable to a lack of government!)
Also, there is an interesting legend in Jewish tradition that the Jews told Alexander the Great that he should not listen to the Cutim and their request to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem. Our Temple, the Jews explained, was a place where the Jews prayed for Alexander’s kingdom. See the baraita to Megillat Taanit, day of Har Gerizim (21 Kislev).
(For additional sources about Jews’ praying for foreign governments in ancient times, see the 16th century work, Me’or Einyaim, chap. 55.)
R. David Abudarham, writing in Spain in 1340, mentions a custom of blessing the king in synagogue after the Torah reading on Monday and Thursday. But he does not provide any official text of the blessing and it does not seem that he was alluding to Ha-Noten Teshuah.
A custom of blessing the king on Shabbat is mentioned in the Orchot Chayyim of R. Aaron Ha-Kohen of Lunel (Provence), which is another source from around this time. See the section Seder Tefillat Shabbat Shacharit, sec. 8. (See also Kol Bo, section 20, a work perhaps by the same author.) A few other such sources in Spain and Provence, starting around 1300, with the text of their “mi she-berach” blessings, are collected by Aharon Arend, in chapter 10 of his Pirkei Mechkar Le-Yom Ha-Atzma’ut (1998), at p. 181.
But what is the earliest source for our Ha-Noten Teshuah Prayer? The earliest is as a prayer for King Ferdinand V. This is the king who later expelled the Jews in 1492! See Arend, p. 182.
Was there a prayer for the king in the Ashkenazic community in the time of the Rishonim? Entziklopedia Le-Beit Yisrael (ed. R. Halperin, 1994), entry Ha-Noten Teshuah, includes a statement that this prayer is mentioned in a document from Worms, Germany from the year 1096. But we do not have documents from Worms from the year 1096, so I decided to investigate this mysterious claim. It turns out that there is a manuscript that describes the rituals of Worms and includes a very short prayer for the king, but the prayer is not Ha-Noten Teshuah. A. Frumkin, in his edition of Seder Rav Amram Gaon (1910-12), vol. 2, p. 78, wrote that this manuscript was written at the time of the gezerot of 1096 and 1146. He came to this erroneous conclusion because the manuscript included some details from these times. But scholars today realize that the manuscript, Oxford 2205, was written several centuries later. Meanwhile, Frumkin’s statement assigning the above very early time period to this manuscript has been followed by many sources, including the above encyclopedia. The above encyclopedia also erroneously assumed that the prayer in the manuscript was Ha-Noten Teshuah, but it clearly was not, as Frumkin quotes the language of the prayer. So all we learn from this manuscript is that Worms and perhaps other parts of Ashkenaz had their own short prayer for the king, but we do not know how early this prayer arose.
Going back to Ha-Nanoten Teshuah, some claim that it is actually a subversive prayer with a hidden anti-government meaning. The prayer begins with quotes from Psalms 144:10: “He who gives salvation unto kings,” and “He who rescues his servant David from the hurtful sword.” But the subsequent verse in Psalms, not included in Ha-Nanoten Teshuah, is: “Rescue me and deliver me out of the hands of strangers, whose mouth speak falsehood and their right hand is a hand of lying.” Perhaps the citation to 144:10 is meant to allude to the subsequent verse! Similarly, the sentence in the prayer, “ha-noten ba-yam derekh...” is a quote from Isaiah 43:16. But just prior to that, at 43:14, the prophet describes the downfall of Babylon. Babylon may be a metaphor for governments of the Jews in exile.
I am not convinced that the author of the prayer intended these subversive hidden allusions. The material in the nearby verses can easily be just coincidence. (An interesting scenario would be if the prayer was written under government compulsion. Then perhaps the author did intend an allusion to the nearby verses, as a subtle form of protest!)
For more insights into Ha-Noten Teshuah, see the Jan. 2017 article by Jonathan Sarna at thelehrhaus.com. Sarna quotes a famous line from “Fiddler on the Roof”: “A blessing for the Tsar? Of course! May God bless and keep the Tsar…far away from us!” See also the complete chapter 10 of Arend’s work.
- For material from the Cairo Genizah relevant to our topic, see S.D. Goitein, “Prayers from the Geniza for the Fatamid Caliphs…” in Studies in Judaica, Karaitica and Islamica, pp. 52-57. (These Caliphs ruled Egypt and its surrounding areas from the 10th to 12th centuries.)
- For a completely different interpretation of Jer. 29:7, see R. Margaliot, Ha-Mikra Ve-Ha-Mesorah, pp. 64-66.
- The Complete ArtScroll Siddur does not include the text of either Ha-Noten Teshuah or the prayer for the State of Israel. But there is a little box on the bottom of p. 450 with the following statement: “In many congregations, a prayer for the welfare of the State is recited by the Rabbi, chazzan or gabbai at this point.” The texts of Ha-Noten Teshuah and the prayer for the State of Israel were added by ArtScroll to its special “Rabbinical Council of America Edition” siddur. But ArtScroll had to do some strange things to the page numbers of Yekum Purkan, so that the added material would not change all the subsequent page numbers!
Mitchell First can be reached at MFirstAtty@aol.com. When he prays for the government, he also has in mind government agencies, like the New Jersey Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, that enable him to get to work.