The Fire Within the Bush

“Dirshu Hashem behimatz’o — seek G-d when He can be found, qara’uhu bihyoso qarov — call Him when He is near.”"Shuvu eilai, veashuva aleikhem — Return to Me and I will return to you.”Contrasting images. The first is one of G-d initiating the repentance process, and man responding after Hashem has first made Himself available. The second is G-d’s cry for us to initiate, and then He will respond. A relationship is cyclic, feeding back upon itself. There is no clear initial point; each step gradually deepens the bond.

In Unsaneh Toqef, we find the following as part of the description of what the high holidays are like in heaven. “And a great shofar will be blown, and a small still voice will be heard, and the angels will be atremble, and panic and fear will grip them, and they will cry ‘Here is the day of judgment!’” The “small still voice”, the “qol demamah daqah” is a quote from Melachim I, from a lesson Hashem teaches Eliyahu hanavi. First the prophet is buffeted by a powerful wind, and G-d says, “I Am not in the wind”, then he hears a loud crash, “I Am not in the crash”, then a fire, and G-d says that He is neither there. Then “a small thin voice”. What sets the angels in panic? Not the great and mighty shofar, but the response within the human soul. What forces them to proclaim the day of judgment? Not the clarion call announcing that now is “He can be found”, but the person seeking Him, returning to G-d so that He will return to them.

Moshe rabbeinu’s first recorded prophecy, his sight of the burning bush, has a similar lesson.

2: And Hashem’s angel appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and, here! the bush burned with fire bo’eir ba’eish, and the bush was not consumed.3: And Moshe said, “I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, madu’ah lo yiv’ar haseneh — why the bush does not burn.”

4: And when Hashem saw that he turned to look, Hashem called him out of the midst of the bush, and said: “Moshe, Moshe!” And he said: “Here I am.”

In pasuq 2, a mal’akh appears to Moshe, and the bush is bo’eir ba’eish. However, Moshe turns aside from that vision. He turned to see that lo yiv’ar hanseh — no, it’s not really burning. There is a fire within the bush, only at the core. The mal’akh speaks mitoch, from within the bush. The truer revelation that Moshe rabbeinu saw beyond the angel was one if tzimtzum, Divine Constriction. When Moshe realizes this, the nevu’ah is elevated from a prophet’s speech to an angel to Moshe’s unique ability to speak “face to ‘Face’” with G-d. Moshe merited this nevu’ah because he was “anav mikol adam — more modest than any other man.” His anivus is a reflection and imitation of that very tzimtzum, which is how Moshe alone would turn to take another look.

The mal’akh appeared in the big, the flashy. The first glance made it seem that the whole bush was aflame. It’s like the shofar gadol blowing, announcing Hashem’s presence. The angel declared behimatz’o — here and now Hashem could be found. But Moshe’s response one to the qol demamah dakah, he saw Hashem limiting his presence to allow for a response, to demand derashah — seeking Him out. Realizing that you must respond, that you aren’t simply entitled, that is anivus. And therefore Moshe connected to the A-lmighty in a way no one else did before or since.

Some thoughts about Parashas Yisro

There is a difference in how Moshe Rabbeinu’s sons are named. Shemos 18:3-4:

And her two sons; that the name of one was “Geirshom” because he said “I was a geir (foreigner) in a strange land.” And the name of one was “Eliezer” because E-lokei Avi (the G-d of my father) was be’ezri (at my aid), and He saved me from the sword of Par’oh.

Notice that in the naming of Geirshom, there is mention of what Moshe said, however in the nammming of Eliezer, there is no such mention. But also notice that the “ki” comes before the “amar”, in other words, the reason for the naming is because of what Moshe said, not that Moshe gave the reason in his declaration.

There is a question addressed by rishonim: Why is the older one named for the exile, whereas the second son is named for something that happened earlier, before he was forced away from Mitzrayim? Shouldn’t they have been named in chronological order? One answer is that in those times (as we see in the naming of Yitchaq, Yaaqov and Yaaqov sons) naming normally fell to the mother. Tzipporah got the right of naming the firstborn, and she opened by thanking G-d for the events that brought Mosheh to her — his exile from Egypt. Then Moshe named Eliezer. (This is the origin of the custom in many Ashkenazic communities of alternating who names the children, started with the mother naming the firstborn.)

If I may use this idea to explain the distinction I made earlier… Tzipporah named Geirshom not because Mosheh was exiled, but because Mosheh said he was exiled. To her, it was not exile from Egypt but coming to Midan, finding his mate, teaching monotheism. However, Geirshom was named for the distress Mosheh felt at being separated from his people. He was named for what Mosheh said, his perception.

Why did Yisro decide to come to Mosheh and the Jews in the Midbar? The parashah opens “Vayishma Yisro” (and Yisro heard). The gemara (Zevachim 116a, quoted by Rashi) explains that Yisro heard about the crossing of the Yam Suf and the attack of Amaleiq.But when Yisro finally has a chance to talk to Mosheh, what does Mosheh tell him about? In Shemos 18:8 Moshe tells Yisro about “kol hatela’ah”, all the tribulations, that the Jews underwent. Which Rashi quotes the Mechilta explaining refers to Yam Suf and Amaleiq?

Why did Moshe tell Yisro about the two things Yisro knew already?

There is critical value to repetition. We say in Shema “and you will know today, and you will answer onto your heart.” The Sefas Emes explains, you can know something with your mind, and yet not internalize it in your heart. To internalize it, you must place it on your heart, even though it doesn’t get in. Eventually, it will break through.

This repetition to produce a change of heart is central to Mussar. The means of changing a middah is first qibbush hayeitzer, conquering it. By repeatedly resisting a desire, one can reach tiqun hayeitzer, the point at which it’s repaired.

One of Mussar’s key tools is the idea of making a qabbalah, accepting upon yourself an activity that slowly, incrementally, whittles away at a problem or builds up a strength. Through repetition of the qabbalah one can change the emotions.

Another tool is hispa’alus, studying or davening with “lips aflame”. Each time one learns about a middah with hispa’alus it makes an emotional impression. However, it’s slow an incremental. It will take many days of work to actually change a middah.

The difference between Yisro’s initial hearing about Yam Suf and the attack of Amaleiq and Moshe’s repetition is in the words “kol hatela’ah“. Repeated, it took on emotional content. Yisro no longer heard stories, he heard about trevails.

“VeHar Sinai ashan kulo” (Shemos 19:18). Rashi points out that the word “ashan“, with two patachs for vowels, is a verb. The normal assumption is that the phrase means “And Har Sinai was entirely giving out smoke.” However, there was a heavy cloud on the mountain (v 16), what would be the point of smoke too above it?Perhaps, and I stress that “perhaps”, it should be rendered “and all of Har Sinai turned into smoke”? That the mountain lost its solidity when Hashem was upon it?

There are three prohibitions stressed in the laws of making a mizbei’ach given at the end of this week’s parashah. “Gods of silver and gods of gold do not make for yourself. A mizbei’ach of earth shall you make for Me…” (Shemos 20:19-20) “And if a mizbei’ach of stone you shall make for Me, do not them hewn; because your sword you placed upon it and profaned it.” (v. 21) “Do not go up steps onto my mizbei’ach, that you shall not reveal your nakedness on it.” (v. 22)Three prohibitions: (1) not making idols for the altar; (2) not using a sword, a tool of war, to make it; and (3) not using steps because of a lack of tzeni’us, that it calls ervah. These are the three sins that one must violate even at risk to one’s own life — idolatry, murder, and sexual immorality.

According to the Ramban, a message of the mizbei’ach is that the person sees the death of the animal and responds “That death should have been mine; it was I who forfeited my right to exist.” Therefore, in building the mizbei’ach, the means of re-earning the right to exist, the three prohibitions that override life are doubly inappropriate.

Terumah – The Legs of the Aron

In describing the design of the aron, the Torah says:

וְיָצַ֣קְתָּ לּ֗וֹ אַרְבַּע֙ טַבְּעֹ֣ת זָהָ֔ב וְנָ֣תַתָּ֔ה עַ֖ל אַרְבַּ֣ע פַּֽעֲמֹתָ֑יו וּשְׁתֵּ֣י טַבָּעֹ֗ת עַל־צַלְעוֹ֙ הָֽאֶחָ֔ת וּשְׁתֵּי֙ טַבָּעֹ֔ת עַל־צַלְע֖וֹ הַשֵּׁנִֽית׃

And you should cast four rings of gold for it, and put them in its four pa’amos; and two rings shall be on its one side, and two rings on its other side.

- Shemos 25:12

The word “pa’amosav” is difficult to translate. Rashi, following Unqelus, renders it “corners”. But the Ibn Ezra and Chiquni note that the word is never otherwise used to mean corners. They each cite

תִּרְמְסֶ֖נָּה רָ֑גֶל רַגְלֵ֥י עָנִ֖י פַּֽעֲמֵ֥י דַלִּֽים׃ -ישע’ כו:ו
צֶ֭דֶק לְפָנָ֣יו יְהַלֵּ֑ךְ וְיָשֵׂ֖ם לְדֶ֣רֶךְ פְּעָמָֽיו׃ –תה’ פה:יד
מַה־יָּפ֧וּ פְעָמַ֛יִךְ בַּנְּעָלִ֖ים בַּת־נָדִ֑יב חַמּוּקֵ֣י יְרֵכַ֔יִךְ כְּמ֣וֹ חֲלָאִ֔ים מַֽעֲשֵׂ֖ה יְדֵ֥י אָמָּֽן׃ –שה״ש ז:ב

In these and many other cases, the word pa’am is used to mean leg. In Yeshaiah, it is paralleled with “regel“, in Tehillim, it is something with which one walks, and in Shir haShirim, it wears shoes.

On Friday night, Rav Aharon Cohen’s devar Torah was based on a seifer called Areshes Sefaseinu. He asks why the pasuq would use the word “pa’amosav” rather than the far more common “raglav”?

Angels are stationary, which is why the prophet describes them as “standing upon one regel“. See the idea in greater depth in this post on the travels of parashas Mas’ei. Regel connotes the ability to stand, stability. Tables have raglayim.

We see from the pasuq in Tehillim that the Ibn Ezra uses, “and he will place his feet on the path”, that pa’amos has a greater connotation of legs as a means of motion. This is more like the nature of people than of angels. People move, we progress. (I also discuss the difference in the essay “People and Angels“. And in this article for Mesukim MiDevash, I try to relate them to the placement of the instruments in the Mishkan.)

The aron‘s role in the Miskan parallels that of the soul in the body. Therefore, the Areshas Sefaseinu suggests, it has pa’amos, not raglayim.

I was thinking about the etymology of the words. Regel also connotes regilus, regularity, and hergel, habit. It is looking at the repetitious rhythm of walking. A pa’am is a time, a notable event.

What causes stagnation? When one looks only at the mechanics of the mitzvos, following them out of habit or culture. To grow as people, each performance must be done with
intent for forward motion, to concentrate on this particular encounter with G-d as an event.


Someone showed me the following idea in the Be’er Yoseif by Rav Yoseif Tzevi Salant.

וַיַּסֵּ֨ב אֱ-לֹהִ֧ים ׀ אֶת־הָעָ֛ם דֶּ֥רֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּ֖ר יַם־ס֑וּף וַֽחֲמֻשִׁ֛ים עָל֥וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

- שמות יג:יח

ואסחר ה’ ית עמא אורח מדברא לימא דסוף ומזרזין סליקו בני ישראל מארעא דמצרים:

- תרגום אונקלות, שם

… בעבדא טבא …

- תרגום ירושלמי, שם

ואחזר ה’ ית עמא אורח מדברא דימא דסוף וכל חד עם חמשא טפלין סליקו בני ישראל מארעא דמצרים:

- תרגום יונתן

Hashem brought the nation around, via the path of the desert, the Red Sea; and the Children of Israel arose chamushim (to be defined) from the Land of Egypt.

- Shemos 13:8

.. and the Jews departed prepared and with haste from the Land of Egypt.

- Targum Unqelus (ad loc)

… with good deeds…

- Jerusalem Targum (ad loc)

… and the Jews departed with five infants from the Land of Egypt.

- Targum Yonasan (ad loc)

Rashi defines “chamushim as “armed”, which underlies the Targumim of Unqelus and Yerushalmi. Armed in a spiritual sense, prepared with good deeds.

The medrash describing the Egypt experience told us that we had six children at a time. Here, how can the Targum Yonasan mean that every Jew left with five children, as though this is something that should impress us? The Be’er Yoseif therefore believes the naive read of the Targum Yonasan is correct. Instead, the Be’er Yoseif explains all these targumim in light of each other.

Four fifths of the Jewish people died in Egyptm during the plague of darkness. These were the people who didn’t merit redemption; those who believed in the Egyptian paganism and wanted to stay. But what about their children? The youth didn’t merit dying, even if they agreed with their parents — they aren’t accountable or punishable for their crimes. The Be’er Yoseif notes that this means that each of the 600,000 men left Egypt had to have left with five families of children — his own, and those of four families left orphaned by this punishment. And this could be the intent of the Targum Yonasan.

This is also the “good deeds” of the Jerusalem Targum, the “zerizus” of the Targum Unqelus. They were prepared and surrounded by the mitzvah of taking in these children in need. Today we think of adoption as something someone does when they r”l can’t have children of their own. However, in light of this devar Torah, we see that this mitzvah played a central role in defining us as a people.

According to the Be’er Yosef, it is the merit of adopting orphans that rendered us ready for the redemption from Egypt!

Not for the Seder Table

We say in the Hagadah

אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה: הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה ולא זכיתי שתאמר יציאת מצרים בלילות, עד שדרשה בן זומא “למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך”: ימי חייך – הימים, כל ימי חייך – הלילות. וחכמים אומרים: ימי חייך – העולם הזה, כל ימי חייך – להביא לימות המשיח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Here I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit [having a proof] that the Exodus from Egypt must be spoken about at night. Until Ben Zomah expounded “So that you shall remember the day you went out of the Land of Egypt all the days of your life’. ‘The days of your life’ — would mean daytime, ‘All the days of your life’ — [adds] the nights.”
But the sages say: “The days of your life” — this world, “All the days of your life” — includes the messianic era.”

The topic under dispute is the nature of saying the last paragraph of Shema. According to Ben Zoma and R’ Elazar ben Azariah (REbA), the pasuq “… asher hotzeisi eskhem meiEretz Mitzrayim — Who took you out of the Land of Eqypt…” as a fulfillment of the biblical obligation to discuss the Exodus at night. According to the Chakhamim, the obligation is rabbinic.

I recently encountered a Yerushalmi that has a different dispute between REbA and the majority of the  Chakhamim that I think dovetails with this one. But, as the subject line says, it’s not on a topic appropriate for the seder table.

If after relations semen emits from the woman’s body (as is true for a man), the woman is temei’ah. In the days of the beis hamiqdash, when there are mitzvos that depend on her being tehorah, she would have to go to the miqvah. However, in order for this law to apply, the semen still has to be fresh (viable?), and therefore must be within three days of intimacy. This is deduced from the instructions given to the Jews at Mount Sinai: “וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-הָעָם, הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים, לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים;  אַל-תִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל-אִשָּׁה — [Moshe] said to the people, ‘Be prepared for the third day, do not [sexually] approach a woman.’” (Shemos 19:15) Thus implying that three days is sufficient to guarantee that no woman would be temei’ah (at least, not more so than tevul yom).

There is a four-way machloqes in the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 9:3, Vilna 59b) about how to define those three days; the result of two open questions:

  1. When Moshe Rabbeinu said “third day”, is this because one needs three entire days, or is overlapping with part of the day sufficient?
  2. What do we mean by “days”? Three daylight units of time, with the two nights between them, or 3 24-hour cycles? In other words, is the time specified 5 onos, i.e. 12-hour units, or 6?

There are tannaim with each combination of answers:

  • Rabbi Yishmael says that the time must cover at least parts of 5 12-hour units. So, if they had relations just before sundown, that counts as the first onah, then the next two days are another 4 onos, and if she emits semen a few moments later it is during the 6th onah, and she is tehorah. Altogether the minimum amount of time is just over 2 days. However, if they had relations just after sunset, then the first onah is pretty much the entire night, and the emission might be toward the end of the 6th onah, meaning a total of just under 3 days.
  • Rabbi Aqivah also holds that the relevant unit is the onah, not the day, but holds one needs 5 complete onos. Therefore, time limit is always 5 x 12 = 60 hours after they had relations. Regardless of the time of day of the relations or the emission.
  • Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah holds that we need parts (not whole durations) of three 24-hour days (not 5 onos). Therefore, if they had relations shortly before nightfall that’s day one, then if a day passes beyond the next nightfall, that’s already part of the third day, and she would be tehorah. This is the most lenient opinion — the minimum is only just over 24 hours. The longest possible time would be just under 2 days.
  • Last, the sages are quoted as holding that one needs three complete days, meaning 3 x 24 = or 72 hours.

Note that both R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Chakhamim consider the day and the night to be a single unit. When we speak of yom, by default we mean 24 hours.

How do they differ? REbA holds that something happening even on the edge of that day is enough to characterize the day. The Chakhamim hold that it must last the entire duration of the day.

Perhaps we can say the following:

According to Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Aqiva, the question of whether or not there is a Torahitic obligation to discuss the Exodus at night wouldn’t even arise. The verse telling us to speak of the Exodus says “yom“, which by default is the daylight onah.

However, between R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Sages,  the point of dispute is whether something happening for a moment during the day is sufficient to characterize the day, or if the thing must last the entire day. According to REbA, then, there are two ways of understanding this obligation. Either as an utterance, an obligation that happens to occur daily, or as an obligation to make each day about remembering the Exodus.  If the latter, he would say that one utterance a day is sufficient, since an event during the day is part of the entire day’s character. Therefore, he is excited to learn from Ben Zoma that the obligation is twice daily. A mitzvah that is twice daily is simply a mitzvah whose schedule is twice daily, and not about characterizing the day as a whole.

The Chakhamim, however, say the mitzvah is to characterize the entire day. The mitzvah is thus once daily.