Life is strange. It’s been decades since the Oisvorfer went through elementary and high school. Sadly he has not maintained contact with any of his rebbes of old. Admittedly, a few tried having contact with him, if you chap. Roll forward to the next generation and though it’s been a few years, at least ten, and as many as eighteen, since Rabbi Mayer Kramer taught the Oisvorfer’s three boys ‘limudai koidesh’ (Hebrew studies), the Oisvorfer and eishes chayil continue to have a strong relationship, likely stronger, with Reb Mayer and his eishes chayil Esther, and are pleased to wish them a big mazel upon the wedding earlier this week of their beautiful daughter Toby, to Dovid, he the son of Mr. and Mrs. Raphael Adler. May Toby and Dovid enjoy many decades of blissful marriage. Mazel tov to both extended families.
And another big mazel tov to our machutanim, Karen and Allen Perl (son Zachary married to Ariella Perl) upon the birth of a granddaughter born to their children Jennifer and Sammy Kollander. Sammy is the son of our friends Faye and Steve Kollander; very good people indeed. May baby Kollander bring Jen, Sammy, her big sister Liana, their respective parents, and great-grandmother Margo Silverman, at least 120 years of joy and unadulterated nachas. Mazel tov to both expanding families.
Raboyseyee and Ladies:
Miriam’s Magic Well…….
The Rolling Stone & Three Day Old Sperm
Just last week we were discussing how, according to the Arizal (a famous Kabbalist with a cold mikveh), Odom Horishoin’s sperm, after many rectifications, purifications and generations, somehow managed to morph into the group of people known as the Erev Rav. They, if you recall, accompanied the Yiddin as they left Mitzrayim on their way to Har Seenai. We will be hearing more from them as the parshas roll forward. Shoin, it’s one parsha later; the Yiddin and the Erev Rav, perhaps millions of them, have arrived to the bottom of Har Seenai where in a few days mamish, they will be experiencing Kabolas Hatoirah and Revelation. The Ten Commandments, or perhaps as many as fourteen or fifteen will be spoken. The Yiddin will be getting married to the RBSO. Believe it or not, sperm will once again swim into our parsha; so will a discussion about the mikveh (ritual bath), a rolling stone, and Miriam’s magic well. This time it’s Rashi and the heylige Gemora who will tell us what role they played.
2448 years in the planning stages, Kabolas Hatoirah (Revelation), before approximately three million Yiddin, and perhaps a few million more interlopers in the form of the Erev Rav, unfolds in high drama on top of top of Har Seenai (Mt. Sinai) in this week’s parsha of Yisroy named after Moishe’s father-in-law, a goy mamish. Why was the parsha taka named after a goy? We shall address that as well in the closing paragraphs. The RBSO Himself will descend and metaphorically marry the Yiddin. And the wedding gift? The Aseres Hadibrois (Ten Commandments) followed -over the next forty years- by the entire heylige Toirah containing 613 mitzvis and much more. Ober what happened in the days just before Revelation? How did the Yiddin go about getting ready for the wedding? Nu, let’s learn. Says the heylige Toirah (Shemois 19:10-15) azoy:
|10. And the Lord said to Moishe, “Go to the people and prepare them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their garments.||יוַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָֹה אֶל משֶׁה לֵךְ אֶל הָעָם וְקִדַּשְׁתָּם הַיּוֹם וּמָחָר וְכִבְּסוּ שִׂמְלֹתָם:|
|11. And they shall be prepared for the third day, for on the third day, the Lord will descend before the eyes of all the people upon Mount Sinai.||יאוְהָיוּ נְכֹנִים לַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי כִּי | בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִשִׁי יֵרֵד יְהוָֹה לְעֵינֵי כָל הָעָם עַל הַר סִינָי:|
|12. And you shall set boundaries for the people around, saying, Beware of ascending the mountain or touching its edge; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.’||יבוְהִגְבַּלְתָּ אֶת הָעָם סָבִיב לֵאמֹר הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם עֲלוֹת בָּהָר וּנְגֹעַ בְּקָצֵהוּ כָּל הַנֹּגֵעַ בָּהָר מוֹת יוּמָת:|
|13. No hand shall touch it, for he shall be stoned or cast down; whether man or beast, he shall not live. When the ram’s horn sounds a long, drawn out blast, they may ascend the mountain.”||יגלֹא תִגַּע בּוֹ יָד כִּי סָקוֹל יִסָּקֵל אוֹ יָרֹה יִיָּרֶה אִם בְּהֵמָה אִם אִישׁ לֹא יִחְיֶה בִּמְשֹׁךְ הַיֹּבֵל הֵמָּה יַעֲלוּ בָהָר:|
|14. So Moishe descended from the mountain to the people, and he prepared the people, and they washed their garments.||ידוַיֵּרֶד משֶׁה מִן הָהָר אֶל הָעָם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֶת הָעָם וַיְכַבְּסוּ שִׂמְלֹתָם:|
|15. He said to the people, “Be ready for three days; do not go near a woman.”||טווַיֹּאמֶר אֶל הָעָם הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים לִשְׁלשֶׁת יָמִים אַל תִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל אִשָּׁה:|
Bikitzur (in short), the RBSO instructed Moishe to make sure the Yiddin would be ready. How so? The only very clear and specific initial instructions in posik 10 tell us that they needed to get ready and to wash their clothing. They had two days; the wedding was scheduled to take place on the third. Moishe, when giving over the RBSO’s instructions, efsher sensing that two days might not be enough prep time, gave them a third. We will address what Moishe may have been thinking below.
Said the RBSO to Moishe (pisukim 10-11): the Yiddin are to become ‘nichoinim’ (ready) or sanctified today and tomorrow, and they are to wash their clothing. They got ready to meet the RBSO by but washing their clothing? That’s it? According to Rashi and a few other luminaries, that was taka it. The Yiddin were, perhaps by pondering over the big moment -efsher while washing their clothing- getting ready for Revelation. Ober, Moishe (in posik 15) made yet another demand. Seemingly, one he added on his own. Said he: DO NOT COME NEAR TO A WOMAN! They needed also to separate from their wives. How did wife separation help them become ready and sanctified? We shall address that in just a moment. Ober (however), what about the women? Were they good to go, instantly ready to meet the RBSO, and accept The Commandments once they had clean clothing? Were there no other preparatory instructions? Let’s find out.
Said the Ibn Ezra: preparation also entailed that the men, and perhaps all the people, women included, and maybe even the Erev Rav, immerse themselves in the mikveh (ritual bath). And his rationale? Says he: the demand for the Yiddin to wash their clothing was but a euphemism for them all going to the mikveh. The RBSO said to wash their clothing but what He meant was for them to take ritual baths. Ober says Unkilis (himself a convert whose Toirah translation is written in Aramaic) that instructions by the RBSO for the Yiddin to wash their clothing in honor of the pending ceremony were literal: the Yiddin needed but to have their clothing washed. In fact, a more literal translation of Unkilis reveals that the RBSO instructed the Yiddin to tightly press their clothing. Think pressing and dry cleaning. Unkilis does not believe that the Yiddin needed to immerse in a mikveh. Fartig! Ober which was it? Wash only? Wash and dry and press? Or, wash clothing plus a dip in the mikveh? With or without clothing? Men alone? Men and women together? Husbands and their wives maybe? And the answer is we don’t know. Of course we don’t know. We don’t because the heylige Toirah mentions only clothes-washing. Nu, believe it or not, the question of mikveh dipping is addressed in the heylige Gemora; let’s see what a few had to say.
Said Rebbe Eliezer and also Rebbe Yehudah in the heylige Gemora (Yivomis 46B), azoy: Jewish males were not required to immerse themselves in a ritual bath (mikveh) in connection with a mass circumcision which took place at the foot of Har Seenai before Matan Toirah. A mass circumcision and conversion? Did the RBSO’s instructions mention a mass circumcision? Is there any mention of this circumcision in our parsha? Not! Weren’t they already Jewish and circumcised? And didn’t we learn that Moishe had performed such mass circumcisions just before they left Mitzrayim? We did. What’s pshat?
Ober, efsher you recall learning (back in yeshiva or elsewhere) that while in Mitzrayim, the Yiddin neglected circumcision. Why? Mistama they wanted to fit in and look more like their slavemasters; efsher this look helped them chap a few hot Mitzri shiksas, on their days off, ver veyst. The bottom line: if there was a mass circumcision event, and let’s say there was, would they have been required, as part of the conversion ceremonies, to also dip into the mikveh during these three days? And to that, Rebbes Eleizer and Yehudah say no! Let’s avada understand that not all agree with Rebbes Eliezer and Yehuda; a few luminaries are of the opinion that the Yiddin were required to immerse in the mikveh. Ober, all seemingly agree that upon arrival to Har Seenai but prior to Kabolas Hatoirah, Moishe commanded them all -except for Sheyvet Levi whose members were all circumcised- to undergo circumcision. What they seemingly argue over is whether or not, they also needed to complete the conversion ceremony by going to the mikveh. Did they?
Initially, the heylige Gemora (Yivomis 46b) held that avada they needed to go to the mikveh. Why avada? Because if the RBSO directed a detail such as clothes-washing, it was avada understood that their bodies needed to be cleansed as well. In yeshiva parlance, this logic is known as a kal-Vo’choimer (an a fortiori argument). Ober the heylige Gemora concludes that efsher that’s not the case: When the RBSO said to wash their clothing, He meant just that. Why their clothing? Because their clothing was mistama dirty from Midbar travel. Let’s recall a midbar is dry and also quite windy at times. Who comes to a wedding with dirty clothing? Shoin. The mandated clothes-washing was for hygienic purposes only. And clothes-washing does not necessarily dictate that their entire bodies needed washing, and certainly not in a mikveh. Veyter. Says the Netziv: the Yiddin were only required to wash their outer clothing; they needed to look good for the ceremony. The words of the heylige Toirah are not meant to imply that the men were required to dip into the mikveh. Shoin, the discussions in the heylige Gemora and elsewhere, as to whether or not the Yiddin (men only) were required to dip into the mikveh or not, continue and have other ramifications, ober, let’s move on.
What about the women? Rashi elucidates and then shocks us by stating that the separation Moishe mandated in posik 15- is meant to tell us that the Yiddin were not to have sexual relations with their wives during the three prep-time days. Why not? What was wrong with having relations with one’s own wife? Isn’t sex with the eishes chayil a good thing? Wasn’t sex with kimat anyone prior to Kabolas Hatoirah (receipt of the Ten Commandments) ok? Didn’t Yaakov have relations with four sisters? Didn’t Avrohom have at least one, and likely, several pilagshim (concubines)? Says Rashi azoy: it’s all about semen. It’s about what? What has semen got to do with Revelation? Says he quoting or paraphrasing the heylige Gemora (Shabbis 86a), azoy: “DO NOT COME NEAR TO A WOMAN: all these three days so that the women will (be able to ritually) immerse themselves on the third day and thus be in a state of purity to receive the Toirah – for if they would have marital relationships during (these) three days, maybe the woman would discharge the semen after her ritual immersion and again become impure; but once she has waited three days, the semen has already putrefied and is unfit to germinate, and it is (thus considered) clean from making she (the woman) who (then) ejects it, impure.”
Shoin, another week, another Rashi and more revealing semen talk. Rashi is telling us that the women, as part of their preparations, were indeed required to immerse themselves into the mikveh. Ober the Oisvorfer was klerring azoy: where the hec did they find water in the midbar? And where did they find enough water, deep and wide enough to accommodate hundreds of thousands of women, and perhaps millions of people, who may have been in need of such immersion? And what about the men? Why wouldn’t the men who injected the semen into the women, not be in need of a mikveh dip? And what about the men who had other emissions without targeted injections, if you chap? Didn’t they require immersion? Grada as we get to Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), we will be learning that men who had such emissions were required to be sequestered from the camp and did require a mikveh dip. Was it one big mikveh? Separate swimming? Did the Midbar have a built-in mikveh?
Moreover, just last week, we found the Yiddin bitterly complaining to Moishe about the lack of water. Not once but twice?! Indeed! Wasn’t water bichlall sparse in the midbar. Isn’t that what a midbar is? Wasn’t it due to a lack of water over in Mirivah where Moishe lost his temper, hit the rock (instead of talking nicely to it) where the RBSO cancelled his visa into the Promised Land? And now they had a mikveh and seemingly unlimited water to accommodate over several million Yiddin over a two or three day period? What’s taka pshat?
Nu, though the heylige Gemoras quoted above mention a machloikes (dispute) as to whether or not men required a mikveh immersion prior to Revelation, none discuss where the mikveh was, nor how it operated. Rashi states empathically that women did require a mikveh dip. Did a mikveh suddenly appear? Was there a large body of water found near the foot of Har Seenai?
Nu, efsher we can kler azoy. Earlier we quoted the posik where the RBSO told Moishe to instruct the Yiddin to get ready over a two day period. That was back in posik 10. We also learned posik 15 where Moishe, on his own accord, later instructed the Yiddin that they had three days to get ready. Why did he add an extra day? Nu, efsher we can kler azoy: Moishe made arrangements and took all the Yiddin, men and women over to Ein Gedi, an oasis in the Judean desert which had/has a spring and where somehow water is always flowing, for a general swim and mikveh dip. There, they also washed their clothing. Nu, to move a few million men and women to Ein Gedi and back to Har Seenai (Mt Sinai), a distance of some 159 miles (each way), Moishe needed an extra day.
Or, let’s recall another potential source of water. In a few months we will be learning that during the entire 40 years that the Yiddin were traversing the midbar, they were followed by the Be’er Miriam, Miriam’s well. This well we will be taught was manifested in the form of a rock which rolled along as the Yiddin moved about the Midbar. When the Yiddin were on the move, the rock rolled and when they rested, it too came to a stop. How a well rolls and travels, ver veyst? Ober many a medrish has pontificated on the significance of Miriam’s well-spring which somehow was able to supply the Yiddin with water. Says Reb Aaron Tendler: When the Ananei Hakovid (leading clouds) stopped, the rolling well too stopped. It then sprouted waters which irrigated its surrounds. Shoin: instant water and a swimming pool! And if that well existed -of course it did- we can also efsher kler that the well was also used by the Yiddin -men, women and anyone else- who needed to immerse themselves in a mikveh. Gishmak or what? Having a hard time believing that the well rolled along and traveled with the Yiddin and only dried up after her passing in year 40? You don’t question the ten Makos, the ten plagues, inflicted upon Paroy and his people? You accept the splitting of the Yam Suf’s (Sea of Reeds) waters but can’t fathom a rolling well, which when it came to a rest, somehow irrigated its surroundings with potable waters and a mikveh? Ye of little faith! Oy vey!
Says Rabbi Yitzchak Ginzburg mamish so gishmak, azoy: “the well of Miriam was for drinking and also for washing clothes. The skin itself is clothing of the inner dimensions of the body. The water of the well of Miriam, in addition to being used for drinking, came to wash the clothing of the Jewish People.”
And we close with this. Every year as Parshas Yisroy comes around, many ask the very same question. Why was this parsha, the one where the RBSO revealed Himself to the Yiddin, married them, and gave them the Ten Commandments or Utterances, named after a goy (gentile)? Shouldn’t this most critical parsha have been more aptly named? Ober says the Oisvorfer azoy: 27 of the 75 pisukim (verses) in this week’s parsha discuss Yisroy’s arrival to the Jewish people and his contribution to their civility by consulting Moishe on how to set up a judicial system. Upon his arrival, he found Moishe sitting in judgment. Yiddin were arguing over narishkeyt (bs): who was sponsoring kiddish next week? Whose name was to adorn the new mikveh? Who would be its first lifeguard, and who might be a suitable candidate as the guest of honor at the inaugural Midbar dinner? Of course there was the occasional argument over more serious matters such as three day old semen, mikveh requirements, circumcision, conversion and more. Yisroy saw all this and told Moishe that he needed a judicial management system. Yisroy was the first ever Jewish consultant. Many have since followed in his footsteps.
Yisroy’s very specific advice is recorded in the heylige Toirah (Shemois 18:21): “And you shall prophetically select from among the entire people, men of wealth, who are God-fearing, men of integrity (and) who despise money (gain) and appoint them over the people as officer of thousands, officers of hundreds, officers of fifty, and officers of ten.” Moishe was stumped: he had no problem finding wealthy officers. Hey, didn’t the Yiddin just leave Mitzrayim three months ago with great permanently borrowed wealth? They did! And didn’t they find even more wealth as the Yam Suf spit out treasures which had adorned the chariots of the pursuing Mitzrim? Correct again! Weren’t they all quite well off? So it would appear. Ober Yisroy stumped Moishe: he suggested that Moishe find people who despise money. Where the hec was Moishe supposed to find such people. Did they ever exist?
The bottom line: If the RBSO dedicated 36% of the parsha to Yisroy’s comings and goings, and to his advice, why not let him have a parsha named after himself? Besides, he was Moishe’s shver and if the many medroshim are correct, this week’s parsha does teach us a lesson on how a son-in-law should treat a shver (father-in-law). With the utmost of respect. Naming a parsha after him was totally appropriate.
A gittin Shabbis-
The Oisvorfer Ruv