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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Parashat Vayishlach 5775

Part I: Praying for Iraq
This week we began to add a prayer for rain (as opposed to only praying for dew) in the ninth blessing of the Amidah. The timing of this blessing is strange, since we make the switch at the time when Babylonia is most in need of rain, following the custom of the Babylonian Talmud. Many have tried to adapt different customs for their local rain needs, but somehow they never manage to take hold. Instead of asking for rain at the appropriate time (except for those Jews living in Iraq), we end up saying a prayer whose meaning matters less than its ability to unify all Jews in the exile.

ערוך השולחן אורח חיים סימן קיז
Arukh HaShulchan, OC 117
סעיף ב
בא"י מתחילין לומר ותן טל ומטר מליל ז' מרחשון מפני שהיא ארץ הרים ובקעות לכך צריכה מטר תיכף אחר החג וזה שאין שואלין מיד אחר החג בשביל עולי רגלים שיבואו לביתם [משנה י'.] ואף ע"ג דלפ"ז בזמה"ז היה להם לשאול מיד אחר החג מ"מ לא נשתנה התקנה ויש בגמרא [ד':] עוד טעם משום הפירות המונחים בשדות עד ז' מרחשון ואין לבקש אז גשמים כדי שלא ירקבו הפירות [ער"ן פ"ק דתענית וב"י]

סעיף ג
ובבבל שהיא ארץ מצולה וא"צ כל כך לגשמים מתחילין לשאול מטר בערבית של יום ס' אחר תקופת תשרי ויום התקופה הוא בכלל הס'...

סעיף ד
ואנן בני חו"ל בתר בני בבל גררינן כמו בכל הדינים ואף ע"ג דלכאורה אין זה ענין לדינים וכבר כתב הרמב"ם בפי' המשנה בתענית שם דהדבר תלוי במדינות בהזמן שצריכין למטר וא"כ ברוב מדינות אייראפא שזורעין אחר הפסח היה לנו לומר טל ומטר בקיץ והרי בחורף אין אנו צריכים למטר כלל וכבר האריך הרא"ש בתשו' בזה… מ"מ כתב הרא"ש בעצמו שלא נתקבלו דבריו כלל ע"ש וכאלו יצא בת קול לעשות כבני בבל וכן מבואר מדברי הרמב"ם בחיבורו בפ"ב שלא כתב כמ"ש בפי' המשנה ע"ש וכך סתמו רבותינו בעלי הש"ע וכן הלכה וכל המפקפק בזה ראוי לעונש...:
Section 1:
In the land of Israel, we begin saying, “And give dew and rain,” from the night of the  seventh of Marcheshvan.  Since it is a land of mountains and valleys, therefore it requires rain immediately after the holiday [of Sukkot]. And that we do not ask immediately after the holiday is because of the pilgrims for the holiday who are arriving home (and therefore need more dry time to get home). And even though that according to this explanation, in this time one should ask immediately after the holiday, nonetheless the decree is not changes. Also, in the Gemara there is another reason: because of the fruit lying in the fields until the seventh of Marcheshvan, so one should not request rain then so that the fruit will not rot.

Section 2:
In Babylonia, which is a low  land, and doesn’t need so much rain, they begin to request rain in the evening of the sixtieth day after the autumnal equinox, and the equinox day is within the count of sixty.

Section 3:
And we children of outside of the land of Israel, we are dragged after the children of Babylonia, like for all the laws, and even though that initially this is not a matter of set law, and the Rambam already wrote in his commentary on the Mishne in [Tractate] Ta’anit there that the matter is dependant on the lands in the time that they need rain. If so, in most of the lands of Europe, where they sow after Passover, we ought to say “dew and rain” in the summer. And in the winter we don’t need rain at all. But the Rosh was already lengthy in a responsa about this. Nonetheless, the Rosh himself wrote that his words were not accepted at all. And it is as if a heavenly voice came out to make us like the children of Babylonia, and so it is explained from the words of the Rambam in his composition (the Mishne Torah) in chapter 2, in that he did not write like he did in his commentary on the Mishne. And so it is the understanding of the master of the Shulchan Arukh, so is the law, and anyone who contests this is fit for punishment...

Part II: Reuben and Bilhah
In this week’s portion, Reuben, the firstborn child or Jacob/Israel sleeps with Bilhah, the now deceased Rachel’s hand-maiden and either wife or concubine of Jacob. The Talmud struggles mightily with this idea and makes the claim that no sexual relations actually happened. It uses the fact that the story itself is strange: it takes half a verse, then is followed by a paragraph break in the text, and seems to pick up on a non-sequitur. Reuben, though, does seem to be punished for this action by losing the birthright. The Maharsha, which I included at the end, turns the Talmud’s odd read of this story into an interesting piece of narrative that might actually fit the Reuben story as a link between the rape of Dinah - which seems to be a story against marrying outside the clan - to Joseph’s emergence as the model figure for dealing with and marrying those outside the clan. The Talmud itself, while clearly not sticking to the plain meaning of the story, uses its reading as a launching point for explaining the complicated family dynamics among the fathers of the twelve tribes.

בראשית פרשת וישלח פרק לה
Genesis Chapter 35
(22) Then it was, in Israel’s settling in that land, that Reuben went and slept with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard; [paragraph break] then the children of Jacob were twelve [in number].
(כב) וַיְהִי בִּשְׁכֹּן יִשְׂרָאֵל בָּאָרֶץ הַהִוא וַיֵּלֶךְ רְאוּבֵן וַיִּשְׁכַּב אֶת־בִּלְהָה פִּילֶגֶשׁ אָבִיו וַיִּשְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל פ וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי־יַעֲקֹב שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר:

בראשית פרשת ויחי פרק מט
Genesis Chapter 49
(ג) רְאוּבֵן בְּכֹרִי אַתָּה כֹּחִי וְרֵאשִׁית אוֹנִי יֶתֶר שְׂאֵת וְיֶתֶר עָז:
(ד) פַּחַז כַּמַּיִם אַל־תּוֹתַר כִּי עָלִיתָ מִשְׁכְּבֵי אָבִיךָ אָז חִלַּלְתָּ יְצוּעִי עָלָה: פ
(10) Reuben, my firstborn, you are my strength and the beginning of my vigour, excellence of dignity and excellence of strength.
(11) Reckless like water, you  will not succeed for you climbed onto your father’s bed and then you defiled it, he ascended my couch.

דברי הימים א פרק ה
1 Chronicles Chapter 5
(א) וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן בְּכוֹר־יִשְׂרָאֵל כִּי הוּא הַבְּכוֹר וּבְחַלְּלוֹ יְצוּעֵי אָבִיו נִתְּנָה בְּכֹרָתוֹ לִבְנֵי יוֹסֵף בֶּן־יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא לְהִתְיַחֵשׂ לַבְּכֹרָה:
(1) The children of Reuben, firstborn of Israel - for he was the firstborn, and in his defiling of his father’s bed his firstborn right was given to Joseph, son of Israel, and he is not counted as the firstborn.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נה עמוד ב
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 55b
Said Rebbi Shmuel son of Nachmani said Rebbi Yochanan: Anyone who says that Reuben sinned - that person errs. For it says, “The children of Jacob were twelve.” This teaches that they were all equal to one another.

But then what do I understand by, “He slept with Bilhah, his father’s concubine?” It teaches that he messed up his father’s bed, so the Torah considered him as if he slept with her.

It was taught: Rebbi Shimon son of Elazar says: This righteous one was saved from this sin, and this action never actually came to his hand. Is it possible that in the future his children would stand on Mount Eval and say, “Cursed is one who sleeps with the wife of his father,” and this sin came to his hand? Rather, what do I understand by, “He slept with Bilhah, his father’s concubine?”  He took responsibility for  the dishonor of his mother. He said, “If my mother’s sister was a distress to my mother, should the hand-maiden of my mother’s sister also be a distress to my mother?” He got up and messed up her bed.

Others say: He messed up two beds: one of God’s presence and one of his father.  Thus it is written, “Then you defiled it, he ascended my couch.”  [The repetition standing in for his father’s bed and also God’s bed.]
אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני אמר רבי יונתן: כל האומר ראובן חטא - אינו אלא טועה, שנאמר ויהיו בני יעקב שנים עשר מלמד שכולן שקולים כאחת.

אלא מה אני מקיים וישכב את בלהה פילגש אביו - מלמד שבלבל מצעו של אביו, ומעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו שכב עמה.

תניא, רבי שמעון בן אלעזר אומר: מוצל אותו צדיק מאותו עון, ולא בא מעשה זה לידו. אפשר עתיד זרעו לעמוד על הר עיבל ולומר ארור שכב עם אשת אביו ויבא חטא זה לידו? אלא מה אני מקיים וישכב את בלהה פילגש אביו - עלבון אמו תבע. אמר: אם אחות אמי היתה צרה לאמי, שפחת אחות אמי תהא צרה לאמי? עמד ובלבל את מצעה.

אחרים אומרים: שתי מצעות בלבל, אחת של שכינה ואחת של אביו.והיינו דכתיב אז חללת יצועי עלה (אל תקרי יצועי אלא יצועיי).

מהרש"א חידושי אגדות, שם
Novellae on Talmudic Narrative of Shmuel Eidels, 16th Century Poland
And it seems in this, that in using the euphemism for messing up his bed of his sleeping with Bilhah his father’s wife, this is due to what is written that Rachel was the anchor of the house, and Jacob did all his work only for Rachel [to marry her]. And through her hand he also married Leah the hand-maidens. So for sure during the life of Rachel, his bed was more frequently in Rachel’s tent. In her honor even after her death he set up his bed in the tent of Bilhah, Rachel’s hand-maiden. But according to what we explained in the tractate Yevamot that they said there that Abraham and his offspring were forbidden to marry hand-maidens, but Abraham married Hagar, Sarah’s hand-maiden since Hagar had been freed from servitude from the act itself per law that one who marries his servant to a free person, the servant goes free. And we need to also say this about Jacob, that he was permitted to these hand-maidens since they were freed from the act of being given to him. But Reuben erred in this and thought that Bilhah and Zilpah were not freed through the act. And thus they said that they called the children of the hand-maidens slaves, for this child of a hand-maiden has her status. According to this, in his opinion that  Bilhah was the hand-maiden of Rachel and not freed, he took responsibility for  the dishonor of his mother, [saying,] “Should the hand-maiden of my mother’s sister also be a distress to my mother?” And according to his he spoke according to his belief that Bilhah was still a hand-maiden and not the wife of his father at all, for marriage would not be a legal option for her, and therefore she would not be forbidden to Reuben under the law of the wife of his father. So the Torah considered him as if he slept with her since in his opinion she was permissible to him to sleep with. This seems to be what the text is saying in Chronicles, “and in his defiling of his father’s bed his firstborn right was given to Joseph,”
ונראה בזה מה שכינה בלבול יצועי לשכיבתו עם בלהה אשת אביו לפי מ"ש כי רחל היתה עקרת הבית וכל עצמו של יעקב לא עבד אלא ברחל ועל ידה נשא גם לאה והשפחות וע"כ בחיי רחל היה מטתו תדיר באוהל רחל ולכבודה גם אחר מותה העמיד מטתו באוהל בלהה שפחת רחל ולפי מה שבארנו במסכת יבמות שאמרו שם שהיה אברהם וזרעו אסורים לישא שפחה והוא נשא את הגר שפחת שרה לפי שנשתחררה הגר ממילא כדין הנושא לעבדו בת חורין דיוצאת לחרות וה"נ צ"ל ביעקב שהותר בשפחות אילו לפי שנשתחררו ממילא כשנתנו לו וראובן טעה בזה וחשב שלא נשתחררו בלהה וזלפה ממילא ולכך אמרו שקראו לבני השפחות עבדים כי וולד שפחה כמותה ולזה לפי דעתו שבלהה היתה שפחת רחל ולא נשתחררה תבע עלבון אמו שתהא שפחת אחות אמי כו' ולזה אמר לפי דעתו שבלהה עדיין שפחה ולא נשתחררה ואינה אשת אביו כלל שאין קידושין תופסין בה ואינה אסורה לו לראובן באשת אביו מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו שכב עמה דלפי דעתו הותר לו שכיבתו עמה ומטעם זה נראה שאמר הכתוב בד"ה כי בחללו יצועי אביו נתנה הבכורה ליוסף...

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