Monday, December 17, 2007

Problematic Texts I

The stories of the Torah do not always end up so pleasant. And as much as I like to emphasize the fact that Yaakov and Esav seem to reconcile at the end of their lives in burying their father, there exists within Judaism (thank you Max Sparber for that language) the idea that they remained bitter until the end of their lives. After implying that he would follow his brother and live near him, he manages to have Esav go one way first, enabling him to go another.

According to Midrash Rabbah, at the end of his life, when Yaakov was carried up to the cave of Machpelah, his right to be buried there was disputed. Naphtali had to run back to Egypt for the deed to show that he (ahem) indeed was entitled to be buried there.

When Hushim, son of Dan, saw Esau restraining them from burying Jacob, he killed him. The violence that takes place while legal remedies are being sought..... The sad addendum to this needless violence is that the Midrash suggests that Jacob was pleased to see his brother killed. And that this fulfilled a prophecy of Rifka, that they would both die on the same day.

Here is the text:

בראשית רבה (תיאודור-אלבק) פרשה צז ד"ה (כא) נפתלי אילה

(כא) נפתלי אילה שלוחה מלמד שקפץ למצרים כאייל והביא שטר המערה לקבור את אביו, עד שהוא הולך בא חושים בן דן והיה חרש, וכשראה עשו מונען מלקבור את אבינו יעקב, דקרו בידו על צוארו, והתיז את ראשו, ונפלו שתי עיניו על מיטתו שליעקב אבינו, ופתח עיניו וראה נקמה ושמח שנ' ישמח צדיק כי חזה נקם (תהלים נח יא), ונתקיימה נבואת רבקה שאמ' למה אשכל גם שניכם יום אחד (בראשית 45:27

Bereshit Rabbah 98:17-

NAPHTALI IS A HIND (a female stag) LET LOOSE (XLIX, 21). This teaches that he sped to Egypt like a hind and brought the title-deeds of the cave [of Machpelah], so that his father could be buried. While he was gone there came Hushim the son of Dan, who was deaf. When he saw Esau restraining them from burying our father Jacob, he stabbed him with his hand through the neck and struck off his head. His [Esau's] two eyes fell upon the bier of our father Jacob, whereupon he [Jacob] opened his eyes, saw vengeance, and rejoiced, as it says, The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance (Ps. LVIII, 11). Thus was fulfilled Rebekah's prophecy when she said, Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day (Gen. XXVII, 45)?

Would anyone like to offer ideas about how to approach these problematic texts?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Rabbi, is there a blessing for a cheeseburger?

The first source in the gemara deals with making blessings on things that are not acquired properly. The second source deals more directly with the question of cheeseburgers.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף ו עמוד ב

רבי אליעזר אומר: הרי שגזל סאה של חטים וטחנה ואפאה והפריש ממנה חלה, כיצד מברך? אין זה מברך אלא מנאץ, ועל זה נאמר: ובוצע ברך נאץ ה'

R. Eliezer says: If one stole a se'ah [a measure] of wheat, ground and baked it and set apart the Hallah, what benediction can he pronounce? This man would not be blessing, but contemning, and of him it is written, The robber [bozea’] who blesseth, contemns the Lord. (Psalms 10:3)

הלכות ברכות לריטב"א פרק ה אות יב

יב. מי שאכל או שתה דברים האסורים מן התורה או מדבריהם אינו מברך לפניהם ולא לאחריהם כלל שאין זה הנאה, ועל המברך נאמר (תהלים י') ובוצע ברך נאץ ה', ואין צריך לומר כשאכלם באיסור אלא אפילו אכלם בהיתר מפני חליו שהיה מסוכן אינו חשוב נהנה ואינו מברך עליו כלל, שכל הנאה שתחילתה באונס וסופה ברצון אינה הנאה'

One who ate or drank something that is forbidden either in the Torah or by the rabbis should not make a blessing after or before it at all, for one does not derive benefit from it. And about the person who does bless it is said, “The robber who blesses expresses contempt for God (Psalm 10:3),” It is not necessary to say that one does not bless only when one eats in that is forbidden (and does so willlingly), rather even when one eats (something that is forbidden) with permission because he is sick or in danger, since it is not considered “benefit,” you don’t need to bless on it at all. For any “benefit” that at the beginning is because of force at the end is out of will is still not considered benefit. (See also Ketubot 51b.)

(What I take this to mean is that if someone has to eat something that is forbidden in order to derive a later benefit from it -- that is, it will have curative affects, even though that cure would be seen as a benefit, it is not considered as such because initially, upon ingestion, one was performing the act because of dire need.)

So, the answer is no.

Is posting a picture of a cheeseburger on a blog deriving benefit from it even if it's purpose is to teach one about the impermissibility of making a bracha on one? Hmmm.....

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Channukah Irony

One of the nice things you can do on Channukah is put more candles burning in the Channukia after the first set burns down, so you can be near the Channukah candles for longer. (Just don't say the bracha again.)

The problem with this is that because most boxes come with only slightly more candles for the holiday, using part of another box may have you end up the next year with a box of candles left over with only a couple candles in it. Then when you look at your Channukah supplies you may think that you don't need to go out and get candles because you will see the box and assume it's full.

This happened to us this year and we didn't know it until tonight when (lo and behold!) there had only been candles for the first two nights.

How odd it was to realize that indeed the box was empty.....