Our parashah begins with mitzvot associated with childbirth,
including the commandment of brit milah, circumcising our sons on the
eighth day after their births. Why is this mitzvah repeated here when
it was already told to Avraham Avinu and recorded in Bereishit? R'
Zvi Yehuda Kook z"l (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Merkaz Harav; died 1982)
answers as follows:
Rambam z"l writes (in his commentary to the last mishnah in
Chullin chapter 7): "Know that the fact that we distance something or
draw it close is only because Hashem commanded Moshe thus at Har
Sinai, not because it was spoken to an earlier prophet [such as the
Patriarchs]. . . We do not circumcise ourselves because Avraham
circumcised himself and his household, but rather because Hashem
commanded Moshe that we should do so just as Avraham did. . . This
rule also is apparent from the Sages' statement that: `613
commandments were given to Moshe at Sinai'."
However, says R' Kook, Rambam's explanation appears to be
contradicted by a midrash quoted in Sefer Menorat Ha'maor by R'
Yisrael al-Naqawa z"l (died 1391). That midrash quotes the pasuk
(Devarim 33:4), "Moshe commanded the Torah to us, an inheritance to
the congregation of Yaakov," and asks: "Have we been holding on to the
Torah since the time of Moshe? We have been holding on to the Torah
since the time of the Patriarchs!"
In reality, there is no contradiction, R' Kook answers. Our
spiritual attachment to the Torah does date back to the Patriarchs.
However, that is not why we observe the Torah's laws. Rather, we
observe the laws because Hashem commanded us at Har Sinai to do so.
(Sichot R' Zvi Yehuda: Vayikra p.104)
"On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be
It is customary at a brit milah / circumcision to express the
wish: "Just as the young boy has entered the Covenant, so may he enter
Torah study, marriage and good deeds." The following story relates to
The future R' Bezalel Hakohen of Vilna (19th century) was a child
prodigy, and long before his bar mitzvah, matchmakers were vying for
the privilege of arranging a shidduch for him. By the time he reached
his twelfth birthday, he was already engaged.
At the engagement celebration, one of the local scholars said, "I
have always wondered why we say, `so may he enter Torah study,
marriage and good deeds'? Shouldn't good deeds precede marriage?
Now, I understand. We pray that the child should be so special that
long before his bar mitzvah, before his good deeds begin to be counted
in the Heavenly accounting books, he should already be pursued by
(Quoted in Ve'karata La'Shabbat Oneg)
"One for an olah-offering and one for a chatat-offering."
Rashi z"l writes: The Torah only mentioned the olah before the
chatat so that the owner will set aside his birds in that order.
However, when it comes time to sacrifice them, the chatat comes first.
Why did the Torah say that the olah should be set aside first?
R' Baruch Sorotzkin z"l (1917-1979; rosh yeshiva in the Telshe Yeshiva
in Cleveland) explains: Why is the chatat sacrificed first? Our
Sages explain that before one can give a present burnt to the king
(here, the olah, which is entirely on the altar), one must appease the
king (by bringing a chatat / sin offering). This means, says R'
Sorotzkin, that bring the chatat is merely a preparation for bring the
When Hashem created the world, His purpose was to create man. In
the words of Chazal: "The last in deed was the first in thought."
However, before man could be created, the rest of the world had to be
created in preparation. Similarly, the chatat is the preparation for
the olah, but since the olah is the ultimate goal, the last in deed
should be first in thought.
"He [the metzora] is to call out, `Tamei, tamei!'" (13:45)
The Gemara (Shabbat 67a) explains that the metzora must bring his
suffering to the public's attention so others can pray for him. This,
writes R' Moshe Sternbuch shlita (rabbi in Johannesburg, South Africa
and Yerushalayim and author of several popular works) is the source
for the custom that the congregation prays for those who are ill.
However, R' Sternbuch adds, it appears from the Gemara that it is not
enough for the congregation to know that someone is sick. In order to
pray effectively, the congregation must know of the person's
Why does the Torah teach the idea of praying for other in the
context of a metzora? R' Sternbuch suggests: Tzara'at is a punishment
for speaking lashon hara. One who speaks lashon hara is separating
himself from society. [As our Sages taught: A metzora's punishment is
to sit alone outside the city's walls because his actions were anti-
social, destroying marriages and friendships.] In contrast, prayer is
most effective when it is done as part of a group. That is why
Shemoneh Esrei is worded in the plural. It is fitting that the
metzora, who behaved in an anti-social way, should be made to
recognize the benefits of being part of society.
Why does the recitation of "Mah nishtanah" follow immediately
after the recitation of "Hah lachma ania"? R' Yosef Chaim of Baghdad
z"l (died 1909) explains:
In Hah lachma ania we proclaim: "Whoever is hungry, let him come
and eat! Who ever is in need let him come and share the Pesach
sacrifice!" This confuses our children, so they ask: "Why is this
night different from all other nights? On all other nights, you slam
the door in beggars' faces or leave them standing in the front hall.
Why, tonight, are you are inviting them into the dining room?"
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Orach Chaim p.85)
A Pesach Parable
Why is Bedikat Chametz / the search for chametz carried out at
night? Commentaries explain that chametz is a metaphor for the yetzer
hara. Since the yetzer hara takes advantage of darkness, as explained
below, it is in the darkness that we must seek it out.
Darkness causes two undesirable consequences. Firstly, it causes
people to trip over unexpected obstacles. The yetzer hara also places
unexpected obstacles in people's way. Thus we read in Mishlei (4:19),
"The way of the wicked is like darkness, they do not know upon what
Secondly, it causes even familiar territory to become confusing.
In the dark, one may think that a door is a wall or a wall is a door,
or that gold is iron or iron is gold. So, too, under the influence of
the yetzer hara, one may think that a sin is a mitzvah or that a
mitzvah is a sin.
There is a story popular among Yemenite Jews about a widow named
Sadah who was very punctilious in her observance of mitzvot. When she
heard that the prophets promise that the miracles of the future
redemption will be equal to those of the Exodus, she concluded that
mashiach will come on the Seder night. Throughout the Seder, which
she observed at a neighbor's house, she watched the door carefully,
waiting for mashiach to enter and redeem all those assembled. Alas,
he did not come by the time the Seder had ended..
In the meantime, Sadah drank four cups of wine, the hour grew
late, and her eyelids began to grow heavy. She desperately wanted to
sleep, but just as desperately, she wanted to stay awake to greet
mashiach. Wearily, she made her way home and, fighting off sleep for
a short while, she hit upon an idea:
Our Sages say that mashiach will arrive riding a donkey. Surely,
if mashiach arrived while Sadah was sleeping, her donkey would prance
and bray to greet its cousin bearing the redeemer. Realizing this,
Sadah took a rope and joined her leg to her donkey's leg. That way,
when her donkey saw mashiach's donkey, its movement would awaken her.
However, Sadah was not aware of another teaching of our Sages
which says (Berachot 3a) that donkeys commonly prance and bray in the
first third of the night. Sure enough, Sadah's donkey took off
running through town, all the while dragging the unfortunate widow
behind it. This was painful indeed for Sadah, but in her heart she
rejoiced, for surely mashiach had arrived!
All of the neighbors were awakened by Sadah's screams of pain
mixed with cries of joy. Quickly they reined in her donkey and helped
her to her feet. Only then did she learn, to her dismay, that
mashiach had not arrived.
What does this parable teach? It illustrates that sometimes we
are seduced to perform what we believe to be a mitzvah, when in fact
it is the yetzer hara that is motivating us. For a young yeshiva
student, there might be a yetzer hara to learn Torah all night,
forgetting that this causes one to sleep through the next morning's
prayers. For others, it is the yetzer hara to speak lashon hara about
a neighbor who, we tell ourselves, is so evil it is a mitzvah to speak
about him. About this the prophet says (Yishayahu 5:20): "Woe to
those who speak of evil as good and as good of evil; who make darkness
into light and light into darkness . . ."
The first step in eliminating this darkness is to light the
candle of Bedikat Chametz. With it, one should search every nook and
every corner until the trickery of the yetzer hara is rooted out.
(Quoted in Haggadah Shel Pesach Avoteinu Sipru Lanu p.11)
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