(1) What part did the red heifer have in Korach’s challenge to Moshe’s authority?
(1) The sefer Turei Zahav brings an astonishing Midrash, which says: What did Korach see that he contended with Moshe? He saw the red heifer.
Everyone is amazed by this Midrash - what does the red heifer have to do with Korach’s dispute?
But it is possible to explain this according to the Midrash on parshas Ki Sisoh, which says on the posuk in Shemos (32,11) “Moshe pleaded before Hashem” - R. Yehoshua ben Levi said in the name of R. Shimon bar Yochai: Hashem made an opening for repentance at Mount Sinai when He said “I am Hashem, your G-d”. When Yisrael made the golden calf Moshe tried to appease Hashem, but He would not listen to him. Hashem said to him: Is it possible that we should not carry out the demands of justice for their transgressing of My commandments “I am Hashem, your G-d” and “you shall no other gods” - I have already sworn that “he who slaughters to the gods shall be destroyed” (Shemos 22,19). Moshe replied: Master of the world, this is what You said on Mount Sinai, “I am Hashem, אלקיך (your G-d)”, which is addressing an individual, and not אלקיכם, which would be addressing the many. You were speaking only to me, and I did not transgress your commandment.
According to this, how could Korach, who was very intelligent, challenge Moshe by arguing “for the entire congregation are all holy”, because we all heard at Mount Sinai “I am Hashem, your G-d” and “you shall have no other gods”? By doing so, he is arousing against Yisrael the sin of the golden calf, and Hashem’s vow, “he who slaughters to the gods shall be destroyed” cannot be released.
But it is brought in the Midrash that the reason for the red heifer is that the mother should come and clean up the mess that her son made, and so it is an atonement for the sin of the calf. If so, they have now an atonement for their sin, and therefore this allowed Korach to claim that we all heard the commandments.
This is what the Midrash is saying: What did Korach see that he contended with Moshe? He is thereby arousing against them the sin of the calf! Therefore, the Midrash answers that he saw the red heifer, and since they have an atonement, he does not have to be concerned about arousing the sin of the calf.
An alternative explanation is that the Midrash had a difficulty with what Korach said to Moshe and Aharon, in Bamidbar (16,3) “why do you raise yourselves up over the assembly of Hashem?”, which obviously implies that he was also challenging Moshe. Because granted he had a complaint against Aharon, since he was equal to the rest of Yisrael, but against Moshe he should have had no complaint about why he was raised up, since to him alone Hashem had commanded “I am Hashem, your G-d” and “you shall have no other gods”, and so it was fitting that he was elevated. This is why the Midrash asked what Korach saw to contend with Moshe - the question was specifically concerning his challenge to Moshe.
The Midrash answered that he saw that the red heifer was an atonement for the sin of the golden calf, and therefore it was evident that Hashem had commanded the ten commandments to all of them, because if not so, they had not sinned, so why should they need an atonement? Thus they were all equal, and so he challenged also Moshe.
(2) Why do some women dominate their husbands?
(2) The sefer Korban Shabbos writes that he heard from his Rabbis the following question:
It says in the Zohar that the reason why there are some women who rule their husbands is because the husband is a reincarnation of a soul who sinned with the golden calf, and the woman who fell to his lot and who dominates him is one of the women who did not agree with the making of the golden calf. And since the women of that time were on a loftier level than the men because they did not contribute anything towards the making of the calf, therefore she rules him.
But this poses a difficulty, because from the time of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash no new souls have come down to the world, and so all the souls who live in our times are old souls, who have already lived before at least once. And only the tribe of Levi did not sin with the golden calf, and they were a small minority. Therefore, we should find that the vast majority of women rule their husbands, and yet this is not at all common.
We can answer this by first resolving a puzzling Midrash on parshas Mishpotim, which says that since we stole an ox, therefore we paid five times over and our forefathers died in the wilderness. This Midrash seems to defy explanation!
But Chazal taught that the posuk in Koheles (7,28) “one man out of a thousand I found, but a woman among all these (אלה) I did not find” can be explained by the posuk in Shemos (32,4) “these (אלה) are your gods, Yisrael”. That is, that we do not find one woman who sinned with the golden calf. Now, since the end of the posuk is discussing the golden calf, then also the beginning of the posuk, “one man out of a thousand”, is saying that only one man out of a thousand sinned with the golden calf. And since there were 600,000 men in the wilderness, then one out of a thousand means that only 600 men sinned. And five times this amount comes to 3000, which corresponds to the 3000 men who were killed for the sin of the golden calf. This is the meaning of the Midrash: Since we stole an ox and made a calf, and 600 men sinned, therefore we paid five times over and 3000 men were killed. (This is in keeping with the law that one who steals an ox has to repay five oxen). All this is what I heard.
According to this we can explain several posukim in Koheles, starting with (7,26) “And I find more bitter than death the woman whose heart is snares and nets”, that is, who rules her husband. And why is this this so? Because “her hands are bound” - she bound her hands and did not give from her jewelry for the golden calf. But the men sinned with the calf and therefore she is superior to her husband and rules him. Therefore, “whoever is good before G-d”, whoever was good in the matter of the calf, “shall escape from her”. “But the sinner”, whoever sinned in this matter, “will be taken by her”, even though he is currently a righteous person, since he is a reincarnation of the soul of the sinner.
But how can this be, because if so, the number of women who rule their husbands should correspond to the number of those who sinned with the golden calf, and this is not so! This is the question of the next posukim: “Behold, this I have found, said Koheles, adding one to another to find the account. That which my soul yet sought I did not find.” That is, that which I sought to find that the account of the number of women who rule their husbands corresponds to the number of those who sinned with the golden calf, which would mean the vast majority of women, I did not find.
But the reason is because in fact only “one man out of a thousand I found” who sinned, “but a woman amongst all these I did not find”, that amongst that thousand I did not find one woman who sinned. And since only one out of a thousand sinned with the golden calf, therefore only a small minority of women rule their husbands.
The Korban Shabbos also explained these posukim in a different manner according to the gemora in Kesubos 63a, where the Mishnah says that if woman rebels against her husband, seven dinarim are deducted from her Kesubah every week. The Mishnah asks for how long this should continue, and answers that it continues until it reaches the amount of her Kesubah. Then he divorces her and she goes out without her Kesubah. The gemora asks: In what respect she is rebelling? Rav Huna answers that it is in respect to sleeping with her husband, but rebelling against doing work would not be considered rebelliousness. But R. Yosi says even if she refuses to do her work.
This is what Shlomo Hamelech is saying in Koheles: “I find more bitter than death the woman אשר היא מצודים וחרמים לבה אסורים ידיה”. That is, if you find a woman like this who is more bitter than death and מצודים, that is, she is like a snare which causes others to stumble, like a woman who rebels against her husband. And in what respect does she rebel? וחרמים לבה אסורים ידיה. That is, her heart becomes like something forbidden for her husband to benefit from, so does she rebel by forbidding benefit from her. This is the undestanding according to the opinion of Rav Huna. And according to the opinion of R. Yosi אסורים ידיה is to be understood like the translation of the Targum to mean that her hands are bound from doing work for him.
And what should one do with a woman such as this? “Whoever is good before G-d shall escape from her”, which the Targum translates: he should release her with a bill of divorce. And through this “the sinner will be ensnared by her”, that is, if he divorces her, another man who is similar to her will marry her - through some sin that he did he will be ensnared by her. The posukim continue by telling us what he should do about this, and say that if the amount of her Kesubah is very large so that he is not able to divorce her, then “Behold, this I have found, said Koheles, adding one to another to find the account”. That is, every time she rebels against him he should deduct from the amount of her Kesubah.
But the question remains as to why this happened to him in the first place, that this wicked women fell to his portion. About this it says: “That which my soul yet sought”, to find a reason for this, “I did not find”. That is, I did not find any answer to this, except “one man out of a thousand I found, but a woman amongst all these I did not find”. That is, when they said “these are your gods, Yisrael” I did not find a single woman who agreed with the men about making the golden calf, and the woman that fell to his portion and who rules over him is one of those women, and the man is one of those men who agreed. That is why he was ensnared, and therefore he should do as above and he should escape from her, because as Chazal said: A person cannot live with a snake in one basket.
(3) How did Moshe use the bones of Yosef as an argument that he should be allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael?
(3) The sefer Korban Shabbos brings a puzzling Midrash - Said Moshe: The bones of Yosef entered the land of Yisrael, but I cannot?!
This Midrash is full of difficulties: Firstly, since Moshe specifically mentioned the bones of Yosef in his argument, (and it is true that only his bones entered), if so, he should have said "but my bones cannot enter!", because logic does not allow one to learn more than what one is learning from. Furthermore, why indeed did he hang his argument specifically on the bones of Yosef - surely there were many others who entered the land of Yisrael even after their death, like Ya’akov and the bones of all the tribes. Many earlier and later commentators have discussed this Midrash, each one saying a different explanation, and I too wish to say an explanation.
The gemora Kiddushin 18 discusses the law of a handmaid, a young Jewish girl who was sold by her father to serve someone else for a period of time, but who subsequently left his service, and is still young enough for her father to sell her again. The posuk in the Torah which covers such a scenario says, (Shemos 21,8) “he shall not rule over her to sell her to another person בבגדו בה”. But there is a dispute about the meaning of the last words of the posuk, and consequently what the law is in this case. R. Eliezer holds that it is an expression of betrayal, and so holds that a person cannot sell his daughter and then sell her again, “because he has betrayed her” by selling her the first time. But R. Akiva holds that it is an expression of clothing, and so holds that a person can sell and resell his daughter, until he spreads his garment over her, a euphemism which means until she gets married, at which point the father will not be able to sell her even if she becomes unmarried whilst still young.
The Tur in parshas Mishpotim writes that both R. Eliezer and R. Akiva learned their opinions from the posukim concerning Yosef and the wife of Potiphar, where it writes (Bereishsis 39,11) “And it happened on a certain day that he came to the house to do his work... and she seized בבגדו”. R. Eliezer holds like the opinion that “to do his work” is a euphemism, meaning that he came with the intention to lie with his master’s wife, and thus the continuation of the posuk means “and she seized his betrayal”. And just as word בגד used in this incident with Yosef is an expression of betrayal, so too by the posukim concerning the handmaid is it an expression of betrayal. But R. Akiva holds like the opinion that it never occurred to Yosef to lie with his master’s wife, and so “he came to the house to do his work” - literally, but “she seized his garment”. And so the word בגד both there and here is an expression of clothing.
Now, it is a universal rule that Hashem fulfils everything which He commanded us in the Torah. If so, since Chazal taught that the posuk “and when a man sells his daughter to be a maidservant” refers exegetically to Klal Yisrael, who were sold by Hashem into servitude to the nations, then if the halachah is like R. Eliezer that once he has betrayed her he cannot sell her again, why did Hashem betray us a second time by subjugating us to another nation, after we had already been in servitude to Egypt? Perforce we have to say that Hashem holds like the opinion of R. Akiva, that one can sell and resell, until he spreads his garment over her, and this will be when the redeemer comes, may it be speedily in our days, who will spread over us his covering of peace, and then no nation will again rule over us.
And it is well known that the reason why Moshe did not enter the land of Yisrael was because had he entered, then the subjugation of Yisrael to the four kingdoms would not have occurred. And the truth is that it was very necessary that Hashem should exile us amongst the nations, for several reasons, and thus it was not possible for Moshe to enter the land and thereby cause this exile and subjugation to be nullified.
But this is only true if the halachah is like R. Akiva, that one can sell and resell, and if so, logic would dictate that Moshe should not enter Eretz Yisrael so as not to nullify the exile. But if in any case Hashem would not be able to resell us, that is, if the halachah is like R. Eliezer that once he betrayed her he cannot sell her again, then this raises the question of why Moshe should not be allowed to enter the land. We could not argue that it is in order that the exile, which is for Yisrael’s benefit, will not be nullified, because it is in any case impossible that they should again go into exile, since they cannot be resold. If so, Moshe should certainly be allowed to enter the land.
Now, it is brought in the Midrash that the reason why only the bones of Yosef merited to enter the land, and not his whole body like his father, Ya’akov, was because Yosef wanted to lie with his master’s wife, but he envisioned the countenance of his father, and refrained from sinning. (I heard that there is an allusion to this in the posuk “and he fled and went outside” - ויצא is a mnemonic for וירא צורת אביו - and he saw the form of his father, therefore he fled outside). If so, since only the bones entered the land, this proves that he came with the intention to lie with his master’s wife, and so בגד is an expression of betrayal.
With this, the puzzling words of the Midrash are resolved - said Moshe: The bones of Yosef entered the land, and I cannot! He was arguing: If not for the bones of Yosef, I would not have questioned why I cannot enter the land, because it is in order not to cause the subjugation in exile to the four kingdoms to be nullified. And I would not be able to argue that in any case it is not possible that there will be a futher exile, because the halachah could be like the opinion of R. Akiva, that the father can sell an resell, because בבגדו is an expression of garment, and so if I would enter the land all this would be nullified. And since in truth it is all for the Yisrael’s benefit, it is not fitting that for my sake something bad should happen to Yisrael, G-d forbid. This is what I would have said.
But now that the bones of Yosef have entered the land, and this raises the question of why only his bones and not his whole body, and we must answer that it was because he wanted to lie with his master’s wife, if so, this proves that “she grasped בבגדו” is an expression of betrayal. Therefore, by the handmaid it is also an expression of betrayal, and so we have proven that Hashem is not permitted to resell us, and so since he betrayed us once with the exile in Egypt, He is not able to betray us further with the exile of the four kingdoms. If so, why can I not enter the land - surely in any case they will never again go into exile!
(12) When do Yisrael require neither a shield nor a spear to protect themselves from the enemy?
(12) The sefer Ohev Yisrael brings a puzzling Midrash from the Tanna D’Bei Eliyohu, which says on the posuk in Judges (5,8) “was a shield or spear seen among forty thousand in Yisrael?” - from here we learn that when forty thousand of Yisrael are gathered together and there is a pair of Torah sages amongst them, they require neither a shield nor a spear.
We can understand this puzzling statement according to what the Holy Rabbi Ephraim from Brody explained why this posuk mentions specifically the number forty thousand. He writes that we find that there is a dispute concerning the posuk in Yeshayohu (41,2) “He made his sword like dust, his bow like wind-blown stubble”. One opinion holds that Avrohom (in his war against the four kings) threw dirt at them and it turned into swords, and he threw stubble at them and it turned into arrows. The other opinion holds that their swords turned into dirt on reaching Avrohom, and their arrows turned into stubble on reaching him. The difference between these two opinions, is that according to the first opinion, Avrohom did not require swords and arrows, but he did require a shield in order to defend himself from their swords and arrows. According to the second opinion, Avrohom did not require anything to defend himself, but he did require swords and arrows.
Now, it is brought on the posuk in Bereishis (18,18) “and Avrohom will surely become a great and powerful nation”, that Hashem promised to him that in every generation there will be thirty Tzaddikim like Avrohom. But behold, we do not find in every generation even one Tzaddik like Avrohom! But what Chazal meant was that the combined good deeds of six hundred thousand of Yisrael will together be thirty Tzaddikim like Avrohom. Now, when we divide six hundred thousand by thirty, it comes out that each of these Tzaddikim require the combined good deeds of twenty thousand of Yisrael.
This is the explanation of the posuk “was a shield or a spear seen among forty thousand of Yisrael?”, that when forty thousand gather together they become two Tzaddikim like Avrohom, and so the miracle which occurred by Avrohom is doubled. Thus, they require neither a shield to defend themselves, nor weapons to smite the enemy.
This is what the Holy Rabbi wrote, and this exactly the words of the Tanna D’Bei Eliyohu, who also questioned why the posuk mentions specifically forty thousand. Therefore, he answered that from here we learn that when there are forty thousand from Yisrael gathered together, and there is therefore amongst them a pair of Torah sages from their combined good deeds, if so, they will assuredly require neither a shield to protect themselves, nor a spear to smite the enemy.
(14) Why would Moshe have been allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael if he had prayed one more time?
(14) The sefer Rozin D’Oraisa brings a puzzling Midrash, which says that Moshe Rabbeinu prayed 515 prayers, the same number as the gematria of the word ואתחנן, and had he prayed one more he would have been answered and allowed to enter Eretz Yisrael.
He writes that one of the holy students of the Ba’al Shem Tov explained that it is well known that Moshe Rabbeinu had six sins. And it says in the Yalkut Reuveni that there are 1008 firmaments up above, and the Throne of Glory stands in the middle. Thus, from the earth until the Throne of Glory there are 504 firmaments.
Now, each prayer of Moshe broke through one firmament, and so his 515 prayers should have breached 11 firmaments above the Throne of Glory. However, it says in the Pesichta that for every sin that a person does the merit of two of his prayers are deducted from him, and so Moshe’s prayers only breached the 503rd firmament, just one below the Throne of Glory.
Thus, the Midrash concludes that had Moshe prayed one more prayer, immediately he would have been answered, since then his prayer would have reached exactly to the Throne of Glory.
(15) Why did the Jews of the Purim generation deserve to be punished with extermination?
(15) The above sefer brings another very puzzling Midrash,
which says that Esther sent a question to Mordechai: Why was this
generation of Yisrael liable to punished with extermination? He
replied: Because Yisrael have become
Apart from the fact that this Midrash is difficult to understand, why did Esther repeat the phrase “My G-d” when she cried out, when one time should have been sufficient?
He quotes the Holy Rabbi R. Shimon from Astropoli, who explains that it is well known that the angel who is the advocate on behalf of Klal Yisrael is Michael (מיכאל) the High Priest, who stands and offers the souls of Tzadikkim before Hashem. And when he is not able to advocate good on their behalf, G-d forbid, then the name of G-d which is called א-לי is taken from him and this is considered to be his death, G-d forbid, because all that is left of his name is מך, and a poor person is considered as if he is dead. Similarly, when Hashem is angry with ישראל, G-d forbid, He takes from them the name א-לי, and thus only רש remains, and again this is considered to be their death.
Therefore, when Esther heard that Yisrael had become מך ורש, she understood the the name א-לי had been taken away from both Yisrael’s advocate מיכאל and from ישראל, and so she cried out: “א-לי א-לי why have You forsaken me?”. Please return these two names!