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Parsha Notes: R’ei

August 11, 2015
Rashi to Deuteronomy 12:4:
You shall not do so [to the Lord your God]: to burn sacrifices to God in any place you choose, but rather at the place that He will choose. Another explanation is: “And you shall tear down their altars… and destroy their name… [but] do not do so [to the Lord your God]”; this is an admonition [addressed] to one who would erase the Name [of God from any writing] or remove a stone from the altar or from the courtyard (Mak. 22a).
The first of Rashi’s explanations is the one preferred by his grandson, Rashbam, and better fits the context of the subject matter. The gentiles create places of worship wherever the they wish and how many they wish; the Jews shall only have one Temple where God resides. The second explanation is a secondary level of interpretation, and is used to derive biblical prohibitions. It is interesting that if this commandment is taken as the plain meaning of the verse, then we should note the following verse,
But only to the place which the Lord your God shall choose from all your tribes, to set His Name there; you shall inquire after His dwelling and come there. There you shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and the separation by your hand, and your vows and your donations, and the firstborn of your cattle and of your sheep.
Then we see that the way to avoid destroying God’s Temple and altar is by inquiring after it (i.e., finding where it is and caring about it) and going there to  perform the commandments, and that if we ignore the place of His abode, and choose not to seek it out and care for it, and to serve Him there, then we could, God forbid, lead to it being harmed….
Common question: According to Rashi on this week’s parasha, why do we have leap years in the Jewish calendar?
Common misconception answer: In order that Passover will always fall in the springtime.
More precise answer: We have leap years in order to keep the holidays in their proper seasons. When does the court usually declare a leap year? When, if not done, there will not be enough aviv (new, ripe grain) for the qorban ‘omer on the second day of Hag Hamatzoth (Passover). (Rashi, 16:1, “shamor eth hodesh ha’aviv“)
Rashi says that we add leap years so that there is enough grain ready for the qorban ‘omer, and as can be seen from MT Sanctification of the New Moon 4 and the adjoining commentaries, the vernal-equinox factor that everybody knows about and assumes Rashi is also referring to, namely, that Passover should be after the start of spring, is a reference point possibly chosen by our sages. I.e., the court would assume that if Passover will be before the vernal equinox, there will not be enough grain for the offering. This was the halacha until our modern calendar was set, but as has been pointed out by anybody with enough time on his hands to extrapolate backwards using our calendar, sometimes Passover occurred before the start of spring.
The halacha also allows for the court to decide, based on this and other factors, to allow Passover to advance toward the winter ( ibid.). It makes sense that sometimes Passover was allowed to even fall out in February, if conditions were sufficient. One of Maimonides’s talmudic sources is Sanhedrin 11b, where it says that the three main factors considered by the court during deliberations over the potential leap year are whether or not the grain is ripe, whether or not the fruits have ripened, and the t’qufa, a word meaning both equinox and solstice, which may at first glance mean that the judges would see to it that Passover should be at a certain point relative to the vernal equinox, but as pointed out by the rishonim, really means that Tabernacles should be during the harvest season, and not in the summer. (Rashi, ibid. See Steinzaltz, ibid, for a list of others.) This is the clearest proof that the aviv factor, especially in Rashi’s opinion, is not a reference to an astronomical season.
I believe the common misunderstanding of this Rashi is because of the word aviv. Aviv always meant a type of grain, specifically new, and came to be the name of the first month for a few centuries until it was replaced with Nisan, and that the season of spring also took its name from the grain. (Ibn Ezra, Exodus 13:4; Rashi, Exodus 23:15; Rosh Hashana 7a.) Many read the word in Rashi as spring without realizing it means grain. Afterwards, I checked the Artscroll Stone Chummash, and saw that in their own commentary they quote Rashi wrongly. Artscroll should be taken to task for being inaccurate; I have seen that at least twice in their translation, Exodus 9:31 and Leviticus 2:14, they properly translate aviv as ripe grain. They were apparently using the gemara on Rosh Hashana 20a, where it says that an easy way to determine the need for a leap year is if the second day of Passover is going to fall before the vernal equinox. Those who disagree with Rashi say that indeed there should be new grain available in time for the qorban ‘omer, but the factor that says Passover should be after the vernal equinox is independent and stronger.
We also should keep in mind that the idea of four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, and winter, is a modern-day western construct, and that in classical times, although there was the concept of the four t’qufoth, the two equinoxes and two solstices, there were considered to be six annual seasons of two months each: zera’, qatzir, qor, hom, qayitz, and horef. (Genesis 8:22; Bava Metzia 106b, Seifer Doveir Shalom)
Deuteronomy 16:3:
You shall not eat leaven with it; for seven days you shall eat with it matzoth, the bread of ‘oni, for in haste you went out of the land of Egypt.
To which adds Rashi:
bread that brings to mind the affliction they suffered in Egypt.
The halacha recognizes that matza is called לחם עני, lehem oni, because of its ingredients, just flour and water, and translates oni as poverty, which is why matza made with other ingredients besides flour and water is called matza ashira, rich (man’s) matza. (‘esahim 35-36; Orah Hayim 462:1, see MT Hameitz U’matza, 5:20 and 7:5 for an exception to the “rich” rule: not all juices make matza rich.) The other commentators that follow the halachic interpretation explain oni‘s significance according to Rabban Gamliel in the hagada: the oni of the matza recalls the haste and pressure under which our ancestors produced the batch of matza they took with them as they departed Egypt (Exodus 12:34 and 39). It’s actually quite questionable why Rashi chose to use a more esoteric interpretation, especially when bread of affliction would be called in Hebrew לחם עינוי “lehem innuy.” Other amoraim suggested “answering” but that would be in Hebrew לחם עניה “lehem ‘aniya“.
According to the Gemara, the first qorban pesah was slaughtered on Wednesday, 14 Nisan, and the Torah was given on Saturday, either 5, 6, or 7 Sivan, a difference of 52 days, and if we would be doing things right, Pentecost would be the 51st day after 14 Nisan, what we call Erev Pesah, which as many point out is the true “hag hapesah” mentioned in Torah, the day of the slaughtering of the qorban pesah, with the subsequent seven days, 15-21 Nisan, what we commonly know now as Pesah or Passover, referred to as “hag hamatzoth‘. This is explicit in Exodus 23:15, Leviticus 23:5-6, and Numbers 9:1-8, 28:16-17, and 33:3, and many other verses, and in all the blessings that the sages instituted: “eth yom hag hamatzoth hazeh.”
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