Category Archives: Rabbi Mosheh Aziz

Melakhim Alef Chapter 13

The Recording

The Summary (Please Note – one or two minor points were added to written summary and aren’t included in the recording)

Melakhim Alef Chapter 13

A prophet from the Kingdom of Yehuda is sent by Hashem to the altar in Bet El, where he finds Yarovam standing by the altar as officiant. The prophet proclaims his message, addressing himself to the altar directly. He states that priests will one day be killed and human bones burned upon the altar when a descendant of the house of David, named Yoshiyahu, comes to power. He also predicts that the altar will break in half and its ashes will spill to the ground.

Yarovam stretches out his hand to order his guards to arrest the prophet, but a miracle occurs and his arm becomes frozen in place. The altar splits apart as predicted, confirming the authenticity of the prophet’s words. Yarovam asks the prophet to pray to Hashem so that the strength of his arm is restored; the prophet complies, and Yarovam is healed. Yarovam invites the prophet to dine with him and offers to reward him but the prophet declines, citing God’s command that he not eat bread or water in Bet El, and that he return to the territory of Yehuda by a different path than he arrived.

An elderly prophet living in Bet El is informed of the events at the altar by his sons. He leaves in search of the prophet from Yehuda and finds him resting underneath a tree. The elderly prophet invites the visiting prophet to his home to eat, and the visiting prophet again declines because of the command of God. The elderly prophet lies and claims that Hashem told him to invite the prophet of Yehuda to his house so that he may eat and drink; the visitor, trusting the older prophet, agrees and joins him.

At the meal, the elderly prophet suddenly receives a prophecy that he is bidden to convey to the prophet of Yehuda – because the latter transgressed the word of God that he received, he would pay with his life, and his remains would not reach the burial grounds of his ancestors. Shortly after he departs, the prophet of Yehuda is mauled by a lion. The lion does not consume the carcass, nor does it harm the donkey upon which he had been riding; it merely stands nearby, disinterested, testifying to the supernatural motive of the attack.

When the prophet of Bet El hears word of the bizarre occurrence, he immediately infers that it must have involved the prophet with whom he had dined; he retrieves the body of the prophet, brings it back to his city, eulogizes him, and buries him. He instructs his sons that, after his death, he should be buried alongside the prophet, whose words regarding the altar of Yarovam will surely come true.

The chapter concludes by noting that this encounter with the prophet did not deter Yarovam. On the contrary, he continued in his evil ways, recruiting “priests” to serve at various local altars throughout his kingdom. This policy of Yarovam would ultimately bring divine punishment upon his family and lead to its destruction by the hand of God.

Although the confrontation between the prophet and Yarovam is certainly a powerful and significant moment, it is almost eclipsed by the bizarre epilogue – the story of the two prophets and their interactions. The narrative raises numerous questions. Is the elderly man a genuine prophet? If so, why does he lie to his younger colleague? Why is the younger prophet punished so harshly while the older one, who was responsible for misleading him, emerges unscathed? And finally, most importantly for our purposes, what is the connection between this “side story” and the unfolding events in the Kingdoms of Yehuda and Israel, which are the primary subject of the prophetic message of the Book of Kings?

Our Sages, followed by most of the traditional commentaries, assume that the elderly prophet is, in fact, a false one. This is how they explain his willingness to speak falsehood in the name of Hashem. From this perspective, we can understand his motives easily. No matter what their field of work, people with dubious credentials and shady backgrounds benefit from rubbing shoulders with respectable, established professionals. They love to take pictures with luminaries and celebrities and hang them on the wall to prove that they are accepted by the mainstream and have some clout.

So too, the false prophet wishes to bolster his reputation by publicly associating himself with a genuine prophet who has intrigued the locals with his miraculous deeds. This accounts for not only his hospitality and warmth toward the young prophet but also for his sudden desire to be buried next to him, even though he just met him a few hours ago!

The younger prophet understood clearly that he had to refuse the dinner invitation of Yarovam, who wanted to gain some positive “public relations” points from breaking bread with the messenger (after all, the most sensitive issue at hand in Yarovam’s kingdom was whether it was favored/accepted by the Almighty or not, and dining with a prophet would look good for the king). However, the visiting prophet failed to recognize the same motive at play in the actions of the false prophet and therefore naively accepted the claim that Hashem had rescinded His initial prohibition.

The prophet from Yehuda was supposed to reject any social overtures from any member of Yarovam’s community in order to demonstrate that Hashem had withdrawn his presence from them entirely. Unwittingly, he undermined his own mission by eating with and thereby lending credence to a “religious leader” of Yarovam’s kingdom who was not, in fact, a true representative of Hashem. The false prophet was not of sufficient stature to warrant any miraculous punishment from Hashem, but the younger, true prophet was held to a higher standard and therefore deserved a severe consequence for his misjudgment. His death and burial with the false prophet was a poetic testimony to his betrayal of the task with which Hashem had entrusted him.

The key difficulty with the interpretation of our Sages is that the older man in fact receives a prophecy from Hashem while he is sitting at the dinner table. While it is possible to take this as a fluke or a miraculous intervention by Hashem, it doesn’t seem to be presented in that light. A straightforward reading would indicate that the elderly man is, indeed, a real prophet of Hashem. This is how the Abarbanel, for example, explains the story.

There are several hints in the text that support the theory that the older man was a true prophet. The first is the fact that he did not attend the service at Bet El, only hearing about it from his sons. One would have expected a false prophet to be in the pocket of Yarovam and therefore be present on such a momentous occasion. Second, his fascination with the reported actions of the visiting prophet appear to be genuine and not driven by ulterior motives. Third, his experience of prophecy, delivery of a message, and reaction to its fulfillment all seem consistent with the profile of a true prophet. The question remains, then – why did he lie to the visiting prophet to begin with?

We may be able to infer something about the subtext of these events from a few subtle allusions in the narrative. The older prophet is described as having his donkey saddled twice, a seemingly superfluous piece of information for us to be told. The younger prophet is found sitting beneath a terebinth (a kind of tree) when the elder prophet approaches him – again, the reason for this detail is inexplicable on the surface.

I would like to suggest that these aspects of the narrative serve to conjure up memories of other, very important incidents in the Hebrew Bible. Avraham our Patriarch was famous for saddling his donkey to head out to the Aqedah, the Binding of Isaac. Interestingly, the older prophet has his donkey saddled twice, once to invite someone to his home for dinner and once to bury the dead – the two signature acts of kindness associated with Avraham Avinu, who was famous for welcoming guests and went to great lengths to secure a proper burial place for his wife, Sarah!

The younger prophet sitting beneath a terebinth might also be a reference to Avraham, who was sitting beneath the same kind of tree when he beheld the three angelic visitors to whom he rushed out to invite to his tent for a meal. In the Book of Shofetim, we find Gideon – also an Avraham-like personality who must shatter his father’s idols and break away from the existing social order to qualify for leadership – working beneath a terebinth tree when he is first contacted by the angel who appoints him.

(There may also be a hint here to the story of Bilaam, who likewise saddles his donkey to join the elders of Moav on a mission to curse Israel. Bilaam knew what Hashem’s true intent was but kept it hidden from the Moabites so that he could do his best to win honor and riches from King Balaq. Here, too, the elder prophet knows that he has not received any word of God permitting the younger prophet to dine with him, and he, like Bilaam, should have abandoned his course of action, but he suppresses the truth in order to gain the benefit he seeks from his visitor).

These literary allusions highlight a fascinating aspect of the story that might otherwise go unnoticed. The prophets in this story, like Avraham and Gideon (and even Bilaam to some extent), are lonely, solitary individuals. They are, for all intents and purposes, isolated from the people and institutions around them. While the population rallies around Yarovam and places him on a pedestal, these prophets are ignored, neglected or even despised. What a relief it must have been for the prophet of Bet El to hear that a courageous messenger from Yehuda had spoken truth to power to Yarovam! How excited he must have been to form a bond of friendship and camaraderie with a like-minded spiritual leader who stood apart from and rose above the corruption of the kingdom like he himself did. He rationalized that the little white lie he told was justified because he assumed that the initial restriction of eating and drinking in Bet El excluded dining with fellow prophets.

Yarovam was a populist whose success or failure hinged on the communal support for and endorsement of his activities. In fact, after the embarrassing showdown with the prophet which may have tarnished his credibility, Yarovam expanded his “democratization” program even further, establishing more altars and appointing everyone who was interested to serve as “priests” in them. He responded to the prophetic challenge by “hitting the pavement” and campaigning for more votes, offering even more opportunities and benefits to his citizens. The Rabbis, bewildered by the intelligent and capable Yarovam’s stubbornness, explain that even though he was offered the chance to be the founder of an eternal dynasty in Israel, he could not accept being “second” to the Davidic dynasty and therefore spurned the word of God.

The prophets in the story were meant to serve as a contrast to this orientation and to stand aloof from public opinion. They were expected to be courageous, principled and not swayed by the need for social acceptance – even from one another – as long as they lived by the wisdom of Hashem. To underscore this idea, the prophet was supposed to leave the area immediately after delivering his message to Yarovam, not stick around to make friends, receive feedback or build a following. However, apparently, even the prophet found being alone and alienated difficult to handle. When he was approached by another Abrahamic figure in an evidently Abrahamic setting, he assumed that it was a Divine signal that there was an exception to his original prophecy, and he was relieved to have the opportunity to form a social connection with someone who appreciated what he had to say.

The prophet from Yehuda failed to realize that there was more to the concept of dissociating himself from Bet El than simply not lending his endorsement to the corrupt power players. It was also imperative that he show his independence of spirit and his total disinterest in whether his ideas were popular or not. By succumbing to the desire to commiserate with someone who “approved his message” he accidentally watered it down, showing that he – like Yarovam – was also dependent, to some degree, on the support and encouragement of others when it came to his religious initiatives. He did not see himself as responsible and accountable to God alone, regardless of the views of other human beings. Fascinatingly, his punishment is to be killed by an animal that takes no interest in personal gain from his deed – the lion acts totally in service of the Divine Will and seeks nothing in return for its trouble.
(In fact, even according to the view that the elder prophet was a false one, it is possible that this flaw – the desire for validation and endorsement from others – was the reason the younger prophet so quickly and naively accepted the claim that Hashem had issued a “retraction” or “correction” of His original message. He wanted to believe it was true and to feel that his noble actions had won the appreciation of someone who seemed respectable.)

Shemuel Alef Chapter 30

The Reading

The Summary

Shemuel Alef Chapter 30

David and his men return to Tziqlag to discover that it has been burned to the ground by Amaleqites and that all of the people and possessions that were in their camp were gone. Assuming that their families had been massacred, the troops are devastated, and cry to the point of exhaustion. They are angry with David, blaming him for leading them to the battlefield and convincing them to leave their wives and children exposed to attack. David himself is deeply troubled; his own wives have disappeared and are presumed dead, and his men are threatening his life. Nonetheless, David remains steadfast in his trust in Hashem. He summons Evyatar the Kohen and requests the Ephod so that he can inquire of Hashem. Hashem tells David that he should pursue those responsible for the attack and that he will vanquish them.

David departs with six hundred men and they reach the brook of Besor. Two hundred men are too tired to continue and remain at the stream; David crosses it with the remaining four hundred troops. The group encounters an Egyptian lad who appears to be near death – he had not eaten or drunk anything for three days. David and his entourage provide the sickly Egyptian with bread, water and fruit to restore his energy. David then asks the youth for his background; he explains that he is an Egyptian who was a slave to an Amaleqi. They had attacked and plundered numerous cities and burned Tziklag to the ground. However, this lad had been sick for the past three days, so his master abandoned him and left him for dead.

The Egyptian agrees to lead David and his men to the Amaleqite camp if they swear not to kill him or allow him to fall back into the hands of his cruel master. When they arrive, they see the Amaleqites eating, drinking and celebrating as they feast on all the bounty they have stolen from the towns and villages they have assailed. David’s company launches an immediate surprise attack and, fighting valiantly for twenty-four consecutive hours, defeats the Amaleqites soundly; only four hundred survivors manage to escape on camels. David and his entourage are pleased to find that none of their family members have been harmed nor has their property or livestock been consumed or damaged. They lead all of the people and animals back with them, declaring all that they have recovered “the spoils of David”.

When they reunite with the troops who remained behind at the brook of Besor, the men who fought on the front lines do not want to return any of the material goods to those who did not risk their lives in battle. David refuses to accept this argument, insisting that those who guard the camp deserve a share in the spoils of war that is equal to that of the fighters. This becomes the official policy of Israel for all time. When David and his men finally return to Tziqlag, he sends portions of the spoils of the “enemies of Hashem” to the elders of Yehuda in several key Jewish cities.

There is much to comment upon in this chapter. Some have suggested that suffering this attack was a subtle form of “punishment” for David for having betrayed his people and allied himself with Akhish, even if only on the surface. They bolster their interpretation by drawing attention to the fact that it is only because David returns home early from the battlefield that he arrives in time to stage a successful counterattack against the Amaleqites. Had David tarried with Akhish, he would have missed the opportunity to respond to the assault and may not have been back in time to salvage all of the people and property that were taken.

However, I would argue that the very fact that David sustained little or no harm as a result of this incident may also be taken to indicate that it was not really a punishment. In fact, it can even be seen as a fortuitous circumstance utilized by Divine Providence to propel David to further levels of greatness. There is no doubt that David’s waging a war against Amaleq is meant to highlight his kingly status; it is the King of Israel who is commanded to battle Amaleq, and it was precisely Shaul’s failure in this effort that cost him the kingdom.

We can also see that David’s magnanimous act of “sharing” the spoils of war with his fellow Jews is a symbolic gesture designed to emphasize that he continues to serve the God of Israel and to attack His enemies; in other words, it is a deed, like the battle against Amaleq, through which David asserts his claim to leadership of the Jewish people. It is as if David is conveying a message to his nation (and specifically to his tribe, Yehuda) – you may not have seen me for a while, but I am still on the job, albeit from a distance, and I am poised to make a comeback when the time is right.

The encounter with the Egyptian is noteworthy for several reasons. It reminds us of the Torah’s command – fulfilled here by David – that one should not despise the Egyptian. Moreover, the abject cruelty and heartlessness of the Amaleqites (manifest in the abandonment of the slave who becomes an informer) is what ultimately seals their fate, and the compassion and righteousness of the Jews who care for him (sincerely, without any knowledge of his link to the Amaleqite marauders) is what ultimately leads them to the recovery of their families and property. This is poetic justice at its Biblical best.

Lastly, we again see a stark contrast being drawn between David and Shaul. The text’s constant shifting back and forth between the stories of these two figures encourages us to compare them and accentuates the contrast even further. In Chapter 28, King Shaul finds himself in the throes of distress and despair and seeks information from Hashem. When he receives no response, he places his religious commitments aside and succumbs to the temptation to consult with practitioners of the occult who he hopes can provide him with the reassurance he needs.

David, on the other hand, even when his men are angry with him and the situation seems hopeless, remains steadfast in his relationship with God even before he receives any communication via the Urim VeTummim. His connection with the Almighty is independent of his getting what he wants from the relationship; it is unshakeable regardless of circumstances. As the verse describes it, “David strengthened himself in Hashem, his God.”

This kind of unassailable trust in Hashem is one of the many outstanding qualities that recommend David for the throne of Israel. On the most basic level, the difference is clear – Shaul is spurned by the Almighty and loses in battle; David is embraced by Hashem and emerges from conflict victorious and unscathed.

MASHADIS FOR IDF – “Receive a name, Protect a Soldier”

Our tradition teaches when Israel would go out to war each soldier would also be assigned a sort of “spiritual soldier” who would stay in that soldiers home and pray for them when they were in battle.The Shmira Project has provides us with names of IDF soldiers in Gaza whom we can pray for. Sign up for a name by entering your name next to a soldier, and you can pray for that soldier, say tehillim, or do any of act of kindness for the soldier’s merit.

Mashadis for the IDF Cover Letter FINAL

2013 Passover List

The following Passover list is reliable and good to use for Sephardim for Passover 2013:

Additionally, please note the Rabbi Ben Chaim has authorized the following:

Dates: Mehadrin Dates from Costco with regular OU on them are ok for Passover 2013

Nuts: Kirkland raw Pecans(whole or half, not midget Pecan pieces) and Almonds from Costco are ok for Passover 2013. For Kirkland raw walnuts, one should check the Allergy Information on the package – if it was produced in a factory together with wheat, the walnuts should be washed before use for Passover. Otherwise, they are ok for Passover 2013.