This week's post has two parts. The first part discusses Amram and Yocheved's family. The second part discusses the issur of Whiskey that was owned by a Jew on Pesach, and the issur of fish that contain Anisakis parasites.
Taanis 9a: The "moving well" that provided water for the Jews in the desert was in the merit of Miriam; the clouds that protected them, in the merit of Aharon; and the Manna in the merit of Moshe. Miriam died, and the well disappeared, but it returned in the merit of the two remaining brothers. Aron died, the clouds disappeared, but they returned in the merit of Moshe. Moshe died, and all three disappeared, never to return to that generation.
Korach accused Moshe Rabbeinu of unilaterally allocating power and glory to himself and to his own family, I hate to ask a question that might seem reminiscent of Korach's, but my question is actually very different. I was wondering. How is it that these three people, Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, two brothers and a sister, were the ones in whose zechus the three staffs of life in the Midbar existed? Yes, of course we know that Moshe Rabbeinu was unique. But were there no others in that generation that equaled Aharon or Miriam? Why, when Hashem told Moshe that he would be the instrument of Yetzias Mitzrayim, and Moshe tried to decline, did Moshe suggest that Aharon be chosen? Why was Aharon the automatic alternative to Moshe Rabbeinu? Was there nobody more qualified, or equally qualified? Evidently, there were not.
Obviously, the fact that Aharon and Miriam were singled out proves that they were uniquely qualified; that they, and they alone, were worthy to be Moshe Rabbeinu's peers. As Rashi says in Shmos 4:10, Aharon was a navi for a long time in Mitzrayim before Moshe Rabbeinu was chosen by Hashem. Miriam also was a nevi'ah, who said that the savior of Klal Yisrael would be born to her parents. So the question is, how did it happen that the three greatest people of the generation were siblings? Why did this greatness strike one family three times?
This is not a statistical anomaly, that the three greatest people of the generation just so happened to be brothers and sisters. Obviously, there was something about the family that generated these great people. What special quality was it that manifested itself in these three great scions? And in what respect were they so different?
As proof that the question is valid, see Yoma 47a. There was a woman, Kimchis, who had seven sons that were Kohanim Gedolim. The Gedolim of the time asked her what was it that she had done that manifested itself in having such great children, and she answered that she was very modest even when at home. So the fact that Chazal asked her what she had done to merit such great children proves that this is a question that is worth asking. And, by the way, the answer was not a generic "I was very holy." Apparently, general holiness is not a good answer. Chazal, and Kimchis, knew that there was some specific trait that laid the foundation of her great children.
Is it because Yishai, their father, was so holy? He is (Bava Basra 17a) among the four people who died only because of the decree of human mortality, not because of any sin. But what of the other three on the list? The four are Binyamin, Amram, Yishai, and Kil'av. OK, Yishai had chosheveh sons. What do we know about the children of Binyamin? Nothing, other than that were ten of them: Bela, Becher, Ashbel, Geira, Naaman, Eichi, Rosh, Mupim, Chupim, and Ard. But do we find that they were supremely gifted? Were they unusually accomplished? Not that I know. And Kil'av? We know zero about him, other than the fact that he didn't try to kill his father or seize the malchus. In fact, the Chasam Sofer says that the reason we know so very little about these four great people is because they preserved their perfection by not engaging in everyday life with the community, which is not what the Ribono shel Olam wants (though obviously it's not a sin.)
I don't think we're looking for a superior trait, as the Gemara says about Kimchis, that she was unusually modest. I think we're looking for something singular, something unique to Amram and/or Yocheved.
I saw an interesting comment in a sefer called Ein Yaakov (from Reb Yaakov Karliner, author of Mishkenos Yaakov, who, if you don't recognize his Mishkenos Yaakov happens to be the Keren Orah's brother), here. He brings from the Daas Zkainim in Parshas Pinchas on the passuk
But that doesn't really answer the question. Great mother and grandmother. And a great father too, no doubt. But were they unique? And in exactly what way were they so great?
Here's a pshat that directly addresses the question. The answer given by the Mesilos Chaim, who develops something the Sforno said. The Mesilos Chaim was written by Rav Chaim Elazary; he calls it a Mussar-oriented sefer of Drush: here's his bio, with information from Reb Manny Saltiel here, with corrections and additions from a letter I received from Rabbi Elazary's grandson- whose son is named Chaim.
Rav Chaim Moshe Reuven Elazary was a student of the Slobodkeh Yeshiva, first in Europe and then in Chevron. He was in Chevron at the time of the massacre in 1929 (was saved by an Arab). Rav Elazary's brothers, Rav Betzalel and Rav Yisrael, were among those murdered in the 1929 Chevron massacre. He went to Yerushlayim with the rest of the yeshiva, got married in 1932 (the woman he married was born in the US, but went to Palestine in 1931 to look for a shidduch from the Chevron yeshiva), moved to the Bronx in 1936. He began his rabbinic career there, and also taught at a yeshiva in Brooklyn. He succeeded his father-in-law, Rav Ephraim Pelcovitz, as rabbi of Congregation Agudas Achim in Canton, Ohio in 1938 or 39. (His father had been in Canton since 1914, and in 1929 moved to Bridgeport, Connecticut.) In 1972, Rav Elazary settled in Petach Tikva. He left numerous published and unpublished works and articles, many of them exhibiting the influence of Rav Nosson Zvi Finkel, the Alter of Slobodka.
I'm copying his drasha from here on hebrewbooks.org, and I don't have the time or patience to fix the OCR and format errors. Figure it out yourself.
כתב הספורנו ״בדין מנה את אלה שרים על ישראל, כי הם היו נכבדים מכל האומה, וזה, כי ראובן בכור ישראל ולא היו מצאצאיו אנשים ראוים להקרא בשם זולתי בניו הנזכר, שהיו מכלל ע׳ נפש שכבר מתו וכר, וכך היה מבני שמעון. אבל לוי שהאריך ימים על כולם גדל גם את בני בניו להבין ולהורות, וכן קהת ועמרם, באופן שיצאו מהם משה ואהרן ומרים״, הרי איפוא, שמה גרם להם לבני עמרם שיהיו נכבדים
The gist of his answer is that Levi outlived all his brothers, and raised his grandchildren, among whom was Amram. It was this exposure to and education by this great man from an earlier generation that resulted in Amram raising his three great children, the leaders of their generation. Our spiritual gifts, our relationship with Hashem, are rooted in our great ancestors. Amram was raised to adulthood and educated by the last surviving son of Yaakov; he became, in a sense, the repository of the gadlus of Yaakov; and he gave over that heritage to his children. .
Please note a very cool thing: The essence of this answer is very similar to the answer suggested by Anonymous, the first commenter:
Maybe it has to do with the fact that Amram married his aunt who was much older than he, for starters. This trait demonstrated by Amram of not using age as a factor when picking his wife merited the zechus of having such special children. Also considering that Yocheved was a daughter of Levi meant that the inherent kedusha of one of the original Shivtei Yisroel was present in his granchildren at yetzias Mitzrayim not diluted by further space between the doros. Yocheved saw the way Levi ran his household and passed it down directly to her children without dilution of time.Rabbi Elazary discusses Amram's close connection with the previous generations, and Anonymous mentioned the fact that Yocheved, having been born 'bein hachomos,' was not only a living memory of the generation of the twelve shvatim, she was an actual remnant of that generation- a connection even stronger than that of Amram! The two teirutzim work together much more effectively than each one alone: after all, Yocheved was not unique, there was also Serach bas Asher; Amram was not unique, there were all the other grandchildren of Levi. BUT! This family was unique in that both parents, both Amram and Yocheved, were raised and educated by Levi himself. Coincidentally, or not coincidentally, Mr. Anonymous was raised fifty years later than and fifty miles north of Rabbi Elazary's rabbanus.
This shows the power of the influence of parents and grandparents on children, and the powerful effect they can have for good or bad.
To better understand this teretz, another point is important.
R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz says (Sichos Mussar, #40, pages 169-170) that when Chazal say "Ke'Shmuel bedoro kach Yiftach be'doro," the pshat is not that we have no choice because the earlier gedolim are not available. The pshat in tosfos in R”h that says “ein lecha shofeit she’hayah b’yamecha” is he is the right one for you. Then he brings from Koheles Rabbah 1:4:4 that if Aharon lived in the time of Yehoyadah and Tzadok, they would have been greater than Aharon– because for that generation Yehoyadah would have been more fitting. Then he brings the story of Choni in Taynis 23a, and asks, why didn’t Choni show them his gadlus in Torah? The answer is that his pshotim and teirutzim would not have made sense to them. (ahd kahn R' Shmuelevitz.)
The superior leaders are those who incorporate the spiritual level of the previous generation in a form and a language that is intelligible to the new generation. Yes, the Navi Shmuel himself would have been a failure as a leaderin the generation of Yiftach; but a man of Shmuel's stature, who could understand the people of Yiftach's generation, and could talk to them in their language, would have been the greatest possible leader.
Another connection to this week's parsha: In the war against Og, the king of Bashan, it says that Moshe Rabbeinu was afraid. Rashi explains that he was afraid that Og had a zechus, as it says "Vayavo hapalit," that the refugee from the battle came to Avraham to tell him that his nephew, Lot, had been captured. The simple meaning of the Rashi is that Og had done a favor for Avraham, and this was a zechus. But Chazal do say that Og's intention was to kill Avraham, or to have Avraham die in the battle he would join, so that Og could take Sarah for a wife. Some favor! What kind of zechus is this? But we can say pshat a little different (based on the Gemara in Chagiga 5a about the zechus of seeing tzadikim.) Og was the last man on earth that saw Avraham Avinu. That alone was a fantastic zechus. It was this zechus that frightened Moshe Rabbeinu. Similarly, the Gemara in Bava Basra 121b says that seven people spanned all of history: Adam was seen by Mesuselach, who was seen by Shem, who was seen by Yaakov, who was seen by Amram, who was seen by Achiyah Hashiloni, who was seen by Eliahu, who is still alive. Amram was the last man to have seen Yaakov, and that is a great zechus.
Tangentially, I say that having such great parents certainly can lead to extraordinary achievement, with a caveat. Obviously, there are no guarantees. Amram was not the only grandchild that Levi raised, and Moshe, Aharon and Miriam were not his only great-grandchildren; but they apparently absorbed the lessons better than the others. It is not easy for a young tree to grow in the shade of a great oak; the ones that attempt to grow on their own and outdo the towering oak remain stunted and resentful. The smart ones graft their root system into that of the great oak from which they descended, and not only are they not stunted by their great predecessor, they are doubly well-rooted and doubly well-nourished.
Since I mentioned the Mishkenos Yaakov:
There has been an uncontroverted declaration by the umbrella organization comprising the heads of all the respected Hashgacha organizations in the United States to this effect: Since whiskey that was owned by a Jew on Pesach is assur, the products of any whisky companies and distributers that are Jewish and who don't sell their Chametz, are forever assur. This includes Pappy Van Winkle since 2003.
I am not a drinker, so I don't personally care about this tempest. But as Pastor Niemöller said, "They came first for the Romaine lettuce, and I didn't speak up because you can check Romaine lettuce once a year, no big deal. Then they came for the brocolli, and I didn't speak up because I can do without brocolli. Then they came for the strawberries, and I didn't speak up because I can eat frozen strawberries. Then they came for water, and I didn't speak up because there's always whiskey. But then they came for the whiskey, and my throat was too dry to speak up."
So I'll have you know that while we must all respect and follow our poskim and Hashgacha organizations, there are very chashuveh poskim that hold like the Mishkenos Yaakov in YD 34, that learns in the Rivash that Zei'ah is not really assur outside the case of Yayin, and even though the Mishkenos Yaakov is machmir unless its a hefsed merubah, there are very chashuveh poskim that apply his hetter to all cases of whiskey that is Chametz she'avar alav hapesach, because the Torah requires a limud to prohibit ta'aroves on Pesach itself.
I'm not telling you who the matirim are, because the vast majority of past and current poskim hold that whiskey is prohibited if avar alav hapesach. Also, it's important to follow our community leaders and support our Hashgacha organizations, which benefit us in so many ways. I'm certainly not belittling the great poskim who hold that this is problematic. But it's important to know that America was not discovered yesterday, and that earlier poskim were perfectly aware of the issue - and were mattir.
Same thing with the anisakis business. As Rabbi Belsky said, there is a mesora to be mattir in all cases, and the earlier poskim were well aware of the issues, and were mattir based on the invisibility of the parasites when ingested by the kosher fish.
Let's put it this way: if you are meikil on whiskey and wild salmon without direct instruction from your poseik, you are being over an extremely serious issur; not the issur of chametz and shratzim, but instead the issur of Poretz Geder. What do Chazal say about Poretz Geder? -And with that, we bring this post back to this week's parsha, which talks of the plague of poisonous snakes-