Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Meshech Chochma: Cohanim killing man for his wife

Guest Post by Rabbi Raffi Bilek
 There is an interesting comment from the Meshech Chochmah in this week’s parsha:-- Shmos (21:14) וְכִי-יָזִד אִישׁ עַל-רֵעֵהוּ לְהָרְגוֹ בְעָרְמָה מֵעִם מִזְבְּחִי תִּקָּחֶנּוּ לָמוּת 
And if a man will come purposefully upon his fellow to kill him deviously, you shall take him from My altar to die.
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It is not strange to say that the intent of the verse is regarding that which is practiced among the nations and recorded in the Torah, “lest the people of the place will kill me” by Pharaoh (Genesis 12) and Avimelech (ibid. 26). And the term “עָרְמָה” we find by the snake (ibid. 3:1), and he set his eyes on Eve, as the gemara says in the first chapter of Tractate Sotah (Tosefta chap. 4): he said “I shall kill Adam and marry Eve.” 

And that is what is meant by וְכִי-יָזִד אִישׁ עַל-רֵעֵהוּ [בְעָרְמָה]” – that he shall covet his fellow’s wife and kill him in order to marry her [just as did the snake, who is hinted to by the word עָרְמָה].  Therefore the verse says “מֵעִם מִזְבְּחִי תִּקָּחֶנּוּ לָמוּת” – because this situation is most likely to happen among the kohanim, since they are forbidden to marry a divorcee, and therefore at times they have no alternative but to kill the husband [in order to be able to have his wife – as opposed to finding some way of causing them to divorce].  Furthermore, married women [are frequently in contact with the kohanim because they] need them for matters of sacrifices of zavah and yoledes, and thus the verse says “מֵעִם מִזְבְּחִי” [to hint to this] . . .

 This is a fascinating Meshech Chochmah on several counts.  The real eye-popper is when he states that a kohen “has no alternative” (אין להם עצה) but to kill a husband whose wife he is after.  Naturally he means that this is the kohen’s perspective, but it’s a pretty extraordinary comment nonetheless.

I think the take-away though is the attitude towards “holy men” taken by the Meshech Chochmah. The kohanim, after all, are supposed to be the role models for the Jewish people, showing them how a Torah personality acts, inspiring them to greater kedushah, etc. Yet the Meshech Chochmah hardly blinks an eye in saying that they are prone to killing men in order to marry their wives; in fact, he states that it is likely more common among kohanim than among the general population, because of their particular halachic situation!

This brings out another interesting observation, which is that the Meshech Chochmah is very cognizant of the phenomenon of apparently frum people who are meticulous in observing some aspect of halachah or other but who don’t hesitate to blow other rules out of the water (such as, say, the man who beats his daughters to ensure compliance with the laws of tznius).  So kohanim are apparently in fact more likely than the general population to be lechers, murderers, and hypocrites.  (Perhaps this is in line with Chazal’s statement that the greater a person, the greater his yetzer hara?)

There is a lot of debate today between various camps on how we view our leaders.  It seems that our forebears had no problem suggesting that our clergymen could very well be among the worst sinners as well.

19 comments:

  1. I am not sure I appreciate your observations. The Mishna tells us of the things corrupt Cohanim got up to. They'd kill to get to do the Avoda first. The Meshech Chachma could simply be consistently following the line that you get a Yerusha as a Cohen from your father, but that doesn't mean a Cohen is holy(ier) by that fiat. Rather, the bigger you are, or the bigger your perception of who you are, and indeed the responsibilities you must fulfill, the more likely you are to stumble. That's an old and well known Chazal.

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  2. Isn't there a Gemora that says we should be suspectful of rebbes of young children since their mothers bring them to cheder and the rebbe is at suspect of sinning with the mothers?

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  3. I am not sure the Meshech Chochmah was describing a typical event. I believe he was explaining a diyuk in the posuk that addressed the greater yetzer horah in the greater person. No one is immune from challenge. With all the logic presented, we are still dealing with a concept, not a hint that this sequence of events ever happened.

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  4. Recipients and PublicityFebruary 6, 2013 at 4:25 AM

    "Rabbi Raffi Bilek said...There is a lot of debate today between various camps on how we view our leaders. It seems that our forebears had no problem suggesting that our clergymen could very well be among the worst sinners as well."

    Watch out, next time you land in Israel you too may receive a "criminal complaint" from the Israeli taking up the cudgels on behalf of some disgruntled crooked "Cohen" since they have now become the "shomrim" of what may be said or implied about psychologically troubled folks on the world's blogs!

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  5. RDE,

    Thank you for pointing out this Meshech Chochmah.

    This portrait of cohanim is also alluded to in tanach where Eli's sons are accused of exploiting their status to pursue women who bring karbonos with the added wrinkle of them being accused of greed. Of course, one of the great lessons of Shmuel was that this led to the demise of the lineage of Eli and the disastrous loss of the aron.

    Mind you, Eli was guilty, not of the acts of his sons, but of his failure to stop it, of his failure to act more strongly when his first attempts with his sons failed.

    Licentiousness and greed often go hand-in-hand. Those with the most yichus and kovod are the ones best equipped to carry it out.

    When will rabbonim stop responding to each PR disaster by calling for more tznius from women and girls when the problem is leadership greed and corruption.

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  6. I guess we should now suspect Rabbi Raffi Bilek of moral turpitude since he is our leader (in suspecting the other leaders). Thanks "Rabbi".

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  7. Here's some sources from Breslov chassidut involving criticism of (rabbinic) leaders:

    Rebbe Nachman once said, "The world labors under the misconception that a tzaddik cannot make a mistake. I say this is not so. A tzaddik can make a mistake. The mistake remains a mistake and the tzaddik remains a tzaddik."

    Rebbe Nachman "also said of certain Chassidic leaders of his day, 'The tzaddikim are making a mistake by praying after the z'man tefillah.'" (Chayei Moharan 487).

    Selections from Likutei Eitzot:

    "Today publicity and fame go to false figures...There are false leaders, and when people follow their guidance they absorb false ideologies and mistaken beliefs."

    "There are people who impose themselves as leaders and rulers over our poor, bereft nation not because they have been appointed by Heaven but purely through their own arrogance and assertiveness.... They can attain so much power that they can even exact penalties from those who do not wish to bow to their rule. But the correct phrase for this is not `exacting penalties' but `causing damage,' because ultimately they are a destructive force in the
    world."

    "There are leaders who go by the name of rabbi but whose learning has been picked up from the `superficialities' and `waste' of Torah. They are unable to control even themselves, let alone other people. But they still have pretensions to greatness and seek to lead and guide the whole world. You should be very careful to accord them no recognition whatsoever so as not to add in any way to their power or authority. They themselves can be forgiven for what they do: they are no more than the victims of a strong lust for power. It is the people who give them credibility and power and who are prepared to accord them the title of rabbi who will have a heavy penalty to pay."

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  8. I think this is a very interesting Hiddush. Since it is coming from the Or Sameach, that should come as no surprise.

    My question is, regarding Torah chiddushim, after the closing of the ShaS, where is the source of these chiddushim?

    Is it "divine inspiration" short of actual Nevuah (which is what Conservative say, chas v'shalom about real Nevuah,).

    Is it received tradition? This would be hard to accept, since it would then not be a chiddush at all.

    Is it creativity?

    Or influence of the outside world, eg Rambam and Aristo, Hirsch and Hegel, R' Salanter and psychology...?

    This specific Meshech Hochma, sounds very similar to an Odipus story, except that the Cohen is killing someone else to have his wife. R Meir Simcha lived at around the same time as Psychologist Freud, who made a living by such theories of psychology.

    The further question is whether the claim of cultural influence is in any way wrong?




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    1. My question is, regarding Torah chiddushim, after the closing of the ShaS, where is the source of these chiddushim?
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      don't understand your question. The Ohr Someach said all valid chidushim were given on Sinai

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    2. Of course, we accept that the Torah and all its possible hiddushim were give to Moses.

      My question is concerning the process by which they are "rediscovered". If a Bible commentator makes a Hiddush not known to his own Rav, then it is his own hiddush.

      Is there anything in the Torah which would prevent a) an am haaretz form making a valid chiddush, and b) something more radical, eg a secular scholar or even a so called "apikores".

      Please note, I emphasise "valid" chiddush, I am not saying that an apikores has greater daas than a Rav.!

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    3. we get back to your leaky pipe model of mesora - which is clearly not of the Rambam. Ohr haChaim makes no claim that his chidushim are from his rebbe. In fact the gemora that he cites simply says "all that a diligent student will be mechadesh in the future is from Sinai"

      This clearly is stating that all emes is from Sinai - but not all emes was learned from one's teacher. Think about it!

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    4. Your response is essentially a repeat of what I said, except you claim it contradicts my model!
      Apart from the Ohr Sameach/Hachaim dichotomy that may be a typo, you are rephrasing my question, and at the same time claiming to have answered it.

      Since we agree that there is Chidush, what are the processes that lead to chidush? Are they supernatural events, or ordinary human endeavours, that are accessible to all?

      And we are also in agreement about Emet, ie an individual can access Emet from sources other than their Rav or Melamed.

      An example. Eybeschutz made a chiddush about the Tower of Bavel, saying it was a tower built to escape the gravitational field of this planet. This is a brilliant chiddush, except that he pinched it from Sir Isaac Newton's famous thought experiment.

      If we accept R Eybeshutz as a valid mechadesh, then he has discovered Emet by reading a famous scientist of his day.

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    5. Eddie we are not on the same wave length - you don't seem to understand what I am saying.

      There are clearly some instances where ruach hakodesh or prophesy is responsible

      See Bava Basra (12a):Abaye said: The proof [that prophecy has not been taken from the wise] is that a great man makes a statement, and the same is then reported in the name of another great man.15 Said Raba: What is there strange in this? Perhaps both were born under one star.16 No, said Raba; the proof is this, that a great man makes a statement and then the same is reported in the name of R. Akiba b. Joseph.1 Said R. Ashi: What is there strange in this? perhaps in this matter he was born under the same star. No, said R. Ashi; the proof is that a great man makes a statement and then it is found that the same rule was a halachah communicated to Moses at Mount Sinai. But perhaps the wise man was no better than a blind man groping his way through a window?2 — And does he not give reasons [for his opinions]?3 [(3) Hence we must say that his agreement with Moses was due not to chance but to the spirit of prophecy. [This is another way of expressing the belief that revelation did not cease with the extinction of prophecy. V. Herford, Talmud and Apocrypha, 72ff.]
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      did Rav Yonason claimed to have "pinched it" if not are you claiming that he "pinched it" merely because they said the same thing?!

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    6. Well, then it is helpful to get on the same wavelength.
      I stated quite clearly in my first question "regarding Torah chiddushim, after the closing of the ShaS,".

      "Pinched" is an English colloquialism, a little short of theft. I suppose the correct way of putting it was to suggest that RY Eibeschutz was directly influenced by Newton's concept.

      I suppose there is a spectrum of responses to this question.

      Some might argue that no, the chiddush was from a Gadol, and somehow it reached the scientist.

      That's a little difficult in the case of Rambam's philosophy, so instead I've heard it claimed that Rambam didn't study secular subjects, but learned philosophy through mystical kabbalistic means.

      A less extreme position would be to say that great ideas that come up, such as the one in question, have a purpose , ie to inspire gedolim to re-discover what was already known to Moshe. Thus the ultimate purpose of Newton's idea was to enable RYE to reach this chiddush (I do not recall if he quotes Newton).

      And a MO view might suggest that by learning of the sciences, humanities etc, we follow in the footsteps of the Sanhedrin who knew 120 languages, and had to know all matters, down to even avodah zara. Thus by being Torah Im Derech Eretz, we enrich our understanding.

      I believe it was the Gra, as reported by one of his students as saying that however much one lacks knowledge of sciences, one lacks Torah knowledge 100fold.




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    7. You seem to have missed the possiblity that an idea can be independently thought about by more than one person.

      Regarding the issue of chiddush - there is no difference between post talmudic , talmudic or pre Talmudic chiddushimin terms of where they come from. There clearly is in terms of authority.

      The point of the gemora is that chiddushim are a form of prophetic revelation that exist even today.

      The Chasam Sofer extends this into the realm of science - as apparently did Einstein - and says that is why we say a bracha on non-Jewish scholars.

      The Gra was not say that one should study astrophysics in order to understand Torah

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    8. "The Chasam Sofer extends this into the realm of science - as apparently did Einstein - and says that is why we say a bracha on non-Jewish scholars."


      I read on a biography of the Chatam Sofer, that just like for Rambam it was said "from Moses to Moses...", so for the ChS, ie from Rambam to ChS there was nobody like the Chatam Sofer.

      The Gra himself studied astronomy, which was the astrophysics of his day, and instructed Baruch of Shklov to translate Euclid into Hebrew.

      If I understand you correctly, the bracha for non Jewish scientists implies they could have "chiddush" that was known to Moses on Sinai.

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    9. http://daattorah.blogspot.co.il/2009/07/abuse-secular-knowledge-is-from-ruach.html

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    10. that is a very good article!

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  9. What is the big CHIDUSH ?,don't CHAZAL tell us,that during the second temple,all the KOHANIM GEDOLIM were corrupt,and were buying their positions from the Roman government,
    And don't CHAZAL tell us that the MISHMORES was instituted,because every morning there was a free for all when the KOHANIM were running towards the MIZBEACH to be the first ones to do the AVODAH,and they were literally knifing each other to death in trying to prevent the other one to reach the Altar first

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