Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 11: The War with Amon

  • Why does Nachash agree to give the people of Yavesh Gilad a week to ask for help?   Two possibilities appear in the commentaries.

רלב”ג שמואל א פרק יא פסוק ג   והנה הסכים בזה נחש כי דעתו היה להלחם עם ישראל ולקחת את ארצם אם יוכל

מצודת דוד שמואל א פרק יא פסוק ג     הכוונה בזה לחרף כל ישראל הנה ראוי להודי עם ואם לא יושיענו אז יחשב לחרפה

  • Shaul divides up cattle and sends the pieces to all of the tribes. Which story in sefer Shoftim is this reminiscent of?  See Shoftim 19:29.  Note also the prominence of the inhabitants of Yavesh Gilad in that story (Shoftim 21:8-12).   Our story seems to be the tikkun, the rectification, of the problems of the pilegesh bi’givah   R. Bazak presents more literary parallels between the two stories.
  • Why is there a need to crown Shaul again (pesukim 14-15) after he was already crowned in the previous chapter (10:24)?

רש”י שמואל א פרק יא פסוק יד    לפי שבראשונה היו עוררים על הדבר ועתה נתרצו כולם

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 10: Shmuel Anoints Shaul

  • Can you find three examples of Shaul’s humility in this chapter? See pesukim  16, 22, and 27
  • When a question is raised about Shaul’s prophetic ability, the answer given is ומי אביהם. How does this respond to the question?   Note the difference between Rashi’s understanding and that of Targum Yonatan.

רש”י שמואל א פרק י פסוק יב   ומי אביהם – מה תימה לך בדבר מי אביהם של נביאים וכי נבואה ירושה היא:

רד”ק שמואל א פרק י פסוק יב   ומי אביהם – תרגם יונתן ומאן רבהון וכן הוא הפירוש מי המלמד אלה הנביאים ומשרה עליהם רוח נבואה ואין לתמוה בזה כי הקדוש ברוך הוא המלמד אלה הנביאים מלמד גם כן זה.

  • Does the existence of a band of prophets (pasuk 5) contradict 3:1? What would Ralbag’s resolution indicate about Shmuel’s impact on his generation?

רלב”ג שמואל א פרק י פסוק י                                                                                               וכבר ישאל שואל איך היו שם כל כך נביאים וכבר נזכר במה שקדם כי דבר השם היה יקר בימים ההם אין חזון נפרץ, ואפשר שנאמר כי הפרש יש בין זה הזמן ובין הזמן שהתחיל שמואל להתנבא ועל כן אפשר שנאמר בהתרת זה הספק כי זה היה בעת ההיא שהתחיל שמואל להתנבא ואמנם עתה רבו הנביאים אם מצד מה שלמד אותם שמואל והביאם אל השלמות אם לסבה אחרת:

  • After Shaul’s reign is declared, he and the people return home (pesukim 25-26). Is this what we would expect to happen?   How can you account for this?

אברבנאל שמואל א פרק י   וגם כן שאול הלך לביתו כבתחילה כי ראה שלא קבלוהו ביניהם ברצונם והיו מגמגמים במלכותו

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 9: Shmuel meets Shaul

1) The narrator emphasizes that a נביא used to be called a רואה.  Are the two terms synonymous or does the language shift reflect different job descriptions?    Malbim’s comments are relevant.

מלבי”ם שמואל א פרק ט פסוק ט  לפנים. כותב הספר יודיענו בל נתפלא איך היה זה שעל שור ועל חמור ועל כל אבדה היו הולכים אל הרואה והיו נותנים לו בשכרו כסף ובעד ראיית פניו תשורה (כי לולא היה המנהג כן לא היה שאול אומר כן לנערו), מה שלא מצינו כזאת בכל הנביאים אשר היו אחרי הדור ההוא, אומר כי יש הבדל בין הנביא בדור אחרון ובין הרואה לפנים, שהנביא נקרא שמו על שם דברותיו ותוכחותיו (מלשון ניב שפתים), על כי ה’ דבר בו וישלחהו להגיד לעם פשעם ולבית יעקב חטאתם, ולא שלחהו במלאכות ה’ רק לצורך עניני הכלל והגוי כולו ולא חל רוה”ק עליו להראותו דברים פרטיים הנוגעים אל היחידים, אבל הרואה נקרא בשמו על שם שהיה צופה ברוה”ק השורה עליו כל הדברים ההויים והעתידים וגם עניני היחידים ופרטיהם. ועל כן היו בורחים מן הנביא אשר היה תמיד מגיד פשע ומוכיח עלי עון, ורדפו(ם) אחר הרואה באשר כ”א השיג ממנו מבוקשו על הגניבה ועל האבידה ועל החולה ועל האשה והבנים, והיו נותנים לו תשורה ומתן בעבור שהתבודד לעיין על עניניהם.

  • 2) What normally happens when a biblical hero meets young women at a well?  What would the deviation from the norm say about Shaul?  Robert Alter discusses this point in The Art of Biblical Narrative pages 72-73.
  • 3) Pasuk 21 reveals Shaul’s humility and self – effacing personality.  Could this trait prove to be a double edged sword as his career continues?
  • 4) In the interaction between Shaul and his נער , who leads the way?   Does this connect to our previous question?  (I thank my son Zecharya for this last point).

The Religious Significance of not Eating Kitniyot on Pesach

by Rav David Silverstein

Every year around Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the internet is filled with online petitions, Facebook groups and newsletters practically begging rabbinic authorities to permit the consumption of legumes (Kitniyot) on Pesach for Jews of Ashkenazic decent. One Facebook group called the “Kitniyot Liberation Front,” defines itself as a “movement… dedicated to liberating all Jews who wish to be free of this questionable custom that causes needless divisions between families and friends.” Yet for the majority of Ashkenazi Jews for whom eating legumes on Pesach is simply not an option, the question remains regarding the source and the deeper religious message behind this ancient practice that may even have its roots in the Talmud itself.

Locating the conceptual basis for the practice to refrain from eating Kitniyot on Pesach, the Vilna Gaon (OH 453:1) references the statement of Rava (Pesachim 40b) who, according to one version of the Talmudic account, prohibited workers from cooking Chasisi foods on Pesach since they can easily be confused with chametz itself. Expanding on this idea, the Gra (ibid) notes that there are two rationales behind the custom to avoid eating legumes. The first reason assumes (like the Talmud) that certain foods simply resemble chametz and thus should be avoided to ensure that no leavened bread is mistakenly consumed. The second explanation cited by the Gaon claims that some legumes were stored in close proximity to leaved foods which created a risk that the legumes may in fact contain some residual chametz.

Regardless of which interpretation one accepts, the Ashkenazic custom to refrain from eating Kitniyot has been in force since at least the Medieval period. It was codified in the 16th century by the Ramo (OH 453:1) and has remained the default practice of Ashkenazi Jews ever since. While contemporary authorities debate the exact contours of the practice (ex. Kitniyot oils, soy, quinoa, etc), the working assumption remains that Ashkenazi Jews are legally bound by their ancestral practice as codified by Rav Moshe Isserles.

The resistance to making changes to well established Jewish customs has its source in a philosophical conception of law that sees “minhagim” as expressing the profound religious intuitions of the communities that practice the custom in question. Professor Joseph Kalir ( captures this notion when he states that “In the minhag the power of religious intuition operates as an autonomous self –legislation.” Articulating the theology that underlies the conception of minhag, Professor Kalir claims that “while the direct divine spirit which inspired the prophets may have been lost, the native talent of the people has not died and asserts itself in the [custom].” In fact, according to this model, the more ancient the custom in question, the more authoritative its force. “The older a minhag and the closer in time to genuine prophecy, the more significant it is as a sign of this same religious genius.”

On a sociological level, the preservation of Jewish customs substantiates the Jewish tradition as being a textually sourced yet mimetically transmitted set of practices. Dr. Haym Soloveitchik discusses this dialectical approach to Jewish law in his article, “Rupture and Reconstruction.” According to Dr. Soloveitchik (, “Halakhah is a sweepingly comprehensive regula of daily life….And a way of life is not learned but rather absorbed. Its transmission is mimetic, imbibed from parents and friends, and patterned on conduct regularly observed in home and street, synagogue and school.” Interestingly, Dr. Soloveitchik notes that contemporary observant communities have moved away from the traditional mimetic model to a more concentrated attempt to root all ritual observance in rulings found in classical codes. Claiming the Mishnah Berurah as the precursor to this model, Dr. Soloveitchik claims that “common practice in the Mishnah Berurah [lost] its independent status and need[ed] to be squared with the written word.”

The shift away from mimetisicm towards a more textually centered tradition may actually be impacting the more liberal Jewish community as well. Text centered transmission of religious norms makes traditionally Orthodox Jews suspect of familial practices that cannot be easily harmonized with written codes. The consequence of this shift is the increase in stringencies in religious behavior towards practices that were rarely practiced in previous generations. The loss of confidence in family traditions forces many traditionally Orthodox Jews to look elsewhere for religious security.

For more progressive observant Jews, the move towards a more text centered Judaism has opened a window for challenging religious practices and customs whose legal force may seem somewhat questionable on formal grounds. Once “lived tradition” is minimized as an operative principle, any action not covered by formal halachic prohibitions is perceived to be perforce permissible.  The move to permit Kitniyot is the latest manifestation of this recent trend. Instead of trusting the religious instincts of our ancestors whom for hundreds of years refrained from eating legumes on Pesach, some contemporary Jews point to the lack of any formal prohibition (gezeira) associated with Kitniyot to justify its abolition. The problem with this model is that it fails to see the religious significance attributed by the tradition to the spiritual intuitions of observant Jews throughout the generations.

Moreover, attempts to permit the consumption of Kitniyot fail to consider the possibility that there is some profound wisdom in a practice that has withstood the test of time for over 1,000 years. The breakdown of the mimetic model prevents Jews from experiencing Judaism as an organic expression of identity. When looking exclusively to books for religious guidance, Jewish law and customs are often perceived as burdens which we try to avoid whenever possible.

Ideally, instead of seeing the custom to avoid eating Kitniyot as a burden, we should see it as an opportunity to validate our commitment to Torah as a lived tradition. By reaffirming our commitment to our ancestral customs, we make a statement that Jewish law is not some nusance that we perpetually try to overcome. Rather, both the textual as well as the mimetic traditions represent profound values and ideals that we should strive to understand and incorporate into our lives.

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 8: Requesting a Monarch

  • The children of great individuals do not always emulate their parents. Shmuel’s sons provide one example of this phenomenon. Did we encounter another example earlier in this sefer?
  • Shmuel reacts very negatively to the request for a king. There is a long standing debate if the monarchy is a mitzva (see Devarim 17:15) or not. Note the opinions of Ibn Ezra and Ramban below.   It is obviously easier to understand Shmuel’s negativity if there is no command to install a king.  If it is a mitzva, Shmuel must have objected to the timing of the request or to the motivation for the request.  In the people’s formulation, שימה לנו מלך לשפטנו ככל הגוים which words generated Shmuel’s consternation?  Ramban, Malbim, and Ran differ on this point.
  • What is the difference between the people’s rationale for a king in pasuk 6 and in pasuk 20? How can we account for the difference?

אבן עזרא דברים פרק יז פסוק טו    שום תשים – רשות.

רמב”ן דברים פרק יז פסוק יד   ואמרת אשימה עלי מלך – על דעת רבותינו (ספרי ראה סז), (סנהדרין כ ב) כמו ואמור אשימה עלי מלך, והיא מצות עשה שיחייב אותנו לומר כן אחר ירושה וישיבה, כלשון ועשית מעקה לגגך (להלן כב ח), וזולתם. והזכיר “ואמרת”, כי מצוה שיבואו לפני הכהנים הלוים ואל השופט ויאמרו להם רצוננו שנשים עלינו מלך: ולפי דעתי עוד, שגם זה מרמיזותיו על העתידות, שכן היה כששאלו להם את שאול אמרו לשמואל (ש”א ח ה) שימה לנו מלך לשפטנו ככל הגוים, וכן כתוב שם (פסוק כ) והיינו גם אנחנו ככל הגוים ושפטנו מלכנו וגו’, כי מה טעם שתאמר התורה במצוה “ככל הגוים אשר סביבותי”, ואין ישראל ראויים ללמד מהם ולא לקנא בעושי עולה, אבל זה רמז לענין שיהיה

מלבי”ם שמואל א פרק ח פסוק ו     וזה מסכים עם דברי חז”ל ששאלוהו שלא בעונתו, כי בחיי שמואל לא היה להם לשאול כזאת. ב] פגמו בזה בכבוד שמואל, שאם היו שואלים את המלך בעבור המלחמה לבד לצאת לקראת נשק וללחום מלחמותם, לא היה בזה כל כך בוז וקלון לשמואל, אבל הם אמרו תנה לנו מלך לשפטנו, שמורה כי מצאו עולתה במשפטיו עד שמבקשים שופט אחר טוב ממנו, ויעיזו בפניו לאמר כי רוצים להעבירו מהיות שופט ולבחור אחר תחתיו, וכדי בזיון וקצף לקדוש ה’ אשר עשה משפט וצדקה לכל עמו. וזאת הורע בעיניו ביחוד, כמ”ש וירע הדבר בעיני שמואל כאשר אמרו תנה לנו מלך לשפטנו.

דרשות הר”ן הדרוש האחד עשר    אבל על דעתי הוא כך, שהם רצו שעיקר המשפט במה שבין אדם לחבירו יהיה נמשך מצד המלכות….אלא שישראל נטו בעת ההיא יותר לתיקון קיבוצם המדיני. ואילו שאלו להם מלך בסתם שיאמרו שימה לנו מלך, או שיבקשוהו לסיבת תיקון מלחמותיהם, לא ימצא להם בדבר הזה עון או חטא, אבל מצוה, אך היה חטאתם באמרם שימה לנו מלך לשפטנו ככל הגוים, שרצו שיהיו משפטיהם נמשכים מצד המלכות, לא מצד שופטי התורה. ויורה על זה מה שכתוב אחריו (שם ו) וירע הדבר בעיני שמואל כאשר אמרו תנה לנו מלך לשפטנו, לא אמר כאשר אמרו תנה לנו מלך בלבד, כי לולי אמרו כן לא היה רע בעיניו, אבל מה שהוקשה לו, באשר אמרו לשפטנו. ומפני זה אמר ה’ לשמואל לא אותך מאסו כי אותי מאסו ממלוך עליהם (שם ז), כי הם בוחרים בתיקון ענינם הטבעי, משיחול בהם ענין האלהי.

 וכשהוכיחם שמואל, לא נעתקו מכונתם, אבל היטיבו מעט שאלתם לומר כי אינם שואלים המלך מצד המשפט לבד, אבל מצד תיקון מלחמותיהם. והוא אמרם (שם כ) והיינו גם אנחנו ככל הגוים ושפטנו מלכנו ויצא לפנינו ונלחם את מלחמותינו.

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 7: Repentance and Victory

1) Why does Shmuel gather the people in Mizpeh? Is it potentially connected to a previous event in Jewish history? See Yehoshua 11:3.
2) Am Yisrael’s teshuva certainly relates to the sins of idolatry (pesukim 3-4). Did they repent from other transgressions as well? See pasuk 6 and R. Yosef Kara.

מהר”י קרא פרק ז פסוק ו וישפוט שמואל את בני ישראל: בין איש לרעהו על עסקי ממון שביניהן ועבירות שבידם

3) We noted in perek 4 that the people may have mistakenly thought of the aron as an independent magical force and did not view God as their savior. Which pesukim in our chapter show that they now understand that victory depends upon Hashem?
4) Arguably the seventh chapter goes out of its way to make us remember the fourth chapter. Compare the place mentioned in 4:1 with 7:12. For more parallels, see R. Bazak. This would clearly support the idea in our previous paragraph.

Parshat Tzav- Humility in the Temple and Study Hall

by Rabbi David Silverstein

Parshat Tzav opens with a directive to the Kohanim to begin their daily work with the removal of a portion of the previous day’s ashes from the Alter. According to the Torah, each morning the Priest must “don his fitted linen tunic… separate the ash of what the fire consumed… and place it next to the altar.” Afterwards, the priest is then instructed to “remove his garments and don other garments [while he] removes the ashes outside the camp.” On the surface, this aspect of the Temple ritual seems functional in nature and not connected to the more elevated aspects of the priestly cult. In fact, the Talmud cites (Yoma 23b) an Amoraic dispute regarding the question of whether or not the removal of the ashes is bound by the same legal restrictions that we find in other areas of the temple service.

Rav Hirsch (6:4) however, sees profound religious significance in some of the more unique details of this ceremonial process. According to Rav Hirsch, the Bible’s demand that the previous day’s ashes be removed before proceeding with the new daily sacrificial cycle, highlights the Torah’s insistence that rituals be performed “with a new zest, as if we have never performed them before.” Moreover, Rav Hirsch explains that the Torah’s mandate requiring the priest to change his garment (to worn out clothes) before removing the ashes from the altar stems from the Torah’s attempt to inculcate a sense of humility into the aftermath of the previous day’s successfully performed ritual.  According to Rav Hirsch, wearing the older garments reminds the priest that he “must not regale himself in pomp for that which belongs to the past; it is superseded by the present mitzvah that each days bids us to observe.” Similarly, Rabbeinu Bachye (Hovot Halevavot 6) explains the changing of the priestly garments as a divine attempt to “humble [the priest] and remove the haughtiness from his heart.”

The centrality of humility in the Jewish tradition is highlighted by the bible’s description (Numbers 12:3) of Moses as the “exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” In fact, the Rambam (Deot 2:3) cites this biblical description as a proof to his theory that it is not sufficient for a person to strive for mediocrity in the realm of humility. Rather, one should strive to be exceptionally humble and remember that the bible links haughtiness with causing one to forget God.

Interestingly, the Ramchal (Mesilat Yesharim 22) notes that it is the sages themselves who are most susceptible to falling prey to false haughtiness. After all, by spending their days utilizing their intellects in the search for Truth, scholars may begin to look pejoratively at those who don’t spend as much time reflecting on questions of philosophy, law and metaphysics. Moreover, the scholar can get so caught up in his own scholarship that he may find it difficult to admit mistakes or recognize the limits of his intellectual capabilities. Instead of seeing academic accomplishment as a sign of greatness, the Ramchal suggests that the scholar see his God-given scholarly aptitude as a sign of responsibility. Just like the wealthy should use his wealth to take care of the poor and the strong should use their strength to take care of the weak, a scholar should use his wisdom as a vehicle for helping shape a more elevated society.

Interestingly, the challenge of intellectual hubris in the world of the academy was the subject of an interesting New York Times article (, entitled “Young minds in Critical Condition.” According to the author, “Our best college students are very good at being critical. In fact being smart, for many, means being critical. Having strong critical skills shows that you will not be easily fooled.” However, the author cautions that an overemphasis on one’s critical faculties may prevent students from actually being impacted by what they are studying. “In campus cultures where being smart means being a critical unmasker, students may become too good at showing how things can’t possibly make sense. They may close themselves off from their potential to find or create meaning and direction from the books, music and experiments they encounter in the classroom.” She concludes by powerfully noting that “Liberal education must not limit itself to critical thinking and problem solving; it must also foster openness, participation and opportunity. It should be designed to take us beyond the campus to a life of ongoing, pragmatic learning that finds inspiration in unexpected sources, and increases our capacity to understand and contribute to the world-and reshape it, and ourselves, in the process.”

In other words, instead of seeing intellectual accomplishment as a sign of hubris, students should recognize that access to knowledge generates an enormous responsibility. As much as students should be proud of their critical capacities, knowledge should be seen as a larger attempt to be impacted by what we study. Like the Kohen who humbly removes yesterday’s ashes from the altar, students too must remember that knowledge is constantly developing and that they should be humbled by their ability to probe its depths. Moreover, the temple ceremony involving the removal the ashes reminds us to act humbly despite our accomplishments. Just like every day is a new day in the world of the temple, so too every day is a new day in the world of the academy.

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 6: The Aron Returns

1) In pasuk 6, the Plishtim express fear that they will suffer the same  fate as the Egyptians.  Where does the identical concern appear in the fourth chapter?  Are there other parallels between the afflictions of the Plishtim (chapter 5) and the makkot?

2) The Plishtim return the aron together with golden mice (pasuk 4).  Why?  1See Ralbag’s idea below.  Does this create another parallel to

רלב”ג שמואל א פרק ו פסוק ז   וידמה שכבר הש”י עוד שם עכברים היו משחיתים את הארץ

3) The Plishtim perform a test while using cows that had never had a yoke placed upon them (pasuk 7). Why was this important?   How does Rashi’s interpretation differ from that of Radak?

רש”י פסוק ז כל זה לנסיון שאין אלו ראויות למשוך ועוד שגועות אחרי בניהם ואם יהא כע שהוא עשה לנוח בארון שיוליכו אותו מאליהם נד

רד”ק שם   שלא נעשה בה מלאכה בעבור קדושת הארון

4) The formulation of how many Israelites in Beit Shemsh perished (pasuk 19) is somewhat odd.  How does Abravanel understand it?

אברבנאל פרק ז  והנכון אצלי שלא מתו בבית שמש כי אם שבעים איש לבד…ואמנם החמישים אלף איש שזכר הוא מספר ההרוגים אשר מתו בסבת הארון אם בערי הפלישתים ואם בבית שמש

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 5: The Plishtim and the Aron

This is a short chapter and we will be brief.

1) Are the Plishtim quick or slow to acknowledge the dangers of keeping the aron?   Note their initial response to Dagon falling down and their first response to the illness that afflicts the people of Ashdod.

2) Some think that Dagon looked like a man on top and a fish on bottom.  They base this on a connection to the word “dag” and the idol having hands.   Not everyone agrees that the word Dagon is related to the Hebrew word for fish.

Sefer Shmuel w/ Rav Blau Chapter 4: The Military Loss

  • Why do Bnei Yisrael lose this battle to the Plishtim? Abravanel raises five possibilities which we can divide into two categories.  Perhaps they lost the battle due to previously sinful behavior.  The people were involved in idol worship and the sons of Eli had violated basic moral and religious norms (see the second perek).  Alternatively, their problem was in treating the aron as a magic talisman that would automatically guarantee victory.  Can you cite support for one position based on the details mentioned in pasuk 4?

רד”ק שמואל א פרק ד פסוק ד ומפני זה אמר ושם שני בני עלי חפני ופינחס כי הם גרמו המכשלה

  • When Eli hears about the death of his sons and the loss of the aron, which piece of news causes a dramatic reaction (pasuk 18)? Amnon Bazak explains that Eli cared more about the mishkan and bein adam la’makom than about the interpersonal.  (  Can you find confirmation of his position from something Eli tells his sons in the second chapter?