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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Ki Teitze

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The Torah portion of Ki Teitze teaches us the laws relating to marriage and divorce. It also tells us which nations may not marry into the Jewish people even if they convert, as the Torah says,[1] “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the L-rd; even the tenth generation shall never enter the assembly of the L-rd, because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt and because they hired Bilaam… to curse you.”

Didn’t Moav Provide Bread and Water?

The Ramban wonders why the Moabites were punished for not providing bread and water when the Torah records that they did exactly that, as it says that Moshe sent the following message to Sichon and Og,[2] “You shall sell me food for money that I may eat; and give me water for money that I may drink; I will only pass through by my feet. Just as the children of Eisav who dwell in Seir and the Moabites who dwell in Ar did for me…”

Several explanations have been offered:

·        Although the Moabites sold bread and water to the Jews, they are faulted for not bringing these out to them for free as a sign of peace (Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni).[3]
·        The verse quoted above means that the Moabites allowed the Jews to walk through their territory, not that they brought them bread and water (Ibn Ezra).[4]
·        The Moabites were the ones who hired Bilaam to curse the Jews while the Ammonites were the ones who did not bring the Jews bread and water (Ramban).

Why not the Women?

According to the tradition of the sages, only the male Ammonite and Moabite converts were forbidden to marry into the Jewish people while the female converts were permitted. The Talmud (Yevamot 76b) explains that since the exclusion from marriage is in response to the fact that they didn’t bring out bread and water, it should apply only to men as it is not expected for women to go out (across a border) and bring bread to a passing nation. The Jerusalem Talmud (Yevamot 8:3) adds that the verse says that it is a punishment for hiring Bilaam to curse the Jews. Since it was (presumably) the men who did this hiring and not the women, it is logical that the punishment should apply only to the men and not to the women. (Although the women seduced the men to sin, there was no long term consequence for this.)

The Jews Did Not Need Bread and Water

The Midrash (Vayikrah Rabbah 24:8) points out that the Jewish people had no need for bread and water at that time as they lacked nothing. They had Manna for bread, water from the well of Miriam, slav birds for meat, and clouds of glory surrounding them, protecting them, and showing them the way. Nevertheless, the Ammonites (and Moabites) should have brought out bread and water as a sign of concern and caring for the Jewish people regardless of whether they needed it or not. This is especially true in light of the fact that Avraham, the patriarch of the Jewish nation, saved Lot (the ancestor of the Ammonites and Moabites) from slavery. Had Avraham not done so, these nations would never have been born. By not showing any appreciation to the Jewish people, they revealed their callous nature and were therefore excluded from the Jewish nation.

Why is the Punishment Appropriate?

The commentaries give several explanations as to why the punishment (being excluded from marrying into the Jewish nation) fits the crime of not bringing out bread and water.
·        Bread is a Metaphor for Wives
The Chida (in Penei David on the Torah) points out that the Torah uses the word “bread” as a metaphor for a wife. (See Gen. 39:6 and Rashi.) So it is appropriate to refrain from sharing our women with (the descendants of) those men who refrained from sharing their bread.
·        Replace Bread with Meat and Water with Wine
The reason these nations didn’t share their bread and water with the Jewish people is that they wanted them to be hungry and thirsty so that the daughters of Moab could instead feed them meat and wine and then seduce them and persuade them to serve their idols. Thus, it was part of a diabolical plot to lead the Jewish people to terrible sin (Kli Yakar).
·        Bread Is a Segulah for Fidelity
The Talmud (Bava Metzi’ah 107b) says that eating bread (in the morning) is a segulah (a spiritually propitious act) for one to remain faithful to his wife. The reason for this may be that by eating simple foods one keeps one’s passions in check. These nations intentionally did not share their bread with the Jews as they wanted the passion of the Jews to be inflamed. This would allow the daughters of Moab to seduce them more readily. (Maharim Shif printed at the end of Tractate Chullin and Divrei David [by the Taz] on the Torah.)
Since we are on the topic of the travels of the Jews in the desert, the rest of this article will discuss several laws of the HaGomel blessing recited after traveling (and for other reasons).

The HaGomel Blessing

The Talmud says (Brachot 54b): “Four (groups of people) must give praise to G-d by saying the HaGomel blessing:
a.     Those who went to sea and returned
b.     Those who (safely) crossed the desert
c.      Those who were sick and then healed
d.     Those who were freed from imprisonment
The Tur (O.C. 219) writes that the way to remember these four groups is with the word חיים (life) which can be an acronym for these groups. The groups are חולה, ים, יסורים, מדבר (ill, sea, suffering from imprisonment, and desert). The first letters of these four spells חיים (life). This, in turn, is reminiscent of the line in the Amidah – וכל החיים יוֹדוּךָ סל – all those that are alive (these four groups) should praise You forever.

 The Living Will Praise You Forever

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that it is unusual to give the word acronym חיים (life) as an acronym to remember the groups of people who were in situations where they could have died. He explains (Torat Menachem 5745, page 2520 and on) that it is only after going through a near-death experience that one’s life becomes more firmly established. This can be true both physically and spiritually – that after a brush with death one begins to appreciate one’s life properly and as a result makes sure to make his life one that is worth living.

Overcoming Spiritual Obstacles

The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe explained[5] that the above-mentioned four groups also represent the various spiritual trials and tribulations that a soul often goes through in its journey and time in this world.
1)     One who is sick represents a person whose heart and mind are blocked from comprehending holy thoughts or who has other spiritual weaknesses.
2)     One who is in jail represents a person who is being controlled by his evil inclination.
3)     One who is in the desert represents a person who is overcome by the physicality of this world, a place largely devoid of holiness as a desert is devoid of life.
4)     One who crosses the sea represents a person who is disturbed by all of the worries of this world as a as a ship which is disturbed by the churning waves of the sea.
It is our mission in this world to overcome all of these issues, i.e, to strengthen ourselves and overcome our spiritual weaknesses, to conquer our evil inclination, to transform the physicality of this world into spiritualty, and, instead of worrying about our physical struggles, to use these to buoy our spiritual commitments to G-d.  One who accomplishes all this can offer unique praise to G-d for guiding him to overcome these obstacles and to be even elevated by them.

Friday Afternoon – Psalm 107

Psalm 107 describes the travails that the above-mentioned groups go through and, how after getting through these ordeals, “They shall give thanks to the L-rd for His kindness, and for His wonders to the children of men” – an allusion to the HaGomel blessing. The Ba’al Shem Tov instituted that this Psalm be said on Friday afternoon before Mincha. (See Pirush HaBa’al Shem Tov al HaTorah, Parshat Yitro.) He explained that there are many sparks of holiness that get “trapped” in the realm of unholiness during the week. The four groups of people allude to various ways that holy energy can be diverted to the forces of evil. As Shabbat approaches, these trapped “sparks” are released to the realm of holiness and are able to praise G-d.
Below are some of the laws of the HaGomel blessing. Please see O.C. 219 for more information.

A Torah Obligation?

The Sefer Mitzvot Kattan (146) holds that it is a Torah obligation to praise G-d when He does miracles for us. This includes saying the HaGomel blessing at the appropriate times.

In the Place of the Todah Sacrifice

The Rosh (Brachot 9:3) says that the HaGomel blessing is said in the place of the Todah (thanksgiving) sacrifice which was offered by people who went through any of the four situations mentioned above (see Rashi on Levit. 7:10). Based on this, the commentaries explain that many of the laws of the HaGomel blessing are based on the laws of this sacrifice.
·        At Night
Some say that this blessing should not be recited at night just as the sacrifice was not brought at night. Others say that one may recite the blessing at night. The latter is the main halacha.[6]
·        Shabbat
Although private sacrifices are not offered on Shabbat, we do recite the HaGomel blessing on Shabbat. This is because this blessing is mandatory and we do not want to delay its recital. Since a sacrifice offered mistakenly on Shabbat is valid, we allow the HaGomel blessing to be said on Shabbat.[7]
·        Standing
It is best to recite this blessing while standing (Mishnah Berurah 219:4 based on Rambam, Laws of Brachot 10:8). Some say that this is because it is said in the place of a sacrifice which must be offered while standing.[8] Others say that it is out of respect to the congregation, just as when reading the Megillah one should stand if there is a minyan present.[9]
·        Ten Men and Two Sages[10]
The HaGomel blessing should be recited in the presence of a minyan. This is to thank G-d for His miracles in a public venue. Some say that there should be 10 men besides the one reciting the blessing. (This is not the main halacha.) In addition, it is best to have two Torah scholars present. These scholars may be part of the 10 men. Some say there should be 10 men besides the scholars. (This is not the main halacha.) If there are no Torah scholars present, one should recite the blessing anyway. But one should not recite the blessing without a minyan. If one already did so, he should say it again in the presence of a Minyan but without mentioning G-d’s name (Baruch Hagomel etc.).
·        A Child
A child (under bar or bat mitzvah) should not recite this blessing. This is because the blessing states that G-d bestowed kindness to us even though we are “chayavim” (guilty and deserving of punishment). Since children are innocent and are not punished for their sins, the text of the blessing is not appropriate for them.[11]
May G-d continue to bestow His kindness upon us!
[1] Deut. 23:4-5
[2] Ibid 2:28
[3] The Ramban questions why this sin is deserving of the punishment to be forbidden to marry into the Jewish people
[4] The Ramban objects to this based on Shoftim 11:16-18
[5] Sefer Hama’amarim 5687 page 216 as explained by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Torat Menachem 5746, vol 4 pg. 29 and on
[6] Kaf HaChaim 219:14 based on Chatam Sofer O.C. 51
[7] Maharam Shik 88
[8] Nahar Shalom (219:1) by Rabbi Shabsi Vintorah of 18th-century Italy and Yugoslavia
[9] Chatam Sofer O.C. 51
[10] See Tur, Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berurah O.C. 219, Seder Birkot HaNehenin 13:2
[11] Mishnah Berurah 219:3
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Ktiva VaChatima Tova for a good, sweet year!

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