Parsha Halacha

Parshat Matot Masei / Shabbat Chazak

The Last Sefer Torah

Chuladah’s Merciful Prophecy

Sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Michael Marcus and family in memory of his grandfather, Moshe Ben Avraham, Yohrtzeit 16 Menachem Av. May his neshoma have an Aliyah
Parsha Halacha is underwritten by a grant from Dr. Stephen and Bella Brenner in loving memory of Stephen’s father, Shmuel Tzvi ben Pinchas, and Bella’s parents, Avraham ben Yitzchak and Leah bas HaRav Sholom Zev HaCohen

Click here for a print version of this article

In the Torah portion of Matot we read about Elazar the Kohen teaching the Jewish soldiers how to kasher their utensils.[1] Rashi explains that Moshe Rabeinu forgot to teach these laws as a result of his getting angry at the soldiers for not having killed the daughters of Midyan who had seduced the Jewish men to sin. Out of respect for Moshe Rabeinu, Elazar prefaced the laws by saying זֹאת חֻקַּת הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה ה׳ אֶת מֹשֶׁה – “These are the laws of the Torah that G-d has commanded Moshe,” thus attributing the laws to Moshe.
Despite this attribution, the Talmud says[2] that Elazar was punished for having taught a halacha (law) in the presence of his teacher. His punishment was that, although G-d had told Moshe that Yehoshua would consult with Elazar using the Urim VeTumim,[3] we do not find explicitly that this ever happened.[4]
It seems that despite the fact that Moshe had forgotten the law and the people needed to be instructed how to kasher the utensils before using them, it would have been better for Elazar to respectfully remind Moshe about those laws so that Moshe could teach them rather than Eleazar.[5] Alternatively, he could have asked the soldiers to wait for Moshe to calm down from his anger, and then Moshe would have remembered and taught the laws himself.[6]
The question has been raised, since a teacher may forgo his honor and since Moshe presumably did not mind that his own nephew was teaching, why was Elazar punished?[7]
To answer this, we will discuss a similar incident that occurred several centuries later in the decades leading up to the destruction of the First Bait HaMikdash.

King Yoshiyahu – A Brief Biography
King Yoshiyahu was a righteous king even though both his father Amon and his grandfather Menashe were wicked. The fourth to last king of Judea, Yoshiyahu became king at the age of 8 when his father Amon was assassinated by his servants.
31 years later,[8] he was killed during a battle with Pharoah Necho and the Egyptian army whom Yoshiyahu tried to prevent from crossing through Judea on their way to fight the Babylonian army.[9] The Book of Chronicles says,[10] “Yoshiyahu did what was proper in the eyes of G-d; he walked in the path of his ancestor David and did not stray right or left.”

Refurbished the Beit HaMikdash
In the 18th year of his reign King Yoshiyahu refurbished the Beit HaMikdash. This had not been done since the days of Yehoash, over 200 years earlier.[11]

A Sefer Torah Discovery
During the refurbishing, a Sefer Torah was found. Some say that it was the only Sefer Torah that had survived when King Achaz (father of King Chizkiyahu) had burnt all the Torah scrolls.[12] At that time, some Kohanim hid a Torah scroll under a row of stones in the Beit HaMikdash so that it would remain intact for future generations.
When the Torah scroll was brought to King Yoshiyahu and read in front of him, he rent his garments as he was now hearing for the first time about all of the mitzvot, which he and his people had not been observing due to their ignorance.
Most of the commentaries[13] disagree with the notion that this was the last surviving Torah scroll of the Jewish people. They point out that Achaz’ son Chizkiyahu was a righteous king who taught his subjects Torah for many decades. Certainly he (and they) must have had Torah scrolls.
In addition, King Menashe did teshuvah and was (privately) righteous for the final 22 years of his life. Certainly, he would have had a Torah scroll. Finally, this story took place in the 18th year of the reign of the righteous King Yoshiyahu. How is it possible that he followed in the ways of G-d and of King David for 18 years without having the Torah?

Sefer Torah of Moshe
As such, they explain that there were indeed many Torah scrolls extant at that time. The one they discovered was special as it was the one written by Moshe which was kept in the Holy of Holies and from which the king would read during Hakhel, on the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot in the year after Shemitah.
Some say[14] that it was King Amon (father of Yoshiyahu) who hid this scroll (either in the foundations of the building or in the treasury) as he did not want to read it during Hakhel as he would then be cursing himself when he would read “Cursed be one who establishes a molten image”[15] since he was guilty of that.
The reason that Yoshiyahu tore his garments when they read this scroll is because it had been rolled in such a manner that when they opened it, the first verse that they read was “G-d will take you and the king that he will establish upon yourselves to a foreign nation that neither you nor your forefathers know, and you will serve other gods there, made of wood and stone.”[16] Others say that it opened to the verse[17] “Cursed be one who does not establish this Torah to observe it.”
Either way, Yoshiyahu took this as a bad omen and he sent a delegation of four people to inquire from a prophet as to what was G-d’s message. The delegation consisted of the Kohen Gadol; Chilkiyahu, the father of Yirmiyahu HaNavi and a prophet in his own right;[18] Shafan, the king’s scribe; Achikam, son of Shafan; Achbur, son of Michiyah; and Asayah, servant of the king.

Chuldah, the Prophetess
The delegation went to Chuldah who was a Neviah (prophetess) who would habitually sit as the southern gates of the Har HaBayit (Temple Mount)[19] and disclose her prophecies with the women.
The Talmud explains[20] that, although Yirmiyahu was the main prophet of the generation, it was not considered disrespectful[21] for Chuldah to prophesize in his area since she was his relative (they were both descendants of Rachav, the harlot,[22] and Yehoshua[23]), and he didn’t mind.

The Mercy of a Woman
The Talmud cites two opinions as to why that they decided to consult Chuldah rather than Yirmiyahu. Some say they felt that as a woman she would have mercy and pray to G-d to avert any bad decree. Others say that it was because Yirmiyahu had left Jerusalem to go and bring back the Ten Tribes who had been exiled many decades earlier.
Chuldah affirmed the king’s concern and said,[24] “Thus said the L-rd: ‘I am going to bring disaster upon this place and its inhabitants… Because they have forsaken Me and have made offerings to other gods and angered Me with all their deeds, My wrath is kindled against this place and it shall not be quenched.’”

A Delay in the Decree
She did temper this message a little bit by adding, “But say this to the king of Judah who sent you to inquire of the L-rd: Thus said the L-rd, the God of Israel: ‘As for the words which you have heard, because your heart was softened and you humbled yourself before the L-rd… and because you rent your clothes and wept before Me… I will gather you to your fathers and you will be laid in your tomb in peace.[25] Your eyes shall not see all the disaster which I will bring upon this place.’”
Upon hearing these prophesies King Yoshiyahu gathered all of the people, read the Torah for them and strengthened its observances. He destroyed all the idols, tore down the private altars where people had been sacrificing outside of the Beit HaMikdash, killed the idolatrous priests, and burned the graves of their false prophets. It was at this time that he hid the Holy ark and other holy artifacts in the underground tunnels of the Beit HaMikdash since the destruction seemed inevitable.[26]

A Kind Addition
The Chidah explains[27] that at first when Chuldah was predicting the upcoming misfortune, she referred to the king as “the man”[28] as at that point she was speaking the word of G-d and it was not fitting to give honor to a human being. Later, when she said that the misfortune would not take place is his days, she referred to Yoshiyahu as “the king of Judah.”
This is because she was no longer giving over prophetic words but was expressing her (holy) opinion that the fulfillment of the prophecy would be delayed due to the fact that Yoshiyahu was doing teshuvah. Thus, the delegation’s idea of consulting with Chuldah was vindicated as it seems that Chuldah in her mercy was able to delay the decree.

Ruling Near a Halachic Authority
The Chidah[29] cites the Hagahot Ashri that one may may render halachic rulings in proximity to a great halachic authority is he gives them permission to do. This is based on the abovementioned teaching in the Talmud that it was not disrespectful for Chuldah to prophesize in the proximity of Yirmiyahu since she was related and he permitted her to do so.

Best not to Rule on Halachic Matters Near a Greater Authority
 In spite of this, Rabbi Dovid Oppenheim ruled[30] that a young Torah scholar should not render Halachic rulings in proximity to a local Rabbinic authority even if he is his relative. He bases this on the Talmud[31] that says a student should not rule on even a simple Halachic question in proximity to his teacher even if such an act is not disrespectful (e.g., his teacher permitted him to do so) as he will not receive Divine assistance to rule correctly.
The reason he does not receive Divine assistance is that he should be humbly seeking his teacher’s guidance rather than ruling independently. This concept did not apply to Chuldah since she was speaking the word of G-d and did not need “extra” assistance.
Rabbi Oppenheim writes that this is why it was not considered proper for Elazar to teach the laws of kashering, though Moshe certainly did not mind it.
Since he was in Moshe’s close proximity, it was considered a lack of humility on Elazar’s part to teach these laws even though it was not technically forbidden.

May We Merit the Rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash Speedily in our Days!

[1] Numbers 31:21 – 24
[3] Numbers 27:21 “And he will stand in front of Elazar the Kohen and ask him for the judgment of the Urim…”
[4] Tosfot (Sanhedrin 16a D.H. Mah) points out that the land was divided using the Urim VeTumim and that, Elazar the Kohen Gadol was the one wearing them at that time (Bava Batra 122a). This, however was a decree of Heaven – that the land should be divided in this way. The expectation was that there would be other matters that Yehoshua would be unsure about and that he would consult with Elazar about them. In fact, however, Yehoshua resolved all of his uncertainties using his own prophetic powers.
[5] Zichron Menachem on Eiruvin ibid.
[6] Maharsha
[7] See Ohr Hachama on ibid that the Talmud says that Elazar quoted Moshe by saying, “This is what my father’s brother said.” By mentioning the family connection, he was alluding to the fact that, in light of this, Moshe certainly did not mind that he was teaching the halacha.
[12] Rashi on Kings II 22:8 as explained by Abarbanel. According to Sanhedrin 103b, it states that Amon burnt the Torah. Since Amon was Yoshiyahu’s father, this would have been a recent event. See Rinat Yitzchak on Sefer Melachim by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Sorotzkin (Cleveland, 2003), page 415 who suggests that the word “Achaz” should be replaced by “Amon” in the Rashi. This is difficult since many other commentaries also mention Achaz in this context. See Radak, Kli Yakar, and Metzudot David on the verse.
[13] See Abarbenel, Radak, and others
[14] Drashot Ibn Shuab (a student of the Rashba), Parshat Chayei Sarah
[16] Ibid 28:36 See Horayot 12a as explained by the Mahrasha
[18] Chilkiyahu was a navi (prophet) based on the rule that when a prophet’s father’s name is given (see Jeremiah 1:1) the father was also a navi (Megillah 15a). The basis for this rule is that it is unnecessary to mention the name of a navi’s father since, due to his stature the Navi is easily identifiable even without this appelation. Thus, if his father’s name is given it is to teach us that his father, too, was a navi (Maharsha on ibid).
[19] See Midot 1:3 that the two Southern gates of the Har HaBayit were called “The Gates of Chuldah.” The Tosfot Yom Tov writes that the verse in Kings II 22:14 alludes to these when it says that Chuldah was sitting in the מִּשְׁנֶה i.e., the double gates.
[21] See Ramban on Numbers 11:28 that it was customary for younger prophets to refrain from prophesizing about the future in proximity to greater prophets. Rather they would follow (and learn from) the older prophets.
[22] Rashi on Yirmiyahu 1:1 explains the symbolism of Yirmiyahu’s heritage. G-d was saying/alluding to the Jewish people, “Let the descendant of a person who behaved improperly yet fixed his ways, give reproof to a people who descend from ancestors who behaved properly but have ruined their ways.”
[23] Megillah ibid. See Tosfot D.H. De’igayreh as to how this union was permissible despite the verse “You shall not marry them” (Deut. 7:3).
[25] The commentaries explain that although his death was tragic (see above), it was still considered (relatively) peaceful since he did not see the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash.
[26] Drashot Ibn Shuab, ibid
[27] In Chomat Anach on Kings II ibid
[28] See Megillah ibid where this language of Chuldah is viewed unfavorably.
[29] Chomat Anach on Chronicles ibid.
[30] Nishal David vol. 3 Y.D. 16 cited in Nachalat Shimon, Kings II vol. 2 Siman 37, footnote 2

Wishing you a Chodesh Tov and a Shabbat Chazak Shalom UMevorach!

Add Your Comment