This Week’s Parsha – VeYeira
In ‘This Week’s Parsha – VeYeira’ (B’rashith – Genesis 18.14) we find the phrase: ‘At the “Appointed Time” ‘ ….
14 “… Is anything hidden from the L-RD? At the appointed time, I will return to you, at this time next year and Sarah will have a son.”
Now as an initial question, we must ask ourselves: ‘How did Avraham know what time of year it was?’ And how did he know what the phrase: “At the appointed time” meant? Or rather, when did he know what the phrase meant?
In Mishnah Pesachim [6.2] there appears the similar phrase: ‘master, give me an appointed time for these….’ in relationship to a discussion as to what obligatory commandments, (as opposed to voluntary commandments) there are that override the Torah’s prohibition of working on the Shabbat which may therefore be performed on the Shabbat.
So, we must ask, is there a connection between the two phrases? Or rather, what is the Torah saying by specifying an “appointed time” (Heb. mo’ed)?
Midrash Genesis Rabbah states that the Patriarchs – Avraham, Yitzchaq and Ya’acov (Yisrael) learned Torah in the Tents of Shem and Eber.
Since the Mishnah discusses the issue [shevut] of sprinkling “para adumah” (waters of the red heifer) and rules that “sprinkling does not over-ride the Shabbat” as it does not have “an appointed time;” we must clarify that it too indeed has “appointed times” (on the third day and on the seventh day), yet it [sprinkling] is qualified by the “Laws of Pesach Sheni” –
A year after the Exodus, G‑d instructed the people of Israel to bring the Passover offering on the afternoon of the fourteenth of Nissan, and to eat it that evening, roasted over the fire, together with matzah and bitter herbs, as they had done the previous year just before they left Egypt.
“There were, however, certain persons who had become ritually impure through contact with a dead body, and could not, therefore, prepare the Passover offering on that day. They approached Moses and Aaron . . . and they said: ‘. . . Why should we be deprived, and not be able to present G‑d’s offering in its time, amongst the children of Israel?’” (Numbers 9:6–7).
In response to their plea, G‑D established the 14th of Iyar as a day for the “Second Passover” (Pesach Sheni) for anyone who was unable, (as opposed to one who is unwilling) to bring the offering on its appointed time in the previous month.
That is, the Mishnah seems to be saying that, “sprinkling does not override the Shabbat” – one who is unclean [ritually defiled] by contact with the dead must be sprinkled with waters containing the ashes of the red heifer on the third day and the seventh day. If one is still ritually defiled “on Shabbat” [which, in and of itself is ‘an appointed time’] and has yet to be sprinkled with the waters of the red heifer “on his seventh day” [of ritual defilement], which happens to fall on the 14th of Nissan, he delays sprinkling until after Shabbat and brings his Korban Pesach on the 14th of Iyyar rather than on the 14th of Nissan.
This is because the Torah (B’midbar 19.19) specifies that the one ritually defiled by corpse tumah becomes ritually clean at night following seven full days of corpse tumah (Tumah Met).
So why does the Torah specify “on the Third Day” and “on the Seventh Day” – that is, what is significant about these two days?
The Third Day of Creation the earth brought forth herb bearing seed, (“after the waters were separated from the earth”) and matza [unleavened bread] consists solely of flour and water, while we are told that the Israelites were to be ready [purified or sanctified] on the Third Day for on the Third Day HaShem descended onto Mount Sinai.
The Seventh Day of Creation “HaShem ceased from His creative activity” and “Blessed the Seventh Day, sanctifying it”
In Shmoth 16.29 we read: “And G-D told Moses to let no one go out of one’s place on the seventh day ….” so these two days imply mastery, restraint and sanctification over or of the basics of life.
Here is the Mishnah
Introduction This mishnah contains an extended debate between Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiva concerning what overrides the Shabbat. In order to understand the mishnah we should briefly remind ourselves of the laws of Shabbat. There are two categories of prohibited labor mentioned here and critical for understanding this mishnah’s arguments: 1) a forbidden labor; 2) mandated rest, which is called shevut. The former prohibitions are considered to be directly from the Torah (de’oraita) and are more serious than the latter which are only of rabbinic origin (derabbanan). The three activities focused upon in this mishnah are: 1) Slaughtering the pesah. Slaughtering an animal on Shabbat is a forbidden labor. 2) Carrying the pesah on one’s shoulders through the public domain or bringing it outside the Shabbat border. These are considered to be prohibitions of shevut because “a living thing carries itself”, that is it is not considered to be a biblical violation of carrying on Shabbat to carry a living thing. Also, the prohibition of leaving the Shabbat border is considered by most sages to be only of rabbinic origin. 3) Sprinkling red heifer water on a person who has come into contact with the dead. This is not done on Shabbat even though it is only a shevut prohibition. Finally, it is not often that we get a chance to see in the Mishnah how the sages actually argued. While we certainly do not have here a “recording” of their exchanges, even the literary record affords a fascinating glimpse into their intellectual world.
Rabbi Eliezer said: is it not logical: if slaughtering, which is [usually forbidden] as a labor, overrides Shabbat, shouldn’t these, which are [only forbidden] as mandated rest (, override Shabbat? Rabbi Eliezer’s first argument is straightforward. The sages admitted in mishnah one that slaughtering the pesah is permitted on Shabbat. Slaughtering an animal on Shabbat is a violation of one of the forbidden labors of Shabbat. If a forbidden labor is permitted, shouldn’t carrying the animal, which is only an issue of shevut, also be permitted.
Rabbi Joshua said to him: let the festival prove this, for they permitted labor [on the festival] and forbade [activities forbidden because of] shevut. Rabbi Joshua responds that Rabbi Eliezer’s argument is not decisive because of the issue of work on the festival. Generally on a festival it is permitted to slaughter an animal and cook it because one is allowed to prepare food on Shabbat. These activities were permitted even though they are forbidden labors. Nevertheless, when it came to issues of shevut, for instance carrying something from outside the Shabbat border, the sages did not permit these types of activities on a festival. Therefore, it makes sense in the case of the pesah for the sages to be strict with regard to shevut infractions and lenient with regard to forbidden labors.
Rabbi Eliezer said to him: what is this, Joshua? What proof is a voluntary act in respect of a commandment! Rabbi Eliezer responds that Rabbi Joshua’s analogy is not good. Preparing food on a festival is a voluntary act and hence the rabbis could be strict and forbid shevut violations. However, eating the pesah is a commandment and hence the law should be lenient and allow shevut violations.
Rabbi Akiva answered and said: let sprinkling [purificatory waters] prove it, which is [performed] because it is a commandment and is [forbidden only] as a shevut, yet it does not override Shabbat; so you too, do not wonder at these, that though they are [required] on account of a commandment and are [forbidden only] as shevut, yet they do not override Shabbat. Rabbi Akiva, ever the creative sage, steps in after Rabbi Joshua’s argument fails and employs a new analogy. Purificatory waters are sprinkled on a person who has contracted corpse impurity on the third and seventh days of the purification process. However, if the seventh day is Shabbat, the fourteenth of Nisan, they are not sprinkled even though this is necessary to allow the person to be pure and eat his pesah in the evening. The prohibition of sprinkling the water is only one of shevut, and it is a mitzvah and nevertheless it remains prohibited on Shabbat. So too, the carrying of the pesah on the shoulders and outside of the border remain prohibited even though they are for a mitzvah and only prohibited due to shevut.
Rabbi Eliezer said to him: but in respect of that I am arguing: if slaughtering, which is a labor, overrides Shabbat, is it not logical that sprinkling, which is [only] a shevut, should override Shabbat! Rabbi Eliezer basically answers that he disagrees concerning that halakhah as well. Just as carrying the animal is shevut and therefore overrides Shabbat, so too sprinkling which is shevut also should override Shabbat.
Rabbi Akiva said to him: or the opposite: if sprinkling, which is [forbidden] as a shevut, does not override Shabbat, then slaughtering, which is [normally forbidden] on account of labor, is it not logical that it should not override Shabbat. Rabbi Akiva responds that now that Rabbi Eliezer is trying to overturn traditions (that we don’t sprinkle the purificatory water on Shabbat), he too can overturn a tradition. If we don’t sprinkle the water, even though it is only shevut, then all the more so we shouldn’t slaughter the animal which is a forbidden labor. Rabbi Akiva does not really wish to rule that we shouldn’t slaughter the pesah on Shabbat. What he means to do is reject Rabbi Eliezer’s argument.
Rabbi Eliezer said to him: Akiva! You are uprooting what is written in the Torah, “at twilight, offer it at its set time” (Numbers 9:3), both on week-days and on Shabbat. Rabbi Eliezer responds that the Torah explicitly mandates that the pesah be slaughtered on the fourteenth even if this is on Shabbat. Hence, the argument that Rabbi Akiva was trying to make in section six would directly contradict the Torah.
He said to him: master, give me an appointed time for these as there is an appointed season for slaughtering! Rabbi Akiva returns to the original argument. The Torah specifically mandates an appointed time for the slaughtering of the pesah. Hence slaughtering overrides Shabbat. The other labors which are not specified by the Torah do not override the Shabbat. This is basically the end of the argument. In the end only activities that seem to be specifically mandated by the Torah are allowed on Shabbat. Rabbi Akiva stated a general rule: work which could be done on the eve of Shabbat does not override Shabbat; slaughtering, which could not be done on the eve of Shabbat, does override Shabbat. The mishnah ends with the same general principle that Rabbi Akiva iterated in Shabbat 19:1 any labor which can be performed before Shabbat must be performed then and does not override Shabbat, but any labor which cannot be performed until Shabbat itself does override Shabbat. Slaughtering the pesah cannot be done before Shabbat, hence it overrides the Shabbat. Carrying the pesah could have been done earlier, hence it does not override the Shabbat. The fact that the mishnah ends with Rabbi Akiva’s opinion is a clear expression of the Mishnah’s general connection to Rabbi Akiva and his school.
So why does the Torah emphasize the term mo’ed?
First, in connection with the Three Angels’ “Annunciation of the Birth of Yitzchaq” and then, exclusively in connection with those who were commanded to bring the Korban Pesach – Bnai Yisrael and third, or finally in connection with Pesach Sheni and those Yisraelim who were ritually defiled with corpse tumah.
We must also ask, ‘Why does the Torah say that they were ritually defiled by corpse tumah?’ Within this question another question is subsumed –
How did they know they were “ritually defiled” since the laws of corpse tumah were given by Moshe in B’midbar (Numbers) 19 and the Torah relates the story of those who initiated the laws of Pesach Sheni in B’midbar 9.6-14?
Only those who are Jews keep or observe the Hebrew calendar as it says, “This shall be the beginning of months for you. On the 14th day of Nissan….” (and, “Three times a year shall all your males appear before HaShem….”)
And as the Navi (Prophet) Yeshiyahu (Isaiah) said, “you are My Witnesses says the L-RD!” that is, only Jews are HaShem’s witnesses of revealed monotheism as it says, “You saw no form….” and, “You saw the sound of the words….” and, “I am the L-RD your G-D Who took you out of the land of Mitzrayim.”
The word for “appointed time” – mo’ed is related to the word ayd – witness and specifically related to the term ‘ohel mo’ed’ – tent of testimony –
Perhaps the answer to our multifaceted question lies in our Parsha – VeYeira:
17 “And the L-RD said, “Shall I conceal from Abraham what I am doing?
18 And Abraham will become a great and powerful nation, and all the nations of the world will be blessed in him.
19 For I have known him because he commands his sons and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the L-RD to perform righteousness and justice, in order that the L-RD bring upon Abraham that which He spoke concerning him.”
Or perhaps we might reference the passuk, “and on the third day Avraham looked up and saw the place from afar” (B’rashith 22.4) or the passuk, “Be ready against the third day” (Shmoth 19.11)
We know that “the place” Avraham saw from afar was the Mountain (Moriah) “where the L-RD [that is, where the L-RD’s Mercy] is perceived” which HaShem told Avraham about (B’rashith 22.2); so how did B’nai Yisrael know they were ritually defiled before the “Third Day?”
Keeping in mind that, “This shall be the beginning of months for you….” and that only Jews refer to their teachers as “Rabbis” which is rooted in the word Rav for “great” (as in a great mind which has mastered many subjects) we can safely say that Jews are “Masters of the Holy Calendar,” in imitation of HaShem – This is why the Torah says, “and they shall be for signs and seasons and days and years” and also: “and let them have dominion over….”
The Hebrew (Jewish) calendar is, in a sense, an opportunity to repair the world for the sins of eating (B’rashith 3.6), murder (B’rashith 4.8), etc. …!
Our Sages state that the Patriarch’s kept the Torah even before the Revelation at Har Sinai.
With this in mind, we might draw the conclusion that those who were ritually defiled (apparently from carrying the bones of Yoseph) knew from the Patriarchs their ‘status’ for they heard from Yoseph that they would be “visited” by HaShem (B’rashith 50.24); even as HaShem revealed Pesach to Avraham at the “Covenant Between the Parts” (B’rashith 15.13-16) and at the Akeidah (B’rashith 22.16-17) the “Redemption from Mitzrayim” and this Mesorah (tradition), the Jewish calendar was handed down by Yoseph (B’rashith 50.21) to the Tribe of Levi.
Hence the Torah says, “This shall be the beginning of months for you.”