Parsha Potpourri: Shavuos/Parshas Nasso


Vayis’u lahem nashim Mo’aviyos sheim ha’achas Orpah v’sheim ha’sheinis Rus (Rus 1:4)

Due to a famine in the land of Israel, Elimelech traveled with his family to the land of Moab. After his death, his sons Machlon and Kilyon married Rus and Orpah, two local Moabite women. Did Rus and Orpah convert prior to marrying them? It would be difficult to say that they did not convert, as the Gemora (Bava Basra 91a) refers to Machlon and Kilyon as gedolei ha’dor – among the greatest men in their generation – a title which could hardly be applied to men who married non-Jewish women. Further, how can Rus and Orpah be referred to as Naomi’s daughters-in-law (1:6) and Rus described as the wife of Machlon (4:10), as if they did not convert, their “marriages” did not take effect and had no legal significance? Additionally, why was Boaz interested in marrying Rus so that Machlon, who died childless, could have a remembrance through her when they were never actually married, and why would Boaz want to establish a remembrance for such a tremendous sin?

On the other hand, to say that Rus and Orpah did convert before marrying Machlon and Kilyon also presents several difficulties. Why are they referred to as Moabite women (1:4) if they had converted and become full-fledged Jewish women? Further, the Gemora in Yevamos (47b) derives many of the laws governing interactions with a prospective convert from Naomi’s conversation with Rus as they were returning to the land of Israel (1:16-18). However, if Rus had already converted ten years earlier prior to her marriage to Machlon, why was Naomi discussing these topics with her at this time? Finally, if Rus and Orpah had already converted to Judaism, why did Naomi encourage them to return the idolatrous houses of their parents in Moab (1:8) instead of returning with her to Israel?

The Medrash (Rus Rabbah 2:9) says clearly that Rus and Orpah did not immerse in a mikvah and convert. How could men as great as Machlon and Kilyon marry Rus and Orpah if they did not convert? At that time, the law that it was permissible to marry a female Moabite was not yet widely-known and established, as evidenced by Ploni Almoni’s refusal to marry Rus (4:6). Therefore, Machlon and Kilyon reasoned that if Rus and Orpah converted, it would be forbidden to marry them.

Living with a non-Jew, on the other hand, is only forbidden if it is done publicly, but in this case, Machlon and Kilyon were living in Moab away from the rest of the Jewish people, so this concern did not apply. There is an additional Rabbinical prohibition against having relations with a non-Jewish woman, but the Gemora (Sanhedrin 82a) records that this decree was not made until much later, in the times of the Chashmonaim, in which case, paradoxical as it may seem, Machlon and Kilyon did not transgress any prohibition by “marrying” Rus and Orpah in their non-Jewish state.

If so, why were they killed (1:5)? Rav Chaim Kanievsky explains that they were punished for settling in Moab and despairing of ever returning to the land of Israel, as evidenced by the fact that they lived with non-Jewish women for ten years. Although they had originally been compelled to leave Israel with their father and were not initially punished for doing so, their decision to remain in Moab voluntarily for ten years and their despondence of ever returning rendered them liable to Heavenly punishment.

On the other hand, the Zohar HaKadosh says chas v’shalom – G-d forbid – that we should make such a statement about Machlon and Kilyon. The Zohar maintains that Rus and Orpah did convert but explains that they are still referred to as Moabites because they only converted due to eimas ba’aleihem – fear of their hubsands, who were wealthy and came from a prestigious family. As an interesting aside, the Zohar questions why Rus didn’t receive a new name when she converted and explains that she formerly had a non-Jewish name, which was changed to Rus at this time. The Vilna Gaon brilliantly explains that the name Rus hints to her transformation. As a non-Jew, she kept seven mitzvos, while as a Jew she observed 613. Through her conversion she added an additional 606 mitzvos, which is the exact numerical value of Rus.

The law is that one may not convert for ulterior motives, such as marriage, money, or power. What should be done post-facto if somebody did convert for other reasons? The Rambam rules (Hilchos Issurei Biah 13:14-16) that the conversion is legally questionable. We do not bring the person close by treating him as a full-fledged Jew, but we also do not push him away. Rather, we wait until the legitimacy of his intentions is clarified. This explains why Naomi decided to test Rus and Orpah by attempting to dissuade them from returning with her to the land of Israel. For the first time, the original motive for their conversions was no longer applicable, as their husbands had died, so Naomi wanted to clarify their true motivations. She did this by explaining to them that she was old and unable to bear additional children for them to marry and encouraging them to return to their idolatrous homes.

Orpah, whose original conversion had indeed been motivate by other considerations, recognized the new circumstances in which she found herself and was content to return to Moab and her idolatrous past, thereby revealing that her conversion was invalid. Rus, on the other hand, responded by expressing her genuine desire and conviction to convert for the sake of Heaven, which retroactively legitimized her original conversion ten years earlier. This explains why Naomi only reviewed Jewish law with Rus during their return to Israel, but no mention is made of Rus immersing in a mikvah, as her wholehearted acceptance of the mitzvos retroactively rendered her original conversion and immersion legitimate, in which case there was no need to repeat the immersion.

Orpah revealed that when confronted with a life of poverty with no apparent hope for a better future, she was no longer interested in living a Jewish life, and she returned to her idolatrous roots, which she had never fully discarded. Rus, on the other hand, maintained her confidence even when the prospects for a brighter future seemed bleak. The next time that we find ourselves feeling unable to persevere when faced with a difficult situation, we should remember Rus, who inspires us to remain hopeful and optimistic even in the darkest of times.

Pen ashchis es nachalasi ge’al lecha atah es ge’ulasi (4:6)

Boaz told Rus that he was unable to marry her because there was another redeemer – Tov – who was closer than him, but if the other redeemer was unwilling to marry her, then Boaz would do so (3:12-13). Boaz encountered him the next day and asked whether he was interested in marrying Rus, to which Tov responded that he was afraid to do so, lest he destroy his inheritance, and he encouraged Boaz to do serve as the redeemer in his stead. What precisely was Ploni concerned about that prevented him from marrying Rus, and why didn’t the same concern apply to Boaz?

Rashi explains that Tov was worried about the status of his future offspring. He was unfamiliar with the law permitting marriage to a female Moabite, so he was concerned that if he married Rus, his children would be considered blemished. However, this raises the obvious question: According to Tov’s opinion that it was forbidden to marry Rus, why was he only worried about his children, but not about the Biblical prohibition that he would be transgressing? Additionally, the Gemora in Kesuvos (7b) says that Boaz specifically assembled ten elders in order to publicize the law which permits marriage to a female Moabite. If Tov heard this teaching from Boaz, why was he still worried about his offspring?

The Brisker Rov explains that although Tov accepted Boaz’s legal ruling, he made one critical mistake: He assumed that it was based on a logical derivation. Therefore, he was afraid that in a future generation, others may come up with counterarguments and reverse the ruling. For this reason, Tov said ôï àùçéú – perhaps I will destroy – as he wasn’t certain that this would transpire, but was merely concerned about the possibility. This explains why Tov was not worried about his own actions, as he understood that he was permitted to rely upon the decision of the contemporary legal authorities who permitted marriage to a female Moabite. What he was worried about was the status of his children, as if the ruling was rejected in a future generation, his descendants would become blemished and unable to marry regular Jews.

The Brisker Rov explains that Tov’s mistake was that the permissibility of marrying a female Moabite is not based on logical reasoning and derivations. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Issurei Biah 12:18) that it is a Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai – law that Hashem taught Moshe at Mount Sinai, which is given over from generation to generation and cannot be reversed or challenged based on logical refutations. The Gemora (Yevamos 76b-77a) records that when Doeg attempted to question Dovid’s lineage and to invalidate him due to his Moabite ancestry, one of those present placed a sword in the ground and announced that he had an oral tradition that female Moabites are permissible, and whoever challenges it will be killed by the sword. He did not attempt to refute any of Doeg’s arguments, but simply declared that this was a Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai which cannot be disputed, and anybody who attempts to do so will be killed. Because Boaz was aware of this, he was not worried about the future status of his children, and he proceeded to marry Rus without any qualms or compunctions.

Vayomer malach Hashem el Manoach mikol asher amarti el haisha tishamer (Haftorah – Shoftim 13:13)

After an angel appeared to the heretofore barren wife of Manoach to inform her that she would give birth to a son and to instruct her to raise the child as a nazir, she proceeded to relate the good news to her husband. Manoach requested that Hashem send the angel back to instruct him how to raise his future son. The angel returned and reiterated to Manoach the pertinent laws of a nazir, which seemed to satisfy him.

This episode is difficult to understand. As Manoach’s wife had already informed him of the angel’s instructions regarding the nazirite status of their future son, what room was there for confusion? The laws governing the conduct of a nazir are clearly outlined in the Torah. Further, upon coming back, the angel simply repeated what Manoach had already heard from his wife without adding any new information. In what way was the angel’s return helpful?

The following humorous story will help us appreciate the answer to these questions. Rabbi Paysach Krohn tells of a teacher who caught one of his students stealing pencils from the other children. After reprimanding him, the behavior continued. Finally, after the student ignored repeated warnings from the teacher, he had no choice but to call the boy’s parents to discuss the issue. Much to the teacher’s surprise, after listening to the problem the boy’s father revealed the true source of the behavior by exclaiming, “Why in the world would he need to steal pencils!? I bring home more than enough from the office to supply the entire class!”

In light of this amusing lesson about the power of parents teaching by example, we can now appreciate the answer given by Rav Shimon Schwab to our original questions. He explains that Manoach’s confusion wasn’t related to the laws pertaining to his future son, which he could learn himself. His dilemma was of an educational nature. After hearing that his son would be a nazir, unique and different from his peers, Manoach was unsure how to properly raise a son who would have no role model from whom he could learn the behavior expected of him.

In response to Manoach’s query, the angel came back to give him the requested guidance. The angel acknowledged that his question was quite valid, and instructed him that the proper way to raise such a son was to give him an adult nazir as a role model – by Manoach becoming a nazir himself. The angel’s instructions to Manoach can be read, “Everything which I instructed your wife (regarding your future son), tishmor – you should observe” by becoming a nazir. The lesson to be derived from this beautiful explanation is that the only successful way to educate children is for the parents to serve as living role models of the values and priorities they wish to impart to them.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) The Gemora in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they won’t accept the Torah, there will be your burial place. If Hashem’s intention was to frighten them so that they would accept the Torah, why did He transform the mountain into a barrel, which isn’t particularly scary, instead of simply picking it up and leaving it looming over their heads like the scary mountain that it already was? (V’HaIsh Moshe)

2) The Jewish people told Moshe (Shemos 19:8) that everything that Hashem has spoken, we will do. How could any individual Jew respond that he will do all of the mitzvos when there are numerous mitzvos which can only be performed by specific subsections of the population and no single person is capable of doing all of the mitzvos himself? (Genuzos HaGra)

3) The Torah requires (Bamidbar 5:6-7) a person who has stolen not only to return the stolen item but also to confess his sin to Hashem. The Rambam (Hilchos Teshuvah 1:1) derives from here that confession is an integral part of the repentance process for any sin which one has committed. Why did the Torah teach this obligation in regard to this specific sin? (Taam V’Daas)

4) Both a nazir and a Kohen are forbidden to become impure through contact with the dead. Why is a Kohen, whose laws should be more stringent since he is born with his holiness, permitted to have contact with dead relatives (Vayikra 21:1-3) while a nazir may not (6:6)? (Mishmeres Ariel)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.