SALT - Sunday, 22 Tammuz 5777 - July 16, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather 
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
22 Tamuz, July 16.

Refua sheleima to
Malka Sarel bat Batya 
Yosef ben Gracia, 
the 450th! kidney donor/recipient team 
arranged by Matnat Chaim.
May they be an inspiration to us all!

We read in Parashat Matot the basic laws concerning the process of what is colloquially called “kashering,” whereby a utensil that had been used with non-kosher food is purged so it may then be considered permissible for use.  These laws were presented following Benei Yisrael’s battle against Midyan, from which the soldiers returned with the Midyanites’ utensils, which needed to be “kashered” before they could be used.  The Torah tells that upon the soldiers’ return, Elazar, the kohen gadol, addressed them and presented the basic guidelines for making these utensils permissible. 

Rashi (31:21), citing the Sifrei, comments that these laws were presented by Elazar, and not by Moshe, because Moshe forgot them.  Several verses earlier (31:14), we read that Moshe had become angry at the generals who led the battle against Midyan, for failing to adhere to God’s commands.  Rashi writes that as a result of becoming angry, Moshe forgot the laws of “kashering,” and so they were taught to the soldiers by Elazar.

Surprisingly, Chazal elsewhere find fault in Elazar’s relaying this information in Moshe’s presence.  In Masekhet Eiruvin (63a), the Gemara comments that a “moreh halakha bi-fnei rabo” – somebody who teaches Halakha in his rabbi’s presence – is punished, and it draws proof from Elazar.  For teaching the halakhot of non-kosher utensils in Moshe’s presence, the Gemara comments, Elazar was “demoted,” as he was to have served as Yehoshua’s halakhic mentor, but in the end Yehoshua never needed to consult with him.

The question naturally arises as to whether these two rabbinic passages can be reconciled.  If Elazar was needed to relay the information regarding “kashering” due to Moshe’s temporary lapse, could he be accused of usurping his rabbi’s role and of presumptuously teaching in his presence?

The Maharsha explains that Elazar acted improperly in that he should have waited for Moshe’s anger to subside, at which point he would have been able to present these halakhot.  Although Moshe was temporarily incapable of teaching, Elazar acted too quickly by jumping in to teach in Moshe’s place.

It emerges, according to the Maharsha, that both Moshe and Elazar acted inappropriately in this story: Moshe was wrong for reacting angrily, and Elazar was wrong for not allowing Moshe the time he needed to overcome his anger.  Just as we must try to avoid anger, we must also try to tolerate other people’s anger, to understand that people sometimes lose their grip on their emotions and need time to collect themselves.  We learn from Moshe’s mistake of the need to avoid anger even when other people act wrongly, and we learn from Elazar’s mistake of the need for patience when people around us are angry, and to allow them the time they need to regain their composure.