Project Genesis

The Shamir

Filed under: The Temple

Question: What was the shamir, and why was it used in building the Temple?

Answer: The shamir is one of the things created at sundown on the sixth day of Creation (Mishnah Avos 5:6). The Talmud (Pesachim 59a) tells about its power to cleave stone, but doesn’t describe the process in detail; the commentators (Rashi on Pesachim, Rambam on Avos) explain that it was a worm that could cleave stone by looking at it. Solomon used it to build the Temple because using metal implements was forbidden (Ex. 20:22; Deut. 27:5); see Tosefta Sotah 15:1 and Talmud Sotah 48b. For more details about the shamir see Ginsburg, Legends of the Jews, Vol.1 pp.33-4; Vol.4 pp.166,168; Vol.5 pp.53,109; Vol.6 pp.282,299.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

The Blessings from the Kohanim

Filed under: Prayer and Blessings

Question: We learn in the Torah portion of Naso about the 3 blessings that the Kohanim (the Jewish priestly class) gave to the Jewish people. Why is there no blessing for health and physical well being? It seems that the 1st blessing is for material success and prosperity, the second is a blessing to understand the “Meaning of Life” and the 3rd is a blessing for contentment and tranquility through the understanding of Hashem’s laws. It seems to me that logically if I was to offer only one blessing to someone the first and utmost important blessing would be for Health.

Answer: The Torah, like Australia and America, believes in private health coverage….

All kidding aside, in my opinion, the first blessing does indeed include health: “Yivarechecha Hashem Vishmerecha” What’s “Yivarechecha?” The Midrash links this to all the blessings promised the Jewish people if we do what is right, such as those listed in Deut 28. It seems to me that these include health.

Rabbi Seinfeld and

Men with Long Hair

Question: Are men allowed to grow their hair long for locks of love?

Answer: Some Rabbinic authorities maintain that long hair for a man poses an issue of “chatsitsa” or separation between the scalp and teffillin (phylactaries) that are worn during the morning services. Others are concerned with the prohibition of Lo Silbash (cross-dressing). Still other rabbis raise the possibility this may be considered a custom of other faiths. In spite of all this, it is difficult to say it’s forbidden as we find in the Torah the concept of being a Nazirite which includes growing one’s hair. Some of the greatest Jewish leaders were Nazirites, such as Samuel and Sampson.

Nonetheless, it seems the Sages discouraged men from growing their hair long even for a constructive purpose. The Talmud (Sotah 10b) states that Absalom’s long hair caused him to rebel against his father, King David. Rabbi Zadok of Lublin points out that even though he did so because he was a holy Nazirite, it still caused him to sin. Fittingly, his demise was caused by his hair getting caught in a tree.

Rabbi Shlomo Soroka

Mt. Sinai and the Burning Bush

Question: What was the difference between  G-d’s revelation to the Jews at Sinai and His revelation at the burning bush.

Answer: There are several differences, but the main differences are:

  1. Moshe (Moses) saw the vision at the Burning Bush alone. The entire nation heard G-d at Sinai. (This is the greatest proof that the Torah is true, because Judaism is the only religion that claims its start with an entire nation hearing G-d).

  2. The revelation at Sinai was on a higher level of revelation than Moshe’s vision at the Bush.

  3. The revelation at Sinai took preparation, the 49 days from leaving Mitzrayim, with the last 3 days being special days of preparation. The vision at the Bush was without preparation.

It should be noted that the Bush was at Mt. Sinai. Also, the word “sneh” which means “bush” is similar to “Sinai“.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber

Torah Given in Installments

Filed under: Shavuos, G-d and Torah

Question: I was wondering what exactly we received at Mt Sinai. I know that we heard the Ten commandments. I am also aware of the fact that there is a dispute in the Talmud as to how the parts in the Torah after Mt Sinai were recorded. I therefore assumed that in addition to the Ten commandments we also received the written scroll by Moses up till and including the Torah portion of Yisro. However recently I have come across things that may indicate differently but I am not sure. If you could answer this and tell me the sources that would be great.

Answer: Thanks for your very important question. There were several different “receptions” at Mt. Sinai. Perhaps the very first was when we said, “We will do and we will hear.” That is, we accepted on ourselves that we would keep whatever commandments we are given. We didn’t know what they were yet, but at that moment we became G-d’s servants.

The first direct reception was the words that we heard from G-d (so to speak). Though the simple reading would be that that included all the ten commandments, our sages say that only the first two commandments were actually heard directly. The most obvious source for this fact is to note that G-d is in the first person in the first two (I am Hashem your G-d…no other gods before me…), whereas in the last eight he is in the third person (Don’t take the name of Hashem your G-d in vain…The seventh day is a Sabbath to Hashem your G-d…)

The last eight would have been said to them directly also. Only, they asked Moshe to listen on their behalf. So too for the rest of the Torah. During the forty days that Moshe was on Mt. Sinai, G-d taught him the basic laws and details of the entire Torah. He received the Torah on our behalf. It was parceled out to Israel as it was needed, over the ensuing forty years. As you pointed out, the Talmud in Gittin 60a has a dispute whether the Torah was written down as it was taught, in pieces, or was written only at the very end when it was complete. As to what was given before Mt. Sinai, that is a dispute between the commentaries of Rashi and the Ramban. On Exodus 24(7) “He took the book of the covenant and read it before the people”, Rashi explains that the book of the covenant was the Torah up to the part about the giving of the Torah, plus the Mitzvos that were already commanded at Marah. The Ibn Ezra and the Ramban, though, say there that the “book of the covenant” was read after the giving of the Torah, and contained the laws at the end of Parshas Yisro and in Parshas Mishpatim.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Calculating the Years Since Mt. Sinai

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: When was the Torah written? By whom?

Answer: The Torah was shown in its entirety to Moses at Sinai, who wrote it precisely as shown. G-d himself penned the “Ten Statements” on the two Tablets. All this occurred 3,323 years ago.

Eliahu Levenson

Question: On what evidence do you calculate 3321 years?

Answer: Since you asked, what is written below is from other work I have committed to writing on the subject:

The following are the calculations up until the Flood, using the information found in Genesis, Chapter 5:

1) Born Hebrew Year 1 – Adam

2) Born Year 130 – Shais (Seth)

3) Born Year 235 – Enosh

4) Born Year 325 – Kaynon (Kenan)

5) Born Year 395 – Mahalalail (Mahalalel)

6) Born Year 460 – Yared (Jered)

7) Born Year 622 – Chanoach (Enoch)

8) Born Year 687 – Mesushalach (Methuselah)

9) Born Year 874 – Lamech

10) Born Year 1,056 Noach (Noah)

To continue our time-line, we turn to Genesis 7:11 – “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life…the windows of the Heavens were opened.”

Noah was born in 1,056. Exactly 600 years later the Heavens opened and flooded the Earth for 40 days and 40 nights.

1,056 + 600 = 1,656, the year of the Flood. Using our present day Gregorian calendar, subtracting 1,656 from the current Hebrew year, 5,769, we have the result that the flood waters began falling 4,113 years ago. That’s not so very long a time. In God’s way of viewing time, the entire history of Man will seemingly move from beginning to end in the blink of an eye.

Note that God’s Hebrew Scriptures tell us that Methuselah lived 969 years. Born year 687 and adding 969, we get 1,656 as Methuselah last year, the year of the Flood. Lamech died five years prior to the Flood.

We step back to begin part two of this Godly time-line.

Noach was born in year 1,056.

Genesis 7:6 says, “Noach was six hundred years old when the Mabul was upon the earth.”

Again, we therefore determine the Flood to have occurred in 1,656.

Genesis 7:13-16 – “ the 601st year…in the second month, the 27th day of the month, the earth was completely dry. God spoke to Noach, saying, leave the Teiva (Ark).”


Shavuos in Context

Filed under: Shavuos

Question: I know that the holiday of Shavuos is coming up soon.  What does that word mean in English? What does the holiday commemorate? What season of the year does it come in?

Answer: The word Shavuos means “weeks.” It is called that because it is celebrated after counting seven weeks from the Passover holiday. The Jews were slaves when they were taken out of Egypt on Passover.  The seven weeks following are seen as a time when they grew from their lowly status, to that of noble servants of the King of all Kings. Shavuos was the culmination of this process—the day upon which the Jews accepted the Torah (i.e. the laws detailing their service as dictated by the Master of the World).

The holiday takes place at the beginning of the summer, the time of the ripening of the fruits planted in the spring. This season is symbolic of the ripening of the Jewish people from a lowly seed (when they left Egypt as slaves), to a noble fruit (when they accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai). In fact, the Torah also calls this holiday the Day of the First Fruits (Numbers 28:26). When the Holy Temple was standing in Jerusalem, Jews would bring the first fruits of their crops to the Temple with a procession of great fanfare, and offer them to their Creator as a statement of gratitude for their personal and national prosperity. The bringing of these fruits started on Shavuos.

Best Regards,
Rabbi Mordechai Dixler

Connection of Shavuot to Mt. Sinai

Filed under: Shavuos, G-d and Torah

Question: How did the Rabbis of the Rabbinic period justified making a historical connection between the holiday of Shavu’ot and the giving of the 10 commandments at Mt Sinai/Horeb when ALL references in the Torah to Shavu’ot (Ex. 23:16, 34:22, Lev. 23:15-22, Num. 28:26-31, and Deut. 16:10,16) describe it only as an agricultural harvest festival

Answer:  There is certainly no reason that a festival cannot have multiple functions… stating one by no means precludes others. In any case, the fact that the Torah fails to assign any particular calendar date to Shavuot, but rather requires we observe it seven weeks after Passover, forces us to conclude that Shavuot is primarily a continuation of our recognition of our previously-gained national freedom. The fact that the end of the seventh week must always fall within a day or two of calendar date of the giving of the Torah makes ignoring the connection nearly perverse.

However, it is worth noting that Rabbi S. R. Hirsch (commentary to Lev. 23:20) made a great deal of the fact that the calendar date of Shavuot specifically does NOT correspond directly to the day we received the Torah (which, according to the Talmud, was on the seventh of Sivan), but to the end of seven weekly cycles of spiritual growth evolving from our heightened sense of moral freedom (Passover). It is not some ceremony of commemoration that we celebrate, but an opportunity to grow ever-more deserving of and committed to Torah.

Question: and NONE of the narratives concerning the giving of the 10 commandments at MT Sinai/Horeb (Ex.19-20, 34:1-28, and Deut. 4:10-13, 5:1-19) mention anything about it occurring on Shavu’ot. Actually Exodus 19:1 states that the Israelites entered the Sinai Wilderness on the 3rd new moon after Pesach in Nissan which would make it the month of Tammuz, not Sivan when Shavu’ot is celebrated.

Answer: The text in Exodus 19 doesn’t include the word “after” (as you rendered it) but instead reads “In the third month of the children of Israel’s leaving the land of Egypt…” As in all Torah chronology, such numbering always counts the beginning month as “one”.

Question: BTW, if you say that it’s because the Oral Law says so, then why is there no evidence in the entire Torah and Tanach to back up such a claim?

There is. You might like to read my essay on that subject here

With regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

Why don’t we visit Mount Sinai?

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: If Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai by G-d himself why is this Mountain not visited by Jewish people or tourists around the world?

Answer: We would not want people to worship the mountain or to even think that it had more holiness than any other place. The mountain enjoyed a special holiness only for the time that Gd spoke to Moses there. Once that moment passed the mountain reverted to its previous status. We also are not certain of the location of this mountain. The mountain that Christians have identified as Mt. Sinai and have even built a church on has not been verified as the right location.

All the Best,

Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

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