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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5776

Parashat Hashavua: Chazal Divluged; What About Us?

Harav Yosef Carmel

There are many anonymous characters throughout the stories found in Tanach. We will mention a few of these cases, including one from our haftara.

When Yosef was looking for his brothers, he met someone along the way with whom he discussed their location (Bereishit 37:15). The Torah gives no indication of who this “man” was, but Chazal, and in their name, Rashi, say that it was the angel Gavriel. In the desert there was an unnamed man who desecrated Shabbat (Bamidbar 15:32). We will discuss his identity later. Hashem sent a prophet to confront Yeravam for building the altars and the golden calves in Beit El and Dan (Melachim I:13:1), and the navi does not divulge the prophet’s identity. Chazal tell us that it was Ido Hanavi. In Divrei Hayamim (II:25:15), Hashem sent an unnamed prophet to rebuke the king, Amatzia, and Chazal tell us that it was Amotz, Amatzia’s brother, and the father of the prophet Yeshayahu.

In our haftara, we read about the miraculous resuscitation of the young son of the woman known as the Shunamit. Nothing is told of who the child was and what became of him later. The Zohar says that he became the prophet Chavakuk, a name that hints at Elisha’s prophecy to the Shunamit that a year from the promise she would be embracing (choveket) a son. It also points out that he was held close not only by his mother but also by Elisha when he was bringing him back to life.

The interesting dispute between Tannaim about the identity of a certain sinner illustrates different approaches to revealing the identity of those whom Tanach does not divulge. Rabbi Akiva (Shabbat 96b) says that the man who desecrated Shabbat and was executed in the desert was Tzlufchad, the father of the famous women who asked to inherit their father’s portion in Eretz Yisrael. Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira attacks Rabbi Akiva’s approach with the following logic. If it is not Tzlufchad, then it is defaming an innocent man, and even if it is him, what right does Rabbi Akiva have to divulge that which the Torah chose to keep a secret?

If one looks into the matter, it is clear that Rabbi Akiva felt that it was fully legitimate to decipher and divulge that which the Torah left vague. In fact, even according to Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira, it is possible that if not for the problem of speaking negatively about the sinner, it would be fine to say who an anonymous character is. Going through the other cases we mentioned and many others, we find Chazal consistently trying to identify people and other pertinent details that are not spelled out in the Torah text.

At Eretz Hemdah, we approach Tanach with an eye for looking for hints about all sorts of hidden details. In doing so, we use that which Chazal taught specifically and that which they taught generally about how to go about this task. We pray to Hashem that we will succeed in learning Tanach with no less depth and intensity than we use for analyzing the intricacies of monetary law. 

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