Bechorot 1 - 7
Whats In a Name?
In recording the defensive war of our ancestors against the vicious Amalekites who attacked them on their way out of Egypt, the Torah notes that "Amalek came and made war against Israel in Rephidim" (Shmot 17:8).
Is Rephidim merely a geographical designation or is there a message conveyed as to why this battle took place?
In contrast to Rabbi Elazar who viewed it as just the name of the battle site, Rabbi Yehoshua saw this name as a combination of two words rephu and yadaim which mean that our ancestors were guilty of "weakening their hands" in their grip on Torah and thus invited the Amalekite attack.
This is certainly a powerful lesson for all generations about the historical link between Torah observance and national security. The question arises, however, in regard to that particular time. Our ancestors had not yet reached Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah when this attack took place, so how can our Sages accuse them of weakening their hold on Torah?
The answer supplied by Maharsha is based on an earlier passage (ibid. 15:25), which tells us that in a place called Marah they were given "statutes and laws" which is interpreted as including the laws of Shabbat observance. Since Shabbat observance is considered as being equal in its importance to the entire Torah, their weakening their grip on such observance is described as weakening their hold on Torah and inviting the grave consequences.
- Bechorot 5b
The Torah is most explicit in detailing which animals are "pure" and therefore kosher for consumption and which are "impure" and forbidden. What is the status of an animal completely resembling a donkey but which was born from a cow? Do we consider it an impure animal because of its features or a pure one because a pure animal gave birth to it?
Two clues are to be found in the words of the Torah that everything depends on the mother.
One is the passage (Vayikra 11:4) which states "But these are the animals which you may not eat" as it introduces the disqualification of those animals which lack one of the two features required for being kosher chewing its cud and having split hooves. The term "but" used by the Torah is generally interpreted as referring to an exception to the rule. In this case the exception is that an animal that has both of these features of kashrut is still forbidden because it was born of an impure animal.
The other clue to determining the status according to the mother is found in that same passage and deals with the opposite situation of an impure animal being born of a pure one. In disqualifying the camel for consumption because its hooves are not split, the Torah stresses that "it is impure for you." The stress on it is interpreted as communicating that only a camel born of a camel is not kosher, and not a kosher animal born of a camel.
These two clues lead to the conclusion about these strange creatures that everything depends on the mother.
- Bechorot 6a