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Friday, June 15

The Weekly Shtikle - Shelach

    Towards the end of this week's parsha is the episode of the "mekosheish," the man who gathered trees on Shabbos and was thus subject to the death penalty. B'nei Yisroel did not know what was to be done with him at first so he was put in jail until the sentence was given by HaShem. After the Torah tells us that he was put in jail, there is a "samech" in between the pesukim (15:34- 35), after which the Moshe is told what to do with him. What puzzled me is that in the episode of the "mekaleil" at the end of parshas Emor, an episode which seems to be quite similar to that of the mekosheish, there is a "peh" between the pasuk telling us that they did not know what to do with him and the pasuk that begins the teaching of the sentence (Vayikra 24:12-13).

    A samech indicates a "parsha setumah," a closed paragraph, i.e. there is only a little space between the end of one paragraph and the beginning of the next. The peh indicates a "parsha pesuchah," an open paragraph, i.e. that the next paragraph begins on a new line. Perhaps the reasoning behind the difference between the two episodes lies in the gemara in Sanhedrin 78b. The gemara says that when the episode of the mekaleil took place, they did not know what the sentence was at all. However, the mekosheish they knew was subject to the death penalty from the pasuk "mechaleleha mos yumas;" they just didn't know what form of the death penalty. Since their lack of knowledge was more limited in this case, perhaps that is why there is only a samech in between the pesukim to symbolize that they awaited only a short answer. But since they knew nothing of the mekaleil's sentence, a peh is placed between the two pesukim to symbolize that they awaited a longer answer.

    There are other instances in the Torah where the halachah was not known and an answer was awaited. For the halachos of Pesach Sheini (9:8-9) and as well, for b'nos Tzelafchad (27:5-6) there is a peh between pesukim. There we are taught that Moshe either did not know the halachah at all or forgot it completely (Sanhedrin 8a) so an entire halachah needed to be taught. This would seem to support the above approach.

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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