Lo yavo Ammoni u’Moavi b’kehal Hashem (Devarim 23:4)
The Torah forbids a person who is born to proper Jewish parents to marry an Ammonite or Moabite. Commenting on this prohibition, the Midrash Pliah cryptically remarks that this verse is what Dovid Hamelech was referring to when he wrote (Tehillim 118:21): “Odecha ki inisani — I thank You (Hashem) because You afflicted me.” The connection between these two concepts is difficult to grasp. What does the prohibition against marrying somebody descended from the nations of Ammon and Moav have to do with Hashem causing us to suffer, and why did that specifically inspire and motivate Dovid to thank Hashem?
Harav Mordechai Benet writes that in order to understand this perplexing Midrash, we first need to understand what pain and suffering Dovid was referring to. The Gemara in Shabbos (88a) teaches that when the Jewish people were encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai, Hashem lifted the mountain above them like a barrel and threatened them that if they would not accept the Torah, “sham tehei kevuraschem — there will be your collective burial place.”
Commenting on this Gemara, Tosafos question why it was necessary for Hashem to do so after the Jewish people had already enthusiastically declared that whatever Hashem says, “na’aseh v’nishma — we will do and we will listen” (Shemos 24:7). The Midrash Tanchuma (Noach 3) answers that, although they had readily accepted the Written Torah, which is relatively limited in scope and can be learned with little difficulty, they were initially unwilling to accept the Oral Torah, which is substantially more complex and can only be understood after great toil and exertion, until Hashem forced them to do so by threatening them with mass extinction.
In light of the teaching of the Midrash, Rav Benet explains that Dovid was thanking Hashem for afflicting the entire nation and compelling them to accept the Oral Law in addition to the Written Law. What is the connection between the Oral Torah and the prohibition against marrying a descendant of Ammon and Moav? The Gemara in Yevamos (76b) records that after Dovid slew Goliath, Shaul grew concerned that perhaps Dovid was destined to become king and take his position away from him, so he inquired about Dovid’s lineage. Although Shaul posed this question to Avner, who was the general of his army, his advisor Doeg overheard the question and responded, “Before you examine Dovid’s pedigree to determine if he is fit to be king, you should first inspect his ancestry to see if he is even fit to marry a regular Jewish woman, as he is descended from Rus the Moabite, and the Torah teaches that a Moabite may not marry into the Jewish congregation.”
After a lengthy discussion of the ensuing arguments and refutations presented by Avner and Doeg, the Gemara concludes that the halachah is that the prohibition against marrying Ammonites and Moabites applies only to the males of these nations but not to the females, whom one is indeed permitted to marry after they convert. The Gemara explains this distinction in light of the reason given by the Torah for this prohibition: they did not greet the Jews with bread and water as they were leaving Egypt. Because it is the practice of men to go out to greet guests while women modestly remain in their homes, this lack of hospitality does not reflect negatively on the females of these nations, and they are therefore permitted to marry Jews. As a result, the ancestry of Dovid, who was descended from the female Rus, was deemed acceptable.
With this background information, Rav Benet suggests that the meaning of the Midrash Pliah becomes clear. The verse in the Torah which forbids the offspring of Ammon and Moav to marry into the Jewish nation does not appear to differentiate between male and female progeny, seemingly including both of them equally in the prohibition. When Dovid encountered this verse, he became frightened that perhaps it applied to his great-grandmother Rus as well, as Doeg maintained. However, when he realized that the Oral Law distinguishes between the genders and rules authoritatively that female descendants are permitted to marry Jews, he rejoiced and exclaimed, “Odecha ki inisani — thank you, Hashem, for afflicting me [at Mount Sinai, by threatening to kill us if we did not accept the Oral Torah, which clarifies my legal status and clears the way for me to get married and become king].”
Parashah Q & A
Q: Is it permissible to perform the mitzvah (22:6–7) of shiluach haken — sending away the mother bird — on Shabbos, and if not, why not?
A: Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com. The Chasam Sofer writes that according to the opinion of the Rambam, who requires that the mother bird actually be seized before being sent away, it would certainly be forbidden to perform this mitzvah on Shabbos, as doing so would involve the forbidden labor of trapping an animal as well as handling muktzeh. According to the opinion of Rashi, who maintains that it is sufficient to drive away the mother bird without directly contacting her, it would be permissible according to the letter of the law, although he adds that there may be Kabbalistic reasons not to do so. Additionally, he notes that some opinions maintain that the mitzvah is only applicable if one actually needs the eggs, which is generally not the case today. He therefore concludes that it is preferable not to perform the mitzvah on Shabbos.