How Do You Define Yourself?

V’Yair ben Menasheh halach vayilkod es chavoseihem vayikra es’hem Chavos Yair (Bamidbar 32:41)

At the end of Parashas Mattos, the Torah discusses two individuals who captured lands in Ever HaYarden — the east side of the Jordan River — from their non-Jewish inhabitants. Yair conquered the villages in Gilad and renamed them Chavos Yair — the villages of Yair. Rashi explains that because Yair had no children, he named the villages after himself as a means of memorializing his name. Additionally, Novach captured Kenas and its suburbs and renamed them Novach after himself. Based on a subtle grammatical difference between the two verses, Rashi writes that the name Chavos Yair was enduring, but the name Novach was fleeting and only temporary. What is the significance of the fact that the name given by one of them to the area he captured was lasting, while the other was short-lived?

Harav Shimon Schwab points out that even though Yair wished to leave these cities as a way by which he would be remembered, he did not name them “Yair,” but rather “the villages of Yair.” He didn’t identify himself as the territory, but rather viewed it as something that belonged to him. Novach, on the other hand, named the area that he captured “Novach.” By naming the conquered territory after himself, he revealed that he identified himself with his assets, and for this reason, the name was only transitory.

Rav Schwab explains that a Jew is not supposed to define himself by his acquisitions and his salary, but rather by his Torah and mitzvos, as we find expressions such as ish emes — man of truth — and ish shalom — man of peace — by which a person is identified with a positive character trait. Similarly, Dovid writes in Tehillim (109:4): “V’ani tefillah — I am prayer,” as a person can be so dedicated to a mitzvah that he and the mitzvah become one.

Although none of us today owns an entire town, the temptation to define ourselves by our homes, cars and other belongings is nevertheless quite powerful. The yetzer hara urges us to view our possessions not as objects that we happen to own as Yair did, but as the essential us. People who spend their lives constantly seeking out the most ostentatious acquisitions are following in the footsteps of Novach, an approach that the Torah teaches us will be short-lived and ephemeral.

Q: A man betrothed a woman on the condition that she not consume any forbidden foods for 30 days. She subsequently took a vow not to consume a particular food. Upon hearing of her actions, her father revoked the vow while her conditional husband remained silent. She then proceeded to eat the food in question. If one maintains that she violated the condition of the betrothal by eating a forbidden food, the retroactive result will be that she was single at the time of her oath and her father’s revocation rendered the food permissible. If so, it will turn out that she fulfilled the condition and was married at the time, in which case her father’s revocation is meaningless as she is now subject only to the response of her husband, who effectively upheld the vow with his silence, rendering the food forbidden and causing her to break the condition of the betrothal. Is she legally married or single?

Q: Moshe told (32:22) the tribes of Gad and Reuven that they must fulfill their conditions in order to be clean in the eyes of Hashem and the Jewish People. Chazal derive from here several laws requiring a person to exceed the strict letter of the law in order that he not appear to be doing something inappropriate to those who observe him, often referred to as “maris ayin.” If somebody is doing something only to prevent a case of maris ayin but which would require a blessing if it was required according to the letter of the law, may he recite a blessing?

A: The Maharshag rules that the woman is not married because she didn’t fulfill the condition of her betrothal to avoid forbidden foods. Lest one argue that if she isn’t married the food wasn’t forbidden, this argument is based on the assumption that she isn’t married, so no contrary conclusion can be reached.

A: The Gemara in Chullin (75b) rules that if an expectant animal is ritually slaughtered, its fetus may be Biblically eaten without being slaughtered. However, if the fetus walks or moves on the ground, the Rabbis required its slaughter because of “maris ayin.” The Rashba rules that one should say a blessing on this slaughter just as one says a blessing on any Rabbinical commandment. However, the Besomim Rosh and Pri To’ar disagree, arguing that no blessing is made on a mitzvah which is solely due to maris ayin. The Gemara in Shabbos (23a) rules that if a person has windows facing different directions, he must light a Chanukah menorah in each of them due to “chashad,” so that somebody passing an empty window won’t suspect him of neglecting the mitzvah. The Ran writes that no blessing is made when lighting the additional menoros. The Pri Chadash and Pri To’ar equate the concepts of maris ayin and chashad and maintain that the Ran disagrees with the Rashba, although the Kreisi U’Pleisi differentiates between the two concepts and argues that there is no disagreement between the Ran and Rashba. The Michtam L’Dovid suggests that there is no dispute, as the Ran is discussing a case in which a person already said a blessing when lighting his first menorah.

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