Talmud Tips

For the week ending 1 June 2019 / 27 Iyyar 5779

Bechorot 43-48

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Perfect Proportions

Rav said, “Moshe Rabbeinu was ten cubits tall.” (A cubit is the distance from the elbow to the end of the third finger.)

Rav derives this from the verses which state that the Mishkan was 10 cubits high, and that Moshe erected the beams of wood which established its height. (Shemot 40:18, 26:16)

Rav Simi bar Chiya was amazed at Rav’s statement. “If so, that Moshe Rabbeinu was 10 cubits tall, he would have been considered “blemished” (since a normal person’s body height is three times his personal cubit length — and Moshe’s height was a factor of ten — Rashi). A kohen who is blemished — a baal moom in halachic nomenclature — is unfit for service in the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash. A person needs to be flawless in order to perform service in the House of G-d.

Rav answers that the cubit he mentioned was not Moshe’s personal cubit, but rather a normal cubit size. Moshe’s height and the Mishkan’s height was ten times a normal cubit. Therefore, Moshe was indeed proportional and not considered blemished as a baal moom.

However, Simi’s bar Chiya’s question on Rav seems to be difficult to understand. What difference would it make if Moshe Rabbeinu was a baal moom in this manner since he was a levi and not a kohen? The only blemish that disqualifies a levi is having a problematic voice, but not a blemish involving his bodily proportions!

One answer offered is that since Moshe served in the role of a kohen in the Mishkan during the seven days of its inauguration, he necessarily did not posses any blemishes which would disqualify a kohen from service. (Brisker Rav) Another answer I’ve heard is that since Moshe initially erected the Mishkan, the place where the service would be performed, perforce he would have been required to be as flawless as any kohen serving in the Mishkan.

  • Bechorot 44a

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