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"The List": What you can bet someone with a good Yeshivah education will get wrong.

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#1 How long before Avraham did Noach Live?

#2 What is the Difference between Hashem and Elokim?

#3 What Happens to the Kohen who purifies the Tamei using the Parah Adummah?  

#4 Why is makkat bechorot the ultimate plague?

#5 The Machloket between the Rambam and Ramban regarding whether "Anochi" is a mitzvah

 #6 The post- Shemonah Esreh Dance

  #7 Prayer begins with the Churban


How long before Avraham did Noach Live?

The first response that is usually given is 10 generations. But that isn’t really an answer. A great grandchild is 4th generation, yet may well be living alongside their great-grandparent.Once finally understanding the question, many people guess 100 or 200 
years. Those answers are also incorrect.The real answer is that Noah and Avraham were actually contemporaries. 
Their lives overlapped by 58 years. This fact is noted by Chazal in Seder Olam Rabbah. It is also pointed out by the Ibn Ezra, who notes that the gematriah of Noah is 58! If you don’t believe any of us, take out the genealogies of the Torah [in Bereshit], a pen and paper (and perhaps a calculator). You’ll see, just as I did.
The reason that so many wonderfully educated people get it wrong is obvious: Rashi [based on the Midrash] comments, as we all know, that Noah’s being a Tzaddik in “his generations” may be understood two ways: It may amplify or mitigate his greatness. If we take it as a qualification, then it suggests that were he to have been in the generation of Avraham, he would have been considered “a nobody”. This creates the (incorrect) impression that they were not contemporaries.
Why do Rashi and the Midrash portray things this way? The answer is that it reflects the way that the Torah itself depicts the situation. The death of Noah is recorded at right after the events that took place immediately after the deluge. Noah lived for nearly 3 ½ centuries after that, but nothing is known about him during that time. The Torah alludes to the fact that Noah retires from life after the flood, and no longer faces challenges or continues to grow.
This is a common tragedy. Many people become petrified at a certain point in their lives, and cease growing and facing new challenges. In this regard Noah is very different than Avraham who constantly is moving forward (holech) and facing new challenges.
For this reason, Rashi (and the Midrash) do not present Avraham and Noah as contemporaries. By the time we reach the generation of Avraham, it wasn’t Noah’s generation anymore. He had long ago ceased being a player in life. He was essentially dead- though not buried. The Midrash (and Rashi) is merely echoing the way the Torah presents the issue.

 What is the basic difference between Elokim and Hashem?

As we all know, the Zohar states that everything depends on mazal, even the holy Torah scroll in the heichal. For some reason, there are certain Rashi’s that everyone knows- and some that fare much more poorly.
An example: 
Everyone knows Rashi’s comment on the encounter with Amalek; that “asher karchah baderech” alludes to the analogy of the hot bathtub… And yet, this is his third suggestion! How is it that everyone knows the third- and so few are aware of the first two (or even that this one is the third!)?
Similarly, everyone knows the famous Rashi, that explains the distinction between the names of God as a difference of Middat Hadin and Middat Harachamim. And yet, this is not the only- or even necessarily the primary- distinction between them! What is more, the more fundamental difference is also found in Rashi (and all other major commentaries- e.g. Ibn Ezra and Ramban)!
When Eliyahu confronted the prophets of Baal, he challenged the Jewish People to choose between Baal and Hashem. He told them to stop flitting between the two and commit to one God. In the course of his speech to them, Eliyahu said: If Hashem is the Elohim (God), then follow him; and if the Baal [is the Elohim (God)], then follow him…
This clearly illustrates the fundamental difference between the Elokim and Hashem.
Hashem is the name of a particular God, while Elohim is the generic term for God as a philosophical category. It is parallel to the difference between Anacin and aspirin. One may say I am about to take this aspirin and be referring to Anacin. So too, when a Jew refers to Elokim he means Hashem. Nonetheless, they are not the same term.  
The challenge that Eliyahu presents is, who do they identify with Elohim- Hashem or, l’havdil, the Baal. There is never a question about who Hashem or Baal are. The question is which is the Elohim.
For the same reason, we find Elokim in semichut- e.g. Elokei Yisrael, the God of Israel. We also find “other gods (elohim). There is no such parallel phenomenon in terms of Hashem, as it is a proper name and not a title.
The commonly referred to distinction between Middat Hadin and Middat Harachamim is actually a derivative of the more fundamental distinction that we’ve clarified here. Using a name, rather than a description or title reflects a relationship; using a mere title connotes a more objective, cold interaction. This is the meaning of the Middat Hadin and Middat Harachamim distinction that is so often referred to. When the connection with God exists within the framework of a relationship, it is described as Middat Harachamim. When it doesn’t, it is called Midat Hadin. [See further Amittah Shel Torah  on Parshat Noach.]

What happens to the Kohen who sprinkles the water of the Parrah Adumah?

Everyone knows the answer to this one! We’ve heard it in a million sermons and divrei Torah! The Kohen who sprinkles the water of the Parah Adumah and thereby purifies the Tamei becomes Tamei himself.
The only problem is that this well known fact is not, in fact, true!
Chazal [Yoma (14a)]  explain that the kohen remains tahor, as he was before he sprinkled the water. It is one who carries water wantonly who is thereby rendered tamei- if there is sufficient quantity to sprinkle.
It is remarkable that this is such a common error, given the fact that Chazal’s interpretation is cited by Rashi on the spot [Bamidbar (19:21)]!

Why is makkat bechorot the ultimate plague?


 The usual resonse is something along the lines of "hmm, wasn't Pharoah (or his son) a firstborn? Yes, but that is not the reason. 

In Shemot (4:22), Hashem warns Pharoh that Bnei Yisrael are "my firstborn", and that if he mistreats the Jewish people, then his firstborns will be killed, as well! This is the reason that the Torah itself gives for the plague of the firstborns. 

The idea that Bnei Yisrael are Hahsem's firstborn, the  notion of God's special love for the Jewish People, is at the heart of the Exodus and Pesach. It is a theme that we explore in Amittah Shel Torah on Shemot.


The Machloket between the Rambam and Ramban regarding whether "Anochi" is a mitzvah

It is well known that the Rambam and Ramban disagree as to whether or not "Anochi..." in the asseret hadibrot is a mitzvah or not, We have all heard shiurim about this machloket, I even saw a discussion of it in a very popular contemporary sefer.

The only problem is that there isn't, and never was, such a machloket. In his commentary on Shemot (20:2) the Ramban explicitely states that it is a mitzvah, agreeing with the Rambam. He explicitely agrees with this position of the Rambam in his [the Ramban's] comments on Sefer Hamitzvot, Lo Taaseh #5.

Why then do so  many people get this wrong? The answer is actually significant.

The Ramban "made a career" of defending earlier greats from the attack of later Rishonim. This is the reason d'etre of many of his works, as we know. It is important to note further that he does this even when he happens not to agree with that earlier giant's position.

[It is interesting to note that this then happened to him, when the great talmid of his talmidim, the Ritvah, wrote an entire sefer (Sefer Hazikaron) to defend the Rambam against the barbs of the Ramban-  despite believing that the Ramban was ultimitely correct [because, as he put it, the Ramban was a Kabbalist, whereas the Rambam was "merely" a rationalist]! ]

In this case, the Ramban presents an eloquent defense of the Bahag against the critique of the Rambam. In his [the Ramban's] comments on Sefer Hamitzvot, Aseh #1, the Ramban presents extensive basis for the Bahag- leaving many with the impression that he agrees with the Bahag, and thereby disagrees with the Rambam concerning "Anochi". However, if we read his comments to the end, we find out that he is only presenting a justification for the Bahag. His own opinion will be explained later in [the Ramban's] comments on Sefer Hamitzvot, Lo Taaseh #5.There, as we mentioned above, and in his commentary on the Torah, he makes clear that he agress with the Rambam. 

So, fear not!  We can still say the same shiurim about the machloket. let's just get the facts straight and speak of the Bahag and the Rambam- not the Rambam and Ramban.

 #6 The post- Shemonah Esreh Dance

Many people do a little dance at the end of Shemonah Esreh: 3 steps back, 3 forard and then a few hops. As popular as this dance is (even amongst knowledgable Jews), it not only has no basis in Halachah- it is, actually dead wrong.

The Gemarah [Yoma (53b)] says that after taking leave of God's presence and stepping back 3 steps, one must stand in place. It goes on to say that one who immediately returns to their place is like a "dog that returns to its vomit", It is safe to say that that is not a compliment! 

The Shulchan Aruch brings this down l'halachah [Orach Chaim (123:1)]. For further discussion of the Halachic aspect, see Teshuvot Or Yitzchak Orach Chaim (#47). It is absolutely clear that it is improper to move forward before waiting for the time it takes to walk 4 amot or for Kedushah.

Why then the dance? I beleive the answer is simple. The Kuzari (II:79-80) explains that people tend to imitate those that are aparently more knowledgable, and often do so superficially and without understanding. If one sees a "good davener" who finishes their tefillah immediately before the shatz gets to Kedushah, they will see that he is moving forward immedialtely and then rising up for "kadosh kadosh..." The less knwoledgable person then- incorrectly- assumes that this is what we are supposed to do at the end of Shemonah Esreh! Thus is a "bad" minhag born! 

 #7 Prayer begins with the Churban

As everyone knows, now that we can no longer bring korbanot, we replace the sacrifices that we aught to be bringing with prayers. This is idea is clearly articulated by Chazal [e.g. in Berachot (26b).]

As a result of this, many many people mistakenly think that prayer begins with the destruction. I have heard this said in one from or another countless times.

This is gross ignorance. It is explicit, both in Tanach and in Chazal, that the opposite is true.

In the very lengthy prayer of Shlomo Hamelech, when he innaguates the Beit Hamikdash, he speaks at great length about how the Temple will be a center of prayer for all nations [Melachim I (chaoter 8)]. The same idea is expressed in Yishayahu (56:7).

The Gemarah tells us that due  to the destruction of the Temple, the gates of prayer were shut [Berachot (32b)].

The reason for this is clear. We know that the essence of prayer is an awareness of standing before the Shchinah, standing in God's presence[see e.g.Rav Hai Gaon, Otzar HaGeonim Berachot (chap. 5)].It is obviously easier to have this awareness when there is a makom shechinah...

Prayer exists today despite- not because of- the Churban.