Thursday, February 14, 2019

perpetual chinuch

1. The Maharal in Gur Aryeh (Parshas Matos) explains the difference between the nevuah of Moshe "b'ispaklarya ha'mei'ira" which he communicated using the words "zeh ha'davar" and the nevuah of other prophets, "b'ispakkarya she'eina mei'ira," which they communicated using the words "koh amar Hashem" is that Moshe spoke of ideals and principles -- Torah and mitzvos are a description of what should be, not what is -- and ideals and principles are eternal; the other prophets spoke of G-d in the here and now of the world, the interaction of the divine with temporal, physical reality. 

Our parsha opens the description of the process and korbanos of the miluim, the one week during which the kohanim were inaugurated, with the words "v'zeh ha'davar asher ta'aseh lahem l'kadesh osam..." (29:1)  Shem m'Shmuel asks: if "zeh" signifies the eternal, the unchanging ideal, why does the Torah use this term here in describing the milium which lasted a mere one week?

"Chanoch la'na'ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mi'menu" does not mean that if you train a child at 5 to blow his nose using a tissue, then at 75 he will still have manners and do the same.  We should aspire to more than merely holding on to what we learned at age 5.  What the pasuk is telling us is that if you do chinuch properly at age 5, then when the same person is older "lo yasur mimenu" -- from chinuch!  Learning will be a lifelong process.  There will be perpetual freshness and renewal; the person will never cease growing.

The week of the miluim was the chanukas ha'kohanim and the prelude to the chanukas ha'mishkan.  "Zeh ha'davar asher ta'aseh" -- it was not just a one week inauguration ceremony, but it was an inauguration of a lifetime of constant chinuch and chanukah.  The "minchas chavitim," the korban the kohen gadol offered every day was the same as that offered by a regular kohen on the day he began avodah.  For the kohen gadol every day was a fresh start, a new inauguration, and new opportunity to grow.

2. "...V'lakachta mi'damo [of the slaughtered ram] v'nasata al t'nuch ozen Aharon v'al tnuch ozen banav ha'yimanis v'al bohan YADAM ha'yimanis v'al bohen RAGLAM ha'yimanis." (29:20) 

Meforshim (see Meshech Chochma, Netziv) note that in describing the placing of the blood of the ram on the ear, the pasuk refers to Aharon individually and then his sons individually.  When it comes to placing the ram's blood on the thumb and toe, the pasuk refers to Aharon and his sons as one unit, one group.  Why the difference?

The ear represents understanding.  Shema Yisrael means to understand, not just to hear.  The thumbs / hands represent putting one's ideas into practice.  The toes / feet represent practice becoming second nature, regel = hergel

When it comes to action, there is no difference between Aharon and his sons.  We all have to do the same mitzvos.  But when it comes to understanding, to the ear, there is a difference between the kohen gadol, between Aharon, and those under him.  Everyone has their own "ear" for the music, the shirah of Torah, each according to his own level. 

3. I was thinking of writing about the machlokes Rambam/Ra'avad re: the relationship between the choshen and u'rum v'tumim, but earlier in the week when I asked my son if he had any thoughts on the topic he answered that he already had a whole post written on it.  Oh well -- saves me writing time.  If you want lomdus, read it here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

a mitzvah to believe in angels?

1) R' Bachyei says something extraordinary on last week's parsha.  He writes that the keruvim are there to remind us of the existence of angels, "because just as we are commanded to believe in G-d, which is the primary ikar of the ikkarim... so too we are commanded to believe in angels and this is the second ikar."  (25:18)

Since when does belief in angels rank up there with the ikkarei emunah?  

But that's what he says, so take it up with R' Bachyei.    

2) Why does the Torah include the command to put the lechem ha'panim on the shulchan (25:30) in the instructions of how to build a shulchan?  The Torah does not stick the command to light the menorah in the middle of the instructions of how to build a menorah, or stick the command to offer korbanos in the description of what the mizbeiyach looked like.  Why is the shulchan different?

My son did a post quoting sources to prove that putting lechem ha'panim on the shulchan is not just an independent mitzvah, but it part of how the mitzvah of building a shulchan.  A shulchan without lechem is not a shulchan.

(In a similar vein, the Da'as Zekeinim asks why in the list of items donated to the Mishkan recorded at the beginning of the parsha -- zahav, kesef, nechoshes, etc. -- the Torah singles out only three of those items and tells us what they were used for: shemen la'ma'or, besamim l'shem ha'mishcha u'l'ketores ha'samim.  He answers that when you construct a new house you want it to smell nice, you want it to be light and bright, you want everything to have a new house look.  The menorah, ketores, shem ha'mishcha are not being mentioned here in their role as as independent mitzvos, but rather they are being mentioned in their role as part of the mitzvah of binyan ha'mishkan.)

I saw R' Nevenzahl has a different suggestion.  The lechem ha'panim was usually placed (and the old lechem removed) on Shabbos.  The chanukas ha'mishkan took place on a Sunday.  Therefore, one might have thought that the shulchan should remain empty all week until the next Shabbos, kah mashma lan our pasuk that from day #1, from its inauguration, the shulchan should have lechem on it.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

bri'ach ha'tichon of chessed.

1) The Rambam writes in Hil Beis HaBechira (1:12):

והכל חייבין לבנות ולסעד בעצמן ובממונם אנשים ונשים כמקדש המדבר.

"Everyone has to participate in the mitzvah of building a mikdash, both men and women, just like all participated in building the Mishkan in the desert."

Why does the Rambam add that last phrase?  Why can't he just say that men and women must participate -- why add the comparison to the Mishkan?


2) According to Chazal the "bri'ach ha'tichon," the central beam that went through the middle of all the boards of the Mishkan, miraculously curved itself around the entire structure.  Where did this special beam come from?  Targum Yonasan (26:28) writes that it came from the tree planted by Avraham, "Va'yita eisehel b'Be'eir Sheva," to provide shade and a place to rest for his guests.  When Klal Yisrael left Egypt the angels came and cut down that tree, threw it into Yam Suf, and from there it was retrieved by Bnei Yisrael.

Why did the angels bring davka that tree?  Was there no closer place to get wood from?  R' Yaakov Kaminetzki has a wonderful insight regarding the "atzei shitim," which Chazal tell us were planted by Yaakov Avinu (see my son's post here).  The gemara (Yoma 72) writes that the word "omdim" used to describe these boards means they are eternal.  R' Yaakov points out that the word "omdim" is part of the tzivuy, the command of how to build the Mishkan.  It's not a bracha -- it's something we have to make happen.  So where do you get wood that will last for an eternity?  The answer is you get wood that Avraham used for hachnasas orchim; you get wood that Yaakov invested his kochos in to prepare for the future and give his children bitachon that they would one day get out of galus and have a Mishkan.  That's wood saturated with kedusha that will therefore be with us forever. 

The world stands on three things: Torah, avodah, and chessed.  Which of these values would you most associate with the Mishkan?  The  obvious choice is avodah = offering korbanos.  The slightly less obvious choice is Torah.  Ramban writes that the revelation of Shechina in the Mishkan parallels the revelation of Shechina at Har Sinai.  The aron containing the luchos was the focal point of the Mishkan.  Yet we see from the Targum Yonasan that the ingredient of chessed must be there as well.   Only the wood that served as a vehicle for Avraham's welcoming of guests could serve to connect and hold that walls together.

My wife added that the Mishkan is a microcosm of the world.  "Olam chessed yibaneh" - the world is built on chessed.  The Mishkan follows suit.

The keruvin that stood atop the aron stood "pneihem ish el achiv" -- facing each other.  R' Shternbruch suggests that the Torah is telling us that the key to being able to enter the kodesh kodashim, to be able to come close to the aron, to Torah, is to always look toward your fellow Jew -- to be aware of the needs and plight of your fellow man.  Chessed is at the heart of the Mishkan.

What is true of the "house" of Hashem should be equally true of our own homes.  Hashra'as haShechina requires avodah, requires Torah, but without chessed, it will all fall apart.

Monday, February 04, 2019

story time

In Sivan Rahav-Meir's parsha shiur last week she noted how until Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah is a book of stories -- narrative, not law.  Parshas Mishpatim changes all that.   She then related how her little daughter learned the parsha in school.  The teacher discussed with the class what would happen if one child borrowed a sweater from another child: what are the responsibilities of the borrower, what should be done if something happens to the sweater, etc.  Sivan Rahav-Meir commented that she thought this showed the genius of the gannenet.  Instead of teaching laws -- not very appealing to 5 year olds -- the teacher turned Mishpatim into more stories.  The parsha of shomrim thus became the story of a borrowed sweater. 

Sivan then remarked that this works great for little kids, but we adults don't approach the parsha in the same way.  For us, there is that great shift from stories to halacha.

On this point, I beg to differ.  We never outgrow stories, and Chazal know it!  There is no Mishna, for example, that talks about "mammon ha'mutal b'safeik" in the abstract, the way a law book might present it, the way a lamdan discusses the theoretical foundation.  Instead we have a story: two people are holding a talis, each one says the talis is mine, etc.  Maybe our brains are naturally wired to absorb stories; maybe there is some other explanation as to why Chazal present it in this way. What do you think?

Thursday, January 31, 2019

"eved ivri" and not "eved yisrael"

This limud should be l'zecher nishmas my father whose yahrzeit is this Shabbos.

Meforshim are bothered by the term "eved ivri."  Why not "eved yisrael?"  Putting aside the fact that the term "Ivri" is ambiguous (is an "Ivri" someone who comes from a place, "Eiver ha'Nahar," or is it a people, or something else?  -- see Ibn Ezra), the fact is throughout chumash we are referred to as Bnei Yisrael.  Therefore, if we are referring to a member of Klal Yisrael who became a slave, shouldn't it be "eved yisrael?"

If you remember the parshiyos from earlier this year (or cheat and use a concordance) I think the answer will be clear.  The term "Ivri" comes up again and again in the beginning of Shmos.  A few examples: the "miyaldos ha'Ivriyos: (1:15) save Jewish babies, including Moshe, who bas Pharoah refers to as being "m'yaldei ha'Ivrim." (2:6)  Later, Moshe goes out and sees an Egyptian hitting an "ish Ivri" as well as two "Ivrim" who are fighting.  Hashem tells Moshe to tell Pharaoh that the G-d of the "Ivrim" has appeared to him (3:18).  At this point in history there is no Jewish nation.  There is a large family, a tribe of related members.  It is only later, post-exodus, after kabbalas haTorah, that we become a nation.  Once that happens, the term "Ivri" vanishes.  The only occurrence of the term "Ivri" after the exodus is in reference to the Jewish slave.  We are now Bnei Yisrael, Am Yisrael, not Ivrim. 

Perhaps the Torah deliberately uses the term "Ivri" with respect to the slave to indicate that the slave has forfeited his identity as a "citizen" in the nation of Am Yisrael.  He still retains his relationship to us as a people, he still retains his identity as a member of the family/tribe of bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, the organizational unity of "Ivrim" that pre-dates our nationhood, but he has forfeited his rights and privileges beyond that.

In Parshas Shmos, when Moshe and Aharon first appear before Pharoah, they tell him (5:1) that "Hashem Elokei Yisrael" has demanded the release of his people to celebrate a "chag."  Pharoah responds that he does not recognize the deity they are talking about and therefore won't agree to terms.  Moshe and Aharon then repeat the same request (5:3) using slightly different language, telling Pharoah that "Elokei ha'Ivrim" demands the release of his people to offer sacrifices to him.  This time Pharoah throws them out.  Why did Moshe and Aharon think repeating the request a second time would make a difference?  And why was Pharoah's response so much harsher this second time?

Netziv explains that when Pharoah heard the term "Elokei Yisrael" he assumed Moshe and Aharon were speaking about letting the spiritual elite of the people go out for a celebration, a chag.  Yisrael is the name Yaakov is given only after he manages to overcome Eisav's angel -- it is a mark of accomplishment.  Pharoah at least hears this request, but is not willing to give in.  Moshe and Aharon realized the misunderstanding and immediately clarified.  It was "Elokei ha'Ivrim," that spoke to them -- G-d of the entire tribe/family, the G-d of the "Ivrim," the downtrodden slaves, not just G-d of the elite.  Everyone needs to be let free to worship.  This Pharoah is not even willing to hear.

It's not "eved yisrael" -- the term "yisrael," as Pharoah understood, is one of chashivus.  Rather, it's "eved ivri" -- a slave has no status.  A slave has forfeited his membership in society, in the nation.

The torah of Ishbitz (see Ne'os Deshe, Beis Yaakov), k'darko, explains that the aim of the Torah here is not to put the slave in his place and stress that he has become an outcast.   Aderaba, the real lesson here is not about slavery, but rather about redemption.  "Ba'shevi'i yei'tzei chofshi" -- the lesson is that even this downtrodden lowly slave can achieve freedom and be rehabilitated .  No outcast is beyond hope; no one is a lost cause, a permanent slave to kinah, tayvah, kavod, or whatever the addiction. 

This explains why our parsha seems to start in the middle of the story.  How did this individual become a slave?  Ikar chaseir min ha'sefer!  Rashi helps us out and explains that we are dealing with a thief who was unable to pay for his crime and therefore was sold as a slave, but all that is missing from the text.  Why does the parsha not start from the beginning of the story, with hilchos gezel and then explain how and why someone becomes a slave?

The answer is that the main idea of our parsha is not the sin of theft or its consequences that lead to slavery.  The main idea of our parsha is the possibility of redemption after the crime.  The seventh year is not just a cessation of work, a shev v'al ta'aseh, so to speak, but rather is a kum aseh, as transformative and rehabilitative experience that changes the gavra of the slave, restoring him to shleimus.

This opening serves as the maftei'ach to the entire parsha of mishpatim.  Why should I be held responsible for damaging another person, for damaging his property, for not respecting his rights?  It starts with the recognition that any and every individual -- no matter who he is, no matter his station in society, no matter how downtrodden he may be -- has inherent value; there are no outcasts that are beyond being worthy of care.  The most worthless member of society is just waiting for "ba'shevi'i yei'tzei chofshi." 

When I was in high school there used to be a faculty member who would like to ask how many times the aseres ha'dibros appeared in chumash.  The trick was to know that Ramban writes that our parsha of Mishpatim is a recapitulation of the aseres ha'dibros, so the dibros in effect appear 3 times and not 2.  Ramban writes that the parsha of the eved ivri parallels the first commandment of "Anochi" which says that G-d took us out of Egypt.  The freedom granted to the eved ivri parallels our freedom from Mitzrayim. Ramban then goes a step further and says our parsha of eved also contains elements of the dibrah of Shabbos because the slave goes free after six years of work just like Shabbos comes after six days of work.  If our thesis re: the rehabilitation of the eved is correct, then the same thought can be extended to Shabbos.  Shabbos is not just a day of cessation of work, but is a transformative, rehabilitative, redemptive experience that restores our sheleimus, our self-worth, our commitment to membership in Am Yisrael the nation, not just the tribal notion of "Ivri." 

Let's experience Shabbos that way.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Va'ya'aminu BaHashem u'b'Moshe avdo -- emunah after the fact?

"Va'ya'aminu BaHashem u'b'Moshe avdo..." 

That's emunah?! To believe after you see a sea split in two and watch your enemies drown?

Who would not believe under those circumstances?

What does the pasuk mean? 

(See Alshich, Ohr haChaim, Kedushas Levi, Maor vaShemesh... but I still don't understand it.)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

hands down

Chazal tell us that the attack of Amalek happened because "rafu Y'DEIHEM min haTorah," because Klal Yisrael neglected their Torah learning.  Why the stress on "y'deihem?"  The Maharasham in Techeiles Mordechai quotes the Chazal that "Torah mateshes kocho shel adam."  That doesn't necessarily mean that a person who learns Torah is physically weak.  The Torah warns us that a person should not think his success comes from "kochi v'otzem YADI," his own strength and ability.  It's this koach -- the belief in the power of "kochi v'otzem YADI"  -- which Torah weakens.  Learning Torah humbles a person; the more one learns the more one recognizes the vastness and depths of the dvar Hashem and just how limited our own ability and insight is.  Because Klal Yisrael's dedication to learning fell a notch, "min haTorah," because of that loss, "rafu y'deihem," their perspective on the limits of the "kochi v'otzem YADI" was tainted.

The Mahrasham does not say it, but I think based on his approach we can understand why Klal Yisrael had to fight Amalek as opposed to being miraculously rescued as had happened at Yam Suf.  Since they invested trust in their kochi v'otzem yadi, Hashem responded in kind and let them use their own power to carry on the battle. 

Moshe's challenge was to shift their perspective.  "V'haya ka'asher yarim YADO..."  Moshe lifted up his hands and directed people's gaze to shamayim.  There is no power in "otzem yadi" -- our hands only have power when we connect to Hashem. 

"Va'yehi YADAV emunah ad bo ha'shemesh"  Ibn Ezra interprets emunah here either has steadfast or like the word "omain" (e,g. "Va'yehi omein es Hadasah"), to train, to nurture.  Our hands need to be trained to connect to Hashem. 

"YAD al keis K-h" -- the war with Amalek is won when we connect "otzem yadi," our ability, to the kisei of Hashem, the true source of power.