Thursday, August 27, 2015

setting the right tone

They should probably make teacher appreciation day at the start of the year, not in the middle or the end, because I don’t know a parent who is not thrilled to be able to get their kid out of the house again and back to school this upcoming week.  But the truth is that while we like to think our kids are being educated in school and we pay a lot of money for whatever they do there, the main education of any child comes from seeing what parents do at home.  The Tiferes Banim interprets the pasuk in the parsha of ben sorer u’moreh, “ainenu shome’a b’kol aviv u’bkol imo,” that if the child does not hear the voice of his parents davening, learning, etc. then “v'yisru oso v’lo yishma aleihem,” when they rebuke him and tell him that he has to learn, he has to daven, etc., he is not going to listen.  Why should he listen to their speeches about what he should do if they behave differently themselves? 
 
My two additional cents: the Ohr haChaim in parshas Braishis distinguishes between the word “kol,” which refers to tone of voice, and words like “dibur” or “amira,” which refer to what is actually said.  When Adam is chastised, “Ki Shamata b’kol ishtecha…,” Hashem was telling him that the reason he was led astray is because he paid attention to the enticing voice Chavah had used, the way she spoke.  Had he paid attention only to the words only, he would have recognized that they contradicted Hashem’s instructions.  “Hakol kol Ya’akov” means that Yitzchak recognized the tone of voice as that of Ya’akov and not Eisav.  Similarly, perhaps “ainenu shome’a b’kol aviv u’bkol imo,” (it could have just as easily said, “ainenu shomea l’kol aviv v’imo”) means that the ben sorer u’moreh is not hearing any instruction given in the tone of voice of a parent.  There are parents who instead of speaking like parents speak like taskmasters (they are authoritarian instead of authoritative, as the psychology books put it).  And on the other extreme, daughter #2 yesterday explained a certain phrase to me and then added that “It’s not how a parent would say it.”  I’m glad she recognizes the difference, but there are parents who don’t and prefer to speak like teenagers or friends.  “Ainenu shome’a b’kol aviv u’b’kol imo” – the ben sorer u’moreh is not hearing a father’s voice, a mother’s voice.  He hears words, but hearing words alone without hearing them expressed in the proper tone and nuance -- that of a parent -- are not enough. 
 
The gemara (Nedarim 81) writes that the Chachamim and Nevi’im could not understand why the churban happened until Hashem himself revealed the reason.  The gemara darshens the double-language of the pasuk in Yirmiyahu (9:12) “V’lo shamu b’koli v’lo halchu bah” and asks isn’t “lo shamu b’koli” the same as “lo halchu bah?”  The gemara answers that the extra language reveals that the sin that caused the churban was the failure to recite birchas haTorah.  Ran explains that the lack of bracha shows that the learning lacked any feeling of lishma (see also Maharal in the intro to Tiferes Yisrael).  How do Chazal get that lesson from the pasuk?  If you will forgive me (it’s aggadita, so I'll take greater license) for learning differently than the Ran, I would suggest that the derasha comes from the words “lo sham’u b’koli,” not "lo halchu bah" as he learns.  “Kol,” again, is about the tone, not the words.  Klal Yisrael was not guilty of not learning.  There was learning galore – but the tone was wrong, the feeling was wrong.  The Rambam compares the relationship one should have with Hashem to the relationship between a husband and wife.  It’s not just what a husband says to a wife, or vice versa, that is different than conversations had with others, but the whole tone of how they communicate with each other is different.   That's what was missing in the relationship between Hashem and Klal Yisrael at the time of the churban (see also Netziv on the words “ainenu shome’a b’kol aviv ub’kol imo” as referring to Torah.)

Why is the ben sorer u’moreh punished so severely?  Chazal ask, “For eating a tartimor of meat and drinking a half a lug of Italian wine a father and mother should bring their child to get sekilah?!”  The gemara in the name of R’ Shimon concludes that the parsha never happened – it’s an impossibility.  It was only written only to give us extra schar for learning Torah (and the meforshim discuss why this parsha in particular is given for schar; in theory any number of imaginary laws could be given for the same reason.)  The Ibn Ezra interestingly does justify the killing of the ben sorer u’moreh.  He explains that a life of running after indulgences and constant drink is “k’mo apikores,” a very striking statement.   Not, as Rashi explains, that such a lifestyle will lead to greater crimes, but that the lifestyle of the ben sorer u’moreh is itself a crime (see also Ramban). 

If the Ibn Ezra’s moral intuition is right, then why doesn't R' Shimon say the same thing?  Why doesn’t he answer that the ben sorer u’moreh is deserving of what he gets because he is an apikores?  I think the answer is that Chazal and the Ibn Ezra are asking two different questions.  The Ibn Ezra’s focus is on what the ben sorer u’moreh did wrong – why he is morally culpable.  The question Chazal are asking is not how or why the ben sorer u’moreh deserves to be punished so severely, but rather how in the world could there be parents who would bring their own child to such a fate.  That is the point which Chazal found so unbelievable.  “Bneinu zeh sorer u’moreh…”  The Alshich reads the extra word “bneinu” as an admission of guilt on the part of the parents – it’s our child, and therefore, our fault.  I would suggest that it can be read as a message of acceptance – true, this is a sorer u’moreh, but it’s still “bneinu,” our child.  It’s the incongruity of those feelings with the rest of the pasuk that make this parsha unfathomable.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

eid zomein chiddush -- does that mean there is no rhyme or reason to it?

The Rishonim offer various reasons why even though normally when two sets of witnesses contradict each other the result is a draw, when it comes to eidim zomimim we believe the second set of witnesses and discard the testimony of the zomimim.  Ramban and others suggest that we are only left with a standoff in a case where Witness Group A says Reuvain stole $100 and Witness Group B says Reuvain did not steal $100, challenging the veracity of their testimony and.  However, if Witness Group A says, “We were in the store at 2:00 on Tuesday when Reuvain stole $100,” and Witness Group B says, “You were with us on Tuesday and not in that store,” Witness Group B is not saying anything about the veracity of Witness Group A’s testimony regarding Reuvain.  Since there is no direct contradiction, the Torah accepts their testimony as accurate.

The Derashos haRan gives another interesting reason.  If Witness Group A wanted to lie, they could in theory pick any day of the week and any time of day and claim that is when they saw Reuvain steal.  Witness Group B does not have the same luxury.  They have to testify about the time and place set by Witness Group A.  There is no wiggle room for them to concoct a story about that precise date/time in advance and hope no one can prove them wrong.

So the law of eidim zomimim makes perfect sense, right?

Yet in Bava Kama 71 the gemara says according to Rava that eid zomem is a chiddush, i.e. something unexpected, outside the norm.  Given the explanations given by the Rishonim, what makes believing the second witnesses unexpected?  Isn't it the logical thing to do?  True, Abayei disagrees with Rava, but it seems far-fetched to say that Abayei and Rava were arguing about whether the reasons given in the Rishonim are compelling and make sense or not.   

This question is asked by my wife’s grandfather, but in truth the Lechem Mishneh (Hil Eidus ch 18) beat him to it (as he notes himself).  I think we can answer the question by clarifying what this whole concept of a chiddush is.  My thinking on this was driven by the discussion in ch 3 of R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel's introduction to his Midos l'Cheiker HaHalacha.  Here's his reduction ad absurdum argument: if you define chiddush as something that defies logic or common sense, then you've just about obliterated the term because every pasuk in chumash is a chiddush.  As the gemara itself says, “lamah li k’ra – sevara hu?” – if there is a pasuk that is needed to derive a din, it means by definition you would not know it based on sevara or common sense alone.  So what do Chazal mean when they label only certain dinim as a chiddush?  R' Amiel suggests that a chiddush is not measured against outside barometers of what makes sense, but is measured minei u'bei against the halacha itself.  The reason eid zomein is a chiddush is because it flies in the face of the halachic rule of trei u'trei that says contradictory testimony of pairs of witnesses result in a draw.  The halacha has to carve out an exception to its own *internal* set of rules and invent this new category called hazamah to avoid that conclusion.  The machlokes Abayei and Rava boils down to a debate over to what degree hazamah is really just another flavor of trei u'trei (in which case it is a chiddush) and to what degree it is not.  That machlokes has nothing to do with the "ta'amah d'kra" (if you will) explanation of how we can make sense of this parsha of hazamah relative to external sets of rules (our own sense of justice), which is the issue the Rishonim are addressing.

This is a thumbnail sketch of a complicated sugya and I've greatly oversimplified the machlokes Abayei and Rava (Abayei may in fact agree that eid zomeim is a chiddush, but simply disagree with the ramifications Rava draws from that in the sugya).  That's a shiur for another time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

a question on Rashi

The Ba'al haTurim takes up the question of why the Torah juxtaposes the parsha of shoftim with the previous parsha that speaks of the moadim.  Sefas Emes explains that once we've discussed the shalosh regalim at the end of last parsha, the Torah moves to the remaining holidays, the yamim noraim.  Shoftim = justice and judgment, the theme of the upcoming days of Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur.  Hard to believe we are almost there.

I have one and the same question on two separate comments of Rashi:

1) Rashi identifies "reishis degancha" (18:4) as terumah and then adds that m'doraysa there is no shiur for terumah, however Chazal instituted different shiurim, one of the generous person, one for the average guy, and one for the less generous.  Rashi goes yet a step further and gives us the asmachta source for this din.

2) In the same pasuk Rashi identifies "resihis geiz tzoncha" as the first shearing from one's sheep, and Rashi again adds that m'doraysa there is no shiur, but Chazal instituted a shiur and Rashi explains what it is and the source.

Why does Rashi need to discuss the issue of shiur in this context?  What is lacking in understanding the peshuto shel mikra if one does not have that information?  Furthermore, even if Rashi needs to tell us something about the shiur, does he need to go into detail about the source, the asmachta? 

I don't have an answer.  The question just occurred to me when I was reviewing the parsha and I can't think of anything (yet : )

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Ishbitzer on the dialogue between Michal and David haMelech

At the beginning of Re’eh when we first read about making a mishkan/mikdash, the Torah tells us, “…U’smachten b’chol mishlach yedchem atem u’bateichem,” (12:7) that you and your household will rejoice.  The parsha then continues and relates that when you cross into Eretz Yisrael and establish a secure country you will build another mikdash, and there, “…U’smachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem atem u’bneichek u’bnoseichem v’avdeichem v’amhoseichem…”  (12:12) you and your children and servants and maids will all rejoice.  Here the Torah emphasizes that the simcha will not just be for you and your household, but will spread to the servants as well.  Why the difference?

The Ishbitzer (Mei haShiloach vol 2) explains that the first pasuk is discussing the mishkan, “menucha”; the second pasuk is describing the Mikdash, “nachalah”.  There was simcha in the avodah of the mishkan, but it had limits.  You had to be on a certain madreiga to appreciate what was going on.  The achievement of David haMelech, which culminated in his bringing the aron to Yerushalayim and expressing the desire to build the Mikdash that Shlomo would eventually construct, was to break those limits.  The simcha of avodas Hashem would, through David, not only reach every individual, not only reach the sons and daughters of Klal Yisrael, but would even trickle down to the lowliest servant and maid as well.
 
With this background in mind we have a much deeper understanding of the dialogue between David and his wife Michal in Shmuel II ch 6.  Michal saw the procession bringing the aron to Yerushalayim, and there was David, in the front, dancing and rejoicing like it was Simchas Torah and Purim all rolled into one.  She scathingly chastised David, “Mah nichbad ha’yom melech yisrael asher niglah ha’yom l’einei amhos avadav…”  What a day it is when the king of all of Israel exposes himself [like a fool] before the servants and maids!  This is a simcha shel mitzvah – look at how you are acting and who you are sharing the experience with.  To which David responds, “…V’im ha’amahos asher amart, imam ikabda,” I will in fact be honored by those very maidservants that you dismiss.  David was telling Michal that it from the “amahos,” from the words “avdeicheim v’amhoseichem” that are written in our parsha in connection with Yerushalayim, his city, and not earlier, that he gets the most kavod.  Spreading simcha even to the people on the bottom rungs of the ladder and helping them rejoice in the experience of avodas Hashem is not an embarrassment – it’s a tremendous accomplishment, one which the Torah singles out for praise.  This was the hallmark of Yerushalayim, the Mikdash, of David haMelech.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

the two meanings of lo tisgodedu

In addition to the peshuto shel mikra meaning of the pasuk, "Banim atem la’Hashem Elokeichem lo tisgodedu v’lo tasimu korcha bein eineichem la’meis," (14:1) which prohibits a person from cutting his/her flesh as a mourning rite, Chazal (Yevamos 14) learn from this pasuk that there is a prohibition of making "agudos agudos." (Insert pun about not joining a certain organization here.) You can’t have a city where half the beis din says X and the other half says Y (or according to the other view in the sugya, you can’t have two batei din in the same city each of which presents a different view). We are supposed to be united, not divided into splinter groups each following its own path and doing its own thing.

It seems that these two halachos have absolutely nothing to do with each other, yet both somehow are rooted in the same words of the pasuk. While some (Mizrachi, Minchas Chinuch) learn that the issur of dividing into agudos is just an asmachta, the simple reading of the Rambam (Hil Aku"m ch 12) seems to indicate that both are d’oraysa, as he describes the issur of making agudos as "bichlal azhara zu…" How then, asks the Maharal, can the Torah lump together apples and oranges in the same words of the pasuk?

(This is one of many places that the Maharal makes an assumption worth taking a moment to spell out: the difference between pshat and derash is *not* that the former is rooted in the text while the latter is not.  Both are intimately tied to the text; they simply relate to it on different levels.  Therefore, derash cannot completely diverge from the plain meaning of the words and fly off in an opposite or completely different direction.  There must be some relationship between the plain meaning of the words and the derash meaning latent in them.)

The Maharal answers by digging into the root reason behind both issurim. Rashi writes that the issur of cutting onself is because the Torah wants us to look nice. "Banim atem la’Hashem Elokeichem," and for G-d’s children to walk around with slashes in our skin is an embarrassment. (Parenthetically, I know in my son’s yeshiva the Rosh Yeshiva insisted that boys always have their shirts tucked in, but that is the exception. How many times do you see yeshiva bachurim in the street walking around like total shlumps? It may not violate the letter of this law, but it surely violates its spirit.) Ramban takes issue with Rashi. If the issur is a matter of appearance, then why does the issur only apply to cutting done as a response to death? Why not any dishevelment in response to any sorrow or tragedy? Rashi might not have been bothered by this problem because perhaps he viewed ta’amei hamitzvos as abstract philosophical ideas not meant to explain the details and parameters of dinim, or it could be that Rashi held that someone who would disfigure him/herself at something other than death is so outside the pale that batlah da'ato and that's why there is no issur. In any case, Maharal proposes something different. "Banim atem l’Hashem Elokeichem" means our relationship with Hashem is so close and special that something essential about him is reflected in us. One of the most fundamental things we can say about G-d is that he is one. The idea of cutting oneself into pieces when faced with tragedy and the idea of dividing the community into pieces are both antithetical to this idea of oneness. We have to reflect wholeness and unity within ourselves and within the community because this is G-d’s characteristic.

The Shem m’Shmuel quotes a similar idea from his father, the Sochotchover. The reason a person would beat himself up and go to pieces (literally) when confronted with death is because that individual sees the physical body as everything. Once the physical person is gone, there is nothing left -- the loss is total and unbearable. This emphasis on the tangible and physical to the exclusion of matters of the soul is the same underlying error that causes division in the community. If we were all focused on ruchniyus, on what matters, then there wouldn’t be "agudos agudos," factions fighting with each other. The issur redirects our values -- there is something that endures even after death; there are values greater than physical needs and wants that unite our community.

The Shem m’Shmuel asks what I think is a tremendous question against his father. Is "agudos agudos" really only because we are not focused on the spiritual? Beis Shamai vs. Beis Hillel – is that split into factions caused by these giants attuned to the "guf" instead of the "nefesh"? Impossible to believe. There can be deep and important disagreements even when both parties are only interested in "l’shem shamayim." I don't think this is any less true of disagreements between contemporary Rabbonim than it is of machlokes between Tanaim and Amoraim.  I think that lesson is even more important to walk away with than the answer he gives, which you can look up inside : )
I want to offer one final suggestion to try to explain the common theme of these two halachos.  Ibn Ezra writes that the reason one should not be overcome with grief and harm oneself in mourning is because "banim atem," we are like like little children who cannot understand what or why a parent does what he/she does. G-d's ways are unfathomable, and death is the ultimate mystery. There is a reason for loss, even if we cannot understand it, and that should at least give us some comfort. The takeaway lesson according to Ibn Ezra is that we never have full knowledge. How then can each camp of the agudos agudos dig their heels in and argue with such certainty that they alone are right and there can be no compromise with the other side? "Banim atem," it would be like little children arguing on the playground. The Torah expects us to rise above such pettiness.  When each side recognizes that their position as well as that of the other side is of necessity borne of incomplete knowledge and understanding, then dogmatic certainty and inflexibility have no place, and two agudos can merge into one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

rules or guidelines?

1) The Torah writes that if you have a large amount of ma’aser sheni produce to bring to Yerushalayim you can convert it to cash and bring money instead.  “Ki yirbeh mimcha ha’derech ki lo sochal se’eiso ki yirchak mimcha hamakom… ki y’varechicha Hashem Elokecha.” (14:24).  Rashi comments on ki y’varachicha – “she’t’hey hatevu’ah merubah la’seis.”  The words of the pasuk itself tell us that we are speaking of a case where the farmer is blessed with too much to carry -- what is Rashi adding? 

Maybe there is a better answer, but what came to my mind is the machlokes between the Rashbam (Baba Basra 122) and the Chasam Sofer (Shu”T Y.D. 234, see here point II) whether having a portion of land closer to Yerushalayim is better, since Yerushalayim is the holiest place, or whether having a portion further away is better because then one gets more schar for travel.  Rashi is perhaps emphasizing that the bracha the pasuk is speaking of is davka having so much fruits, but the fact that you live far from Yerushalayim, “ki yirbeh mimcha ha’derech,” and have to shlep everything to get there and maybe earn extra schar for the journey, is not itself a bracha.
2) “Al kein ani metzavcha leimor, ‘Paso’ach tiftach es yadcha…’” (15:11).  Rashi: “eitzah l’tovascha anu masi’acha.”  True, there is a seemingly unnecessary “leimor”  (see Gur Aryeh), but nonetheless, how can “metzavecha” be interpreted to mean good advice?  Doesn't the word “tzivuy” mean a rule, not a guideline

Sunday, August 09, 2015

don't forget the rest of the story

In discussing the choice before Senator Schumer as to whether to support Obama y'mach shemo's Iran deal or not, I've seen many people make reference to Mordechai's statement to Esther that whether or not she chooses to plead for her people or not, the Jews will be saved -- the only question is whether she will be the instrument of their deliverance and be recorded for posterity as their savior or whether she will fail to seize the opportunity and be forgotten.  I have yet to see anyone make reference to continuation of the story.  Esther agrees to intercede, but she asks something of Mordechai and the Jewish people.  She requests that people fast for three days, a massive expression of teshuvah to Hashem that would bolster her odds of success.  Senator Schumer has made his choice.  The ball is in our court to do our part.  Hishtadlus, attending rallies, calling Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen -- all great things.  But teshuvah, tefillah, tzedaka are also needed.  You can ask for anything you want in shema koleinu three times a day in davening.  I would be afraid to do a poll in shul and ask how many people have added into their tefilos a request for Hashem to help avert this danger.  What is everyone waiting for? 

I read a lot of what some would call right-wing blogs and news sites (I call them sane or common sense).  So many comments I have read online and heard on the radio reiterate the same theme: 75% of Jews supported Obama.  We elect the Schumers of the world, the Gillibrands.  We constantly support the Democrat party.  We made this bed, not it's ours to enjoy sleeping in.  What can you say to that argument?  On the one hand, good for Dershowitz for coming to speak at the rally in Time Square; on the other hand, how many times have I written what a fool he (and others like him) is for criticizing Obama, but then supporting him and other Democrats every election cycle, without fail.  I can't remember the last time I voted for anyone with a D next to his/her name running in a national election.   But I am in the extreme minority.  Our community needs to wake up.

Last point: Who doesn't recognize the code words when President Y'mach Shemo talks about money and lobbyists who control Congress?  I'm glad at least Tablet Magazine is not afraid to it what it is: outright anti-Semitism.  Too bad no one else has the guts and courage to stand up and say that talk like this is not acceptable from anyone, even the President of the United States.