Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dama ben Nesina's reward of parah adumah

The gemara (Kid 31) illustrates the extent to which one must go to fulfill kibud av with a story.  There was a non-Jew named Dama ben Nesina whose father owned a precious gem.  The Chachamim wanted to buy the stone for the ephod, but when they came to make the deal Dama turned them away.  The keys to the safe were under his sleeping father's pillow and he would not wake his father.  Hashem rewarded Dama for this act of kibud and the next year a parah adumah was born in his herd.  When the Chachamim came to buy the parah, Dama told them that he knows they would pay whatever price he would demand, but he would ask them only for what he lost in profit from not being able to sell them his precious gem.

Two questions:

1) Of all the rewards Hashem could have given Dama, why was it specifically a parah adumah which he was given?

2) Why does the gemara go into such detail extoling Dama's virtues, telling us that he knows the Chachamim would pay any price but he wouldn't demand it.  Do Chazal need to lay it on so thick?

The Kotzker (the same vort is quoted from others as well) explained that when Dama ben Nesina did this act of kibud av there was a tremendous kitrug in shamayin against Klal Yisrael.  Here this non-Jew was willing to sacrifice a fortune for the sake of not disturbing his father -- where is our sacrifice for mitzvos?!  

Hashem therefore caused a parah adumah to be born into Dama's herd.  Kibud av is the ultimate mitzvah sichlis -- it makes sense even to a non-Jew.  Even Eisav understood and fulfilled kibud av!   (See Maharal in Ch Aggados).  Parah adumah is at the opposite end of the spectrum -- it is the quintessential chok, a mitzvah that is incomprehensible.  Dama was willing to give up a fortune to fulfill a mitzvah that made sense to him.  A tremendous zechus, but Hashem set the stage for the Chachamim to top it.  As Dama himself admitted, they were prepared to pay any price for a mitzvah that made no sense to anyone.  

(Parenthetically, we pasken that it is the parent who must bear the cost of kibud av, not the child.  In other words if your father needs a new shirt, it's kibud av to get him the clothes he needs, but you can put it on his credit card.  Whey then is the Dama story a good example of the mitzvah?  He was under no obligation to suffer a loss of his money for the sake of kibud?

Ran gives two answers: 1) there is a difference between kavod, which you don't have to suffer a loss for [assuming the parent can pay], and causing pain to a parent, like waking them from sleep; 2) Dama was only giving up potential profit, not suffering a loss of capital.) 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

a one eyed monster

The sefer She'eiris Menachem quotes from the Shem m'Shmuel (the same idea is quoted in other seforim as well) that a person who is blind in one eye is patur from the mitzvah of re'iya on the shalosh regalim because a person who comes to the beis hamikdash needs to see the world with two eyes: one eye focused on the gadlus of Hashem, and one eye focused on his own person shortcomings.  A person who sees with only one eye, i.e. someone who sees and appreciates the gadlus of Hashem but is blind to their own faults, will not benefit from coming.

Rashi writes about Korach that "eino hit'aso," his eye deceived him.  Korach saw the world with only one eye -- he saw the gadlus in ruchniyus that Aharon achieved, and maybe even was sincere in his desire for that same level of closeness with Hashem.  "Boker v'yoda Hashem es asher lo" -- Rashi explains that Moshe told Korach that just like Hashem created boundaries in nature between morning and night, so too, Hashem created boundaries in ruchniyus and not everyone could be kohen gadol.  The Emunas Moshe (Rebbe of Aleksander)  explains that Korach was a big ma'amin.  Who cares if there are rules in teva that way?  A tzadik can rise l'ma'alah min ha'teva!  Korach saw with his one eye that in ruchniyus everything is possible; Hashem has no boundaries.  Korach had 20/20 vision in that eye and got it right.  But when it came to seeing with his other eye, the eye that should have seen his own faults, he was completely blind.  He failed to see that he was not Aharon; he lacked the lofty traits necessary to rise to the madreiga to which he aspired.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

bracha on pidyon ha'ben

At the recent pidyon ha'ben made by my nephew for his bechor, my BIL RYGB started discussing with me why you have to make a bracha on the mitzvah of pidyon ha'ben.  Rashba writes in a teshuva that we don't say a bracha on mitzvos like tzedakah where the fulfillment depends on other people -- since the poor person can turn down your gift, you risk it being a bracha l'vatala.  Since pidyon ha'ben depends on the kohen taking the money (you are not yotzei just by doing a hafrasha -- you have to actually give the kohen the money), it too should be classified as a mitzvah that is taluy b'yad acheirim and not require a bracha.

I asked my son what he thought, and he immediately remembered the Ketzos (243:4) has a chidush that nesina ba'al korcho works when it comes to paying off a debt and matnos kehunah.  You don't need the kohen to cooperate -- you can force him to take the money.

I thought you could distinguish between tzedakah and pidyon ha'ben.  When it comes to tzedakah, if the poor person does not want/need the money, there is no chiyuv.  With respect to pidyon ha'ben, the chiyuv exists whether the kohen cooperates or not.  His refusal to accept payment deflects the kiyum mitzvah, not the chiyuv.

RYGB wanted to say a bigger chidush and suggest that the kohen has a mitzvah to accept the payment.  I did not believe this (see Pesachim 121 where the gemara says with respect to pidyon that the father has the mitzvah; the kohen gets hana'ah) but I found that R' Noson Gestetner in his sefer on chumash on last week's parsha compares the role of the kohen to that of a woman in the process of kidushin -- there is a hechsher mitzvah or a kiyum of some sort, even if there is not a full chiyuv.  He writes that m'sevara this has to be the case.  How could a yisrael be commanded to do pidyon if every kohen in the world could theoretically turn down his money?  How would he do the mitzvah?  It must be that the kohen has an obligation of some sort to participate.

Let's test the theories by applying them to another mitzvah: mishloach manos.

You can't force someone to accept mishloach manos, so it makes sense according to the sevara of the Ketzos that there is no bracha.

According to my approach, it's a little trickier.  I have a chiyuv of mishloach manos irrespective of someone else's need for my gift, so isn't it like pidyon ha'ben?  

The Manos haLevi writes that the purpose of mishloach  manos is to engender friendship between people.  That seems to be the logic behind the view of the Rama that the recipient can be mochel the gift -- it's the thought that counts, not the actual present.  If so, perhaps no bracha is recited because the essence of the mitzvah -- friendship and collegiality -- is devarim she'b'lev, and no bracha is recited on devarim she'b'lev.  

According to RYGB's sevara, it's also a little trickier.  If you hold like the Rama, you could simply say that there is no mitzvah on the recipient to accept anything since he can be mochel.  But I wonder how you would resolve this question if you don't hold like the Rama.  Using R' Noson Gestetner's logic, since I have to give mishloach manos to somebody, doesn't there have to be some mitzvah on the recipient to accept it, or theoretically at least I would never be able to fulfill my mitzvah?  (I did not discuss this last point with RYGB.)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

meraglim and shlichus

1. V'avdi Kaleiv eikev hay'sa ruach acheres imo...  Sefas Emes asks why the Torah has to justify Kaleiv getting a portion in Eretz Yisrael.  That should be the result m'meila, by default.  It's only everyone else's wrongdoing which caused them to lose their portion. 

Sometimes not doing wrong is not enough.  When terrible evil is taking place, you have to step up to the plate and take action, take a stand, and let your voice be heard in opposition.  Had Kaleiv simply remained passive and not done wrong, I think perhaps he still would have forfeited his portion in the Land.  It's only by speaking out that he deserved it.  (Sefas Emes gives a different answer.)

2. Rashi (12:3) explains that the term “anashim”, men of importance, is used with respect to the spies because they were righteous people and not sinners. Yet, Rashi later (12:26) explains that the spies already had their evil plan in mind when they departed, implying that they were wicked from the start.  Which is it?

There is a well known chakira in Achronim with regards to how shlichus works: if Reuvain appoints Shimon as his agent, does that means that it's as if Shimon becomes Reuvain, and everything done by Shimon is as if Reuvain was doing it, or does it simply means that the **result** of Shimon's action is attributed to Reuvain, but Shimon himself is an independent actor?  

Maharal in Gur Aryeh uses the first tzad of the chakira to explain Rashi.  The spies who were selected were in fact righteous people.  However, once they were selected as shluchim by the tzibur, shlucho shel adam k'moso, they became the tzibur.  Klal Yisrael unfortunately did not have the right motives in mind in sending meraglim, and therefore, once appointed, they became tainted by that identification and took on the tzibur's bad character.

We've done this Maharal in a previous post, but I bring it up again to have an excuse to share the Ohr Sameiach's (Geirushin 2:15) beautiful proof to the second tzad of the chakira.  The gemara (Temurah 10) raises the question of whether it is the person who brings a korban or whether it is the person for whom the korban serves as a kaparah who can make temurah with it.  The gemara proves that it's the latter: the Mishna says that a tzibur or shutafim cannot make temurah.  Why not?  If the tzibur or shutafim appoint a shliach to bring the korban on their behalf, then the shliach should be able to make temurah with it as he is an individual.  QED that it's the person who is getting the kaparah which is the key, and it is still the tzibur/shutafim who are getting the kaparah.

Says the Ohr Sameiach: according to the first tzad of our chakira in shlichus -- Shimon the shliach becomes Reuvain -- then the shliach of the tzibur/shutafim should be no different than the tzibur/shutafim themselves.  It's only according to the second tzad -- Shimon the shliach is an independent actor the result of whose deeds are ascribed to Reuvain -- that the gemara makes sense.

Pretty convincing.  Amazing bekiyus.  It's the Ohr Sameiach after all.

3. The Zohar writes that the meraglim did not want to enter Eretz Yisrael because in the midbar they knew they were the "rosh," but that status would be lost once they entered the Land.  We are talking about the best and brightest leaders of the best and brightest generation in Jewish history -- did they really selfishly sabotage everything just to retain their own power?! 

Shlucho shel adam k'moso.  Sefas Emes (5639) explains that what made the meraglim leaders into the "rosh" was the fact that they represented the "rosh" of Jewish history, a spiritually elite.  You want such a generation, they thought, to sacrifice their spiritual bounty and take up growing Jaffa oranges?  Farming, building, conquering?  What kind of job is that for a nation of kollelniks?  It was not protecting their own interests, but rather protecting the spiritual status of their generation which motivated the meraglim.

In a nutshell, the meraglim thought holiness could only be cultivated in the protective bubble of the desert, surrounded by the ananei ha'kavod, sustained by the man and the be'er.  The reality is that holiness can be found everywhere -- the more mundane the environment, the greater the kiddush Hashem in sanctifying it and revealing the kedusha found there.  That's why we are put in a physical, mundane world.  That's why we have to farm, to build, to conquer. 

Many meforshim read the parshiyos that follow the cheit ha'meraglim as a response to their error.  Rav Teichtel in that vein has a wonderful derush on the pasuk that introduces the mitzvah of challah, "V'haya b'achalchem mi'lechem ha'aretz tarimu terumah la'Hashem." (15:19)

The Tur (208) writes that when one says a bracha mei'ein shalosh, one should omit the words "v'nochal m'pirya v'nisba m'tuva," as there is no inherent value in just enjoying the fruit of Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara rhetorically asks, "Did Moshe Rabeinu want to enter Eretz Yisrael just to eat its fruit?"  Bach disagrees.  He writes that the fruits of Eretz Yisrael are nourished by the Shechina itself, and by eating, we connect with G-d.  (See post here.)

"V'haya b'achalchem mi'lechem ha'aretz," when one is not eating man -- when instead one is eating mundane bread, created from the wheat grown and harvested by our secular labor, "tarimu terumah la'Hashem," that is an opportunity to elevate that work, that meal, that food, and discover within it something holy to Hashem.   (See Sefas Emes 5641 as well).

4. P.S. The Seforim blog has a fascinating piece looking at some of the material from the archives of R' Herzog's letters, now available online.  Link and link.   Well worth your time!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

sitting on the fence

Rashi writes that the Torah juxtaposes the story of the meraglim in parshas Shlach with the story of Miriam's criticism of Moshe and her punishment (see the meforshei Rashi -- maybe the Torah is simply recording events in chronological order?) because the meraglim should have learned from what happened to Miriam not to speak lashon ha'ra.

R' Mordechai Eliyahu (quoted by his son R' Shmuel here) asked: Miriam criticized Moshe Rabeinu, the adon ha'nevi'im.  The meraglim were critical of a place, an inanimate thing, sticks and stones.  How can that be compared to Miriam's crime?

Speaking against Moshe Rabeinu is not just ordinary lashon ha'ra -- speaking against Moshe undermines the dvar Hashem.  If you cannot trust that Moshe acted 100% in accordance with the ratzon Hashem, then the entire Torah c"v is subject to question.  So too, speaking against Eretz Yisrael is not just lashon ha'ra -- speaking against Eretz Yisrael undermines the dvar Hashem.  The Torah's mission for Klal Yisrael is for us to establish a nation al pi Torah in Eretz Yisrael.  It can't be done anywhere else and any other way.  If you don't accept that as a positive goal and don't think that's what we are here for, then you are missing the boat of what Hashem wants from us.

The glass I am happy to say is at least half full.  I don't think anyone alive 50, 40, or even 30 years ago could have imagined thousands of kids wearing kipot who are shomrei Torah and mitzvos marching down 5th Ave. in support of the State of Israel, this while l'havdil the Reform invite Michael Chabon to speak at their graduation and bash the State.  Amazing.  These kids grasp, to some degree, what our mission is. 

The Reform and Michael Chabon don't worry me.  Nor am I worried too much about rebbes and their followers who chose the same say as the parade to hold an anti-Zionism rally in Nassau Coliseum

What bothers me is the half empty part of the glass that consists of the thousands of bnei Torah, who, while not openly sympathetic to Satmar, still do not think it is incumbent upon them to march, to rally, to speak out in support of and defense of Israel.  Where were they on Sunday?  Where are they for other rallies, demonstrations, etc.?

There are, of course, those people who are simply apathetic.  They don't think about the issue, so case closed.  I am not speaking about those people.  I am speaking about people who think they are following a "shitah," meaning they have thought about it a bit, or at least think they are following in the footsteps of people who have thought about it.

I think I get it.  I am not aware of any Roshei Yeshiva from hesder being invited to visit Lakewood and being given the kavod that the Satmar Rebbe gets when he goes there.  And as bnei Torah, the torah of people like R' Elchanan is like your bread and butter, so certainly his anti-Zionist views will have an impact on your hashkafa.  So you have to hedge your bets.  You do deep down feel having the State is a good thing, but you don't want to actually get labeled as a Tzioni, you don't want to risk going against da'as Torah, so you park yourself on the fence.  You don't go to the Coliseum, but you don't go to the parade either.  You can even pretend you are pareve for all kinds of religious reasons -- you can't skip seder for a parade or rally, can you? -- and so remain seated on your perch, not tilting to one side or the other.

Sadly, it doesn't work that way.  The NY Times doesn't care why you didn't show up.  They don't want to hear a pilpul about your hashkafa.  PR and politics is very simple -- showing up IS the battle.  Not there = you don't support the cause. 

And the RW world knows this too.  How do I know?  Because a few years ago they gathered with Satmar in Manhattan to say tehillim and protest AGAINST the State because of the supposed threat the draft law posed to yeshiva students.  You can say tehillim at home or in your shul.  Why come to Manhattan to do it in public?  Answer: PR and politics.  Because the NY Times is not interested in the sentiments you express in tefilah in your beis medrash at home, but they are interested in a rally.  

You can't remain on the fence.  Your vote will be counted for or against, willy-nilly.  So you might as well start thinking about what you really hold and act on it. 

There is an even greater reason than PR and politics that should motivate you to get out there and do whatever you can to support the State.  I was davening in shul on Shabbos and noticed the gabai very deliberately left out the words "relishes tzemichas geulaseinu" in reciting the tefilah l'shlom ha'medina.  Again, the glass is very much half full! -- at least in this shul the tefilah was recited, which is more than I can so for many other place.  But why leave out those words?  The idea that there is a "lo zachu" geulah that will unfold slowly (kim'a kim'a, as the Yerushalmi and Midrash put it) though natural means, with the land being given to us by the nations, with kibutz galiyos taking place before binyan hamikdash, is well established in Chazal, Rishonim, and achronim.  What does this person think the geulah is supposed to look like?  My guess is that he envisions a miracle.  Isn't that what most people expect?  But most people's view is wrong. 

You should support the State because if you take the time to investigate the sources, the evidence will, I am certain, lead you to the conclusion that the re-establishment of an autonomous Jewish state, even with all its present flaws, is the most significant theological event in 2000 years.  That this is a step -- we can quibble over how big a step and how many more steps are needed -- toward our ultimate geulah is undeniable.

The question is how do we get people off the fence?  And again, I am not speaking about convincing the NY Times, or the BDS crowd, or the Reform.  I am speaking about our community minei u'bei.  How do make people see support of the State as a religious obligation, not merely a hechsher mitzvah because Eretz Yisrael is the best place to learn, or because we want Jews to be safe?  Our obligation to the State should go far beyond that.  

I don't pretend to have an answer.  I'm just glad the somehow the glass is getting there, filling up bit by bit.  I just wish the process would go faster.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

the missing "va'yehi chein" of parshas braishis

1. By each of the days of creation the Torah describes what G-d created, and then tells us, "Va'yehi chein."  The exception is on day #1 -- "Va'yomer Elokim ye'hi ohr" is not followed with a "va'yehi chein."  Where do we find that missing "va'yehi chein?"  You have to wait with baited breath from Braishis until our parsha where you finally find it.  Aharon lights the menorah, and the Torah tells us, "Va'ya'as kein Aharon."  The light of creation is finally complete.  The menorah symbolizes the light of torah sheba'al peh (Aharon is the mouthpiece for Moshe, who represents torah sheb'ksav.  "Ki sifsei kohen yisheru da'as..."  Therefore, Aharon is the one who does the lighting.)  The Torah enlightens us.  Without it, we can't see and appreciate Hashem's light, Hashem's presence in the world.

2. At the end of the parsha right after we read that Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe the Torah tells us that Moshe was the biggest anav in the world.  The meforshim are bothered by the placement of this pasuk.  Is this part of Hashem's explanation of why Moshe is different than everyone else?  If so, it should come 2 pesukim later, where the Torah tells us Hashem's response.  Ohr haChaim and Da'as Zekeinim writes that the Torah is explaining why Hashem had to intercede at all -- why didn't Moshe speak on his own behalf?  Netziv writes that the Torah is telling us that Hashem was not interceding because this was an affront to Moshe's kavod -- Moshe did not care about kavod.  Hashem had to intercede because the singularity of Moshe's nevuah is an essential fact of our emunah.

Based on the Shem m'Shmuel's analysis of what Miriam and Aharon were thinking, the pasuk fits perfectly in context.  Didn't Miriam and Aharon appreciate the uniqueness of Moshe?  The Shem m'Shmuel explains that aderaba, it was precisely because of their great appreciation for who Moshe was that they questioned his behavior.  Why, they wondered, would a tzadik so perfect, a navi so exalted, need to engage in perishus?  Wasn't Moshe immune from failings and temptations the rest of us suffered? 

Which is harder -- to fast l'shem shamayim on Yom Kippur, or to eat l'shem shamayim the day before?  Surely it is the latter.  It is hard to engage with the world and remain untainted by selfish motives or desires.  I am sure this is true for all of us.  It was true for Miriam and Aharon to some degree.  But they perceived that it was not true of Moshe.  Moshe Rabeinu remained pure in a way that no one else could.  Therefore, Moshe and Moshe alone could sanctify every aspect of his life, even the most mundane, in a way that no one else could.  What a kiddush Hashem!  So how could he pursue a path of asceticism and withdrawal rather than use his talent to its fullest potential (see Eretz Tzvi of the Kozhiglover on the parsha)?

"V'ha'ish Mosha anav..." is not part of the defense of Moshe, but is part of Miriam and Aharon's complaint!  Moshe, they thought, in his great modesty thought of himself as no better than anyone else.  Just like others required  perishus in some degree or other to avoid being swayed by temptation, so too Moshe thought he required the same.  But, that modesty came at a cost.  Miriam and Aharon's point was that Moshe was not everyone else.  No one else could be mekadesh the world of chomer as only a Moshe could and should.

Hashem's answer in no way undermines their argument.  Moshe was indeed above all other nevi'im and was not subject to the foibles others might fall prey too.  Nonetheless, because "peh el peh adabeir bo," there was a need for perishus, not for fear of temptation, but rather because this was what the higher level of nevuah demanded.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

mitzvos bnei noach vs Torah law

Chazal tell us that before Hashem gave us the Torah, he offered it to the other nations.  "What's in this Torah?" asked the bnei Eisav.  When Hashem told them that it contained a command not to murder, they turned it down.  "Our grandfather was told, 'Al charbecha tichyeh,' so how can we accept a Torah that prohibits murder?" they replied.  Hashem went to Amon and Moav, but they too turned down the Torah because it prohibits arayos, which is part of their culture.  And so each nation had its chance, but in the end, we alone were the only ones willing to accept the Torah.

Question: murder, arayos, etc. are all among the mitzvos bnei Noach.  Eisav, Amon, Moav had to observe these commandments irrespective of whether they accepted the Torah.  What did the nations hope to gain by not accepting the Torah?  Or, to rephrase the same question, how would kabbalas haTorah have changed their obligations?

I want to present two answers I saw and one that I thought of:

1. The scope of mitzvos is different: In the dictionary of an aku"m, murder means killing another person.  Yet, for a ben Torah, murder goes far beyond that.  Someone who embarrasses his friend, malbin pnei chaveiro, is guilty according to Chazal of shefichus damim, murder.  The same expansive scope is true of arayos, theft, and many other mitzvos.  You don't have to walk into a bank and hold it up to be guilty of gezel -- if you just wake someone up too early you have committed gezel sheinah.  This is what the nations of the world were rejecting (see R' Nevenzah's sichos where he quotes this from Kelm mussar).

2. Mitzvos bnei Noach are about the law; Torah is about a relationship with G-d.  The Netziv in the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai offers an analogy: a doctor prescribes a regimen for good health to a patient; he prescribes the same regimen to his son.  However, the doctor does not just tell his son what to do like any other patient and leave it to him -- the doctor in this case wants his son to follow his direction, he wants him to obey and be healthy.  The benefit to the son of following the doctor's advice is not just good health, but it is a stronger relationship with his father who is doing the prescribing.   

Following the mitzvos bnei noach ensures the good health of society.  Following the Torah ensures the good health of our relationship with G-d as well.  It was that relationship that the nations rejected.

3. Torah is a culture, not just a set of laws.  What Eisav and Yishmael and the other nations were telling G-d is that their culture is one of bloodshed, theft, arayos, etc.  The ben Noach laws for them are a brake that forces them to curb their natural instinct, to hold back from being barbarians.  That's not what Torah is all about.  As the Rambam writes in Shmoneh Perakim, the goal of Torah is transform a person into someone who does not desire bloodshed, or theft, or other crimes -- not simply to avoid acting on those base desires.  The goal is to cease being a barbarian, not simply to cease acting out like a barbarian.  The nations could not envision changing in that way.