Thursday, April 14, 2016

tiferes shlomo on parshas metzorah

It’s very hard to devote the needed time and energy to learn Parshas Metzora when Pesach is rapidly approaching and you are either busy cleaning your house or packing your bags to go to some resort.

The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo sees the kohen who is charged with being metaheir the metzorah as an archetype representing the tzadik, the talmid chacham, the rebbe, who can bring redemption and healing to the individual who is outside the camp, afflicted, conflicted, lost.

Our parsha opens with a seeming contradiction: on the one hand, “v’huva el ha’kohen,” (14:2) the metzorah has to be brought to the kohen, yet on the other hand, “v’yatzah ha’kohen el m’chutz lamachaneh,” (14:3) the kohen has to go out to the metzorah. Which is it? See Netziv for a pshat approach, but in line with the Tif Shlomo perhaps the Torah is alluding to the idea that rehabilitating those outside our camp involves meeting them halfway.  The metzorah has to do his/her part to rejoin the community, but the community needs to go out and encourage and welcome the metzorah’s return as well.

Tif Shlomo reads “v’shav ha’kohen…” (14:39) as meaning more than just a return checkup by the kohen.  He reads it as an allusion to teshuvah. This shifts responsibility from the metzorah to the kohen.  Rather than the burden of repentance resting exclusively on the sinner, it also rests on the one who wants to bring the metzorah back.  Whether by means of serving as an example or by generating energy in higher olamos that affect this world, the kohen’s own return is what precipitates the metzorah’s teshuvah. 

The Tiferes Shlomo goes one step further.  “V’yatzah ha’kohen… v’hinei nirpah negah tzara’as min ha’tzaru’ah” (14:3): 1) Why add the words, “min hatzaru’ah” -- obviously it is the person who had tzara’as who has been healed?  (Again, see Netziv) 2) Why “nirpah,” in the passive voice, as if the healing just happened on its own? The Rishonim explain that the suffering of the metzorah is a punishment for sin; therefore, shouldn’t the healing be a function of his teshuvah, not something that just happens? 

Tif Shlomo inverts means and end. Instead of seeing the metzorah's suffering as a means to elicit his teshuvah and the kohen's visit as a spot-check, the Tif Shlomo sees the suffering of the metzorah as a means to bring the kohen out, to draw the kohen to him.  "V'yatzah ha'kohen" is the goal.  M'meila, "nirpah nega tzara'as" once the kohen's mercy and rehabilitative power is elicited.  "Min hatza'ruah," from this tragic situation of tzara'as comes an opportunity for goodness and growth.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

no pain, no gain

The Midrash (15:4) opens the parsha of tzara’as with a mashal. A visitor to the king's palace notices that the king has a dungeon filled with all kinds of torture equipment.  The visitor is terrified, but the king reassures his friend that the dungeon is not meant for him – it’s meant for the disobedient slaves. What’s in store for him is eating and drinking and rejoicing. The nimshal: when Klal Yisrael heard the parsha of nega’im, they were terrified. Hashem reassures us that the punishment is meant for the umos ha’olam, but for us, there is only enjoyment and happiness.

What is the Midrash taking about? The halacha is that the dinim of tzara’as only apply to a yisrael, not to a nochri -- exactly the reverse of the mashal!

A Sefas Emes from a 2014 post may help us. The kohein is the paradigm of the ish chessed, so we understand why it is the kohein who goes out to the metzorah after his nega heals and declares him rehabilitated. But the kohein also the one who declares the metzora tamei to begin with. How is that in line with his role of chessed?

Sefas Emes answers that not only is becoming healed a chessed of Hashem, but being afflicted is a chessed as well. Imagine a person who doesn’t feel well and goes to visit the doctor. The doctor runs some tests and tells the person that X or Y is wrong, but it can be treated and cured. That person may think not feeling well and having to go to the doctor is terrible, but imagine if the same person never knew he was sick and never went to the doctor -- an infection or some other problem could just fester inside until it did far more damage and caused far bigger problems than could otherwise be taken care of. The wakeup call that something is wrong may be painful, may be inconvenient, may cause stress, but chasdei Hashem, without a wakeup call to correct problems, we would be far worse off.

Getting an opportunity to mend one’s ways and have a kapparah, even if it takes some work and is painful for a period of time, is something to be thankful for. “V’haya b’or besaro nega tzara’as…” Chazal (Meg 5) tell us that “haya” usually connotes simcha. Even though we are talking about a person who comes down with a terrible affliction of tzara’as, the Torah looks at it through the lens of simcha since this is the path to improvement.

Coming back to the mashal in the Midrash, when the person sees the painful instruments the king has at his disposal and shirks in fear, the king’s reassurance that for him there is only simcha doesn’t mean those instruments will never be used on him. What it means is that when the king has to use those instruments, they will be used only for the sake of rehabilitating the person, stopping him from self-destructive behavior, preventing him from suffering worse in the long run. They will never be used, as the king must sometimes use them against others, simply for punishment or vengeance.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

the chassidah that does not know how to do chessed

One of the non-kosher birds mentioned in the parsha is the “chassidah.” (11:19)  Rashi explains that it is called chassidah because it does chessed with its friends and brings them food.  Why should such a nice bird be not-kosher?  The Chiddushei haRI”M famously explains that it does chessed only with its friends, but not those who are not friends.  Others explain that it gets the food it distributes by taking from other birds.  It’s great to do chessed by giving your own things away, but not so great when you seize others' property to give away (I will refrain from making a political comment here).  Daughter #3, who asked me to mention that she is only 14 and has red hair [I am not sure what the latter detail has to do with anything], thought of her own answer that I said I would quote in her name.  Chessed is wonderful, but a person also needs to care of him/herself.  The flaw of the chassidah is that it gives away all its food away to friends at the expense of its own nest.  That is not a proper exercise of charity. 

(This week I did a few shorter posts instead of lumping them together.  Not sure which way works better.)

standing lifnei Hashem

There are what looks like three sections to the opening of Shemini:

A) Moshe’s instructions to Aharon and Bnei Yisrael as to what korbanos they need (9:1-5).

B) Moshe’s declaration, “Zeh ha’davar asher tzivah Hashem ta’asu v’yeirah Aleichem kvod Hashem.” (9:6)

C) A new round of instructions, “Vayomer Moshe el Aharon…” as to how to bring the korbanos. (9:7-on)

The meforshim struggle with step B. What is the “zeh ha’davar” that Moshe is referring to? Is it getting the korbanos? That’s step A. Is it offering the korbanos? That’s step C. What does this pasuk add? Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Netziv all offer answers, but it’s the Ohr haChaim’s fantastic diyuk that I want to focus on. O.C. explains that the “zeh ha’davar” that Moshe is referring to connected to the phrase that ends the previous pasuk: “va’ya’amdu lifnei Hashem” -- not “lifnei Ohel Mo’ed” but “lifnei Hashem.” That’s what Moshe complimented the people on as being exactly what Hashem commanded.

Here’s what I think that means: sometimes you come into shul to daven and it’s very hard to orient yourself. Sometimes there are a lot of children running around and it seems that you are in a playground. Sometimes it may seem like you are in a social hall, a baseball game, a bazaar. Sometimes the shat”z may even make you feel like you are in an auction house. For one reason or another, it sometimes can be very hard to feel that the place you are gathering to worship in is actually a place where you are standing “lifnei Hashem.

When the Mishkan was opened for business, “va’yikrivi kol ha’eidah va’ya’amdu lifnei Hashem.” The people got it -– it was not a playground, a bazaar, the trading floor of a bank or a newsroom. It was a place where they came to stand together “lifnei Hashem.” It’s such an obvious thing, yet it seems so hard to actually accomplish. 

why Aharon needed kapparah for the cheit ha'eigel

The eigel brought by Aharon on opening day of the Mishkan was a kaparah for cheit ha’eigel.  The gemara (Sanhedrin 7) writes that Chur tried to dissuade people from making the eigel and they killed   him.  Aharon figured that if he also gives tochacha, they will do the same to him.  We have a mesorah that if a kohen and navi are killed   together, then it’s all over for us.  Aharon feared that “lo havya le’hu takantah l’olam.”  Therefore, under the circumstances he figured it would be better to go along with the eigel.  Sounds like an excellent justification -- so why did he need a kaparah? 

R’ Shaul Yisraeli answers that it was not making the eigel that Aharon needed the kapparah for.  What he needed kaparah for was entertaining the thought of “lo havya le’hu takanah l’olam.”  No Jewish  leader should ever think that the people can reach rock bottom and strike out; no leader should ever think that Klal Yisrael’s situation can ever reach the point of hopelessness. 

getting the sevara right

או ירצה וישמע משה פירוש התורה מעידה שחילוק זה שמעו משה מפי הקב''ה, וייטב בעיניו הדבר אשר עשה אהרן.
ואם תאמר אם שמע כן מפי הקב''ה מה מקום להקפדתו? אולי לצד שלא אמרו עדיין לאהרן, חש שדן בו טעם אחר שאינו צודק ושרפו
The Ohr haChaim here has an amazing chiddush.  He writes that Moshe knew there was a chiluk between kodshei sha’ah and kodshei doros and that’s why one of the three korbanos was burnt and the others eaten (parenthetically, the Targum Yonasan writes that all three were burnt!)  Moshe had heard this chiluk directly from Hashem.  So why was Moshe upset at what Aharon had done?  O.C. answers that Moshe had yet to tell Aharon this chiddush din, and therefore, he had no idea why Aharon had distinguished between the korbanos.  Was it because Aharon had intuited the chiluk Moshe had learned, or was it because of some other sevara?
The sefer Nesivei Chaim points out that it seems from here that just fulfilling the mitzvah correctly was not sufficient -– Aharon had to get the “why,” the sevara, right as well.  
(It could be, as he suggests, that this was only true because Aharon had not been given these dinim as a mitzvah yet.  Once something is given as a mitzvah, just doing the correct actions even without the correct sevara is enough.)
2) The simple pshat in “vayitav b’einav” is that Moshe was satisfied with Aharon’s response and glad that no wrong had been committed, i.e. he breathed a sigh of relief.  The Seforno, however, says it means much more than that.  He explains that Moshe was happy to hear such great lomdus from his family; “vayitav b’einav” that his brother and nephews were such talmidei chachamim.  Divrei Torah are always m’samchei lev, but it’s especially m’samchei lev if it’s your brother, nephew, or especially son or daughter who is the one saying over that Torah. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

why Moshe could not serve as kohen gadol

Not a lot to say yet this week : (

1) The Ba’al haTurim at the opening of our parsha writes that because Moshe spent seven days by the burning bush arguing against accepting the mission of leading Klal Yisrael out of galus therefore he served as kohen gadol for only seven days.

The Midrash (also quoted in Rashi Shmos 4:10 and Ramban there explains similarly) writes that Moshe did not want to accept the job as go'el because he wanted his brother Aharon to have the kavod of being the leader. For this Moshe is punished?

The purpose of the Mishkan (at least according to some Rishonim) was to show that Hashem forgave the cheit ha’eigel. Aharon himself was directly involved in the cheit ha’eigel, and nonetheless, davka Aharon was chosen to be the kohen gadol and run the show. Moshe was denied the privilege perhaps not as a punishment, but simply because based on his reaction to Hashem’s charge at the burning bush, he disqualified himself. If Moshe couldn’t look beyond his perceived unworthiness and take the job then, how would he now be able to look beyond the past sin of cheit ha’eigel and accept the job of running the Mishkan?

The Ohr haChaim comments on “V’atah hakreiv eilecha es Aharon achicha” (why the extra “eilecha?”) that Moshe’s appointment of Aharon was itself a korban (“hakreiv”) of sorts to atone for his refusal to assume the mantle of leadership when Hashem offered it to him at the sneh.

2) Chazal ask why Klal Yisrael had to bring a sa’ir korban along with a par while Aharon did not.  The Toras Kohanim answers that Klal Yisrael was guilty of selling Yosef, for which they shechted a sa’ir and put the blood on the ksones pasim, and they were guilty of the cheit ha’eigel -- 2 sins, 2 korbanos.  Aharon, however, was guilty only of the cheit ha’eigel. Kli Yakar explains that even though Levi had also participated in the sale of Yosef, Aharon, the great oheiv shalom and rodef shalom, had already eradicated the animosity and jealously that was at the root of that sin.  Therefore, he was exempt from the need for kaparah for it.  

Why is the cheit of mechiras Yosef being brought up now?  Meshech Chochma explains that the brothers had a potential “out” for the sale of Yosef.  They could have argued that he should have given them tochacha directly rather than go to Ya’akov.  When Chur gave them tochacha directly to try to forestall the cheit ha’eigel and was killed as a result, it stripped the excuse for mechiras Yosef of whatever credibility it might have had.  

Why should the rejection of tochacha by Klal Yisrael at the cheit ha’eigel have any bearing on the culpability of their great… great grandparents for selling Yosef?  How does the rejection of tochacha by the eigel worshippers prove that the brothers would have also rejected direct tochacha from Yosef?   

I don’t think this is a question. We enjoy zechus Avos because we assume the traits of chessed, of mesirus nefesh, etc. that the Avos exhibited became part of our spiritual DNA. It is part of who we are, even if we don't always live up to our abilities.  If the assumption works in one direction, it has to work in the other direction as well. The rejection of tochacha in such a blatant and flagrant way, by killing Chur, didn’t come form nowhere – it must have become ingrained at some point in the past.  The seeds were planted already when the brothers rejected Yosef.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Keats' "negative capability" and parshas parah

There is an interesting point R’ Baruch Rosenberg, R”Y of Slabodka, makes in his sichos (Divrei Baruch) that I want to take in a completely different direction than he does.  He puts together two Midrashim that he puts together:

1) The Midrash tells us that the reason behind parah adumah was revealed only to Moshe. Shlomo tried to understand its secret, but even he was stymied.

2) There is another Midrash that lists four things that the yetzer ha’ra uses as ammunition to challenge us. One of the four is the law of parah adumah. How can it be, asks the yetzer, that the ashes of the parah are metaheir, but those who come in contact with the parah becomes tamei? How do you explain the self-contradiction?

It seems from the second Midrash that if not for the yetzer ha’ra, parshas parah would not present a challenge. Yet the first Midrash tells us that the law of parah adumah is incomprehensible -– it begs an inescapable and unanswerable question.

R’ Rosenberg concludes that although on the level of sod parshas parah will always remain incomprehensible, it is Torah to be learned and therefore must have some meaning for us.  The yetzer ha’ra tells us it is void of sense altogether, but that is not true.

Had R’ Rosenberg read Keats or been married to someone who read Keats : ) I think he perhaps might have offered a different answer.

Keats wrote in one of his letters, “Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

It’s Coleridge and the Enlightenment thinkers who are, for Keats, the yetzer ha’ra the Midrash speaks of. The obsession with arriving at philosophical answers, scientific answers, arriving at THE truth that resolves all doubts and questions, is something that Keats, a Romantic poet, rejected. Kears preferred savoring the beauty of the mystery itself, the beauty of multiple contradictory perspectives that the poet can slip in and out of.

It’s not the fact that we can understand the parsha of parah on at least some level that protects us from the challenges yetzer.  It's our acceptance of unfathomable mysteries and paradoxes which is the ultimate shield.     

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

chatzi shiur by kiyum mitzvah; the famous Taz about not legislating against en explicit pasuk; how long did Mordechai live?

1) The Minchas Chinuch in a few places raises the question of whether there is any value to a kiyum mitzvah done with a chatzi shiur. Do you, for example, get any credit for eating half a zayis of matzah, or is it all or nothing? He brings proof from the fact that when they gave out the lechem ha’panim each kohein only got a small piece less than a k’zayis. Even though there is a mitzvah of achilas kodshim, and achila by definition = a k’zayis, apparently eating even less than the shiur had some value. The Beis haLevi rejects this proof and distinguishes between achilas kodshim, where the mitzvah is that the cheftza be consumed, and achilas matzah, where there is a chovas hagavra to eat. However, the Netziv in last week’s parsha (6:22) is so emphatic about the fact that even the mitzvah of achilas kodshim requires eating a k’zayis that he suggests that eating less is close to being a violation of the issur of being ne’heneh from hekdesh. He is forced to concede (based on the proof from lechem ha’panim) that it’s not a real issur, but it’s certainly not something you want to avoid.

2) Chazal (Brachos 2) made a seyag that even where m’doraysa a mitzvah can be done all night, it should be completed before chatzos. The Rambam applies this din to all the cases mentioned in that Mishna, but Rashi writes that it applies only to kri’as shema but not the burning of the fats and meat of korbanos on the mizbeiach. My son alerted me to the Torah Temimah (6:2 comment #7) who explains Rashi based on the Taz’s famous principle (Y.D. 117) that the Chachamim can never uproot or change a din written explicitly in the Torah. Since our parsha says explicitly that korbanos can be burned “kol ha’layla ad ha’boker,” all night, the Chachamim could not limit the time in any way. (The L. Rebbe suggested that even the Rambam may accept the Taz’s principle, but only with respect to curtailing the performance of an actual mitzvah. In our case, there is no mitzvah to davka burn the fats at night – it is just permissible to do so if it was not done during the day.)

3) For those who are still holding by Purim, an interesting Rashi in Menachos 64b: the gemara there relates that during the Hasmonean wars, there was an attempt to disrupt the avodah.  All the wheat and barley around Yerushalayim was burnt so that the korban ha'omer and shtei halechem could not be brought (Maharasha).  There was a mute person who tried to signal where wheat could be found, and the gemara says it was Mordechai who understood the hint and figured out the name of the places based on the gestures.   Rashi there comments that this is the same Mordechai from the Purim story.  If so, it would mean Mordechai lived an amazingly long life!  Tosfos therefore rejects this view.  I don't know if anyone has a hesber for Rashi -- seems to be an argument about metziyus. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

it's not their problem -- it's our problem

Mordechai insisted that Esther go to plead her case to Achashveirosh, but she responds that she has not been called to the palace for some time.  Mordechai replied that if Esther thinks she can get off the hook with an excuse and not go, she is mistaken.  If that is her strategy, she will be lost, but there will be some other savior for the Jewish people. 

My wife has already written about this exchange on her blog, but I'll add my own two cents.  Mordechai came to Esther in Nisan, a full eleven months before Haman's decree was set to be acted on.  Maharal explains that Esther's argument was simple: why risk my life now?  Everyone knows you can't go to the king without being called for.  There is plenty of time to spare -- maybe he will call next week, next month, or at some point over the next eleven months.  At that point the issue of Haman's decree can be addressed.  What's the big rush?

Sounds reasonable, right?  But Mordechai interpreted it as a refusal to go because Mordechai knew something about psychology.  When it's your life on the line, reason goes out the window.  Let's take a non life-threatening example: two people share a car ride to the city, one to a job interview, one for a trip to a park.  They leave enough time for the trip , but there is always traffic in NY, v'kach hava.  The person with the interview looks at his watch every five minutes, cringes at every red light that holds up traffic, etc.  His neighbor, who is relaxing in the seat next to him, keeps reassuring him that he will make it in time, but the words fall on deaf ears.  What the neighbor is saying is entirely reasonable, and he's not nervous -- but he's not the one with the interview.  He has no pressure, so he can afford to talk reason.  Not so his friend.  What Mordechai was telling Esther is that if you really feel the pain and suffering, then you don't say, "Let's wait and see."  If you really feel your life is on the line, then any delay in resolving and defusing the situation feels like an eternity.  That pressure is unbearable!  You feel like you have to do something now, immediately -- no matter what the rational part of the brain may dictate.  If you don't feel that way, it means you think you have an out.  It means you look at the danger as something that applies to the other guy, but not to you.  If you have time to sit back and asses things "rationally," without any feeling of panic of sense that time is of the essence, it means you just don't get it.

Of course we should all be b'simcha on Purim, but we also need to understand that what happens in Brussels, what happens in France, what happens in Yerushalayim, is our problem, not the problem of the Jews of Brussels, France, or Eretz Yisrael.  If you read the news and your response is to do a derisha v'chakira and talk about weighing the facts and having a meeting or a conference to see how to respond, and kler over whether to hold a protest and where and who else is going, etc., and let's see after next election, etc. all of which are thoughtful, rational, responses, it means you just don't get it.  If it was G-d forbid your family member, your loved one, affected by one of the attacks, that's not how you would respond.  You would shrai chai v'kayam!

That's what our reaction needs to be.  Even if you are not crying out to politicians, to the press, to whoever else will listen (which needs to be done!), why not at least cry out to the Ribono shel Olam?


1) Yesterday when I saw the headline "ADL Condemns Cruz for 'Demonizing Muslims'" after the Brussels attack, I thought this must be an early Purim edition.  Sadly, it was not. Rather than focus on fighting the hatred directed against Jews and against Israel, particularly by the Islamic world, the ADL has to spend time looking for a kol she'hu of an  insinuation in what Cruz said so they can run and cry Islamophobia and defend the enemy.  Can you imagine what would organization like this what have done in the time of Mordechai and Esther?  Amalekphobia!  Just because Haman as a problem with Mordechai, who, after all, is a right wing extremist and therefore deserves to be scorned, does not mean all Amalekites are to be blamed.  Besides which, the Jews were building in Jerusalem, so in all fairness, you can't blame Haman for wanting to kill women and children.  And then imagine the reaction when the report of 75,000 Amalekim killed would reach their ears!  They would be apoplectic. 

This fifth column among us angers and saddens me more than the behavior of our enemy. 

2) Right after Haman made his decree, the megillah (ch 4) relates that Mordechai told Esther "es kol asher korahu."  Malbim explains that Mordechai told Esther that he was the cause of Haman's decree because he refused to bow.  The emphasis is  "korahu" = what happened to him, i.e. it was his personal standoff and fight that had now been escalated.  The Midrash reads the pasuk differently.  "Korahu" is a hint to "asher korcha ba'derech," the battle against Amalek, from whom Haman descended, that "happened" on the road out of Mitzrayim. 

I think the pshat and derash here teach us how a Jew is supposed to look at events.  The pshat is "korahu" -- it is my personal battle, unique to my time, my place, the events surrounding me.  The derash sees the same battle as part of a larger historical context.  It's not your battle -- it's a battle that has been going on for eons, fought over centuries in different times and different places by different people, and you are just a continuation and part of the larger picture.  What happens to us is part of the eternal history of Klal Yisrael.

3) "Chayav inish l'besumei b'Puria" -- I saw one of the chassidishe seforim explains it means that a person has to become intoxicated with the spirit of the chag, the meaning of the day.