Friday, September 25, 2020

rav chessed v'emes

Way back in March I discussed the Netziv's pshat in "rav chessed v'emes", that “rav” modifies both terms –- Hashem is both “rav chessed” and “rav emes.”  Meaning, when a person appears before a judge, the judge may say that while it’s true/emes that the law says that for crime X the punishment is Y, he will be merciful and give a lesser punishment.  Or the judge may refuse to hear any grounds for leniency -– no chessed –- and instead, dispense exactly the punishment on the books.  It's either or: either you get the letter of the law, or the law goes out the window and you get mercy in its place.  Hashem somehow –- and this is beyond our human capacity to understand –- shows both an abundance of mercy, he is “rav chessed,” and at the same time, does not deviate one iota from being “rav emes,” from dispensing exactly what the letter of the law requires (see post here.)

The problem is that we are talking about the 13 midos ha'rachamim here -- not stam 13 ways G-d runs the world.  If emes is a stira to rachamim, then what is it doing here?  

Revisiting another post from a long time ago: The Midrash writes that for 26 generations before mattan Torah Hashem sustained the world through pure chessed.  We have 26 "ki l'olam chasdo"s.  But after mattan Torah, we are responsible to earn our keep by doing Torah u'miztvos.

So does that mean that mattan Torah diminished Hashem's chessed?

Rav Hutner answers as follows: Ramchal and others explain that chessed that is an undeserved handout is not the pureset form of chessed because who really feels good about taking a handout?  The highest form of chessed is giving someone an opportunity to earn what you want to bestow upon them.  Mattan Torah was therefore a greater chessed than existed ever before because Torah and mitzvos give us the opportunity to earn what Hashem wants to grant us.

This is what we mean, says the Tiferes Shlomo, by the word "emes" in the 13 midos.  The chessed of Hashem is a chessed of "emes," it is something he gives us the opportunity to earn and deserve, and is not tainted by being nahama d'kisufa.

Hashem wants to give each one of us a kesiva v'chasima tovah.  He wants to give us rachamei shamayim and he gives us so many opportunities, especially during aseres ymei teshuvah, to get there.  Chazal gave us a simple formula: "kol ha'merachem... m'rachamim alav min ha'shamayim."  

But what if a person just doesn't feel inspired and just doesn't have it in him?  

I've quoted this Ishbitzer many times before, so this too is an encore performance.  "Terem nikra'au v'ani e'eneh, od heim midbarim v'ani eshma."  If G-d responded already, "terem nikra'u," then what is the "od heim midabrim" all about?  

The Ishbitzer explains that the pasuk is speaking about a situation where Hashem wants to intervene and help us, but the is'arusa d'li'tata on our part is missing.  So Hashem intervenes and wakes us up.  "Terem nikra'u," he responds not by giving us what we need, but by arousing us and inspiring us to ask for it.  Then, "od heim midabrim," once the dialogue is established, once the conversation is initiated, then "ani eshma," says Hashem.

The Yalkut comments on the pasuk in Iyov (41:3) "Mi hikdimani va'ashalem":

 מי הקדימני ואשלם מי קלס לפני עד שלא נתתי לו נשמה, מי מל לבנו עד שלא נתתי לו בן, מי עשה ציצית עד שלא נתתי, מי הפריש תרומה ומעשר עד שלא נתתי לו גורן, מי הפריש בכורות ומעשרות וקרבנות עד שלא נתתי לו צאן

Hashem asks: Did you do milah before I have you a child?  Did you make tzitzis before I gave you clothes?  Did you take terumah before I made your crop grow?

You of course can't do milah before having a son, or fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzis before you have clothes.  What Chazal are telling us is that while we are the ones who collect the reward for doing mitzvos, it is Hashem who creates the opportunities for us and inspires us to do them.  A person may not had a thought in his head of doing milah, but them Hashem gives him a son and he finds himself doing the mitzvah.  And the same with every other opportunity that just "happens" to present itself.  Hashem is not just the one who pats us on the head after the fact if we've done what we are supposed to, but he is also the one orchestrating getting us to the point. 

The Tiferes Shlomo explains that this is the "rav chessed" of the 13 midos: 

לכך הנה אם האדם מרחם על חבירו ומרחמין עליו מן השמים זה הוא בחי' אמת כי כן הוא היושר אבל אם אינו מרחם על חבירו והוא צריך לאותו דבר מה עושה הקב"ה בחסדו הגדול כדי שיהא אתערותא דלתתא הנה שולח בלב האיש הזה לעשות צדקה ורחמנות על חבירו ואח"כ באתערותא דלתתא מעורר רחמים למעלה. וזה הוא בחי' ורב חסד שבחסדיו הרבים מעורר את האדם להמשיך עליו חסד ואמת כי אח"כ מגיע לו עפ"י האמת והיושר כנ"ל

Hashem doesn't wait for us to get the inspiration to go out and earn the chessed He wants to give so that it is emes -- He steers us in the right direction to get there.   "Rav chessed" is the chessed of "terem nikra" to get us to the point of "od heim midabrim," where we do the right thing.  

Kol ha'meracheim... m'rachamim alav min ha'shamayim.  Hashem arranged for your mailbox to be inundated with letters asking for tzedaka this week, for your phone to be inundated with robocalls asking you to support this cause or that cause, for there to be a kol nidrei appeal and for you to pass by the child shaking his pushke outside the supermarket.  All that and more is the rav chessed.  If we respond as we should, then it will be a year of emes-dik chessed, of rachamei shamayim that is earned and deserved and therefore of the highest level.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

viduy - siman or sibah

Rambam, first din in Hil Teshuvah:

כל מצות שבתורה בין עשה בין לא תעשה אם עבר אדם על אחת מהן בין בזדון בין בשגגה כשיעשה תשובה וישוב מחטאו חייב להתודות

The Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah 364) is medayek that the Rambam defines the mitzvah as saying viduy, not the act of repentance itself.  When one wants to repent -- there is apparently no obligation to do so -- one must recite viduy.  Ramban in P' Nitzavim disagrees and holds that there is a chiyuv to repent and do teshuvah.

Minchas Chinuch asks:

The gemara in Shvuos (12b, see also Zevachim 7b) asks what kaparah for mitzvos aseh is accomplished by the sa'ir ha'mishtaleiach on Y"K:

אי עשה ה"ד אי דלא עבד תשובה זבח רשעים תועבה אי דעבד תשובה כל יומא נמי דתניא עבר על מצות עשה ועשה תשובה לא זז משם עד שמוחלין לו

If the person did not do teshuvah already, then the korban is zevach resha'im and accomplishes nothing.  If the person did do teshuvah, then the person would have already been forgiven and the korban is unnecessary.

According to the Rambam, the gemara should not have a question.  A person might have done teshuvah in his heart, so his korban would not be a zevach resha'im, but he still needs kaparah for the aveira because he has not yet done viduy.  Since the gemara does not offer this as a solution, it proves the Rambam's formulation is incorrect.

Rav Yisachar Shlomo Teichtel (author of Eim haBanim Smeicha) answers that even the Rambam agrees that the mitzvah of teshuvah is what happens in the heart.  Viduy is just a siman that one is truly regretful, that one has sincerely mended one's ways.  (Mashal l'mah ha'davar domeh: RYBS holds that the the aveilus is a kiyum mitzvah b'lev; the nihugei aveilus like not washing, not wearing shoes, etc. are just the means to express the emotion.)

A scenario of teshuvah done in the heart that renders a korban no longer zevach resha'im but does not yet fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah is impossible.  If the teshuvah was not sincerely meant, then the korban is still zevach resha'im.  If the teshuvah was sincerely meant, then the mitzvah is completely fulfilled.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

to live as a baal teshuvah or die as a baal teshuvah?

1) Rambam, first halacha in perek 7 of Hil Teshuvah:

הואיל ורשות כל אדם נתונה לו כמו שבארנו ישתדל אדם לעשות תשובה ולהתודות בפיו מחטאיו ולנעור כפיו מחטאיו כדי שימות והוא בעל תשובה ויזכה לחיי העולם הבא

Had you asked me I would have said that a person should do teshuvah to rid himself of aveiros so that he can live a righteous, fulfilled life.  But that's not what the Rambam says.  He puts the focus on death -- כדי שימות והוא בעל תשובה.  Rambam could have eliminated that phrase entirely and simply said to do teshuvah  ויזכה לחיי העולם הבא.  Why the particular stress on dying as a baal teshuvah?

2) R' Ovadya Yosef holds that if a person or tzibur cannot say slichos in the morning, they can be said before mincha.  He was asked why in that case the slichos should be said first -- tadir v'she'aino tadir tadir kodem, so mincha should be recited first.

Whatever the answer is, the question should not apply only to mincha.  Unless you are saying slichos b'ashmores ha'boker (as the Rambam says to), then when you come to shul for shacharis at 6:30 or 7:00 or whenever, you have a tadir chiyuv of shacharis that should take precedence over slichos.

(The Shaagas Aryeh already is mechadesh that you only apply the rule of tadir when comparing apples to apples, i.e. two mitzvos d'oraysa or two mitzvos derabbanan, but when you are comparing something like a minhag with a real chiyuv, then the rule does not apply and, counterintuitively, the minhag can come first.  Whether this Shg"A is correct is a debate and a discussion for a different post.)

Monday, September 21, 2020

..bincha, yechidcha, asher ahavta

Kach na es bincha es yichidcha asher ahavta...

Rashi comments that when Hashem said "bincha," Avraham said, "What do you mean? -- I have two sons."

"Es yichidcha" -- "What do you mean? -- each one is a yachid in his own right?"

"Asher ahavta" -- "What do you mean? -- I love them both equally."

Yet when Avraham travels to Har haMoriah, he tells Yishmael and Eliezer, "shvu lachem poh im ha'chamor," stay with the donkey while I go up the mountain with Yitzchak.  Chazal comment that Avraham was telling Yishmael that he was spiritually like a donkey and had no place coming up to Har haMoriah with him.

How is it that Avraham recognized Yishmael as spiritually bankrupt, but at the same time when Hashem appears to talk about Avraham's unique, special, beloved son, Avraham does not even realize that he means Yitzchak until Hashem spells it out?

The Tiferes Shlomo answers that although Avraham did not at first distinguish between his sons, once Hashem told him that he has to pass the test of akeidas Yitzchak, Avraham deliberately accentuated the greatness of Yitchak and the shortcomings of Yishmael so as to make the test that much greater a challenge and that much greater a sacrifice for G-d's sake.

My wife suggested that there is no contradiction.  Avraham recognized Yishmael's spiritual failures, but nonetheless, Yishmael was still in his eyes "...bincha, yechidcha, asher ahavta."  One can recognize a child's failures and shortcomings and love them fully anyway.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Ub'chein avo el haMelech

 There is a constant refrain of ub'chein... ובכן in the tefilos of Yamin Noraim:  Ub'chein tein kavod..., ub'chein tein pachdecha..., ub'chein tzadikim..., etc.  In the back of the Sifsei Chaim on Sefer Devarim (p293-294) there is a letter from R" Yonah Martzbach (R"Y of Kol Torah) to his then future son-in-law R' Chaim Friedlander where he writes that this refrain is meant to remind us of the pasuk in Megillas Esther (4:16) וּבְכֵ֞ן אָב֤וֹא אֶל־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ Ub'chein avo el haMelech...  At that moment Esther knew that her fate, that the fate of perhaps the entire Jewish people, hung in the balance -- would the King greet her favorably, would she find the right words to say on her own behalf, nafshei b'she'eilsai, and  on behalf of the klal, v'ami b'bakashasi?  On Rosh Hashana everything hangs in the balance.  We approach Hashem like Esther approached Achashveirosh, beseeching him on our own behalf, the prat, and for Klal Yisrael as a whole, the klal.

"V'GAM es Noach b'ahavah zacharta."  He goes on in that letter to explain that the word "v'gam" is a ribuy -- even though dorshin l'gnai, that Noach did not do enough, that he was a flawed tzadik, Hashem still remembered him l'zechus since he stood above the corruption around him.  We all fall far short of perfection, but we can be zocheh hopefully through v'gam.

The navi tells (Melachim ch 4) us "va'yehi HA'yom," on that day, and Chazal tell us that HA'yom, THE day, is Rosh haShana, Elisha the prophet came to the Shunamis woman and offered to give her a blessing for whatever she needed.  A bracha from a tzadik on Rosh HaShana certainly can't hurt!  But the Isha Shunamis replied to Elisha,  בְּת֥וֹךְ עַמִּ֖י אָנֹכִ֥י יֹשָֽׁבֶת׃, I am among the people, I prefer to not be singled out for your special attention.  

What did the Isha Shunamis mean?  How do you turn down the bracha from a tzadik?

The usual pshat is that if you are singled out, then Hashem looks at your merits or lack thereof as you stand as an individual.  That's not such an easy test to pass.  But there is another aspect to din that looks at how you fit into the klal, at your standing as a member of the community, "b'toch ami."  Even if you don't past muster on the individual level, sometimes you will be judged positively anyway because you are part of a community that is worthy of being judged positively.  The Isha Shunamis thought she stood a better chance in din being looked at as just another member of her community than she would had the navi would have singled her out.

The Tiferes Shlomo (page 40a d"h l'havin) says a slightly different answer.  Rosh HaShana is called Yom Ha'Zikaron not (only) because Hashem "remembers" kavyachol each one of us, but rather it's called Yom haZikaron because we remember and think about each other.  That's the key to being judged favorably.  "Ki dorshecha l'olam lo yikasheilu" -- if you approach tefilah as "ki dorshecha l'olam," your requests are for the world, for the klal, not focused on your own selfish needs, then "lo yikasheilu," you will not be rejected.  "VaYizkor Elokim es Noach v'es ha'chaya v'es ha'beheima asher ito ba'teivah" -- Hashem remembered Noach because the lions and tigers and bears were "ito ba'teivah," their needs were on his lips, in his words of prayer -- he davened on their behalf, not just for himself.  This is what the Isha haShunamis was telling Elisha.  The bracha of a tzadik and navi is great, but the brachos of all Klal Yisrael together is even more powerful.  "B'toch ami anochi yosheves" -- on Rosh haShana my needs are surely already being mentioned in the tefilos of all Klal Yisrael which we are saying behalf of one another.

Kesiva v'chasima tovah

Thursday, September 17, 2020

5781 mei'ashpos yarim evyon

By now everyone has seen the Chasam Sofer at the end of Bechukosai that this year, תשׁפּ״א, is the year of מאשׁפּ״ת ירים אביון.  Kein y'hei ratzon.  I'm going to take that as my springboard.

Rashi on the first pasuk in chumash tells us:

שבתחלה עלה במחשבה לבראותו במדת הדין, ראה שאין יכול להתקיים, הקדים מדת רחמים ושתפה למדת הדין.

Hashem wanted the world to run based on midas ha'din -- R"H is the day of creation and the yom ha'din -- but that wouldn't work, so he put the midas ha'rachamim in there so we can survive.

That's the essence of R"H in a nutshell: infusing the din with rachamim.

The key is to earn that rachamim, because there are people who one is not permitted to show rachamim to:

Brachos 33a: וְכׇל מִי שֶׁאֵין בּוֹ דֵּעָה — אָסוּר לְרַחֵם עָלָיו, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״כִּי לֹא עַם בִּינוֹת הוּא עַל כֵּן לֹא יְרַחֲמֶנּוּ עוֹשֵׂהוּ״.  

Mesilas Yesharim writes (section on zehirus):

אבל אם אינו מפקח הוא על עצמו, ודאי שהקדוש ברוך הוא לא יפקח עליו. כי אם הוא אינו חס, מי יחוס עליו. והוא כענין מה שאמרו רבותינו זכרונם לברכה (ברכות לג): כל מי שאין בו דעה אסור לרחם עליו. והוא מה שאמרו (אבות ג): אם אין אני לי מי לי. 

If you can't show enough rachmanus on yourself to put your own house in order, to correct your daas, what right do you have to ask Hashem for his rachmanus?

Whatever you give to someone lacking in daas is a waste.  You want Hashem to give you great parnasa -- for what, for a big vacation?  You want Hashem to give you brains -- for what, to beat the stock market or come up with some business scheme?  If you don't know how to use the gifts correctly, why should Hashem have rachmanus and give anything?

Someone who lacks daas, who you are not permitted to show mercy to, is called a poor person.  The gemara writes (Nedarim 41) אמר אביי נקטינן אין עני אלא בדעה.  Chazal say   במערבא אמרי דדא ביה כולא ביה דלא דא ביה מה ביה דא קני מה חסר דא לא קני מה קני  If you have intelligence, daas, then you have everything; if you lack it, no matter what else you have, it amounts to nothing. 

There is something even worse than being an ani, and that's being an evyon.  Rashi comments on לֹא־תַעֲשֹׁ֥ק שָׂכִ֖יר עָנִ֣י וְאֶבְי֑וֹן (Devarim 24:14) that evyon comes from the word avah=desire; he is תאב לכל דבר, he wants something, anything.  An ani is the guy who throws your dollar back in your face because it's not enough of a donation; an avyon will not throw anything back because he wants and needs every penny.

The evyon in daas is ta'eiv for anything that seems to offer the promise of fulfillment, success, meaning.  There are so many things in life you can latch onto that promise all that and more.

The navi (Amos 11:8) tells us that things will one day be so bad that people will be hungry and thirsty not for food and water but rather they will long for the dvar Hashem.  What's so bad about that?  The Ponivitcher Rov explained that when you are so thirsty and hungry, you will drink and eat anything -- you don't discriminate.  People so desperate for spirituality, for meaning in their life, will take anything -- good torah or bad, truth or falsehood.  In other words, they are evyonim -- ta'eiv l'kol davar.  

Coming back to the Chasam Sofer, maybe he is telling us that this is our mission for the upcoming year.  מאשׁפּ״ת ירים אביון  Jews are the leaders of every -ism, of every do-gooder movement, of every march to make the world better.  We are ta'eiv l'kol intellectual and "moral" davar.  Our minds and our talent are thrown into everything.  Time to lift up our daas and devote it to that which is true and real.   Stop being an evyon, looking for anything and everything, and redirect that desire to better things.

Sefas Emes writes in the ma'amarim on Pesach (5646):

שמעתי מפי מו"ז ז"ל בפ' מאשפות ירים אביון להושיבי עם נדיבים. כי הקב"ה מקים ומרים הרצונות של בני ישראל המונחין באשפתות ומהפכן להתנדב רצונם אליו ית' כו'. ולבאר יותר כי חז"ל אמרו מעם אביון התאב לכל דבר. כי השפל בדעת תאב לכל דבר. אבל כשהקב"ה מאיר עיני האדם לדעת האמת. מואס ממילא בהבלי עולם.

Ashrei ha'am yode'ei teru'ah...  Shofar is to wake up our daas.  21 days after R"H will will get to Simchas Torah and close out the holiday season with Atah hareisa la'daas.  It's all about daas because using daas properly is the difference between being an evyon and having a rich, fulfilled year.

The gemara (R"H 16) asks: רבי יצחק למה תוקעין בר"ה  Why do we blow shofar?  

Answers the gemara: what kind of question is that?  !למה תוקעין? רחמנא אמר תקעו

Rachmana = the Torah said to blow, so we blow.  Torah always referred to by Chazal as Rachmana  because it's Torah that gives us daas, that lifts us out of the improvised life of the mental ani v'evyon, מאשׁפּ״ת ירים אביון, so that we can earn rachamei shamayim.

Sefas Emes R"H 5664:

עיקר השופר לעורר רחמים בזכות התורה דאיתא עלה במחשבה לברוא במדה"ד וראה שאין העולם מתקיים ושיתף עמה מדה"ר. זה התורה דאיתא מי שאין בו דעת אסור לרחם עליו. והקב"ה בחסדו נתן לנו התורה שנזכה לדעת ועי"ז מרחם עלינו. לכן נק' התורה רחמנא בגמ' שכל הרחמים בא בכח התורה. וע"ז נאמר אתה הראת לדעת שחונן לנו הקב"ה דעת התורה. וזהו יודעי תרועה בדעת. וכן כתיב מדי דברי בו כו' רחם ארחמנו. ולכן על ידי השופר עומד מכסא דין ויושב על כסא רחמים:

I could write Chasam Sofers and Sefas Emes all day and night and somehow, for me at least, an ani b'daas, it does not pull me into the Y"T mindset as much as the great Hillel Palei does:

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

no preparation

Every year before Y"T I always feel that I am not really prepared for the upcoming chagim, and this year is no exception -- the feeling is only intensified due to the disruption of the normal davening procedures and normal everything procedures.  We are in uncharted territory more than ever.

R' Amiel in his derashos points out that there are preparations that we have to make for every Y"T.  Pesach requires cleaning the house of chametz and ideally, getting a korban pesach.  We have 50 days of sefirah that is a count up to Shavuos.  Sukkos is the culmination of the Rosh haShana/Y"k season and requires building a sukkah, obtaining 4 minin.  Mes Yoma starts with the din that the kohen gadol would separate from his home 7 days before Y"K to prepare.  For Rosh haShana -- nothing.  Before every Rosh Chodesh we have a Shabbos Mevorchim, and for Tishrei, Rosh haShana, we don't even have that.

This is not by accident.  Every Yom Tov connects with the days prior, leading up to Y"T.  Rosh haShana, on the other hand, is by definition a clean break from the past.  It is by definition a new beginning.  We don't want to bring old baggage from last year into this new point in time.