Saturday, October 03, 2015

Simchas Torah -- kiyum simcha of the tzibur vs kiyum of the yachid

Rama (O.C. 660) quotes that minhag Ashkenaz is that an aveil does not do the hakafos with his lulav during hosha'anos.  Beis Yosef disagrees and wonders why an aveil should be exempt.  After all, an aveil is obligated in all mitzvos, including simchas Yom Tov, which cancels aveilus, so why is hosha'anos any different?  Achronim try their best to justify the minhag, but the answers are not (as the Taz and others already say) are not completely satisfying.  The Bach suggests that the problem stems from the fact that an aveil cannot cut his hair, and the kohanim who did the hakafa of the mizbeiach that we are commemorating were not permitted to have long hair, peru'ei rosh.  The problem is that the shiur of hair that is called too long is a growth of more than 30 days, and except for aveilus on parents, an aveil can take a haircut at the end of 30 days.  Some see participating in hosha'anos as representing the tzibur, and just like an aveil cannot serve as the shat"z on days that tachanun is not recited, so too, he cannot participate here.  The GR"A (quoted in M"B as well) says the exemption is based on the fact that the hakafos of the mizbeiach are a kiyum of "u'smachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem shivas yamim" and an aveil lacks the ability to be b'simcha (begging the question of how this is different than the mitzvah of simchas Y"T).  In short: it's a difficult minhag to justify.  (The Gesher haChaim paskens that an aveil can do hakafos after the tzibur as finished, and he quotes the Ya'avetz as allowing the aveil to participate on Hosha'ana Rabbah.  I'm not sure how that would fit with the GR"A.)

Gesher haChaim (vol 2 ch 17) raises another fascinating question.  The Kaf haChaim and others writes that although an aveil cannot participate in dancing on Simchas Torah, he is allowed to have a hakafa with the sefer Torah.  If hakafos with the lulav, which are only a zeicher to the "u'smachtem" of the mikdash, are prohibited, how then are hakafos of Simchas Torah, which are part of the simchas ha'yom itself, permitted?!  (Note that the Chelkas Ya'akov here prohibits participating in hakafos for this very reason.)

One theory the Gesher haChaim offers is that there is a fundamental difference between the kiyum simcha that happens in the mikdash, commemorated by hosha'anos, and other kiyumim of simcha.  The simcha of the mikdash was a chovas hatzibur -- it was a communal celebration, a national rejoicing.  Simchas Yom Tov celebrated by having a meal with family, Smchas Torah celebrated by dancing in shul, is a simcha of the yachid, the individual.  We may come together as families to celebrate or as communities to celebrate, but the end goal in doing so is to enhance our personal kiyum of simcha.  It does not transform the kiyum into a communal one.  Therefore, the Rama prohibits only participating in hosha'anos but no other simcha as only hosha'anos contains a "zeicher l'mikdash" component that reminds us of this communal kiyum in the mikdash.

Even if one accepts the sevara as correct, perhaps there is room to argue.  Abarbanel in Parshas VaYeilech writes that our celebration of Simchas Torah is based on the hakhel ceremony.  Just like in hakhel the king would read Sefer Devarim before the assembled people, so too, on Simchas Torah we gather together and the leader of the community finishes the reading of Devarim (see Kli Chemdah in P' Zos haBracha who discusses the source for a talmid chacham being called for the final aliya without noting this Abarbanel and the parallel to melech.  I am sure many Rabbis are wondering about the validity of the comparison between themselves and a melech : )  Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the hakhel ceremony, done in the makom mikdash, is a communal obligation.  Everyone -- men, women, and even children -- must come and participate in hakhel.  If that's what our celebration on Simchas Torah is modeled after, then the same logic that precludes an aveil from hosha'anos should apply here.

One final note: Many shuls hold a big kiddush or lunch on Simchas Torah and I was wondering if one can participate during aveilus.  This post is pretty long already so I'll skip going through the shitos about whether and what simchos an aveils can/cannot participate in -- let's keep it simple: social occasions are out.  I view most kiddushes as social occasions.  However, it turns out that Simchas Torah lunch is an exception.  Even those who hold that an aveil cannot participate in a siyum would allow an aveil to make a siyum himself -- in that case, the aveil is not a guest; he is the host.  On Simchas Torah, each one of us is not a guest at the siyum haTorah -- each one of us is the host, the mesayeim.  Each one of us is celebrating our personal completion of another round of learning.

And one last final, final note: I don't know how you balance "v'samachta b'chagecha" with being aware of and feeling the pain of those killed al Kiddush haShem in Eretz Yisrael.  All I know is that we need lots of rachamei shamayim, lots of Torah, and we need lots of zechuyos.

Friday, October 02, 2015

V'osi yom yom yidroshun' -- zu tekiya v'aravah

The Mishna in R"H writes that unlike hallel which is said right after shacharis, tekiyas shofar is delayed until musaf.  The gemara explains that this is a takanah from times when there was a danger of the enemy misinterpreting the gathering of Jews as a rebellion and shofar blast as a call to arms.  Once shacharis passed and it was apparent that this was just a religious service, there was no danger anymore.  If so, asks the Yerushalmi (perek 4 halacha 8), why was their not the same concern with respect to hallel, i.e. that the noise of the singing of hallel would be misinterpreted as an uprising?  The gemara answers (compare with the Bavli) that not everyone is in shul that early (a makor for coming to shul late on Y"T : ) and a small minor gathering would not be misinterpreted as a rebellion.  However, says the Yerushalmi, everyone is in shul for tekiyas shofar (amazing -- it's still true to this very day.) The Yerushalmi ends off with a derasha: "Amar Rav Yonah, ksiv 'V'osi yom yom yidroshun' -- zu tekiya v'aravah."  Explains the Pnei Moshe, on the day of Rosh haShana by tekiyos and the day of Hoshana Rabbah by aravah everyone is in shul to daven together.

Why these two days in particular?  Why are davka tekiyas shofar and the mitzvah of aravah times of 'V'osi yom yom yidroshun?'

Achronim explain that aside from being a kiyum of mitzvas shofar, the tekiyos which we blow during shmoneh esrei of Rosh HaShana are also a kiyum of tefilah.  Sometimes a person cannot even get the words out to daven -- they can just sigh or cry and that's it.  That's the tefilah of tekiyas shofar -- a tefilah without words.  Rosh haShana is an opportunity for our prayers to be heard even if we can't articulate the words.

The four minim represent four types of Jews.  The esrog which has a nice taste and nice smell represents the tzadik who as Torah and mitzvos under his belt.  At the other extreme is the aravah, that has neither taste nor smell and is bereft of ruchniyus.  What zechus does the aravah-Jew have to call upon his his tefilos?  None.  The shape of the aravah resembles closed lips, says the Sefas Emes.  Yet on Hoshana Rabbah, even those closed lips that have no zechuyos to call on can have their prayers answered (see this post as well).

Rosh haShana starts the season of the y'mei ha'din; Hoshana Rabbah ends it.  The bookends are days of tefilah, days when Hashem is there to listen, whether you can get the words or not, whether you come with zechuyos or come with empty hands and just beg to be heard.

the dual nature of chag hasukkos

Chasam Sofer observes that in the leining for the first days of Y"T we have what sounds like two separate descriptions of Sukkos:

1) "Dabeir el Bnei Yisrael leimor bachamisha asar yom lachodesh ha'shevi'i ha'zeh chag hasukkot shivas yamim l'Hashem." (23:34)

2)  "Ach b'chamisha asar lachodesh ha'shevi'i b'aspichem es tevu'as ha'aretz tachogu es chag Hashem shivas yamim, bayom harishon shabason u'bayom ha'shemini shabason." (23:39)

From 23:34-38 the Torah only discusses the korbanos of the chag and there is no mention of the eighth day.  In the second section, 23:34-43, the mitzvos of lulav and sukkah are mentioned, and right in the introductory pasuk we are told that there is an extra day of "yom ha'shemini."

There is a dual identity to the chag of Sukkos.  On the one hand, it marks the culmination of the y'mei hadin of Rosh haShana-Yom Kippur-Sukkos, ending in Hosha'na Rabbah.  On the other hand,it is the final one of the shalosh regalim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos.

The y'mei ha'din are a spiritual cycle of time.  The shalosh regalim are essentially part of the agricultural cycle of planting (Pesach), ripening (Shavuos), and harvesting (Sukkos).

In the first section, the Torah deals only with the chag's spiritual dimension: korbanos.  There is no mention of it being the harvest season, unlike in the second section, which begins by mentioning that we celebrate "b'aspichem es tevu'as ha'aretz."  There, in the second section, the Torah discusses taking the lulav, celebrating nature, which has once again delivered it's bounty.  There we have the command to sit in sukkah to remind the farmer not to become spoiled and self-indulgent.  And there we have an added "yom shemini" tacked on to bring the farmer back to a focus on the spiritual, to have one final day devoted to ruchniyus, as a culmination of the chag.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

talmud Torah as a kiyum of simchas Yom Tov

There is a machlokes Tanaim how to resolve the contradiction between the pesukim "atzeres l'Hashem" and "atzeres lachem" -- which one is it?  R' Yehoshua holds that you have to make a compromise and split Yom Tov between G-d and your own enjoyment; R' Eliezer holds it's either/or -- you can spend the day immersed in Torah and avodas Hashem, or you can spend the day immersed in doing what you enjoy.  This machlokes fits a general pattern of disputes in Chazal as to how to handle situations where there are contradictory pesukim or halachos and no "kasuv ha'shelishi" that resolves what to do: are you supposed to make some a compromise between the two extremes or choose between fulfilling one or the other.  (The two pesukim in this case appear in two different contexts with respect to two different yamim tovim, but the gemara was not willing to entertain the possibility of reading each pasuk as applying only to its particular yom tov context as a feasible answer.)

Maharasha (Pesachim 68) asks: according to R' Eliezer, if one spends the entire day immersed in Torah, how can one fulfill the mitzvah of "v'samachta b'chagecha?"

He answers that learning gufa is simchas Yom Tov!  What could be more enjoyable than a blatt gemara?  (R' Tzadok haKohen writes that the "atezeres lachem" is fulfilled by the joy in learning; the "atzeres l'Hashem" should be how you approach eating your meal -- it should be l'shem shamayim.)

R' Zolti suggested based on this Maharasha that when one learns on Y"T, aside from the kiyum mitzvah of talmud Torah, one gets an additional kiyum of simchas Y"T.  This may explain a difficult Rashi in Sukkah (25).  The Mishna tells us that people who are engaged in doing a mitzvah are peturim from sukkah.  Rashi gives as an example someone who is travelling to learn Torah.  Achronim ask: the rule of oseik b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah normally does not apply to talmud Torah -- we assume that you have to stop learning to do mitzvos.  The raison d'etre of learning is to perform mitzvos, so it makes no sense to say that learning should supersede doing mitzvos.  How then could Rashi say that someone going to learn is exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah?  

Some of the Achronim answer that Rashi is not speaking about learning itself. but about travelling to learn, and the travel, the hechsher mitzvah of going to learn, is what creates the exemption (which itself is an interesting chiddush -- the hechsher mitzvah of a mitzvah which itself does not exempt one from sukkah can create an exemption).  In the sefer "M'Shulchani shel R' Eliyahu Baruch" from the Mir he quotes from his son that based on R' Zolti's chiddush, Rashi makes perfect sense.  When one is learning on Y"T, it is also a kiyum of simchah.  It is not the mitzvah of talmud Torah which exempts one from sukkah, but rather it is the kiyum mitzvah of simchas Y"T inherent in that same act of learning which does so.

R' Eliyahu Baruch did not like this approach and argued that it's not the kiyum hagavra of  learning that does not allow any an exemption from mitzvos, but rather the cheftza of Torah itself is overridden by any other mitzvah.  Therefore, whether the kiyum mitzvah is one of simchas Y"T or purely one of talmud Torah does not matter in the end.

Friday, September 25, 2015

the meaning of "naval"

The meforshim struggle to make sense of the expression "Vayinabel tzur yeshua'so." (32:15)  The word "neveilah" is something you would normally associate with a physical thing.  Here, the pasuk is referring to disrespecting G-d, so it has to be taken less literally, which is how Rashi and Seforno interpret it.  Ibn Ezra sees a connotation of chilul Hashem.  The Meshech Chochma writes that the pasuk is referring to scoffers who go around attributing ridiculous meanings and interpretations to Torah so that it becomes an object of ridicule in people's eyes -- they make G-d repulsive to others.  What caught my eye is the Ramban, who reminds us that earlier in the perek (32:6)  Bnei Yisrael themselves are referred to as an "am naval v'lo chacham."  Ramban there writes that the term "naval" is the opposite of "nediv."  A naval is someone who has received gifts or consideration, but repays it with animosity and disdain rather than a thank-you.  A naval never shows appreciation.  Our pasuk is stressing that G-d acted as "tzur yeshu'aso," your redeemer, and yet, "vayinabel," rather than give thanks, we turned our back on him.

I want to suggest another possible interpretation to this ambiguous phrase also based on the earlier pasuk.  The Targum Onkelus explains the phrase "am naval" as "the nation who accepted the Torah."  How do you get that from the word "naval?"  The Peirush Yonasan on the T. Yonasan writes that the idea is that despite our receiving the Torah, we remained devoid of wisdom.  If so, ikkar chaseir min haseifer, because the translation of "naval" is missing.  The GR"A brilliantly  connects the Targum to a Midrash (in B.R. 17) that refers to there being three "novlos": 1) sleep is the noveles of death; 2) a dream is noveles of prophecy; 3) Torah is noveles of Heavnely chochmah.  The word "noveles" means an unripe date that falls off too early -- it's a taste of the real thing, but has not yet blossomed to fruition.  "Am naval" means we are the nation that got that noveles, i.e. the Torah, which is the noveles of the ultimate chochmah, but then we did not take advantage of that wisdom.  Turning to the our pasuk, although the Targum does not say it here, perhaps we could explains "vayinabel" to mean that we turned G-d's greatness into something unripe, something less than ideal, i.e. we minimized it's significance.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

wives are not angels

1. The Rama (O.C. 610:4) writes that the minhag is to wear white on Y"K to appear like an angel, which is also why we wear a kittil.  Additionally, the kittil is a reminder of shrouds, which reminds a person of death and causes a person to have humility and be contrite.

The MG"A comments on this Rama that the Midrash indicates that angels are male (my wife commented that an angel can't reproduce, so gender doesn't have much meaning up there.  I assume the terms male/female in this context are meant in the sense of mashpia vs. mekabeil, or chomer vs tzurah, though I found that the Anaf Yosef on the Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 31:5 asks this question and gives a different answer), and therefore women need not wear white.  However, they may wear a kittil to remind them of death.  Women, according to the MG"A, are not angels.

The M"B quotes the Mateh Ephraim who holds exactly the opposite.  Women should also wear white, but the custom is for women to not wear a kittil.  Interestingly, though, in O.C. 619:5 when the S.A. quotes the din of standing for all of davening, which is based on the idea of trying to be like an angel (they stand around on their one foot all day), the M.B. in the Sha'ar haTziyun writes that this does not apply to women.  The source is the previous din in O.C. 610, which seems true only if you hold like the MG"A.  To make matters more confusing, the reason the Tur gives for our saying "Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuso..." out loud is because Moshe heard the angels reciting this phrase, and on Yom Kippur we want to be like angels.  As far as I know, women also recite the phrase out loud as well.

2. Erev Y"K I was trying to find my kittil when my daughter reminded me that at the seder I had not worn a kittil since I am unfortunately in aveilus this year for my father.  Lichorah, the same logic should apply to Y"K as well.  She is absolutely right.  The Taz understands that the Rama is giving two reasons for wearing a kittil: 1) to be angelic; 2) to remind one of the yom ha'misah.  On Pesach as well, like reason #1 here, there are many positive uplifting reasons to wear a kittil, many of which are summarized in this post by R' Eliezer Eisenberg, who already has a full treatment of this topic to which I can add very little.  If the reason for wearing a kittil is a reminder of death, then there is no reason an aveil cannot wear one (though the MG"A in Hil Pesach writes that an aveil need not wear one since he has death on his mind without it); if the reason is to have some more positive experience of Yom Tov or of simcha, than the aveil is excluded because he is not supposed to be having positive uplifting experiences during aveilus. The Aruch haShulchan and R' Moshe both opine that an aveil should not wear a kittil on Y"K.  What I found interesting in that in Hil Pesach, the M"B (472 s"k 13) first writes that an aveil should not wear the kittil, but if he does, one need not object because the Taz says it is permitted.  In Hil Y"K (610 s"k 17) the M"B first quotes (giving this view primacy) the Taz's view that an aveil may wear a kittil and then quotes that there are minhagim not to.  Why give the Taz primacy here but put it on the back burner in Hil Pesach? 

3. The poskim have problems with the line in Ne'ilah, "Hayom yifneh, hashemesh yavo..."  If it is already after shekiya (which it was where I was davening when the shat"z got to this line, and I think that is probably true of many of not most places), then the day has in fact passed and the sun is down already, so the future tense seems wrong.  I saw that R' Chaim Kanievkey said to chang the nusach to past tense (i.e. "hayom panah, hashemesh ba'ah...") though the Aruch haShulchan opines that one need not do so.  In any case, it seems strange to me that in the previous line we say, "Psach lanu sha'ar... ki panah yom," here using the past tense.  Is it "panah yom" or "yifneh yom?"  I don't know how you can have it both ways.

4. Nu, on to preparing for Sukkos.  The Shem m'Shmuel writes that the reason we do na'anuim by waving the lulav away from and then to the heart is because while on Y"K we got our mind in order and now understand mentally what we need to do with out lives, we need to bring the lesson into our hearts, and that's what Sukkos is for.

Monday, September 21, 2015

you get what you ask for

This pasuk of “anochi haster astir” is tremendously difficult because it comes on the heels of Bnei Yisrael admitting that “ki ain Elokai b’kirbi metza’uni hara’os ha’eileh,” a seeming admission of guilt and wrongdoing.  Why does Hashem respond to that with greater hester panim even than before?  We’ve discussed this question before, but I want to mention an approach of the Abarbanel that I think rings especially true in our times.  It could be al pi peshuto the simplest answer is that the expression “ain Elokai b’kirbi” is actually referring to the avodah zarah idols.  Elokai should be with a lower-case e and read as chol.  The people are not confessing, but are actually ascribing what goes wrong to their avodah zarah abandoning them.  The difficulty is that idolatry is not usually referred to as "ELokai" (though my wife pointed out that when Lavan accuses Ya'akov of stealing his terafim, that is the word he uses).  Abarbanel suggests that the previous pesukim reveal that Bnei Yisrael were guilty of two sins: 1) worshipping avodah zarah; 2) not serving G-d properly.  These are not exactly two sides of the same coin.  When Bnei Yisrael confess, "Ain Elokai b'kirbi," they are taking responsibility for sin #2 -- they are acknowledging that they need to do better in their avodas Hashem.  What they fail to admit, and fail to acknowledge, is sin #1 -- that they are also guilty of idolatry.  What they fail to admit and fail to acknowledge is that you can't have more avodas Hashem without giving up the lifestyle of avodah zarah.  You can't be poseiach al shtei ha'se'ifim or have a shutfus.  It's either/or.  This is hard to swallow.  No one is an oveid avodah zarah, but the same idea can express itself more subtly.  We all want to strive for more in avodas Hashem, but we don't want to sacrifice our enjoyments or face our shortcomings either.  We prefer to ignore the negative within and instead just focus on doing more good in some way or other and think that absolves us.  As R' Yisrael Salanter put it, it's easier to learn shas than to correct one midah.  "Ain Elokai b'kirbi" so I have to take on another seder, write a bigger check to charity, daven a little slower, etc. -- all wonderful things, but if the same person ignores the avodah zarah/midah ra'ah that remains within and does nothing to correct it, he is doing half a job that is as good as no job.  Again, a very hard lesson to swallow.

So I don't want to enter Yom Kippur on a negative note, so on to something a little more positive, something I find a little scary.  Commenting on the phrase, “Anochi haster astir panei mei’hem,” (31:18) GR”A asks why the Torah uses the double-language of “haster astir.” He answers that the Torah is telling is that it is the very fact that Hashem is hiding himself, the “astir panay mei’hem,” which is what is being concealed with “hester.”  We think of all kinds of reasons to explain what happens to ourselves, to our families, to those living in Eretz Yisrael – the economy is bad, anti-semitism, politics, etc.  We invent a reason for everything.  The only reason we don’t consider is the real reason: Hashem has removed his hashgacha because we are not doing what he wants.  The real reason remains hidden; we have a mental block that prevents us from thinking about it.  This part of the GR”A, the pshat in the pasuk, I think is pretty well known, but my impression is that the rest of the GR”A’s comment, what I call the scary part, is less well known.  The GR"A continues and asks why it is that Hashem conceals from us the fact that he is concealed and he answers that if we knew what was going on, if we knew we were being punished with hester panim, then we would daven for Hashem to reveal himself, and He would inevitably respond.  The only way we can be punished by the removal of hashgacha is if we don’t daven to prevent it. 

It’s up to us – all we have to do is daven for Hashem to remove this block of hester panim and whatever gezeiros are lined up against us will be removed. 

On Yom Kippur night one of the first things we say after kol nidrei is the pasuk, “VaYomer Hashem salachti k’devarecha.”  This pasuk is Hashem’s response to Moshe’s tefilah to forgive Bnei Yisrael for the cheit ha’meraglim.  Of all the pesukim and tefilos we could possibly use to “lead off” our Yom Kippur, why is this the one that is chosen?  In one of R’ Ya’akov Shapira’s sichot he makes reference to a Sefas Emes in the likutim for Parshas Shelach that may answer this question.  The Rishonim point out that Moshe invokes some, but not all of the 13 midos in that tefilah for forgiveness.  There are various explanations as to why Moshe omitted some of the midos, e.g. Ramban explains that Moshe could not invoke the midah of “emes” because the meraglim were guilty of saying sheker about Eretz Yisrael.  Whatever the explanations, bottom line is that Moshe pulled his punches.  Hashem’s responded: “Salachti k’devarecha” -- exactly what you asked for, "k'devarecha," that’s what you will get.  Half of a request means half forgiveness, but the slate is not going to be wiped clean.  True, Moshe had all kinds of good reasons for not invoking all 13 midos, but af al pi kein…  Maybe the lesson is that when you daven, all the reasons and analysis of what you should say and how you should say it don’t matter.  When you are in pain and in need, you scream out – you don’t make cheshbonos.  That’s what tefilah has to be. 

So we learn from the GR”A that the removal of hester panim is completely in our hands if only we ask for it.  And we learn from the Sefas Emes that tefilah is not a time to pull punches -– it’s the time to swing for the fences and ask Hashem for anything and everything.  That's what we want to remind ourselves of as we enter the most auspicious day of the year.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

a special time of year

Chazal (R”H 11) tell us that Chanah, Rachel, and Sarah were all “remembered” on Rosh HaShana and Hashem gave them the ability to have children.  What meaning does this have for us?  None of us measure up to these tzidkaniyos, so just because they merited special deliverance doesn’t mean we will get the same treatment.

R’ Leibel Eiger explains that we see from this Chazal that despite the great merits that Sarah, Rachel, and Chanah surely had, those merits were in-and-of themselves not enough to warrant their being blessed with children.  It was only because Hashem reviewed their case, so to speak, on Rosh HaShana, that they were zochos.  The time of year is what made all the difference.  We of course don’t have the same level of zechuyos that these tzidkaniyos had, but we do have the same opportunity to take advantage of this special, mesugal time period.  The gates upstairs are open and things that a person couldn’t be zocheh to, no matter how great he/she is, are now possible to merit.
It’s been a short week with less time than usual, so I just want to pose a question on the parsha and leave it at that because I don't yet have a good answer to share.  The theme of Parshas VaYeilech is the transition from the leadership of Moshe, whose life is coming to a close, to that of Yehoshua.  We have Moshe giving a final speech to Bnei Yisrael, Moshe turning over the sefer Torah he completed to the Bnei Levi, Moshe giving a charge to Yehoshua to be strong, and in the middle and midst of all this we have the mitzvah of hakhel.  Why give that mitzvah here?  Why not discuss it in Parshas Shoftim, where the laws of the king are discussed, since it is the king (Ralbag interestingly writes that the kohen gadol or any nasi can do the reading) who reads the Torah, or maybe in Parshas Behar, where the laws of shemita appear, since hakhel is done right after the shemita year?  Why stick it in the middle of our parsha, in the middle of Moshe turning over the reins (and the reign) to Yehoshua?