Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Megilas Rus and yishuv ha'aretz

1) “Vayis’u m’Refidim va’yavo’u midbar Sinai…” (Shmos 19:2) Rashi asks why the Torah has to tell us that Bnei Yisrael journeyed from Refidim -- we already know from 17:1 that this was their starting point, the spot where they were camped. Furthermore, the pasuk immediately preceding this one tells us that they came to Sinai – why repeat this detail as well? Rashi answers that the Torah is connecting the arrival at Sinai with the start of the journey: just as the people did teshuvah when they left Refidim, so too they did teshuvah upon their arrival at Sinai.

If the people did teshuvah when they left, why did they need to do teshuvah again when they arrived? 

We see from Rashi that when a person has an uplifting experience (e.g. an inspiring Yom Tov like Shavuos!) what passed for adequate avodah beforehand no long cuts it. What was adequate teshuvah before the arrival at Sinai no longer was good enough. The new experience of Sinai demanded that Bnei Yisrael revisit the past and improve further on what they had done beforehand. A second, more meaningful teshuvah was now needed.

2) My wife pointed out an interesting Midrash that says that Rus and Naomi travelled back to Eretz Yisrael on Yom Tov in violation of the issur techumin. This stands in contrast to the gemara that interprets “asher teilichi eileich” was a response to Naomi warning Rus specifically about the issur techumin. The Shvus Ya’akov suggests that the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz overrode the mitzvah derabbanan of techumin. It was because Naomi took this extraordinary step of violating the issur for the sake of returning to Eretz Yisrael that she warned Rus that this was not the halachic norm. This chiddush is meduyak in the pesukim: throughout the perek the megillah refers to “Beis Lechem Yehudah”; however, Naomi is described as returning “lashuv el Eretz Yehudah.” (1:7) Why not “Beis Lechem Yehudah?” Because Naomi did not return all the way home. Once she was in safe territory in Eretz Yisrael she stopped travelling and so as to not exceed the techum more than necessary.

 From the megillah’s opening with of Naomi violating an issur derabbanan for the sake of returning to the land through the end of the megillah where Boaz concerns himself with the geulah of the fields, one of the overarching themes of the sefer seems to be this topic of yishuv ha’aretz.  

Friday, May 22, 2015

the need for order

I thought it’s interesting that even though the family of Kehas was entrusted with carrying the menorah, the shulchan, the aron, the mizbeiach – the holiest objects of the Mishkan -- they still joined their neighbor Korach in rebelling against Moshe. “Oy la’rasha oy l’shecheino,” Rashi writes (3:29). Objects, no matter how holy, are no match for the lure of a personality like Korach.

It’s also interesting that coming close to the aron, which we would think is the greatest source of bracha in the world, could prove fatal. Chazal say that everyone wanted to carry the aron and people pushed and shoved to try to get the job, but anyone who touched the aron died. “Al tachrisu es sheivet ha’Kehasi,” the Torah warns (4:18), and instructs Aharon and his children to assign each individual to a task. The Mishnas R’ Aharon quotes that we see from here that without seder – a proper, organized approach – even the holiest things can prove detrimental.

One final quick point: the Torah tells us that Nadav and Avihu were killed, “u’banim lo hayu lahem,” they had no children. Why is this detail relevant? According to one view in Midrash this is why they were punished – they did not fulfill the mitzvah of having children. Perhaps the phrase could be taken as a metaphor for their approach to avodas Hashem – it was an approach that worked for them as individuals, but could not be passed on or produce peiros. The Meshech Chochmah (parshas Pinchas) writes that we see a tremendous yesod on schar v’onesh from here. When a person is found guilty in court and sentenced, the court does not take into account the effect that sentence might have on others. What about the parent, the wife, the children of the guilty party? Not sure when G-d judges a person. Rashi (Shmos 24:9, see this post) tells us that Nadav and Avihu really deserved punishment for gazing at the Shechina, “vayechezu es ha’Elokim vayochlu vayishtu,” but Hashem did not want to disturb the celebration of mattan Torah by punishing them. Since Aharon and Klal Yisrael would have suffered, even though Nadav and Avihu deserved it, their punishment was delayed. After the fact, during the chanukas hamishkan, when Aharon himself needed a kapparah for cheit ha’eigel to expunge his guilt, they got their due. What the Torah here is telling us is that had Nadav and Avihu had children, it would have mitigated the judgment against them. Had there been a family that would have needed them, Hashem might not have killed them, because their children would them end up suffering unnecessarily. It’s only because “u’banim lo hayu lahem,” they had no one that they left behind, that they were taken.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

the life of a king

Chazal ask: Megilas Rus does not teach us issur v’heter, nor tumah v’taharah; why was it written? The Midrash answers that the megillah was written teaches us the reward for gemilus chessed.

(Parenthetically, most people focus on the punchline of the Midrash, but what strikes me is the assumption of the hava amina that the primary purpose of megilos, and I assume other sifrei Tanach, is to teach is halachos. Are these issues -- issur v’heter or tumah v’taharah – what you thought about when reading Megillas Esther?)  

In addition to the theme of chessed that permeates the megillah (see R’ Chaim Friedlander’s Sifsei Chaim that goes on for pages enumerating examples), Rus is also the story of David haMelech’s family. Shavuos is the yahrzeit and birthday of David, and we focus on his lineage. 

It’s not coincidence that these two themes – chessed and malchus – come together. The gemara (Nedarim 24) discusses a case of a person who takes a neder to force his friend give him something. “Lav malkah ana” – the neder makes a statement that “I’m not a king who gives things to you and gets nothing in return.” Being a king, malchus, is about giving to others. The ultimate gomeil chessed, the person who gives and takes nothing in return, is living the life of a king.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

simchas yom tov and aveilus

The gemara (M.K. 14b) writes that there is no aveilus on Yom Tov because the mitzvas aseh d’rabim of simchas Yom Tov is doche the individual’s obligation to mourn.

The Rambam paskens (Chagigah 1:2) that both men and women are obligated in the mitzvah of simcha. Ra’avad, however, disagrees. The gemara asks how women could be obligated in the mitzvah of simcha, which is zman gerama, and the gemara answers that “isha ba’alah m’samcha.” Tosfos explains that the gemara means that there is no chiyuv on women to bring shalmei simcha – there is just a chiyuv on their husband to share their korban with them (see Rashi). Kesef Mishneh says that the Rambam in fact agrees with this view; when the Rambam says women are obligated in simcha he means they eat from the korban brought by their husbands, not that they must bring their own korban. The Rambam just did not go into the details.

If women have no independent obligation of simcha, asks the Minchas Chinuch, then why are they not obligated in aveilus on Yom Tov? They have no aseh that is doche their mourning!

Rav Neventzal (quoted in the footnote to his sicha for Parshas Behar) suggests a brilliant answer to this question. The Rambam writes (Chagigah 2:14) that shalmei simcha should be shared with the poor and needy, as a person has a responsibility to see that others have simchas Yom Tov as well. By “aseh d’rabbim” the gemara does not mean an aseh that a lot of people are obligated in – what the gemara means is that my simcha is dependent on others, on the community, being happy as well.  

Were a woman to observe aveilus on Yom Tov, even though she might not have any independent chiyuv of simcha, her being in aveilus would conflict with my personal chiyuv of simcha.  So long as someone in the community is unable to be b’simcha, something is lacking in my kiyum mitzvah as well.

This is a two for one deal: not only is it a tremendous lomdus, it’s a tremendous mussar as well.  A person should not feel shaleim and b'simcha while others are in need.

I would like to suggest another possible answer based on an idea the Rav suggested in Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mari. RYBS distinguished between the ma’aseh mitzvah of simcha, which entails eating korbanos (or eating meat and drinking wine b’zman ha’zeh), and the kiyum mitzvah, which is a kiyum b’lev of being happy. There is nothing that stops an aveil from having a meal of meat and wine – why does the gemara see a conflict between the mitzvah of simcha and the chiyuv aveilus? Because the gemara understood that the meat and the wine are just a means to and end; it’s the emotional state that they engender which conflicts with and undermines aveilus. Perhaps the Ra’avad’s disagreement regarding the chiyuv of women in simcha is only viz a viz the kiyum b’poel of offering korbanos or other specific actions. However, with respect to the idea of being emotionally b’simcha on Yom Tov, the Ra’avad would agree that both men and women are equally obligated and therefore aveilus is disrupted.

Why do I think there is no ptur of zman gerama for the mitzvah of simcha which is a kiyum b’lev? A few ideas:

1) The Avudraham explains that women are exempt from zman gerama mitzvos because they are busy running a house and therefore the Torah placed fewer obligations upon them. That reason works for mitzvos b’poel, but does not seem to apply to what emotional state one should be in.

2) Before Pesach we discussed a yesod from R’ Leizer Silver that there is no ptur of zman gerama by mitzvos sichliyos. Perhaps the obligation to be happy on a holiday is something intuitive (what is a holiday all about if not being happy?) and therefore women are obligated.

3) Perhaps this secondary mitzvah of simcha (beyond the obligation to b’poel eat korbanos) is only derabannan (see Tos M”K 14b) and the Ra’avad holds that there is no ptur of zman gerama by derabbanans (see post here).

what do Chazal mean when they refer to "pashtei d'kra?"

The gemara Archin 8b darshens that “tzikascha k’harerei E-l” refers to nigei adam, which Hashem in his mercy limits to affecting a person for a week. The continuation of the pasuk, “mishpatecha tehom rabbah,” refers to nigei batim, where the punishment is more severe in that it can stretch out for three weeks.

The gemara then asks, “Pashtei d’kra b’mai?” and brings two similar explanations to the pasuk that read it as saying that G-d shows great mercy in tempering and mitigating the verdict that strict justice would call for.

What do Chazal mean when they refer to “pashtei d’kra?” Despite the word “pashtei” in there, it does not seem to mean what the Rishonim like Rashi call “pshat,” because if you look at Rashi or the Metzudas David, they don’t simply quote this gemara. It seems that the gemara’s “pashtei d’kra” is itself a derasha, albeit a derasha that is closer to the plain meaning of the words than the derasha that links the pasuk to nega’im. So are there different levels of derashos? The term “pashtei d’kra” is not all that common, so are these isolated exceptional cases, or in general are there different levels of derash?  Does it make any nafka minah (except in our understanding of things?)

Friday, May 15, 2015

v'es ha'aretz ezkor -- that alone is enough

Just a few quick thoughts - I have not had time to focus much this week.

1) “Af ani eleich imachem b’chamas keri…” I don’t know about you, but sometimes anger gets the best of me and then I’m not really myself. Dibra Torah k’lashon bnei adam, the Torah speaks in anthropomorphic language we can understand.  G-d is going to get angry at us, but even that warning has a silver lining. The message between the lines is that kavyachol G-d too is not really being himself when he is angry. Sometimes anger is warranted and even necessary, but we should know that those moments are exceptions to the rule.

2) Rashi famously comments that “Im b’chukosai teileichu” means that we need to be “ameilim baTorah,” to not just learn, but to toil and work at learning. I went to a shiur last night and the person introducing the main speaker quoted this Rashi and asked (as some meforshim do) why Rashi interprets the word “chukim” here differently than he does in other places. Doesn’t Rashi himself tell us elsewhere (e.g. Parshas Chukas) that chukim refers to laws that have no reason, or laws whose reason eludes us?

I would say (based on the Shem m’Shmeul) that kushya m’ikara leisa – Rashi in fact is consistent with how he understands the word chukim in other places. Amielus baTorah is a chok! Chazal tell us that every day on Har Sinai for 39 straight days Moshe Rabeinu broke his head trying to learn Torah, and for 39 straight days he closed the book at the end of the day and found that he had absorbed nothing and understood nothing. If Moshe Rabeinu couldn’t get it, why should I think I will absorb anything no matter how hard I work at it?  Hashem on day 40 finally took the Torah and put it in Moshe Rabeinu’s brain – he gave it to him as a gift.  What’s the point of all the ameilus if at the end of the day Torah is just a gift anyway? What’s the point of working so hard if “yaga’ti u’matza’si,” at the end of all the yegi’a Torah is just a metzi’ah anyway and there is no causal relationship between the effort and the results?  And if you tell me that effort doesn’t produce the knowledge, but it prepares the person’s brain and persona so he is able to receive the gift of knowledge from G-d, then can you please explain to me how thinking about level of tumah in the sugya of R’ Chanina Sgan haKohanim does that better than my sitting on a mountain and meditating would do it?  You can’t. Don’t bother trying – it’s a chok.  

3) After saying, “V’nasati mishkani b’sochechem” the pasuk promises “v’lo tigal nafshi eschem” (26:11). Ramban asks, if we are worthy of the hashra’as haShechina of having a Mishkan, doesn’t it go without saying that G-d will not be repulsed by us? We gave a few answers to this
last year already, and this year a new one caught my eye.

One of my daughter’s recently asked about why R’ Akiva’s students were punished – could they really have acted so badly? I explained to her that the greater the person, the higher the bar is raised and the greater the expectations. Because R’ Akiva championed the idea of “V’ahavta l’rei’acha” being a cardinal principle, his students were held to a higher standard when it came to interpersonal relationships.

We recently read parshas Tazria-Metzora where Rashi quoted the din that a kohen does not pasken on the tzara’as of a chassan during his sheva brachos week. The meforshim ask how it’s even possible for a chassan to get tzara’as then. Tzara’as is a punishment for sin, and we know a chassan is forgiven for all his wrongdoings. Why now davka after his big kapparah would he get tzara’as? One of the answers is that before having his slate wiped clean, the chassan would have been judged like any other regular Joe and whatever he did wrong that might give rise to tzara’as was not significant enough to stand out. Now, after his slate is clean from everything else, the sin that would warrant tzara’as stood out and caused damage. After becoming a chassan the bar was raised, and what passed and was allowed before now stood out for punishment.

This is one of the reasons a yahrzeit is a yom din. The neshoma has a aliya, but with that aliya comes renewed scrutiny – what was overlooked when the neshoma was on a lower level now is unacceptable and needs tikun (whatever that means).

The Wright brothers could build an airplane out of wood and fabric because they were only flying a few feet off the ground. If they tried to fly that plane at 35,000, it would be torn to shreds. If you want to spiritually soar to the stratosphere, you need to make sure you can withstand the pressure.  The higher you fly, the greater demands on your aircraft.

Coming back to our pasuk, the Torah is telling us that we will be zocheh to reach great heights and have the Shechinah among us. Lest you worry that climbing to such great heights will invite greater scrutiny by the midas ha’din, lest you worry that once the bar is raised you won’t past muster, the Torah reassures, “v’lo tigal nafshi escham.”


4) Yom Yerushalayim is almost upon us!  "V'zacharti es brisi Ya'akov v'af v'es brisi Yitzchak v'af es brisi Ya'akov ezkor v'ha'aretz ezkor." (26:42)  R' Charlap explains that if we have the bris of Ya'akov, the Av that was kollel all the midos of the Avos combined, then surely we will be worthy of geulah.  But even if we lack that, if we just have the bris of Yitzchak, we have mesirus nefesh like Yitchak showed at the akeidah , that alone is enough to merit geulah.  And even if we lack that, if we just have the bris of Avraham, we show generosity and do chessed, that too is enough.  And even if we lack all of the above, if we just return to Etetz Yisrael and love the land, rebuild the land, and make it our home, "v'ha'aretz ezkor," that itself is a zechus that will bring us to geulah.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

"l'imo u'l'aviv" vs "l'aviv u'l'imo": an interesting Ibn Ezra

1) In last week’s post I implied that the din of “l’hazhir gedolim al he’ketanim” is equivalent to similar dinin in other areas, e.g. the gemara darshens to read “lo tochlum” as “lo ta’achilum” to prohibit a parent feeding ma’achalos assuros to a child. In our context what would be prohibited is a kohen parent actively making his child tamei. Ramban writes that these halachos are basically a d’oraysa form of the issur of mesaye’ah ovrei aveirah. If the child were to eat treifus or do something to make himself tamei without involving the parent, that’s a different story. 

The Tur on the parsha disagrees. When it comes to ma’achalos assuros, the issur is in feeding the katan – there is no responsibility (other than chinuch) for what the child eats on his/her own. “L’hazhir gedolim al ha’ketanim” goes beyond that and makes the parent responsible even for what the child does on his/her own.

2) Two weeks ago I posted Rabeinu Bachyei’s answer to the question of why “imo” precedes “aviv” in the pasuk of “Ish imo v’aviv tira’u.” The Ibn Ezra in this week’s parsha asks why the Torah again places “imo” first, “l’imo u’l’aviv…,” in listing the relatives a kohen may become tamei for. He answers that the mortality rate for women is higher than that for men and therefore it is more likely for the kohen to have to mourn for his mother first. 

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: we know that women’s mortality rate is actually lower than that of men. I would guess that maybe that might not have been true in the Ibn Ezra’s time when childbirth was far more dangerous than it is today, though to be honest, a few sites that I checked say that the mortality rate seems to have been slightly lower even as far back as the 1500’s. Maybe where the Ibn Ezra lived things were different; maybe he just wasn’t aware of the statistics. You’ll have to excuse my lack of interest in pursuing this topic because I don’t like metziyus questions. 

Now for the part I am more interested in: I saw the Tolna Rebbe brings from R’ Dovid Meisels that “makshim ha’olam” on the Ibn Ezra that just a few pesukim later when discussing the laws of aveilus that apply to the kohen gadol the Torah says, “V’al kol nafshos meis lo yavo, l’aviv u’limo lo yitamah.” If the Ibn Ezra is right, why here does the Torah put “aviv” first and not “imo”!? 

He answers with a charifus: the Mishna in Bameh Madlikin says one of the reasons women die during childbirth is that they are not careful in the laws of nidah It’s not specifically nidah, but it means they have a lax attitude in general towards issues of tzeniyus. The gemara in Yoma (47) tells the story of a women who was blessed with 5 children who became kohanim gedolim in the merit of her scrupulous adherence to tzeniyus. We see that the reward for modesty is having a child who becomes kohen gadol. QED that if someone became kohen gadol, it means his mother is not the type woman who would be punished with an early death. (Yes, you can nitpick this answer apart, but it’s sharp anyway).

My wife thought of a far simpler solution: chances are the kohen gadol got the position because his father was the previous kohen gadol and he passed away. The Torah therefore gives primacy to the warning against becoming tamei for a father, as that may be the immediate circumstance the new kohen gadol has to deal with. It’s such a simple answer it makes me wonder why you need the charifus. 

3) Sometimes you have to really review the parsha carefully to know when to correct the ba’al korei. The pasuk that commands making the lechem hapanim (24:5) should be read, “V’lakachta soles v’afiSA [emphasis on last syllable] osa” – the word “afisa” is milra, not mil’eil as you would expect. The Ibn Ezra (see Minchas Shai as well) says it’s a “milah zarah.” I admit ignorance in matters of dikduk, so I hope I’m not wrong, but I think how you read it changes the meaning here. Read milra, it’s a command; read mil’eil, it’s a description. 

4) Last point: Chazal disagreed with the Tzedukim and interpreted that “mimacharas hashabbos” when we start counting the omer means the day after Pesach, not Sunday. If that’s what the pasuk means, why did it not simply say “mimacharas haPesach?” Why use an ambiguous and potentially misleading phrase? See Maharal in Gur Aryeh.
  

Friday, May 08, 2015

sometimes showing off is required

Our parsha opens with the din of “l’hazhir gedolim al ha’ketanim,” that kohanim not only cannot become tamei themselves, but also have a responsibility to make sure minors (who are kohanim) do not become tamei either. This din extends to other areas as well (see Yevamos 114). Why does the Torah stress the point davka here in the context of halachos of kehunah? The Kozhiglover answers that the word “l’hazhir” comes from the word “zohar,” shining (I guess RashB”I is still on my mind since Lag b’Omer was this week). The best way to influence ketanim, or anyone, is by serving as a shining example yourself. The kohanim were the leaders of Klal Yisrael; therefore, the Torah stresses to them in particular the need for them to live b’tahara (literally as well as figuratively) so that they may serve as an inspiration for others.

In other words, you have to lead by example. 

The Ohr HaChaim points out an anomaly: the pasuk addresses itself to kohanim, plural, but commands “l’nefesh lo yitamah b’amav…” in the singular. Shouldn’t it say “lo yitamu,” in the plural? The Radomsker darshens the pasuk homiletically: the Torah is charging the kohanim with the responsibility to make sure each and every singular nefesh “lo yitamah b’amav,” does not become lost.

(Just to sharpen the same idea a bit: the Shem m’Shemuel in many places quotes his father as explaining the word “am” as related to the word “omemos.” When you light the barbeque and a scorching fire blazes up, the coals are “lochashos;” when you are done and you have those grey-white coals that are still hot, but are fading out, those are “omemos.” When the Torah speaks of the am, it means folks whose spiritual fire is weak. “L’nefesh lo yitamah b’amav” – don’t let the nefesh of your fellow Jew lose its spiritual vitality and become “b’amav” = omemos, like those dying coals. )

How do you do that? Rashi says on the spot, “l’hazhir gedolim al he’ketanim” – make sure you shine, make sure your fire is bright, and then others around you will want to shine too (based on Tiferes Banim, by the same author as the Darkei Teshuvah).  

A few years ago another blogger posted a dilemma that stuck in my mind. This individual would wake up early in the morning to have time to learn, which was great, but his kids were still fast asleep and never saw the hours he was clocking in front of a gemara. He was wondering if it would be better to switch his seder to a time where his kids would be aware of what he was doing so that they would be able to learn from his example. In other words, he was worried that he was not fulfilling “l’hazhir gedolim al ha’ketanim” because his kids were not seeing him shine. 

It’s sometimes not enough to do the right thing in private; sometimes what’s required is that others be aware of what you are doing so they have an example to learn from. A parent, a teacher, a Rabbi – they need to be seen doing the right thing. The gemara (Yoma 86) writes that R’ Yochanan said an example of chilul Hashem would be his walking 4 amos without learning. It could be that R’ Yochanan was just giving a theoretical example and of course never stopped learning, but the Munkatcher in Tiferes Banin assumes that R’ Yochanan was speaking about something that happened to him. How could R’ Yochanan have gone a moment without Torah? He answers that R’ Yochanan didn’t – R’ Yochanan had Torah on his mind constantly, but it may not have appeared that way to others. Someone might have seen R’ Yochanan going for a stroll and thought, “There goes R’ Yochanan, out enjoying nature,” without realizing that R’ Yochanan was reviewing kol hatorah kulah in his mind at that moment. Who cares what others might be thinking? Because if you are R’ Yochanan, it’s not enough to be engaged in learning and avodah at all times – you have to shine as an example for others as well, and to fail to do so is a chilul Hashem.

R’ Shlomo Zalman’s is medayek in Rashi (Pesachim 68b d”h ba’inan name lachem) that the mitzvah of simcha on Shavuos is “…l’har’os she’noach u’mekubal yom zeh…” It’s not enough to be happy –the happiness has to shine forth, “l’haros,” so others can see it as well.