Wednesday, December 12, 2018

watch your words

Chazal tell us that of all the brothers, Yosef most closely resembled Yaakov.  How then did the brothers not recognize him during any of their interactions together?  Rashi writes in last week's parsha that when Yosef left home he had no beard and now he had a beard.  This would mean that Yosef even more closely resembled their father!  How then could the brothers miss seeing it?  

A person can disguise a lot of things about him/herself, but certain things cannot be changed.

When Yaakov came to "steal" the brachos from Yitzchak, he dressed up in Eisav's clothes, he brought food just like Eisav was supposed to bring, he used animal skins to make himself hairy like Eisav.  But then when he spoke to his father, every sentence he said had a "na," a "please" in it and he almost gave the game away.  "Ha'kol kol Yaakov," Yitzchak noticed.  Such polite language -- it's got to be Yaakov and not Eisav! 

Yaakov changed everything else about himself -- why for a few minutes couldn't he leave out the "please?" 

How a person speaks, the language and tone they use, is part of who they are.  You can  dress up and use make up to **disguise** who you are, but you can't **change** who you are.  Saying "please" is who Yaakov is. 

The halacha says a blind man is permitted to his wife because he recognizes the tone of her voice -- he knows this is his wife and not an imposter and not another woman.  There is no halacha that says a husband can assume this is his wife because he recognizes her dress or knows how she styles her hair, etc.  How we speak defines us.

L'mashal, I can put on a Yankee uniform, buy an MLB official bat, sit in the dugout at Yankee stadium so that everyone thinks I am part of the team, but trust me, if I had to step up to the plate to bat, that notion would quickly be dispelled.  The ability to play the game is part of a player's identity -- not the uniform, not the bat, not where he sits in the dugout.  So too, Yaakov could put on the clothes, put on hair, etc., but he could not change his identity to actually be someone else.

When the brothers first come back to Yaakov to report on their meeting with the person they took to be the viceroy of Egypt, the first thing they remark on is "dibeir ha'ish adonei ha'aretz itanu kashos," the man we met spoke harshly with us.  This apparently was even more important to mention than the fact that they were accused of being spies.  How the viceroy spoke made even more of an impression on them than what he said.  The brothers understood that language and tone of speech define a person's identity.  Had we been there, our attention might have been captured by what the viceroy was wearing, what the palace looked like, etc. -- all chitzoniyus.   The brothers focused on speech, as that reflects pnimiyus.

"Dibeir kashos" -- therefore, there was not even a hava amina that this was Yosef.  Members of Klal Yisrael just don't speak that way.

We finally get in our parsha to Yosef's revelation of his identity.  "Re'u ki pi ha'medaber aleichem" he tells his brothers.  "Look at how I am speaking to you," he tells them.  Look at the lashon kodesh that I am using.  This is who I am -- no Egyptian can speak this way (see Rashi, Ramban) because it's not part of who they are and they can't fake it.  The "dibeir kashos" (not even close to true Eisav-speech) was just a hora'as sha'ah, a necessity, a hechsher mitzvah to bring us back together, but this is the real me.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

ki nashani Elokim... es beis avi

1. When the Chashmonaim came into the Mikdash, they did not have the gold menorah that the Torah describes.  The Tanaim (Avodah Zarah 43) discuss what the menorah they lit was made of, but whatever the answer, the original was lost.

If Hashem made a miracle to allow them to lite with pure undefiled olive oil (despite the fact that tumah hutra b'tzibur and they could have probably used tamei oil), why did Hashem not make a miracle to allow them to light with the real deal gold menorah?

This is the lesson of Chanukah, explains Rav Nevenzahl.  Who would not be impressed with the beauty of a solid gold menorah?  But that's not what we care about.  External beauty is what the Greeks were all about.  It's the oil that's hidden in the olive and has to be pressed out, that not's visible on the surface, that has no external beauty and doesn't catch your attention -- that's our focus.   

2. An amazing statistic: "While three out of every four Israelis light Hanukkah candles "every evening," less than two of every three Jews (60%) in the States do so." 

Quite honestly, I'm actually surprised that anywhere near 40% of American Jews light a menorah.  My wife was just looking at Target yesterday and there was a little menorah decoration that was meant for hanging on your holiday tree.  Does anything say America more than that? 

3. The Midrash opens our parsha with a derasha on the pasuk "keitz sam la'choshech..." (Iyov 28:3)  The pshat in the pasuk according to Rashi is that G-d decreed that in the future, when the end comes, all will ultimately come to darkness, as heaven and earth as they are now will cease to be.  The derash is exactly the opposite, i.e. G-d will ultimately bring an end to the darkness of evil in the world.  So too, says the Midrash, G-d decreed an end to the darkness of Yosef's captivity, and so Pharoah had his dream.

In other words, as R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel (in Hegyonos El Ami) points out, it was not Yosef's ability to interpret Pharoah's dream which was the cause of the termination of his prison sentence.  Rather, it was G-d's decree that the time of Yosef's prison sentence was up which caused Pharoah to have that specific dream which only Yosef could interpret correctly. 

4. Let me share with you another beautiful interpretation of R' Amiel's:

The Torah tells us that Yosef named his bechor Menashe because "nashani Elokim es kol amali v'es kol beis avi," (41:51) G-d helped Yosef forget all the toil he suffered through and forget his father's house.

Forget his father's house?  Why would Yosef want to do that, or be proud of such callous behavior?  Furthermore, in parshas VaYechi we learn that Yosef sent wagons, agalos, to bring Ya'akov to Mitzrayim.  Chazal see this as a hint by Yosef that he still remembered the sugya of eglah arufah that he was learning with his father when he was sold.  That doesn't sound like someone who forgot his father's house!

You could answer simply that "beis avi" does not mean Ya'akov; it means the brothers.  Yosef meant that he forgot what had been done to him by the rest of the family and did not hold it against them.

Netziv (b'kitzur) and HaKsav v'HaKabbalah (b'arichus) both explain that Yosef understood his dreams to be a prophecy.  Yosef of course wanted very much to communicate with his father, but had he done so he would have forfeited any chance of drawing his brothers and father down to Egypt and seeing those dreams / prophecy fulfilled.  Therefore, "nashani **Elokim**" -- against his will, against what his emotions cried out for, the burden of nevuah placed upon him by Hashem caused Yosef to put aside the memory of his father's house for the sake of bringing that prophecy to fruition.

Rav Amiel (see Hirsch as well) offers a different interpretation.  When you lend money to a poor person "lo ti'hiye lo k'nosheh," the Torah tells us in parshas Mishpatim. -- don't bug him and keep reminding him that he is obligated to you.  "Ki nashani Elokim..." -- G-d obligated me.  G-d saved you from prison, G-d gave you the benefit of growing up in the home of a Ya'akov Avinu -- go do something with that.  The tremendous tovos that Hashem does for us obligate us to use those gifts to better ourselves and better the world around us.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

a few hilchos chanukah ideas

Just in time for Chanukah I saw uploaded Moadei haGR"Ch, a collection of piksei halacha from R' Chaim Kanievski (BTW, I first thought this would be torah of R' Chaim Brisker when I saw the title.  I guess stama GR"Ch is no longer R' Chaim Brisker?)  These are just some quick notes I jotted down (the # refer to the questions in the sefer):

#586 - The Pri Megadim (siman 570) holds that an onein is chayav to light ner Chanukah.  Why should new Chanukah be different than other mitzvos?

R' Chaim answers that ner Chanukah is a chiyuv on the bayis -- ner ish u'beiso -- not on the individual. 

This answer is a little strange because later in #591 R' Chaim is quoted as holding that the chiyuv hadlaka is on the gevara.  (Nafka minah: what if you don't own a house?  If hadlakah is a chovas ha'bayis, then you should be patur.  If it is a chovas ha'gavra and the house is simply where Chazal mandated that a person fulfill the chiyuv, then a person should have to buy a house to be mekayein hadlakah.  If he can't, then that's a situation of ones, not a ptur.  This is a diyun in Achronim, with R' Chaim and R' Elyashiv taking opposing views if I recall correctly [I forget who holds which way.])

This idea of ner Chanukah being a chovas ha'gavra is based on the Rambam in ch 11 of hil brachos:
יש מצות עשה שאדם חייב להשתדל ולרדוף עד שיעשה אותה כגון תפילין וסוכה ולולב ושופר ואלו הן הנקראין חובה. לפי שאדם חייב על כל פנים לעשות. ויש מצוה שאינה חובה אלא דומין לרשות כגון מזוזה ומעקה שאין אדם חייב לשכון בבית החייב מזוזה כדי שיעשה מזוזה אלא אם רצה לשכון כל ימיו באהל או בספינה ישב

The Ramban distinguishes between mitzvos you have to do not matter what, e.g. putting on tefillin, which he calls chovah, and mitzvos that are conditional, like mezuzah, which you would only have to do if you own a house.

Rambam then continues:
וכן כל המצות שהן מדברי סופרים בין מצוה שהיא חובה מדבריהם כגון מקרא מגילה והדלקת נר בשבת והדלקת נר חנוכה
 and categorizes ner Chanukah, among other examples, as a chovah.  It's not conditional on owning a house -- aderaba, you should buy a house to fulfill the mitzvah. 

R' Berel Schwartzman, R"Y of Beis haTalmud, uses these two aspects of the mitzvah to explain the opinion of Meiri, who writes that a woman cannot be motzi a man in ner Chanukah.  Why not?  Both men and women share the same chiyuv derabbanan of hadlakah.  This is not like megillah where a woman's chiyuv may only be shemiya and not keri'ah (see Rashi Archin 3b) or where her chiyuv based on af hein ha'yu b'oso ha'nes is only derabbanan as opposed to a man's chiyuv which is divrei kabbalah.

Based on the idea of there being 2 dinim in hadlakah: 1) the chovas ha'gavra of hadlakah, modeled on the avodah of hadlakah done in the mikdash (see Ramban in P' Be'ha'aloscha); 2) a chovas ha'bayis to lit in commemoration of the nes of Chanukah. R' Schwartzman explained that women only have the latter chiyuv, not the former, as they have no role in avodas hamikdash.  Men have both chiyuvim.  Therefore, a woman cannot be motzi a man.

Another more lomdish suggestion R' Chaim offered to explain why an onein is chayav is based on af hein ha'yu b'oso ha'nes.  I assume what he means is that just like women should be exempt from the mitzvah because it is zman gerama, but are nonetheless chayavos because of af hein, so too, an onein who should be exempt is also nonetheless chayav because of af hein.

I don't understand the comparison.  Women are exempt from mitzvos that are zman gerama.  An onein is not just patur -- he is not allowed to do mitzvos during aninus.

#590 - A nice chakirah: is there a din of oseik b'mitzvah patur min ha'mitzvah when lighting candles 2 or 3, 4, 5 etc. since the ikar chiyuv is fulfilled with the first candle and all the others are just hidur?

This sounds like a spin off of R' Akiva Eiger's safeik whether one is allowed to make the bracha of l'hadlik ner Chanukah if you forgot to make it before lighting the first candle.  Are the additional candles part of the kiyum hadlakah, in which case you can still recite the bracha of l'hadlik, or are they a separate kiyum of hidur?

Yet, in truth, the cases are not really comparable.  R' Akiva Eiger's issue hinges on whether the nusach ha'bracha that refers specifically to the mitzvah of hadlakah can be said over the additional candles lit l'shem hidur.  Oseik b'mitzvah simply requires that one be engaged in mitzvah performance -- what difference should it make whether that mitzvah is categorized as hadlakah or hidur?

Maybe that's why R' Chaim answered that one is considered oseik b'mitzvah.

(Parenthetically, I never understand how people construct whole torahs based on R' Chaim's mostly one word answers -- kein, ko, efsher, ulay, etc. How do you know what he was thinking based on that?)

#593 - Interesting question: if you lit two candles on the first night, are you yotzei?

#608 - Sefas Emes (Shabbos 21) holds that there is no din of mitzvah bo yoseir mi'b'shlucho by ner Chanukah since it is a chovas ha'bayis rather than a chiyuv on the individual.  R' Chaim disagrees (based on MG"A siman 677).

There are two ways I think you can take issue with the Sefas Emes: 1) You could argue that hadlakah is in fact a chovas ha'gavra, as R' Chaim holds in #591, as we discussed earlier; 2) You could argue that even if the chiyuv rests on the bayis, there is still a preference to be the one performing the ma'aseh mitzvah to fulfill that chiyuv. 

A follow up on this same idea is found in #624.  R' Chaim holds it is better to light oneself at plag rather than light via a shliach at the zman.

#615 - R' Chaim holds that it is better to light in a window than in a doorway if there is more pirsumei nisa that way.

I would have thought that since Chazal were metakein to light in the doorway, so long as there is some degree of pirsum that way, what right do you have to deviate from the takanah?  For example, there may be more pirsum if I light a 20 foot high  menorah in a park, but doing that is not the mitzvah.

#628 - I have to mention this one since 2 years ago I wrote about the din of kitusei michtas shiurah by ner Chanukah.  Everyone has trouble explaining the opinion that holds there is a din of kitusei michtas and you would not be yotzei lighting with issurei ha'na'ah.  R' Chaim explains simply that that if you hold kitusei michtas it would be like lighting with air and not oil. 

This hinges on the question Achronim discuss (the Steipler has a piece on this too) as to whether kitusei michtas is a din in quantity, i.e. there is something there, but it lacks shiur, or whether it is a din in quality, i.e. it is as if the stuff is not there. 

This leads us to #635, the question of whether there is a requirement of "lachem" by ner Chanukah.  R' Chaim holds there is not.  What is the hava amina to say otherwise?  The din is that an achsina'i, a guest, participates in the hadlakah with his host by contributing a perutah, a token amount.  The pashtus is that this is needed to create a kinyan in some portion of the oil -- i.e. you need to own the oil that is being lit.

R' Yitzchak Elchanan (Shu"T Beit Yitzchak Y.D. 145 at the end) points out that if there is a requirement of lachem, then the question of kitusei michtas shiurah should be moot.  Issurei Hana'ah have no value (din mammon), and therefore cannot be owned.  

There is much more to see in the sefer and much more to say...  maybe more to come.  But don't wait for me -- that a look!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

to'eh ba'sadeh

The Torah tells us that when Yosef was sent to look for his brothers, he could not find them.  A man found Yosef "to'eh ba'sadeh," wandering in the fields, and asked him what he was looking for,  "I am looking for my brothers," Yosef replied, and the man then directed him to Dosan to find them.

Do we really need to know that Yosef stopped to ask for directions?  Do we really need a blow by blow report of that conversation?

Obviously there is more going on here than a conversation about directions.  "Va'yimtza'eihu ish," the man offering directions found Yosef.  Normally you go looking for help when you need directions -- the person offering directions doesn't go looking for and find you.  And normally when you ask for directions you specify a place, a street, and address -- "I'm looking for my brothers" is none of the above.  (Parenthetically, this also hints to a deterioration of relations between Yosef and his brothers.  Surely the brothers had certain regular places that they went, yet Yosef seems clueless as to where to find them.  It seems like he spent so little time with them that he was not aware of their habits or usual haunts.)  Why would Yosef assume this man who he has never met would know who his brothers are or where they are?  These clues are perhaps what led Rashi to explain that the unnamed man here is the angel Gavriel.  By including this episode the Torah is revealing G-d's fingerprints all over what happened.  There was no chance Yosef would not find his brothers, return home, and avoid the fate that awaited him. 

But if Rashi is correct that the man Yosef met is an angel, the question that begs asking (and Ibn Ezra does the asking) is why the Torah doesn't explicitly tell us so.  Why couch the man's identity in mystery and rely on us to infer the truth? 

"V'hinei anachnu m'almim alumim b'toch ha'sadeh..."  Yosef in his dreams sees himself as standing in a field, his brothers bowing subserviently to him.  By bringing their "dibasam ra'ah" to their father, but placing himself on a pedestal above them, might Yosef have misjudged his brothers and not treated them favorably enough?  Might this be the "to'eh ba'sadeh" the Torah is hinting at (Mishnas Sachir, Alshich)? 

I think this may be why the Torah never explicitly reveals to us the identity of the unnamed man Yosef met.  Perhaps this was a final chance for Yosef to make amends.  If an angel could appear to be an "ish," and we only know otherwise based on inference and clues, might Yosef's brothers, whose crimes he reported to their father, in truth be far more saintly than he gave them credit for, but he was missing the subtle clues and signs? 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Ya'akov's real estate deal

1. After his encounter with Eisav, Yaakov returned to Eretz Yisrael and built a mizbeiach, fulfilling his vow of "V'haya Hashem li l'Elokim" which he made when he first left home (Seforno 33:20). 

The Torah adds one other detail: Ya'akov bought the property upon which he built the mizbeiach from Chamor for $100.

Why do we need to know the details of the real estate transaction?  What does that have to do with Ya'akov's fulfillment of his religious aspirations?

Ibn Ezra writes that buying a cheilek in Eretz Yisrael is like buying a share in olam ha'ba.  Buying land in Eretz Yisrael is not just a real estate deal, not just a hechsher mitzvah to have a place to make a mizbeiach, but this is part and parcel of Ya'akov's religious mission that he was now able to fulfill upon his return and escape from Eisav.

The Seforno (33:19) has a slightly different explanation that I am unable to understand.  He writes that Ya'akov bought the land because "eich nashir es shir Hashem..."  Meaning, just like we say in al naharos Bavel, in galus it is impossible to serve Hashem properly.  Therefore, Ya'akov made a point of acquiring the land.

What is the comparison?  The Jews who were going into captivity in Bavel were leaving Eretz Yisrael for a foreign country.  "Eich nashir... al admas neichar."  Regardless of who owns the land, Eretz Yisrael is still Eretz Yisrael, not admas neichar.  Avraham and Yitzchak had also offered sacrifices on altars and the Torah does not record that they bought the land for that purpose.

I don't have a good explanation.

2. I believe I saw R' Shlomo Amar as pointing out that although it sounds from our parsha like Shimon and Levi were tremendous warriors and it was their might that led to the conquest of Shechem, in parshas Vayechi, when Ya'akov gives Shechem to Yosef (48:22), he refers to taking the city "b'charbi u'b'kashti," which the Targum translates as Ya'akov's power of tefilah (see also Rashi and Mizrachi there).  Ya'akov may have disapproved of their actions, but it was his koach ha'tefilah that have Shimon and Levi their success. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

preparations and promises

1. About 10 years ago we discussed the machlokes Rashi and the Rosh as to the source for the age of 13 being the age of bar mitzvah.  Rashi (Nazir 29b) writes that Shimon and Levi were 13 years old when they attached Shechem, and they are called "ish," mature adults, at that age -- "VaYikchu... ish charbo."  We don't find the term "ish" being used for anyone at any younger age.  The Rosh writes that the shiur is a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai with no rhyme or reason attached to it.

The halachic nafka minah between the two views is whether the shiur gadlus of 13 applies to a ben noach.  If the halacha is just a giluy milsa that 13 is the age of da'as, when a person reaches maturity, then the same should hold true for a ben noach.  However, if it is a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai without any reason attached, then it would apply strictly to a yisrael.

There may be a philosophical nafka minah as well.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos vol 15) suggests the machlokes here may hinge on whether there is a rational basis for mitzvos or whether they transcend reason.  Rashi  aligns himself with the rationalist camp, and therefore the chiyuv in mitzvos depends on the age at which one attains da'as and maturity.  The Rosh, however, disagrees.  (The Rebbe then goes on to suggests even according to Rashi the kabbalas ol of mitzvos is something that transcends da'as.)

2. Although Ya'akov invokes G-d's promise "Hashem ha'omeir eilay shuv l'artzecha u'l'moldtecha v'eitiva imach" in his tefilah, he still prepares for battle, sends presents to Eisav, and is worried about the encounter.  Chazal tell us that he was concerned "shema yigrom ha'cheit" and he would not be worthy of the promise.  If so, what good is mentioning it in his tefilah?

Alshich explains that Ya'akov's words are meant to justify his behavior.  Why the need for preparation, why the anxiety, when G-d made a promise?  The answer is "Hashem h'omeir eilay..."  Hashem = the midas ha'rachamim.  In last week's parsha Ya'akov responded to that promise with a neder, "Im yihiyeh Elokim imadi..."  Elokim = midas ha'din.  Ya'akov wanted to earn his reward, not receive it simply because of G-d's grace or mercy, a free gift.  Here too, Ya'akov acknowledges the promise, but notes that it was given as an act of rachamim.  That opens the door for the midas ha'din to raise objections.  Therefore, promise notwithstanding, the encounter with Eisav poses a danger.

I was wondering if you could answer the question more simply.  Perhaps tefilah has its own rules.  Even if shema yigrom ha'cheit, one can ask for G-d's help anyway.  After all, isn't every tefilah really a request for G-d to intercede even if we are unworthy? 

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Eliezer's tefilah / test

My son was complaining to me that if I don't write anything on the parsha it will be 2 straight weeks with nothing...

Had Eliezer followed Avraham's instructions he would have travelled to Aram Naharayim, asked around to find Avraham's family, knocked on the door, and hoped to find a suitable match for Yitzchak there.

But that's not what he did.  Aside from the whole test he setup to find a girl who excels at doing chessed (and if Avraham didn't tell him to do that, we should ask ourselves why Eliezer thought it necessary, but that's a different topic...), the Torah tells us that he davened.  "Vayomar Hashem Elokei adoni Avraham hakei na lifanay hayom v'aseh chessed im adoni Avraham..." (24:12).  According to Rashi, even the conclusion of Eliezer's description of the test he was setting up, "u'bah eidah ki asisa chessed im adoni," (24:14) is not a statement of fact. i.e. the test proves that Hashem did a chessed and he found the right girl, but rather is part and parcel of his tefilah, i.e. "u'bah eidah..." through this test I pray that I will know who the right girl is.  It's not a tefilah + a test, but it's one big tefilah that things work out (Ramban and others disagree). 

I think it's safe to assume that if we would say a little tehillim before embarking on an important project, the Avos and the people in their household would do no less.  Had the Torah not told us that Elizer davened, would we have assumed otherwise?  Of course not.  So while the details of the test might be necessary and relevant to the story, the question begs itself: why does the Torah feel the need to stress Eliezer's tefilah here?

The Sefas Emes asks the question, but I want to offer a different answer than the one he gives. 

There is an interesting machlokes in the meforshim how to interpret the tefilah of Eliezer.  Most (Targum Yonasan, Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Kli Yakar) interpret "hakrei na lifanei" to mean that Hashem should cause the right girl to appear before Eliezer.  However, Alshich and more clearly the Netziv read it differently.  Before Eliezer left Avraham's home, Avraham gave him a bracha: "Hu [Hashem] yishlach malacho lifanecha..." Hashem should send his angel along with him to help (24:4).  Now Eliezer gets to Aram Naharayim and he davens to Hashem, "hakrei na lifanei," you, Hashem, please appear before me.  It's not enough for me to have the help of a malach to pull this off -- I need you here with me.   

I think the Chazon Ish is quoted as saying that the last remnant of open hashgacha that we have left is in inyanei shidduchim.  It's not the shadchan, it's not even malachim, but it's Hashem himself who makes a match happen, even sometimes in the most unlikely situations.

That's perhaps why the Torah makes a point of including the tefilah of Eliezer.  Of course everything the Avos did was accompanied by tefilah.  But when it comes to the parsha of marriage, tefilah is not just a nice thing to do to accompany the mitzvah, but it is part and parcel of the mitzvah itself.  Since direct intervention of the yad Hashem is necessary, tefilah, dveikus with Hashem, asking Hashem for that direct involvement, is a must.