Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 10

A few Tiferes Shlomo's to get through the day:
1) "V'lakach hu u'shechino ha'karov el beiso..."  Does the Torah need to give you the address of your neighbor -- "ha'karov el beiso?"  Why not just say "shecheino?"
Unfortunately, too often you can have a neighbor who is not exactly "karov el beiso," and I don't mean because of a virus.  The Torah is hinting to us that if you want a korban pesach, then put your issues aside -- we need to be close with our neighbors and friends, especially in times like these. 
2) Another Tiferes Shlomo: Long before Moshe Rabeinu arrived on the scene in Egypt, Yosef was struggling to maintain his kedusha in Mitzrayim.  "Va'yivarech Hashem es beis ha'Mitzri biglal Yosef..."  Why should the aku"m owner of Yosef get to reap the brachos and hatzlacha brought about by Yosef's tzidkus? 
Explains the Tiferes Shlomo: "mitzri" is the same gematriya as "Moshe."  That's the "beis Mitzri" who benefited years after Yosef was gone. 
3) "Ba'erev tochlu matzos" -- the root a-r-v is like we say every morning in birchas haTorah "v'ha'arev na" -- it should be pleasing and pleasant.  (The Rishonim explain the issur achila after karov l'mincha on erev yom tov (Pesachim 99) is to be able to have an appetite for eating the matzah, as that is a hidur mitzvah in the ma'aseh achila.)  Some years that is harder to do than others, but hopefully to some degree we can be mekayein not just eating the matzah, but eating it b'areivus
4) My wife just warned me that my post would be about a bunch of philosophizing and I would ignore important things like reminding people to make an eiruv tavshilin.  
REMINDER: make an eiruv tavshilin before yom tov.

Monday, April 06, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 9 - machlokes Ohr Zarua and Rambam

A little halacha today, but first, I want to claim the rights to market an official quarantine hat.  Everyone these days is wearing gloves and masks, but, why, you wonder, do we need a quarantine hat?  Well, our local barber is closed, so in an attempt to not enter the chag looking like a menuval or a nazir, I decided to do the job myself.  I am sure some other people might get the same idea.  The official quarantine hat will cover the results of your handiwork until the hair grows back and you can get to a real barber. 
According to the Tana Kamma in The last Mishna in Pesachim, the bracha on korban pesach exempts one from having to recite a seperate bracha on the korban chagiga, but saying a bracha on the korban chagiga does not exempt the korban pesach from it's bracha.
I always thought the din of "pesach ne'echal al ha'sova" meant that the korban pesach was served like dessert, at the end of the meal, after one ate all the other food served, similar to how we eat our afikoman, which is the zecher for the pesach.   If so, it is hard to understand the Mishna.  How can the bracha on korban pesach at the end of the meal exempt the birchas ha'zevach if the korban chagiga was eaten at the beginning of the meal?
It would seem this Mishna is a proof to the view of the Ohr Zarua, quoted by the Rama in Hil Shechita (Y.D. 19) that if a birchas hamitzvah can be recited even after the fact, even after one has completed the mitzvah.  Rama paskens that if there is an animal that one suspects might be a treifa, then one should do shechita without a bracha and then, if the animal turns out to be kosher, recite the birchas ha'shechita after the fact.
The Shach (see also R' Akiva Eiger) strongly disagrees with this Rama and holds that a birchas ha'mitzvah must be recited before the mitzvah or not at all.  The Rambam paskens this way as well in Hil Brachos ch 11:
אין לך מצוה שמברכין אחר עשייתה אלא טבילת הגר בלבד שאינו יכול לומר אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו שעדיין לא נתקדש ולא נצטוה עד שיטבול. לפיכך אחר שיטבול מברך על הטבילה מפני שהיה דחוי מעיקרו ולא היה ראוי לברך
So what do you do with our Mishna?  The Rambam in Hil Chametz u'Matzah ch 8 writes:
ואחר כך מברך ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על אכילת הזבח ואוכל מבשר חגיגת ארבעה עשר תחלה. ומברך ברוך אתה ה' אלהינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על אכילת הפסח ואוכל מגופו של פסח. ולא ברכת הפסח פוטרת של זבח ולא של זבח פוטרת של פסח:
The Rambam writes a few halachos further:
ואחר כך נמשך בסעודה ואוכל כל מה שהוא רוצה לאכול ושותה כל מה שהוא רוצה לשתות. ובאחרונה אוכל מבשר הפסח אפילו כזית ואינו טועם אחריו כלל.
According to the Rambam, which fits perfectly l'shitaso, the korban pesach was actually served at the beginning of the meal as well as at the end of the meal.  The debate in the Mishna is whether the bracha on that first k'zayis of korban pesach exempts the chagiga from its own bracha.
(Why do you need to eat the korban two times?  I haven't thought it through, but I am wondering if this is linked to a different issue: why does the Rambam need to mention the din of "ne'echal al ha'sova" specifically by korban pesach when in fact it is a din by all kodshim, as the Rambam himself quotes in Hil Maaseh Korbanos ch 6?  R' Soloveitchik (see Mesorah journal vol 12 p 25) explained that there is a special din by korban pesach to eat it al hasova of other kodshim, meaning, that one must eat other kodshim, like the chagiga, first,and only then the korban pesach.  All other korbanos can be eaten al ha'sova of any other foods that make up a meal.  Perhaps the Rambam has one achila of korban pesach which is the standard mitzvah of achilas kodshim, no different than the chagiga, and then has another achila to fulfill the din achila al ha'sova unique to pesach.  Still needs some work...)
What is the hesber of this machlokes Ohr Zarua and the Rambam?  We are so accustomed to think that a bracha has to be recited before the mitzvah that to us the Ohr Zarua sounds strange.  In fact, the Rambam's view is the more difficult one to explain.  B'shlama a birchas ha'nehenin, it makes sense to say that once you eat your food, you can no longer say a bracha.  The bracha serves as a matir -- you can't have a matir after the fact.  However, a birchas hamitzvah seems to just be praise to Hashem that we are able to fulfill a particular mitzvah.  What difference does it make if that praise is recited before doing the miztvah or afterwards? 
The Rambam writes in Hil Brachos 1:3
וכשם שמברכין על ההנייה כך מברכין על כל מצוה ומצוה ואח"כ יעשה אותה.
R' Soloveitchik explained (see R' Shachter's Eretz haTzvi p31) that by comparing the takanah of birchas ha'mitzvah to the takana of birchas ha'nehen the Rambam is telling us that the two categories of brachos are similar: just like birchas ha'nehenin is a matir, birchas hamitzvah is a matir as well.  Chazal put in a stop sign before our doing mitzvos that can only be released if a bracha is first recited.

Friday, April 03, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 8, Erev Shabbos

Today is the 8th work day in the bunker, 8 = l'maalah min ha'teva.  What can we take away from Shabbos, from Shabbos haGagol?

 (8:33) וּמִפֶּ֩תַח֩ אֹ֨הֶל מוֹעֵ֜ד לֹ֤א תֵֽצְאוּ֙ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים עַ֚ד י֣וֹם מְלֹ֔את יְמֵ֖י מִלֻּאֵיכֶ֑ם
(8:35)וּפֶ֩תַח֩ אֹ֨הֶל מוֹעֵ֜ד תֵּשְׁב֨וּ יוֹמָ֤ם וָלַ֙יְלָה֙ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֔ים

The redundancy here is apparent.  What does pasuk 35 add that pasuk 33 does not already tell us?
This year we can connect to this parsha like no other year before.  For seven days Aharon and his sons were isolated in the bunker -- just like us.  This was their training ground to learn how to properly do avodah.  Netziv explains that "teishvu yomam v'layla ushmarten es mishmeres Hashem" means that Aharon and sons were sitting and were kove'a yeshiva, learning and being mechadesh in halacha.  Netziv says a chiddush: the gemara in Menachos 99 writes that a person who learns something in the morning and something in the evening has been yotzei the minimum shiur of v'hagisa yomam v'layla.  Why does the gemara use davka the term morning and evening -- why not just say if ha person learns something by day and something by night?  Netziv answers that the makor for this Chazal is our pasuk.  The Yerushalmi learns that there was a special inyan of connecting the day and night which demanded that the kohanim be oseik in Torah davka in the morning, as night was turning to day, and/or the evening, as day was turning to night.  So too, there is such an idea in limud haTorah, to begin your day with Torah, to close out the day and come into night with Torah.  Aharon and his sons were modeling for us what it means to be oseik in Torah.  That's why they retreated from the world, that's what they were in Ohel Moed for, and maybe that's what we are supposed to be doing in our bunkers too.  It is amazing how these days you can tune into a shiur on zoom at almost every hour of the day or night without having to leave your desk. The opportunities for limud haTorah have expanded to an unimaginable degree thanks to this crisis.  The shame is that it took a crisis to create this.
Af al pi kein, the goal of life is not to live in a bunker.  The miluim lasted 7 days and that was it.  We've been inside for more than a week already and we are all sick of it.  We want to leave the bunker, but what we need to be careful of, and maybe this is the tnai in the former happening, is that the bunker shouldn't leave us.  Pasuk 33 is the command to spend 7 days in the bunker, in Ohel Moed.  Pasuk 35 is a different idea entirely.  Pasuk 35 is telling you (see Chasam Sofer, Maor v'Shemesh) that when you return to "yoman v'layla," day and night of normal life, you should carry with you and reflect on the "teishvu shivas yamim," to the days of miluim, to the days of the bunker. The experience needs to make a lasting impression.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 7

The Netziv has a vort on the 4 sons of the haggadah which is  interesting because it's not the sort of thing you would expect from him.  He writes that the phrases of "baruch haMakom" parallel the sons:
Baruch haMakom = the chacham
Baruch Hu = the rasha
Baruch shenasan Torah = tam
Baruch hu = aino yode'a lishol
The chacham is most atttuned to Hashem's hashgacha and presence in the world, hence baruch haMakom.
The rasha is denies Hashem's presence, hence the switch to third person, baruch Hu, as if speaking of someone distant.
The aino yode'a lishol is oblivious, so the phrase used is the same as that used for the rasha.
The tam, unlike the chacham, is unable to recognize Hashem's presence if not through Torah.  Therefore, baruch she'nasan Torah...
I would have thought the Netziv would see recognizing G-d through torah as the ideal, but no -- ahavas Hashem and kirvas Hashem stand apart from torah and should be valued in their own right, as the chacham does.  It is because the tam is not on such a high level that he requires torah to help him see yad Hashem.
The Netziv writes that this is pshat in Pesachim 68 that tell us that Rav Yosef would make a special celebration for Shavuos saying that if not for that day he would just be like any other Joe, any other Yosef in the marketplace.  R' Yosef was a big anav, as the gemara tells us at the end of Mes Sota.  Therefore, in his humility he said that if not for Torah, how would he connect with Hashem?  He is just a simple tam, not a chacham.
Lulei d'mistafina I would suggest that this is the meaning of the pasuk (I checked Ha'amek Davar and the Netziv does not say it there) that describes Yaakov as "ish tam yosheiv ohalim," which Chazal interpret to mean he was learning in the yeshivos of Shem v'Eiver.  Yaakov was still young, and therefore he was a tam and needed the torah of Shem v'Eiver, the beis medrash, as a means of connecting to Hashem.  This perhaps is why Yitzchak, who heard Eisav ask shaylos in halacha, favored Eisav, who he perhaps saw as able to connect to Hashem even without and outside the 4 amos of halacha.  It was Rivka who had greater insight into Eisav's character and realized that that connection was a facade.

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 6

Can someone who endangers himself, e.g. someone who ignores all warnings about social distancing (like this) and as a result ends up r"l contracting the virus, bentch gomel when cured?
A talmid of R' Azriel Hildesheimer suggested (the teshuvah deals with someone who attempted suicide and was saved) that birchas ha'gomel is patterned on the korban todah mentioned in our parsha -- it's like a "nishalma parim sifaseinu."  Rashi on chumash in connection with korban todah mentions the chiyuv as applying to the 4 categories of people who have to bentch gomel -- someone who takes a sea voyage, someone who traverses a desert, someone who is released from prison, and someone who recovers from illness.  "Yodu l'Hashem chasdo v'yizbichu zivchei todah" -- we can't do the "zivchei todah" part, but we can and do do the "yodu l'Hashem" part by saying the bracha.  Therefore, just as it is prohibited to offer a korban brought by a rasha (zevach resha'im to'eiva), so too, it would be improper for someone who violated the issur of endangering his own life to recite a gomel.
R' Hildesheimer disagreed.  Rashi on chumash is a derush, it's peirush ha'mikra, not a halachic statement. The chiyuv of birchas ha'gomel has nothing to do with the chiyuv to bring a korban todah when one experiences a nes.  Furthermore, the fact that one is guilty of wrongdoing and unworthy of being saved is all the more reason for one to recite a birchas ha'gomel, as we see from the nusach ha'bracha itself: ha'gomel **l'chayavim** tovos -- Hashem has provided relief even to those who are "chayav" and not worthy. 
For more on the topic, see Yechaveh Daat vol 4 # 14

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 5

1) The joys of working in IT...  someone called our hotline to ask whether anyone is in the office and can go over and feed their pet fish in the bowl on their desk. 
Why don't people call the accounting dept, or legal, or some other team to see if someone will do something like that?  Or call the HR dept -- can't be too many new hires they are working on now, right?  Nobody does that because they know those folks are busy doing "important" work.  We in IT are doing nothing other than keeping the entire network afloat so that 99% of the staff can work from home and trying to solve all the problems you may run into when working remotely, but how hard can that be?  There must be hours of free time we have to feed your fish, maybe water the plants, etc. 
2) There are SO many organizations and people that need help both for pesach and going forward.  My wife asked why is it among all the shiurim being given no one (at least she and I have not seen this topic yet) has given a shiur on how to prioritize one's tzedaka.  Who do you give to first when everyone is asking?  Good question and a good topic.  (Why don't I cover the topic here, you may be wondering.  See above -- I'm busy feeding the fish and watering the plants.)
3) So after my anti-chizuk rant yesterday, let me end today with some chizuk, with a nice Sefas Emes you can hold on to until seder night. 
Why do we open the door for Eliyahu haNavi on Pesach night?
You know what Klal Yisrael was doing leil ha'seder?  They were locked down in their bunkers.  "Al yeitzei ish m'pesach beiso ad boker."
The Yerushalmi in the beginning of Brachos writes (BTW, this is one of my favorite pieces - my wife is sick of hearing me quote it.  If you are even half a tzioni, you have to know this Yerushalmi) that there were two Amoraim travelling, and they saw the sun begin to slowly rise over the horizon.  This, one said to the other, is how the geulah of Klal Yisrael happens -- little by little.  First there is just a bit of brightness in the sky, then a small ray of light, then the sun finally peeks over the horizon, until finally it is day.  Geulah is a gradual process, not BOOM - an abrupt event.
We are in the bunker, says the Sefas Emes (5652), "ad boker" -- until the sunrise of true geulah breaks.  Sometimes the bunker is a physical room, sometimes its something psychological that constricts our growth and holds us back.  Either way, we're stuck!
Comes Pesach night, every year we open the door because every year we say to ourselves this is the year when the sun will finally completely rise on the "boker" we are waiting for and we can finally leave our bunkers behind.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 4

Baruch Hashem, at least on weekends I don't have to sit in front of the PC and try to work remotely.  Notes from the Underground therefore resumes today.
1) I thought this was a parody, but apparently it is real.  I simply have no words:

2) I took a walk out of the bunker on Friday and saw a price list for takeout food posted in a store window.  $18 for a quart of chicken soup.  Matzah balls -- extra, of course.  $9 for 8, if I remember correctly.  Again, I have no words.
3) On to a more serious matter.  The korbanos in last week's parsha are described as "reiach nichoach" - a pleasing fragrance.  Imagine walking into your house Friday afternoon as the Shabbos preparations are going on.  Before you even get to the kitchen and see what's cooking, you can already smell the challah and the chicken or cholent and you anticipate the arrival of Shabbos.  HaKsav v'haKabbalah explains (and we've touched on this before) that just offering a korban is not enough -- it has to come with a commitment to do better in the future.  When you offer the korban with that commitment, Hashem "smells" what's coming, he anticipates your better behavior, and gives you credit before you've even gotten there.
The many "chizuk" shiurim with the usual platitudes of "have emunah" and "let's improve our beis adam l'chaveiro" or "let's all try to learn more" etc. are all nice, but I've lost interest already.  Making people feel good and giving hope is nice, but what we need even more is real commitment to change, both in our personal live and in our communal lives, so that we can offer to Hashem a "reiach nichoach" of a better future.
Two differences between the usual generalities and platitudes and true change:
1) Chizuk makes you feel good, but real change is hard.  Saying "I will try to talk less in shul" makes you feel good.  You can always convince yourself you are doing a good job or at least trying and give yourself a pat on the back.  Forcing yourself to give $10 to tzedaka every time you open your mouth between baruch she'amar and aleinu will not make you feel so good if the cost adds up.
2) For change to be meaningful and effective it needs to be 1) Specific and  2) Measurable.  Like in the example above, the goal has to be precisely defined -- not talking during a certain period of tefilah, and 2) success/failure has to be measurable -- how much $ is going out of your wallet will tell you if you are making progress.  If you give $100 to tzedaka in week 1 but only $80 in week 2, the knas is having an effect.
On a communal level, the same two factors are in play.  There is a far cry between saying "let's work on our appreciation of kedushas beis ha'knesses" and we all applaud and feel good and saying that in our shul we have a no talking policy and if the gabai needs to warn you about it more than once you will be asked to leave the minyan for that day.  Period, no exceptions.  Can't you already hear the reaction?  "Who are you to throw me our?  Do you know who I am?"  Sticking to our communal guns and making hard decisions, taking actions that may rub people the wrong way at times, is what real change is all about.
Is there a "rei'ach nicho'ach" that we want to aim for in this crisis, or are we just mouthing psychobabble feel-good words until we can get back to the same routine as before?