Friday, December 19, 2014

achichem acheir -- a changed man

Last post I mentioned the Maor v'Shemesh's interpretation that Yosef's changed appearance, as opposed to his brothers', indicated that he had undergone a change in character while they remained the same. The Netziv has a beautiful pshat along these same lines.  When Ya'akov finally relents and allows the brothers to go back to Mitzrayim along with Binyamin, he davens that Hashem will cause the Egyptian viceroy [Yosef] who interrogated them to have mercy on them and "v'shilach lachem es achichem achier v'es Binyamin." (43:14)  The meforshim explain al pi peshuto that "achichem acheir," your other brother, refers to Shimon, who had been left behind in prison.  Why does Ya'akov not refer to Shimon by name?  Ramban answers that Ya'akov still was angry at Shimon for his killing of the people of Shechem.  He doesn't call him "Shimon b'ni" and would have just as well left him in prison and never sent Binyamin if not for the need for food.  Netziv offers a different explanation based on the pasuk's use of "shilach *lachem*" -- why stress that Shimon will be "sent *to you*?"  Shouldn't the pasuk have simply said that Shimon will be freed or released?  Netziv explains that Ya'akov suspected that Shimon was left behind because of some conflict between Shimon and the other brothers; perhaps Shimon was even deliberately turned over as a convenient way to get him out of their hair.  Ya'akov was davening for that rift between the brothers to be healed.  "V'shilach lachem acheichem acheir" -- "acheir" here means not just your *other* brother, but it means a *different* brother.  A man does not emerge from prison the same person who went in.  Ya'akov prayed that the experience of prison should change Shimon into a different person.  He should now become "achichem acheir," a different person, and therefore, "v'shilach *lachem,*" he should be welcomed back, and peace among them be restored.  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

it's not the beard that the brothers didn't recognize

The Torah tells us that Yosef was able to recognize his brothers, but they were not able to recognize him.  Rashi explains that the brothers’ appearance was unchanged since Yosef had last seen them, but he had grown a beard in the intervening years. 

The Ma’or v’Shemesh writes that it’s not Yosef’s physical appearance alone which made him unrecognizable.  There are plenty of people whom we recognize even after they’ve grown a beard or changed their hairstyle or dress.  What Rashi is telling us is that in the years that had elapsed since Yosef left home, the brothers did not grow – they remained spiritually stagnant.  They were exactly the same people as they were 20+ years earlier.  Not so Yosef.  He had gained in maturity, he had grown and developed as a person.  It was not Yosef the boy, the Yosef who had told their father tales of his brothers’ wrongdoings and taunted them with his dreams, that stood before the shevatim. It was an older and wiser Yosef, a completely different person.

the miracle on the first day

It’s easier to post questions than to take the time to post answers : ) 

Chaunkah question #3: The Beis Yosef famously asks -- shouldn’t Chanukah be celebrated for seven days and not eight?  Since there was enough oil for one day, there was no miracle in being able to light the menorah that first day.  The miracle was only in the menorah burning for seven days after that.
There are dozens and dozens of answers to this question.  Someone told me the reason this question has so much torah written on it is a midah k’neged midah.  The Greeks wanted to cause us to forget about Torah, so davka on these halachos we have a multitude of torah discussion.
The Pri Chadash answers that the first day is not a celebration of the lighting of the menorah.  The first day is a celebration of the victory over the Greeks in battle.
If the Pri Chadash is correct, then why do we light a menorah on the first day?  Why should we commemorate the victory in battle the same way – through lighting a menorah – that we commemorate the miracle of the oil on the other days? 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

zichartani v'hizkartani

1. The Rishonim (Rashi, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra) already ask why the Torah uses the double-language of “lo zachar Sar haMashkim es Yosef” and “vayishkacheihu.”  If you don’t remember, obviously it means you forgot.  I noticed the Chasam Sofer says a brilliant pshat: “vayishkacheihu” is not talking about the Sar haMashkim – it’s talking about Yosef.  So long as Yosef remember his request to the Sar haMashkim and had an iota of hope that his redemption would come through basar v’dam, via the channel of the Sar haMashkim, nothing was doing.  It’s only when Yosef forgot about his request did Hashem step in and intervene.

2. The Ksav v’haKabbalah discusses the strange phrase “zichartani itcha…” that Yosef used – you normally don’t use a possessive when talking about remembering something – and, as we discussed once before, he suggests that it was not a request, but a statement.  Yosef was telling the Sar haMashkim that his fate was remembered, i.e. mentioned in the same context, as that of the Sar haMashkim.  The same dream that foretold the Sar haMashkim’s fate also foretold Yosef’s own fate. 
The Ma’or vaShemesh suggests a different explanation.  The natural reaction of anyone in the Sar haMashkim’s circumstance would have been to tell neighbors and friends about this wonderful dream interpreter he met in prison.  Yosef could have been the talk of the town and been featured on talk shows, wined and dined with celebrities, etc.  Yosef didn’t want any of that.  He reserved using his gift only for kavod shamayim.  Therefore, he told the Sar haMashkim that he would help him only on the condition that “zichartani itacha,” that he keeps the remembrance of Yosef’s ability to himself, “v’hizkartani el Pharoah,” and otherwise only mention him when it really counts, when he has an audience with Pharoah in Pharoah’s time of need.       

the ohr hachaim on hashgacha and bechira

My daughter e-mailed me from seminary to ask how to understand a famous Ohr haChaim in last week’s parsha (37:21) that we’ve mentioned before here and here.  Chazal tell us that the pit that Yosef was thrown into was filled with snakes and scorpions.  Why then does the Torah credit Reuvain for saving Yosef?  All he did was take him out of the frypan, out of the brothers’ hands, and toss him into the fire, into the scorpion pit? 

The O.C. explains that Hashem has complete control over animals and everything else in the natural world.  If Yosef didn’t deserve to die, the snakes and scorpions would not be able to harm him.  It was the perfect test to see if the brothers were misjudging Yosef or whether he really was guilty.  However, a human being is different because he/she is a “ba’al bechira.”  Hashem does not interfere with free choice.  Had Yosef been turned over to the brothers or other people, even if he didn’t deserve to die, they would still have been able to harm him had they chosen to do so. 
For better or worse, most kids, like my daughter, come out of yeshiva thinking about hashgacha along the lines of the Chovos haLevavos, who assumes that nothing can happen unless Hashem decrees it so.  Person X can pull a gun on person Y and pull the trigger, but unless Hashem has decreed that person Y will come to harm, nothing will happen to him. On the one hand, it seems “frummer” to assume there are no exceptions to Hashem’s hashgacha, but on the other hand, if you take this approach it means there is no such thing as random violence and anyone who is harmed must have deserved it.  Seems to me that the question of theodicy is no less difficult than the issue of hashgacha.  In any case, if you’ve been taught or absorbed through osmosis that the Chovos haLevavos is correct, then this Ohr haChaim is not going to be easy to swallow.

R’ Elchanan Wasserman (Koveitz He’Oros) claims that other Rishonim (e.g. Tosfos Kesubos 30) disagree with the Chovos haLevavos, and the Zohar does as well, so the Ohr haChaim’s view is not unique.  According to R’ Elchanan, we are left with a basic machlokes about the scope of hashgacha.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe, however, tries to reconcile the two views (link).  By way of analogy, he compares dealing with a ba’al bechira to the gemara’s caution not to stand in a dangerous place.  Why can’t a person try to walk a tightrope over the Grand Canyon or do some other dangerous stunt?  M’mah nafshach: if he/she is destined to come to harm, then he/she will come to harm whether he/she goes on the tightrope or not; if he/she is not destined to come to harm, then there is no danger!  The answer is that whether or not a person will come to harm is not an absolute yes/no issue – it’s a matter of degree.  A person may have enough merit to warrant not coming to harm in the normal course of events, but that same person may not have sufficient merit to cause Hashem to change the laws of nature and allow him/her to survive a fall into the Grand Canyon.  It’s not Hashem’s hasgacha which makes the difference between the cases – it’s the person’s merits which make the difference.  What the Zohar/O.C./Tosfos may be saying is that to survive an encounter with a “ba’al bechira” requires much greater zechuyos, as it requires Hashem interfering with the laws of nature (that allows for free will) much more openly.  Therefore, it is far better to face a threat from an animal or an object.       

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ner chanukah: mishtatef b'perutah and ma'os konos

Last week I threw out one Chanukah question.  Time for another:

The Rishonim try to come up with rules to explain when nusach of a bracha is “al…” (like “al biyir chameitz”) and when it is “l…” (like “l’haniach tefillin).  One suggested rule is that when a mitzvah can be done by another person on one’s behalf, the bracha is always is “al…”
The Ran in the first perek of Pesachim challenges this rule that from the case of ner Chanukah.  A ba’al habayis can light on behalf of everyone in his home, including guests.  Even though the guest does nothing – he is yotzei through the ba’al habayos -- the bracha is still “l’hadlik” and not “al hadlakas...”

Ran answers that the case of a guest (achsinai) is different because the guest has to give a perutah in payment to the ba’al habayis if he wants to participate. The guest is being yotzei through his own oil, not through the oil of the ba’al habayis.
It’s seems from the Ran that the mitzvah of ner chanukah is not in doing the ma’aseh hadlakah (how would contributing a perutah help in that regard?), but rather the mitzvah is in having a cheftza shel mitzvah that is lit.  By contributing payment, you have a share in the oil that is burning. 

Be that as it may, how does contributing a perutah help?  The halacha is that a kinyan requires a meshicha to be valid, not just payment.   What kind of kinyan is this?


RE: the JA article on neo-chassidism -- It’s very hard for me to understand why some have reacted by arguing that chassidus has no place in YU because chassidus exposes the masses to kabbalah (or some other reason), while there is no objection to teaching Milton at YU even though you can’t read Milton without some exposure to Christian theology. Milton is OK, but R’ Nachman not?

I also don’t understand some of the other objections to chassidus and/or neo-chassidism that try to sketch out what misnagdus is all about but end up with platitudes that anyone, misnagid or chassid, would have no problem with.

L'shem framing the issue, three questions, one historical, one about the present, one looking toward the future:

1) It’s hard to object to (or embrace!) something without defining it first.  Is chassidus just a shift in emphasis, e.g. greater emphasis on tefilah, on joy, on kabbalah?   You say tomato, I say tomah-toh; I say Ba-RUCH, you say BOO-reech?   Hard to accept that the GR”A had such a problem with that. What was the philosophical chiddush/paradigm change that the BeSH”T brought about that others found so objectionable?   (See The Piecezna in Mavo haShe’arim ch 4 and kuntres Toras haChassidus by the Rebbe RaYaT”Z for answers, and if anyone knows other mareh mekomos that directly address this question, I would appreciate if you would send them to me.)  

2) Is it the appeal of this BeSHTian worldview that makes neohassidus so attractive, or is a neohassid just a mitnaged who likes Carlebach niggunim, feel good spirituality, and plays the part of a counter-cultural (relative to the rest of his community) rebel by adopting the dress and other customs of chassidus?  Yes, that is a reductionist and somewhat coarse way to put it, but you get my point. Again, are we speaking about a “mere” difference in emphasis or a philosophical shift?

3) Lastly, to what degree will this infatuation with chassidus in the modern orthodox world last? Is it a passing fad, or a movement that will alter modern orthodoxy for the future?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Ibn Ezra on the use of foreign words in Tanach

The Ibn Ezra in Parshas VaYeishev writes that Tanach incorporates words from foreign languages and oftentimes when it does so, it will translate the word for us.  His example is interesting: “ha’achashteranim bnei haramachim” – the word “achashteranim” is a Persian word, so the Megillah immediately explains to us that it means “bnei ramachim.” I don’t feel bad in not understanding the translation any better than the original, because Chazal (Meg18a) use this very phrase of an example of words in the Megillah that we don’t have a good explanation for.  Perhaps in light of the Ibn Ezra we can suggest that the gemara deliberately used this example to make the point that the text is so difficult to translate that even when it does the job for us we don’t understand it.

The Ramban, in quoting this Ibn Ezra, gives another example from the Megillah: “hipil pur hu hagoral” – “pur” is a Persian word, so the Megillah immediately tells us that it means “goral.”
The Ibn Ezra raises this issue to explain a pasuk in our parsha: “beis ha’sohar makom asher asirei hamelech asurim” (39:20) – “beis hasohar” is not a Hebrew word, so the Torah translated that it is “makom asher asirei hamelech asurim.”  Ramban disagrees with this example.  Beis hasohar,” says Ramban, simply means prison.  There are all kinds of prisons; therefore, the Torah adds that this was specifically a prison “makaom asher asirei hamelech asurim,” where the king’s prisoners were held.

Assuming the Ibn Ezra is correct, the question that begs asking is why Tanach uses foreign words at all.  Why use a word like “beis hasohar,” that needs explanation, adding to the length of the pasuk, when an equivalent Hebrew word or just the explanation “makom asher asirei hamelech asurim” could just as easily be used?  What assumptions about the vocabulary of the reader are built into the text? 

Jumping from pshat to derash, the Tiferes Shlomo suggests that the word “beis hasohar” alludes to the moon, which in Aramaic is called “si’hara.”  The waxing and waning of the moon is symbolic of the rise and fall of the Jew in galus.  Yosef is not just being thrown into a physical prison – he, and eventually his brothers, will be imprisoned by an exile that will last over 200 years.  So we have the Hebrew text of the Torah using what the Ibn Ezra thinks is an Egyptian word being interpreted by the Tiferes Shomo as an allusion to an Aramaic phrase – how’s that for a linguistic roller coaster ride!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

jealousy and sibling rivelry have nothing to do with our parsha

Rashi interprets “v’hu na’ar es bnei Bilha” to mean that Yosef “hung out” with Bilhah and Zilpah's children.  Because he saw that the other brothers rejected them, he befriended them.  The pasuk continues and tells us that Yosef brought “dibasam ra’ah,” bad tidings and gossip about his other brothers to Ya’akov.  Rashi again tells us that it was Leah’s children in particular and their abuse of their siblings (see Ramban) that Yosef reported on.  It seems from Rashi that Ya’akov’s children were divided into two camps: 1)Leah’s children, and 2)the children of the maidservants.  Yosef allied himself with the latter group even though he was the son of Ya’akov’s primary wife.

Ramban asks: if Rashi is correct, then why did none of Bilhah or Zilpah’s children speak up to defend Yosef or try to save Yosef when the other brothers were planning to kill him or sell him?  Not only did they not object, but it seems from the story that ALL the brothers, except for Reuvain, consented to the sale! 
This point would be a davar pashut if not for certain blogs and sites that pretend otherwise.  I’ll put it bluntly: if you read the story of Yosef and his brothers as revolving around petty jealousies, dysfunctional family relationships, or sibling rivalry, you are not learning chumash – you are reading a novel or a work of literature.  An isolated Ramban or a statement by Hirsch or some other comment here or there that is critical of the Avos does not change the fact that the meta- assumption when learning chumash, as opposed to reading the Bible as literature, is that the Avos, the shevatim, etc. were tzadikim that did not share the same gross character imperfections and faults that the average Joe does. 

The question of what to do with Yosef was debated by the shevatim as an issue of devarim ha’omdim b’rumo shel olam, a din Torah that they knew would have repercussions for the future of Klal Yisrael.  Personal interests had nothing to do with it!  To think otherwise is to completely misunderstand the issue and the personalities involved. 
Therefore, whether Yosef was close to the children of the shefachos or not close to them could not help (or hurt) his cause.  All that mattered was getting to the objective truth of what needed to be done.
(So you’ll ask: what’s the Ramban’s question then?  It could be that what bothered Ramban is the fact that things got to that point.  Why didn’t any of the brothers friendly to Yosef step in earlier to defuse the situation?)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

is zman gerama a ptur by mitzvos derabbanan?

Whether or not women are exempt from a mitzvah derabbanan which is zman gerama seems to be a machlokes Rishonim.  The gemara (Brachos 20b) according to our girsa suggests that one might have had a hava amina that women are exempt from tefilah because it is zman gerama, kah mashma lan the Mishna that this is not true.  Rashi writes that this girsa must be wrong.  Since tefilah is derabbanan, women are obviously obligated, whether it is zman gerama or not.  Tosfos disagrees and proves from various other cases (e.g. hallel) that the ptur of zman gerama applies to dinim derabbanan as well. 

What is the crux of the machlokes?  The reason why we must observe dinim derabbanan (b’pashtus) is because the Torah commands, “lo tasur.”  Yesh lachkor whether this means we treat each particular din derabbanan as if it was commanded by the Torah, or whether “lo tasur” is a general umbrella obligation not to disrespect Beis Din by ignoring their laws.  If the first approach is correct, then Tos would seem to be right – the same rules, such as zman gerama, that apply to dinim d’orasya should apply to dinim derabbanan.  According to the second approach, that all dinim derabbanan fall under one general umbrella of “lo tasur,” since that obligation is a lav, not an aseh, there is no exemption of zman gerama.
Chanukah is fast approaching!  The gemara tells us that women are obligated in ner Chanukah because “af hein hayu b’oso ha’nes,” they shared in the miracle of being saved from the Greeks (other Rishhonim learn that they were the cause of that miracle.)  According to Tosfos, that women are exempt from mitzvos derabbanan that are zman gerama, I understand why the gemara needs this reason of “af hein…” to tell us that they are obligated in ner Chanukah.  But according to Rashi, that there is no ptur of zman gerama by dinim derabbanan, why does the gemara need this extra reason to obligate women???