Thursday, July 30, 2015

what does the word "leimor" mean?

“Va’eschanan el Hashem b’eis ha’hi leimor.” What does the word “leimor” mean in this context? Ramban writes in Shmos 6:20 that the word “leimor” means to articulate clearly, as opposed to “amira m’supekes.”Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor” means (according to Ramban) that Hashem gave Moshe some message and charged him with the task of articulating it clearly to Bnei Yisrael. That makes sense in the context of a communication from A to B, but here we are not talking about a command that Hashem told Moshe to transmit or a nevuah to relate. Moshe is praying, which is exactly what the word “va’eschanan” on means on its own, without the additional “leimor.” Rashi already tackles this question and writes that the extra word signals that Moshe wanted Hashem to say something in response, but there is another approach as well.

There is another instance of “leimor” in the parsha that the meforshim struggle with: “Anochi omeid bein Hashem u’beineichem ba’eis ha’hi l’hagid lachem es dvar Hashem ki y’yreisem mipnei ha’eish v’lo avisem ba’har leimor.” (6:5) Rashi and Ibn Ezra write that “leimor” is a continuation of “l'hagid lachem es dvar Hashem,” even though there are intervening phrases (Ramban has a different approach).  Aside from the problem of the word “leimor” dangling at the end of the sentence, divorced from the preceding phrase, the more fundamental question is why is the word is needed at all. We are dealing with the aseres hadibors, which Hashem communicated directly to Bnei Yisrael. Hashem here doesn’t need to speak to Moshe and impress upon him to articulate the message clearly – Hashem is the one himself who is articulating the message! Rashi again is already bothered by this issue in Parshas Yisro, the first time the aseres hadibros appear and we read, “Vayidaber Elokim… leimor,” and Rashi again explains that the “leimor” indicates a response; Bnei Yisrael responded verbally to each dibra.

My wife’s grandfather, R’ Dov Yehudah Shochet, heard from his rebbe muvhak, R’ Yosef Bloch  a different explanation of “leimor” (which the Ohr haChaim anticipates) that is easier for me to try explain using an illustration than by trying to offer a definition. It’s 90+ degrees today, humid, and uncomfortable. Let’s pretend that c”v the air conditioning in your home breaks down. Your wife asks you, “Did you see the ad in the newspaper for air conditioners that are on sale?” The correct answer, even if you saw the ad, is not, “Yes,” full stop. The correct answer is to get in the car and go to the store and buy an air conditioner. But, asks the foolish husband, “She didn’t tell me to buy an air conditioner – she only asked if I saw the ad?” The question indicates that you heard only half the message. The question about the ad was the “vayidaber.” The “leimor” was to go buy the air conditioner. This is similar to what the Ohr haChaim on our parsha (see also O.C. to Shmos 6:12) calls “kollel hamechuvan b’lashon achier.

Vatizchak Sarah b’kirbah leimor….” and then she denies it. If she laughed, how could she deny doing it, asks Ramban? If she didn’t, then why is she held accountable? 

The answer is (as my wife's grandfather explained) that of course Sarah did not break out in mocking laughter and would never dream of openly questioning the possibility of her having a child. There was no dibur -- she never said it. But “b’kirbah,” inside, she felt something. The Torah translates those emotions into words for us,“leimor,” so that we know what was going on.

When we talk about G-d’s speech, there is no resemblance to what we call speech. “Zachor v’shamor b’dibur echad” – we can’t even imagine what that means. When that experience described by the anthropomorphism “vayidaber Elokim” is translated into speech, “leimor,” the content is the words of aseres hadibros.

Coming back to the first pasuk in our parsha: tefilah has to come from within, otherwise the words have no meaning and don't carry any weight. “Va’eschanan el Hashem,” was a personal meditation. If we translate, "leimor", those thoughts and emotions into speech, the words that followed are the result.  (This last point is from the Ohr haChaim)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

failed opportunity

The Sefas Emes asks a tremendous question.  Chazal tell us that if the Beis haMikdash is not built in someone's lifetime it is as if he destroyed it.  Our not having a Mikdash makes us as guilty as the dor of churban habayis.  But how can that be?  Surely it takes less zechuyos to maintain the status quo of having a Mikdash than it does to earn the Mikdash being rebuilt when you are starting from nothing!?  We are starting in the hole, so to speak, with the deck stacked against us.  Just because we haven't earned back the Mikdash doesn't mean we are as bad as they were!

Rashi interprets the list of places in the first pasuk of Devarim as tochacha -- these are all the things Klal Yisrael did wrong in the desert.  One of the places mentioned is Paran, where the spies were sent from.  One of the places is Chatzeiros, which Rashi (second pshat) explains refers to episode of Miriam's speaking lashon ha'ara, which the spies witnessed and did not learn from.  Maharal in Gur Aryeh asks: doesn't this amount to the same tochacha two times?  The word Paran is a hint that the spies spoke lashan ha'ra about Eretz Yisrael; the word Chatzeiros is a hint that the spies did not learn from Miriam and therefore spoke lashon ha'ra -- same thing?

Mahral answers that the failure to learn a lesson when given the opportunity to do so is itself a sin, apart from whatever wrongdoing that comes out from not having learned the lesson.  The fact that the lesson that should have been learned from what happened to Miriam was not absorbed is itself a failure, irrespective of whatever happened later.  

One of the big problems Yirmiyahu haNavi had is that no one took him seriously.  Galus? Churban?  Who is this guy kidding?  I wonder if the generation that had the privilige of hearing the dvar Hashem from prophets and witnessing a functioning Mikdash even understood what this concept of galus.  I wonder if the full horror of what Yirmiyahu was telling them could even register on their consciousness.  

For better or worse, we now know what galus means and what Yirmiyahu was talking about.  There are people alive still today, though fewer and fewer of them left, who saw firsthand what churban is all about.  The dor that Yirmiyahu was speaking of could only relate to these ideas in the abstract, as some theoretical possible punishment -- we have seen the reality.  For us not to learn from it, for us to not absorb the lessons of galus, would be a tragedy.  We are not starting in the hole with the deck stacked against us. Aderaba, we are starting with the advantage of having been smacked with reality and taught a lesson that should inspire us to increased yearing for Eretz Yisrael, increaed tzipisa l'yeshu'a, and increased desire for geulah.

If that doesn't motivate us, if 9 Av doesn't inspire us, then indeed, we are as culpable as the generation of the churban.  If it does motivate and inspire us, then this can hopefully be our last 9 Av in mourning.

Eichah: chiyuv of kri'ah and/or chiyuv of kinah?

Masechet Sofrim 18:4 writes that the reading of Eichah was accompanied by targum so that everyone would understand what was being read, even women and children, as women are obligated in reading the megillah just as men are.  In the new Dirshu Mishna Berura I saw they quote a number of Achronim who struggle to understand why women are obligated in kri'as Eichah.  B'shlama by Purim we have a special chiddush of "af heim ha'yu b'oso ha'nes," that since women we the cause of the miracle or involved in the miracle (machlokes Rishonim) they are obligated in the megillah, but nowhere do we find such a chiddush by other megillos.  Furthermore, I would ask why the Mes Sofrim couples this din with the idea of reading the targum along with the text.  Is there a din that if you don't understand kri'as haTorah, for example, that you are not yotzei?  Why here does the Mes Sofrim make special mention of the need for targum?

A few years ago I suggested (based on a question raised by R' Joshua Maroof) that reciting Eichah is not only a mitzvah of kri'ah, like we find by Esther and kri'as haTorah, but the reading is also a kiyum of kinah as well.  This is why the ba'al koreh sits on the floor while reading, even though kri'ah is normally done standing, as the sugyos in Megillah tell us, and this is why the main reading of Eichah is at night, when mourning is at its most intense, unlike other mitzvos of kri'ah which all take place during the day (see Ran in Megillah regarding Meg Esther).  I would like to suggest that the chiyuv of women to hear Eichah is not a din in kri'ah per se, but stems from their chiyuv to mourn for Yerushalayim and is part of the kiyum of kinah.  This explains why targum, understanding what you are saying, is integral to the mitzvah.  It may not be necessary to understand kri'as haTorah to be yotzei, but if the reading is a kiyum is aveilus and kinah, one can only mourn if one understands what one is mourning for.  Simply reciting empty words does not accomplish anything.  (The MG"A generalizes from this Mes. Sofrim and uses it as a basis to suggest women have an obligation to hear kri'as haTorah on Shabbos.  According to the approach I am suggesting the two mitzvos are not related.  The poskim do not generally accept that view of the MG"A.)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Va’yitav b’eini ha’davar -- praise or criticism?

We learn Mesilas Yeshorim and Chovos haLevavos as mussar seforim; R’ Bunim m’Peshischa used to learn Sefer Devarim. Devarim is Moshe Rabeinu’s tochacha, his rebuke and criticism of Bnei Yisrael for their failings. It’s odd therefore that smack in the middle of his mussar shmooz Moshe Rabeinu pays Klal Yisrael what seems to be a compliment. He recounts that they asked him to send spies to scout out Eretz Yisrael and, “Va’yitav b’eini ha’davar,” (1:23) Moshe thought it was a great idea. Imagine someone giving you tochacha and in the middle saying, “Remember the time you came to R’ Chaim Kanievski with that suggestion and he told you ‘Great idea!’?” That’s tochacha? That’s a  praise to be proud of!

Two approaches (both based on Sefas Emes) to what is going on:

1) There is a quote quite popular these days that says “People get the government they deserve and they deserve the government they get.” Our leaders reflect who we are. That is undoubtedly true in a democracy, where leaders can be freely chosen, but it is also true (perhaps to a lesser degree) for leadership in Klal Yisrael as well. The gemara in Sanhedrin lists Tanaim and Amaoraim who themselves were worthy of ruach hakodesh, but the gemara says it was not given to them because their generation was unworthy.  We are all products of our environment and affected by our environment.   

Sending the spies was an awful mistake, as evident from the tragic consequences. When Moshe Rabeinu said he thought it was a good idea, he was in fact chastising Klal Yisrael. Moshe was telling them that they had descended to such a low level that even he was dragged down with them, throwing off his judgment and leading to error.

Why we don’t have leaders today of the caliber which we had in previous generations? The question that we maybe should be asking instead is why we are not people of the same caliber as in previous generations. We get what we deserve, and we can pull down the greatest of greats with us. 

2) A few pesukim earlier in the parsha Moshe describes how, overwhelmed by the burdens placed upon him by the people, he setup a whole system of judges and officers. There were people who oversaw groups of 10, groups of 100, groups of 1000 – a whole bureaucracy. While before every Ploni, Almoni, Berel and Shmerel had to wait for hours on line until he could speak to Moshe Rabeinu about his problems, now help was available just around the corner at a local beis din, with smaller lines, a shorter wait, and faster service (sounds like a commercial).

VaYitav b’eini ha’davar” is the results of that system. For all the benefits that were gained, there was one major downside to the new system: Moshe Rabeinu was insulated from the people. Had he been more in touch with the pulse of the crowd, perhaps he would not have consented so easily, or at least not thought sending the scouts was such a good idea.  

We need to be close to our leaders and our leaders need to be close to us. The gemara (Brachos 27) relates that when Rabban Gamliel went to make up with Rabbi Yehoshua after expelling him from the beis medrash, he was astounded to see Rabbi Yehoshua living in such poverty that the walls of his home were black from his work as a smith. Rabban Gamliel couldn’t believe it. R’ Yehoshua replied by saying woe to a generation whose leaders are so out of touch with reality. In a biography of a certain gadol there is a story of how this individual was asked a shayla about whether or how (I forget the details) to do tevilah on a mixer, or some other appliance, and this individual had no idea what they were talking about -- he didn't know what a common appliance was. The book was relating this as an illustration of the gadlus of that individual. My reaction exactly the opposite. Woe to a generation whose leaders are so out of touch with day to day reality. How can they relate to the struggles and issues which we all face? How can they properly gauge the pulse of the people?


In case I don't get to write anything about 9 Av, have any easy fast!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

a climate of hatred

I cannot help but be depressed, angry, frustrated when I think of the events going on in the world.  It does not put one in the mood to write.  There is going to be a (hopefully) massive rally tomorrow in NY at Times Square at 5:30-7:30, see here.  What saddens me is that, while I hope I am wrong, I am willing to go out on a limb and predict in advance that segments of our community will not show up.  There are organizations that have yet to come out and publicly urge their members to attend.  I cannot fathom or understand their hashkafa.  Why?  What are they waiting for?  We live in a world where pictures matter, where sound bites matter.  The press and public at large are not interested in hairsplitting Talmudic explanations of why you can't attend but still support Israel -- if you can't show up and be counted, then the world takes that to mean that you don't care.  It's just that simple.  I don't want to turn this into a rant to beat up on certain organizations , and maybe I've said too much already (I keep cutting sections out of this post until soon there will be nothing left of it : )  Forget about them -- our job is to focus on ourselves, our love for Eretz Yisrael, our hishtadlus, or efforts to make things better. 

It's only once we get a few pesukim into Parshas Balak that we are told that "u'Balak ben Tzipor melech Moav b'eis ha'hi."  Why withhold that detail?  Why not tell us in the first pasuk in the parsha, when his name is first mentioned, that Balak was the king of Moav?   Chasam Sofer answers that the Torah holds off because it's only once we start speaking of Bilam's deliberations whether to go and take the job of cursing Bnei Yisrael that this detail takes on import and significance.  "Lev melachim b'yad Hashem."  Rulers have no free choice -- the fate of countries and governments, the decisions of its rulers, is guided by G-d.  Bilam thought to himself that if Balak the king was calling upon him to curse the Jewish people, then that must be G-d's will.  And indeed it was G-d's will -- but only for the ultimate purpose of forcing Bilam to speak bracha instead of what he planned to say. 

I would like to suggest a slightly different approach.  Bilam had his own agenda and desire to curse Klal Yisrael.  Had the world had strong moral leadership, he might never have dared to do so.  However, when Bilam saw that "u'Balak ben Tzipor melech Moav," a Jew hater like himself, was now in charge, there was nothing to stop him.  There was now a climate that not only tolerated, but encouraged his hatred.

We currently have a President y'mach shemo that is unequaled in American history in his hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.   The word looks and says, "u'Balak ben Tzipor melech Moav," there is someone like us in charge, and therefore we have license to curse and attack and degrade Jews.  There is now a climate of Israel hatred and Jew hatred as never before, and if it took Michael Oren's book to wake you up to that, shame on you. 

The punchline, however, is that it was all a setup.  Hashem deliberately led Balak and Bilam on, and we know how the story ended.  The navi tells us that we have to remember the lessons of that episode where we saw  Hashem's mercy, "from Shittim to Gilgal (Michah 6:7)  What does the navi mean "until Gilgal?"  Did Hashem's mercy somehow come to a stop there c"v?  The Chasam Sofer (again, and also see Rashi on that pasuk) explains that Gilgal was our first stop in Eretz Yisrael after we entered the land.  When in chutz la'aretz, we are entirely dependent on "tzidkos Hashem" because the challenges are so great and our zechuyos so meager.  It's a free handout that Hashem gives us.  But in Eretz Yisrael we have the home court advantage.  There it's not "tzidkos Hashem" alone, but Hashem's mercy is something we can earn and something that, if we play our cards right, we will deserve.   

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

why we mourn


The gemara (Sanhedrin 104) explains the double mention of crying in the pasuk in Eichah, “Bachoh tivkeh ba’laylah, ” as referring to Rabban Gamliel and his neighbor. Rabban Gamliel lived next door to a mother who had lost her young chuld. She would sit and cry all night, and when Rabban Gamliel would hear her crying, he would in turn start cry over the destruction of the Beis haMikdash. The gemara relates that he cried so much that his eyelashes even fell out.

Our community had the privilege of hearing from R’ Asher Weiss on Sunday night. He asked what the relationship is between this poor mother’s crying and the churban. A child can r”l die anywhere and at any time. That tragedy does not seem to have anything to do with the the loss of korbanos, the loss of the kohen gadol, etc., all the things we think of when we think of when we think about the churban habayis. Why are these mother’s tears immortalized in a pasuk in Eichah and why did they inspire Rabban Gamliel to cry over the churban?

R’ Asher Weiss answered that the nevuos that speak about geulah actually speak very little about korbanos. What they speak about is the establishment of a utopian society where goodness and peace reign supreme and G-d’s presence is felt in every area of life. That is what we are missing due to hester panim and galus, both the result of the churban. The tragedy of a child dying and the many other tragedies large and small that we experience and hear about are all due to that concealment of G-d’s presence that came about when the Beis haMikdash was destroyed. That is why when Rabban Gamliel heard that poor mother crying, he cried as well, mourning for the churban, mourning for the hester panim that is the cause of so many sorrows.

Monday, July 13, 2015

the appointment of Yehoshua

1) The most depressing thing about the affairs of the world is how little anyone cares. Whether there is an agreement signed with Iran today or no agreement signed is just a technicality. Does anyone believe that after extending “deadline” (a word, like “red line,” that has no meaning anymore) after deadline, Kerry will walk away without an agreement, even if getting one means complete capitulation to all that Iran wants?

I hate repeating myself, but I can’t help it – so where are the protests? Where are the rallies? Did anyone’s shul have a tehillim gathering last night? Is even that too much to ask for?


It makes me sick.

2) Was Yehoshua on his own up to the task of leading Klal Yisrael? Most certainly not. Moshe was told, “V’nasata mei’hodcha alav,” that he had to give over some of the majesty and glory that enveloped himself to Yehoshua. Without this, apparently Yehoshua was lacking something.

Chazal tell us that Moshe had thought that his own children would take over for him, but Hashem revealed that Yehoshua was the preferred candidate. The Sochotchover asks (in Ne’os Desheh): if even Yehoshua needed the “hod” of Moshe, why couldn’t Moshe’s own children take over? Even if they were lacking in some way, just as Yehoshua got the gift of Moshe’s hod, they too could have been given whatever it took for them to succeed?

The Sochotchover answers that Moshe could give of himself, of his “hod,” but only if there was something to receive it in. Becoming a “kli kibbul” is something the individual has to accomplish through his own efforts; filling the kli afterwards can be done with the help of others.  Yehoshua put in hours to become the vessel that could absorb what his rebbe would pour into him; Moshe’s own children did not.

(My wife suggested that even if Moshe had to give over something to the next leader for him to succeed, there are still degrees. Yehoshua may not have been another Moshe, but he was still a better choice than Moshe’s own children.)

3) We’ve touched a few times on the connection between Yehoshua’s appointment and the parshiyos that immediately follow that deal with the korbanos ha’mussafim. An idea that came to my mind (based on R’ Tzadok haKohen in Pri Tzadik) this year is that perhaps the connection is meant to speak to this transformation of Yehoshua.  Just as beis din can sanctify a day that would otherwise be an ordinary weekday and transform it into a day of kedusha that requires bringing korbanos (which would otherwise be chulin b’azarah), so too, Moshe through his giving of smicha to Yehoshua was able to transform him into the new leader of Klal Yisrael.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

the greatest navi and greatest manhig also has to be a great parent

The Kli Yakar makes an interesting diyuk: in our parsha Moshe is told to go up to “Har Ha’Avarim” and take a look at Eretz Yisrael before dying. In Parshas VaEschanan the same mountain is called “Har ha’Avarim Har Nevo” and in Parshas Zos haBracha the mountain is only named as “Har Nevo.” Why does our parsha refer to it only by the name Har ha’Avarim?

He answers that the name “Ha’Avarim” is deliberately used because it sounds like the word “evrah” = anger. Shortly after being given the opportunity to see Eretz Yisrael, Moshe asked Hashem to appoint a leader. The halachos of yerusha that had just been revealed through the episode of Bnos Tzelafchad must have still been ringing in Moshe’s ears and he must have had a hava amina that his own children might take over his role. The truth, however, was that Moshe’s children were not worthy to take his place. There were many hats that Moshe wore in his lifetime, all with greatness – navi, rebbe, melech. There was only one hat that Moshe wore with less than stellar results – the hat of father. Moshe did not leave behind children who reflected his own greatness or who followed in his footsteps. There was an undercurrent of anger in Hashem’s words for this one failing.   Apparently you can be the greatest navi and the greatest leader in the whole history of Klal Yisrael, but Hashem will still take you to task if you fail to bring up your children in your footsteps.  Is Moshe really to blame for his children not turning out like him?  I wouldn't say it, but the Kli Yakar does.  On some level beyond what we would detect, Hashem found a lacking.  We have to take it to take to heart on our own level.  Whether you are the CEO of a company, the Rav of a shul, or anything else -- and we are all so very busy these days, no matter what the profession -- you also have to make time to raise your kids to be bnei Torah and bnos Torah.  Of course, there is no guarantee of success no matter how much you put into it, but one must try as hard as one can and keep trying again and again. 

A second point: in a span of six pesukim we have quite a number of appellations used to describe Klal Yisrael:

1) Moshe asks Hashem to appoint “ish al ha’eidah.” (27:16)

2) He asks for Hashem to not leave “adas Hashem” like a flock with no shepherd. (27:17)

3) Hashem tells Moshe to present Yehoshua in front of Eliezer and the “eidah.” (27:19)

4) Hashem tells Moshe to give Yehoshua some of his “glory so that “kol adas Bnei Yisrael” obey him.

5) Yehoshua is supposed to lead, “hu v’kol Bnei Yisrael v’kol ha’eidah.” (27:21)

6) Moshe obeys Hashem’s command and presents Yehoshua before Elazar and “kol ha’eidah.” (27:22)

I count five different terms: 1) ha’eidah; 2) adas Hashem; 3) kol adas Bnei Yisrael; 4) kol Bnei Yisrael + kol ha’eidah; 5) kol ha’eidah alone. Why so many different words for the same thing?

Rashi comments on pasuk 21, where we have the combination of both terms “Bnei Yisrael” and “kol ha’eidah,” that “kol eidah” is the Sanhedrin, the leaders; I assume “kol Bnei Yisrael” is everyone else. Does that mean that when Moshe initially voiced his request and asked for a leader “al ha’eidah,” he meant someone who oversees the Sanhedrin, not necessarily someone who would answer to the people as a whole? Was it like the hava amina raised in the constitutional convention of 1789 that the President should be elected by Congress or the Senate and not by popular vote? Or does the word “ha’eidah” there refer to the people as a whole and only here, in pasuk 21, does it take on a more technical meaning because it is used in conjunction with “kol Bnei Yisrael?” I don’t have any answers at this point – I’m just throwing out the question.

A final thought on these two sections -- the Ba’al haTurim takes note of an interesting anomaly: the word “v’ra’isah,” to look at the land, is written with an (extra) letter hey at the end. This is the only place in the Torah where this spelling is found. The Bh”T explains al pi derash that Moshe’s vision here was enhanced and he was able to see into the caves and crevices where the nations had all their treasure buried. HaKsav v’HaKabbalah gives us some grammar to chew on. We may not have a similar spelling of “ra’isah,” but we do have other words that have an extra “hey” tacked on at the end. For example, in Parshas VaYeira, when Lot offers to turn over his own daughters to the people of Sdom, he says “otzi’ah na eschen aleichem.” (19:8) The word “otzi’ah” is also spelled with a “hey” at the end. Why not just say “otzi,” like the pasuk “otzei es Bnei Yisrael mei’Eretz Mitzrayim?” Why use the longer word with the extra letter?

HaKsav v’HaKabbalah writes that there are two forms of the future tense: 1) words like otzi, ra’isa, etc. which indicate a definitive future action that will take place; 2) ra’isah, otzi’ah, where the extra “hey” indicates not just what will take place, but the desire/request for that something to happen. Lot was not just telling the people of Sdom what he would do next; he was asking them to consent to his desire and accept his gesture. Moshe Rabeinu in our parsha was nearing the close of his life. That look across into Eretz Yisrael would bring him one giant step closer to the end. It’s human nature to want to avoid death; therefore, Hashem asked Moshe not only to look, but “v’ra’isah,” with an extra “hey” – to welcome the opportunity and want to look, even knowing that it meant the end was near. 


The Ksav v'HaKabbalah gives many more examples, some of which appear right here in the next parsha section.  When the Torah speaks of the appointment of Yehoshua, Moshe is told, “v’tzivisah,” with an extra “hey,” to charge Yehoshua with his duty, “v’nasatah,” with an extra “hey,” to give over some of his glory/hod to Yehoshua. It is difficult to turn over the reigns, even if one’s own beloved student is the one taking over. Moshe is told to do so willingly, to desire and consent to stepping down. It is not just something that  should happen because Hashem commands it, but it's something that Moshe should want to happen as well.