Tuesday, September 23, 2014

the most important thing to daven for

Slichos week(s) for me means suffering from a lack of sleep, so I haven't had energy to write, but I did want to wish everyone a kesiva v’chasima tovah and say thank you for those who take a few minutes to read, comment, and e-mail during the year and apologies to everyone whose e-mails I never got to or whose comments I may not have responded to or responded to inconsiderately.  

R’ Tzadok says “shanah tovah u’mesukah” = ain tov elah Torah, and when it comes to mesukah, what can be sweeter than learning?  We should all have a year filled with limud haTorah and the sweetness of Torah for ourselves and for all of Klal Yisrael.

Everyone is busy davening for health and parnasa and nachas from their children – banay, chayay, mezonay – but Rosh haShana is about much more than that.  The Sefas Emes explains that we use the simanim derech remez to ask for our needs not because these things are so important that we need extra reminders, but to the contrary, because aside for our tefilos that “m’loch al kol ha’aretz,” everything else is secondary.  It's like when you learn a pasuk and you the pshat is staring right at you, but derech remez there is a little hint to something else in there.  The really important think is to be mamlich Hashem, and like a derech remez along with that we can shlep in our own needs that can help accomplish that goal. 

We've been saying "achas sha'alti m'eis Hashem... shivti b'beis Hashem."  Is there a quota that says you can only make one request?  Why did Dovid haMelech say he asks for one thing and one thing only?  Tosfos (B.M. 106a d"h l'nisa) says a chiddush: if someone rents a field and plants barley instead of wheat, breaking his agreement with the owner, even if everyone's field is hit with a problem, e.g. a locust swarm ruins all the crops, the owner of the field can say to the person renting "Tough luck."  The owner has a dinei mamonos right to say to the person renting that he was davening for a good wheat crop and Hashem would have listened and saved his field -- it's only because the renter switched and planted barley that it was a total loss.  But, says Tosfos, if the owner doesn't specify what to plant, all bets are off.  Even if the person renting plants nothing, the owner should not have a claim because for Hashem to respond to the prayer to let whatever is planted succeed, some general all-purpose request, takes a miracle.  

So what are you going to daven for?  You have to be specific if you are not relying on a miracle.  Shoud you ask for your shares of Facebook to go up?  But then what if your real estate goes south?  Should you ask for the real estate to go up?  Then what is going to happen to the stocks?  So the Tiferes Shlomo tells us that Dovid haMelech had the answer.  If you want to choose one specific thing to daven for, "Achas sha'alti," it's gotta be "Shivti b'veis Hashem."  If you daven for that, then Hashem will give you whatever you need to make it happen, banay, chayay, mezonay.

My daughter is in Eretz Yisrael and I wanted to tell her something about Eretz Yisrael for the Yom Tov so I asked her why we say Aleinu in the middle of musaf.  Some people may see Aleinu and get excited thinking davening is almost over, but it's just a fake out and we have a long way t go.  Is there a shortage of tefilos that we have to borrow Aleinu from the end of davening and can't come up with something new for malchiyos?   

The theme of malchiyos is that Hashem should be king over the entire world.  “Tein pachdecha al kol ma’asecha…”  “Meloch al kol ha’olam…”  etc.  If we had completely conquered Eretz Yisrael and subjugated all the nations there when we first entered the land, that would have been it – geulah achieved, and Hashem’s malchus over the world complete.  Aleinu was composed by Yehoshua and it spells out exactly that plan: “L’takein olam b’malchus Sha-kai…” to bring about Hashem’s malchus.  Unfotunately, we didn't get the job done.  Therefore, says the Sefas Emes, on  Rosh haShana, the time of teshuvah, we revisit Yehoshua's plan when we come to say malchiyos.  We think about what we failed to achieve at the time of Yehoshua and hope that inspires us to work toward the goal now and establish Hashem and the one King over all. 

A few weeks ago R' Zev Leff was in America and he spoke to a women's group and said that the year Taf-Shin-Ayin-Hey spells the word tisha .  This year is like the 9th month and geulah is waiting to be born. Maybe it's also a remez to teshu'ah (you need a shuruk instead of the vav).  But what I am reminded of by the letters Shin-Ayin-Hey in the name of the year is something else: the gemara tells the story of R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya, who was told by a zonah that teshuvah was impossible for him, as he had sinned too much.  These words pierced his heart and he decided to repent.  He begged first the heavens and earth for help, then the planets and stars, but they all refused him.  Each one claimed that they had their own problems to deal with.   R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya realized that teshuvah was up to him alone, and so he put his dead down and cried till his soul departed.  A bas kol then declared that R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya had earned olam haba.  When Rebbi heard this story he cried and said, “Yeh koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas.”  Shin-Ayin-Hey = sha’ah.  When I hear Taf-Shin-Ayin-Hey I think of the sha’ah achas of R’ Eliezer ben Durdiya.

The simple pshat in the story is that in a single moment, sha’ah achas, a person can redeem his/her whole life.  R’ Tzadok haKohen tells us that the real meaning of a word is always found in the first place the Torah uses it.  What is the first place the word “sha’ah” appears in the Torah?  When Kayin tries of offer a second-rate korban, the Torah says, “V’el Kayim v’el minchaso lo sha’ah,” Hashem did not desire Kayim or his sacrifice.  Sha’ah means desire.  What Rebbi was saying is “Yesh koneh olamo b’sha’ah achas” – a person can acquire olam ha’bah if he/she just has even a little bit of desire to get there.

Kesiva v'chasima tovah to everyone!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

the 13th sefer Torah: a chiddush of the Rogatchover and more

1. Let me start with something about Eretz Yisrael: “…V’hasheivosa el levavecha b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha Hashem Elokecha shama.” (30:1)  The parsha says that we will all eventually do teshuvah and Hashem will respond by bringing us out of galus.  Yet a few pesukim later (30:8) the parsha again says, “V’atah tashuv v’shamata b’kol Hashem…”  Why does the parsha need to repeat the fact that we will do teshuvah?  It already told us that in the first pasuk?

Ksav Sofer answers that the first pasuk is speaking about teshuvah done in galus, “b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha”.  While that teshuvah is certainly significant, it is incomplete.  Only in Eretz Yisrael, when we live as a nation in our own homeland, when we can do all mitzvos, including the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, can we return to Hashem in earnest.  Therefore, after telling us that Hashem will bring us back to Eretz Yisrael, the parsha repeats again, “atah tashuv…”  Only then will our teshuvah be complete.

2. A few weeks ago I mentioned the Rambam regarding the mitzvah on a king to write a second sefer Torah (Melachim ch 3:

  בעת שיישב המלך על כיסא מלכותו, כותב לו ספר תורה לשמו יתר על הספר שהניחו לו אבותיו; ומגיהו מספר העזרה, על פי בית דין של שבעים ואחד.

I asked why the king had to copy his sefer Torah davka from the sefer in the azarah under the supervision of Beis Din haGadol.  If it was simply a matter of accuracy, then why apply that standard to only the second sefer of the king – wouldn’t we want ever sefer to be accurate?

The Rogatchover in our parsha comes to the rescue.  Rashi in our parsha quotes from Chazal that Moshe wrote 13 sifrei Torah just before he died.  He gave one to each sheiveit, and one was designated for sheivet Levi and stored in the aron.  The Rogatchover writes that the sefer stored in the aron was unlike the others: it was written with nikud, masorah, ta’amei keri’ah, including the nikud of the shem hameforash.  That was the special sefer from which the king’s torah was copied – a unique copy, different from all other seforim. 

Someone (if you comment anonymously I assume you prefer your name not mentioned) in a comment to the earlier post said that the R’ Soloveitchik quoted his father as saying that there was a special chalos to the sefer azarah, and as proof he cited Rashi (Baba Basra 14) who says that it was this sefer that was used for the hakhel ceremony and for the Kohen gadol’s leining on Y”K.  I wasn’t convinced at the time, thinking that Rashi was perhaps just telling us the metziyus, not a din.  Yet in light of the Rogatchover (who also makes note of this Rashi), it does seem that the sefer azarah was used deliberately and not just because it was the closest sefer torah available.

Why was Moshe and the Levi’im alone entrusted with this special sefer?  The Rogatchover explains that the Levi’im needed to know the ta’amei mikrah because the Levi’im were charged with the mitzvah of shirah, which involved singing parshiyos (e.g. parshas ha’azinu, see Rosh haShana 31).  Moshe himself was a Levi.  When Moshe received the Torah from Hashem, he heard it with the nikud and ta’amim. These were passed on to Klal Yisrael as torah sheba’al peh, but were inherent in the torah sheb’ksav of that 13th sefer.

The Rambam describes the hakhel ceremony as follows (Hil Chagigah ch 3):

 אפילו חכמים גדולים שיודעים כל התורה כולה, חייבין לשמוע בכוונה גדולה יתרה.  ומי שאינו יכול לשמוע--מכוון ליבו לקריאה זו, שלא קבעה הכתוב אלא לחזק דת האמת; ויראה עצמו כאילו עתה נצטווה בה, ומפי הגבורה שומעה--שהמלך שליח הוא

Clearly this was not your regular kri’as hatorah experience or just a kiyum of talmud torah.  The Rambam doesn’t discuss hakhel in hilchos talmud torah – he puts it in hilchos chagigah.  The king’s reading from the special sefer which contained the ta’amei kri’ah and points to the fact that the ceremony is in some sense a re-enactment of Sinai, the way Torah shebksav was delivered to Moshe. What does the Rambam mean when he says even if you couldn't hear you had to have kavanah -- what are you having kavanah on if you can't hear?  Perhaps the kavanah is for the melody, the ta'amaim, which in this case are part and parcel of the text being read, not just the icing on the cake.  Even if you can't make out the words, you can still follow the tune.  

I would say that hakhel is not about kri’ah, but about shirah.      

3. Coming back to the pesukim I started with, which speaks about the teshuvah we must do while in galus, why does the pasuk need to end with “…asher hidichacha Hashem Elokecha shamah?”  What does how we got here have to do with it?

R’ Tzadok haKohen answers that the first step in the teshuvah process is recognizing that we are not in galus by chance.  Hashem put us here to teach us a lesson.  Have we learned that lesson?

The Tiferes Shlomo, however, reads the pasuk a little differently.  “V’haya…,” when the day comes that we do teshuvah “b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha,” in the galus that we unfortunately find ourselves in, don’t think we will have to go it alone.  “Hashem Elokecha shamah” – Hashem is right there along with us.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

lessons from parshas bikurim for a year in Israel

On Monday night I had the zechus of bringing my oldest daughter to the airport to see her off to Israel for a year in seminary.  Parents and daughter are still adjusting.  : )  

The farmer who brings his bikurim to the Mikdash says, “Higadti hayom… ki basi el ha’aretz asher nishba Hashem Elokecha lases lanu…”  R’ Tzadok haKohen asks: “higadti” means “I have declared.”  Where is this declaration that the farmer made?  This is the first sentence he is saying to the Kohen – there was no declaration yet!

R’ Tzadok answers that it’s the act of bringing bikurim itself which is the declaration of belief that it’s Hashem who is in control and who brought us into Eretz Yisrael in fulfillment of his promise to the Avos.  By forgoing eating those first fruits, the most cherished part of the crop, and bringing them to the kohen, the farmer is making a statement.  Actions speak louder than words. 

Before each Shabbos the past few weeks I’ve posted divrei Torah that relate to Eretz Yisrael which I also share at home in an effort to impress on my kids the need for solidarity with Eretz Yisrael, to appreciate the importance of Eretz Yisrael, to realize that our future as a people is only in Eretz Yisrael.  But no matter how many divrei Torah they hear, no matter how often the message is repeated, it’s not the same as driving to the airport and saying goodbye.  Higadti hayom…”  Sending our bikurim, our children, to Eretz Yisrael,whether for a year or more than a year, says more than all the words can. 

The Sifri on our parsha writes, “Aseh mitzvah zu she’bishvila tikanes la’aretz,” do this mitzvah [of bikkurim] and it will allow you to enter Eretz Yisrael.  There is an obvious problem: the gemara (Kid 36) writes that the mitzvah of bikkurim can be done only after kibush v’chiluk, only after the land was conquered and divided among the shevatim.  That was 14 years after the people first stepped foot in the country.  How can the mitzvah of bikurim be the means by which we will be zocheh to enter Eretz Yisrael when the mitzvah can be done only once we are already there?

This Sifri is teaching us an important lesson.  What defines Eretz Yisrael is not geographical boundaries or population or establishing an autonomous Jewish government.  You can move out Kena’anim and fill whatever square number of miles you want with a Jewish population and set up a malchus and that still won’t make it Eretz Yisrael.  What makes it into Eretz Yisrael is the fact that it is the spiritual homeland and the spiritual center of Jewish life.  What makes it Eretz Yisrael is the farmer’s willingness to come to the Mikdash with those first fruits that he really wants to taste and give them up to acknowledge that it’s not about him – it’s the yad Hashem gives us the land and the crops and everything else that we have (based on R' Reuvain Katz's 'Dudai Reuvain').

My middle daughter remarked that the airport on Monday night looked like the annual Beis Ya’akov convention.   Baruch Hashem!  Going to Eretz Yisrael for a year has become the thing to do.  But therein lies the danger.  If it’s just about seeing the sights and hanging out with friends and going because it’s the thing to do, then your passport may be stamped Eretz Yisrael and your plane may have landed in Ben Gurion airport, but that’s not really where you are.   It’s only Eretz Yisrael if you bring bikurim, if you come to see the yad Hashem that makes it our spiritual homeland.  
I hope my daughter and all the others who are there take advantage of the opportunity.

Friday, September 05, 2014

the influence of the klal on the din of the prat

1) Ramban explains that the ben sorer u’moreh poses a threat to society and is therefore killed:
זה טעם וכל ישראל ישמעו ויראו -
כי לא הומת בגודל חטאו, אלא לייסר בו את הרבים ושלא יהיה תקלה לאחרים:
וכן דרך הכתוב שיזהיר כן כאשר ימיתו לגדר כדי שתהיה במיתתם תקנה לאחרים, כי הזכיר כן בזקן ממרא (לעיל יז יג): לפי שאין בהוראתו חטא שיהיה ראוי למות בו, רק הוא להסיר המחלוקת מן התורה כאשר פירשתי שם (בפסוק יא), וכן בעדים זוממין (לעיל יט כ), שנהרגין ולא הרגו, וכן הזכיר במסית (לעיל יג יב), לפי שהוא נהרג בדבורו הרע בלבד אע"פ שלא עבד הניסת ע"ז ולא שמע אליו, אבל מיתתו לייסר הנשארים.

R’ Y.L. Chasman notes that we see an interesting chiddush: the din prati of the individual is influenced by the social context, by the klal.   Had the ben sorer lived on a desert island, his actions would not have warranted his being punished so harshly.  But a Jew is not alone on a desert island, certainly not in a spiritual sense. 

Chazal already read the smichus haparshiyos of yefat to’ar and the parsha of ben sorer as a warning that while one is allowed to take a yefat to’ar, eventually lust will turn to loathing and the offspring from such a union will become a ben sorer.  This poor guy thought he found a great wife, and then lo and behold, he ends up hating her.  He thinks to himself that all is not lost, at least maybe he will have some nachas from his children, and then that child turns into a bes sorer u’moreh and has to be killed.  What a horrible life!  Yet, says the Ishbitzer, that is not the end of the story.  The parsha continues with the issur of allowing a body to remain hanging, without proper burial and then with the parsha of hashavas aveidah, returning lost objects.  There is a smichas haparshiyos here as well.  That ben sorer that was just killed is not a worthless bum.  “Ki klilas Elokim taluy,” there is a neshoma nitzchis even in that ben sorer (see Seforno).  Ultimately, lo yidach, that neshoma will have a hashavas aveidah done with it and Hashem will rehabilitate it. 

I would put this Ishbitzer together with R’ Leib Chasman’s observation.  The midas hadin sometimes is a result of circumstance – society cannot tolerate a ben sorer u’moreh.  That judgment, however, does not reflect on the intrinsic worth of the neshoma of the ben sorer, which ultimately is open to being redeemed.
2) The Ohr haChaim haKadosh learns the parsha of hasahvas aveidah as directing us to look out for those souls who have become lost.  We’ve discussed on other occasions the idea that every individual corresponds to a letter in the Torah.  When Kayin is punished, he complains to G-d that, “geirashta osi m’al pnei ha’adamah.”  The Radomsker explains that Kayin was concerned that “osi,” his os, his letter, was being driven away.  Vayasem l’Kayis os,” Hashem reassures him and gives him his letter back.  The Radomsker reads the words in our parsha, “Vhayisa imach ad derosh achicha oso,” as saying that sometimes you have to hang on and wait until your brother comes looking for his os, and then, “v’hasheivoso lo,” you can return it to him. 
3) A few weeks ago I did a post (link) on why Hashem didn’t just ignore Bilam and let him say whatever he wanted.  If G-d didn’t want Bnei Yisrael to come to harm, then surely all the words of all the magicians in the world wouldn’t make a difference!  The Chasam Sofer offers an answer based on the words in our parsha (23:6), “V’lo avah Hashem Elokecha lishmo’a el Bilam…”  When you love someone, you don’t want to hear that person put down, even if you know the words are false.  Of course whatever Bilam said would have been for naught, but Hashem didn’t want to hear it.
4) There is a Midrash on the parsha of kan tzipor that raises the question of whether hatafas dam bris is required for a baby born with a milah.  What does this have to do with kan tzipor?  Ramban discusses the reason for the mitzvah of kan tzipor and writes that while al pi peshuto mitzvos are didactic in nature – they are about training us to behave in certain ways:
שאין התועלת במצות להקב"ה בעצמו יתעלה, אבל התועלת באדם עצמו למנוע ממנו נזק או אמונה רעה או מידה מגונה, או לזכור הנסים ונפלאות הבורא יתברך ולדעת את השם
Al pi sod there is something accomplished upstairs by on our actions.  Chasam Sofer says that if removing the orlah through milah was only about curbing ta’avar, what difference should it make if the orlah is cut off or one is born without an orlah?  The requirement of hatafas dam proves that there exists this element of sod below the surface, underscoring the Ramban’s point (see Ksav Sofer who offers a different answer). 
The Sefas Emes does see shiluach hakan as reflecting G-d’s rachamanus (he deals with the sugya in Brachos that seems critical of ascribing this as the ta’am hamitzvah in a few places, but I’ll leave that for another time).  The point of the Midrash is that G-d’s mercy does not come into the world on its own.  Just as G-d could just as easily have made a person born mahul, but he didn’t – there is a mitzvah to remove the orlah, and even when it’s already gone, a mitzvah to do a hatafas dam, so too, G-d puts a nest in the path of a person and allows him to do the mitzvah of shiluach hakan so that the of midah of rachmanus should be elicited by man’s actions, not just come about on its own.  We have to play a part in perfecting the world.
4) There is so much more to say on this parsha, but my fingers are tired.  Let me end off (as usual the past few weeks) with something about Eretz Yisrael.  The Midrash Tanchuma asks: it says in our parsha, “Zachor es… Amalek,” meaning the job is in our hands; it says in Beshalacha that “Ki machoh emcheh,” that Hashem will destroy Amalek.  How do you reconcile the two?  The Midrash answers that until the enemy attacked G-d’s throne, it was up to us.  Now that the enemy attacked the “kisei Hashem,” then Hashem himself steps into the fight.  What is the “kisei Hashem?”  The Midrash answers: Yerushalayim. 
We are not in this fight alone, and that's why I'm sure, even if it takes time, we are going to win.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

l'David Hashem ori -- why does it come after aleinu?

The shir shel yom comes before L’David Hashem ori v’yishi because of the rule that tadir always coming first.  I saw a clever question posed to R’ Chaim Kanievsky: l’David Hashem ori is said twice a day over a span of 50 days.  Each individual shir shel yom is said only once a day for about 50 weeks of the year (let’s put side leap years).  It therefore comes out that l’David Hashem is twice as tadir as any given shir shel yom!  R’ Chaim must have though this too clever by half and dismisses it.  Apparently we look at the fact that a shir shel yom, irrespective of the particular mizmor, is said daily every day of the year and that makes it more tadir.  (Not 100% clear why this is so pashut.  R’ Chaim Kanievsky responds typically with one word answers which I guess are enough if all you care about is halacha l’ma’aseh, but which are positively frustrating if you want to have any clue as to his thinking.)

During the weeks between Pesach and Shavuos many shuls will count sefirah and then conclude davening with aleinu.  The GR”A, however, switches the order.  If I recall correctly, R’ Soloveitchik somewhere suggests that the issue depends on whether aleinu is part of the normal seder of davening and it just happens to come out last, or whether aleiunu was instituted b’davka to serve as a concluding tefilah.  If it is part of the normal seder, then rules like tadir come into play and it should precede sefirah.  If it was instituted as a concluding tefilah, which seems to be alienu’s function at the conclusion of kiddush levanah or the seder of bris milah, then it always should come last.  (This would mean that even though your Yom Kippur machzor does not have aleinu after musaf, probably because it was put together by someone that did not have an afternoon break, the tefilah should conclude with aleinu before everyone walks out the door.  Mincha should then also start with ashrei.)  This chakirah might also explain the different minhagim (Ashkenaz vs Sefard) as to whether the shir shel yom comes before or after aleinu.   

Assuming all this is correct, you would expect that at least someone should have the minhag of saying l’David Hashem before aleinu at ma’ariv so that aleinu would be the last prayer said before walking out the door.  As I know, no such minhag exists.  [Update: Someone commented that the minhag in Mosdos Boston is to say it before aleinu.]  See here in the Shu”T Revivos Ephraim vol 1 siman 392 who raises the question. 

Some explain that the GR”A’s practice of saying aleinu before seifrah is not based on the rule of tadir, but rather is based on the fact that sefirah is not really part of the seder hatefillah at all – it’s a separate mitzvah that we happen for the sake of convenience to do after ma’ariv.  By way of analogy, if someone learns mishnayos after davening every day before they leave shul, their davening still ends with aleinu – they just happen to do another mitzvah afterwards that keeps them in shul a little longer.  I would like to suggest that the same sevara may be true of l’David.  It’s not that during Elul we change/extend the davening and give it a slightly different format than the rest of the year.  To the contrary, davening ends with aleinu or the shir shel yom as always.  However, the halacha comes and tells us during Elul not to run out of shul right after davening – stay for an extra moment and do another mitzvah by saying a perek of tehillim.  Asking where l'David fits into the seder hatefillah misses the point -- it's not part of the seder hatefilah, but is something above and beyond ordinary tefilah.  Just like sefiah comes after aleinu because it is a separate mitzvah, so too, the saying of l’David may fit that same pattern.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Elul -- time for change

Elul zman.  A few weeks ago Rabbi Rakkefet spoke in a local shul and he said that he remembers one of his Rebbeim saying that in Lita, once Elul came, even the fish in the sea were trembling.  Rabbi Rakeffet remarked that even in Israel, where he has experienced davening with all the chumros, with all the hiddurim, with all the intensity of yeshiva davening there, there’s still something missing – there is no trembling.  And us here in NY?  Kal v’chomer. 

But I don’t mean be down today, not when my trust in mankind to find its way to teshuvah has been rekindled by this article.  Rabbi Richard Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, someone who identifies as “a lifelong Democrat, a political liberal, a Reform rabbi,” and someone who for forty years (!) was a subscriber to the NY Times, suddenly woke up and realized the truth – the Times is “intellectually deficient, morally obtuse, and profoundly unworthy of its readers.”  I know… what took him so long to figure it out?  But I’m in a charitable mood and am inclined to say better late than never.  Those who are mystically inclined may believe those 40 years correspond to 40 days of yetziras ha’vlad for this new phase in Rabbi Block’s life.  I don’t know.  I pray that getting rid of the Times is the first step and next (hopefully it won’t take another 40 years) will come dropping the Reform before title rabbi and the affiliation as a Democrat.  Baby steps…

Rabbi Block learned something and changed. What have we learned from events this summer and what changes are we going to make as a result?  Or has a week or so of cease fire made you forget already?

My kids, like so many other kids, are returning to school today.  In Daniel Gordis’ book ComingTogether, Coming Apart: A Memoir of Heartbreak and Promise in Israel he recounts a conversation he had with a French school principal.  He asked the principal if he has made any changes to the message to students based on the rising anti-Semitism in France.  The principal answered:
“We’re teaching exactly what we’ve always taught them,” he responds.  “The parents here know our position.  There’s no future for Jewish kids in France.  Today it’s more clear.  But we’ve known it for a long time.  So we teach what we’ve always taught: graduate high school, and go to Israel.  Study.  Join the army.  Whatever.  But get out of here.  And go there.  It’s your only chance for a future.”

This conversation took place a decade ago – if this message was true then, how much more so now.  What’s changed is that now, the same message needs to be given to students not only in France, not only in England, not only in the Netherlands and Belgium, but also in Teaneck, in the Five Towns, in Monsey, in Boro Park. 

Waiting until they start smashing shop windows or firebombing shuls (lo aleinu) is waiting until it’s too late.  Events move too quickly.  If I would have told you 10 years ago that we would have a Secretary of State who refers to Israel as an “apartheid state” and a President more enraged at the State of Israel than at terrorists who behead people, an event he can only react to with canned phrases of sympathy before going off to a golf course, I guarantee you would have laughed in my face in disbelief.  Yet here we are.  And so many in our community are still willfully blind to the changes that have happened.  You still have writers in our Orthodox community penning op-eds lauding this President's support of Israel.  The blinders are glued on so tight... 

Change does not happen overnight.  It took Rabbi Block 40 years to get it.  I worry that we don’t have another 40 years to spare. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

when going to work is a ma'aseh mitzvah

For the past few weeks I’ve at least touched on a topic that relates to Eretz Yisrael in every parsha, and I don’t know if a cease fire is a reason to cease this practice.  Last post I mentioned the din that a new chassan who has just gotten engaged is exempt from going to war.  The Torah has a similar din that if you just built a home and have not yet done a chanukas habayis you are also exempt.  Rashi explains that there would be tremendous agmas nefesh to start a home or become engaged and not return from battle to see things completed.  However, the Yerushalmi at the end of Sotah (8:4) darshens “v’lo chanacho” as a miyut – you are excused only for a home that there is a mitzvah to make a chanukas habayis on, i.e. a home in Eretz Yisrael.  According to the Yerushalmi, the dispensation is based on a consideration for yishuv ha’aretz.

(The Shiurei Korban points out that the Bavli reads the pasuk as coming to exclude a house that you steal.  However, since the Rambam quotes both halachos, presumably the pasuk implies both dinim and there is no machlokes.  He also points out that you see from this Yerushalmi that there is no mitzvah to make a seudas chanukas habayis if you move into a new home in chutz la’aretz.) 

The Chasam Sofer doesn’t quote the Yerushalmi, but what he writes certainly touches on the same theme.  He writes that the parsha places building a home before working the vineyard, the reverse of the Rambam’s advice in Hil Deyos to first get a job, because the parsha is talking about Eretz Yisrael when Klal Yisrael is doing what they should be doing.  The gemara (Brachos 35) writes that according to RshBY”Y in those circumstances we don’t need to work for parnasa – Hashem will have others take care of everything.  So why plant a vineyard at all?  Because even if the work is not needed for parnasa, there is a value to secular education and work as a means of fulfilling yishuv Eretz Yisrael.  Work in that circumstance is not merely a means to make ends meet, but is a positive end in its own right, a ma'aseh mitzvah.  

some day my prince will come

I was at a sheva brachos this week and was surprised that more than one speaker stood up and prefaced their divrei Torah with the remark that this parsha is a difficult one to relate to the theme of marriage.  In actuality, this parsha contains a pasuk that reveals a tremendous yesod as to what getting married is all about.  If you want to find one word that sums up all the preconceptions and misconceptions about marriage, it’s the word “bashert.”  Chazal tell us (Sotah 2) that even before a child is conceived an announcement is made upstairs that says, “Bas Ploni l’Ploni.”  Everyone has a soul mate, a special he or she that is Mr. or Mrs. Right, as predetermined by Heaven.  The challenge is finding this specific bashert.  It’s a romantic idea, it’s mystical, you hear the violin music in the background.  People spend years investing tremendous emotion and energy in their quest for The One, wringing their hands lest G-d forbid they make an error and end up with the wrong Ben or Bas Ploni, never mind the Maharal’s question of why make any effort at all when the outcome is predetermined anyway.  Too bad on them that the Rambam tells us that it’s nonsense.  Mi ha’ish asher eiras isha v’lo lekacha yeilech v’yashov l’beiso.”  Our parsha says that someone who is engaged is exempt from army service lest he die in battle and someone else marry that girl.  Maybe it's not the nicest thing to say at a sheva brachos, but the point, says the Rambam (in a letter to Ovadya the Convert), is that marrying Mr. or Mrs. X is not inevitable and predetermined.  Were that the case, there could be no possibility of the chassan dying in battle his Bas Ploni ending up with someone else! 

The Rambam advances a philosophical argument against this concept of “bashert” as well.  The Rambam holds that getting married is a mitzvah.  Without the ability to choose whether to do a mitzvah or not, fundamental ideas like schar v’onesh make no sense.  Free will is Judaism 101.  If it was predetermined that “Bas Ploni l’Ploni,” it would mean a person had no free choice whether or not to fulfill the mitzvah of marriage. 

When a statement in Chazal like “Bas Ploni l’Ploni” contradicts a pasuk or a basic tenet of hashkafa, it means (in the Rambam’s view) that statement is not meant to be taken literally.  We may be born with a predisposition to enjoy the company of one type person over that of another and that may direct us toward choosing one individual over another as our spouse, but by no means is there one specific Mr. or Mrs. Right out there for anyone.

Now for the most important point that's the take away lesson.  The Rambam says that it’s mefurash in Chazal that your spouse it not determined by Heaven, and he quotes a gemara that we would probably interpret exactly the opposite of the way he does: “Hakol b’ydei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim.”  Doesn’t that mean that who your spouse is and most everything else in life – “hakol b’ydei shamayim” --  is in fact predetermined?  No, says the Rambam.  Your marriage, your job, where you live, etc. are all parts of the exception.  Who we choose to marry and how we live our married lives is all about finding the means to grow in yiras shamayim.  It's all part of the "chutz..." part of the equation that is in our hands alone.

Based on this Rambam perhaps we can read Adam’s response to Hashem when he is accused of eating from the eitz hada’as a little differently than the usual pshat. Adam blames his mistake on, “Ha’isha asher nasata imadi…,” the wife that you, Hashem, gave me.  Adam was perhaps saying that because Chavah was given to him – he had no choice – he was deprived of an opportunity to grow in yiras shamayim and that contributed to his downfall.