Thursday, June 22, 2017

the "she'lo lishma" rebellion

1. According to Avos the machlokes of Korach exemplifies machlokes she'lo l'shem shamayim.  Isn't that a strange statement?  The whole problem with Korach's machlokes is that it was she'lo lishma?!  That's like telling a guy who drives to the Reform temple to daven on Shabbos morning that his tefilah is lacking because he doesn't have proper kavanah.  That's the least of the problems!  Here Korach undermined the authority of Moshe and brought the whole transmission of Torah into question and our problem is whether he said a l'shem yichud and did it lishma or not?!

If indeed Korach's argument had even some theoretical validity and it's only the she'lo lishma that's the problem, why is that such a big deal?  Mi'toch she'lo lishma ba lishma!  Sefas Emes writes that you see from here that machlokes is an exception to the rule.  A machlokes can be constructive -- halacha is enriched by the debates and machlokes throughout sha"s -- but that's only a machlokes undertaken purely l'shem shamayim for the sake of Torah.  A machlokes with an ulterior motive results only in destruction.

Maybe the key to the Mishna is a Netziv in P' Acharei Mos  that we discussed here.  Netziv posits that even though a person should learn Torah even she'lo lishma, one cannot be mechadesh in Torah and innovate new practices unless one's motives are pure lishma.  Had Korach expressed his innovative ideas, "ki kol ha'eidah kulam kedoshim," purely l'shem shamayim, perhaps he would have gone down in history as the intellectual foil to Moshe, the Shamai of his generation, a view that was rejected, but a view that had validity.  However, since Korach acted she'lo lishma, his views by definition were no longer a chiddush, but rather were a distortion of Torah.  

2) According to Ibn Ezra the story of Korach's rebellion really took place much earlier, when the Levi'im were selected to take on the role formally assigned to bechorim.  The bechorim were unhappy with losing their jobs; the Levi'im were unhappy at being assigned to role of helpers to kohanim; the stage was set for rebellion.  Ramban disagrees, as, in general, Ramban takes a far more conservative position when it comes to re-ordering parshiyos.  According to Ramban the parshiyos are written in chronological order and the rebellion occurred after after the episode of the spies, after the people were reeling from having heard that the dream of entering Eretz Yisrael would not come to fruition during their lifetime.  Korach was able to use that disillusionment to his advantage in pressing long held grievances of his own. 

What is Rashi's view on this issue?  On the one hand, Rashi at the beginning of Korach cites the Midrash that says that Korach mockingly asked Moshe whether a talis completely dyed with techeiles needs a techeilis string of tzitzis -- the Midrash sees the Korach story as following the parsha of tzitzis, which itself is part of the response to the story of the spies.  This seems to accord with Ramban's view.  On the other hand, Rashi in the beginning of Shlach asks why the Torah juxtaposes the story of the spies with the story of Miriam's lashon ha'ra.  The implication of Rashi's question is that these stories are not written in chronological order, otherwise chronology itself would be a valid reason for the juxtaposition.  What is the out of order parsha that should chronologically appear between the Miriam story and that of the spies?  Mizrachi suggests that perhaps the answer is Korach's rebellion. (Mizrachi does not see a need to reconcile these two Rashis.  He argues that Rashi need not be consistent; Rashi can adopt one Midrashic view in one place and a different view elsewhere depending on the local textual problem he is trying to address.  See Maharal in Gur Aryeh who disagrees.)  

According to this latter view, we don't have the disillusionment that followed the episode of the spies as a motivating factor in the success of the rebellion; we don't have the immediate role changes of Levi'im and bechorim that Ibn Ezra focused on.  What we do have is the parsha of Eldad and Meided prophesizing that Moshe would die before completing his mission.  What we do have is Moshe himself saying that were it only the case that everyone could be a navi.  What we do have is Miriam equating to some degree Moshe with herself and Aharon and not recognizing his uniqueness.  Perhaps that context explans why the call of "ki kol ha'iedah kulam kedoshim" took on greater meaning.  If everyone could be a prophet, if all prophets were to some degree the same, then why not spread authority to all? 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

maror: radish or horseradish?

   This is a page from the Graziano Haggadah, a 13th century haggadah on loan to the Met from JTS (see here).  While wandering through the museum today the page caught my wife Ariella's eye because of the picture used for maror.  Unless she and I are very much mistaken, that is a radish -- not a horseradish, just a plain old radish.  I've never heard of anyone using a regular radish for maror.  Granted that just because this haggadah was printed in the 13th century doesn't make it a rishon, but it is interesting if using radish was in fact the minhag of Catalonian Jewry.      

why Yehoshua did not join Kaleiv in Chevron

Rashi writes that Kaleiv broke away from the meraglim and stopped off in Chevron in order to daven at the kever of the Avos and elicit their zechus.  Where was Yehoshua?  Why didn't he join Kaleiv there?

My wife suggested that Yehoshua didn't need to join him because Yehoshua had Moshe Rabeinu, a living rebbe of the highest rank.  He didn't need to go to kevarim to connect with the mesorah of the past; he had a living connection to it in the present.

I would just add that this fits perfectly with the Maharal in Gur Aryeh who writes that Moshe changed Yehoshua's name and davened on his behalf more than he did for anyone else (the implication of Maharal, as R' Hartman points out, is that Moshe did daven for everyone, just not to the same degree) because Yehoshua was his talmid.  If a talmid fails, it reflects back on the rebbe; when a talmid fails, it is as if the rebbe has suffered a personal failure.  That special bond existed only between Moshe and Yehoshua.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

how the barclay's center asifa answers chasam sofer's question on our parsha

Chasam Sofer (d"h nitma rosh) makes the interesting observation that even though  Klal Yisrael accepted the report of the mergalim and wanted to return to Egypt, they never lost their faith in Hashem.  In fact, when the people were told that Hashem disapproved of their attitude and that they were wrong, the ma'apilim did a 180 degree turn and took off for Eretz Yisrael without waiting for Moshe and the aron.  Despite the clamor of "nitna rosh v'nashuva Mitzrayma," no one actually disobeyed Hashem and left.  How do you square this apparent emunah with the acceptance of the report of the mergalim?

To anyone following news in the Jewish world during the past ,the answer is obvious.  The meraglim proved that their path was not one of rebellion -- aderaba, their path was the true ratzon Hashem. Klal Yisrael gathered in the Barclay's Center in the desert, and one by one each of the leaders, each of the meraglim, stood up and explained that Hashem wanted them to return to galus.  How can you go to Eretz Yisrael when the Torah says that there would be a 400 year galus of which only 210 years had passed?  How can you go to Eretz Yisrael when Hashem had told Moshe to ask for a 3 day leave -- no more -- from Pharoah and Mitzrayim to do avodah in the desert?   How can you go to Eretz Yisrael when the strength and might of the nations that are there shows that Hashem does not want them to be conquered yet?  When the time is right, surely Hashem will weaken those nations and taking the land will be a cakewalk.  The proofs are all there -- pesukim, Hashem's own directive, there was probably some lomdus too.  The only source that proved contrary was "vayo'el Moshe," Moshe's own desire to get to the land, as getting to the land must be part of some personal agenda on his part. 

The punchline to the story is that all those "proofs" were of course wrong and Moshe got it right.  When the people realized they had been led astray and understood what Hashem truly wanted, the regret was enormous.

To end on a more positive note, a vort from another member of the Sofer family: "Aloh na'aleh v'yarashnu osah ki yachol nuchal lah."  Why the double-language?  The message would be complete with just either the first half or the second half of the pasuk?  R' Shimon Sofer explains the pasuk as follows: "aloh na'aleh" -- we have to elevate ourselves, increase our commitment to Torah, increase our emunah, and then "yachol nuchal lah," we will be able to conquer the land. 

Monday, May 29, 2017

toras chessed

We are approaching the completion of our counting of the omer, the preparation for mattan Torah, during which time we have been mourning the death of Rabbi Avika's students.  The gemara (Sota 21) tells us that the study of Torah is greater than all other mitzvos in that a mitzvah protects one from sin and harm only when one is performing the mitzvah, but Torah affords 24x7 protection at all times, even when one is not actively engaged in learning.  Why then were these great talmidei chachamim, students of R' Akiva, not saved from death in the merit of their Torah study?  Why is it that they died davka during this period of anticipating and preparing for mattan Torah? 

Chazal tell us that R' Akiva's students died because they failed to honor and respect each other -- it was a flaw in their bein adam l'chaveiro, in their midos.  R' Shternbruch explains that Torah without bein adam l'chaveiro -- Torah without midos -- is not Torah.  Therefore, their learning did not protect them. 

You cannot celebrate a mattan Torah of laws bein adam la'Makom and ignore the bein adam l'chaveiro.  Right after speaking about the holiday in Parshas Emor, the Torah reminds us (23:22) that there is a mitzvah to leave pe'ah and leket for the poor.  Why stick that in here?  Meshech Chochma explains very beautifully that the Torah is hinting to us that when we celebrate Shavuos, we have to recognize that caring for the poor, social law, bein adam l'chaeivo law, is also part of mattan Torah.  When we stood at Sinai it was not just to receive a bunch of rituals.  (A quibble: the Torah there does not speak about Shavuos as the time of mattan Torah?)  It was to receive these laws as well.

The Beis Yisrael of Gur sees this lesson in Parshas BaMidbar, which is almost always read before Shavuos.  "V'eileh toldos Aharon u'Moshe b'yom dibeir Hashem es Moshe b'har Sinai."  The Torah tells us that it is going to list the toldos of Aharon and Moshe and then it then just lists Aharon's children.  So why mention Moshe?  Explains Rashi, one who teaches his friend's children Torah is credited as if he gave birth to them.  Because Moshe taught Aharon's children Torah, he counts as their father as well.  What Moshe got "b'yom dibeir Hashem es Moshe b'har Sinai," through mattan Torah -- or what Moshe needed to properly experience mattan Torah --- was this sense of responsibility for "chaveiro," for his friend, his neighbor, for their childrenThis is the "v'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha" which R' Akiva called the "klal gadol baTorah" in action.  (And since these children count as his tolados, it also fulfills Ben Azai's dictum of "zeh sefer toldos ha'adam as the cardinal principle!) 

The Midrash writes that Rus does not teach us halacha; it teaches us chessed.  Chessed, caring for others, is not an additional theme tacked on to the Yom Tov of kabbalas haTorah, but rather is integral to what kabbalas haTorah is all about.

On a completely different note, I saw a pshat from the Divrei Shaul quoted in Ta'amei haMinhagim that, unless I'm mistaken, seems to refer to the myth of the sirens that appears in Homer's Odyssey and elsewhere.  He explains why mattan Torah was accompanied by thunder and lightening by quoting from the Ya'avetz's siddur that there are creatures that emerge from the sea and sing with such beautiful voices that people literally die from the pleasure of their song.  Kal v'chomer: if people die from the hearing the beautiful song of these sea men, imagine the effect the beautiful song of dvar Hashem would have!  (My wife's comment: but the gemara in fact says that people did die when they heard the dibros and Hashem had to revive them).  Therefore, Hashem used cacophonous thunder and lightening to minimize the effect of the beauty of the sound of the dibros. 

It's not an exact parallel: the sirens lure sailors to their death using song; here, the song itself kills people.  But it's close enough to make me wonder if it is one and the same myth.  Maybe it's sacrilegious to think that, I don't know.  I would like another source for this Ya'avetz if there is one, but don't have time to dig into it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

nezem zahav b'af chazir -- the golden ring

Hopefully I will get to post something before Shavuos, but in case I don't, this amazing Koznitzer Magid (at the end of Avodas Yisrael) should make your Yom Tov.  In the last perek of Avos R' Yehoshua ben Levi tells us that a bas kol echoes from Sinai every day bemoaning those who ignore Torah.  The Mishna describes these people using the pasuk, "Nezem zahav b'af chazir...," it is like a golden ring in the snout of a pig.  M'mah nafshacha, asks the Koznitzer, how does this analogy make sense?  If people are learning, then they are not dragging the gold ring through the mud; if they are not learning, then they don't have the gold ring to begin with!  They have nothing, no connection -- where's the gold ring?

The answer must be, says the Koznitzer Magid, that every Jew, from the day he/she is born, has a connection to Torah built into his/her DNA.  We're not born with a silver spoon in our mouths -- we are born with a gold ring, a nezem zahav, the beauty of Torah.  The Mishna is telling us that it's up to us to make the most of that innate connection.  We can either seize the opportunity and hear the call from Sinai, or we can end up dragging that gold ring through the mud. 

Rashi writes at the beginning of our parsha that Klal Yisrael were counted when they left Egypt, they were counted again after cheit ha'eigel, and here Hashem counted them again all to show his love for them.

Vayis’u m’Refidim va’yavo’u midbar Sinai…” (Shmos 19:2)  Chazal connect the departure from Refidim with the arrival at Sinai: just as the former was accompanied by teshuvah, so too, the latter was accompanied by teshuvah.  If they did teshuvah when they left, why did they need to do teshuva again when they arrived?  Two years ago I posted the Shem m'Shmuel's answer: when a person goes up in ruchniyus, they need to re-assess the past from their new vantage point.  Sinai was a new level, a new height.  What might have passed for an adequate measure of teshuvah before when they left now no longer looked to be sufficient.

When Klal Yisrael was counted after they left Egypt, it was to take stock of who had made it through the difficult challenge of being in Mitzrayim.  After the cheit ha'eigel, it was time to take stock again and asses who had made it though that challenging experience.  In our parsha, Klal Yisrael has completed a Mishkan and are about to start the march toward Eretz Yisrael.  It is a new level of spiritual heights.  Therefore, a new count is needed to take stock again, to re-asses the past and see if indeed, the teshuvah that was done then, the (ac)count that was taken then, still passes muster (based on the Sheiris Menachem).     

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Yirah / Shaleim -- two names for the same place

In Parshas Lech Lecha we read that Malkitzedek, the king of Shaleim, brought out food and wine for Avraham.  That same place of Shaleim would later be renamed Yireh by Avraham Avinu in the parsha of the akeidah.  Two names given to the same place by two great people -- which one would win out?  The Midrash (parsha 56) writes that Hashem made a comprimise.  He combined the two into one and thus we have the name Yeru-shalayim.

What difference does it really make what you call the place?  It's still the same city, the same place on the map?

Rav Kook explains that the two names reflect two different approaches to religious development.  One approach is the philosophical approach, coming to Hashem through contemplation.  The other approach is the approach of tikun ha'midos, fighting off the yetzer ha'ra and the influence of evil and in doing so coming to purity.  Malkitzedek is the "kohen l'K-l Elyon," the master of looking on high, contemplating G-d in the heavens.  Avraham, on the other hand, saw the need for yirah, for bringing things down to earth,  dealing with the world and all its temptations and imperfections and bringing G-dliness to it.

Yerushalayim is the meeting place of both worlds.  It is the place where the Beis haMikdrash in heaven stands exactly corresponding to the Beis haMikdash on earth. 

Rav Aviner writes that after the Six Day War he asked R' Tzvi Yehudah by what zechuyos we had earned having Yerushalayim in our possession.  R' Tzvi Yehudah answered that it was not our zechuyos -- we surely are not deserving -- but rather it is a gift from Hashem.

I think it's a davar pashut that if someone gives you a gift, kal v'chomer if G-d gives you a gift, that you have to say thank you and show your appreciation.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

punishment in exact measure

A) "V'zacharti es brisi Ya'akov v'af es brisi Yitzchak v'af es brisi Ya'akov ezkor v'ha'aretz ezkor." (26:42)  It sounds like this is a bracha, but the pasuk is actually part of the tochacha.  The Shl"H explains that if a child grows up without a role model or training, it's not surprising if the child becomes a monster.  But if the child has wonderful parents who are excellent role models and the child still becomes a monster, then something is really wrong with that child.  Klal Yisrael does not lack for role models.  When Hashem looks at our behavior, he remembers that we are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.  We should know better and we should do better. 

Last year I quoted R' Eliyahu Lopian's (in the essay 'Ha'kove'a Makom l'Tefilaso' in the Ma'areches HaTeshuvah section in Lev Eliyahu) question: we quote this pasuk among the zichronos that we recite in musaf on Rosh haShana.  The halacha says that we are not allowed to recite pesukim that have negative implications or associations in the zichronos.  If the Shl"H's pshat is correct, what is this pasuk doing there?   Why would we mention a pasuk of rebuke?  R' Lopian ends by saying the answer is a deep yesod that he will explain some other time -- and then he leaves us hanging.


I discovered this year that the same question is asked by another one of the great ba'alei mussar, R' Ya'akov Neiman.  R' Neimen writes that al korchacha we must say that the pasuk is in fact an expression of rachamim.  So what's it doing in the tochacha?  He answers that we should not think that when there is a time of tochacha and Klal Yisrael is suffering punishment that Hashem has just abandoned us to fate.  To the contrary, even amidst the suffering, even when we deserve punishment, Hashem says, "v'zacharti es brisi," I Hashem still remember the covenant between us, and that punishment will be precisely meted out, no more than is deserved.

He gives two example to prove the point:

1) When Yosef is sold into slavery by his brothers, the Torah tells us that he was taken down to Egypt by a caravan of spice/perfume sellers.  Rashi explains (Br 37:25) that the Torah gives us this detail to tell us that Hashem spared Yosef from having to travel in a foul smelling wagon.  Here Yosef has been betrayed by his brothers, he has become captive to strangers, he is on the way to a foreign land to await some unknown fate -- would the caravan's odor really make that much difference to him at this point?  It's like a poor guy dressed in a ragged shirt, pants that have patches and holes, torn shoes, but he stops to put on a beautiful tie before he leaves his home.  What sense does it make in context?  Answers R' Neiman, Yosef may have deserved to have to become a slave in Egypt, but he did not deserve any more than that.  He did not deserve to suffer stink on his way down.  That's the "v'zacharti es brisi...."  Punishment -- yes, but not one drop more than is deserved.  The precise calibration is itself a nechama, in that it shows Hashem is in charge of every detail.

2) In describing the slav birds that Hashem brought in response to the people's complaints, the Torah in Parshas Be'ha'alosecha tells us that they were piled two amos high off the ground (11:31).  Rashi explains the significance of this detail: the birds were at just the right height to be taken, so that a person would not have to exert himself to reach up or to bend over.  Whoever ate those birds, continues the parsha, died.  The birds were sent as a punishment for the people's complaints.  Given the end result of suffering death, would having to reach up or down a little bit to grab the bird make any difference?  

Here too, answers R' Neiman, the point is that the punishment was precisely calibrated.  The extra exertion was underserved, and therefore was not included in the package.

B) Just before this pasuk of v'zachati the Torah describes how Klal Yisrael will ultimately confess their wrongdoing, v'hisvadu es avonam (26:40).  You would think that would be the end of the galus, but it's not.  The parsha continues, "v'ha'aretz tei'azev meihem," the land will still not take them back, "ya'an ub'ya'an b'mishpatai ma'asu v'es chukosai ga'alah nafsham."  Why is the teshuvah not enough?  Netziv explains that the chukim referred to here are Torah laws.  (Remember the beginning of the parsha: Im b'chukosai teilechu - explains Rashi, this refers to ameilus b'Torah.)  You can want to do mitvos, you can want to have a connection with Hashem, but, says the Netziv, without limud haTorah, it's not enough.  

He quotes from Hoshea 8:2-3: "Li yi'zaku 'Elokai, y'da'anucha Yisrael!'" The Jewish people will cry out to G- that they want to know him, to have a relationship with him. Tehsuvah!  But, continues the navi, "Zanach Yisrael tov, oyev yirdifo."  The Jewish people have abandoned tov, and therefore their enemies [continue] to puruse them.  What is the tov the navi is referring to?  Chazal tell us that ain tov eleh Torah, it refers to Torah.  Without limud haTorah, one's spirituality, one's moral and religious development, can never be complete.

I saw a local Rabbi was planning to speak on Shavuos on the topic of the role of the intellect in avodas Hashem.  I thought that was an interesting title for a shiur.  Would anyone think of giving a shiur about the role of one's arm in the mitzvah of tefillin?  Of course not -- it's obvious that an arm is essential to the mitzvah.  What's there to talk about?  Once upon a time I think it was obvious that the intellect is THE primary tool for avodas Hashem.  You might even say that in a nutshell the mussar movement came about to try to involve more than intellect -- the heart, the midos, etc.  But the presumption was that the intellect was the bedrock.  That's what the Netziv is telling us -- without Torah, mitzvos, spirituality, etc. can't get off the ground.  It seems that we've reached a point in history where v'nahapoch hu, there is a lot of people who want to feel spiritual, who want to sing and enjoy cholent, maybe do lots of chessed, support his cause or that cause, but where is the intellect?  Where is the bedrock of limud haTorah to ground it all?  The title of that shiur reinforced my impression that the presumption these days is that intellect is the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of the sundae, rather than the foundation upon which everything rests.  You can be a good Jew without the Ketzos and R' Chaim, can't you?  Well, I'm afraid the answer is no.  (For all I know maybe that's what this Shavuos shiur will be about - - I don't really know.)  Anyway, maybe I'm wrong about my read of things -- the Netziv is still a great point even if you disagree with my social commentary, and it certainly something to take to heart as we approach Shavuos.