Friday, March 27, 2015

maror: to warrant geulah, we need to first feel bitter about galus

Everything we do on Pesach night is about geulah -- this is the holiday of zman cheiruseinu.  The Sefas Emes quotes an amazing Chiddushei HaRI”M: even eating maror is not just a reminder of the pain galus, but is part of the mechanism that brings geulah.  In order to warrant redemption, a person needs to first feel bitter about being in galus. 

I know it’s hard when you are doing Pesach on the French Riviera, or some other such place, to feel that galus is really a bitter, bitter experience. But it is.  If we don’t think it is, Hashem has ways of reminding us [insert rant about President Husseim y’mach shemo here].

My daughter will IY”H be coming home from Eretz Yisrael next week, but I’m glad she at least had a hava amina of staying and did not take the first flight out once the seminary “zman” ended. In the end, the logistical complications of finding a place for her to spend Pesach in Israel and making arrangements would have been too much to manage, but at least she had to think about it.  Because of that, more than anything else, I consider her year a success.  People ask whether a year in seminary in Eretz Yisrael is really worth the thousands of dollars it costs.  Does it really make that much difference if a girl knows one more Ramban, a piece from Michtav, or another perek or sefer of Nach?  If you ask the question that way, you are missing the whole point of going for the year.  It’s not about learning another Ramban, or if you are a boy, another Tosfos, another R’ Chaim.  The point of going is to learn one thing: to love Eretz Yisrael. 

When a kid gets off the plane in JFK, whether for Pesach, whether in June, and is immediately surrounded by advertisements for all the nahrishkeit available in our society; when a kid comes home and has a choice of six or seven kosher pizza stores, deli, Chinese, and even kosher Mexican (welcome to the Five Towns); when a kid can go to the Yankee game and eat a hot dog like everyone else thanks to having a kosher concession stand, or has to choose whether to spend chol hamoed at Great Adventure or Hershey Park, and af al pi kein that kid gives a sigh because they recognize that nebach, all this is maror, this is galus, none of this compares to what they had while in Eretz Yisrael, can you please tell me how much that is worth, because I can’t put a price on it? 

My daughter spent time this past week shopping for gifts to bring home for her siblings.  She asked me if I wanted anything, so I told her she didn’t have to go far or spend much on my gift.   I asked her to just bring me a stone, any common stone, from the streets of Yerushalayim.  If I can’t be there yet in person, at least I can hold that rock in my hand, my little piece of Yerushalayim real estate, and think about the maror of galus, and dream...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

eating maror as a kiyum of the mitzvah of haggadah

The gemara (Pesachim 115) has a machlokes what to do if you only have maror to eat on Peach night – what do you do for karpas?  Rav Huna holds you say “borei pri ha’adamah” on the maror and eat it for karpas and then you say a birchas hamitzvah on it and eat it again for maror.  Rav Chisda disagrees and argues that you can’t eat maror and only later say a birchas hamitzvah over eating the same food you’ve already had your fill of.  Rather, you should say the birchas hamitzvah on maror along with the "borei pri ha’adamah" at the time you eat karpas, and later in the seder eat maror with no bracha.  The sugya ends by paskening like Rav Chisda.

What is the machlokes all about?  You could learn that the debate revolves around the question of whether mitzvos tzrichos kavanah or not.  Rav Huna holds that since mitzvos tzrichos kavanah, even if you eat maror as karpas, it doesn’t matter, because you have no intent at that moment to fulfill the mitzvah of maror.  Later, when you intend to do the mitzvah, you recite the bracha.  Rav Chisda holds that mitzvos ain tzrichos kavanah and therefore whether you intend it or not, when you eat maror as karpas, you fulfill the mitzvah of maror and should say the birchas hamitzvah.
Tosfos rejects this interpretation.  If Rav Chisda’s point was that mitzvos ain tzrichos kavanah, he should have said explicitly that you were yotzei maror already at the time of karpas.  Tosfos writes that the machlokes here is about hilchos brachos – can you separate the birchas hamitzvah of maror from the kiyum mitzvah of maror that will take place later?  Rav Chisda’s chiddush is that even though you won’t fulfill the mitzvah of maror until later in the seder, you can still recite the birchas hamitzvah on maror earlier at the time of eating karpas.  Tosfos draws an analogy: just like we say the bracha on tekiyas shofar on the tekiyos d'meyushav done before musaf even though the main mitzvah is to hear tekiyos al seder habrachos in shmoneh esrei, so too, one can say the bracha on maror when eating karpas even though the mitzvah of maror will only be fulfilled later.

My friend Chaim Markowitz asked: Tosfos' analogy doesn’t match.  When you blow tekiyos d’meyushav before musaf, you are fulfilling the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar – the Chachamim told you to blow those extra tekiyos in order to mix up the satan (R”H 16).  The Chachamim didn’t tell you to eat maror at the time of karpas.  As Tosfos themselves explained, everyone agrees that you are not yotzei maror until you eat it later in the seder.  So why should you be allowed to say a birchas hamitzvah on maror if there is no kiyum hamitzvah at all involved?
The Chazon Ish (#124) already asked this question and has a different approach to the whole sugya because of it.  Let me share with you three possible solutions (of course, there may be more) in what I think is worst to best order:

1) Since Chazal instituted that the mitzvah of shofar should be done al seder habrachos, in the middle of shmoneh esrei, the blowing done before musaf does not count as a kiyum mitzvah of tekiyas shofar.  (In some old posts we discussed the chiddush of the PM”G in the Pesicha haKolleles that when the Chachamim tell you to do a mitzvah d’oraysa a certain way, you forfeit not just that kiyum derabbanan if you do it differently, but you also get no credit on a d’oraysa level.)  It may be a kiyum of this idea of mixing up the satan, but who says you should be reciting a bracha of tekiyas shofar on that?  
2) Even though there is no kiyum mitzvah of maror when you eat your maror for the sake of karpas, the ma’aseh mitzvah you are doing is identical to the ma’aseh mitzvah of achilas maror.  Tosfos perhaps holds that a bracha can be said on a ma’aseh mitzvah even absent a kiyum.

3) My son’s rebbe, R’ Moshe Brown, dug up a Shibolei haLeket (Hil Rosh haShana #302) that basically echoes Tosfos, but adds a few extra words of explanation: “tibul rishon l’tzorech tibul sheni hu l’heikeira d’tinokos d’kol chovas halayla l’mitzvas haggadah hu…”  Why can you say a bracha on maror when you eat karpas?  Because, answers the Shibolei haLeket, karpas serves as a means of arousing the kids curiosity and therefore, like everything else done Pesach night, is part of the mitzvah of haggadah.  How does the fact that karpas is a kiyum of haggdah help explain why it is a kiyum of maror?  It must be, suggests R’ Moshe Brown, that the Shibolei haLeket holds that eating maror itself is part and parcel of the mitzvah of haggadah.  By way of analogy, just like saying hallel (as we discussed yesterday) is not an independent mitzvah, but is part of the mitzvah of sipur yetziyas mitzrayim because the mitzvah is not just to tell the story but also to give thanks, so too, the mitzvah is not just to tell the story, but to do so using certain “props” like matzah and maror.  Since there is a shared kiyum of haggadah common to both karpas and maror, the birchas hamitzvah of maror is not out of place if said over the karpas.   

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

why are women obligated in the mitzvah of haggadah?

The Chinuch (# 21) writes that the mitzvah of hagadah applies to both men and women.  The Rambam, however, does not have this mitzvah on his list (Hil Aku”m ch 12) of mitzvos that women are obligated in, and the reason why would seem obvious: isn’t sipur yitzias mitzrayim a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama?

One possibile answer is that the chiyuv on women to recite the haggadah is really part and parcel of their mitzvah of eating matzah.  The gemara (Pesachim 36) darshens that matzah is called “lechem oni” because “onim alav devarim harbei” – we have to recite things over it to make it into “bread of afflication.”  What things?  Rashi explains that it means we recite hallel and the haggadah (I don’t know why does Rashi mention hallel first and then haggadah when we do it the other way around.)  The point may be valid, but it doesn’t really explain the Chinuch.  If this is what the Chinuch meant, he should mention this detail in the mitzvah of matzah, not include women in the separate mitzvah of haggadah.
Another possibility is that the Chinuch held like the view in Tosfos (Meg 4) that the sevara of “af hein hayu b’oso ha’nes” creates a chiyuv d’oraysa.  However, the dominant view in Tosfos (see also Tos Pesachim 108) and Rishonim is that “af hein” only creates a chiyuv derabbanan.  R’ Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi in his haggadah suggests that this machlokes may depend on how to understand “af hein:” is it a new chiyuv, or does it just remove the ptur of zman gerama?  Any new chiyuv would be derabbanan, but if “af hein” lifts the ptur of zman gerama, then that would mean if the chiyuv on men is d’oraysa, the same would apply to women. 

R’ Wahrman zt”l quotes a very interesting yesod from his rebbe, R’ Leizer Silver.  The source for the exemption of zman gerama is the mitzvah of tefillin.  Perhaps the ptur only applies to mitzvos like tefillin, which we would not know if not for a gezeiras hakasuv, but not to mitzvos sichliyos, mitzvos that we would do anyway because they make sense, even if G-d did not command us to do them.  If it makes sense to do something, what difference does it make if you are a man or a woman, if it is something you should do on one specific day or all year?  (By way of analogy, some Rishonim suggest that a mitzvah sichlis, e.g. tzedaka, does not require a bracha.  You don’t need to thank G-d “asher kidishanau b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu” for commanding you to do something that any moral person would do anyway, even without the commandment.)  The Rambam (Sefer haMitzvos #157) and Chinuch both write that part of the mitzvah of haggadah is to praise and thank Hashem for delivering us from Egypt.  Thanking someone for granting you freedom is an intuitive, rational response – not something that requires a Divine command. 
It’s a big chiddush, no?  Rav Wahrman asks: the gemara (Kid 34) says women are obligated in ma’akah because it is not zman gerama.  Even if it was zman gerama, why would women not be obligated because building a fence so people don’t fall off your roof is a rational thing to do?  I am bothered by the reduction the chiyuv of sipur to one of thanksgiving.  That’s certainly an element of the mitzvah, but is it *the* defining characteristic of the mitzvah?  Something to chew on…

Monday, March 23, 2015

delusions undone

I think it’s been close to four years since I’ve written anything about that world renowned genius Alan Dershowitz. I single him out but simply because he is a well known figure who does not shy away from making his positions known and therefore serves  as a convenient exemplar of the dumbness of the American Jewish liberal political establishment. Let’s revisit a few lines of Professor Dershowitz’s ringing op-ed endorsement of President Hussein y’mach shemo:

“The case for Barack Obama also includes his approach to foreign policy, which has improved the standing of America around the world… With regards to Iran, which poses the most immediate threat to the security of the United States and its allies, most especially Israel, the policy of the Obama administration is crystal clear: It has taken containment off the table and kept the military option on the table… President Obama has clearly stated that he is not bluffing when he says that his administration will never allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

If that wasn’t clear enough, how about this quote from the great Professor: ““Obama will be better for Israel on Iran…”

It’s hard not to laugh at the man as you watch he delusions become undone. Breitbart reports that in his latest speech Dershowitz commented with regard to Obama’s negotiating skill, “I wouldn’t hire this administration to negotiate a one month lease for me.” He now calls Obama “undiplomatic,” “petulant,” “juvenile.” He recently said that Obama “totally misled the American people” by saying Netanyahu offered no new ideas in his speech to Congress. He’s written-op eds in the Wall Street Journal comparing his hero to Chamberlain.

Gee, who could have seen any of this coming?  You need a Harvard PhD to be clever enough to twist your brain into a pretzel and avoid seeing the obvious until it's too late.

Friday, March 20, 2015

transforming "hacheiresh haya libam" into "hachodesh ha'zeh lachem"

Parshas haChodesh, as we’ve discussed in the past, is really more about Pesach than Rosh Chodesh.  In fact, it’s only one pasuk in the whole parsha that speaks about Rosh Chodesh.  The Torah seems to present kiddush hachodesh as a prelude to the mitzvos of Pesach.  Why do these two parshiyos go hand in hand? 
There is a fundamental difference between Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.  The mitzvah of Shabbos is preceded by “sheishes yamim ta’avod.”  There is a mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos.  Chazal say that only “mi she’tarach b’erev Shabbos yochal b’Shabbos.” Shabbos is the culmination of the cycle of the week.  Not so Rosh Chodesh.  Rosh Chodesh precedes the events that will occur in the upcoming month.  It sets the tone for what is to be, and does not depend on the energy and preparation of prior events.  It is an inauguration, not a conclusion.
Klal Yisrael had known of Shabbos even while in Mitzrayim, but until Pesach, they had not known of the concept of Rosh Chodesh.  They understood that for those who put in spiritual work and effort, G-d delivers rewards.  What Rosh Chodesh taught them is that G-d can deliver the rewards in advance, and the effort can come later.  This is the foundation upon which Pesach rests.  Klal Yisrael had little merit to speak of when they left Egypt; “ta’avdun es haElokim al ha’har hazeh” was an event that would occur in the future.  Nonetheless, G-d promised them deliverance based on what would be.
That’s why, explains the Shem m’Shmuel, the haggadah has a hava amina of “yachol mei’Rosh Chodesh,” that maybe we could do sipur yetzi’as Mitzrayim from Rosh Chodesh.  Rosh Chodesh is the precedent that gives rise to a Chag haPesach.
The gemara (Shabbos 147) tells a story about R’ Elazar ben Arach: there was a place that had great wine and bath houses and the ten tribes that were exiled there were drawn in by the pleasures and vanished.  R’ Elazar ben Arach decided he was going to go to that place and check it out.  After spending some time there, the gemara says that he got an aliyah (maybe it was parshas hachodesh) and instead of reading “hachodesh ha’zeh lachem” he read the words as “hacheiresh haya libam” – their heart was deaf.  The Chachamim davened that his learning should be restored, and learned a lesson that even a talmid chacham should be “goleh l’makom Torah” and not think he can live removed it.
Taken at face value, it’s an incredible story.  This is the same R’ Elazar ben Arach about whom R’ Yochanan ben Zakai said that if all the other Chachamim were placed on one side of a scale and R’ Elazar on the other, he would outweigh them all.  How can this same R’ Elazar ben Arach go so far astray as to not even be able to read a pasuk in chumash correctly?!  From a mussar perspective, I guess you would say that that’s exactly the point – even someone so great can fall to the lowest depths.  But maybe there is more to it than that.
If you’ve ever davened mincha in, for example, a ba’al teshuvah yeshiva, you can find people focusing on every word of davening like it’s Yom Kippur. Meanwhile, the guy who has been davening mincha for the past 30 years knocks off his shmoneh esrei in three minutes flat.  The thrill is gone; the newness, the freshness is gone.  We don’t remember what it’s like to daven for the first time.  R’ Elazar ben Arach could have been one of the biggest Roshei Yeshiva and said shiur on the same cycle of 7 masechtos again and again for decades, but he knew that if that’s what he chose to do, he risked losing that freshness and newness that comes with seeing things the first time.  So he sought out people who could see things for the first time – he went out to the boondocks and started a kiruv movement in a place where there was nothing left of Judaism and where the lure of hedonism drew everyone in.  He went out and lived among people who, when they discovered Judaism, saw it as new and fresh.  R’ Elazar knew that in order to experience “hachodesh hazeh lachem,” hachodesh = chadash, newness, freshness, you need to first have “hacheiresh haya libam.”  Sure, putting himself in that situation was a challenge and a step down from the amazing shiurim R’ Elazar might have been saying, but it ultimately was a step up, because the vitality of those around him would rub off and R’ Elazar himself benefit from that constant rejuvenation.
That’s the upshot of the gemara, explains the Chernobeler in his Ma’or Eynaim.  “Havei goleh l’makom Torah” – you have to sometimes go out, go into galus, go to the boondocks, and there you will find Torah as it should be experienced, as new, as fresh, as filled with vitality.  The truth is that you don’t have to travel too far. There are plenty of souls that are deaf to Torah all around us because no one has come along to open their ears.  The truth is that we each have a little bit of “hacheiresh haya libam” in us, but if we help each other out we can transform it into “hachodesh (=hischadshus) hazeh lachem.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

the individual "adam ki yakriv" inspires the "takrivu es korbanchem" of the many

It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting shiva, yet the reality is that shloshim is ending already. I'm feel somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of a seudah and a siyum to commemorate the date -- it just seems too festive, too celebratory. The Rambam describes aveilus like this:
 
כל מי שלא מתאבל כמו שציוו חכמים, הרי זה אכזרי; אלא יפחד וידאג ויפשפש במעשיו, ויחזור בתשובה. ואחד מבני חבורה שמת, תדאג כל החבורה כולה
 כל שלושה ימים הראשונים, יראה את עצמו כאילו חרב מונחת לו על כתפו; משלושה ועד שבעה, מונחת בקרן זווית; מכאן ואילך, עוברת כנגדו בשוק. כל זה כדי להכין עצמו לחזור, וייעור משינתו, והרי הוא אומר "הכית אותם ולא חלו" (ירמיהו ה,ג), מכלל שצריך להקיץ ולחול

Pretty serious stuff. The Nitei Gavriel (here) quotes a view that even if a siyum is done as a zechus for the niftar, if the aveil did not participate in the learning (let's say the siyum was done right after shiva), the aveil should serve as a waiter (to diminish his simcha) in order to be able to participate in the meal. Yes, that's probably a chumra, but it reflects the mindset of what aveilus is all about.  That being said, l'ma'aseh people do mark the date of shloshim with a seudah, just like many, if not most people these days, celebrate a yahrzeit with food and drink, not by fasting. Introspection and reflection are hard to do; having a sip of schnaps and a piece of cake is so much easier and so much more enjoyable.

Our parsha tells us, "Adam ki yakriv...," speaking of an individual who chooses to offer a korban, yet that same pasuk ends with the words, "takrivu es korbanchen," speaking in the plural tense about those who come to offer korbanos. Why the switch from singular to plural? The Ishbitzer in Mei haShiloach explains that when an individual chooses to make a sacrifice, that act has an impact and makes an impression and causes others to be inspired and follow suit.

The purpose of making a siyum, of saying kaddish, is to show that the sacrifices of a parent, the "adam ki yakriv," inspire a "takrivu es korbanchem" -- children, grandchildren, neighbors, friends learning more mishnayos, davening better, being becoming better people.

Ending shiva or ending shloshim is not about "letting go." Aderaba, it's about showing that the niftar continues to be with us and inspire us. The Kozhiglover, in explaining why chassidim celebrate and do not mourn or fast on a yahrzeit, quotes a Midrash on Ya'akov's words, "Ani ne'esaf el ami": Ya'akov told his children that "im z'chisem lachem - z'chisem b'tazmi," but if not, when I leave this world I will just return to my fathers.  When we do good, it's "b'atzmi z'chisem" -- the spiritual presnce, the "atzmiyus" of that person, is still there with us, expressing itself though the mitzvos and Torah we engage in.  

In giving an accounting of the money and gifts donated to the Mishkan, last week's parsha tells us that there was "dayam v'hoseir," enough plus leftover. The Ohr haChaim famously asks how these two descriptions can simultaneously be true -- if there was enough, it means there wasn't any leftovers; if there was leftovers, then there was more than enough, not "dayam." 

In one of the hespeidim given for my father, the speaker compared life to building a Mishkan. The Torah speaks of "v'shachanti b'socham," inside the people, not inside the building -- we are the Mishkan.  I would like to suggest an answer to the Ohr haChaim's question that fits that context.   An individual is given just enough time in this world to accomplish whatever they are supposed to accomplish -- it's "dayam," no more and no less. But even after the person is gone, there is a "hoseir," there are the leftover memories and thoughts of the person that continue to be with us.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

where did Haman get the zechus to have great...grandchildren sitting and learning?

Freilichin post Purim!  While you digest your delicious seudah, here is an amazing Sefas Emes [with a small editorial edition of my own] to take away from the chag with you:

 ונראה כי נס דפּורים הי׳ הכנה לבית שׁני כי הי׳ צריך להיות כח ועוז לבני ישראל וע״י הנס נגבה לבם ויכלו לחזור לבית המקדשׁ וכן אפשׁר שׁיהי׳ לעתיד נס כּזה קודם הגאולה כּמ״שׁ חז״ל מעמיד עליהם מלך כּהמן כו׳ [הנקרא אובּמא] שׁנס זה הכנה לגאולה

We know from the gemara in Gittin that Haman's great-great...grandchildren ended up learning Torah in Bnei Brak.  Where did a guy like Haman such zechuyos from to have descendants sitting and learning?  That's a zechus that many of us would be glad to have in our back pocket!  The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo answers that the megillah tells us that after Haman went to the first party with Esther he walked out "sameiach v'tov leiv."  Why does the megillah preserve for prosperity this moment of happiness of that rasha?  Because it was that simcha and "tov leiv" from sitting at the tisch of the tzadekes Esther that generations later led to Haman's kids sitting in the beis medrash and learning.  

Of course it's great if you were able to share chiddushei Torah at the seudah and appreciated the day of Purim as a day of kabbalas haTorah, but even without that, look at what you can get just from walking away from a seudas mitzvah "sameich v'tov leiv."  If we walk out of Purim with just that alone, it's no small thing.