Thursday, October 18, 2018

bris bein ha'besarim -- nevuah or havtacha

1. In R' Shternbruch's teshuvos (vol 1) quotes an interesting sevara from R' Shmuel Rozovsky: since an aveil is exempt from leaning Torah and even kri'as haTorah (during the week if an aveil is called up for an aliya he has to decline and not go up), therefore the aveil is not mitztareif to a minyan for krias haTorah.  Meaning, if there are 9 people in the minyan + the aveil, there is not a tzibur that is chayav in kri'as haTorah.  R' Shternbruch does not pasken this way, but it's an interesting idea.

2. The first Rashi in chumash that says the Torah opens with the idea of creation to prove that all the land in the world belongs to G-d and he can therefore give us "nachalas goyim."  My BIL R' Yochanan in his parsha thought for Braishis here commented on this expression of "nachalas goyim."  "Why is it called an inheritance of nations, implying that Israel rightfully belonged to them? It belongs to us!"

Not that he needs my help, but I would strengthen the question.  The Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos (third shoresh) writes that the command Moshe was given not to attack Eisav who was living in Se'ir, and the command not to attack Amon and Moav are not counted as mitzvos.  A mitzvah, says the Rambam, has to apply for all eternity.  One day Moshiach will come and we will have permission and be zocheh to conquer all of these lands.  Ramban disagrees.  These lands, says Ramban, are called a "yerusha," and there is a principle in halacha that nachala ain lah hefesk, an inheritance is forever, it passes from generation to generation automatically.  The land of Eisav, Amon, and Moav are forever off limits for us.  So how then will be allowed to one day conquer this territory?  Ramban answers that Sancherev mixed up all the people in the world.  Amon and Moav are no longer living in their ancestral home, Eisav is not living in his ancestral homeland, and so when we conquer these lands it is really a different people that we will one day be conquering.   

We see from Ramban that when something is given as a yerusha = nachala, it is forever.  So why then does the pasuk speak of the land of Israel as "nachalas goyim" when the land was meant ultimately for us?! 

You have to read his answer there.

3. Now that we know this Ramban, when we come to the promise of Bris ben hBesarim in our parsha of the land of 10 nations being given to Avraham, we have to read a little more carefully.  One of those 10 lands is the Se'ir land of Eisav, and two of the lands are the territory of Amon and Moav, given to Lot's decedents.  If it belongs to them forever -- nachala ain lah hefsek -- how then could G-d promise the same land to Avraham? 

It must be (see Avi Ezri Hil Melachim 6:1) that Avraham was not actually being given the land directly, but was being shown prophetically that his children will eventually conquer those lands after Sancherev does his population resettlement.  It is a nevuah, not a havtacha.  The Rambam disagrees with this whole theory and l'shitaso holds (Rotzeiach 8:4) that the 10 lands were promised to Avraham directly and never given as a permanent inheritance to anyone else.  

4. "V'lo nasa osam ha'aretz la'sheves yachdav ki haya rechusham rav v'lo yachlu lasheves yachdav."  (13:6)  First the pasuk tells us that Avraham and Lot could not live together because there was not enough grazing land for all their flocks, but then the pasuk again repeats, "v'lo yachlu lasheves yachdav," that they could not live together.  Why the redundancy?

We see from here, explains R' Shimon Sofer, how machlokes works.  At first, there might be a very good reason for disagreement.  Avraham and Lot and their shepherds could not agree on who should graze where.  But at some point, once the fire of machlokes is lit, even if the reason has long since been forgotten or ameliorated, the fight continues of its own accord.  "V'lo yachlu lasheves yachdav" now irrespective of the reason the fight started.  

Once started, machlokes will take on a life of its own.  

Saturday, October 13, 2018

hespeidan shel tzadikim m'akeves as ha'puranus

Hashem tells Noach (7:4) to come into the ark because in seven days the flood will start.  Rashi quotes Chazal (Sanhedrin 108) that these seven "bonus" days (on top of the 120 years it took Noach to build the ark, which put people on notice) were the 7 days of mourning for the tzadik Mesushelach.  (The gemara quotes this limud on the pasuk 7:10, "Va'yehi l'shivas ha'yamim..."  The meforshim discuss why the gemara quotes the derash only on the later pasuk but not on the earlier pasuk used by Rashi.) From here Chazal learn that "hespeidan shel tzadikim m'akeves as ha'puranus," the days of hesped and mourning for the tzadik have he power to delay an evil decree.

What is it about the hesped of the tzadik that gives it that power?  Maharasha explains that hearing about the tzadik should inspire people to do teshuvah.  They should realize that the righteous person whose presence perhaps protected them from harm is no more, and now it is up to them to repent or face the consequences.  (The Rambam writes that aveilus is meant as a time of teshuvah, not just a time to mourn.)

Similarly, Maharal in Ch Aggados writes that it is the pain people feel at the loss of the tzadik that serves as the protection.  Hashem does not rub salt into people's wounds to pile tzarah on top of tzarah.  The loss of the tzadik, if taken to heart, is suffering enough and additional "puranus" is rendered unnecessary.

The Iyun Ya'akov (see also R' Povarski's sefer Bad Kodesh) explains it a little differently. The gemara (Shabbos 153) writes that a person's soul is present when people are maspid them.  During the week of hesped for Mesushelach, it was like he was still there!  Just like the presence of the tzadik protected people from harm during his lifetime, so too, through hesped it is like the tzadik is still present even after death, still offering his protection.

During a week of shiva, when people speak about their loss, when people still connect so strongly with the departed, it is like they are still there.  It is a final opportunity for hiskashrus.  Their presence, in turn, can serve as an inspiration to teshuvah, to closeness with family, to deeper connection.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Noach = neicha, even amidst a flood of sorrow

Over the past few weeks I have been adding to each post to please have in mind that the learning should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for my mother-in-law, Mrs Schulamith Bechhofer.  Sadly, the limud in this post is l'zecher nishmasa, as she past away last Sunday and my wife and her sister, brothers, aunts and uncles are in the middle of shiva.

My MIL was among the "pleitas sofreihem" of a different time and place.  Her father was a talmid muvhak of R' Yosef Bloch in Telz; her mother came from a prominent family (Mussensohn) in Lita.  She was born in Switzerland, where her father served as Rav in Basel for 17 years before the family moved to Holland and then eventually to Canada.  She was the oldest of her siblings, and, as I heard during the shiva week from relatives, she was always there, often behind the scenes, to lend a helping hand to them.  Those who live in Far Rockaway may remember her from the many years she served with distinction as a morah in Torah Academy for Girls (TAG), the school my wife and all my daughters attended.  My MIL always projected a sense of dignity and formality, traits that have been almost completely lost in our age where everyone is so casual and lets everything hang out.  She had high expectations and set high standards for her children and grandchildren; she could be tough and demanding, but it was meant l'tovah because she wanted us to grow and accomplish.  There are two people who would always read, print, and share with others whatever I manage to write here every week -- one was my father a"h, who would print out what I wrote and show it to people in his shul, and one my MIL a"h, who told me more than once how much she enjoyed reading what I and my wife wrote.  She took pride in the fact that her children could write and transmit words of Torah, and therefore it's only fitting to share some divrei Torah in her memory.

The family was close to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, so one idea from a sicha: Noach is a very strange name for our parsha.  Noach the person was given that name because "zeh yinachameinu m'ma'aseinu umei'itzvon yadeinu," he brought comfort -- Noach=neicha, see Rashi -- and eased the burden of toiling the earth for all mankind.  Noach the parsha is about anything but comfort and peace.  It tells the story of the devastation flood that destroyed everything on earth.  How does the name fit?

The Rebbe answers that al korchacha what we learn from the name of the parsha is that even amidst calamity and sorrow, behind the scenes is the potential for "neicha."  Hashem's plan is always to our benefit, even if the path is sometimes painful.  The haftarah calls the waters of the flood "mei Noach" -- not a mabul.  The navi, with his prophetic insight, is telling us that "neicha" can emerge even from the waters of destruction.  "Va'yarach Hashem es rei'ach ha'nichoach" -- the world that emerged after the flood was a better one, one that was immune from further destruction, one where man can bring nachas ruach to Hashem.   

And so it is when we face our own tragedies and sorrow.  We don't have the benefit of the insight of a navi, but we hope and trust that whatever pain Hashem brings ultimately is for the sake of "neicha," to bring us comfort and make us stronger.

People always say that the departed should be a "meilitz yosher."  Some people even go so far as to say the departed should intercede upstairs and help with specific things that we need down here.  My wife thought this is the wrong way to look at things.  To paraphrase President Kennedy, we should not ask what the departed can do for us -- we should be asking ourselves what we can do for the departed.  What can we do to serve as a zechus and credit to their memory?  What can we do to better exemplify the midos, Torah, yiras shamayim that they wanted us to have and tried to instill in us?  How can their memory inspire us?  This is the message to take away from aveilus. 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

making your own gan eden

This limud should be a zechus for a refulah shleimah for Shulamis bas Sarah Sosha.

Chazal (Shabbos 133) teach us that we have an obligation of "mah hu... af atah," of imitation Dei, of imitating G-d's behavior.  Just like G-d is rachum, we should show rachamanus; just like G-d visits the sick, buries the dead, etc. so should we do the same.  R' Yitzchak Isaac Sher in his Sichos Mussar (vol 1 p 62) quotes a klal gadol from the Alter of Slabodka that extends this principle even further: just as Hashem created gan eden for Adam haRishon, so too each one of us is obligated to create a gan eden for ourselves and our fellow man.  

That's a pretty tall order.  It's hard enough to make the world even a little better place; how can we even dream of making it into a paradise?  I don't have millions of dollars to build you a mansion, buy you a Ferrari, take care of your needs in luxury -- so how can I make a gan eden for you?

That's the mistake we all make -- we think gan eden is about luxury, about having more expensive "things," with no work to do and no other needs to take care of.  That's not gan eden -- there are people who have all that and who have a miserable life.  What made gan eden into gan eden is the fact that adam ha'rishon knew that everything that was created there was done for his sake -- because Hashem cared for him.  What people want more than anything else is to be cared for.  When Avraham Avinu opened his home to wayfarers in the desert it was gan eden!  Avraham did not necessarily have the most luxurious tent, but Avraham had a home where no matter who you were, you felt welcomed and cared for.  You can make someone a simple cup of coffee, but if you do it in the right way, if you do it as an expression of love, then in that moment you've given that person gan eden.

Let's move to the end of the parsha.  We read there how the bnei Elokim took the bnos ha'adam against their will, how licentiousness and debasement took hold in society.  Hashem decided that if things do not change, he will bring a mabul.  There was, however, one silver lining, and this is how the parsha ends, "u'Noach matzah chein b'einei Hashem."

The Berdichiver in Kedushas Levi says a tremendous yesod.  Let's say there is going to be a wild new year's eve party going on all night.  So you say to yourself, "Aha!  That's the yetzer ha'ra's party -- no way am I going."  You met the enemy -- the yetzer ha'ra -- and vanquished him.  Great job. 

But there is something even better you can do.  You can see that excitement of the party, the "hisla'havus" to stay up all night, and say to yourself, "Aha!  Now I know what I should be doing on Shavuos night."  When the tzadik sees wrongdoing, says the Berdichiver, he takes a lesson from it for avodas Hashem.  The wrong behavior becomes a force that can be redirected for good.

The bnei Elokim were immersed in their ta'avos for beauty, for "chein."  They found it in al the wrong places.  Noach took that same ta'avah, that same desire, that same love of "chein," and instead of simply quashing it, he redirected it.  "Noach matzah chein b'einei Hashem" -- Noach found his "chein" in avodas Hashem.  

Sunday, September 30, 2018

the closing act

This limud should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for Shulamis bas Sarah Sacha.

Apologies for not having time to write more...

1) The Mishna at the end of the 5th perek of Chulin writes that even though normally only meshicha is koneh, there is a takanah that 4 times a year ma'os konos to buy meat.  Meaning, if you paid the butcher for a brisket for Yom Tov, even if he has to shecht an entire cow to give it to you and he doesn't know if there will be any other customers, he has to do so and can't just return your payment.  The payment completes the sale and the butcher can't back out.  There is such a demand for brisket for the Yom Tov that Chazal made is easier for everyone to get their meat : )  

Interestingly, Sukkos is not one of these 4 days, but erev Shmini Atzeres is.  Chasam Sofer in his Derashos quotes from the Yaavet"z that this proves that the chasima of our din is still incomplete until the end of the chag.  Who can truly fully celebrate when there is an unresolved judgment hanging over their head?  Who can enjoy their brisket in that state?  It's only at the end of the chag, as we approach Shmini Atzeres, when all will be resolved l'tovah IY"H, that we can celebrate.

2) The Midrash teaches that ha'posei'ach, the one who opens the Torah reading, recites a bracha, and the choseim, the one who reads last, closes the reading with a bracha.  (In the days of Chazal there was not a bracha recited before/after each aliya like we do, but rather one bracha was said before the start of the kriah and one at its conclusion).  The source of the bracha before reading, says the Midrash, is the pasuk "baruch atah Hashem lamdeini chukecha."  The source for the bracha at the conclusion of the reading is because "v'zos habracha..."  follows the shirah of Ha'azinu.

The obvious question: the pasuk of "v'zos habracha…" is not a blessing on the words of Torah that Moshe read.  It is a blessing given to Klal Yisrael.  What does that have to do with birchas haTorah?

Sadly, for a lot of people Torah is a closed book.  Take a peek at your average yeshivah high school classroom, for example, and you will see the glazed over eyes of the students, the captives forced to sit listening to lectures on topics that have no interest in, analyzing a dry book written in a language they cannot understand.

"Ha'posei'ach ba'Torah…"  How do you open that book?  It starts with "baruch atah Hashem lamdeini chukecha."  No one comes to school and says "Thank G-d we can study algebra today!" or "Thank G-d for Hamlet today!"  But when we sit down and crack open a sefer, that's how we have to start our learning.  We need to build love and appreciation for Torah first, before getting to the Tosfos or the R' Chaim, or we will never get out of the starting gate.

But even after you come to appreciate Torah, that's not enough.

"Sameini k'chosam al libecha…"   A chosam is a seal; it identifies who you are.  V'zos habracha is about who we are as Klal Yisrael -- our strengths and weaknesses, our future destiny.  Ha'choseim ba'Torah means Torah defines who we are.  It's not just a book we study; it's our identity.

We opened the Yamim Tovim with Rosh haShana and tekiyas shofar; now we come to the chasima: not just the closing of the books, the closing of the din, but the "sameini k'chosam" -- when we take all we have gleaned from these special days and make it part of our identity, part of who will be will during this coming year.  (based on Shem m'Shmuel Nitzavim 5672)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

tzeila d'heimnusah

כְּתַפּ֨וּחַ֙ בַּֽעֲצֵ֣י הַיַּ֔עַר כֵּ֥ן דּוֹדִ֖י בֵּ֣ין הַבָּנִ֑ים בְּצִלּוֹ֙ חִמַּ֣דְתִּי וְיָשַׁ֔בְתִּי וּפִרְי֖וֹ מָת֥וֹק לְחִכִּֽי

Shir haShirim (3:3) compares the beloved one, dodi, an allusion to G-d, to an apple tree in the forest.  It's beautiful shade is desirous to sit under; it's fruit is so sweet.

Rashi quotes the Midrash: All flee from the apple tree because it has no shade. So did all the nations flee from G-d at the giving of the Torah, but I sat and delighted in his shade(see here).

Meaning, the apple tree signifies the unique and special bond between Klal Yisrael and Hashem.

The mashal used by the Midrash begs the question m'mah nafshach: if the apple tree has shade, then why did everyone flee from it and not want to sit there?  And if the apple tree has no shade, then what does the pasuk mean by "b'tzilo chamaditi?"

The simple pshat in the pasuk "Hashem tzilcha" (Tehillim 121) is that Hashem is like a protective shade over us.  The Besh"T, however, famously interpreted the pasuk to mean that Hashem's relationship to us is like a shadow.  When you stand in the sun and move, your shadow moves with you.  So too, what happens to us in our lives, what happens to our families, even what happens to the cosmos, is effected and is changed by Hashem in response to our behavior.  You want there to be more chessed in the universe?  Act with chessed.   You want there to be more justice in the world?  Act with justice.  Hashem will in turn react and respond by revealing more of these midos in the world.

Sefas Emes explains that all the nations of the world see the apple tree, but they don't see any shade, so they walk away.  They see a world without chessed, and so they think it's a cruel place; they see a world where there is suffering, and they think there is no justice.  What they don't get is that whatever they see is just a reflection of themselves and what they are willing to bring to the table --  Hashem tzilcha.  Klal Yisrael believes the shade is there even if we don't see it at first, and so we come with our emunah, we come with the tremendous desire to connect to Hashem.  When you bring that to the table, then Hashem responds and you will find the shade you were looking for.  

Sukkah is the "tzeila d'heimnusah," the shadow of emunah.  Hashem comes to Avaraham at the Bris bein haBesarim, "Va'yotzei oso ha'chutzah," (Braishis 15:5) he tells him to go outside and count the stars, and promises that his children will be that numerous and great.  "V'he'emin ba'Hashem," Avraham was filled with emunah when he heard the message.  On Sukkos we imitate Avraham Avinu.  Hashem tells us to go outside, leave your house and go sit under the stars that you see through the schach of your sukkah and count them.  Do you believe in the destiny and greatness of Klal Yisrael, or do you believe what you read in the NY Times?  Do you see the shade under the apple tree?  Because if you believe in it, you will find it there. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

why Klal Yisrael's tefilah could not save Moshe from dying

Please have in mind that this limud should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for Shulamis bas Sarah Sascha.

At the end of the parsha (32:48) Hashem told Moshe to go "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh," this very day, up to Har Nevo, to look out over the Land, and then and to die.

Rashi points out that there are three places where the Torah uses this expression of "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh."  The common denominator between them is that in all three places there was a hava amina by human beings to try to stop G-d, and G-d responded by carrying out his plans in the middle of the day to demonstrate that no force can stop him.  When G-d was about to bring the flood, the dor ha'mabul threatened to destroy the ark; G-d in turn ordered Noach to enter in the middle of the day to prove that they could not stop him.  The Egyptians thought they would prevent Klal Yisrael from leaving; G-d took them out right in the middle of the day to prove the Egyptians wrong.   Finally, here, Klal Yisrael thought that they would cling to Moshe and not let him die; G-d arranged his death in the middle of the day.

We understand the hava amina of taking axes and breaking the ark; we understand the hava amina of taking up arms to stop Klal Yisrael from leaving Egypt.  But how could Klal Yisrael have even had a hava amina of stopping Moshe's death?  What power do human beings have to stop someone from dying?

R' Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that the power we have is the koach ha'tefilah. 

The gemara (Kesubos 104) tells us that when Rebbi was about to die, the tefilos of his generation kept him on earth until, seeing his suffering, his maid caused an interruption to the prayers so that Rebbi could depart this world in peace.   

We just said over the Yamim Noraim that teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedaka can avert an evil gezeirah. 

Now that we know the power our tefilah has, I have a simple kashe: so why didn't it work?  Why did the tefilos of Klal Yisrael keep Rebbi in this world, clinging to life, but G-d forced Moshe "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh" to pass away irrespective of what Klal Yisrael wanted and davened for?   

I think the answer to the question is rooted in the nature of Moshe's sin at mei meriva.  Netziv on our pasuk briefly reminds us of his interpretation of that episode, which he elaborates on more fully in Chukas.  Hashem wanted mei meriva to be a "teachable moment," as they call these things in the world of education.  It would be another step in the transition from life in the desert surrounded by miracles to the life of teva in Eretz Yisrael.  What do you do when you life in the world of teva and you face a drought?  Hashem wanted Moshe to show the people that the answer to their needs would come through tefilah and Torah study.  That's how we who live in the mundane world approach G-d with our needs.  But that's not what Moshe did.  Instead, he hit the rock, and through a miracle -- much like the other miracles that happened in the desert -- the rock produced water.  In response, Hashem told Moshe that since he was stuck in the miracle mode of desert life and could not transition to the teva life of Eretz Yisrael, he would not be the one to lead the people there.

Moshe now in our parsha  must pay the ultimate price for his sin and die before entering the land.  Al asher m'altem bi... b'mei merivas Kadesh..." I think is not merely a reminder of what Moshe did wrong, but is an explanation of why tefilah here did not work.   Because he did not capitalize on the koach ha'tefilah to meet the people's needs at Mei Merivah, midah k'neged midah, the koach ha'tefilah could not work on Moshe's behalf here to spare him from his fate.

At this special time of year may all our tefilos for all our needs be speedily answered.