Monday, August 22, 2016

Chasam Sofer takes on Copernicus

An interesting tidbit in the Chasam Sofer on last week's parsha here.  He heard that there is a chacham in the umos ha'olam called Copernicus who came up with the idea that the earth revolves around the sun rather than it being the other way around.  Chasam Sofer presents the logic as follows: it is unreasonable for the great, powerful sun to serve in orbit around puny earth. 

The Chasam Sofer being the Chasam Sofer engages in a little pilpul: if you shoot an arrow straight up and the earth is moving, then shouldn't the arrow land in a different spot than the point from which you shot it?  The tietutz obviously is that not only is the earth moving, but its atmosphere, including the arrow, moves along with it.  Everything moves together, so the arrow comes back to the same spot.

Chasam Sofer goes on to say that the assumption of Copernicus makes sense only if you are one of the umos ha'olam.  L'shitaseinu, the earth's diminutive size relative to the sun doesn't matter -- earth is the tachlis ha'bri'ah, the telos of all creation.  The whole universe exists only for us.  Therefore, it's not so strange that we should be at the center of it all, the point around which all else revolves.

He weaves this into derush in the pasuk and a pshat in a gemara in Baba Basra that you can take a look at.  What I find interesting is that the C.S. lived long after Copernicus, and even long after Galileo.  I wonder why he refers only to Copernicus and not Galileo?  Could he have never heard of the latter, or maybe he saw Copernicus as the father of heliocentrism and therefore credits him?  In either case, did the Chasam Sofer really think the earth was the center of the universe?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

va'eschanan -- matnas chinam and the gift of Eretz Yisrael

Al zeh ha’ya daveh libeinu…” (Eicah 5:17) D”VH = gematriya 15, the corruption of the midah of hod=15. Like an algebraic equation, if something happens on one side of the scale, it has to be balanced on the other side. “Lo hayu yamim tovim k’T”u b’Av” (Ta’anis 26) = 15 Av, gematriya of K-h.

If the seesaw tips to one side, it eventually will tip back the other way, and like a seesaw, the greater the dip in one direction, the greater the movement back the other way. It’s davka after cheit ha’eigel, a tremendous low, that Moshe asks, “Hareini na es kvodecha” and “V’niflinu ani v’amcha.” It’s davka after the low of 9 Av that we have the greatest of yamim tovim, 15 Av.

(For more on 15 Av, see my wife's Times of Israel blog piece.)

On to the parsha...

Of the many possible words to use for prayer (the Midrash tells us that there are 10), the Torah uses the not very common term “va’eschanan” in describing Moshe’s tefilah. Rashi interprets “va’Eschanan” as related to the term “matnas chinam,” a free gift. Rashi tells us that even though tzadikim have a right to stake a claim for rewards based on their zechuyos, they don’t do that – they instead ask for and view what they receive as a gift, not as something they’ve earned.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh asks: but don’t we find by Chanah (Shmuel I 1:10), “Va’tispalel el Hashem?” Don’t we find by Chizkiyahu (Melachim II 20:2), “Vayispallel el Hashem?“ If tzadikim only ask for matnas chinam, a free gift, as Rashi says, then shouldn’t all the tefilos of tzadikim use the expression “va’eschanan?” Why is it only here, in connection with Moshe’s tefilah, here that the Torah uses this term?

Maharal answers that Moshe’s tefilah is the binyan av, the paradigm. One you know that tzadikim are only asking for matnas chinam, as we learn from Moshe, then all the other expressions of tefilah are simply additional icing on the cake. They complement the request for a matnas chinam, but do not supplant it.

The Sefas Emes connects the use of va’eschanan davka here with a gemara (Brachos 5a) quoting RsHb”Y that there are three gifts, matanos, which Hashem has given the Jewish people. One of the three is Eretz Yisrael. There are certain things that are so great and so holy that they cannot be earned -- there is no price in spiritual “currency” that can be placed on them. The only reason we have them is because Hashem chooses to bestow them as gifts.

Chazal compare Moshe Rabeinu to the sun and Yehoshua to the moon. Moshe was the source of light – he was a giver. Yehoshua was the ultimate talmid, soaking up and receiving everything his rebbe could give him. When you are a giver like Moshe, by definition being on the receiving end of gifts is not in your character. It’s a contradiction to your whole essence.

The is the shakla v’terya between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe used the expression “va’eschanan” = matnas chinam davka here because he knew that Eretz Yisrael could only be received as a matanah. Hashem’s response was “rav lach…,” you are too great -- you are beyond receiving gifts and cannot assume that role. Yehoshua, the talmid, the mekabeil, he is the one who can fulfill that mission.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

odds and ends

 "Va’ta’anu va’tomru eilay chatanu la’Hashem…” (1:41) Why did Hashem not accept Bnei Yisrael’s teshuvah for the cheit ha’meraglim? HaKsav v’HaKabbalah answers that the key is one word: EILAY. Bnei Yisrael should have expressed their regret directly to Hashem. Instead, they came to Moshe and proclaimed their remorse to him.  It's like saying sorry to the Rabbi if he sees you doing wrong.  It's not the Rabbi you need to apologize to -- it's his "boss" you need to talk to. 

Since I mention the HaKsav v’HaKabbalah, I have to point out his take on the “shiv’im lashon” Torah was written in (see Rashi 1:5 “be’er heitev”). It does not mean, he explains, that the Torah was translated into 70 languages. When you learn gemara and there are two versions of a statement, the gemara calls one the “lishna kamma” and one the “lishna basra.” That means there are two interpretations, two explanations, of what was said – not that the Amora spoke two languages.  Here too, the “shivi’im lashon” means seventy different interpretations.
Rashi quotes a Midrash that "Rav lachem sheves ba'har ha'zeh" (1:6) is a bracha -- you gained so much at Har Sinai: you made a Mishkan [I don't know why this comes first], a menorah [I don't know why menorah is singled out], kelim, received the Torah, and appointed the members of Sanhedrin..."  The Kli Yakar, however, sees this as the first tochacha given by Moshe.  "Rav lachem" means you have tarried too long around the mountain.  The mission is to conquer and settle Eretz Yisrael, to live Torah.  Remaining fixed in place at the mountain, even at the mountain where mattan Torah occurred, is a rejection of that Divine plan.
No time to write more, but if you are baffled by what the description of Og's bed at the end of the parsha is all about, take a look at the Chizkuni for a mechudash peshat.

Sunday, August 14, 2016



From daughter #2 who was emailed this by a friend

That friend commented, "I really want to be in Eretz Yisrael again."

So do I and so should we all. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Eicha yashvah BADAD = B'chol Derachecha Da'eyhu

Since it is Shabbos Chazon I wanted to point our a Maharasha in Chiddushei Aggados on Baba Basra 60b that's worth taking a look at.  He explains the pasuk, “Im eskacheich Yerushalayim tishkach y’mini tidbak leshoni l’chiki im lo ezkireichi,” as follows: If I forget to make a zecher l’churban in those areas that the halacha demands, e.g. leaving a small area of a new house unpainted, then let the whole paint job be bad – let it look like I painted the house with my left hand instead of my right. That will then serve as the reminder. However, continues the pasuk, that’s not enough. As R’ Soloveitchik explains, aveilus is a kiyum b’lev, the actions halacha demands are a means to engender certain thoughts and feelings. Maharasha writes, “Efshar she’yizaheir adam b’kol zeh V’AIN KAN ZECHER SHE’LO YARGISH HA’ADAM…”  Someone can be scrupulous in leaving that little area unpainted, but accomplish nothing because there is no thought behind it. Does this person who lives in a palatial home really feel any pain because there is no beis hamikdash, or is it just going through the motions? Let my tongue stick to my throat, says the pasuk, if I can’t and don’t verbalize this reminder. I would say it doesn’t necessarily have to be articulated to others, but it has to at least be articulated to oneself – one has to express a sense of loss.

Eichah yashvah BADAD…” We are isolated and alone, but in truth, we are never really alone. The Torah tells us in Parshas Ha’azinu, “Hashem badad yanchenu…” (32:12) Ramban explains, “Hashem yishkon b’yisrael betach BADAD,” Hashem himself, to the exclusion of the sarei ha’umos, tends to our needs, “ki hu chelko v’nachalaso,” because we belong to his portion alone. Sefas Emes explains that the word “badad” is roshei teivos of B’chol Derachecha Da’eyhu, know Hashem in all of your ways. Sometimes it’s a derech of simcha, sometimes it’s a derech of m’ma’atin b’simcha, but in either case, B’chol Derachacha Da’eyhu. 

ho'il Moshe -- a new beginning

We read right at the beginning of Devarim that in that 40th year, the final year in the desert, “ho’il Moshe be’er es haTorah ha’zos,” Moshe began (Rashi: ho'il = started) to explain the Torah to Klal Yisrael.

 He just began teaching Torah then? What had Moshe been doing for the past 40 years? 

A few week's ago
I contrasted the generation that heard Hashem’s words directly at Sinai with this new generation in year 40 who was expounding and explaining Torah through derashos and Torah she’ba’al peh, through their own initiative and process of discovery. There would be no Moshe to dictate answers to them in the future; answers would have to come through their own learning. Sefer Devarim is the boundary marker between the old and the new. Moshe is still there, but he is speaking with his own voice, not merely transmitting what G-d dictated. Moshe created a beginning – a starting point for the process of talmud Torah that we have been engaged in and continuing for over 3000 years since.  He began teaching again in a different way, to a different people than the one's he took out of Egypt.  (Sefas Emes)

The Midrash Tanchuma connects the  אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים  of our parsha with a pasuk in Yeshayahu 43:16  אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים...:  Just as G-d performed miracles for us in the desert, the "eileh ha'devarim" of our parsha, in the time of the future geulah G-d will do those same miracles, turning darkness to light and bending twisted paths straight, "eileh ha'devarim asisim v'lo azavtim." 

What miracles is the Midrash speaking about that we see in the words "eileh hadevarim?" 

It's the miracle of revealing Torah as it had never been revealed before. 

The end of that pasuk in Yeshayahu is written in past tense, not the future tense (see Rashi).  Shem m'Shmuel quotes the Midrash as explaining that the pasuk is referring to the miracle of Torah being revealed by Rabbi Akiva and his colleagues.  The miracle Yeshayahu is talking about already happened!  It's Torah which transforms darkness to light and guides us on the straight path.  Even Moshe Rabeinu himself was in awe of the brilliance of R' Akiva's learning (Menachos 29) -- it was a miraculous phenomenon. 

It's the same miracle which the "Eileh hadevarim" of our parsha is referring to -- our parsha is the beginning of that miracle unfolding, as Moshe began revealing Torah, giving us insight into how to expound and explain, of how to engage in learning Torah she'ba'al peh.      

We are not Moshe Rabeinus, but we should learn from his life.  The Torah he learned in year 40, the last year of his life, was not the same Torah he learned earlier.  The generation he spoke to needed to hear a different message, be given different hadracha. The way he taught Torah in year 40 was different than the way he taught earlier.   The world around us changes; the people around us change; we need to change as well.  Why should we?  Because that's the only way we can communicate with the next generation and make our message heard.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016


(Picture taken from here - it is a real animal.  No, this post is not meant to be taken seriously.) 

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

simcha from having a thorn in our side

Last week's parsha warns us that if we don't drive the Canaanim out of Eretz Yisrael, "V'haya asher tosiru meihem l'sichim b'eineichem u'l'tzeninim b'tzideichem," they will be like splinters in our eyes and thorns in our side. 

Chazal tell us as a general rule that when a sentence or parsha starts with the word "v'haya" it portends good tidings -- "ain v'haya elah lashon simcha."  What's the simcha in our pasuk?  What kind of simcha is it to be poked in your eye or side?

R' Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik, Matos #5) quotes the Pesikta on the haftarah which explains that when Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael, they left alive Rachav, who in turn (through her family) produced seven prophets, among them Yirmiyahu haNavi.  It is the words of Yirmiyahu haNavi that are the thorn in our side!  It is his tochacha and mussar that are painful for us to hear.  Bnei Yisrael were so upset by Yirmiyahu's words that they threw him into a pit to get rid of him.

At the same time, "v'haya," there is great simcha in shamayim from those words, because it is through those words of tochacha that we will eventually get out of galus.  Had they penetrated back when they were delivered, maybe there would not have been a galus, but even if we didn't listen then, we've had 2000 years to hear them again and again, and eventually they will sink in.