Tuesday, October 31, 2006

R' Ahron Lichtenstein - is religion necessary for ethical conduct?

This article based on a talk by R’ Ahron Lichtenstein is worth reading in its entirety, especially part III:

"Before answering this question, I would like to address the above-mentioned claim that religion is necessary in order to arrive at morality. This argument has been advanced frequently in the modern period. It is a reflection of the secularization of modern culture that religion needs to be sold to masses on the basis of its contribution to morality. In eighteenth-century England, the novelist Henry Fielding advanced this claim; in the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman rejected it precisely because he said it was a debasement of religion: you are basing religion’s legitimacy purely upon its moral significance…

...Thus, returning to our original question, we surely should not dismiss nor denigrate moral idealism simply because it springs (in certain cases) from secular sources. Certainly, we believe deeply that a moral idealist would be at a much higher level were his morality rooted in yirat Shamayim, were it grounded in a perception of his relation to God and of the nature of a man as a respondent and obedient being. But that surely is not to say that we therefore ought to dismiss totally the possibility or the reality of secular morality. First, we should not do this because it is simply untrue—there are genuinely moral people within the secular community. Second, we ought not do this because, after all, the results are not what we should be seeking. Whether we score points here or there is not crucial. In the process of “scoring points,” we increase sinat achim (fraternal hatred), we sharpen divisions, we heighten tensions; and that is, in and of itself, a moral and ethical problem."

equal kavod for all

The Yerushalmi (Bikkurim 11) writes that when the bearers of bikkurim came to Yerushalayim the sganim and gizbarim of the mikdash would go out to greet them, ‘lfi kavod hanichnasim’, in accordance with the honor of those entering. The gemara is bothered by this line in the Mishna – “v’chi yesh katan v’gadol b’yerushalayim?”, is there such a thing as a hierarchy of honor accorded those who come to yerushalyim to perform the mitzvah of bringing bikkurim? No matter who you are, once you are involved in doing a mitzvah you deserve the same honor as anyone else! The gemara therefore interprets the Mishna to mean that the crowd who went out was in proportion to the size of the crowd coming, not in proportion to any other measure.
What a tremendous mussar - You could be the simplest Jew in the universe coming and carrying a small basket of bikkurim and in the eyes of Chazal are deserving of the same kavod as the gadol hador marching with his basket of bikkurim simply because at that moment you are both equally engaged in doing the ratzon Hashem.

Monday, October 30, 2006

religion is NOT ethics

Not only is it wrong to claim that ‘objective’ ethics presupposes religious belief (just google ethics and atheism and you will have enough to keep you busy for a day), it may have the issue completely backwards. The real question is not whether an atheist can be commited ethics, but whether a person of religious faith can ever be committed to any ethic. In "Fear and Trembling" Kierkegaard assumes that ethics is the goal of achieving the universal good, which can brook no compromise. If this definition is true (see previous discussion here), Abraham’s desire to sacrifice Yitzchak at the akeidah must be deemed unethical and an act of attempted murder. Since this for Kierkegaard (and I think for any religious Jew) a reductio ad absurdum, he concludes that there exists some higher law which transcends even the universal good of ethics, namely religious faith. Obedience to ethical principle can be suspended to achieve the telos of obeying the higher law of G-d’s will – the teleological suspension of the ethical. Does that mean faith does not impose ethical standards? “This was not to suggest that from a religious point of view moral standards and principles could in general be abrogated or overruled. It did mean, on the other hand, that within that perspective they took on a radically different aspect, one where they possessed a relative rather than an absolute status and where it was the individual’s own relation to God that was paramount, assuming precedence over all other considerations” (article here, also see here).
Avi Shafran writes, “If our perception that some deeds are good and others are not is but a quirk of natural selection, none of us need feel any commitment to morality or ethics.” Quite the contrary – if ethics is a product of natural selection, we inherently and unequivocally will be committed to its principles the same way we obey other biological drives. However, faith always carries the trump card saying “Yes, your ethical argument makes sense, but G-d told me to do otherwise!” To rephrase Shafran, the atheist might say that if an ethical norm like not murdering is obeyed simply by quirk of its coinciding with G-d's will, none of us are truly committed to the ethic of not murdering, as we will not hesitate to abrogate it when our subjective assessment of G-d's will dictates otherwise.
I'm not out to debate this issue at length - Kierkegaard can be rebutted and many other views offered. All I know is that offering simplistic answers is not the solution to rebutting the claims of atheists or defending the richness of yahadut.

korban of a ben Noach - are mitzvos bnei noach issurei gavra

The gemara (Avodah Zarah 5b) derives from the pesukim describing the animals which Noach took on the ark that a ben Noach is prohibited from sacrificing an animal which is missing a limb. Tosfos asks why this should not count as an additional mitzvah in the count of the mitzvos applying to a bnei Noach, i.e. there should be 8 mitzvos bnei Noach, not 7. Tosfos answers that the 7 mitzvos are a count of issurim. The halacha of not offering an animal with a missing limb is a mitzvah is b’kum v’aseh – if a ben Noach wishes to donate a korban, we demand that he fulfill his pledge with a complete animal and not one missing limbs. R’ Akiva Eiger asks how this can be so. If a Jew pledges a korban, his words bind him to bring a kosher korban because of the issur of “bal yachel” and the mitzvah of “motza sefasecha tishmor”. However, these mitzvos do not apply to a ben Noach. If a ben Noach pledges a korban, what indeed is the mitzvah that would compel him b’kum v’aseh to fulfill his pledge?
With respect to Tosfos’ question (which I mentioned over lunch on Shabbos), my wife gets credit for the ingenious observation that the 7 mitzvos bnei Noach are issurei gavra on the person. The issur of offering a missing limb may be an issur cheftza which blocks the korban from being offered and hence is placed in a different category.

Friday, October 27, 2006

in defense of atheism (no, I have not gone insane)

"As to the essence of my argument, though, there was no credible counter-argument whatsoever, no claim that right and wrong can somehow have inherent meaning without recourse to Something Higher than ourselves." (Avi Shafran, here )
It is truly a shame that such spurious arguments are conjured up for the sake of defending religious faith, as they provide more fodder for those who are disbelievers. I often joke with my wife that I should attend some kiruv seminars to help argue the side of the skeptics. I think religious faith is fully reasonable (though perhaps neither empirically provable or demonstrable in the way a math equation is, as discussed in the past), but I cannot bear a sloppily reasoned thesis even in defense of a proper cause.
The notion that a theory of ethics presupposes religious faith is belied by opening any basic philosophy textbook. History is filled with theories of ethics that seek to define good vs. evil (and even those terms need to be made more precise - do we mean good character or good actions?) without resorting to religion. As early as Aristotle there was a concept of "virtue" in the sense of perfection of character, which has nothing to do with carrying out the moral imperatives of a deity. More modern thinkers argue in favor of consequentialist ethics, where good and evil is a matter of anticipating what will produce the best outcome for the individual or group. The man of faith may argue that this is not the same as "inherent" goodness, but that simply begs the question of how we know there is such a thing as inherent goodness in the first place. Even if one claims that ethics must resort to Something Higher, who says that Something must be a capitalized deity? If one defines ethics as that which helps mankind realize the greatest Freedom, the greatest degree of Rational Behavior, or some other grand higher Something, doesn't that also fit the bill?
To declare that atheism leads to "a place where the very concepts of morality and ethics are rendered meaningless, a worldview in which a thieving, philandering, serial murdering cannibal is no less commendable a member of the species than a selfless, hard-working philanthropist," is both wrong and poorly reasoned.
The Ishbitza in Mei haShiloach teaches that the keshes(bow) hidden in the clouds shown to Noach represents the strength to defend the convictions behind a person's hidden innermost beliefs (yirah). Arrows shot blindly from that keshes in defense of faith not only miss their intended mark, but rebound and cause even greater harm to that which lies close to our hearts.

placing oneself in a situation of 'b'dieved' or 'ones'

Returning to the Brisker Rav's chiddush that Adam did nothing wrong in covering himself once he became aware of his nakedness, but was responsible for creating the circumstance that led to that behavior, we find this idea reflected in two chiddushim of the Ba'al haMaor. 1) The gemara in Shabbos (19a) tells us that it is prohibited to embark on a sea journey within three days before Shabbos. The Ba’al haMaor writes that the reason for the prohibition is that the dangers of the voyage may lead to an emergency with recourse other than to violate shabbos. Once in a situation of life or death one is halachically justified in being mechalel Shabbos, but one must avoid creating such a circumstance where it could be avoided. 2) The Ba’al HaMaor writes that if the warm water needed to wash a baby post-milah spills on Shabbos before the bris is done, the bris is postponed. The Ramban disagrees, arguing that the Torah permits the act of bris milah on Shabbos, and once done, the child has a status of choleh which permits heating the water. The Ba’al HaMaor might hold here too that since the water can be prepared beforehand, one cannot knowingly create a situation that requires more chilul Shabbos than is necessary. These halachos have very real practical ramifications. What if one can choose to schedule elective surgery or a hospital stay so that it does not fall over Shabbos, thereby avoiding relying on heteirim of chilul Shabbos for a choleh? Can one volunteer for the Army without being drafted when one knows that such service will call for numerous kulos (this was asked to R' Soloveitchik)? I recently read on someone's blog (sorry, I forgot where) that various people were stuck driving late Friday in a snowstorm and were calling poskim for advice on what to do. One posek gave the instructions he felt appropriate, but noted that the people involved need to do a 'din v'cheshbon' on having gotten themselves into this situation. This is exactly the 'din v'cheshbon' the Brisker Rav referred to - 'din' to analyze the halachos that govern the situation, but 'cheshbon' on whether one bears culpability for creating that b'dieved circumstance to begin with.
(In actuality, the Ba’al haMaor’s position seems self contradictory, as the gemara in Shabbos 19 allows embarking on a boat trip for the purpose of a mitzvah despite the fact that it might lead to violating shabbos b’ones. If so, why for the sake of the mitzvah of milah should we not allow creating a situation that would warrant violating shabbos? See Perach Mateh Ahron (R’ Ahron Soloveitchik), Sefer Mada, p226.)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

highlights from previous R' Tzadok chaburah - this Friday @ 8:30 in 5T

Some highlights from last week's chaburah in R' Tzadok:
We began with the teaching of the Mei haShiloach (R' Tzadok's rebbe, the Ishbitza) on "VaYapel Elokim tardeima al haAdam", the deep sleep Hashem placed man into in order to create woman. The Ishbitza sees this state of "tardeima" as an existential condition; man lives in a state of unawareness to the true greatness of G-d that fills the universe. The Ishbitza explains that this state of spiritual sleep is to man's benefit. Were we fully attuned to G-d's presence we would be compelled to obey his command, but all spiritual benefit resulting from that obediance would be "nahama d'kisufa", unearned reward. Because man is asleep and unaware of G-d while in this world, he is granted the opporunity for choice and free will. (As an aside, the letters of the root of tardeima, R-D-M, can be rearranged to spell M-R-D, mered, the capacity to rebel.) This nefila, the fall into slumber, is ultimately l'tzorech aliya, for the positive good of coming to a self-awakening, a self-realization of G-d's presence, leading ultimately to the benefit of our rewards being earned. This introduction captures in a nutshell the essence of Ishbitz and R' Tzadok - the challenge to reveal light from darkness, to make the effrot to lift the veil from the world of tardeima and become more aware of the "true" reality of G-d's infinite presence.
R' Tzadok opens Kedushas Shabbos asking why the Torah prefaces every mention of Shabbos with the instruction to work for six days and then rest on the seventh - surely the mitzvah is observing the seventh day of rest, not the work of the six preceding days?! R' Tzadok's answer focuses on the description of man as "b'tzelem Elokim", created in G-d's image. G-d appears in Braishis in the role of Creator; man who is created in G-d's image is also endowed with the creative capacity to influence and change the world around him, which he does by exercising his free will. Just as G-d first engaged in six days of creation before arriving at the day of Shabbos, man as tzelem Elokim must first work and exercise his bechira through the six weekdays as prerequisite to experiencing the day of Shabbos. This is why in the Torah always forumulates the mitzvah of Shabbos in the context of "sheishes yamim ta'avod". Much like the Ishbitza's teaching that the existential state of tardeima calls on man to toil to come to G-d, R' Tzadok's sees the tzelem Elokim as calling man to avodah in order to come to the experience of yom haShabbos.
This week IY"H we will talk more about the avodah of the tzelem Elokim that leads to Shabbos, and specifically how and why talmud Torah may be the highest fulfillment of that role.
If you live in 5T, feel free to join us at 8:30, Tiferes Tzvi Yeshiva Minyan, 26 Columbia Ave. in Cedarhurst (time will change next weel after we move the clock).

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

creating a b'dieved - din v'cheshbon according to the brisker rav

Following their cheit, Adam and Chavah made "kosnos or" to wear to cover themselves. When Adam heard Hashem approaching he hid himself, claiming to Hashem that he was embarrassed because of his nakedness. Hashem rebukes Adam, asking, "Who told you you were naked...".
It seems, asks the Brisker Rav, that Hashem’s rebuke overlooks a major failing of Adam and instead opens by seizing on a minor point. Why does Hashem rebuke Adam for Adam’s feeling of embarrassment and overlook what seems the far more damning behavior of his ludicrously attempting to hide from G-d’s presence?
The gemara tells us (Brachos 24b) that if one is clothed from the waist down, one is permitted to recite kerias shema, but not tefila. Rashi explains: during tefila one is standing before the King, which obligates a more dignified mode of dress.
The Brisker Rav explained that Adam’s "kosnos or" sufficed as a covering when not in Hashem’s presence, but in the presence of the King himself, more significant dress was needed – Adam ran into hiding not to flee G-d, but to cover himself more fully as befits the King’s honor. Given the situation, Adam’s action was technically the best thing to do. However, Adam was still open to rebuke. Only ex post facto of eating the eitz hada’as and being aware of his nakedness could Adam come to such a halachic conclusion. Adam’s actions may have suited the circumstance, but, rebuked Hashem, Adam still bears the fault of creating those very circumstances by having eaten the eitz hada’as.
According to the Brisker Rav, this is the meaning of "din v'cheshbon" – “din" is judgment on whether our actions were appropriate to our circumstances – the b’dieved solution is often appropriate for the b’dieved circumstance we face; "cheshbon" is judgment on our responsibility for creating those less than ideal situations through our own choices. More on this to come, bl"n...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

conversation with a hippie - "the yalmukah"?

Last night on the subway I was asked by a hippie (beard, long hair in pony tail, T-shirt, baseball cap with slogan pins attached - does that qualify?) what's with all the people he now sees on the subway wearing "the yalmukah".
"They can't be real orthodox like I see on the street in Brooklyn because they don't have the uniform [i.e. black suit and hat]. What's up with a guy wearing a $1400 dollar suit and having a 48 cent bottlecap size thing bobby pinned to his half-bald head?".
B'zeh halashon, almost word for word.
I was too busy laughing in appreciation of the kashe to answer him before my stop.

missing the forest land for the trees - a difficult yerushalmi

The Yerushalmi (end of perek 1 of Bikkurim) discusses a machlokes Tana'im between the Chachamim and Rabbi Meir whether in a sale of trees the land they grow on is included or whether the land remains in the possession of the seller (this is also found in the Bavli in Baba Basra). Everyone agrees that the purchase of 3 or more trees includes land; however, the Chachamim hold that the sale of 2 trees (and R' Meir holds the same by the sale of 1 tree) is a safeik l'halacha. Therefore, according to the Yerushalmi, the purchaser of 2 trees is obligated to bring bikkurim, but cannot recite the parsha of bikkurim as he cannot properly refer to "admascha", his land, as the ownership status remains in question. Achronim are bothered by this halacha - why should we treat the ownership of land as a situation of "doubt" and force the buyer to bring bikkurim? The principle of chezkas marei kammah, the assumption that until proven otherwise properly remains the possession of its original owner, would seem to dictate that in any case of doubt, the land is assumed to be in the possession of the seller. The famous sugya in Bava Metziya 6 of “takfo kohein” teaches that since a kohein cannot "grab" a safeik bechor from its owner, the owner must treat that animal as his own and it is obligated in ma'aser beheima. In our case, if there is any obligation of bikkurim, it should rest on the seller who has a definite ownership stake until proven otherwise! The Ohr Sameiach (Bikkurim 2:13) is forced by this question to reinterpret the entire sugya. Without rehashing the intricate details, we actually touched on an approach to deal with this issue. While it is true that chezkas marei kammah resolves questions of safeik ownership, here the issue is not a classic safeik caused by a monetary dispute where Reuvain says X and Shimon argues Y. Here the halacha itself has created the safeik – it is a safeik in din, not a safeik in metziyus. And while the Ohr Sameich (consistant with what we noted previously in the Meshech Chochma!) does not distinguish, many achronim do argue that with respect to a safeik in din, chezkas marei kammah does not suffice as a resolution.
There is much written on this topic, especially notable being the shtickel in my brother-in-law’s sefer on Baba Basra, “Bigdei Sheish”, siman 27, which elaborates on R’ Shimon Shkop’s approach to the sugya. If you don’t have a copy, contact the author.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Richard Dawkins' “The God Delusion”

I have not yet read Richard Dawkins’ new book, “The God Delusion” (knowing my library, I will probably be waiting awhile until they get a copy, if they ever do), but this review in the London Review of Books (by Terry Eagleton no less) stands on its own as very worth reading, especially in light of the debates that have raged in the blogsphere about some of these same issues.

Friday, October 20, 2006

eitz hada'as - assur to eat or assur b'hana'ah?

The gemara (Pesachim 21b) quotes R' Abahu that any time the Torah says "lo yochal", "lo tochal", or "lo tochlu" the prohibition bans not just eating, but deriving any hana'ah (benefit) from the item. When Hashem declared with respect to the eitz hada'as, "lo tochal mimenu", it seems reasonable to assume that this issur also banned having any hana'ah from the tree! The Netziv extends this reasoning further to explain Chava'as thinking. We find by chameitz, which is assur b'hana'ah, that Chazal went so far as to prohibit even touching chameitz lest it be eaten (MG"A siman 612). Here too, Chavah extended the issur of "lo tochal" and told the nachash that she was barred from even touching the eitz hada'as. Of course, now that Chavah's logic is clarified, the question becomes where did she go wrong, but for that you will have to see the Netziv : )

why are women not obligated in peru u'revu?

Why is the mitzvah of pirya v'rivya, having children, commanded to men and not women? I heard an interesting explanation in the name of the Meshech Chochma to the effect that since childbirth inherently is dangerous, the Torah could not command women to enter into a sakanah. I am unable to understand this. The Minchas Chinuch writes that certain mitzvos inherently force a person to assume a high level of risk. The Torah commands the mitzvah of milchama, fighting a war, despite the inevitable loss of life. The mitzvah of milah is commanded despite the inevitable danger any surgerical procedure poses to an 8 day old child. So why would it be inconceivable for the Torah to command pirya v'rivya directly to women even considering the risk pregnancy poses to the mother's life?
I heard this explanation cited in the name of the Meshech Chochma, but was unable to find it. When I queried the person who said it over, he admitted to not being able to find it either, but had heard it from two Roshei Yeshiva who are reliable sources; however, one apparently also admitted that he had never found it inside himself.... so does anyone have a written source for this?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

For those in 5Towns - new chaburah starting this week!

For those who live in the 5 Towns (particularly Lawrence-Cedarhurst) and can fight off the Friday night slumber for a bit:

I am trying IY"H to start a new chaburah to learn R' Tzadok haKohein, focussing on the Sefer Kedushas Shabbos as well as insights into the parsha from the writings of R' Tzadok and the Ishbitza.

Time: Friday night, starting this week @ 8:30 (will vary by week)
Place: Tifereth Zvi Beis Medrash, 26 Columbia Ave.
More info: please e-mail me or drop a comment here

"Matana tova yesh li b'beis ginzi, v'Shabbos shema, v'ani mevakesh litna l'Yisrael" - "I have a great gift in my storehouse and its name is Shabbos; I wish to give it to the Jewish people." What is the nature of this great gift? ...The meaning is as stated, "The Jewish people shall keep the Shabbos to make the Shabbos", meaning that G-d has given the Jewish people the power to invest sanctity into the day…above and beyond that which is already inherent in it. This is how "to make the Shabbos" and is the great gift given to the Jewish people. (R' Tzadok haKohein, Pri Tzadik, Braishis, 9)

using stolen goods for a mitzvah - mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira (II)

Returning to the machlokes Rabeinu Tam and R"I whether a thief who now owns stolen goods because the original owner had yeiush can use them for a mitzvah, the simplest explanation of the debate is whether the problem of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira is dependent on dinei mamomos kinyanim or is an issur v'heter issue that disqualifies the object because of its having been stolen irrespective of the thief's current dinei mamonos status as owner. In the Reshimos Shiurim (collected from the Shiurim of R' Soloveitchik) on Sukkah 30 an additional interesting hesber is offered. Rabeinu Tam as quoted in the Sefer haYashar seems to limit the disqualification of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira specifically to lulav and korban. If mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira is a psul in the mitzvah object, why is this disqualification limited to just these two cases? The Rav therefore suggested that mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira here is not a psul in the cheftza shel mitzvah, the object per se, but a psul in the criteria of 'lachem', ownership, which the mitzvos of korban and esrog specifically mandate. Even if a thief has kinyanei gezeilah and now owns the stolen goods, this level of ownership attained via crime is insufficient to meet the criteria of lachem which the Torah demands. Based on this approach, one can also answer Tosfos’ question (Sukkah 9) on why a separate pasuk of ‘lecha’ is needed to disqualify a stolen sukkah and the rule of mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira is insufficient (see Daf Notes here). Without the extra pasuk, yeiush and other kinyanim which transfer ownership to the thief would allow him to use a stolen sukkah; however, based on the criteria of ‘lecha’, similar to lulav and korban, such a sukkah would be disqualified.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira and kinyanei yeiush

The Mishna in Bikkurim says that a thief cannot bring bikkurim because he does not own the land upon which the bikkurim grew. The Yerushalmi (Bikkurim daf 2 - coming up in a few days in yerushalmi yomi) raises a safeik whether a thief who steals a plant and replants it in his own soil would then be obligated to bring bikkurim. Unlike land, which is not portable and cannot really be stolen from its owner's possession, a thief can be koneh a plant and would be obligated to simply make monetary restitution to the original owner. Since the thief is koneh the plant, why might he not be obligated to bring bikkurim? The gemara explains the safeik is whether we compare bikkurim to korbanos (bikkurim, like korbanos, must be brough to the mikdash), which are invalid even if the thief is koneh the animal. The Ridba"z notes that this gemara serves as a incontrovertable proof to one side in in a major machlokes Rishonim.
The gemara in Bava Kamma 67 quotes Ula as holding that yeiush, the abandonment of hope of recovery by the original owner of stolen goods, is not koneh - a thief who steals a korban may not bring it as an offering even after its owner abandons hope of recovery. Yet, in Bava Kamma 114, Ula himself seems to hold that once yeiush occurs a thief is considered the owner of stolen goods (he must, however, compensate the original owner). Is yeiush koneh or is it not koneh? Tosfos quotes a machlokes: R"I held that yeiush is not koneh, and in the kinyan of the latter case is due to other factors being present (yeiush+shinuy hashem). Rabeinu Tam, however, held that yeiush really is koneh. Nonetheless, even if a thief has a valid kinyan in an animal, Ula in BK 67 is mechadesh that the animal is still disqualified from being offered as a korban because of the principle of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira, i.e. a mitzvah (like offering a korban) may not be done via improper means (theft).
In our case in Bikkurim, it is clear from the gemara that if bikkurim is treated as a korban, even if the thief has a kinyan in the object, it is disqualified from being used for mitzvah performance, supporting the opinion of Rabeinu Tam.
What exactly is the point of dispute between the R"I and Rabeinu Tam? Stay tuned... (bl"n)

Monday, October 16, 2006

mourning for moshe rabeinu's death - amazing chasam sofer

Having had a few vacation days stored up (I think that happened because of yamim tovim falling on weekends), I decided to just take off all of chol hamoed this year, which I have not done in a long time. It was fanatstic to just spend a week enjoying Yom Tov - hope you all had an enjoyable chag as well. The chol hamoed trip itinerary included standard classics like the Bronx Zoo and AdventureLand (those who send kids to TAG and live in the Far Rockaway-5T area are I am sure familiar with this one) as well as some others.
Before starting Braishis, I can't resist writing over one of my favorite vortlach of the Chasam Sofer that appears at the end of Zos haBracha. The parsha tells us that Bnei Yisrael cried for Moshe's death for 30 days, "vayitmu y'mei b'chei eivel Moshe", the days of Moshe's mourning ended. "V'yehoshua bin Nun malei ruch chochma ki samach Moshe yadav alav...", Yehoshua was filled with wisdom because Moshe had placed his hands upon him. The clause telling us that the crying for Moshe's death ceased seems unnecessary, as it is implicit in the initial statement that Bnei Yisrael cried for 30 days. Also, the description of Yehoshua's possessing wisdom because of his relationship to Moshe seems to have nothing to do with the description of the mourning which preceded it and might have been written at an earlier point in the narrative.
Chasam Sofer explains that both pesukim together describe the mourning for Moshe Rabeinu, as there were two aspects to the aveilus. The immediate response to Moshe's death was crying for the loss. After 30 days, "vaYitmu ymei b'chei eivel Moshe", this period of crying for Moshe's death drew to a close, but that was not the end of the mourning. When the great wisdom Yehoshua attained as a result of having drawn close to Moshe Rabeinu, "ki samach yadav alav", became apparent, people realized that they too had had the same opportunity to draw close to Moshe Rabeinu - they too could have been the one to stay close to their Rebbe's tent and learn more Torah from him, or to be mishamesh him; they too could have become like Yehoshua and been filled with chochma gleaned from their rebbe Moshe had they only seized the opportunity. Now with Moshe gone, they cried not just for the loss of Moshe the Navi and leader, but they also mourned their own failure to seize the opportunity to grow in learning and wisdom while Moshe Rabeinu had been accessible.

Friday, October 06, 2006

the existential sukkah

“v’Ya’akov nasa Sukkosa, vayiven lo bayit, ulmikneyhu asah sukkot” (Braishis 33:17)

Sifrei machshava are filled with ruminations on the significance of this first mention of sukkah in the Torah leaving me little to add other than how I've digested some of it. Why mention the building of a home here - obviously Ya'akov needed a home wherever he camped? And why the mention of making a special place for the cattle? Was there some significance to the home-building of Ya'akov in this context that warranted being highlighted? I think my understanding of sukkah in this context began to make sense when I thought about it in light of the unfortunate circumstance of my neighbor who had a fire in his home. For a few months he has been living in an apartment while the fire damage is repaired, yet he has his mail delivered to his regular home address, his phone rings there and is forwarded to his apartment, and for all intents and purposes when he says “home” he means his house address, not the apartment he has been eating and sleeping in. My neighbor’s plight can serve as a mashal on a number of levels, as it highlights the distinction between how temporary circumstance may force us to adopt a role, a “diras arayei”, a temporary place to live, vs. the core of how we define ourselves, our “diras keva”, our "home address". “VaYiven LO bayis” indicates that Ya’akov, after being forced to deal with the “other”, Eisav, the forces "out there" in the world, carved within himself (see Mei haShiloach) a core of belief that stood as his bedrock existential “home” apart from the swirling challenges around him. Everything outside that bedrock, all property and possessions, “mikneihu”, ultimately was relegated to “sukkot”, a temporary address of the moment, but not part of the definition of “home”. It is impossible to confront the challenges of everything "out there" in the world that, like Eisav, challenge who we are and how we define ourselves, without first building for ourselves our own private retreat of a "bayis", an address we know is home, someplace that we will never confuse with the sukkot, the temporary roles, jobs, and possessions of circumstance that come our way. I find that my day missing something if I do not get to leave my desk to go out at lunchtime and do some learning and catch mincha – I am trapped in my "sukkah" and miss that sliver of time that is my “bayis”. After R”H and Yom Kippur are over, we get a chance to fix our address for the year – is the harvest of olam hazeh just a sukkah of temporary existance, or is that who we really are and the Ymei haDin was just a passing moment of inspiration?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

more on u'lkachtem

The gemara (sukkah 41b) darshens from the world “U’lkachtem” (plural) that each individual must do his own act of netilas lulav. The Kapos Temarim asks why this limud is necessary – just as one cannot appoint a shliach to put on tefillin on one’s behalf (see Ketzos at the beginning of Hil Shlichus citing Tos. Ri”d), so too, the taking of lulav must be done by each individual and is automatically excluded from shlichus. The Aruch laNer writes that without an explicit limud we might have thought lulav is a chovas hatzibur and one netila might suffice on everyone’s behalf without the mechanism of shlichus, similar to a korban tzibur. I thought perhaps one might suggest (b’dochak) an answer based on the Gilyon’s chiddush (see yesterday’s post here) that u’lkachtem obligates purchasing the lulav and esrog. Perhaps (and I have never seen anyone suggest it) based on this Yerushalmi we can explain the derasha of lekicha al yedei ko echad v’echad to mean that each person must not only do his own netila (which would otherwise obviously be excluded from shlichus), but must have purchased the lulav himself as well. One other idea that occurred to me would be that the limud comes to tell us that the ma’aseh of picking up the lulav and not just the chalos of holding it in one’s hands is the mitzvah – this would suggest that if a friend picked up the lulav and tossed it into one’s waiting arms (so that one did not actually do a netila) perhaps the mitzvah has not been fully fulfilled (which I have also not seen anyone say). On a final note on the Gilyon’s understanding of the Yerushalmi that u’lkachtem obligates buying a lulav, it is tempting to relate the issue to the machlokes Maharasha”l and SA whether actually buying the lulav for a katan is part of the mitzvah of chinuch or just providing him with a lulav to use is sufficient without needing to purchase an extra one.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


I am contemplating what to do with this blog after Yom Tov. Around the Yamim Tovim the posts naturally focus on inyana d’yoma, and during the rest of the year there are always sugyos that come up in the parsha and other tidbits, but I think I am missing something by not having a particular kavua focus. Since I am not learning daf yomi and other sites do that well already (e.g. dafnotes, linked to on the side), that’s not for me. Unfortunately my workplace is relocating as well, adding to my daily commute and give me even less time to devote to this. Feel free to chime in with any suggestions. Some tentative thoughts: focus on Minchas Chinuch or some other sugya based sefer; focus on an area of halacha; focus on parshiyos in chumash (harder for me to make time to do).

"u'lkachtem lachem" according to the Yerushalmi

The Yerushalmi (Orlah 2) discusses whether an esrog tree which is grown l'shem mitzvah is included in the issur of orlah or not. Asks the gemara, just like an esrog of ma'aser sheni is excluded by the pasuk of u'lkachtem lachem from being used on sukkot, so too esrog shel mitzvah should be excluded from the chiyuv orlah from the pasuk areilim y'heyu lachem! Answers the gemara: the pasuk of u'lkachtem teaches that a kinyan damim is required on an esrog - it must be purchased - and ma'aser sheni is not something that is bought and sold, but the pasuk of areilim y'heyu lachem applies m'meila to any fruit. The implication of the sugya is that not only must a lulav and esrog be owned because of the word "lachem", yours, but an act of kinyan to acquire the lulav and esrog must be performed to fulfill "u'lkachtem". The Gilyon points to the R' Avigdor Kohein we saw yesterday as a source for such a reading. I do not see how you can glean that from the snippet cited by the Ketzos, and have not gotten a Shu"t haRosh to see it inside to confirm. Be that as it may, the idea is striking - can it really be that if you own your esrog but have not purchased it, e.g. it was given to you as a gift or you grew it in your backyward, that you would not fulfill the mitzvah because you failed to fulfill u'lkachtem? And if the pasuk simply means that where the lulav is not yours a full kinyan is required to acquire it (as opposed to growing your own where it is yours to begin with), why do we need u'lkachtem when we have the word lachem? Last night I found that the Dvar Avraham (II:12) addresses this issue and writes that the Yerushalmi cannot mean an esrog must literally be purchased. Rather, what it means is that the cheftza has a monetary value as something you would purchase - compare Sukkah 35 in the Bavli.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

giving a lulav through matanah al menas l'hachzir

The Rosh writes that if one gives a lulav to someone as a matanah al menas l'hachzir (a sale contigent upon the object being returned), the receiver must be makneh the lulav back to its original owner in a formal act of kinyan. Matanah al menas l'hachzir means (according to the Rosh) that the original owner retains absolutely no rights to the object and therefore he must re-acquire it when its term of use expires. One cannot have a kinyan haguf l'zman - if one transfers just the right to use the lulav temporarily, writes the Rosh, this is not the same as ownership, but falls into the category of shaul, a borrowed lulav. The Rosh cites proof to his position from the gemara which teaches that a lulav should not be given to a child on the first day of Sukkos before being yotzei because the child cannot be makneh the lulav back to its original owner (see last week's posts). The Ketzos (siman 241) disagrees and writes that the mechanism of matanah al menas l'hachzir does not require that the original make a new kinyan to re-aquire his lulav. The gemara that teaches to avoid giving a lulav to a child is addressing the specific case where the owner has specified that he transfers the lulav completely to the child, but in general, matanah al menas l'hachzir is permissable with a minor. Aware that his position contradicts the Rosh and Ritva, the Ketzos cites R' Avigdor Kohein (quoted in Shu'T Rosh #35) who holds that a kinyan made for a specific duration of time (kinyan haguf l'zman) is considered a full kinyan and not called shaul, yet once the term of kinyan expires the object automatically reverts back to its original owner. I believe this is the same opinion of R' Avigdor that those learning the daf Yerushalmi saw referenced by the gilyon on daf 2 of Orlah, but maybe more on that later.

post yom kippur thoughts

R’ Nachman writes (Likutei Mohara”n 157) that if one cleaves to the words of Torah spoken by a tzadik, he is amazed if one can still have any tolerance or desire for this world.
If truly appreciating the Torah of a tzadik radically alters one’s life perspective so that the trivialities of this world become intolerable, is it not a kal v’chomer that if one appreciates the experience of “lifnei Hashem titahru”, what Yom Kippur means, then waking up the next morning to return to the same job by the same desk is almost an intolerable burden?
As R’ Tzadok haKohein (Pri Tzadik, Motzei Y”K, #11) asks, how can we make a seudas melaveh malkah at the close of Shabbos or a seudas mitzva at the close of Yom Kippur – leaving Shabbos or leaving the day of Y"K is a fall from “igra ramah l’beira amikta”, from the greatest heights to the deepest depths, so how can one eat b’simcha at this time?! I am still more bothered by the kashe than satisfied by any of the teirutzim offered.