Friday, June 30, 2006

Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi - but not ben Ya'akov

Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi…
Asks Rashi: why stop at Levi and not trace Korach’s yichus right up to Ya’akov Avinu? The Midrash answers that Ya’akov foresaw the rebellion of Korach and davened that his name not be associated with an evildoer.
The Questions: (1) Even if Ya’akov’s name is not mentioned, we all know that he is the great-great-grandfather of Korach, so what is the gained by the omission? (2) The implication of the Rashi is that had Ya’akov not davened, his name would have been recorded as part of the yichus. If there is a negative connotation to being mentioned in the yichus of a rasha, then even without his tefila, why should Ya’akov be mentioned? (3) And if there is a negative connotation, why does the Torah name Yitzhar, Kehas, and even Levi?
The Radomsker’s approach here is a delight (if you want to see it inside, it’s not on Korach, but on P’ Nitzavim, in the middle of the Rosh haShana derasha). He quotes the SHL”AH haKadosh who explains that the pasuk “v’zacharti es brisi Ya’akov v’af es brisi Yitzchak v’af es brisi Avraham’ is part of the tochacha itself and not a consolation. Davka because we are a ‘ben tovim’, a descendent of such fine forefathers who were role models of avodas Hashem, are we that much more culpable for failing to live up to their example. Here too, the Torah records Korach’s yichus not simply to identify him by lineage, but to reinforce his culpability. This was not some ordinary guy starting a rebellion, but this is “ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi”, a person who had such illustrious role models, yet who failed to absorb their teachings. Rashi’s question – if the Torah comes to condemn Korach as a rasha for failing despite such great yichus, why not put the final nail in the coffin and trace his lineage even back to Ya’akov Avinu!? To which the Midrash answers, although Ya’akov foresaw the evil of Korach, he davened that his name should not be used as a tool to prosecute even such a rasha.
(I have a neighbor who bought a Tiferes Shlomo because he knows I love it and my chavrusa has learned it as well; he read one mystical piece and threw in the towel. The key is to start with the pieces like this one!)

bikur cholim (II)

Yesterday I left off with the question of the shita mekubetzet: why is it that by hashavas aveida there is a ptur of ‘zakein v’aino l’fi kevodo’, i.e. the mitzvah is pre-empted by the kavod habriyos concern of an elderly person not debasing him/herself, yet by bikur cholim we find that the mitzvah obligates even a gadol visiting someone beneath him? If one adopts the gemara in sota 14 as the source for bikur cholim, placing it in the context of ‘v’halachta b’derachav’, the obligation to imitate Hashem’s actions, the question is resolved. No one can be greater than Hashem, yet we see that Hashem put aside his kavod and came to visit Avraham after his bris. The assumption of this answer is that v’halachta b’derachav’ is not only the source of the obligation of bikur cholim, but teaches its parameters as well. However, if the source of bikur cholim is as extension of ‘v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha’ (as the Rambam Aveil 14:2 writes), then how does one answer the question? Perhaps one can distinguish between the relative value of an object viz. a viz. a person’s honor and the relative value of one human being vs. another person’s honor. I was thinking one could sharpen this idea using a little lomdus: the Torah does not obligate performing hashavas aveida on every stray object encountered. For example, if the object has been purposely placed in a location (hinuach), that is not considered an aveida that needs returning. Perhaps the ‘ptur of zakein v’aino l’fi kevodo’is not a ptur on the gavra, but a statement that an object which causes a sacrifice of kavod to return is not a cheftza which is mechayeiv hashavas aveida. But by bikur cholim, there are no dinim as to the definition of a choleh, so the ptur cannot apply.
One other note on the source for bikur cholim: the gemara in Nedarim 39 used the phrase ‘remez l’bikur cholim’, presenting the pasuk as a ‘hint’ to the idea. The Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos shoresh 3 writes with respect to stealing a kli shareis (‘koneiv es hakisva’) that the term remez indicates something is not implicit in the pasuk itself and is an asmachta b’alma. The Ramban (p. 70 in standard edition) compiles a long list of places where the term ‘remez’ is used to refer to a din d’oraysa. (Those who have learned Makkos may recall the line on the first daf ‘remez l’eidim zomimin min hatorah…’). As noted yesterday, the Rambam holds that the specific mitzvah of bikur cholim is a derabbanan institution as a means to achieve a kiyum d’oraysa of v’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha (see Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mari vol I p. 57).
I recall hearing from R’ Y. Sacks (I think in the name of the Rav) that the parameters of chessed are not taught from a text, but are learned and inculcated by observing role models of proper behavior. We derive the idea of bikur cholim not from derashos or pesukim, but from the act of Hashem himself in visiting Avraham Avinu. It is our behavior more than our words which will impress the lesson of chessed upon our children and others.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

the situation in Israel

I have nothing to add to what you have undoubtedly read elsewhere about the situation in Israel, but do not want anyone to misconstrue silence as disinterest. I do not understand why here in chutz la’aretz there seems to be no sense of urgency about the situation and no vocal show of solidarity with the State. I usually daven shacharis in what could be described as a shule supportive of the State, which makes it a point of reciting hallel on yom ha'atzmaut, yet with soldiers poised to enter Gaza, with lives hanging in the balance, no one thought to say some extra tehillim after davening, no one called for extra limud haTorah, life goes on business as usual. Are you yotzei with hallel once a year and an orange ribbon!? Am Yisrael desperately needs leadership with courage, vision, and moral backbone to direct us in these difficult times, but no one seems to be able to step up to provide the needed inspiration. If you can, take a moment to reflect on the situation and maybe direct a tefilah or zechus of limud hatorah l’shem those living in and defending Eretz Yisrael. Every drop of chizuk counts.

education and learning - the Telzer derech

Just want to direct your attention to a true story posted by my wife on the attitude in the Telzer yeshiva (the Lithuanian one of old, not the Riverdale or Cleveland present day incarnations) toward secular education. This is not a second hand gadol story – the protagonist is my wife’s grandfather who learned in Telz and went on to be a Rav in Switzerland and Canada. My wife has done a string of postings on college education worth reading - she can share the perspective of having taught college and grad level courses as well as having been a student – I can’t. Should bnei Torah aspire to become ‘educated’ (however you define that), or just get a degree for better ‘parnasa’? Should we sanction cutting every corner possible to get that degree, or do we have a responsibility to ensure young men/women are educated human beings as well as talmidei chachamim or bnos torah? Check her blog for more thoughts. Maybe I’ll write about it another time.

parshas korach and the source for bikkur cholim

The gemara Nedarim 39 cites a “remez” from the pasuk in our parsha ‘Im k'mos kol adam y’musun eileh u’pekudas kola dam yipakeid aleihem…’ (16:29) that there is an obligation to be ‘pokeid’ and visit the sick. Interestingly, there are two other gemaras that point to completely different sources for the mitzvah of bikur cholim:
1) Sota 14 cites ‘achrei Hashem Elokeichem teileichu’, the obligation to imitate the middot of Hashem, as including bikur cholim – just as Hashem visited Avraham during his post-milah illness, so too we should visit the sick;
2) Bava Metziya 30b cites a derasha on ‘v’hodata lahem es haderech asher yeilchu bah’ to include various mitzvos such as gemilus chessed, bikur cholim, etc.
The multiplicity of sources for bikur cholim may be why the Rambam categorizes it under multiple mitzvos. In Sefer HaMitzvos Aseh 8 the Rambam quotes the gemara in Sota in the context of explaining the parameters of the mitzvah of ‘v’halachta b’derachav’, imitating Hashem’s middot. Yet earlier in Sefer haMitzvos, Shoresh 2, the Rambam illustrates the principle that derashos should not be counted as separate mitzvos by citing Bava Metziya as an example of multiple items all included under one mitzvah of ‘v’ahavta l’reacha kamocha’ (see also Ramban, Shoresh Rishon, p 22 in the standard text). Unlike the BH”G who counted bikur cholim as an independent mitzvah, the Rambam (Aveil 14:2) calls bikur cholim a ‘mitzvah m’divreihem’, implying it is only a chiyuv derabbanan, but adds that it and other chassadim are included in ‘v’ahavta l’reicha kamoch’ - apparently the Rambam’s held bikur cholim is a takanah derabbanan through which one achieves a kiyum d’oraysa of v’ahavta l’reicha kamocha.
The obvious question is whether there is any nafka mina between categorizing bikur cholim as a mitvah of v’halachta b’derachav or a mitzvah of v’ahavta l’reicha kamocha or an independent mitzvah. I don’t have answers myself yet on this one, but will point out a kasha of the shita mekubetzet (nedarim 39) which may hinge on this issue. The shita asks why is it that by bikur cholim the obligation is even for a gadol to visit a katan, despite it being beneath the gadol’s dignity, yet by the mitzvah of hashavas aveida we learn (B.M. 30) that a zakein is patur from a mitzvas aseh which is ‘aino l’fi kevodo’, which involves a diminution of his honor to perform? I'll give you time to mull it over yourself… to be continued.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Off topic post: what do you like to read?

Totally non-Torah post, with apologies for the digression (I'm allowed one of these every one in awhile when I get tired, so bear with me): my wife discovered a new book club forming in the jblogsphere, and without her prodding the group chose to read one of her favorite novels, Villette, by Charlotte Bronte (my wife’s dissertation focusses on the work of Bronte). I’ve read this one myself and it is not light – far more complex than Jane Eyre, which is a high school standard. Now, my wife’s club consists of all females reading a female author, which got me curious as to what books people out there who read my blog (which I do not think attracts any female readers, at least none who have ever offered a comment) like to read. Yes, I’m a bit jealous that she is part of a book club and I'm not, but I’m not starting one here - just curious as to what people’s tastes are. When I mentioned Paul Revere’s Ride by David Hackett Fischer a few weeks ago and compared Fischer to David McCullough someone took umbrage, so I know there must be at least one history buff out there, but what else? Fiction or non-fiction? Escapism or serious reading? Do you read a single book start to finish, or work through multiple titles at the same time (my wife insists on the former, while I do the latter much to her consternation). I admit to being an avid reader with very eclectic tastes, but I guess I should be fair and answer my own question with a title or two. I’ll stick to fiction for now and highlight two authors who are favorites, and that should give you an inkling as to my taste: first is Umberto Eco, particularly for The Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, and second, Robertson Davies, for The Deptford Trilogy and for The Cornish Trilogy, the best of which is the middle volume, What’s Bred in the Bone. I am willing to bet many of you have read or at least heard of Eco, yet far fewer have read or even heard of Davies. If anyone claims they have actually read anything by James Joyce or have completed Thomas Pynchon’s Gravitys' Rainbow and are telling the truth, I tip my hat to you. And if you have no idea who any of these people are and your favorite book is Talmud Bavli by Ravina and Rav Ashi, I also tip my hat to you for other reasons : )
More lomdus tomorrow bl"n!

shiur of challah vs reishis hageiz - R' Chaim Brisker (II)

We asked yesterday, why is it that shutafim who jointly own a total shiur of 43 1/5 beitzim of dough (same as an individual) are chayavim in hafrashas challah, but shutafim who jointly own 5 sheep are not chayav in reishis hageiz? Why according to the Rambam does the chiyuv of resihis hageiz require 5 sheep per owner and not 5 sheep b’shutfus in total?
Bill Selliger nailed this one in the comments, so this is just a recap. R' Chaim uses a classic Brisker gavra/cheftza split on this one. The shiur of 43 1/5 beitzim measures a cheftza shel issur; as long as the proper volume of dough is present, even if owned in partnership, the issur of tevel applies until hafrashas challah occurs. However, with respect to reishis hageiz, the mitzvah obligates giving a portion of wool to the kohein but does not create any issur on the shearing. The shiur of 5 sheep is not a measure of a cheftza shel issur, but a measure of who is a bar chaiyuva in giving wool. Since owning 5 sheep b’shutfus is not the same as exclusive possession of 5 sheep, the Rambam paskens that unless each partner individually possess 5 sheep he is not a bar chiyuva.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

shutfus by challah vs. reishis hageiz - r' chaim brisker

The Rambam paskens (Bikkurim 10:14) that if partners own a flock of 5 sheep b’shutfus, they are patur from reishis hageiz, but if the flock contains 10 sheep, the two partners are chayavim. The Minchas Chinuch writes that the Rambam paskens like R’ Ilayei, that shutafim are pturim from reishis hageiz - 5 sheep owned by two partners means each one individually lacks the necessary shiur to fulfill the mitzvah. Where there are enough sheep so each partner independently can be said to own a sufficient shiur to be chayav (e.g. 10 sheep), the Rambam ignores the ptur of shutfus and writes that each partner is indeed chayav. R’ Chaim Brisker disagrees, and points out that the gemara applies the machlokes R”I and the Chachamim to terumah, where there is no minimum shiur required. No matter what quantity of tevel is owned it is chayav in terumah, yet R' Ilayei still holds shutafim would be exempt! One is forced to say that the exemption of shutfus is based on it being a qualitatively different type of ownership and excluded from the mitzvah, not simply based on each partner's share being less than the necessary shiur to be chayav. Even if there are 10 sheep in a flock, R’ Ilayei would hold shutafim are pturim, while the Chachaim, like whom the Rambam paskens, hold the shutafim are chayav. However, according to this approach, we are left with a question on the Rambam. By challah (to come back to another topic of late!) the Rambam paskens (Bikkurim 6:4) shutafim are chayavim if the total amount of dough owned is 43 1/5 beitzim, the same shiur that applies to an individual owner. By reishis hageiz, however, the Rambam paskens a flock of 5 sheep is not chayav – the chiyuv applies only if there are 5 sheep per owner. If 43 1/5 beitzim in total owned by shutafim is chayav in challah, why should 5 sheep in total not be chayav in reishis hageiz?
This is a warm up to get the gavra/cheftza juices flowing… if you’ve heard a few R’ Chaim’s, you should be able to get this one.

chakira in how shutfus works as a ptur from certain mitzvos

I want to get back on track with some more lomdus. The ambiguity over whether kesivas sefer torah can be fulfilled b’shutfus (see previous posts) is created in part because the topic is not addressed by the sugya in Chullin 135. The gemara cites a dispute between R’ Ilayei and the Chachamim whether shutafim (partners) are obligated in the mitzvah of reishis hageiz, donating the first shearings of sheep to a kohein, and debates whether the dispute is local to reishis hageiz or applies to other mitzvos as well, i.e. are shutafim obligated in terumah, challah, mezuzah, tzitzis, etc., to give a few examples mentioned in the sugya. Where two partners own a flock of five sheep (the minimum shiur for reishis hageiz), one can understand the debate between R’ Ilayei and the Chachamim in two different ways: 1) the focus of debate is whether each partner is viewed as the owner of all five sheep owned, meeting the shiur to be chayav, or is each partner considered the owner of only two and a half sheep, less than the shiur; 2) each partner is considered to own the minimum quantity of five sheep necessary to be chayav, but the debate is whether ‘coroporate’/shutfus ownership is considered qualitatively different than personal ownership and does not create an obligation in the mitzvah. The first approach sees the issue of shutfus purely in quantitative terms, the debate focussing on how much is owned by each party; the second approach focuses on the qualitative difference between shutfus and other forms of ownership irrespective of the amount owned between the partners. To be continued...

Monday, June 26, 2006

kesivas sefer torah - purchasing seforim to fulfill the mitzvah

The achronim (see Sha'agas Arye) question the Rosh's assertion that in our times one can fulfill the mitzvah of kesivas sefer torah through the purchase of seforim. Although the reason behind the mitzvah may be to insure that there are texts available to learn from, the majority of views in chazal hold that the reason for a mitzvah does not determine the parameters of the din, but just adds to our hashkafa. Furthermore, if the purpose of writing a sefer is simply a means to limud haTorah, why is one not yotzei with a sefer that was inherited or written for someone else? The Aruch haShulchan proposes a novel reading of the gemara in Sanhedrin 21 we quoted last week in the discussion of shutfus to address this question. Rava darshens 'kisvu lachem' to teach that one must write one's own sefer and is not yotzei with an inherited sefer. Implicit in Rava's statement are two presumptions: 1) there is a mitzvah incumbent on each individual to write a sefer; 2) the sefer must be written exclusively for each person who wishes to be yotzei. Abaye challenged Rava from a braysa which darshens that only a king must use a sefer written exclusively for himself, to which the gemara answers that Abaye's din refers to the second sefer of the melech. The simple reading of the gemara is that Abaye was challenging only the second presumption of Rava as not applying to a hedyot. However, the A.H. suggests that Abaye was challenging both presumptions - Abaye held a hedyot was not obligated at all to write a sefer! The gemara's answer only defends Rava's first assertion about the mitzvah being incumbent on all, but abandons Rava's second assertion that one is not yotzei with an inherited sefer. Therfore, the Rosh held that one indeed would be yotzei with a sefer written for someone else and inherited, in consonance with the idea that the purpose of the mitzva is simply to have seforim to learn from.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Kesivas sefer torah b'shutfus (II) and challah

The mitzva of writing a sefer torah is derived from the pasuk 'kisvu lachem es hashira hazos'. We raised the issue whether the plural 'lachem' in the pasuk can include a sefer jointly owned and written by a partnership, a shutfus. Rava (Sanhedrin 21b) darshens 'kisvu lachem' to teach that a sefer torah must be written for oneself - one is not yotzei by yarshening or buying a sefer written for someone else. Abaye challenged Rava from a braysa which darshens 'v'kasav lo' in the parsha of melech to teach that a king must use a sefer written exclusively for himself - the implication is that everyone else can be yotzei with a sefer written for others. The gemara resolved the issue by saying both halachos are true - Rava's derasha applies to a regular sefer, but we need the braysa's derashsa for to teach us the halacha for the second sefer a melech is obligatedd to write. If writing a sefer b'shutfus is acceptable, why could the gemara not answer that the extra limud by a king comes to exclude shutfus?
Appropos of parshas hashavua, the Ohr Sameiach uses an analogy to challah to address this proof. Dough jointly owned by a yisrael and aku"m is patur from hafrashas challah - the aku"m is not just personally exempt from the mitzvah, but his ownership causes even the portion of dough owned by the yisrael to be exempt. If a king were a shutaf with a yisrael is writing a sefer, the yisrael could not make use of the sefer to learn from because a king's property cannot be used by a hedyot. Since the yisrael fails to fulfill his obligation of writing a sefer with this shutfus (because the entire toeles of the mitzvah is to have a sefer one can use for learning), even without the pasuk of 'v'kasav lo' it is understood that the king is not yotzei b'shutfus, just like a yisrael cannot be obligated in challah if half his dough is owned by someone who has no kiyum mitzva of challah.
Is this analogy to challah convincing? A yisrael is a bar chiyuva in the miztva of kesivas sefer torah, but is precluded from using the sefer for a side reason having to do with hilchos melachim; an aku"m is not a bar chiyuva in challah. I need to mull this one over...

The Maggid Meisharim's teaching on Shlach - love of Eretz Yisrael can overcome the darkest gezeirah

The Magid Meisharim, a collection of torah taught to the Bais Yosef by a malach (yes, I wrote that just to annoy pure rationalists), highlights three difficulties in the episode of the meraglim: 1) “Shlach” presents the idea of meraglim as an initiative of Moshe taken al pi Hashem, while the story as presented in Sefer Devarim sounds like Bnei Yisrael took the initiative in approaching Moshe and demanding the mergalim be sent (see Josh Waxman's post); 2) How could Moshe have sent spies to determine whether Eretz Yisrael is ‘ha-shemeina hi im raza’, is it fertile or not, when Moshe knew that Eretz Yisrael is ‘zvas chalav u’devash’ and under constant supervision by Hashem? 3) Moshe sent the spies to determine “if” the land was beautiful and easily conquered, implying there was a choice whether or not to go there. Moshe knew that Bnei Yisrael were destined to enter Eretz Yisrael – how could he have presented this as a matter of choice?
The Maggid explained to the Bais Yosef that because of the complaints of Bnei Yisrael there already was a decree over that generation not to merit entering the land. Despite the fact that they were not worthy, Hashem provided one last opportunity for the people to merit Eretz Yisrael – if they could prove their love for the land and desire to go there, the decree would be annulled. The episode of the spies was the final chance. Moshe was instructed “shlach”, give in to the people’s desire to send spies, encourage the spies to report on the land and its beauty, let the people start planning the conquest of the land, let them choose of their own volition to enter Eretz Yisrael, and in the merit of that great yearning, despite their many chataim, the gezeirah would be overturned and they would indeed merit entering the land. Tragically, even this final opportunity resulted in failure.
The sefer Eim HaBanim Smeicha quotes this teaching of the Magid Meisharim and adds the obvious mussar haskel. Our love and yearning for Eretz Yisrael has the power to overcome any chataim and gezeiros that may hang over our nation; if we truly desire Eretz Yisrael, Hashem will provide the opportunity for it to be ours.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Moshe's bracha to Yehoshua and an opporunity lost

The gem in Archin (32) writes that the name of Yehoshua is written chaseir in Nechemya 8 because he failed to eradicate the yetzer hara for avodah zarah and his mission was incomplete. Moshe was unable to do so because he lacked the zechus of Eretz Yisrael, yet Yehoshua should have taken care of it - instead the problem lingered until generations later. The Radomsker (Tiferes Shlomo) asks why the gemara is so critical of Yehoshua and not any of the other shoftim, nevi'im, and tzadikim who might have also been mevateil the yetzer hara in their day. Aren't these other historical figures equally guilty for their complacency? The Radomsker explains that the yetzer hara serves a function in creating the opportunity for bechira. Had we not had an inclination to do evil, we would lack free choice. Even the nevi'im and tzadikim were not enpowered to void the principle of bechira by eradicating the yetzer hara. However, in order to insure kibush ha'aretz Moshe was mispallel "K-h moshiacha m'atzas meraglim", that Yehoshua not be tempted by the advice of the mergalim. Yehoshua's free will was already negated in part by Moshe's tefilos! Therefore, specifically Yehoshua, who transcended pure bechira, had that power to be mevateil the yetzer, but he did not seize the opportunity.
I want to add one point to the Radomsker's chiddush. It seems safe to assume (at least as far as what Moshe's impression might have been) that Moshe's prize student would not fall prey to the temptation of an actual sin in deed. However, there was still the danger that in the back of Yehoshua's mind there would be some measure of doubt, even if never voiced, that one day might resurface to cloud his judgement. Moshe therefore gave his talmid a bracha that "K-h", the letters Yud and Key that refer to the higher sefiros of thought, chochma and bina, "moshiacha m'atzas meraglim", should give you the strength to overcome even the poisonous thoughts of the spies. Chazal teach that only for the cheit of avodah zarah Hashem is metzaref machshava l'ma'aseh, that one is judged even for the thought of wrong even if not acted upon. Perhaps it was this added bracha of protection on the deepest level of his thoughts which gave Yehoshua and no one else the potential to uproot the yetzer of avodah zarah from even from the thoughts and consciousness of Klal Yisrael.

Meraglim and minyan - how many?

The Torah uses a double expression of 'ish echad ish echad' to describe the meraglim sent by each sheivet. Common knowledge is that one spy was sent from each sheivet; however, Tosfos (Sota 34a) cites the opinion of R' Akiva quoted in the Yerushalmi who derives from the double language that in actuality 2 spies (ish-ish) went from each sheivet for a total of 24 (R' Yishmael disagrees). The difficulty with this approach is that we learn that 10 people form a minyan from the fact that the 10 bad meraglim are called an eidah - according to R' Akiva, there were many more than 10 bad spies! (R' Akiva Eiger).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

kesivas sefer torah - is one yotzei b'shutfus?

I heard in a shiur that the campaigns to collect donations for writing a letter/pasuk in a sefer torah are not a kiyum of kesivas sefer torah because the person donating does not personally own the sefer being written, which is a basic criteria of the mitzvah. The Rambam writes that the mitzvah is to write a 'sefer torah l'atzmo', which the person giving the shiur compared to all other mitzvos sheb'gufo like hanachas tefillin. The last point strikes me a wrong because one can appoint a shliach for the kesiva. However, the first point is a significant objection. At the time I argued that one indeed does own the sefer being written - all those who contribute form a shutfus of joint ownership. Does one need exclusive personal ownership to fulfill the mitzvah? This issue is debated by the Minchas Chinuch and the Ohr Sameiach at length. One objection raised focuses on the toeles of the mitzvah, which is to create a sefer that can be learned from. The Rosh takes this so far as to write that in our times the mitzvah of kesivas sefer torah is fulfilled through the purchase of seforim. The moment one party of the shutfus takes the sefer to learn, does that not render it inaccessible to all the other parties to learn from and negate the mitzvah? My thinking was that the potential for any party to have access is sufficient, but the point can be debated. A textual proof: in Sanhedrin 21a Rava says one is not yotzei kesivas s"t by inheriting a sefer - the mitzvah is kisvu lachem, writing it for yourself. Abaye quotes a braysa that derives from 'v'kasav lo' that specifically a king 'lo yisna'eh b'shel acheirim', cannot be yotzei with a sefer written for someone else - the implication being that an ordinary person would be yotzei with such a sefer written for someone else. The gemara answers that the braysa's halacha is referring to the unique second sefer torah that must be carried by a king; Rava's din refers to the sefer everyone is obligated to write. Achronim ask: if one is yotzei kesivas s"t b'shutfus, why did the gemara not answer Abaye's question by saying the braysa's din of 'v'kasav lo' excludes a king from sharing with 'acheirim' in the form of shutfus because no one else can use royal property; however, an ordinary person is yotzei b'shutfus and is only excluded based on Rava's din from being yotzei b'yerusha? I'll give you some time to think it over...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Halachos of carpool: schirus or not?

My wife got involved in a rather heated discussion in the comments section of another blog regarding the following scenario: a carpool driver was on the way to bring a bunch of first graders to school. En route, the driver passed a neighbor who had a broken leg and was painfully struggling to make a train and get to work. Should the driver pick up the neighbor and go a few minutes out of the way to bring them to the train at the cost of the kids being a few minutes late to school, or is getting the kids to school exactly on time (something one of the other carpool members obsessed over) the priority? My wife's view is that from the perspective of chinuch, the lesson of stopping to pick up the person outweighs getting the kids to school exactly on time. Her analogy was to a kohein gadol stopping to attend to a mes mitvah en route to bring the korban pesach . In other words, she was weighing one mitzvah against another and considering whether to employ the rule of osek b'mitzvah (of bringing the kids to school) patur min hamitzvah when efshar l'kayeim shneihem (machlokes rishonim). While practically I think the correct answer here is to pick up the neighbor, I formulated the issue very differently. It seems to me that car pool is a form of schirus, like 'nachesh imi v'anachesh imach' - you drive one day in exchange for the 'payment' of your friend driving tomorrow. There is an implied contract with tna'ei schirus involved. Osek b'mitzvah is a ptur from mitzvos, but not from financial obligations, i.e. you cannot tell your boss you are exempt from work because you have a mitzvah to do. In the case of carpool you are effectively contractually employed to drive the kids on your day in exchange for others driving the other days. The issue is a purely contractual debate: when people enter into the implied contract called carpool, does the agreement allow for a driver to deliberately delay getting the kids to school by a few minutes for the greater good of a gemilus chessed like picking up someone with a broken leg? I would hope so, otherwise that is not a good carpool to be in! Any other ideas on the parameters of how such an agreement works al pi din? Should a kinyan be required to set it up to begin with?

Construction of the menorah and the mitzvah of binyan hamikdash

The Midrash (cited by Rashi) says that Moshe had difficulty understanding the construction of the menorah; Hashem was forced to show him an image of a fiery menorah as a visual model. According to some views this was not enough to clarify matters, as we find a dispute as to exactly who made the menorah - Betzalel, Moshe himself, or it was ‘na’aseis m’eilav’, it made itself miraculously because Moshe could not figure out how to do it. On Shabbos the question was raised why the menorah was singled out to be made by Moshe himself and not by Betzalel, who was entrusted to make all the other kelim. I think the simple answer is that even if Moshe understood based on the image of the menorah how to make it, he could not communicate that idea to Betzalel the way he could verbally describe the other kelim. As to why this was true only by the menorah, I am sure you can relate some unique aspect or symbolic idea of the menorah to a unique quality of Moshe, but that is more along the lines of derush. I want to focus on one other point made by the MaHaRaL. Assuming Moshe could not figure out how to make the menorah even after seeing an image of it, what was the point of this communication? Ultimately the menorah was na’aseis m’eilav, so why did Hashem not cut to the chase and just do it for Moshe without providing an incomprehensible tzivuy? The Maharal answers that you have to say according to all opinions Moshe was involved in some way in the menorah’s construction – the issue is simply the extent of that involvement. Moshe had to toss the gold in and strike it with a hammer to form it, but it was na'asis m'eilav in the sense that the completed product was beautiful beyond the capability of its maker, indicating some miraculous force was at work. Maharal writes that one is forced to say Moshe did something, otherwise how was the mitzvah of making klei hamikdash fulfilled? I am not sure what the Maharal means by this argument. The Maharal seems to assume that there is an independent mitzvah of making kelim, yet neither the Rambam or the Ramban count such a mitzvah. Either the kelim are included as part of the mitzvah of binyan hamikdash, or are hechsherim to do avodah (see Ramban’s gloss to mitzvas aseh #34 is sefer hamitzvos), but are not independent commandments. If kelim are simply parts of the mikdash, as long as one does part of the mitzvah of building the mikdash, even if one did not do every task, the mitzvah of building the mikdash has been fulfilled. Certainly according to Rashi and Tos (R”H 17) who hold that the third bais hamikdash will descend from shamayim, one must say that the small human intervention done to complete the building is sufficient to fulfill the mitzvah of binyan habayis even if the majority of the building is completed miraculously (see Maharil Diskin).
According to the Maharal we understand that Moshe ultimately was involved in making the menorah and therefore needed to see the image to know what to do. However, what the Maharal does not explain is why Hashem first attempted to verbalize the instructions if they could not be comprehended even by Moshe. Hadra kushya l'duchta, why not just show Moshe the image to begin with? See Bnei Yisaschar in his chanukah discussion...

Friday, June 16, 2006

The Septateuch

According to one opinion in Chazal the parsha of 'Vayehi Binso'a' is set off with special simanim because it is an independent sefer (Shabbos 116). The minimum shiur of letters which define a sefer as having kedushas sefer torah is 85, corresponding to the 85 letters in the sefer of vayehi binso'a (85=gematriya 'peh' - see Noam Elimelech). If so, asks the Rashash, the idea of chamisha chumshei Torah is a misnoner. We should be referring to the Septateuch instead of the Pentateuch!

Ohr Sameiach on Moshe's humility

How could Moshe Rabeinu with all his gadlus have been 'anav m'kol adam asher al pnei ha'adamah'? I have never really seen humility as being in conflict with greatness (see Netziv), but many meforshim ask this kashe. The Ohr Sameiach at the end of his Kuntres haKol Tzafuy v'haReshus Nesuna (hil tshuvah) quotes a pshat from his grandfather to answer this question. Davka because Moshe Rabeinu was so great and witnessed speaking to Hashem face to face did he feel a sense of humility. Moshe ascribed his achievements in Torah and tzidkus not to his own efforts, but to the fact that he was in a position to see the gadlus Hashem in a way that no other mortal experienced. Someone who is not blessed with that gift, a regular joe 'al pnei ha'adamah', not in shamayim speaking to Hashem, is all the more worthy for the achievements attained in spite of the obstacles of living in olam hazeh.
(See the machlokes in the Sifri what 'kol adam al pnei ha'adamah' comes to be m'ma'et, discussed by the O.S. and the Chasam Sofer al hatorah as well. This O.S. is consistant with the Meshech Chochma intro to sefer shmos that Moshe had no bechira to do wrong - l'fum tzara agra, so Moshe held someone who is engaged in struggling on avodas Hashem is greater than himself.)

When hashkafa subverts halacha: creationsim and the international date line

Because Gil linked to it, I ended up seeing this article on creationism on a site I usually self censor myself from reading. But having seen it, I can’t resist a comment. Here is a summary of Yated’s argument: science relies on inductive reasoning to determine the past from the laws of nature operating today. Since by (their) definition the laws of nature were radically different during the six days of creation, scientific inductive reasoning cannot tell us anything about the mystery or act of creation. M’meila, the entire science of cosmology is out the window. It seems to me that this argument amounts to cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. If the laws of nature did not exist during the period of ma’aseh braishis, or as Yated puts it,”that this six day period obeyed laws of quite a different nature than the physical ones that the world obeys now”, then how can halacha assume a normal 24 hour solar day existed, or the cycle of tekufos remains unchanged from the moment of the sun's creation, or that the sun’s orbit has been constant, or that any of the laws of solar and lunar astronomy existed pre-shabbos Braishis? Some examples: 1) the calculation of tekufos is based on assuming the same regular cycle of solar astronomy from the moment of the sun’s creation through our time (Rambam, Kiddush haChodesh 12:9); 2) the debate regarding the international date line hinges on determining where the sun was at its initial moment of creation and then assuming regular 24 hour days (see Chazon Ish’s ‘Kuntres 18 Sha’os’, O.C. siman 64 for a lengthy discussion, including his addressing a problem of one of the days of ma’aseh braishis missing time!); 3) birchas hachama is said every 28 years when the sun appears on the same day and place as at the moment of its creation (or something like that – because of messy calendar math this is not exact). Yated complains that if one assumes natural law was constant, “In our terminology, we would say that this guy "has to say a shiur" on the formation of the universe within the parameters of natural law. No mysterious periods allowed”. But Yated’s own calculation of 5766 as historical reality (and not a legal fiction employed for the sake of calculating the luach, which is how a non-literalist might view things) is arrived at by assuming a regular cycle of 24 hour days, seasonal tekufos, and regular laws of physics governing at least the solar system from the very moment of creation - no “mysterious periods” allowed. I guess one has to "say a shiur" to fit the natural law halacha ascribes to the earliest moment of creation with the hashkafic assertion that no such natural law existed. I don't look forward to it.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Challah: mitzvah to give to the kohein or a means to be matir dough?

The Rambam writes in shoresh 12 of sefer hamitzvos that a single mitzvah may have multiple sub-part commandments, but these should be treated as part of the larger unit and not counted independently. Among the Rambam’s examples are giving reishit hageiz to a kohein or ma’aser to a levi – the separation of the geiz or ma’aser or other matnos kehuna that require hafrasha and the giving of these gifts to the kohein or levi are not separate mitzvos, but are sub-parts of the same mitzvah. The Ramban takes issue with the Rambam’s examples and distinguishes between two types of mitzvos: cases where an item becomes tevel and cannot be eaten before hafrasha is done, e.g. challah, and cases where a gift must be given to a kohein but there is no issur on the food before the gift is seperared, e.g zero’a, lechayayim, and keibah. In the latter case, the hafrasha and nesina are one and the same mitzvah of delivering gifts to the kohein. But with respect to challah, since the dough is tevel until challah is taken, there are actually two mitzvos: (1) hafrasha to be matir the dough; (2) nesina to the kohein.
One of the proofs of the Ramban is from the bracha of hafrasha. A bracha is normally recited on the gmar mitzvah, the completion of a mitzvah act – e.g. (Ramban’s example) we do not say a bracha on writing tefillin, only on putting them on. If the nesina to the kohein was the end goal of the mitzvah of challah, then the bracha should be recited when the dough is given to the kohein. Since we say the bracha at the time of hafrasha, it proves that this step is an independent mitzvah. (It also sounds like the bracha is on removing the issur tevel, an issue raised yesterday). Perhaps the Rambam accepts the Ramban’s notion of hafrasha being independently significant with respect to its being mechayeiv a bracha, but with respect to the count of mitzvos it is still subsumed under the overall unit of challah.
See
here where we discussed Tosfos’ question (Pesachim 32): how is one yotzei terumah m’doraysa by separating one stalk of wheat when the Torah defines nesina as not less than a shaveh perutah? Obviously according to Ramban one can distinguish between hafrasha, which may not have a shiur, and nesina, which requires shaveh perutah.

Yes, Virgina, there is more to Judaism than the Rambam's rationalism: on segulos, darkei emori, and psak

Yesterday my wife on her blog began discussing a certain segulah for fertility and easy childbirth. Neither my wife nor I are inclined to engage in these type mystical practices, but as I pointed out to her and she later quoted, the segulah in question is actually referred to by a rishon, R’ Bachye, in his peirush al hatorah (P’ Titzaveh). I am therefore amused at the comments on another blog which referenced my wife’s discussion where posters claim this segulah is are assur because of darkei emori, violations of the ikkarei emunah, avodah zarah, etc. Well, Virginia, this may come as a shock, but there are rishonim other than the Rambam and views of Judaism other than what you read in Moreh Nevuchim. There are actually Rishonim who take account of more than ‘midah, mishkal, u’minyan’ (i.e. the empirical evidence) and are willing to deal with super-rational considerations. I actually find the wholesale dismissal of a rishon as an oveid avodah zarah or in violation of ikkarei emunah at least as problematic as being a fool and thinking a red ruby helps you irrespective of other schar v’onesh considerations. Call me naive, but I think it is safe to assume the rishonim were not violating or encouraging avodah zarah. I also think just because you dig up a tosefta cited nowhere in shas and have a kasha from there on a rishon it does not de facto means that shita is rejected from the world of psak. Point of fact: many times we pasken like shitos rishonim despite kashes that need to be worked out. Do we reject Rashi every time Tosfos asks kashes on him even when we do not have a good defense? Then there is the claim that R’ Bachye would never accept segulos in our day when such claims can be empirically disproven. This is nothing more than pure speculation arrived at by imposing one’s rationalist world view on others. R’ Bachye was comfortable dealing with mysticism; he obviously rejected the pure rationa/empirical view of the Rambam in his time and there is no evidence to assume he would accept such a view if he lived in ours. Historical what-ifs are poor evidence. With respect to psak, can one say that R’ Bachye is rejected? In fact, quite the opposite would seem to be the case. By the references in achronim and poskim even through our own times to segulos, the inescapable conclusion is that these ideas are very much a legitimate part of tradition. In O.C. siman 605 the Bais Yosef quotes both the Ramban and Rashba as dismissing the practice of kapparos as darkei emori. The Tur questions the logic of the minhag. Yet, the Rama maintains that since the minhag has been adopted by geonei ashkenaz, it is part of tradition and must not be tampered with. Of course, poskim write that reliance on kapparos thinking a chicken is a real substitute for oneself or as a repalcement for tshuvah is absurd and not part of any mesorah. I have no doubt the same is true of segulos. As I wrote, the segulah itself is not the problem, the problem is the attitude it engenders. We live in a society where segulos become a quick fix substitute for more meaningful avodas Hashem and where they lead to completely incorrect philosophies of hashgacha and schar v’onesh, creating a mockery of authentic Judaism. But please, Virginia, open your eyes and you will discover that there is a whole world of tradition and practice outside the narrow confines of rationalism and empiricism. You may not personally adopt those practices (I don't either - I don't think they were meant for us), but pause before dismissing rishonim, achronim, and tzadikim as kofrim, ovdei avodah zarah, or even just plain fools. There might just be more to reality than what meets the eye.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

definition of whole loaves for lechem mishne and eiruv

The halacha is that the bread used for eiruv chatzeiros must be a whole loaf. The Rosh (Eiruvin 7:12) writes that if a piece is missing, as long as the missing portion is smaller than the shiur challah that a baker separates (1/48 of the loaf), the loaf is still considered shaleim, complete. The Korban Nesanel comments that this is true only with respect to the loaf needed for an eiruv. However, with respect to lechem mishne on Shabbos, the loaf is not considered shaleim unless it is completely intact (see Sharei Tshuva siman 274). However, the Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchisa quotes R’ Shlomo Zalman who writes that both by lechem mishne and eiruv the same shiur of 1/48 applies. What is the issue behind the debate? A whole loaf is needed for eiruv is so that the parties joining the eiruv will not come to fight (m’shum eivah – eiruvin 81) over who gave a whole piece and who gave only part. Korban Nesanel focuses on this reason – a loaf missing even 1/48 is incomplete, but will not lead to eivah; it is therefore acceptable for eiruv, but disqualified for lechem mishne. RSZ”A focuses on the takkanah – regardless of the reason, once we know a whole loaf is required, if missing 1/48 was not a whole loaf it would be invalid. The Rosh must mean that missing such a minute amount does not detract from the shaleimus of the loaf, and it is therefore acceptable both for eiruv as well as lechem mishne.
This is a general issue that comes up with respect to many dinei derabbanan (e.g. see Kovetz Shiurim to Beitzah 4): does the reason for a takkanah or gezeirah govern its parameters and applicability, or is the reason just the motivation that led to creating the takkanah, but the law then takes on an independent life of its own?

Standing for birchas hamitzva and the bracha for hafrashas challah

There is an interesting machlokes whether the bracha on hafrashas challah is l’hafrish challah, l’hafrish terumah, or l’hafrish terumas challah. Part of the issue revolves around the different terms for the mitzvah: the Torah calls the separation terumah, yet the Mishna uses the term challah. The Aruch haShulchan paskens to say l’hafrish challah based on the BH”G’s use of this expression. My wife follows the custom of saying l’hafrish challah min haisa, but you should only use this nusach if you are separating challah from dough and not after baking.
The Shulchan Aruch in hil tzitzis (siman 8) writes that a birchas hamitzva should be recited while standing. The Magen Avraham asks how is it that women were mafrish challah while sitting (as is clear from a number of mishnayos in perek 2 of challah) – weren’t they required to stand for the recitation of the birchas hamitzva? The MG”A answers that the rule of standing for birchas hamitzva does not apply to mitzvos like challah or shechita. What is the sevara to distinguish? I would have said that these mitzvos are different because there is no requirement to make dough for challah or to eat meat – if one chooses to do so there is a kiyum mitzvah, but there is no chiyuv. However, why then should one have to stand for the bracha on tzitzis when m’ikkar hadin one is not obligated to wear a four cornered garment? The Pri Megadim offers a different sevara: the MG”A means that challah and shechita are not true mitzvos aseh, but are issurei aseh – meaning, the mitzvah of challah functions like an issur of eating dough without hafrasha, and the mitzvah of shechita functions like an issur of eating meat without proper shechita. Apparently the nature of mitzvas tzitzis is not an issur aseh of donning a 4 cornered garment without tzitzis, but a positive mitzvah to fix tzitzis to the garment (see Tosfos Yevamos 90b).
Maybe more on this later...

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

shlichus for hafrashas challah

One may not appoint a shliach to perform an action that one is excluded by halacha from theoretically performing for oneself. Tosfos (Nazir 12) asks how is it that ‘ma’aseim b’chol yom’, it is common practice for a woman to ask her neighbor to be mafrish challah for her even though she has not yet started to bake – until flour is kneaded into dough there is no chiuyv of challah and hafrasha cannot be done, so how can a women appoint a shliach to do what she herself is halachically excluded from doing? Rabeinu Tam answered that since the woman appointing the shliach can obtain kneaded dough and be mafrish herself, it is ‘b’yada’ to perform the mitzvah and the shlichus is valid. R”T compares this case to being mafrish terumah from harvested grain that fulfills the chiyuv hafrasha on a section of the crop that has not yet been harvested (kiddushin 62) – since it is in the owner’s power (b’yado) to theoretically harvest all the grain immediately, the hafrasha is valid.
Does the proof parallel the case of challah? In the latter case, both the harvested and the unharvested wheat belong to the same owner – the sevara of b’yado simply removes the obstacle of the still growing wheat not yet being chayav yet in hafrasha. The shlichus case involves far more than that. It is not only that the hafrasha is being done for flour, which is not yet chayav, but there is an additional problem of the dough from which the hafrasha is done being owned by someone else. Since it is not b’yado of a person to take his/her neighbor’s dough to do their own hafrashas challah, how can the shliach’s hafrasha using her own dough help the meshaleiach? (Ch HaGRI”Z Nazir 12 leaves this with no answer).

Rational explanations for doing mitzvos

Continuing last week's discussion of ta’amei hamitzvos, see the Iggra d’Kallah (available online http://www.munkatcherseforim.com/) end of Parshas Naso. Very roughly translated:
“The philosophers ask how it is possible through a physical mitzvah to receive [spiritual] reward…They therefore postulated that the reason for mitzvos is that man should not fall prey to his base physical nature, and they invented reasons that apply to each mitzvah. According to their reasoning, if one were to contemplate these rational ideas, one would not need to perform the actual physical mitzvah act… This is why the Torah does not reveal the reason for mitzvos. The action of the mitzvah performance itself draws one close to G-d…and one is obligated to perform the mitzvah without considering its reasons. While there surely is a reason for each mitzvah, and one is surely obligated to consider why a mitzvah was commanded, one can never reach the ultimate reason for a mitzvah, [because a mitzvah] reflects G-d’s wisdom, and G-d and his wisdom are infinite.”
I am not sure that the Rambam would agree that the performance of the physical mitzvah act is an end in itself and not a means to mental and spiritual growth (see end of Hakdamah to Peirush haMishna). However, I do not think anyone would dispute the point made that rational explanations for mitzvos do not supplant Hashem's tzivuy as the motive for their performance.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Old ideas in new packaging

Where would I find all the theories listed below:

1) the claim that Moshe did not himself write the entire Torah?
2) Ibn Ezra's commentary cited as proof for pesukim added to the Torah at a later date?
3) Sefer Devarim identified as composed by a different author than the other books of chumash?
4) the claim that Ezra is probably the final redactor of the Torah's text?
5) the Book of Daniel dated after the return from galus?

Is it the latest blog posting on a skeptics blog? Is it Richard Eliot Friedman's book on on Documentary Hypothesis? Is it from the syllabus of some academic's course on the Bible? Is it David HaLivni's book? Correct answer is none of the above. Every single one of these claims can be found in the Theologigo-Political Treatise (TTP), chapters 6-10 by B. (Baruch? Benedictus?) Spinoza, published well over 300 years ago in 1670. Is there anything wrong per se with these beliefs alone, taken out of the context of the rest of Spinoza's "hashkafa"? Was the cherem against Spinoza based on his kefira alone, or was there a subtext of political motivation? Old debates that I'm not going to get into. My only point is that some people seem to cite certain Ibn Ezra's and think they discovered the wheel, when in reality this debate has been around a long, long time. And Spinoza didn't come off so good the first time around.

hafrashas challah and hataras nidrei nezirus

Since my wife was blogging about challah, I could not resist over Shabbos pointing out an overlap between an issue in a sugya of nezirus, parshas hashavua, and an issue in hilchos challah. The Rama paskens that if the dough seperated for challah falls back into your main pile, and there is not a sufficient shiur bittul (1/101), one possible solution is to get a Rav to be matir neder - since challah functions like other nidrei hekdesh, being matir neder will return the piece which was seperated back to its original state of tevel. What does this have to do with nezirus? Tos (Gittin 33a) asks: how can a nazir ever gets malkos for drinking a cup of wine or becoming tamei - since every nazir can undo his/her nezirus by going to a Rav and being matir neder, the hasra'ah (warning) given my the witnesses not to drink wine is a hasra'as safeik - how do the witnesses know that the nazir will not undo his/her nezirus state? Tosfos offers two answers: 1) since most people are not matir their nidrei nezirus, we follow rov, majority, in validating the hasra'ah; 2) since at the time the nazir drinks he/she is in a state of nezirus, that constitutes a chazakah and validates the hasra'ah. Putting the answers aside, let's focus for a moment on Tosfos' question. The Maharasha asks: given that unless a person were to be matir neder he/she would receive the punishment of malkos, this case should not even be a safeik hasra'ah - of course any reasonable person would rather be matir neder than face punishment!? Based on this argument, the Taz writes that indeed there is no escape clause from punishment by being matir neder. A Rav who is approached to be matir a neder nezirus not because the noder has any real regret, but simply so he/she may escape punishment, is not permitted or able to release the noder from such a vow. Similarly, argues the Taz, being matir a neder hekdesh of challah simply because now you have a ta'aroves issur v'heter and the dough will be ruined is not a justfiable reason for release from the neder. The Taz therefore rejects the Rama l'halacha. L'ma'aseh (and I can't imagine this is an uncommon occurance), see the Pitchei Tshuvah, and ask you local Rav.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Siyata D'Shemaya and Psak Halacha

Kesubos 60b (I'm paraphrasing - ayen sham): Abaye was asked by his neighbor whether he may perform eirusin on a nursing mother 15 months after her baby was born. Abaye replied yes. When Abaye came before Rav Yosef, Rav Yosef reminded him that Rav and Shmuel both paskened that the eirusin may not be done until 24 months have elapsed. Abaye ran three parsa after his neighbor to correct his mistake, but could not catch him. Abaye then said, 'The reason one may not rule on halacha in the place of his rebbe is not merely because it is disrespectful, but it is because one will not receive Heavenly help to arrive at the correct psak, for I knew the ruling of Rav and Shmuel, yet I was not guided to say the correct psak."

So according to Abaye, what are the necessary ingredients that lead a posek to the 'correct' answer to a shayla? It's not just information, because Abaye knew the information of Rav and Shmuel's opinion. It is not just intelligence or insight, because Abaye's intelligence could not logically be affected by his rebbe's presence. If halacha is just a matter of processing information and is binding only because of consensus and has nothing to do with being an expression of G-d's will, then what does this gemara mean?
(Disclaimer: I know, I shouldn't discuss these topics. Consider this thinking aloud.)

Tefilla and Bechira Chofshis (free choice)

The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo (one of my favorite seforim) on this week's parsha asks: how can we daven 'hashiveinu avinu l'torasecha...v'hachzireinu b'tshuvah shelimah lefanech', for Hashem to bring us back to learning and cause us to do tshuvah, when these words seem to contradict the principle (kesubos 30) of 'hakol b'yedei shamayim chutz m'yiras shamayim', all is in the hands of Heaven except for fear of Heaven itself? In other words, we are given free choice, bechira chofshis, whether or not to do tshuvah, keep mitzvos, and learn Torah. If Hashem were to fulfill our prayers and cause us to learn Torah and do tshuvah, then we are merely robots and the principle of free choice is negated. So how can these tefilos ever be answered?
I imagine a rationalist would say that our tefila is not for Hashem to coerce us to tshuvah or learn, but for Hashem to place us in circumstances where it is easier for us to make the right choices. The Rambam similarly writes (hil tshuvah ch 9) that all the Torah's promises of reward in this world are just favorable circumstances which accrue from doing mitzvos and make it easier to continue down that road, but the true reward for mitzvos is only in olam haba. The Radomsker takes a slightly different approach. Chazal say that if we open a passage the size of the eye of a needle for G-d, He will open for us gateways like the doorways of the heichal. The reward we get from Hashem is completely disproportionate to the efforts we put in. While it is true that without our initial choice to learn, do tshuvah, or do mitzvos, Hashem will not coerce us to obey, but once we have made the initial choice and taken a small step in the right direction, we ask for siyata d'shemaya and an abundance of help in return. As is common in sifrei chassidus, the Radmokser finds a remez to this approach in the pasuk. The count of Bnei Yisrael was 'al pi Hashem b'yad Moshe al masa'am v'al avodasam'. The word 'al' can mean 'above and beyond' - through Moshe, Hashem responded to each person above and beyond his/her level of avodah and the burdens he/she carried.
For those willing to step outside the rationalist framework, I think there is a far simpler answer to this kashe. The Ishbitzer in Mei HaShiloach writes in Parshas Vayeira that the gemara which tells us 'hakol b'yedei shamayim' is only from our reference point in olam hazeh where we do not see how the yad Hashem controls everything. But, in truth, absolutely nothing can exist or be done in the world, including learning Torah, doing mitzvos (or more shockingly, even doing aveiros, as R' Tzadok writes many places), without Hashem being the ultimate cause. The position of the Mei HaShiloach raises many questions about bechira and hasgacha which I won't pretend I know the answer to, but given what he writes, we can perhaps understand that while in our daily lives we are blind to this level of hashgacha (otherwise we could not exist), perhaps out tefilos which soar to shamayim speak to this greater truth.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

ChaNaH - Challah, Nidda, Hadlakas Ner Shabbos

My wife has a posting (click link) on those who treat the mitzvah of hafrashas challah as some type of magical segulah, akin to wearing one of those red string things. Clearly, the mystical and magical have an attraction that plain vanilla rational Judaism does not – but I’ll leave the sociology to her. I will just add that poskim (Mishna Berura 242:6) advise that even if one eats pas palter (bakery bread) during the week, one should aim to eat pas yisrael on Shabbos and Y”T. This is one reason why the custom of challah baking for Shabbos developed (and my wife does a good job spoiling me most weeks with home baked challah and cake).
My wife mentions the three mitzvos (nida, challah, ner shabbos) that are the “women’s domain”. There is much to say on this, but very much b’kitzur, the cheit of Adam created a ta’aroves of tov/ra that requires birur, separation, in order to correct. The common denominator of these three mitzvos is the idea of separation. The three mitzvos correspond to the classic paradigm of olam (matter), shanah (time), and nefesh (soul): ner shabbos represents separation in time between kodesh and chol, challah represents the separation of matter into kodesh and chol, and nidda represents the separation of the nefesh, the husband-wife unit, from itself. Why this tikkun was given to women and how it works is for another discussion, but for those who want some homework: see Rashi on the pasuk where Rivka enters the tent of Sarah after joining Yitzchak and you will find a parallel between the three miracles of the imahos tent and these three mitzvos.

Can a zar (non-kohein) perform birchas kohanim?

At first glance the whole question of whether a non-kohein, a zar, can duchen, as absurd. The command of birchas kohanim is directed to bnei Aharon, and the gemara in Kesubos(24) indicates that this constitutes an issur aseh for all others. Yet, Chazal tell us that R' Yosi, who was not a kohein, praised himself for always obeying his friends' advice (one can only speculate how R' Yosi would have replied to the favorite question of mother's everywhere: would you listen to your friends if they told you to jump off a bridge?) even to the point of going up to duchen at their behest(Shabbos 118b). Tosfos quotes R"I who was perplexed at the praise - there is no issur for a zar to duchen, writes Tosfos, so why should R' Yosi have not been willing to fulfill his friends' request, strange as it may have been? How did the R"I deal with the explicit issur aseh menationed by the gemara in Kesubos?
The simplest answer for Tosfos is that the gemara in Kesubos meant that there is an issur for a zar to recite birchas kohanim, but for a zar to simply stand on the duchen with the kohanim while they recite the bracha is not a problem (see Aruch haShulchan siman 138, Shu"t Oneg Y"T O.C. #15 who also has an interesting discussion of the MG"A who attempts to hinge the issur aseh on a machlokes tana'im found elsewhere). The Minchas Chinuch suggests that the gemara in Kesubos might be speaking only of birchas kohanim in the mikdash where shem hemeforush was used (which suggests that the issur aseh is not particular to birchas kohanim, but is a violation of pronouncing Hashem's name unneccesarily - see maharasha shabbos 118).
These answers are so good they force us to redress Tosfos' original question - if indeed there is no issur of being oleh l'duchan, what is the big deal of R' Yosi listening to his friends when they told him to do so? Perhaps one can bring proof from here to the position of the sefer chareidim (cited by minchas chinuch) that there is a mitzvah on a yisrael to be blessed by the kohanim. By being oleh to duchen, R' Yosi was forfeiting this kiyum mitzvah for the sake of the middah tova of listening to his friends. The Meshech Chochama suggests a similar approach: the gemara (Sota 38) tells us that workers in the fields who are onusim, pervented by circumstance, from coming to hear birchas kohanim, are included in the bracha, but those who can come to listen but intentionally avoid doing so are not included. By being oleh to the duchen R' Yosi was forfeiting the opportunity to receive birchas kohanim. However, the gemara is mechadesh that since R' Yosi always followed the midah tovah of listening to his friends, he was considered onus and still included in the bracha.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Shibuda d'Rav Nassan - creating a chov with no assignee

Our parsha contains the source for the halacha known as "shibuda d'rav Nassan". The Torah says (Bamidbar 5:7) that stolen property should be returned "l'asher asham lo", to whom the principal is owed. Why does the Torah use this circumlocution instead of saying return the property to the person from whom it was stolen? From here R' Nassan (Kiddushin 15, Pesachim 32) darshens that we are speaking of a case where the debt has been assigned and is owed to someone other than the person the money was taken from, e.g. if Reuvain owes money to Shimon and Shimon owes money to Levi, Reuvain would pay Levi directly.
The Torah Temima writes that from shibuda d'rav Nassan we learn that the creditor or assignee of a debt need not be specified at the time a debt is incurred. Using the example above, when Reuvain took his loan from Shimon, he had no way of knowing that his debt would be assigned to Levi, yet the debt is still binding and collectable by Levi. It seems to me that there are two problems with this proof, one a ba'ale batish chiluk, one more lomdish: 1) In the example we used (which is the classic case), at the time the debt (or shibud) is created, it is payable to a specific party. True, shibuda d'rav Nassan tells us a creditor can tranfer a debt to his/her assignees, but isn't that different than the T.T.'s case of creating a debt with no creditor named? 2) The classic question raised in discussing shibda d'rav nassan is whether (using our example) Reuvain is considered the debtor of Levi, or Reuvain remains the debtor of Shimon, but that debt is satisfied by payment to Levi - i.e. shibuda d'rav Nassan is the equivalent of payment instructions, but not an actual assignment of the loan to some third party. It seems to me that the T.T. has no proof at all if one assumes that Reuvain's debt is never actually transferred to some party he was never aware but always remains bound to the original creditor known at the time of the debt's creation.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

39 Malkos and the American Revolution

For those of you who are history buffs:

"When a soldier in the King's Own was caught 'disposing of his arms to the townspeople', he was trussed up like an animal...and given 500 lashes on his bare back - enough to kill an ordinary man. The conscience of New England was deeply shocked by this cruelty - not only by its inhumanity as we would be, but in another way. The biblical statutes of Massachusetts restricted whipping to thirty-none strokes; anything more was thought to be unscriptual and forbidden by G-d's express command. To the people of Boston, here was another Sign."
"When a young private tried to desert for the third time he was dressed in a white shroud of repentance, taken to Boston Common, and shot by firing squad while the town watched in shock and horror. In New England, corporal punishment was lawful for the violation of God's Commandments, but not for the orders of General Gage".


From Paul Revere, by David Hackett Fischer, p.67-68 (If you like David McCullough, try Fischer.)

Kibbud Av and the "rationalization" of mitzvos

I addressed this topic in a different context where I cited the Netziv, but just saw that the Aruch haShulchan echoes a similar theme in his introduction to the mitzvah of honoring parents:
"Honoring one's father and mother, being a rational (sichli) command, has spread to every nation and land, and even those who deny Torah observe it because it is rational and natural [to do so]. However, we the Jewish people were commanded regarding every rational commandment not to perform it because our mind tells us to, but because G-d commanded so in his holy Torah..."(Yoreh De'ah 240:2)
Based on this insight, he explains why in the dibros shniyos (Devarim 5:16) the command to honor one's parents adds the clause 'ka'asher tzivcha Hashem Elokecha', as G-d commanded, which is missing in the first dibros (Shmos 20:11). The Jewish people were on a high spiritual level when they received the first dibros and did not need to be told to act only because of G-d's command. However, after the sin of the cheit haeigel when that spiritual level was lost, it became necessary to remind Bnei Yisrael to observe kibbud av not for rational reasons, but simply because G-d commanded us to do so. Is this a polemical derashsa? Sure it is. But I would argue that the derashos of the Aruch haShulchan and Netziv serve as good enough sources on what our attitude toward mitzvah observance should be. I don't think this approach denies that there might be rational reasons that underly mitzva performance (like the Rambam explains), but those reasons do not supplant G-d's command as the motive for mitzvah performance.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The appelation of 'yelud isha' for Moshe Rabeinu (II)

My wife offered another explanation of why Moshe Rabeinu was called 'yelud isha' by the malachim (shabbos 88b). A survey of Moshe's early years shows that his entire upbringing was at the hands of women: Miriam prophesized his birth, his mother is described as a midwife with exceptional yiras shamayim, Miriam insures his basket is rescued, Bas Pharoah raises him in the palace, and finally, it is Tziporah who is responsible for his arriving at Yisro's home. Without the intervention of women, there would have been no Moshe Rabeinu to speak of. While the malachim may have considered this a negetive, it is the feminine traits which are associated with the power to be mekabeil and may have given Moshe the power to act as the conduit for kabbalas haTorah. Chazal tell us on the pasuk 'Ko tomar l'bais ya'akov' that the women were given the Torah before the men. Chazal also darshen on 'yom hashishi' that the sixth day of creation only came to completion on THE sixth day, meaning six sivan, the day of kabbalas haTorah. See MaHaRaSha (A"Z 3a) who discusses the letter 'hey' in that context, but I do not think it is far from the mark to suggest that the 'hey; is used because it refers to the feminine aspect of being mekabeil (ish=aish+yud, isha=aish+hey, see Maor v'Shemesh in P' Beshalach; also interesting is Sarah's name losing the yud and gaining the letter hey (see Maharal), also Yosef, who according to chazal was switched in the womb with Dina, is portrayed acting in a feminine manner, 'mesalsel b'sa'aro', and we find his name written as YeHosef, with the added 'hey'.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Were you mekabeil Shabbos early on Shavuos?

Many people have the practice of not davening ma'ariv before the zman when going from first day yom tov (which has a kedusha d'oraysa) to second day (which has a kedusha derabbanan) so as not to diminish from the kedushas hayom of the first day. I do not want to get into a debate whether m'ikar hadin that is correct. However, if that is your practice, then what about this Friday - did you wait until at least after shkiya to daven ma'ariv, or did you make early shabbos, as in the practice in many places during the summer? I ask because a local Rav was under the impression that this is 'mefurash' (his words) permitted by the Magen Avraham. The MG"A (siman 427) writes that since the heter of cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos according to Rabbah (Pesachim 46) is based on the fact that the food may be needed for Yom Tov guests, the cooking should be completed early in the day while guests may indeed come. To remind people to finish their prepration early, on a 'yom tov hasamuch l'shabbos' a yom tov which adjoins shabbos, one should therefore accept shabbos early (see http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2006/05/cooking-on-yom-tov-for-shabbos-ii.html). B'mechilas kvodo, I question whether the 'mefurash' Magan Avraham applies at all to our case. B'pashtus, the MG"A is talking about the second day of Y"T which adjoins shabbos, in which case one is subtracting from a kedushas yom tov sheni derabbanan to welcome shabbos early and avoid a potential bishul problem according to Rabbah. Does the same apply to subtracting from a Y"T rishon with a kedusha d'oraysa, where what one gains in tosefes shabbos is a loss of tosefes keduashas yom tov d'oraysa? I think that is a legitimate chiluk to at least give one pause. I am curious what others did and why - comments appreciated.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What is a 'yelud isha' doing here in shamayim?

When Moshe ascended to shamayim to receive the Torah, he was accosted by angels demanding, “Mah l’yelud isha beineinu?” – what is this ‘born of woman’ doing among us? (Shabbos 88)
Clearly the term ‘born of woman’ is intended as a derogatory lowering of Moshe’s stature, and the misogynistic overtones may indeed be intended (see Mei HaShiloach for a striking comment in that regard). I think there is more to it than that. The Alter m’Slabodka writes that what distinguishes man from angel is man’s power of free choice. An angel’s existence is static, but man has the ability to elevate himself and all the universe to come closer to G-d. He reads this idea into the debate between the angels and Moshe, but the essential point is that Torah is the vehicle that directs bechira. Who was it that first exercised this right of bechira? It was woman. Chavah made the first choice to disobey, which may have in fact changed the whole concept of bechira to allow man freedom to turn away from G-d (see R’ Dessler, vol 2). The gemara highlights the double edged sword of free choice – Moshe is ‘yelud isha’, a descendent of the one who introduced disobedience to G-d in the world, yet, according to the Alter’s reading (see vol 2), that very power or free choice to disobey is what makes man most deserving to receive the dvar Hashem.
Our discussion of ‘Moshe hosif yom echad m’da’ato’, Moshe adding an extra day of preparation for kabbalas haTorah, got me thinking of this term ‘yelud isha’ in a different way. Rashi (P’ Braishis) explains that Chavah was led to sin by her having added to the command of Hashem – G-d commanded not to eat of the eitz hada’as, yet she told the nachash that she was commanded not to touch it. By confusing the prohibition, she ended up eating from the tree. By the angels’ measure, Moshe was a day late in getting to shamayim. ‘Yelud isha’ may be intended as a reminder that adding to the dvar Hashem m’da’ato can have tragic consequences, as the history of Chavah illustrates. This approach is a bit harder to work into the answer of the gemara, which highlights man’s mission of overcoming a yetzer hara. Perhaps Moshe was suggesting that in Chavah’s pure environment of gan eden adding to G-d’s command was unnecessary, but after man has already fallen and must overcome his base instinct, we require the additional preparation and enactments of torah sheba’al peh to prepare us to receive and help us observe the dvar Hashem.