Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Har HaMoriya = Har Sinai??

We know from the story of the akeidah that Yitzchak was brought to Eretz HaMoriya (Braishis 22:2). Where is this land or mountain? Rashi notes that Har HaMoriya is identified elsewhere as the Har haBayis; Shlomo is described (Divrei haYamim II 3:1) as building the Mikdash “b’Yerushalayim b’Har haMoriya”. The Rambam codifies l’halacha (Bais haBechira 2:1) that the place of the mizbayach in the Mikdash is identical with the location of akeidas Yitzchak.

Given that background, there is a very difficult Tosfos in Ta’anis 16a . The gemara darshens the name Moriya as “the place which caused fear (=morah) to the Nations”. Tosfos writes that Har haMoriya is Har Sinai and the fear is the fear of mattan Torah. How could that be? Har Sinai is not in Eretz Yisrael, and certainly not near the makom mikdash! Meforshim struggle with this one… My son suggested that there are two places names Har haMoriya. Though Tosfos sometimes suggests answers like this (e.g. Gittin 2a d”h Ashkelon), it would be quite a chiddush.

Eliezer's mission: using difficulties as motivation

Getting back to Eliezer (see part I and II) , we need to remind ourselves that aside from the uncertainty inherent in choosing a suitable match for Yitzchak, Eliezer is about to encounter two of the trickiest villains in Tanach. The Lavan of our parsha is the same Lavan who “bikesh la’akor es hakol”, worse than Pharoah.

Explains the Shem m’Shmuel, it’s not by accident that Hashem, b’hashgacha, saw to it that Eliezer would have a daughter of marriageable age. What better way to ensure Eliezer set out with his guard up? Just like forcing Yehudah to take full responsibility for Binyamin, even for ones, drew out all his kochos henefesh, having a daughter forced Eliezer to struggle against personal negiyos and not set out on his task lightly.

This naturally explains Eliezer's haste and desire for certainty. Eliezer knew that if he deliberated over who the right girl should be and began dismissing shidduch offers, he would always wonder – “Is that girl really unworthy, or am I perhaps just motivated to keep Yitzchak for my own daughter?” Eliezer davened to Hashem for help, asked for the right girl to immediately be shown to him, and asked for Hasehm to remove all any need for deliberation. Furthermore, he put his own daughter completely out of his mind, so that we only find out about her after he completes his job and Rivka has been chosen. And in the end, these efforts not only cleared his conscience, but left Lavan and Besuel with incontrivertable proof that Rivka was meant for Yitzchak.

Are our difficulties there to make us fail, to trip us up, or to provide the impetus to force us to grow and discover our hidden kochos?

devarim sheb'lev ainam devarim

A person sold his home planning to make aliya and unfortunately didn’t make it. Can he now demand the sale be rescinded? No, says the gemara (Kid 49b), because “devarim sheb’lev ainam devarim” – what you might have been thinking when you signed the contract carries no weight.

R’ Naftali Trop’s chakira: are “devarim sheb’lev” meaningless because we have no way of knowing what a person is thinking, or “devarim sheb’lev” are meaningless because even if we know what a person is thinking only words or deeds, not thought, carry legal weight?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

how to tap into all one's hidden kochos

An approach to the parsha of Eliezer’s shlichus can he developed from a yesod the Shem m’Shmuel quotes from his father. In the middle of the episode of Yosef and his brothers, Yehudah offers to serve as an areiv to guarantee Binyamin’s return from Mitzrayim. Ya’akov agrees, but only if Yehudah agrees to take responsibility for anything which happens, no excuse even for “ones”. What was the point of this condition? If an “ones” happens, Yehudah’s couldn't do anything about it. Why cause Yehudah to sacrifice his olam haba and further suffer for events outside his control?

The Sm”S’s father answered that when there is no pressure to succeed, a person has an excuse to give up and throw in the towel at the first sign of problems. Every difficulty can become an excuse to drop the mission, any problem can be called "ones". But if a person is challenged to succeed, he will persist and somehow manage against the odds. President Kennedy in 1962 explained the goal of sending a man to the moon by saying, “We choose to go to the moon… and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills…” Working at easy things means never having to fail, but it also means never fully exercising one’s potential. When a person is forced to work at something hard he uncovers all kinds of hidden “kochos hanefesh” that can make the impossible into the doable.

If Yehudah was just charged with the task of being responsible for Binyanim, he still might not have felt under pressure because the excuse of “ones” always provided an out. But when charged with returning Binyamin, no excuses allowed, Yehudah knew he must rise to the challenge. The added responsibility served to bring out those hidden kochos that otherwise might have gone untapped and ensured that Yehudah would find a way to succeed.

So what about Eliezer’s mission?… I’m getting there : )

Eliezer's search for a wife for Yitzchak

My son needs a dvar torah on Chayei Sarah by mid-week, so I suggested he look into the parsha of Eliezer’s shlichus to find a wife for Yitzchak. Considering that Eliezer was representing one of the most noteworthy people of his time, a man who had proven himself as a warrior, a man of renowned wealth, a man of renowned piety, one would have thought that his serving as Avraham’s messenger to choose a wife for Yitzchak could not have been easier. One might imagine that all Eliezer needed to do was to announce his presence in Charan as Avraham’s representative and he would have been besieged by families desirous of a shidduch with such an illustrious family. He could spend a few weeks reviewing the candidates, choose the best one, and report home. Yet, Eliezer’s actions seem to convey a surprising sense of worry, a hurried urgency that suggests he was unsure of success and wanted to get his mission over as soon as possible:

1) Not satisfied that he is backed by the tefilos of Avraham, the tzadik hador, Eliezer davens to Hashem for help with this shidduch as if it depended on his efforts alone.

2) Instead of interviewing many girls over time and deliberating over his choice, Eliezer davens that Hashem should present him on the day of his arrival with absolute proof of the right girl. Why not consider the candidates and think things over?

3) Eliezer benefits from “kfitzas haderech” and a journey that should have taken a long time was done in a single day. When he arrives his tefilos indicate that he wants Hashem on the spot to help him resolve the issue. What’s the hurry?

4) Strangely enough, the only obstacle that should have weighed on Eliezer’s mind goes unmentioned. Only when Rivka was already chosen and Eliezer begins speaking to Besual and Lavan do we learn that he too had a daughter who might have married Yitzchak, who he indeed hoped might marry Yitzchak, but which Avraham did not allow. Why is this fact not mentioned until after Eliezer had already chosen Rivka? And looking at the larger picture, why did Hashem arrange things in such a way that Eliezer should have a daughter of marriageable age who was rejected – wouldn’t it have been better if he did not have this temptation in his way?

Monday, October 29, 2007

book recommendations

Some secular book recommendations –
I previously recommended Dr. Jerome Groopman’s “How Doctor’s Think” and found his book “The Measure of Our Days: A Spiritual Exploration of Illness” equally worth reading. This is a heart-wrenching book that deals with illness, death, recovery, and finding meaning in life’s closing moments. Very moving.

Dr. Atul Gawande’s “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance” is remarkably thoughtful and reflective. The focus is on what doctors can do to improve their performance, but the lessons apply equally to many others areas in life. The final chapter of the book was especially enjoyable. What do you do to keep medicine, or whatever job you do (I'm not a doctor either) from becoming a stale, mindless activity? What can a person do to feel like they are making a positive contribution? One of Gawande’s suggestions for becoming a “positive deviant” (a term I had not encountered before) is to write, as sharing ideas with others forces one to reflect. I knew blogging had redeeming value : )

are gezeiros and takanos irrevocable?

The Rosh (Kesubos 4:24) quotes a mesorah from the Geonim that they would no longer convene a Bais Din to pasken collection of kesubas banin dichrin. The whole purpose of the takanah of banin dichrin was to ensure that a father would give a proper dowry to his daughter; by instituting that the kesubah be inherited by grandchildren and not by the husband and/or his family Chazal felt a father would give more freely. The Geonim saw that in their times large dowries were freely given and the takanah was no longer needed.

Apparently the Geonim did not place much weight on the counter-argument (advanced by R’ Yonah) that a takanah remains in full force even if the reason behind it is no longer applicable. The idea that takanos are irrevocable is taken as common knowledge in yeshivos based on the rule that a later Bais Din cannot revoke the work of an earlier one. The usual explanation offered (I think based on GR”A) is that takanos are overdetermined - based on multiple reasons - some revealed to us, some hidden, so that even if the given reason is no longer applicable, others may still apply. In fact, there are probably as many exceptions to this rule as cases to illustrate it.

My son recently asked me about people clapping and dancing on Shabbos. I pointed him to Tosfos’ comment (Beitzah 30) that these gezeiros were formulated lest people come to make or fix musical instruments, and since the reason no longer applies, the gezeirah is no longer in effect. Achronim struggle to make sense of this Tosfos, as Tosfos clearly does not assume a takanah is binding if the reason behind it is not applicable. Again, the exception is striking only if you see the rule as absolute. In one of the Maharatz Chiyus’ essays he rounds up a collection of these cases and tries to come up with a pattern that fits - something to keep in mind when these cases come up.

Friday, October 26, 2007

sacrificing the intellect or questioning the world?: lessons from Avraham

There are two pieces in the Mei haShiloach of the Ishbitzer that I think need to be read side by side. The first piece concerns the Midrash which compares Avraham’s discovery of G-d to someone who observed a burning building and wondered where its owner was, whereupon the owner revealed himself. Similarly, Avraham’s observations of the world raised questions in his mind, whereupon G-d revealed himself. The Ishbitzer notes that G-d’s revelation was not predicated on Avraham developing a new philosophy, culture, or ethic – it was predicated on his sense of wonder and his asking questions. And indeed, this is the root of all religious experience.

The second piece concerns the parsha of the akeida, the command given to Avraham to sacrifice his son. The Ishbitzer explains (this shiur by my rebbe, R’ Blachman of KBY, discusses) that there was a certain ambiguity to the command given to Avraham, starting with G-d’s use of the term “ha’aleihu”, to bring Yitzchak up, but not the word “slaughter”. Had Avraham opened his mind to questions, he would certainly have wondered how a loving G-d of kindness could command him to sacrifice his son; he would certainly have seized upon the possibility of reading G-d’s command to mean something less than actual slaughter; his rational mind would have rejected the possibility of performing an unethical act in G-d’s name and reinterpreted the command. Yet, Avraham closed his mind and unquestioningly accepted the irrational with complete faith.

Two pieces of the Ishbitzer, two seemingly opposite messages. Is religion advanced through questioning and wonder, or through close minded and blind adherence to the discipline of faith? The answer, of course, is both. Our society has lost its sense of balance between these two messages: segments of the Jewish world have seized on “rational” questions as an excuse to reinterpret (or reject) the most basic truths of mesorah, while other segments remain so enveloped in their cocoon of faith that they have lost sight of the value and need to question and probe. There is a need for an “akeidah” of intellectual inquiry in the face of truths too great to be explored or explained by rational thought alone; there is also a need to think deeply, to inquire and explore, if one is to encounter the “ba’al habirah”. Avraham’s journey reminds us of both.

two stories about R' Moshe

While searching for the story in Igros Moshe mentioned in the post earlier this week two other stories caught my eye. The into relates that R’ Moshe viewed his life’s mission as being totally dedicated to Torah, with his wife a partner in that endeavor. He therefore refused to deal with housework, even refusing to hold a baby while his wife mopped the floor. M’mah nafshach, he argued to his wife – if it was important enough to be mevateil torah to have a clean floor than he would take the mop and do it himself, as his wife was not a servant, and if it was not important enough to cause bitul torah, then why disturb him by asking him to watch the baby? (My wife’s reaction to the story: his wife should have handed him the mop.)

At nine years old R’ Moshe learned the entire Mes. Beitzah on Shavuos night with his father. As a parent I appreciated the comment added to the story which notes that this accomplishment is not just a testimony to R’ Moshe’s abilities, but a testimony to the efforts his father invested in his chinuch. I don’t know if the first story is halacha l’ma’aseh, but this one certainly is.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

P' Vayeira: "shalom bayis" is not just for newlyweds

My wife has a few parsha posts this week (see here and here), including one on shalom bayis, which brought to mind a beautiful insight from the Sichos Mussar of R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz. The angels who appear in Avraham’s home inquire “Ayeh Sarah ishtecha”, where is Sarah and how is she doing? The Torah is not interested in recording the idle chatter between guest and host, but, as Rashi notes, the question had a purpose – “k’dei l’chabiva al ba’aleh”; in asking about Sarah’s welfare and inviting Avraham to speak about her, Sarah would be further endeared to her husband.

Remember, points out R’ Chaim Shmuelevitz, Avraham at this point was 99 years old and Sarah 90. They probably were well past there 50th wedding anniversary, and may have been past their 75th wedding anniversary. After living with someone for so many years one would imagine that Avraham could anticipate every thought that entered Sarah’s mind. Yet, we see there is still an inyan of “l’chabiva al ba’alah”! There is still more love that Avraham could find in his relationship with Sarah. Shalom bayis is not just something for newlyweds to work on; it is something that needs to be constantly worked on and developed.

are women obligated in tosefes shabbos and yom tov?

Various achronim discuss whether women are obligated in the mitzvah of tosefes yom tov. A nice lomdish formulation of the question (which was discussed here before) was posed by a questioner to R’ Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidbiru vol 1): if tosefes yom tov is an extension of kedushas yom tov itself, then just as women are obligated in the mitzvos of yom tov, they are obligated in tosefes, but if tosefes is an independent mitzvah, then there is no source to obligate women.

While the lomdus sounds nice, the assumption behind it is questionable. Although the gemara explicitly states that women are obligated in tosefes yom hakippurim, there is no source that would indicate an obligation in tosefes yom vov. Recall Tosfos (Kiddushin 34) from yesterday’s post suggested in their question that women are exempt from the aseh of yom tov, and retracted that assumption only because the aseh is attached to a lav. Tosefes yom tov is not attached to any lav, and so the exemption of women should stand. (This of course begs the question of why tosefes y”k is different than tosefes y”t).

Daf Yomi learners, however, will recall Tosfos (Kesubos 47a d”h d’masar) which writes that women may not do work during the tosefes shabbos, indicating that they are chayavos. The Ksav Sofer (O.C. 56) suggests that perhaps women are exempt only from zman gerama mitzvos like tefillin, which demand a kum v’aseh action to perform; they are, however, obligated in issurei aseh, such as the aseh of yom tov, which is fulfilled by the passive avoidance of work. (see also the safeik of R’ Akiva Eiger on perek 5 of mishnayos shabbos re: the issur of shvisas b’heima).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

don't aspire to be a beinoni!

Some short stories and observations R’ Melamed records (here) about haGaon R’ Avraham Shapira zt”l. The most notable line, in my opinion, is this one:

הרב זצ"ל הדגיש תמיד שלא להיות בינוני, אלא להתגדל בתורה עוד ועוד ולהמשיך להתגדל ולהתגדל

Don't aspire to mediocrity - aspire to be great in Torah, and then to grow still greater and greater.

Lot's daughters - a story from Igros Moshe

My son’s Rebbe last week told the boys to look in the intro to vol. 8 of Igros Moshe for a story that relates to P’ Vayeira. I’ll save you the search – this is a wild one. A man took gravely ill with some affliction of his tongue (this apparently was in Russia). R’ Moshe visited the man and he asked everyone to leave the room so he could tell R’ Moshe privately what had happened to him. The previous week was P’ Vayeira, and the man related how he had been speaking of the daughters of Lot and how foolish and wicked they were. That night two old women came to him in a dream and introduced themselves as Lot’s daughters. The man’s words had made such an impression in the olam ha’emes that they came to set the record straight. They explained that everyone knew they were saved miraculously from Sdom by G-d. Had they chosen to do so, they could have said that their children came miraculously from G-d as well – immaculate concption. This could have been the cause of a whole new religion of avodah zarah. But instead, explained Lot’s daughters, they chose to acknowledge that their children came from their father – they deliberately named them Mo-Av and Amon to indicate that yes, they mistakenly had these children through their father, but they were not immaculately conceived or a result of any miracle. As punishment for his speaking ill the man’s tongue was afflicted, and after telling this story to R’ Moshe he passed away.

a lav and aseh which work together - yom tov

To add one further point to the previous post, Tosfos quotes Shabbos 25 which prohibits lighting oil of terumah t’meiah on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Even though burning kodshim for disposal is a mitzvas aseh, an aseh cannot be doche Yom Tov which is an aseh + a lav. Asks Tosfos: why can’t women, who are not obligated in the aseh of Yom Tov because it is zman gerama, use this oil for hadlakas neiros – since they are only obligated in the lav of Yom Tov, we should invoke aseh doche lo ta’aseh. Tosfos’ question clearly assumes that the aseh and lav or Yom Tov are treated as separate independent elements.

Tofos answers that since the lav of Yom Tov is conjoined to an aseh, it indicates (is a siman) that this lav is stronger than other lavim and cannot be pushed off by an aseh. Not quite the sevara of the Ramban, but close. According to Ramban, the answer is much simpler: since the aseh is associated with a lav, the two function as a single unit. Since women are always obligated in the lav of Yom Tov, the aseh always tags along as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

where a lav and aseh intersect

Kiddushin 34 gives examples of mitzvos aseh which are not zman gerama which women therefore are obligated to perform: hashavas aveidah, ma’akah, shiluach hakan. Tosfos asks why it is relevant whether these mitzvos are zman gerama or not - since each of these mitzvos also is linked to a lav which women are obligated in, women have to perform the action associated with the mitzvah irrespective of the aseh.

Tosfos answers by devising cases where the aseh applies without the lav. The Ramban, however, offers a more fundemental argument. In these cases the lav does not function as an independent issur, but is the Torah’s way of strengthening the mitzvas aseh – if the aseh does not apply, the lav which goes hand in hand with it does not apply either.

The debate between Tosfos and Ramban seems to be how to understand intersecting lavim/mitzvos – do we treat each factor independently, or do the aseh and lav merge together and function as one unit either based on the criteria of the aseh (in these cases) or the lav (perhaps in other cases).

Returning to the question of the Maharatz Chiyus: how we can say oseik b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah by tzedaka when the mitzvah carries with it two separate lavim? One might argue based on the Ramban that the lavim are not independent issurim, but only serve to strengthen the aseh. If the aseh is cancelled, the lavim do not apply either.

Monday, October 22, 2007

template update

I did a little housekeeping on the blog: upgraded and changed the template and added some options so you can subscribe via e-mail and the feed. We'll see if I keep it...

coercion to perform the mitzvah of tzedaka (Kesubos 49)

Kesubos 49b tells us that Rava coerced R’ Nasan bar Ami to pledge a certain sum to tzedaka. Tosfos asks: how did Rava have the right to coerce fulfillment of the mitzvah of tzedaka? Chulin 110 tells us that Bais Din cannot coerce someone to perform a mitzvas aseh which the Torah states an explicit reward for performing [it is as if the Torah designated the reward and only the reward be used as an incentive]. The Torah explicitly promises bracha for tzedaka, which would seem to exclude coercion.

Tosfos offers three answers:
1) The gemara in Chulin excludes coercion by force; Rava used “verbal coercion” to talk Rav Nasan into it.
2) The gemara in Chullin refers to voluntary pledges of tzedaka, but R’ Nasan lived in a city where there was a contractual agreement among all members to contribute a set monthly payment.
3) Tzedaka is different than other mitzvos in that there are two lavim that go with it – lo t’ametz and lo tikpotz. Coercion can be applied to force fulfillment of lavim.
4) A fourth answer not given by Tosfos but mentioned by other Rishonim: the gemara in Chulin means that Bais Din in these cases is not forced to coerce obedience, but it does not mean that Bais Din is prevented from doing so.

The Maharatz Chiyus in a number of places (e.g. Ateres Tzvi, Shu”t siman 13) questions Tosfos’ third answer. Bava Kama (56) tell us that someone watching/holding a lost article until its owner claims it has the status of a shomeir sachar because the object’s guardian receives the “payment” of being exempt from the mitzvah of tzedaka while watching the object – oseik b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah. Oseik b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah is an exemption from mitzvos aseh, but not lavim – e.g. travelers en route to perform a mitzvah are exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah (Sukkah 25), but cannot eat in a treif restaurant. If Tosfos is correct that the mitzvah of tzedaka carries with it two lavaim as well as the mitzvas aseh, how can oseik b’mitzvah exempt the shomeir from the lavim of tzedaka? How are those lavim different than the lav of eating tarfus?

There are a number of ways to approach answering this kashe…

Friday, October 19, 2007

avraham, lot, and the ishbitzer on mitzvas milah

I want to expand on the idea I threw out in an earlier post that the point of telling us that G-d visited Avraham davka “acharei hipared Lot”, after Lot had left, is not to stress the wickedness of Lot, but to highlight the charity of Avraham in giving up communication with G-d for the sake of trying to live in harmony with Lot. Only when Lot proved to be a danger to Avraham’s neighbors was Avraham forced to make a break with him but not before, and not for his own “selfish” religious development.

Why, asks the Ishbitzer, did Avraham wait for G-d’s command before performing the mitzvah of milah, as end of our parsha records? Why did he not take the initiative and do the mitzvah earlier, before receiving an explicit command? The Ishbitzer offers a unique answer to the classic question. Milah makes a statement: G-d created man in an imperfect state, and man must take action to remove the orlah and correct the defect. Such a statement can be seen as audacious, even sacrilegious – who are we to call G-d’s creation imperfect, flawed, in need of our correction?

The command of milah was preceded by the birth of Yishmael to show Avraham that indeed it would be audacious to charge G-d with creating an imperfect world if not for the fact that G-d himself creates Yishmaels even among the children of Avraham, if not for the fact that G-d himself told us the world is imperfect and in need of our repair.

I wonder, coming full circle, if perhaps Lot as a character is a symbolic “orlah”, an “orlah” which Avraham was loathe to abandon and forsake without a commandment to do so. Avraham had been told to abandon his home, "lech lecha m’artzecha, m’moldtecha, m’bais avicha" – could it be that this command was necessary to prevent Avraham from becoming bogged down by other potential “Lots” in his neighborhood and family, ultimately retarding his own growth? Is there perhaps a progression from “lech lecha”, Avraham having to be ordered to abandon a bad situation, to "acharei hipared Lot", G-d waiting until Avraham himself was forced to drive Lot away somewhat unwillingly, to G-d's finally showing Avraham that removing “orlah” is also part of the mission of religion and not every situation or person can be “saved”? I’m just thinking out loud – feel free to add your 2 cents.

Even if you don't buy the Lot connection, the Ishbitzer makes a powerful point. Every teacher today is told to make kids feel good, accentuate the positive, find something done right to focus on. Who does not like to hear that they are a great and wonderful person! But the reality is that true growth is possible only is we are willing to face up to the imperfections in the world and in ourselves and choose to do something about them.

omeir davar b'shem omro

The gemara (Kiddushin 54a) records a discussion that took place in the Bais Medrash reported by R’ Avin and adds that R’ Nachman did not hear whether this report was said by R’ Avin bar R’ Chiya or R’ Avin bar R’ Kahana – he simply heard stam R’ Avin’s name. The gemara asks what difference knowing the speaker's exact name makes, and answers that it is relevant in case a contradiction is found between the report and a statement by one of the other R’ Avins - is it really a question, or do we have the wrong R' Avin?

Why does the gemara not consider knowing the exact name of the speaker significant because of the need to be “omeir davar b’shem omro”, to give credit to the source of a statement? If when Esther reported the plot to assassinate Achshveirosh in the name of Mordechai (the source for omeir davar b’shem omro) Achashveirosh had thought she meant Mordechai the shoemaker or Mordechai the tailor instead of Mordechai his advisor, I imagine events might have taken a different turn.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

the personality of Lot and Avraham's efforts at kiruv

I am a bit confused by the relationship between Avraham and Lot. We view Avraham as the paradigm of kiruv, yet for all his efforts, it seems that Lot remained somewhat estranged. Taking his leave of Avraham, Lot heads to Sdom, a city soon to be destroyed because of its immorality, perhaps indicating his total rebellion against the ways of Avraham. Yet, despite fleeing from Avraham, there is much apparently which Lot did absorb, as we see from his welcoming guests to his home, mimicking Avraham’s behavior (albeit to a lesser degree). Is Lot a rasha fleeing religiosity, a glutton looking no further than the satisfaction of his own desires, or a lost soul in need of more kiruv than even Avraham could provide?

In the prophetic revelation to Avraham at the end of ch 13 the Torah stresses that Hashem’s appearance occurred “acharei hipared Lot mey’imo”, only after Lot’s departure. Rashi writes that as long as “the rasha”, i.e. Lot, remained with Avraham, G-d did not appear to Avraham. I think this harsh condemnation of Lot also highlights Avraham’s extraordinary kiruv efforts. It could not have escaped Avraham’s notice that G-d had ceased to communicate with him while he was in contact with Lot. Yet, Avraham never acted to drive Lot away because of that. Only when Lot’s became a menace to others by engaging in theft did Avraham feel a need to part ways.

Not all the meforshim agree with Rashi’s approach. The Seforno writes that this prophecy occurred to Avraham only after Lot’s departure because the reiteration of the promise of all of Eretz Yisrael to Avraham would only embolden Lot to seize more of their neighbor’s land for himself. Lot is a man with a specific problem that cannot be fed or encouraged, an “addict” to a wrong philosophy, but that does not necessarily mean all prophecy from G-d had ceased because of his presence.

does the chosson need to own the chuppah or yichud room? - kesubos 48

Some mesadrei kiddushin have the practice of having the chassan do a kinyan on the yichud room and chuppah, the theory being that the kallah enters the state of marriage by coming into a reshus owned by the chassan (in R’ Cinamon's new sefer BeYom Chasunaso he quotes this as being the minhag of R’ Chait). R’ Hershel Shachter (Bais Yityzchak vol 20 “B’Inyanei Nisuin”) brings a convincing proof from tomorrow’s daf (Kesubos 48) that this is unnecessary. The gemara resolves a contradiction in braysos by concluding that even if the chassan and kallah enter the kallah’s private chatzeir they are married, provided that they have explicit intent for nesuin; if the chassan's chatzeir is used we assume such intent exists b'stama even if not explicitly declared.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Avraham and realpolitik

I was recently reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Henry Kissinger, and Kissinger’s realpolitik came to mind when reviewing Lech Lecha. Avraham lived in the middle of a multi-kingdom war, yet if not for Lot capture it seems he would not have intervened, even though his military might had the power to turn the battle. Was Avraham motivated only by the practical expediency of saving Lot? Was there no moral reason to come to the aid of the kingdom of Sdom and the others who were vanquished? True, they were evil kingdoms, but G-d had not yet revealed that they would be destroyed - perhaps there were yet moral people worth saving. Or was there perhaps no clear moral reason to help one side of this fight over the other, if not for Lot’s capture?

mitoch - machlokes Bavli and Yerushalmi?

The Mishna in Beitza (12) records the famous machlokes Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel regarding the principle of “mitoch”. According to Bais Hillel, once the Torah permitted cooking food on Yom Tov, all acts of cooking and transferring fire are permitted. The gemara goes so far as to say that if a person cooked basar b’chalav on Yom Tov he would not be punished for breaking Yom Tov even though the food is inedible. Yet, the Yerushalmi (Beitzah 3b in Vilna ed) writes that there is a machlokes R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish whether someone who cooks neveilah on Yom Tov would get malkos. Question: Why would we not apply mitoch to this case? I find it very hard to say that R”Y and R”L did not learn the Mishna as an issue of mitoch (though some Amoraim in the Bavli do try such an approach). Perhaps the Yerushalmi holds that the cooking, even if not for the sake of food, must still serve some need (similar to Tosfos’ sevara in explaining mitoch), which neveilah does not. Any other ideas?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Official Philosopher of Star Trek

My wife was recently grading an essay which referenced "Kirkigard". Was he the famous philosopher who piloted the Starship Enterprise?

punishing the person or the tools of crime: the dor haflagah

It is popular in many cases to argue that the gavra who does wrong should be punished without casting blame on the cheftza used for the crime. Examples: Criminals shoot people, not guns; people misusing the internet is a problem, but the ‘net itself should not be banned. Yet, when it comes to the episode of the Dor Haflagah, it seems that language itself is blamed for the sin of the tower-builders, and language itself suffers the consequences by being transformed into a hodge-podge of different dialects. Why not leave language alone and punish the people involved?

I think the answer is that language is not just a tool, like a gun or a computer - language is part of a person’s essence. The Torah stresses during the Creation story that it is the soul which gives man the capacity to speak. I once wrote a piece on Mishmar arguing, based on the Sapir-Wharf hypothesis, that the jargon of lomdus opened the door to greater conceptual understanding – language is not just a means of expressing thought, but language is the vehicle of thought, influencing how we cognitively map out the world. Changing language is a way to directly transform the people who use it.

Monday, October 15, 2007

why no bracha on mitzvas tzedaka and aseh doche lo ta'aseh

The Maharatz Chiyus has a long series of essays on the sevaros the Avudraham advances to explain why there are brachos on certain mitzvos but not others. The Avudraham quotes from other Rishonim that there is no bracha on the mitzvah of tzedaka because it remains in the hands of the recipient, not the giver, whether to accept the tzedakah and bring about the kiyum mitzvah. The potential to decline tzedaka distinguishes it from all other mitzvos.

The Maharatz Chiyus points out that this sevara depends on a recent sugya in daf yomi (Kesubos 40). The gemara questions why a rapist cannot marry an anusa if there is an issuer involved in the marriage – why not say aseh doche lo ta’aseh? The gemara answers that classically aseh doche lo ta’aseh applies where there is an unavoidable need to perform the aseh; in this case, if the anusa declines to marry her attacker there is no mitzvah on him to marry her. Rashi explains that we therefore encourage the women to decline marriage. However, the Rashba learns that the woman does not actually have to voice her decision to decline – the fact that the mitzvah potentially can be voided if she declines categorically distinguishes the mitzvah from other mitzvos.

The Avudraham’s approach parallels the Rashba – the potential of the ani to decline tzedaka categorically distinguishes the mitzvah of tzedaka. Whether any particular ani chooses to do so is irrevelant. According to Rashi, potential or categorical distinctions carry no weight – we look only at whether there is an actual mitzvah or not.

Friday, October 12, 2007

chiyuv to have an afro-puff hairstyle?

From the Detroit Free Press (LINK):

A Wayne County judge today ordered a Detroit charter school to temporarily readmit [a student] whose Afro-puff hairstyle violates the school's dress code.

"This young man has been out of school for more than a month," Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen Macdonald said before ordering Old Redford Preparatory High School student Claudius Benson II, 14, who hasn't had a haircut since he was 4 years old because of his mother's Old Testament religious beliefs. He was suspended on Sept. 6.

Ok, can someone please find me the Old Testament source that requires an “Afro-puff hairstyle”? Is this some type of kiyum of nezirus? (If you are as ignorant as I am as to what an Afro-puff is, the article has a picture).

religion and life's great questions

Earlier in the week I complained of the reduction of religion to flavor without substance, of speeches that resound in empty catchphrases but offer little insight. This conclusion of this report in the Wall Street Journal on a debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox about G-d caught my eye. The reporter calls attention to the biographical statement each opened the debate with:

…In a brief biographical statement at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Lennox described a childhood in Northern Ireland surrounded by "sectarian violence" in which his parents encouraged him to read everything and "develop an interest in
the great questions of life."

Mr. Dawkins, on the other hand, says he had a "harmless Anglican upbringing." As a teenager, he says he realized that his religion was merely an accident of his birth and soon thereafter gave up his faith. In some sense, it seems he was rebelling less against religion, per se, than against the kind of "harmless" worldview that simply glosses over "the great questions of life." And who can blame him? But if their interest in this debate is any marker, the people in this Birmingham audience did not come out of that tradition.

If religion is robbed of its meaning and intellectual content, what exactly is supposed to keep one committed?

tzadik b'dorosov - keeping up with life

Noach may have been a tzadik only relative to his peers, or in spite of his peers, but whichever nuance is correct, shouldn’t the pasuk have said he was a tzadik “b’doro” – why the plural, “dorosav”? Noam Elimelech writes that each generation has a particular mitzvah which it must perfect. Noach’s life spanned multiple generations, and he was able to master the particular mitzvah challenges unique to each of those doros.

I think there are two messages here. First, the obvious one: Don’t be the general constantly fighting the last war. Imagine a person who is a big tzadik and watches no TV, but then along comes the internet and he is glued to his browser 16 hours a day. That person was the tzadik hador, but not the tzadik b'dorosov – the world moved on to new challenges and he could not keep up. Second, the more subtle one: imagine a guy who works at perfecting his mitzvah of talmud torah, learning without interruption for 16 hours a day through yeshiva. Along comes marriage, job, child #1, child #2, etc. and the guy is still learning 16 hours a day while his wife gets no rest, his kids run wild, and he has no income or career. That person is working on the wrong mitzvah for his dor. He is putting all his kochos into talmud torah, while ignoring the opportunity and signs Hashem has given him that he should be working on perfecting the mitzvah of chessed (not to say he should ignore talmud torah k’neged kulum, but the experience must change). Again, such a person is the tzadik hador, but fails the test of being tzadik b’dorosov.

another reason to finish shnayim mikra before shabbos

The Mechaber (O.C. 139) writes that in places where the person called for an aliya leins the parsha from the Torah, he must prepare the parsha in advance or not go up for his aliya. The Rama notes that our custom is to have a designated ba’al koreh who is responsible for learning the parsha and leining all the aliyos. However, the Mishna Berura (s”k 3) writes that it is still “mitzvah min hamuvchar” for a person who gets an aliya to have prepared the parsha, and reviewing the parsha by doing shnayim mikra in advance is sufficient.
Another reason to try to finish shnayim mikra by Shabbos morning!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

kim lei b'derabbah minei and tnai

I think I am losing everyone with this topic, so let me finish it off. Ritva asked: according to Rashi that a lav hanitak l’aseh is violated up front but punishment is pushed off until the aseh is negated, why do we apply kim lei b’derabbah minei to the moment the aseh is violated? The lav causing malkos, not the aseh, should have to be simultaneous with the chiyuv misah to exempt the doer from malkos?

R’ Shimon Shkop (Sha’arei Yosher 1:3) draws the inevitable conclusion – according to Rashi, kim lei b’derabbah minei does not require that issurim be simultaneous, it requires that the trigger of two punishments be simultaneous. Since without fulfilling the condition of the anusa being eliminated and killed (in the case discussed in the previous post) there is no punishment for divorce, it is meeting that condition simultaneous with the act of murder which effects klb”m.

This helps answer the Rambam (see previous post) as well. Once a cow is borrowed, the borrower is liable to return or replace the cow from that moment, which is why even if the borrower dies, his estate is liable. If so, why is a borrower who slaughters a cow on Shabbos exempt from payment because kam lei b’derabbah minei – the obligation for repayment occurrs when he borrowed the animal, not simultaneous with Shabbos? The answer is (see Ktzos 341) that when it comes to klb”m we don’t look at when the potential obligation of repayment occurred, we look at when the actual obligation of repayment is triggered. It is as if the obligation to pay exists on condition (tnai)– the lien is in effect from the moment the obligation is set, but klb”m applies to themoment the condition effecting payment is fulfilled.

For more on klb”m and tnai, see the Divrei Yechezkel who has a nice roundup of sources. These type topics are very hard to break into bite-size chunks and render into English. Sorry if the ride was a bit rought.

lav hanitak l'aseh - Makkos 16

I’m going to take a detour which will eventually lead back to the Rambam in yesterday’s post. The gemara in Makkos (15b) has a famous machlokes regarding how to understand lav hanitak l’aseh. One side of the debate argues kiymu v’lo kiymo – a person is chayav malkos the moment a lav hanitak is violated, and to avoid punishment must proactively be mekayeim, fulfill the mitzvas aseh the Torah commands to rectify that lav. The opposing view argues bitlo v’lo bitlo – its not the proactive performance of the aseh which removes punishment, but it is only the bittul and negation of the aseh which would cause punishment. Exactly how this second view works is debated in Rishonim: is the lav not complete until the aseh is violated (Ritva), or the is lav complete, but punishment held off (Rashi)?

Learners of daf yomi will be familiar with the scenario the gemara uses as a test case to determine whether the kiymo or bitlo model is correct. A rapist must marry his victim (assuming she doesn’t object); divorcing one’s victim is a lav hanitak to the mitzvah of marrying her. If the rapist fails to fulfill the aseh, he would potentially get malkos. Asks the gemara (Makkos 16): if one must proactively perform the aseh to be exempt from punishment, kiymo, then the possibility of malkos exists if the rapist refuses to remarry his victim and fulfill the aseh. However, if only the negation of the aseh leads to punishment (bitlo), how can one negate the possibility of fulfilling the mitzvas aseh in this case? – so long as his wife lives, there is the possibility of remarriage! And, continues the gemara, even if the rapist kills his wife, there is still no punishment of malkos that would be given – since he would receive the death penalty for murder, there is no double-jeapordy (kam lei b’derabba minei) and hence no malkos! Take a look at Makkos 16 if you want to know how the gemara answers, but that’s enough for my purpose.

The Ritva jumps in here with a brilliant comment (recall that bitlo is interpreted differently by Rashi and Ritva). The rule of no double-jeopardy applies only when two issurim occur simultaneously. According to Ritva's understand of bitlo as meaning a lav is not violated until its attached aseh is negated, the act of muder simultaneously completes the lav of divorce and violates the lav of murder. But according to Rashi, bitlo only means that potential punishment is held in abeyance until the attached aseh is negated - the lav itself is done and complete at the moment of divorce. Since the lav of divorce occurs earlier than the lav of murder, why is there an exemption from malkos based on kam lei b’derabba minei?

Hopefully no one is lost yet – one more post to wrap this up.

ny sports

First the Mets kill us with Glavine, now the Knicks want to bring back Allan Houston???

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

rabbi as toastmaster

My wife and I have been to some celebrations recently where the Rabbi was called on to say a few words. After hearing the same meaningless message a few times it dawned on me that some people use the Rabbi as toastmaster – called on to give an invocation, the goal is to stand up before an audience and look Rabbinic (beard and wearing a hat is always good), say nothing particularly meaningful, compliment the host, and sit down before anyone gets too bored or the festivities are disrupted. A sample speech goes something like this:

I would like to wish Mazel Tov to Mr. and Mrs.________ on the occasion of their child’s bris/wedding/bar mitzvah/bas mitzvah (choose one). We are all sure their son/daughter (choose one) will grow to be a fine ben/bas (choose one) Torah and follow in the footsteps of the parents and Bubby________/Zeidy_________/other significant relative (choose one), bringing much nachas to them and our community. Our congregation is proud of the wonderful chessed Mr. and Mrs._________ perform, their fine middos and character, and know they have been and will continue to be fine role models.
Insert one:
May they raise this child l’torah, chuppah, u’ma’asim tovim
May the couple be zocheh to build a bayis ne’eman
May the bar/bas mitzvah continue in the ways of Torah for years to come
Mazel Tov!

UGGGGHH! I can’t stand speeches like this. I hate it even more when a little ditty of a vort is thrown in just to add some flavor of Torah to it. Yet, it seems to make people happy. They expect the Rabbi to do this, and it makes them feel good and more “Jewish” by calling on him to do so. If I was a professional Rabbi in many of these congregations I would probably just write out the above on an index card and carry it with me as an all occasion speech. Why do more when no one really expects it or cares?

I know many Rabbis do try hard to impart some real wisdom and thought, but when I hear stuff like this I am reminded that for many people Judaism is a completely banal religion filled with empty platitudes and fluff designed to provide comfort for pain and make people feel more“Jewish” at “lifecycle events” that carry some traditional significance. Nothing of real intellectual significance or even deep emotional feeling. Are Rabbis doing people a service by offering them at least something of Torah flavor? I guess so. But at the same time I am bothered by flavor without substance.

boys do take years off their mother's life!

If your mother tells you that you are taking years off her life, she speaks the truth (if you are male)! Just see this Scientific American article - years are a bit of an exaggeration, but definitely a few weeks or months. Virpi Lummaa, an evolutional biologist, has found that "those who bore sons had shorter life spans than those who gave birth to daughters" and "the mothers of sons proved especially susceptible to endemic infectious disease". Jewish mothers certainly anticipated Lummaa's conclusion that, "Sons also are not as likely as daughters to stick around to help their mothers out later in life". : )

kesubos 34 - kam lei b'derabbah minei and borrwed cows

The gemara (Kesubos 34b) links two halachos as being dependent on the same underlying presumption:

1) Rav Papa holds if someone slaughters a borrowed cow on Shabbos, he is exempt from paying for the cow since he receives the death penalty for violating Shabbos – one cannot receive two punishments for the same crime (kam leih b’derabba minei). The gemara elaborates on what the chiddush of this case is. Double-jeopardy, kam leih b’derabba minei, exempts only payments of restitution, not fines (knas). One might have thought that the obligation of restitution takes effect when the cow is borrowed, which has nothing to do with the Shabbos violation; slaughtering only adds the additional obligation of paying a fine for tevicha, which the death-penalty does not exempt, leaving the borrower obligated on all counts. Rav Papa rejects this argument and holds that the obligation of restitution does coincide with the slaughter of the cow on Shabbos, not earlier. Since we cannot penalize a person to pay and receive death, the obligation to pay restitution is cancelled, and since a fine cannot be imposed unless a base obligation exists, the fine is also removed.

2) If someone borrowed a cow and died, and his heirs unwittingly killed the borrowed cow, the gemara assumes that whether the heirs must repay the lender from their father’s estate depends on the same question raised by Rav Papa’s previous case. If the obligation to make restitution for a borrowed animal (or return it) is incurred at the moment the animal is borrowed, a lien exists against the father’s estate from before his death; however, if Rav Papa is right, then the obligation to make restitution does not begin until the time the cow is slaughtered, at which point the father is dead and no lien is in place.

The Rambam breaks the link between these two laws and paskens (Gneiva 3:4) like Rav Papa that a borrower who kills a cow on Shabbos is exempt from payment, but against Rav Papa (Sh’eila 1:10) that heirs who slaughter a cow which their father borrowed must make restitution from their father’s estate. Leaving aside how the Rambam reads the gemara (the meforshim suggest a different girsa), how can the Rambam be explained as internally consistent? Stay tuned...

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

pidyon haben - financial obligation or mitzvah?

Following up the question raised in yesterday’s post, the Chazon Ish explains that although a person is usually required to spend no more than 1/5 of his wealth on any mitzvah, the mitzvah of pidyon haben is different. The financial obligation to buy an esrog or talis or other mitzvah item is itself not a mitzvah – it is just a means to an end. In these cases the Torah places a cap on the amount one is required to expend. However, the obligation to pay a kohen for pidyon haben is not just a means to an end, but is the mitzvah itself. Since in the world of dinei mamonos there are no limits on the obligation to pay back debts, e.g. one cannot tell a lender that the terms of payment exceed 1/5 of one's income and therefore one is exempt from payment, there are also no limits on the obligation of payment for pidyon haben.

By defining pidyon haben as working within the parameters of dinei mamonos, the Chazon Ish opens a pandora’s box of other issues, some of which we dicussed in the past (link)– e.g. can a kohen be mochel payment of pidyon haben money? If we treat the mitzvah purely as a financial obligation, the answer would seem to be yes, but if it is a mitzvah like other mitzvos, than not. (Daf Yomi learners: see Tosfos 30b d”h zar regarding whether a kohen can be mochel tashlumei terumah).

Monday, October 08, 2007

some random thoughts

Now that I got in some Torah, some other post-Yom Tov random thoughts:

After attending no NY Mets games this entire season, I planned to start Chol haMoed with a visit to Shea. Lo and behold I found myself with tickets to what most NYers assumed would be one of the great games of all time. Game over before we even made it from the parking lot to our seats. Please do not re-sign Glavine.

Why do people think there is a mitzvah to beat every leaf off their hoshanos and leave them scattered over the shule floor?

Parshas Braishis is too long to start shnayim mikra Friday afternoon after hakafos and finish before seudas Shabbos – or perhaps I should say I was not up to the task. When Tosfos (Brachos 8b) writes that shnayim mikra can be started from the mincha of the preceding Shabbos because we begin leining the next parsha then, did you think that applied to Braishis as well even though we leined Zos haBracha at the preceding mincha?

Regular readers here know that I sometimes like to write about thinking skills and problem solving. Just finished reading and highly recommend How Doctors Think by Dr. Jerome Groopman. The book discusses the heuristics and cognitive skills doctors use in diagnoses and deciding on treatment. Do other professions have a unique set of cognitive skills that successful practitioners master? My guess is yes – I wonder if research has been done on this.

My son asked whether during hakafos he should rest the Torah on his right shoulder as most people do, or on his left because he is a lefty. I thought he should follow everyone else – see Mishna Berura 134:14; right and left here have nothing to do with one’s stronger hand. If you are a lefty and disagree or have heard differently, please explain.

Are Cliff and Spark brothers, both members of the Notes family? Just wondering...

Yom Tov proves that it is possible to live without blogging. But that is pashut.

how much should one spend on a mitzvah?

Welcome back! Yom Tov of course went too quickly... how many days until Chanukah?
I have been learning Bava Kamma with my son and over Yom Tov pushed to get to the sugya of hidur mitzvah (daf 9). The gemara writes that one must add/spend 1/3 on hiddur mitzvah to obtain a more beautiful mitzvah object, e.g. a nicer esrog. Obviously if one spends 1/3 of one’s net worth on each act of hidur mitzvah, one will be bankrupt after doing only three mitzvos! – the gemara clarifies that adding 1/3 means adding 1/3 of the value of the particular mitzvah being performed, e.g. spending 1/3 more than other esrogim cost to buy a nicer one, or buying an esrog 1/3 larger than others (see Rashi, Tosfos).

While the gemara accepts that having to spend 1/3 of one’s total net worth to perform any given mitzvas aseh is ridiculous, it leaves ambiguous how much maximally one is obligated to spend. Tosfos suggests that the upper limit is 1/5 of one’s worth, based on the rule that one should not give more than 1/5 of one’s property to charity.

The Mishna Berurah in Biur Halacha points out that the gemara elsewhere (Kiddushin 29b) discusses a case of a man who has only 5 dollars and must choose between performing pidyon haben for himself or his son (see that sugya for details). If the maximum a person is obligated to spend on any mitzvas aseh is 1/5 of one’s total wealth, then the dilemma is moot as there should be no obligation of pidyon haben at all in this case! Why does the gemara call on a person to spend his last $5 on pidyon haben in excess of the requirement for lulav, esrog, or other mitzvos? Stay tuned for a lomdish Chazon Ish…

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

dirah vs. sleep in sukkah - beautiful diyuk in Rambam (II)

If I understand the Rogatchover correctly, the Rambams cited in the previous post represent two different dimensions of hilchos sukkah. In 6:5 the Rambam is describing the physical entity of sukkah. The Rambam deliberately does not mention sleeping in the sukkah here as the gemara in Eiruvin defines a person’s place / residence not as the location he/she sleeps in, but the location he/she eats in. The use of the term "dar" and not "yashein" in this context is precise.

In halacha 6:6 the Rambam is simply enumerating those activities which must be performed in the sukkah, and here the Rambam includes sleeping in the list.

(The Mefa'aneiach Tzefunos seems to suggest the Rogatchover intended to distinguish between dirah, which is a kiyum mitzvah, and not sleeping outside sukkah, which is a prohibition but not a chiyuv in and of itself, but in light of the citation of the gemara in Eiruvin I think this formulation fits better.)

Monday, October 01, 2007

sleeping/dwelling in sukkah - beautiful diyuk in the Rambam

I can’t let Chol haMoed pass without sharing this beautiful diyuk in the Rambam.
In ch six of hilchos sukkah, the Rambam in halacha 5 writes:
כיצד היא מצות הישיבה בסוכה: שיהיה אוכל ושותה ודר בסוכה, כל שבעת הימים בין ביום בין בלילה
What is the mitzvah of yeshivas sukkah? A person should eat, drink, and dwell in the sukkah all seven days [of sukkot] both by day and night…

In halacha 6 of the same chapter, the Rambam writes:
אוכלין ושותין וישנין בסוכה כל שבעה, בין ביום בין בלילה
We eat, drink, and sleep in the sukkah all seven days [of sukkot] both by day and night…

Two issues stand out: 1) Aren’t these two halachos identical – why does the Rambam repeat himself? 2) Why in halacha 5 does the Rambam refer to eating, drinking and dwelling (“dar”), but in halacha 6 he refers to eating, drinking, and sleeping (“y’sheinin”)? Have a look inside at the halachos and stay tuned for more...