Monday, March 31, 2008

malkos for buying chameitz

The Rambam writes (Chameitz u’Matzah 1:3) that if one purchases chameitz on Pesach, one would receive malkos. The meforshim address themselves to two difficulties in the Rambam: 1) Bal yera’eh u’bal yimatzeih can be violated simply by owning chameitz, a completely passive state; why are these lavim not categorized as lavim she’ain bahem ma’aseh for which there is no malkos? 2) The mitzvas aseh of destroying chameitz *tashbisu) corrects the lav of owning chamietz. Why are these lavim not categorized as nitak l’aseh for which there is no malkos?

The first problem can be dismissed if we assume the Rambam held (as do other Rishonim) that whether a lav is classified as ain bo ma’aseh is not determined on a categorical basis by the way a lav is normally violated, but is determined on a case by case basis based on whether the person took action or not.

The second problem brings us back to the chakira of the Minchas Chinuch (discussed last week). A lav hanitak l’aseh is a lav which the Torah provides corrective action for. The Minchas Chinuch and R’ Chaim Brisker explain that the Rambam held like Rashi, that the mitzvah of tashbisu is defined not the act of destroying chameitz, but the state of not owning chameitz. Since the mitzvas aseh is fulfilled passively by not possessing chameitz and does not not involve a specific corrective action, the lav is not categorized as a lav hanitak l’aseh.

Friday, March 28, 2008

p' shmini - a thought from the noam elimelech on his yahrzeit

One last idea for the week l’kavod Shabbos. Today is 21 Adar, the yahrzeit (unless you marked it in Adar I) of R’ Elimeleh m’Lizensk, author of the Noam Elimelech. I remember reading in R’ David haLivni’s autobiography “The Book and the Sword” (well worth reading irrespective of his theories about Tanach!) that in his hometown of Sighet in Romania people would go to mikveh before learning the torah of the Noam Elimelech, and the rumor was that the stars found in many editions at the end of certain segments hint to greater sodos that could not be put into text. With rumors like that it’s enough to even get a misnaged (even one that reads R’ David haLivni) curious enough to take a peek. Anyway, the opening torah on this week’s parsha seems appropriate:

VaYisa Aharon es yadav el ha’Am vayivarchem, vayeired mey'asos hachatas v’ha’olah v’hashelamim” (9:22). There seems at first glance to be no reason for the Torah to tell us that Aharon descended from the mizbeyach after blessing the people, and grammatically, the phrase itself is strange – one descends from a place, from the mizbeyach, not from an action. The Noam Elimelech uses the pasuk as a springboard to discuss the tension in balancing love of G-d with love of mankind. The “ivory tower” tzadik” can devote himself to the pure pursuit of perfection and closeness with G-d, but that pursuit comes at the sacrifice of closeness with others who can never reach such lofty heights. One cannot influence and elevate people without coming in contact with their problems and their shortcomings; one cannot bless people unless one is truly sensitive to their shortcomings.

Aharon is the paradigm of the tzadik who suffers a “descent” not in the physical sense of going to a lower location, but in the sense of sacrificing the world of personal perfection for the sake of bringing blessing to the lives of ordinary people. “Descent” is a consequence of blessing. Dealing with people, even for the lofty goal of elevating their lives, entails personal sacrifice of the world of “chatas, olah, and shelamim”, korbanos, from the root krv=closeness to G-d, but that sacrifice itself is the mark of true tzidkus.

When I first thought about this idea I was somewhat depressed by it, maybe because I’m not a chassid. Is it fair to say that one must choose between mankind and G-d, between dedication to self-perfection and tolerance for others? I have a hunch that is not what R’ Elimelech meant to convey. I think the lesson here is that the dichotomy that I painted is ultimately a false one. One cannot truly be dedicated to G-d without concern for one’s fellow man, and one cannot truly achieve perfection without being willing to sacrifice that goal for the concern of another. The “descent” of Aharon is temporary and superficial, as it ultimately leads to the elevation of the people as a whole to greater and more lofty heights.

Of course, R’ Elimelech’s life and the lives of so many tzadikim are characterized by a love of G-d comparable only to their love of mankind. Their teachings are the bracha left for us to learn from, a bracha which entailed a ”descent” in terms of sacrificing time and effort to impart, but paradoxically I think it is that descent to influence future generations which ultiamtely is the source of the greatest aliya, esp. on the yom hayahrzeit.

tzedaka: the Bais haLevi's two models and reward for effort

Yesterday we discussed two possible models for how bitul chameitz works: 1) Rashi – bitul fulfills the mitzvah of tashbisu; 2) Tosfos – bitul creates the circumstance (not owning chameitz) under which the mitzvah of tashbisu does not apply. Earlier in the week we had a discussion about charging for communal services which elicited a comment from Barzilai mentioning the Bais haLevi’s derush on tzedaka. By coincidence, that derasha (derush #1 in vol 2 of the Shu”T) proposes a similar lomdus regarding the mitzvah of tzedaka. The Bh”L distinguishes between two levels of giving: 1) Charity given lishma, which fulfills the mitzvah of tzedaka; 2) Charity given for ulterior motives, which removes the ani from poverty, creating a circumstance under which the mitzvah of tzedaka does not apply, but which itself is not a true fulfillment of the mitzvah. Make of it what you will: concidence, hashgacha, or Barzilai having ruach hakodesh and anticipating that these topics relate : )

Getting back to the topic of tzedaka for a moment, I wrote in the comments there that a poor person who gives $18 to tzedaka at great personal sacrifice gets far more reward than a millionaire who donates a lot of money which requires little sacrifice – l’fum tza’ara agra. The concept of “ain tzedaka mishtalemes elah l’fi chessed she’bah” (Sukkah 49b) is a proof to this very idea, as Rashi explains the chessed is the effort exerted in carrying out the tzedaka, e.g. if someone cooks food an gives it to a poor person, the cost of the food is the tzedaka, but the reward really stems from the chessed of expending effort in the shopping and cooking of the meal. In other words, putting a poor person’s restaurant tab on your credit card or cooking him a meal may accomplish the same end result, but the latter generates more reward than the former.

Here is the monkeywrench: Rashi (VaYikra 5:17) quotes a Toras Kohanim which says that if change falls from your pocket and a poor person picks it up, you get the reward for having fulfilled the mitzvah of tzedaka. Where is the l’fum tza’ara here – you didn’t even realize what happened!?

I think the simplest answer is that l’fum tza’ara agra means that reward is proportional to the effort expended, but there is certainly some level of reward even for an effortless kiyum mitzvah. Another possibility is that reward is accrued after the loss of money is discovered and the person does not try to recover it, but this seems to be a forced reading of Rashi (see R” Yosef Engel in Esvan D’Oraysa #23 for more on this topic). Any other ideas?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

the mitzvah of tashbisu (II)

The gemara (Pesachim 4b) writes that on a d’oraysa level there is no need to do bedikas chameitz provided bitul is done. What exactly does bitul accomplish? After all, the chameitz is still there! Rashi explains that since the Torah used the term “tashbisu” and not “teva’aru”, to burn, it teaches that the mitzvah of eliminating chameitz need not involve destroying it. Bitul alone suffices to fulfill the mitzvah of tashbisu. Tosfos, however, disagrees. The mitzvah of tashbisu begins at the 6th hour of Erev Pesach, writes Tosfos, and we know that bitul is no longer effective from the 6th hour once chameitz becomes prohibited. Tosfos explains that the reason bitul works is not because it fulfills the mitzvah of tashbisu, but rather because there is no mitzvah of tashbisu on chameitz which one does not own.

The point of disagreement between Rashi and Tosfos fits very nicely into the Minchas Chinuch’s safeik (see previous post). According to Tosfos, the mitzvah of tashbisu is a chovas hagavra to destroy chameitz. That process can only be fulfilled at a certain point in time (after the 6th hour of the day) and is incumbent only upon people who own chameitz. If one does not own chameitz (e.g. one did bitul), there is no mitzvah of tashbisu. According to Rashi, tashbisu is fulfilled by achieving the state of not owning chameitz; the mitzvah is the result, not the process. Since bitul helps achieve the state of not owning chameitz, it is part of the kiyum of tashbisu. No matter how or when one destroys chameitz, if the end result of not owning chameitz on Pesach is accomplished, that fulfills tashbisu.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

the mitzvah of "tashbisu"

Time to start getting geared up for Pesach! One of the many notable issues the Minchas Chinuch delves into in his discussion of Pesach is defining the nature of the mitzvah of “tashbisu” (#9 in the Chinuch’s count). Is it a positive mitzvah to actually go out and burn chameitz, just like the mitzvah to eat matzah or pick up a lulav, or is the mitzvah to simply passively be in a state of not possessing chameitz, like the mitzvas aseh of “shabason” which we keep by not doing work on Shabbos? Briskers would phrase the same issue somewhat differently – is the mitzvah a “chovas hagavra”, i.e. the person is obligated to eliminate chameitz, or a “chovas hacheftza”, a din that chameitz itself, if possessed, must be eliminated?

The simplest nafka minah in this chakira is whether a person who owns no chameitz on Erev Pesach fulfills the mitzvah of tashbisu. If there is a chovas hagavra to go out and eliminate chameitz, one needs to get chameitz and destroy it, even if that means buying a loaf of bread just to burn it. But if the mitzvah is simply to be in a state of not possessing chameitz, one need not take any action if one does not have any chameitz to destroy. The Minchas Chinuch suggests a few more creative nafka minos: 1) With respect to the din of “chotef mitzvah”, i.e. someone is not permitted to seize a mitzvah you are about to do. If someone burns the chameitz you were planning to eliminate, have they stolen your mitzvah? The answer is “yes” only if you assume the mitzvah is the act of eliminating chameitz; if the mitzvah is simply being in a state of not owning chameitz, the process of burning or destroying the chameitz is just a means to an end but not the mitzvah itself. 2) With respect to “mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah”. If you find chameitz on Pesach and eat it (which is certainly a valid way to get rid of chamietz), has one fulfilled the mitzvah of “tashbisu”? True, one has also violated an issur in the process, but “mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira” may only be a derabbanan consideration (Tosfos Sukkah 9a); strange as it may sound, perhaps one gets some credit for fulfilling an aseh in this case. The kiyum mitzvah only counts, however, if the act of eliminating the chameitz is a mitzvah. If the process is just a means to an end, one gets no credit at all – only an issur of having ingested chameitz.

This issue may boil down to a debate among Rishonim – more to come, bl”n.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

the halacha of "tziruf" by issurei nezirus

The gemara (Nazir 4) darshens from the pasuk “kol asher yeitzei m’gefen ha’yayin” that there is a halacha of tziruf with respect to issurei nezirus. Meaning: the Torah prohibits eating chartzanim or zagim (different parts of the grape). If a nazir ate half a zayis of chartzanim and half a zayis of zagim, even though each is individually less than a shiur of issur, the two are viewed as combined (tziruf), and since a k’zayis in total was eaten, the nezirus has been violated.

The Brisker Rav points out that there are two possible ways to understand this din. One approach is that “kol asher yeitzei m’gefen ha’yayin” teaches that the issur of chartzan is violated even if only ½ a k’zayis has been eaten provided there is a tziruf with other issurei nazir, and vice versa, the issur of zag is violated even if only ½ a k’zayis is eaten provided there is a tziruf with other issurei nazir. But there is another possibility. Perhaps the issur of zag and chartzan are only violated if a full k’zayis is eaten of each individually. However, “Kol asher yeitzei...” is a new independent issur that includes under its umbrella eating any of the different items such as chartzan, zag, etc. as long as in total a k'zayis is eaten.

The chakira of the Brisker Rav may underly the positions of Rambam and Ra'avad in the following dispute: The Rambam (Nazir 5:8) writes that a nazir who eats a k’zayis of grapes, chartzan, zag, raisins, and drinks a revi’is of wine is chayav 5 separate malkos (plus bal yachel). The Ra’vad asks why the Rambam left out a 6th set of malkos for “kol asher yeitzei m’gefen ha’yayin”. According to Ra’avad, “kol asher yeitzei..." is a new issur subject to malkos. According to the Rambam, "kol asher yeitzei…” simply teaches that tziruf applies to the individual issurim of grapes, raisins, chartzan, and zag, but is not an independent issur in its own right.

(Note: this is a bit difficult to fit into the sugya on daf 38, but those learning daf yomi can worry about that in a few weeks : )

Monday, March 24, 2008

demanding $ to daven for a choleh

I hate to “steal” someone else’s post, but I feel so strongly about this issue that I want to add my two cents. Orthonomics posts a comment from one of her readers:
I have a Purim-related question. I just found out that the learning for boys that has become en vogue in many Shuls on Purim morning is often sponsored by people financially so that they can get the merits of the learning or some other Zechus for their family…I found this out because we asked the Shuls in our area if they could give the boys the name of a sick relative of ours to keep in mind and say Tehillim for while they are there and we were told we would have to cough up some money. Every Shul, but one had the same response. Any thoughts on this?
Orthonomics focuses her attention on the “she’lo lishma” attitude created by these prizes, many of which are not items we would necessarily want our kids to have. But I am more troubled by the attitude of shuls that demand $ for praying for the zechus of a choleh. I am sorry, but this attitude just makes me sick, and this is not the first instance of these type tactics that I have witnessed. Of course the shul can suggest that the person contribute to sponsoring the event. Of course the shul needs to raise tzedaka. But when it comes to the point that praying for a choleh comes with a price tag attached, a quid pro quo, a bill that demands payment or you just are not part of the program, that is where I part ways with whatever organizations run these events. Just my 2 cents.

seudas Purim on Shabbos - different reading of the Yerushalmi

Before leaving Purim behind and looking toward Pesach, I have to add one last point to an issue I raised in a previous post. In discussing whether we pasken like the Yerushalmi’s chiddush that seudas Purim cannot take place on Shabbos, my assumption was that “al hanissim” aside, there is not much of a big deal in eating a seudah both on Shabbos and on Sunday to be yotzei all opinions. I take that back! R’ Friedman (Rosh Mesivta of Mesivta Rambam in Lawrence) quoted a chiddush of R’ Soloveitchik that the Yerushalmi does not just mean that there is a chisaron in the kiyum of seudas Purim if done on Shabbos, but the Yerushalmi means there is an issur from the perspective of hilchos Shabbos in holding a Purim seudah on Shabbos day. Very interesting lomdus. I am just wondering though, assuming the Yerushalmi means there is an issur, how exactly is the issur violated? In what way would the seudah be defined as a seudas Purim as opposed to a normal Shabbos meal (seems strange to say kavanah alone is the issue here)?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

oznei haman

My wife commented to the earlier post regarding the command “sim b’aznei Yehoshua” following the battle with Amalek:

Your mention of sim b'aznei made me think of the fact that Hamantashen in Hebrew are ozney Haman. Perhaps the name implies a hint as to what one hears. We hear the megillah; we said at kabbalas haTorah na'ase venishma. As a part of the body, the ear could also stand in for the slave status that Haman had based on the Midrash that he sold himself to Mordechai for bread.
I can't resist getting the last word in, so I would just add the following: Amalek failed to respond to what their ears heard in the same way as other nations did – “sham’u amim yirgazun”. The parsha of Amalek is followed by the immediate contrast of “vayishma Yisro”, and it was the Keini descendents of Yisro who Shaul warned away before battling Amalek of his time.

But focussing more directly on “ozen”: Maharal (Be’er haGolah ch. 3, see also Ch Aggados to Kesubos 5) has an interesting comment about the ear. Every sense organ has a covering – eye lids, mouth can be closed, a nose can be pinched closed. The ear is always open – it is the ultimate kli kibul. A kli kibul has no identity of its own but is made by what is placed inside, and to a certain degree, it is this quality of being a kli kibul which makes us human. We absorb and assimilate into our thinking and personality that which we take in from the outside world. A cherish is patur from mitzvos because without the kli bibul of hearing, he/she is lacking in identity.

We are what we hear, and whether we fill our ears with the dvar Hashem or with havalei olam hazeh determines whether we are in the reshus of Amalek or following Hashem.

Chochmas Adam ta’ir panav. All the other sense organs – eyes, nose, mouth – are located in the front of the face with the exception of the ears. The defeat of Amalek is not through chochma, through the direct experience of “panim”, but through hisbatlus, ad d’lo yada.

Divrei Chachamim b’Nachas Nishma’im. The gematriya of ozen is 58, the same as the gematriya of chein. R’ Nachman m’Breslev (Lik Moharan #1) explains that chein must make an impression, which is indicated by the letter “taf” added to “nach” (to spell “nachas”), as used in the pasuk “v’hisvisa tav” (Yechezkel 9), making a mark. The “chein” or “ozen” is the kli kibul for divrei chachamim, but words are only effective to the degree that they impact the listener.

And of course, the gematriya of 58 matches noach, prominently featured in the pesukim about "nachu mei'oyveihem".

“Sim b’aznei Yeshoshua” is the charge to create an impact upon Yehoshua, to ensure that he is a kli kibul which will carry the message of mechiyas Amalek l’dor dor.

more on mishloach manos and shlichus

Why doesn’t connecting the machlokes Rambam and Tur mentioned in the previous post to mishloach manos make much sense? If you were reading this blog a year ago you might remember a question of the Dvar Avraham. People seem to get hung up on the chumra of sending mishloach manos via shliach, so all over the neighborhood you see little kids running around delivering on behalf of their parents. But, asks the Dvar Avraham, the halacha is that a katan cannot serve as a shliach!

The D.A. says a beautiful chiddush that helps resolve many issues in shlichus. There are two ideas in shlichus that get confused: 1) shlucho shel adam k’moso; 2) plain vanilla shlichus. Sometimes halacha simply looks at whether a desired result is accomplished, in which case plain vanilla shlichus suffices; sometimes halacha is concerned with whether I performed a specific action, in which case the rule of shlucho shel adam k’moso needs to be invoked. For example, if I appoint a shliach to shecht a korban for me, the only requirement to be met is that the animal be properly slaughtered - who does the slaughtering is irrelevant. However, if I designate a shliach to be mekadesh a woman to be my wife, not only must the end-result of the woman receiving a ring be accomplished, but I must be the one giving it. A shliach who delivers the ring must be shlucho k’moso, acting in my place.

When it comes to mishloach manos all that is important is that the recipient receive the manos; how does the delivery and how it gets there is irrelevant. A katan cannot serve as a shliach when we need to invoke shlucho k’moso, but when our only concern is producing a result, plain vanilla shlichus, there is no exclusion on a katan.

The whole dispute between the Rambam and the Tur is in a case of divorce where it is important to establish shlucho k’moso because only the husband and no other person may divorce his wife. However, with respect to mishloach manos, where all that is necessary is to produce the end result of the recipient getting manos, even the Rambam would agree that the shliach is not an actual surrogate stand-in for the sender.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

response to a youth in crisis - must read

Rabbi Lazer Brody (website) has a simple agenda of increasing emunah in Hashem. Whether you agree with everything he writes or not, you have to admire (at least I do) his dedication to the apolitical agenda of simply getting people to have faith. This letter he wrote in response to a plea for help from an all too typical teen in the yeshiva system about to go off the derech haTorah is a must read.

eating seudas purim before giving mishloach manos and issues of shlichus

I lost track now of the comment someone posted recently referencing the machlokes between the Rambam and Tur regarding shlichus. Whether the intent was to get me to find a way to do a post on it, I don’t know, but as coincidence would have it, the topic resurfaced. The machlokes in a nutshell: a husband appoints a shliach to deliver a get to his wife and goes insane before the get is actually delivered. Is the get valid? The Rambam (Geirushin ch 2) holds that min haTorah it is valid. Once the shliach is appointed and given charge of the get, he stands in the husband’s place and the “real” husband is no longer in the picture (the get is, however, pasul mderabbanan). The Tur disagrees and holds that such a get is invalid min haTorah. The shliach is not a surrogate husband or a replacement husband; the shliach’s actions are merely attributed to the original husband as if he had performed them. Since the original husband cannot divorce his wife while insane, the actions of the shliach done on his behalf are of no consequence. (See Ketzos 188:2 for more on this topic.)

What does this have to do with Purim? Apparently there is a shortage of chumros in the world, so someone reasoned as follows: since it is prohibited to start a meal when a mitzvah performance is pending, perhaps one is not permitted to start one's seudas Purim until the mitzvah of mishloach manos and matanot la'evyonim have been fulfilled. The fact that such an idea is not mentioned in earlier poskim is not a problem - it was simply so obvious (so the argument goes) that mentioning it would be redundant. (The obvious catch is that seudas Purim is itself a pending mitzvah – why should mishloach manos come first? Let’s leave that aside for now.)

But how long must one wait before eating? Is it OK to hand off one’s mishloach manos to a shliach and then sit down to eat, or must one wait until the recipient actually takes delivery?

Had you asked me that question (and I was willing to take the chumra seriously) I would have said it depends on whether one holds like the Terumas haDeshen or the Manos haLevi that we discussed yesterday. If the purpose of mishloach manos is to foster friendship (like the Manos haLevi suggests), then the act of giving alone seems to suffice even if it never reaches the recipient (the Rama even writes that one fulfills the mitzvah of mishloach manos if the recipient is mochel). However, if the purpose of mishloach manos is to enhance a neighbor’s seudas Purim (like the TH”D suggests), then until the recipient gets the food the goal has not yet been accomplished.

Looking to find something more lomdish to say, a talmid chacham wrote to R’ Binyan Zilber (Shu”T Az Nidberu 6:65) that this issue depends on the machlokes Rambam and the Tur. According to the Rambam, the shliach becomes a surrogate for the giver, removing the giver from the picture. The shliach therefore cannot eat Purim seudah until he completes delivery, but the sender definitely can. However, according to the Tur, the shliach is merely acting on behalf of the sender, but is not the sender’s substitute. Until the manos are actually given, the sender is not allowed to eat. R’ Binyam Zilber was not convinced… maybe more on this later after some thinking time.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

mishloach manos using issurei hana'ah

The Mishna in Kiddushin tells us that a person cannot be mekadesh a women using issurei hana’ah, as these items have no value. The Mishne l’Melech (Ishus perek 5) raises an interesting question: if a person is mekadesh a women who is deathly ill with issurei hana’ah that she needs for her illness, is the kiddushin valid? On the one hand, for this particular woman the issur hana’ah does have value; on the other hand, for the mekadesh and for the rest of the world, the prohibition of using such an item renders it valueless.

Achronim raise a similar question with regards to mishloach manos. If one were to give an item which is assur b’hana’ah to someone who is deathly ill, has one fulfilled the mitzvah of mishloach manos? Does mishloach manos need to be something of value to begin with (and if so, how much value)? Can it have to be something which the recipient alone values, or something of value to the sender as well?

Shu”t L’Horos Nasan (vol 2 # 54) suggests that this question may hinge on a famous dispute between the Terumas haDeshen and the Manos haLevi regarding the purpose of mishloach manos. The TH”D holds that the purpose of mishloach manos is to add to and enhance seudas Purim. Therefore, if a person is deathly ill and is permitted to eat a seudah of issurei hana’ah, these foods can serve as mishloach manos. The Manos haLevi, however, holds that the purpose of mishloach manos is to create a sense of friendship and camaraderie. Support for such an idea can be found in the Ritv”a’s chiddush (Meg 7) that if one gives a mishloach manos of insignificant value to a wealthy important person, one has not fulfilled the mitzvah. Since the gift makes no impression on the recipient and does not foster any feeling of friendship, it cannot count as mishloach manos. Perhaps one can apply the same chiddush in reverse to our case. Since giving away issurei hana’ah costs nothing and is something the giver would want to get rid of anyway, it does not convey that feeling of friendship that mishloach manos is supposed to foster and would therefore not fulfill the mitzvah.

Friday, March 14, 2008

more lessons from Parshas Amalek

Further thoughts on Parshas Amalek:

1) Unlike, for example, the war against Yericho, where Chazal interpret the pasuk “vayalan b’toch ha’eimek” to mean that Yehoshua “lan b’omko shel halacha” and devoted his time before battle to learning, here the Torah focuses on Moshe's tefilah as an integral aspect to the battle. I think this reinforces the Shem m’Shmuel’s point with respect to understanding “rifyon yadayim” for Torah as a lack of proper anticipation for kabbalas haTorah. The tikun for lack of learning is more learning. The tikun for lacking anticipation for learning and eagerness for learning is not through more learning (a disinterested student will not be more responsive to two hours of shiur than he will be to one), but requires tefilah.

The Rishonim ask why Ta’anis Esther is commemorated the day before Purim when nomally fasting is prohibited the day before and the day after any holiday mentioned in Megilas Ta’anis. The Ohr Gedalyahu explains based on the Ra’avad (Ta’anis 7 in RI”F) that Ta’anis Esther is different because tefilah and fasting is an integral part of the celebration of destroying Amalek.

2) The parsha ends with Moshe being told to write down what occurred and “sim b’aznei Yehoshua”, relate it to Yehoshua. This is the first place in the Torah that Moshe is told to transmit Torah to his talmid – to create a mesorah of Torah passed from Rebbe to student. Why here? The content of learning can often be transmitted through books or other means, just like any other body of knowledge. What it means to be mekabeil Torah, to have that enthusiasm and desire that Amalek tried to extinguish, can only be transmitted through personal interaction.

3) I would have expected this charge of writing the parsha and teaching it to Yehoshua to be followed by a pasuk telling us “vayichtov Moshe…” or “vaYomer Moshe l’Yehoshua…”. Instead, the next pasuk tells us that Moshe built a mizbeiach and offered another tefilah. Shouldn't that pasuk follow immediately after the story of the battle? What is it doing here after Moshe was told to teach Yehoshua? The Seforno in a few words has an amazing insight: וְשִׂים אֵיזֶה זִכָּרון בְּאָזְנֵי יְהושֻׁעַ. וְזֶה עָשָׂה משֶׁה בְּבִנְיַן הַמִּזְבֵּחַ (פסוק טו) וּבִתְפִלָּתו Moshe did impress the lesson of Amalek upon Yehoshua – he did it through his tefilah.

Parents all the time try to “sim b’aznei” their children various messages, most of which are usually ignored. There are obviously more important messages, and less important messages. If you ask someone what they learned from their parents and they say “To pick my dirty socks up off the floor”, they are missing something. True, their mother may have repeated that message 5000 times, but that is a less important message. How can we tell what are the more important messages and what are the less important one's? By listening to what our parents, our Rebbeim, our leaders daven for. No mother davens that her kid pick his dirty socks up, no matter how many times she may repeat it. “Sim b’aznei Yehoshua” by showing him what you are davening for.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Amalek and kabbalas haTorah - banishing "sipuk"

The gemara (Shabbos 87) tells us that Hashem coerced the Jewish people to accept the Torah at Sinai and only after the events of Purim was the Torah willingly embraced and accepted. Why was this acceptance achieved davka after the events of Purim and not at any earlier historical point? As discussed previously, the Shem m’Shmuel identifies the “rifyon yadayim” that led to the battle with Amalek not as a lack of Torah study, but a lack of intensity and preparedness for kabbalas haTorah. By definition, the defeat of Amalek during Purim is one and same as achieving kabbalas haTorah with full vigor.

The gemara (Meg 7) brings various proofs that Esther was written b’ruach hakodesh. Rava adds that all the proofs can be refuted except for the derasha of “kiymu v’kiblu – kiymu l’ma’alah mah she’kiblu l’matah”. Only b’ruach hakodesh could Esther and Mordechai have known that Hashem accepted their enactment of Purim. Yet, asks Tosfos, this proof also can be refuted, as Rava elsewhere (Shabbos 87) uses the same pasuk to darshen that that the Jewish people had a “kiyum” duing Purim of the kabbalas haTorah which had occurred at Sinai – “kiymu mah shekiblu kvar”. The Shem m’Shmuel in his last piece on Purim writes that these are not contradictory derashos, but complementary points (see the Kedushas Levi on this same gemara for a beautiful explanation). Because there was a deeply felt “kiyum” of kabbalas haTorah on the part of Bnei Yisrael, there was a complementary acceptance of all that was enacted as being a part and parcel of Torah, inspired by ruach hakodesh. In other words, the kabbalah is not simply a passive act of acceptance, but actualizes the Torah and creates the cheftza of Torah in the process.

What is the biggest obstacle to feeling this anticipation for Torah and having a kabbalah filled with hislahavus and intensity? Lots of people say derashos about Amalek being equal in gematriya to safeik=doubt. I would like to suggest that the gematriya is right, but they are misreading the word. It’s not safeik=doubt, but sipuk, satiation, feeling fulfilled (see the Koznitzer Maggid on the Mishna in Avos “histaleik min hasfeik” who suggests the same reading there). If a person feels fulfilled and satisfied where he or she is holding, then there is no expectation for change and certainly no desire for change. Banishing Amalek requires removing that feeling of sipuk and rekindling the desire to accept and grow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

responses to tragedy at merkaz harav

The Belzer Rebbe's tremendous personal caring and concern for those involved in the tragedy at Merkaz haRav has been publicized in many places already, but this article I think is one of the most moving.

At the opposite extreme, and I hate to even mention it in the same post, this report is simply mind boggling.

how often to hear parshas zachor

The Chasam Sofer (Even haEzer #119) writes that the amount of time that elapses before forgetfulness sets in is one year. Assuming the reading of parshas zachor from a Torah text is a din d’orasya, it therefore must be repeated once a year to fulfill the obligation of “zachor – lo tishkach”, not forgetting Amalek. How then do we fulfill the mitzvah in a leap year when more than 12 months have passed since the last reading of zachor? The Ch”S answers that the shiur is one year, not 12 months. During a leap year, the shiur extends by a month.

My impression is that this Ch”S is relatively well known, but less well known is the Sefer haChinuch who addresses this same issue. Pointing to the fact that the minhag in Eretz Yisrael was to lein the entire Torah over three years instead of one, the Sefer haChinuch writes that there is no obligation to hear zachor on an annual basis. How often must one hear the parsha? The Minchas Chinuch suggests that perhaps even hearing it once a lifetime would fulfill the obligation.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

the battle with Amalek in Refidim

When one studies history it may be important to know who did what when and where, but the Torah is not history. There must be some reason relevant to our moral education for the Torah to tell us that the battle with Amalek took place in Refidim. Chazal do offer such a reason: the name of the place hints at the cause of Amalek’s attack, namely “rafu y’deihem min haTorah”, there was a weakness and lack of intensity in Torah.

The Shem m’Shmuel asks: the battle with Amalek took place en route to Sinai, before the Torah was given. There were only a few halachos that had been taught at Marah, and even with respect to these laws there was no mitzvah of talmud torah, to study torah as an end in itself. How then can the Jewish people at this point be criticized for “rifyon yadayim” in Torah?

The answer the Shem m’Shmuel suggests opens a door into understanding the whole parsha of Amalek and Purim. True, there was not yet Torah to study, but the Jewish people knew that kabbalas haTorah was the end goal of the entire process of the exodus from Egypt. They had been counting days of sefirah in eager anticipation of that end goal. They should have been filled with anticipation and longing for that end goal. Yet, they hit a Refidim. “Rafu y’deihem”, the zeal and eagerness hit a road bump, the preparation and anticipation lost some steam, and a little voice told them that maybe they should maybe slow down, maybe think a little more about this kabbalas haTorah idea and consider if they are really ready for it. That’s Amalek in a nutshell.

Road bumps or setbacks in a life of learning are inevitable, but if that initial commitment is not strong and suffers from “rifyon yadayim” the danger is far more serious.

what attracts people to shul?

I was recently thinking about this question and am curious as to others' opinions. What attracts you to a shul and why? The building? The cholent served at the kiddush? The derasha of the Rav? The social crowd? The chazzan? For those of you out there who are practicing Rabbanim, do you throw everything you can out there and hope you hit the magic trigger that will turn people on to your shul, or is there one particular quality that you work on to distinguish your message?

Have you given your answer some thought? I am curious if anyone else included in their answer a factor that I rank as being of primacy importance. The magic word: stimulation. Maybe it’s just me, but unless my brain is working, I just get bored, lose interest, and start getting impatient. Stimulation can come in a lot of different forms, e.g. a new melody incorporated into tefilah, a different dish at the kiddush, etc. but for me those items sit on the periphery. For a different food I can go to a restaurant, for a different nigun I can go to a concert, for a social outing I can go to a Mets game. What being in a makom torah can give that those experiences can’t is one thing: Torah. By that I don’t mean a stale vort that has been passed around for 200 years and is delivered with the usual platitudes about the importance of chessed, torah, etc. I mean Torah in the sense of a meaningful insight that challenges me to think, to evaluate, to learn and grow. In other words, Torah that stimulates.

kallahmagazine blog address

If you have been looking for my wife's blog the past few days, the address has changed to Her old ISP had too many issues and outages so she pulled the plug and switched; in the process, she abandoned wordpress and is now on blogger. The web address remains the same. And while on the topic, the latest issue of her magazine just came out - look for it in the 5T, Queens (being delivered today), Baltimore, Teaneck, and it should hit Brooklyn soon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

purim meshulash - seudah, parshas zachor

The Yerushalmi (mentioned in yesterday’s post) writes that the simcha of Purim established by Sanhedrin cannot be celebrated simultaneously with the simcha of Shabbos, which was established by G-d, and therefore if Purim falls on Shabbos, the seudah is pushed off until Sunday. The Bavli does not mention such an idea; whether that silence indicates disagreement or not is a subject of major debate. The Ran already is uncomfortable with the whole idea of celebrating seudas Purim on the 16th when the megillah explicitly tells us “lo ya’avor”, that the date of the celebration cannot extend beyond the 15th. Another problematic element of the Yerushalmi is the assumption that Shabbos is not just a day of oneg, but includes an obligation of simcha as well. Tosfos in M.K. (23b d”h “man”) writes that the reason a Yom Tov cancels aveilus and Shabbos does not (i.e. if a Yom Tov falls out in the middle of shloshim or shiva, one does not resume mouring after Y”T) is because Y”T is a time of simcha and Shabbos is not. Even if one grants the assumption that Shabbos is a day of simcha, whether we apply this idea of “ain m’arvin simcha b’simcha”, not celebrating two simchas simultaneously, to this type of simcha is debatable (see M”K 8). No one would suggest, for example, that a pidyon haben needs to be rescheduled until after chol hamoed so as to not mix the two elements of simcha.

Is there any explicit gemara in the Bavli that we can point to as being in disagreement with the Yerushalmi? The Bavli (Meg 30a) quotes an argument between Rav and Shmuel when to read parshas zachor in a year such as this one where Purim falls on a Friday. Rav says to read zachor the week before Purim, as we do, so that the reading precedes the Purim. Shmuel, however, argues, and says zachor should be read on the Shabbos of the 15th so that “zechira v’asyia b’hadei hadadei”, the reading of zachor and the celebration of Purim for those in walled cities will be simultaneous. The simple reading of the gemara clearly implies according to Shmuel that the celebration of Purim is not pushed off until Sunday, but occurs on Shabbos itself, the same day that zachor is read. The Pri Chadash and others attempt to refute this proof, but certainly at first glance it seems very convincing.

For those with a hearty appetite, it probably is not such a big deal to make a seudah on Shabbos and a seudah on Sunday to be yotzei all opinions. However, you still can’t completely escape the debate, because one must decide on which day(s) to say “Al haNissim”. For those with a hearty appetite for learning and want a fuller treatment of this topic, R’ Ovadya Yosef in the first volume of Yechaveh Da’at has a nice review of the issues involved in a "Purim meshulash".

Sunday, March 09, 2008

seudas Rosh Chodesh on Shabbos and Purim meshulash

I meant to post this on Friday but did not have time... better late thane never. The Yerushalmi writes that if Purim falls on Shabbos, seudas Purim is pushed off and held after Shabbos rather than earlier. This creates the phenomenon known as "Purim meshulash". If you are in Yerushalyim this year for Purim, you will hear megillah and do matanos l'evyonim on Friday, then have Shabbos, and have your Purim seudah on Sunday, creating a three day celebration.

Why, asks the Yerushalmi, is the Purim seudah not held on Shabbos? The Yerushalmi answers by quoting the pasuk from the megillah, "la'asos oso y'mei mishteh v'simcha", that Purim involves turning an ordinary day into a special day of simcha, as opposed to Shabbos, which is already fixed since creation as a day of simcha. You can't mix celebrations of G-d-imosed simcha and man-made simcha on the same day. The fact that we never find such a derasha in the Bavli already should make us suspicious that perhaps this Yerushalmi is not unanimously accepted, and sure enough, from Rishonim to Achronim, there is debate as to whether this conclusion is accepted l'halacha. Maybe more on that later in the week.

Even though this Yerushalmi is much discussed in the context of Purim, it actually applies to a halacha that came up this Shabbos, which coincided with Rosh Chodesh. The Shulchan Aruch writes (O.C. 419) that there is an obligation to mark Rosh Chodesh with a special seudas Rosh Chodesh (this halacha is not too popular in practice; see the Aruch haShulchan). We don't find a clear statement in the Bavli that such an obligation exists, but the Taz points to the same Yerushalmi above as a source. The Yerushlami writes that not only seudas Purim, but also seudas Rosh Chodesh is delayed until after Shabbos. QED from the fact that the two seudos are discussed in the same context that just like there is an obligation for a seudah on Purim, there is a similar seudah obligation on Rosh Chodesh. The MG"A writes that on Shabbos one needs to find some way to add something to one's seudah to make it more special and indicate that it includes this added kiyum of seudas Rosh Chodesh. However, if one accepts the Yerushalmi at face value, then in reality the seudas Rosh Chodesh cannot be fulfilled on Shabbos and needs to be celebrated after Shabbos. The Mishna Berura (Sha'ar haTziyun #5) quotes R' Ya'akov Emden's psak, based on the Yerushalmi, that one can fulfill the seudas Rosh Chodesh by having a special melaveh malka, even though Motzei Shabbos is not longer Rosh Chodesh.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

building a mizbeiach on Yom Tov (II)

The Minchas Yitzchak’s explanation of the hava amina to think binyan mikdash might be doche Shabbos or Y”T follows along the same lines suggested by Chaim M. in a comment yesterday. The M. Y. just adds an additional twist which to help explain why the Mechilta illustrates the issur of building the mikdash using a case of fixing the mizbeiach and not with a case of building the actual walls of the mishkan.

As we discussed once before, Tosfos holds that the aseh of Yom Tov is zman gerama and women are obligated only in the lav. This opens the theoretical possibility of saying that the aseh of binyan mishkan could be doche the lav of Yom Tov, as Chaim M. suggested. However, the gemara (Shavuos 15) writes that the mitzvah of binyan mikdash cannot be done at night. If so, it should be classified as a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama and not apply to women! (We actually discussed this one about a year ago as well, and my son spoke about it at his bar mitzvah, last year P’ VaYakhel-Pekudei.)

The Minchas Yitzchak brilliantly rescues the sevara for the hava amina by pointing to a suggestion in achronim that even though the building of the actual miskhan could not be done at night, the building of kelim could be done at night. If so, perhaps women could fulfill the mitzvah of binyan mikdash by building kelim at night, and one might have thought they could even do so on Yom Tov, kah mashma lan our pasuk that they may not. Based on this analysis it is also meduyak that the Mechilta offers an example of building the mizbeiach, a kli, and not building the walls of the mishkan itself.

I am still a bit puzzled. Unless I am mistaken, even Tosfos who holds women are not obligated in the aseh of Yom Tov still holds that one cannot be doche the lav of Y"T to fulfill a different aseh (yes, we discusssed this one as well in the past.) Doesn't that shoot down the hava amina here?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

the mizbeiach built on Yom Tov

Rashi in P’ VaYakhel writes that the pasuk “sheishes yamim ta’aseh melacha” teaches that the Mishkan can only be built during the 6 weekdays but not on Shabbos. Rashi’s interpretation is based on the Mechilta, which learns from this pasuk that even fixing the broken corner of a mizbeiach is prohibited on Shabbos.

According to most opinions of Tanaim (see Shabbos 87) the Torah was given on Shabbos, the 51st day after Pesach. The MG”A famously asks why we refer to the holiday of Shavuos, which we celebrate on the 50th day of the sefira count, as “zman mattan Toraseinu”, when the Torah was actually not given until the day after the holiday of Shavuos. You have until Shavuos to work out a good answer to that one, but for now, I want to focus on a different point. After working through the calculations of the dates, the Minchas Chinuch (#309) notes that Moshe was commanded to build a mizbeiach on the day before mattan Torah. If mattan Torah was on day 51 of sefira, the mizbeiach would have been built on day 50, which was the Yom Tov of Shavuos. How could Moshe violate the issur of building a mizbeiach on Yom Tov? True, the Torah had not yet been given, but Moshe, like the Avos, would certainly have observed halacha even before the formal mattan Torah.

The Minchas Yitzchak (Kuntres Divrei Cheifetz, end of vol 3) offers two answers: 1) the mizbeiach was not a permanent structure and therefore did not violate the d’oraysa prohibition of binyan; 2) two people worked on building the mizbeiach and each was “aino yachol” and therefore not in violation of a d’oraysa.

These answers each have debatable points, but I’ll leave that for another time. One final question worth thinking about: why is a limud necessary to teach us that building a Mishkan cannot be done on Shabbos? We know that a mitzvas aseh cannot be doche a lav + aseh, so why would we think that the Mishkan could be built on Shabbos? The Minchas Yitzchak has a beautiful pilpul to answer this question. I may try to post it later, but if I don’t get to it, it is worth the effort to look up.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

nedarim 72 - shlucho shel adam k'moso

As part of the discussion of whether a husband must actually hear the neder he is being meifer, the gemara Nedarim 72b presents a machlokes R’ Yonasan and R’ Oshiya whether an apotropus can be appointed by a husband to absolve his wife’s nedarim. R’ Yonasan takes the position that “shlucho shel adam k’moso”, but R’ Oshiya argues that the pasuk of “isha” excludes shlichus for hafaras nedarim. The gemara suggests that the possibility of the husband delegating the right of hafarah to someone else proves that the husband’s hearing the neder is not a prerequisite for hafarah.

The Rishonim ask an obvious question on this proof: if the delegate can serve as a shliach for hafarah, doesn’t the delegate hearing the neder also count as if the husband heard it by virtue of this same principle of “shlucho shel adam k’moso”?

The Ran and Rosh offer two solutions. Ran explains: a necessary condition for appointing a shliach is having the ability and right to personally perform the same act. If hearing a neder is a prerequisite to hafarah, the husband must fulfill that prerequisite before he can appoint a shliach to do hafarah on his behalf. The Rosh answers by asserting a chiddush in where shlichus applies. Shlichus, writes the Rosh, only empowers an agent to perform an action on someone’s behalf. Since hearing is passive and involves no action, is it not subject to delegation.

This Rosh is one of the proofs of the Ketzos (182:1) to his famous answer to the Tosfos RI”D’s question of why a person cannot appoint a shliach to put on tefillin for him or perfom other similar mitzvos on his behalf. If Reuvain acts as Shimon’s agent to don tefillin for him, true shlucho shel adam k'moso would mean it is as Shimon homself performed the act of putting on tefillin. However, the body those tefillin were placed on is Reuvain's, not Shimon's! Shimon's mitzvah of tefillin can only be fulfilled by putting tefillin on his own body, not someone else's. As the Rosh writes, shlichus only extends to actions - it does not mean that the agent who hears a neder functions as the ear of the husband, and it does not mean that Reuvain's body upon which tefillin are wrapped can be considered like Shimon's.