Wednesday, April 30, 2008

yahrzeit of the divrei chaim

The Divrei Chaim, i.e. R' Chaim m'Sanz, was not in my mind as an eponym of this blog, but names sometimes have a life of their own. It does seem remiss not to mention on a blog called Divrei Chaim that today is the Divrei Chaim's yahrzeit, so consider it noted.

shliach na'asah eid

Before Purim I did a post touching on one of the fundamental questions about how shlichus operates: If Reuvain appoints Shimon to be his shliach, do we view Shimon as if he legally has become Reuvain, or is Shimon still Shimon, but his actions count as if done by Reuvain? This chakira is used by the Ketzos to explain the dispute between the Rambam and the Tur regarding a husband who appoints a shliach to deliver a get and then goes insane. If the shliach’s appointment causes him to legally become identified as the husband, then the mental status of the “real” husband is no longer relevant. If the shliach’s retains his own legal identity and his actions are just ascribed to the “real” husband, then the real husband’s state of insanity would invalidate the get. (Just for the record: everyone agrees in such a case that the get is invalid; the issue is whether the psul is d’oraysa or derabbanan).

My son started learning the second perek of Kiddushin by himself and wanted to use this chakira to explain the debate (43a) over whether a shliach can serve as a witness (“shliach na’aseh eid”). If Shimon the shliach assumes the identity of Reuvain, the one who appointed him, then Shimon becomes a party to events and cannot testify about them. If, however, Shimon legally remains Shimon and his actions are just ascribed to Reuvain, because he retains his independent identity he is not precluded from testifying. (The same analysis can be found in R’ Yosef Engel’s sefer Lekach Tov).

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

eliminating negatives: qualitative vs. quantitative approaches

The Toras Kohanim presents a dispute between R’ Yehudah and R’ Shimon on how to understand the blessing of ‘v’hishbati chaya ra’ah min ha’aretz” which appears at the end of Sefer vaYikra. R’ Yehudah interprets the bracha to mean that there will no longer be wild animals, but R’ Shimon disagrees and interprets the pasuk to mean that wild animals will still exist, but will behave tamely, in the classic fashion of the lion lying down with the lamb.

It takes the creativity and genius of the Rogatchover to see the connection between this dispute and the issue we raised yesterday with respect to whether bitul chameitz means a qualitative or quantitative destruction. “Hishbati chaya…” shares the same root as “tashbisu chameitz”. R’ Yehudah who interprets that bitul chameitz must be done by burning, eliminating the quantity of chameitz from existence, also holds that “v’hisbati chaya” means that wild animals will cease entirely to exist. The opposing view holds that “hishbati” need not mean elimination of a quantity, but can also mean a qualitative change. Wild animals which no longer act wild also counts as a fulfillment of the bracha. In that same vein, if one took a bot of chameitz and mixed it with matzah so it became bateil before Pesach, although the same quantity of chameitz still exists, the fact that the mixture halachically is not considered to have the quality of chameitz fulfills the mitzvah of tashbisu.

Moving out of the world of lomdus, perhaps there is an issue of mussar here as well. What is the best approach to vanquish the “chaya ra’ah” within? Should one aim for complete elimination of negative tendencies, or perhaps those tendencies can be sublimated toward a higher good and in that way eliminate the negative consequences?

nechama leibowitz's gilyonot now online

Fans of Nechama Leibowitz's gilyonot on the parsha (and if you are not a fan, you will be once you take a look) will be happy to know they are now online:

(Hat Tip to parshablog)

Monday, April 28, 2008

redesigned webpage

Over at Feel free to offer your feedback.

is the mitzvah to eliminate a quantity of chameitz or the quality of chameitz: kamus vs. eichus

Boy, is it hard to get back into things after Yom Tov! I’m not sure I’m ready to jump back into blogging – for some reason my brain has a block on putting down anything on paper right now. My son has become a big fan of R’ Yosef Engel’s seforim and spent much of Yom Tov with the sefer Lekach Tov perched in front of him. One of the topics he was delving into was the issue of kamus/eichus, quality vs. quantity and how each plays out in various halachic scenarios. The Rogatchover toys with the same idea in the context of bitul chameitz. What if instead of burning or destroying chameitzdik flour before Yom Tov a person mixed that chameitzdik flour together with pesachdik flour so it was bateil? Leaving aside the issue of using that mixture on Yom Tov, has one fulfilled the mitzvah of tashbisu, of eliminating chameitz, by being mevateil it? On a quantitative basis (kamus), there is still the same amount of flour in the world as there was before bitul took place. But on a qualitative basis (eichus), the chamietz that exists no longer has the halachic status of chameitz. This sounds like a bad pun - can one fulfill bitul chameitz by doing bitul? More later bli neder... I need to ease back into things slowly.

Friday, April 18, 2008

preparing to enter the kodesh kodashim; preparing to experience the pnimiyus of Pesach

P’ Acharei opens with a warning to Aharon that he may not enter the kodesh kodashim whenever he chooses. The danger is reinforced with a reminder that Aharon's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, entered without permission and were killed.

The Shem m’Shmuel asks: Nadav and Avihu were killed, as the Torah tells us earlier, “b’hakrivam aish zarah”, because they brought an improper offering of k'tores. Chazal in Midrash ascribe many other sins to Nadav and Avihu which may have led to or contributed to their downfall. Whatever their exact sin was, clearly it was more than simply entering into kodesh kodashim. How does their death serve as a warning that simply entering kodesh kodashim poses a danger?

To answer the question we need to have some perspective on how schar v’onesh works. In G-d’s court of judgment, guilt and merit are not calculated based only on the deeds done, but are calculated relative to who we are and what we are capable of. A Jew who grew up with no background but makes an effort to keep some mitzvos may receive tremendous reward, while a Jew who grew up immersed in a Torah society but chooses to only minimally practice his Judaism may receive little reward for those very same deeds. Same act, different people, different contexts, different reward and punishment.

Because justice is relative, the closer a person grows to G-d, the greater the potential for punishment, as more is expected of him/her. There is an arousal of the attribute of justice that accompanies every step upward that a person takes, as actions that a person on a lower level would not be held accountable for are now judged to be sins and require tshuvah and reflection.

Aharon’s sons were indeed guilty of offering an “aish zarah”, whatever exactly that sin was. But these blemishes of sin were slight and would have been undetectable to us. Recall that Moshe told Aharon that Nadav and Avihu were even greater in stature than they were! Why then did Hashem punish Nadav and Avihu so harshly? Why did the anger of Hashem toward Nadav and Avihu which had been held in abeyance since Mattan Torah (according to one Midrashic view) suddenly spill over into Divine punishment? The answer is “b’korvasam lifnei Hashem” – because they drew closer to G-d. To enter the kodesh kodashim, the holiest spot on earth, demanded a level of purity that did not tolerate the slight blemishes of soul. It’s not the sin of “aish zarah” alone which killed Nadav v’Avihu, but it was the context in which the sin took place. In the context of kodesh kodashin, the ever so slight defects of soul that these giants might have had within them were suddenly judged as glaring errors of judgment. Because the context of kodesh kodashim is so special, it must be reserved for use only on the the most special moment of the year, as Aharon was told.

Now we can understand, says the Shem m’Shmuel, why the Jewish people needed a korban Pesach to merit escaping the danger of the final makkas bechoros. I would add that now we understand why it takes so much work and preparation before we can have a Yom Tov of Pesach. It’s not just about cleaning the cupboard, but it’s about cleaning the soul. What may have been fine and good for our souls before Peach simply does not cut it in the context of the tremendous aliya ruchanit of the chag. If you want to feel the spiritual energy inherent in matzah and enter the kodesh kodashim of the pnimiyus of the chag, you can’t just waltz into Yom Tov with the baggage of a whole year! There is a din v’sheshbon that comes along with aliya, a struggle a person needs to undergo to integrate the ohr of the chag into their total personality in a way that transforms the past and provides direction for the future. Without that preparation, we risk entering the kodesh kodashim and being found wanting.

Hope everyone has a chag kasher v’sameyach and we all merit experiencing the cheirus and aliya of Yom Tov!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

yerusha of chameitz from someone who dies on erev pesach (r"l)

I did not want to include this in the previous post so as to not confuse things, but one further point from the Noda b'Yehudah is worth mentioning. Based on his chiddush (see previous post) that the chiyuv of bi’ur chameitz is a chovas hagavra incumbent only upon the owner of chameitz, the Noda b’Yehudah writes that if someone failed to do bi’ur chameitz and dies on Erev Pesach, his/her children can wait and acquire and benefit from that chameitz after Pesach. The owner of the chameitz, not his/her children, is responsible to fulfill tashbisu. Since chameitz cannot be acquired during Pesach, the laws of inheritance do not cause the chameitz to pass to the children on Yom Tov and they violate no issur. The chameitz is not prohibited because of chameitz she’avar alav haPesach because chameiz she’avar alav haPesach is a knas on the owner of chameitz for violating the din d’oraysa of bal yera’eh. The issur of bal yera’eh takes effect only at nightfall of 14 Nisan, at which point the owner of the chameitz was already dead.

The only catch is that chameitz is in effect considered hefker until after Pesach when the yorshim can acquire it. In theory, anyone else can be zocheh in the chameitz as well.

bi'ur chameitz on erev pesach which falls on shabbos (III)

The gemara (Pesachim 5) quotes Rabbi Akiva’s proof that “yom harishon” which is designated for bi’ur chameitz must mean Erev Pesach because chameitz may not be burned on Yom Tov. The gemara draws a number of conclusions from R’ Akiva’s proof, among them that R’ Akiva holds that chameitz must be eliminated by burning. The Pnei Yehoshua asks: according to the chiddush of Rashi (Beitzah 27b) which we discussed yesterday, namely, that the prohibition of burning of kodshim which are tamei on Yom Tov or Shabbos includes any form of elimination, what proof does the gemara have that R’ Akiva holds chameitz must literally be burned? Just as with respect to getting rid of tamei kodhsim any form of elimination is subsumed under the header of “burning” because of the sevara of “achshivei” (see yesterday’s post), so too, perhaps R’ Akiva holds that any means of eliminating chameitz is halachically designated as bi’ur because of the sevara of “achshivei”.

The Noda b’Yehudah (O.C. 15) answers this question by distinguishing between the mitzvah of burning tamei kodshim and the mitzvah of tashbisu. The mitzvah of burning kodshim is incumbent upon anyone who finds kodshim temei’im; the focus of the mitzvah is eliminating objects which are tamei. There is no comparable mitzvah to go around and eliminate all chameitz from the world; if you don’t own the chameitz, you don’t have to burn it. (It is tempting to link this distinction to the safeik of the Minchas Chinuch discussed last week.) The mitzvah is a chovas hagavra upon the owner of chameitz, not a function of the object.

Where the focus is eliminating tumah, the sevara of achshivei tells us that all forms of elimination are subsumed under the melacha of burning because they fulfill the more general goal of disposal. However, the same cannot be said with respect to eliminating chameitz. We never find something which is categorized as a melacha for one person but not another. It cannot be that the owner of chameitz who tosses his bread into a public trashbin has violated Shabbos but the identical act performed by a neighbor who is not the owner of the chameitz is permissible. The definition of melacha is absolute, not relative to the person performing the act.

Getting back to the point raised in previous posts, R’ Soloveitchik’s explanation of the Rambam that disposing of chameitz of Shabbos is prohibited because of the sevara of achshivei contradicts this Noda b’Yehudah and leaves unresolved how to explain Rashi in Pesachim 5. Tzarich iyun on how RYBS would deal with these points – something to work on.

mussar from the daf (nazir 28)

There is a tremendous mussar in the daf yomi that is worth mentioning. The Mishna (Nazir 28) discusses the cutoff point after which a husband can no longer be meifer his wife’s nezirus. According to R’ Eliezer who holds nezirus is not finished until the nazir cuts his/her hair upon completion, so long as a person’s wife has not cut her hair, her husband may still be meifer. Why? Tosfos explains that the husband is empowered to be meifer nedarim which cause pain, inuy. Since a person’s wife suffers the inuy of not being able to drink wine until the final haircut takes place, the neder is subject to hafarah until that point.

Think about this for a moment. We have a women who has gone a least a full month observing her vow of nezirus successfully. She has brought her korbanos to the Beis HaMikdash and offered them already. All that remains is a short delay until she can take a haircut. How much trouble could waiting for that haircut cause? Yet, that little delay, the little demand that a person have patience, is still called inuy, suffering!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

bi'ur chameitz on erev pesach which falls on shabbos (II)

Getting back to yesterday’s post, the Ba’al haMaor suggested that the machlokes between Rabbi Meir and Chachamim whether bi’ur chamietz (except the minimum necessary for seudas Shabbos) on Erev Pesach which falls on Shabbos must be done before Shabbos or can be done on Shabbos depends on the machlokes R’ Yehudah and Chachamim as to how bi’ur must be done. If bi’ur must be done by burning (R’ Yehudah’s opinion), then it must be done before Shabbos; if bi’ur can be done through any means of disposal, then it can be done even on Shabbos (as the Chachamim hold). The Rambam clearly disagrees with this analysis. Rambam paskens that bi’ur can be done by any means of disposal, but holds that bi’ur must be done before Shabbos. Why according to the Rambam can bi’ur not be done on Shabbos itself?

R’ Soloveitchik explained the Rambam based on a chiddush of Rashi in Beitzah (27b). Kodshim which are tamei, including challah or terumah which became tamei, are disposed of by burning. The Mishna in Shabbos (23) tells us that these items may not be burned on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Rashi writes that one should not interpret this gezeira narrowly as applying only to burning, but it includes any means of disposal, e.g. one would not be allowed to feed challah tamei'ah to one’s dog. Even though it seems no melacha is being done by feeding a dog challah temei’ah on Shabbos, Rashi writes that “rachmana achshivei l’havarasan” – the Torah declared disposal of kodshim to be a significant act and labeled it a melacha.

Using Rashi’s chiddush, R’ Soloveitchik argued that the same idea of “achshivei” applies to bi’ur chameitz as well as bi’ur kodshim. Any means of disposal of chameitz is prohibited on Shabbos. A footnote in the sefer Mo’addei haRav notes that R’ Soloveitchik would not dispose of his leftover chameitz crumbs by flushing them down the toilet on Shabbos in consideration on this view of the Rambam. (No other poskim to my knowledge share this view.) Instead, R' Soloveitchik relied on bittul alone.

R’ Soloveitchik’s equation of bi’ur chameitz and bi’ur kodshim is a major chiddush which flies in the face of a tshuvah of the Noda b’Yehudah (O.C. 15). Hopefully more on that to come…. As we get closer to Pesach there is less and less time to think and write, so posting is a bit difficult.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

pesach with extended family who are not religious

Having read and recommended Azriela Jaffe’s book in this post, I would just like to follow up with a recommendation to read her blog post here at about Pesach with extended family who are not observant or less observant. In my reaction to her book I distinguished between attempts to deal with superficial symptoms like not being able to eat in a relative’s home and more fundamental differences of philosophy and values that may be a wedge between families. I think in her post Jaffe recognizes that she has hit up against one of these fundamental issues when it comes to Pesach. Take a look.

bi'ur chameitz on erev pesach which falls on shabbos

The Mishna (Pesachim 49) has a machlokes when to dispose of chameitz when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbos. The Chachamim hold that all chameitz need not be disposed of until Shabbos, but Rabbi Meir disagrees and holds that bi’ur chameitz with the exception of lechem mishne should be done on Friday. What is the crux of the issue? Had you asked me I would have said we are dealing with a simple harchaka derabbanan. Rabbi Meir is concened lest too much chameitz be left on Shabbos without a means of disposal; the Chachamim don’t feel disposing of leftover chameitz poses a concern. One clue that this might be the case is R’ Eliezer bar Tzadok’s view that chulin may be left until Shabbos but terumah must be disposed of on Friday. The reason behind the split seems to be that terumah is harder to dispose of than chulin because it cannot be eaten by non-kohanim. Rabbi Meir perhaps extends the concern for disposal from terumah to all foods, while the Chachamim do not see any danger in either case.

Why is Rabbi Meir more concerned with insuring proper disposal of chameitz on Shabbos than on a regular weekday? My guess would be that since Shabbos has issurim like carrying chameitz to a reshus harabim, burning chameitz, etc. which do not apply on a weekday, proper disposal is more of an issue.

The Ba’al haMaor offers a deeper insight into the dispute. According to Ba’al haMaor, Rabbi Meir holds like Rabbi Yehudah that chameitz must be disposed of by burning, and therefore bi’ur chameitz must take place on Friday. The Chachamim are consistent with their view that chameitz may be disposed of by any means and can therefore be accomplished even on Shabbos.
The Rambam clearly disagrees with this view of the Ba’al haMaor. The Rambam (Chu”M 3:3) paskens like Rabbi Meir that all chameitz should be disposed of on Friday, yet the Rambam also paskens like the Chachamim (Chu”M 3:11) that chameitz may be disposed of using any means.

According to the Rambam, if chameitz can be disposed of using any means, why not simply wait until Shabbos to accomplish that disposal? My approach would answer the question, but resorts to formulating a dispute about a rather vague harchaka derabbanan. R’ Soloveitchik had a different solution… stay tuned (if I have time to write).

Monday, April 14, 2008

tziruf of different grains for a k'zayis of matzah

I imagine yesterday was cleaning day for almost everyone spending Pesach at home.... I am aching from scrubbing, but I enjoy spending Pesach at home so much that it is well worth it.

The Minchas Chinuch debates whether one can combine eating part of a k’zayis made from one type of grain with part of a k’zayis made from a different type of grain to fulfill the mitzvah of matzah. Since the mitzvah can be fulfilled with any of five different types of grain, why would one think that one cannot combine different pieces together to get to the total of a k’zayis? In fact, the halacha is clear with respect to challah that breads made of different grains may be combined together to add up to the total shiur to be chayav in challah.

Perhaps the issue depends on how one understands the halacha of tziruf, combining items together. Does tziruf mean that items which may appear to be different are in fact part of the same family and therefore can be combined, or does tziruf mean that items can be combined in certain contexts despite the fact that they are inherently different? In other words, is tziruf a siman that items are the same, or a sibah, a new halacha that allows for combining different elements? If tziruf is a siman, a giluy milsa that items belong to the same family, what is true for challah should also be true for matzah. But if tziruf is a new din, then perhaps it is true only in some contexts and not others. Since there is no explicit source that tells us such a din exists by matzah (see the Minchas Chinuch’s attempts to find one), there is room to argue that no such option exists.

Friday, April 11, 2008

siyum on ta'anis bechorim (II)

Shu”t Arugas haBosem (#139) writes that a siyum on ta’anis bechorim is not a way to avoid the fast or be doche the fast because of a seudas mitzvah, but the siyum is a kiyum of the fast! Since the whole point of ta’anis bechorim is to mark the nes of the Jewish bechorim being saved while the Egyptian bechorim perished, the very fact that one schedules a siyum for that specific date marks it as significant and celebrates the nes.

To answer the question posed yesterday – if a milah occurs on Ta’anis Esther which is mukdam, the Rama paskens to fast on Friday because the milah is doche the chiyuv ta’anis but does not cancel it. If a siyum is made on ta’anis bechorim there is no need to fast on Friday because the siyum fulfills the inyan of the ta’anis and there is no need for a makeup.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

siyum on ta'anis bechorim

The Rama (O.C. 686) paskens that if a milah occurs on Ta’anis Esther which is mukdam on Thursday instead of Shabbos, the seudah for the milah is held on Thurs. and the fast is postponed (for those involved) until Friday. Shouldn’t it follow that if a siyum held on ta’anis bechorim which is mukdam on Thurs., the fast should be postponed until Friday. Yet, we know nobody does that and we assume the siyum cancels the ta’anis. Why the difference?
There is a nice lomdus here, but I’ll let the question simmer so the answer is absorbed b’teyavon, like Rashi’s shita in the hidur of achilas matzah : )

matzah ashira on Erev Pesach

Pesachim 99 tells us that a meal may not be eaten from close to mincha time until nightfall on Erev Pesach. Tosfos is bothered by the Mishna codifying what should be practically obvious. One cannot eat a meal because there is nothing to eat! Chameitz is prohibited from mid-day, and the Yerushalmi tells us that matzah may also not be eaten on Erev Pesach – what could this prohibited meal possibly consist of? Rabeinu Tam answers that this diyuk proves his contention that it is permissible to eat matzah ashira (what for us commonly is egg matzah) on Erev Pesach.

The reason for the restriction on eating Erev Pesach seems to be a dispute among the Rishonim. In yesterday’s post I cited the Rambam’s explanation (Chu”M ch 6) that matzah may not be eaten on Erev Pesach so that the mitzvah of eating matzah at night is distinctive (heker). Rashi and Rashbam explain that the reason is hiddur mitzvah, so that the matzah consumed at night is eaten with a full appetite (teyavon).

I don’t understand R’ Moshe Shternbruch’s suggestion in Moadim u’Zmanin (notes at the end of last volume) that whether or not Rabeinu Tam’s heter to eat matzah ashira is correct depends on this dispute. He writes that according to the Rambam that matzas mitzvah requires a heker, matzah ashira, which looks for the most part exactly like regular matzah, should be prohibited on Erev Pesach. However, according to Rashi, since matzah ashira tastes significantly different from regular matzah, eating matzah ashira would not diminish one’s appetite for regular matzah and therefore not be a problem.

Couldn’t one make exactly the opposite argument? Perhaps the difference in taste between matzah ashira and regular matzah is sufficient heker between the two and matzah ashira is permitted even according to the Rambam. And perhaps according to Rashi since matzah ashira is satisfying and fills a person up when eaten it should be avoided on Erev Pesach to perserve one's appetite for matzas mitzvah. Tzarich iyun for me on this one.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

how old was Haran when he gave birth to Sarah (and a lesson for husbands)

My wife's old Wordpress blog has vanished so I can't link to her old post, but a few months ago she posted and had asked me about Haran's age when he gave birth to Sarah. If Avraham is 10 years older than Sarah, and Haran, who is Sarah's father, was younger than Avraham, it must mean that Haran fathered Sarah when he was under 10. I did not really think much about it at the time - working out things like this is just not my cup of tea and I tend to me dismissive of these type practical questions. Well, I guess I should have paid attention because lo and behold, I just came across a Yerushalmi (Yevamos 59b in Vilna ed) which makes exactly the same calculation to prove that one can father a child pre-puberty. I shared the Yerushalmi with my wife because I deserve an "I told you so!" on this one and promised a blog post to be modeh al ha'emes. Moral of the story: always pay attention to your wife!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

erev pesach she'chal b'shabbos - what to eat

There is a wild tshuvah in the Mishneh Halachos (vol 8) regarding someone who woke up very late on Erev Pesach she’chal b’Shabbos and was faced with the choice of washing over chameitz to fulfill the mitzvah of eating a seudah on pas before the time to eat chameitz expired or davening. On the one hand, there is an issur of eating before tefilah, but on the other hand, there is a mitzvah to wash for seudas Shabbos, and that mitzvah is potentially a mitzvah overes because there is not much else you can wash on the rest of the day. R’ Menashe Klein sets out a whole list of things wrong with the assumptions behind the question which you can mull over.

While on the topic of what to eat on Erev Pesach which falls on Shabbos, I discovered a few sources which discuss an idea which may get points for creativity but did not make too many poskim happy. Rabeinu Tam writes that since egg matzah cannot be used for the mitzvah of matzah, it is not off-limits on Erev Pesach. Using similar logic, a contemporary Rabbi proposed that matzah baked specifically “shelo lishma” which is not usable for mitzvas matzah would be permissible to eat on Erev Pesach as well. Aside from the fact that no previous poskim ever entertained this idea, the Rambam writes (Hil Ch”M ch. 6) that the prohibition of eating matzah on Erev Pesach is designed to make eating matzah on the seder night something distinctive (heker). Egg matzah is easily distinguishable from matzah shemurah. The same cannot be said for matzah that looks identical to matzah shemurah but was baked shelo lishma.

Monday, April 07, 2008

"kitusei michtas shiurei" used as a kula

I owe a debt of hakaras hatov to a local talmid chacham (I don’t know how he feels about public acknowledgement, so I’ll omit his name) who I asked about applying kitusei michtas shiurei l’kula (see previous post) and was nice enough to get back to me late last night after doing a Bar Ilan search and digging up a mareh makom. It is actually apropos to the parshiyos of these shabbasos. Yevamos 103b has a case of a cloth which is tamei muchlat with tumas tzara’as which is brought into a house, rendering the whole house tamei. The gemara is troubled by this din – since the cloth needs to be burned because of its tumah, why don’t we apply the principle of kitusei michtas shiurei and declare that it lacks the necessary shiur to be metamei the house? The gemara resolves the question by invoking a gezeiras hakasuv, but the hava amina of the question assumes kitusei michtas shiurei works l'kula.

Interestingly, the Minchas Chincuh does not reference this mareh makom in mitzvah #9 when he discusses tashbisu on wheat which is kilayim, but he does mention it in mitzvah #16 (os 19). The footnotes of the new M.C. don’t give you the reference, which just goes to show you that as good as the footnotes are, there is still what to think about.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

haysa Yehuda l'kodsho

For an insight into Hallel in honor of Rosh Chodesh (or an early start on preparing Pesach vortlach) see my wife’s take on “haysa Yehuda l’kadsho” – why is Yehudah singled out, and why the feminine “haysa” instead of “haya”?

Friday, April 04, 2008

in defense of birthdays

I have heard at various times that celebrating a birthday is not a Jewish thing, a sevara I don’t pretend to understand, but people repeat things until even silly sevaras becomes “canonized” in popular folklore. It came to mind when I saw the discussion of Adar 7 in yesterday’s daf, Nazir 14. The gemara discusses whether making a kabbalah “like Moshe on 7 Adar” constitutes accepting nezirus or not. Tosfos explains the gemara's safeik: on the one hand, 7 Adar is the day Moshe died and many people took vows of nezirus in response to the tragedy; on the other hand, 7 Adar is the day Moshe was born, a day of simcha not in the spirit of nezirus. Which aspect of the day did the person have in mind when he/she made their kabbalah?

If Moshe Rabeinu could be happy on his birthday, and if klal yisrael could be happy on his birthday, what could be wrong with birthdays?

While on the topic, what is the idea of tzadikim being born/dying on the same day? R’ Tzadok haKohen explains in Kuntres Divrei Chalomos that a birthday marks the pinnacle of a person’s mazal’s influence. This power boost to the neshoma can help a person overcome all kinds of obstacles in life on that day. For a tzadik who is already on a high madreiga, this boost elevates the neshoma that it can no longer be held in a physical body in this world. The fact that a neshoma departs the world on a birthday proves that the departure of the neshoma is a result only of a great aliya.

chameitz which is kilayim - "kitusei michtases shiurah" applied l'kula?

The Minchas Chinuch makes a brief observation that one cannot be in violation of an issur chameitz (on a d’oarysa level) by owning wheat which is kilayim. Since kilayim must be burned, “kitusei michtases shiurah”, i.e. anything halachically must be burned is assumed to be non-existent and less than a shiur, so one does not really posses a shiur of chameitz.

I was wondering about this. All the cases I recall of “kitusei michtas shiurah” apply the principle l’chumra, e.g. if you have a lulav which is made from an asheira tree, it is disqualified because of kitusei michtas shiurah. Here, the principle works l’kula. Is it such a davar pashut that the principle can work l’kula as well? Are there any similar cases you can think of?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

scheduling a siyum to avoid ta'anis bechorim and the use of textual emendation in psak

I think it is fair to say that most bechorim avoid actually fasting on ta’anis bechorim by finding a convenient siyum to attend, but this practice has not found unanimous approval in halacha. It is hard to label a meal a seudas mitzvah done l’shem simcha shel mitzvah when the real goal is just to get a heter to eat. And what about speeding up / slowing down one’s learning just to schedule a siyum - doesn’t that prove the real goal is just to eat on the desired day and not really to celebrate the mitzvah through that siyum?

Shu”T Minchas Yitzchak (II:93) tries to justify the minhag ha’olam of scheduling a siyum for ta’anis bechorim and marshals a host of halachic sources you can peruse. I want to just highlight one of the more obscure sources he presents as a sni’f l’hakeil. In the sefer Pe’er Yitzchak, a biography of R’ Yitzchak Isaac of Zidichov, R’ Y”I quotes the Rebbe R’ Tzvi Hirsch of Zidichov as suggesting that our girsa in the Mes. Sofrim which reads “bechorim mis’anim b’Erev Pesach” is incorrect. Instead, the girsa should read “bechorim mis’angim”! And lest you be underwhelmed by this suggestion of girsa change flat out against the shulchan aruch, the sefer asks us to bear in mind that R’ Y”I held that R’ Tzvi Hirsch m’Zidichov was on the same level as the Tanaim, and R’ Y”I himself had all the madreigos of the Maggid m’Mezrich. (I bet all you Litvishe misnagdim are convinced now : )

True, the M.Y. is not convinced enough to pasken on this basis alone against a din in Shulchan Aruch, but he does not hesitate to this idea (and from a biographical work, not a halachic work) into the discussion as a snif l'hakeil. I hate to get all cynical, but can anyone imagine a university-trained scholar suggestion a similar textual emendation and having his idea mentioned as a snif l’hakeil by an acharon writing a tshuvah? Of course, there are very few university scholars I am aware of that people claim are on the madreiga of Tanaim, or even of the Magid m'Mezrich...

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Maharal: two apsects of Yetziyas Mitzrayim

The Maharal (Gevuros Hashem ch 3) cites the Midrash Shochar Tov which offers two analogies to explain the process of Yetziyas Mitzrayim: 1) The Midrash compares Yetziyas Mitzrayim to removing the purified gold from a burning hot smelter; 2) The Midrash compares Yetziyas Mitzrayim to removing a baby animal from its mother’s womb. These two analogies highlight two different aspects of Yetziyas Mitzrayim.

The first analogy calls our attention to the power and might of Egypt. Like a roaring fire that can consume a person’s hand if he is foolish enough to reach into a furnace and try to pluck out something being smelted, Egypt was a dominant force that had the power to destroy any outside force that might try to liberate the Jewish people. Only though miraculous intervention could that power be diminished.

But Yetizyas Mitzrayim was not just about diminishing the strength of Egypt. The baby animal within the mother’s womb struggling to be born is not enslaved because of the mother’s dominating force, but rather the baby is simply incapable of mustering its own strength to extricate itself. Like the shepherd or farmer who intervenes to help the baby out into the world, Hashem’s intervention was necessary because the Jewish people lacked the internal strength to pull themselves out of bondage.

Life is filled with Mitzrayim’s that we want to escape. Too often we focus our hopes and tefilos on asking Hashem to eliminate those problems that seem insurmountable. We also need to work at and daven for help at tranforming ourselves so we can find the inner strength to deal with whatever burdens come out way without becoming enslaved by frustration and failure.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

lav she'kadamo aseh and the mitzvah of tashbisu

My son happens to be learning Makos in school and we recently discussed the sugya (daf 15) of “lav she’kadamo aseh”. The gemara suggests that the category of lav hanitak l’aseh for which there is no malkos applies only in cases where the aseh can be fulfilled only after the lav has been violated. Lav hanitak l’aseh means the aseh serves to correct the lav; if the aseh applies even before the lav has been committed, it is not directly associated with correcting the violation. For example: the lav of entering the mikdash tamei is not considered lav hanitak l’aseh to the mitzvah of t’mei’im not entering the mikdash (vi’shalchu min hamachane…). The mitzvas aseh of keeping out of the mikdash while tamei can be fulfilled irrespective of whether one has violated a lav and entered the mikdash while tamei or whether one stands outside the mikdash and refrains from entering without violating any lav.

My son connected this discussion to our discussion of the mitzvah of tashbisu. The mitzvah of tashbisu applies both to cases where one has violated bal yera’ah and now has chameitz to dispose of on Pesach as well as to cases where one has not violated any lav and simply fulfills tashbisu by disposing of all chameitz before Pesach starts. If the Rambam holds that lav she’kadamo aseh is not classified as a lav hanitak l’aseh and is still subject to malkos, the Rambam's psak that there is a punishment of malkos for buying chameitz on Pesach makes perfect sense (I have also seen this sevara quoted in the name of the Sha’agas Arye but have not had time yet to read the piece inside).