Friday, December 31, 2010

too much lishma?

V’ lo sham’u el Moshe m’kotzer ruach u’mei’avodah kashah.” The plain meaning of the pasuk is that the people were too burdened with work to hear Moshe’s message. (Interesting that you can be so overwhelmed with work that you don’t even absorb the message that you don’t need to work any more.) Moshe then continued, “If Bnei Yisrael won’t listen, how then will Pharoah listen?”

Everybody asks the same question – this seems to be a non-sequitor. Bnei Yisrael had the burden of work that prevented them from getting the message, Pharoah didn’t. Why wouldn’t he listen?

The Noam Elimelech is always melameid zechus on Klal Yisrael and he says an amazing pshat here. This piece really echoes themes we touched on when we did the Noam Elimech on Parshas Toldos (he even repeats here the same vort on “retzon y’reyav ya’aseh”) so you may want to take a peek back there. As we discussed then, the purpose of tefilah, the purpose really of all our attempts to connect to Hashem, is not to present G-d with a laundry list of our wants. Tefilah is not about selfish wish fulfillment. The ideal prayer is selfless – we are not concerned with our own needs, but rather with G-d’s, kavyachol. Pain, suffering, want, need, all obscure and hide G-d’s presence, and so we pray to ask that these obstacles be removed. Avodah is not about us; it’s about G-d.

Bnei Yisrael didn’t listen to Moshe not because they didn’t hear his message of “no more work,” but rather because that’s all they heard. What kind of geulah is it when all you can think about is, “no more work?” When you are happy and dancing because tomorrow is a day off from the brick factory, as if whether you are or aren’t in that brick factory is the most important thing in the world? Who knows, maybe in this world it is, but certainly there are greater things out there! Klal Yisrael worried that the burdens of slavery had made them concerned only with themselves, their suffering, their plight – they worried that they would give no heed to the fact that G-d was with them in slavery, the Shechina too was suffering and waiting for a release. Therefore, they closed their ears to Moshe’s message. It was not a refusal to listen, but a refusal to listen to a message that may introduce a “shelo lishma” into their thoughts of geulah.

Can there be such a thing as too much lishma? Imagine someone who makes a wedding, a bris milah, etc. but refuses to be too happy lest that sense of personal happiness interfere with his/her lishma – is stoic indifference an ideal? This was Moshe’s worry. The klipah of Pharaoh can only be addressed through simcha – I don’t think he means the klipah of Pharoah, King of Egypt, but rather the klipah of Pharaoh inside each and every one of us. Our humanity is inescapable – if we don’t tend to its needs through our avodas Hashem, it will come back to haunt us. If Bnei Yisrael refuse to listen, if they tune out the message of simcha and hisla’havus because of an ideal of lishma that may or may not be attainable, the Pharoah inside will never be appeased. Better to relish the message, to dance at the joy of the brick factory closing, even if all it is is a brick factory. Accepting joy as the product as Hashem’s plan, using it to increase one’s commitment and dveikus, is far better than a stoical indifference, even if motivated by the highest ideals.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

stages of geulah

The Netzi”v makes a simple point about the 4 leshonos of geulah, but sometimes it’s worth reiterating the basics. The four expressions represent four stages in the unfolding of geulah. Why do we need four stages? Because geulah is not an event – it’s a process. Transformation and change do not happen instantaneously, but rather occur step by step.

Chazal compare geulah to the rising of the sun to start a new day -- the shift from darkness to light is gradual. It’s not like throwing a light switch and illuminating a room instantly. The situation in Eretz Yisrael can be frustrating and disappointing, but overcoming obstacles as we move toward a better future slowly is exactly what geulah is all about.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

early to bed, early to rise - netilas yadayim, kri'as shema

If you have to be at work early (I know the feeling), these days sunrise is so late that there is a real possibility that you may be waking up before amud hashachar, literally before the crack of dawn, to get to shul and put on talis and tefillin at the earliest possible moment. This may create an issue for netilas yadayim. The Rishonim offer various reasons why we wash netilas yadayim in the morning: 1) as a preparation for tefilah; 2) because we are created anew each morning; 3) because there is a ruach ra’ah that rests on the hands at night. The Shulchan Aruch (4:14) questions whether the cause of the ruach ra’ah is sleeping or it being night. Therefore, if one rises before daybreak, to avoid a safeik (i.e. in case night and not sleeping is the cause of the ruach ra'ah) the Shulchan Aruch says to wash again after daybreak. Rama adds that no bracha is recited (see M.B. #33).

While on the topic of rising early… there is a debate among the Rishonim as to the earliest time to recite morning kri’as shema. Rambam paskens that ideally shema should be recited just before henetz hachamah so that tefilah can be started immediately at henetz. This is the prevalent practice (I think) among vasikin minyanim. Rabeinu Tam disagrees (Tosfos Yoma 37b) and holds that the time for shema begins only after hanetz hachamah. This view of Rabeinu Tam is not quoted by the Shulchan Aruch, but it is not an isolated opinion. Some (see Shu”T Tshuvos v’Hanhagos vol 1 # 66) go so far as to suggest that one reason (among others) many gedolim were not particularly makpid to daven k’vasikin even if they were awake was to avoid this machlokes -- better to daven a little later and fulfill the mitzvah d'oraysa of shema without a safeik in Rishonim whether one is yotzei at all than to daven early for the sake of the extra zechus of tefilah at hanetz. One simple way to be yotzei kol hade'yos is to read shema again post-hanetz (one loses smichas geulah l'tefilah, but at least on a d'oraysa level you fulfill kri'as shema in its proper time according to R"T).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

with only the shirt on one's back

Hashem promised Bnei Yisrael that they would leave Egypt with "klei kesef k'lei zahav u'semalos. " The Ba'al haTurim writes that "smalos" in the plural means exactly two garments -- one to carry dough in, the other the literal shirt on their backs. These clothes did not wear out and lasted miraculously for the 40 year journey through the desert ("simlascha lo balsa mei'alecha...") My wife pointed out that this suggests that they did not change clothes for Shabbos, something we consider very much part of our kiyum of kavod Shabbos.

Perhaps one could explain (derech derush) that we change our clothes l'kavod Shabbos to demonstrate that on Shabbos we feel in the presence of Hashem more than during the week. In the desert, surrounded by the clouds of glory, the man, the well of Miriam, the Jewish people always felt in Hashem's presence -- they wore Shabbos clothes all the time.

a time to cry out

The Midrash tells us that Pharoah had three advisers, Bilam, Yisro, and Iyov, from whom he sought counsel regarding his “Jewish problem.” Bilam advised Pharoah to kill the Jews. Yisro wanted no part of the plan and so he ran away. Iyov was silent.

Bilam was later punished mida k’neged midah by being killed by Bnei Yisrael. Yisro, who lost his wealth, his fame, his power as advisor to Pharoah, gained everything back midah k’neged midah by becoming the father-in-law of Moshe. But what of Iyov? Iyov figured that objecting at this moment would be a futile gesture; better to hold his tongue and live to fight another day, to intercede when he voice would be heard so he could perhaps mitigate the evil decree. Why was he punished with such severe suffering?

The Brisker Rav answers that Iyov was punished with suffering because when a person feels pain, there is usually little accomplished by crying in anguish, but a person cries anyway. When it hurts, you scream – you don’t make cheshbonos. Iyov may have had wonderful plans about when and how he should or should not intervene to help Klal Yisrael, but the very fact that he could sit there and make such calculations while other people’s lives were on the line showed a major character flaw. Sometimes you need to react, to scream, and leave the planning for later.

My wife suggested that the punishment of Iyov was deserved because he did not truly feel the pain of Bnei Yisrael; he did not relate to their experience. Therefore, he was made to suffer personally to bring the lesson home.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


1) Vayakam melech chadash... asher lo yada es Yosef. Rashi explains that Pharoah pretended that he never heard of Yosef; the memory of the contributions of Yosef were blotted out of Egyptian history. This gave Pharoah license to begin his persecutions.

The Brisker Rav asks why Pharoah had to pretend -- why couldn't he simply initiate his plot against the Jewish people in spite of what Yosef had done? I think the answer is that the anti-semite has a psychological need for self-justification. To accept that Yosef had done good and at the same time want to destroy the Jewish people would create uncomfortable cognitive dissonace. The first step has to be to demonize, to define the victim as an outsider, as the "other" who is worthy of persecution.

2) On a different note, when Moshe returns from Midyan with the message to Pharoah to release Bnei Yisrael, he does not go straight to Pharaoh's palace, even though the fact that he could enter Pharoah's most private space umolested (according to the Midrash Pharoah had lions guarding his garden and Moshe was able to miraculously walk right past them) would have given instant credibility to his message. Instead, he first gathers the leaders of Bnei Yisrael and relays his message to them. R' Chatzkel Levenstein writes that geulah does not begin with miracles; it begins with belief. The buy-in to the message has to happen before the miracles can begin to unfold.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Aharon's humility

Another Lubliner Rav vort (the last one was pretty good, wasn’t it? I'm getting addicted):

Hashem told Moshe not to be concerned lest Aharon have bad feelings about his being appointed as leader. To the contrary, Aharon was on the way to happily greet Moshe, “V’raach v’samach b’libo.” The Midrash comments that had Aharon realized that the Torah would write such words of praise about him, he would have gone out to greet Moshe with a whole parade!

Everybody asks: you mean Aharon was out for the glory? He would have behaved differently had he known his deeds would be recorded for posterity than he behaved in private?

R' Meir Shapiro answers: Aharon was not at all out for the glory. To the contrary, Aharon did everything in his power to conceal his greatness from people. It would have been easy for Aharon to walk around with a big smile, showing everyone how happy he was to greet Moshe, proving to the world that he bore no ill will, that he had no trace of envy in him. People would walk around saying, “Look at that Aharon – such a sterling model of perfect behavior.” But that was not Aharon’s way. “V’raacha v’samach b’libo – Aharon will rejoice in his heart. Aharon davka kept that smile tucked away inside, between Hashem and himself, and didn’t show off his true feelings to others, so as to avoid the lavish praise that would come from people noticing his exemplary midos.

Yet Aharon’s efforts were for naught. Not only did he get credit for being happy for his brother Moshe, for not having any jealousy or envy, but the Torah records for posterity the “samach b’libo,” the fact that he didn’t even want the public to know about it. Had Aharon known that acting privately would have attracted that much more attention from the Torah to his midos tovos, he would have arranged a parade to minimize the credit he received!

(The Midrash makes a similar comment about Boaz and Reuvain, but I’m not sure you can get this pilpul to fit those cases… It's too nice an idea to nitpick about such things.)

Moshe's argument with Hashem

At work I have been moved to a different building, a different team, and am doing something different, which takes some getting used to, so I haven’t had time to write much here. Anyway… a quick idea from R’ Meir Shapiro of Lublin:

Moshe Rabeinu was very reluctant to accept the mission of serving as the redeemer of Bnei Yisrael and he tried to use his speech impediment as an excuse. Hashem responded that He, Hashem, is the one who grants the power of speech; surely if He wishes Moshe to speak to Pharaoh, Moshe will have the ability to do so. “Mi sam peh l’adam…. ?!” But Moshe didn’t give up so easily. Moshe again argued, “Shlach na b’yad tislach,” that Aharon should be sent instead. Hashem at this point got angry and answered that Moshe need not worry that Aharon will feel slighted, as “Aharon achicha halevi,” is headed out to happily greet Moshe.

Chazal (cited by Rashi) see in this response not only an answer, but a punishment to Moshe as well. Why does the Torah mention Aharon being a levi specifically in this context? Chazal explain that Moshe himself was going to be given the future honor of serving as kohen gadol, while Aharon would be a levi. However, because of his argument here, Moshe was denied that privilege. Aharon the levi would become kohen gadol, and Moshe would serve as levi instead.

It’s very hard to understand why Moshe continued to argue with Hashem after he heard Hashem’s answer of, “Mi sam peh…” Why was he not satisfied with that answer? And what are we to make of his demotion from potentially being kohen gadol to instead serving as levi? All of the punishments in the Torah are “midah k’neged midah” – the punishment is a precise inverse of the crime. How is Moshe being made a levi a fitting punishment for his continuing to argue?

The Lubliner Rav explained that it was precisely because Moshe understood full well Hashem’s message of, “Mi sam peh…,” that he continued to argue. Moshe said, “If you Hashem are the one opening my mouth and putting words in it, hayitachein, is it possible that I should use such a holy mouth to speak to a person like Pharoah?!” What a waste, an abuse, a degradation, of this awesome power of speech!

This is why Moshe became a levi and not a kohen. What was the job of the levi’im? To sing shirah in the Mikdash. Who is more fitting for such a role than the person who appreciates the gift of speech in its fullest sense? Moshe’s “punishment” was indeed, a perfect match for the “crime” of his argument.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

issur for a ben noach to hit a yisrael

The Rambam writes that a nochri who strikes a yisrael is chayav misa, but is not killed -- i.e. it is a chiyuv misa b'ydei shamayim (Melachim 10:6). The Rambam himself (Chovel u'Mazik 5:3) cites the gemara's proof: in our parsha Moshe strikes down the Mitzri who was hitting a yisrael. This is a very strange proof for a chiyuv misa b'ydei shamayim considering that Moshe actually killed the Mitzri in question!

In the Igros haGR"ID there is a shtickel torah that R' Ahron Soloveitchik said on this when he was 10 years old (!) Rashi writes that Moshe Rabeinu killed the Mitzri using the shem hameforash. R' Ahron suggested that this method of misa is at best a gerama, not a true action, and therefore does not constitute a ma'aseh of misas beis din. His proof: the Ritva writes that asking someone to commit murder is a gerama, not a real act of murder. We see that speech is not the same as action; QED that in our case as well, killing through speech is not the same as an act of misas beis din.

R' Moshe Soloveitchik wrote this shtickel to the Rav in a letter along with a he'ora of his own, and the Rav responded with a number of additional observations. I feel sorry for R' Ahron, who probably worked pretty hard on saying his chiddush, something any 10 year old could be proud of, yet it gets swallowed up in the complex give and take between the Rav and his father. The Rav rejected the proof from the Ritva, arguing that there is a difference between asking someone else to take action (=gerama) and a case where one's own words produce an effect, which is itself equivalent to action. The Rav also noted in passing that the chiyuv misa b'ydei shamayim in the case of murder is unique. With respect to other chiyuvei misa b'ydei shamayim, e.g. a zar who eats terumah, there is no obligation except k'lapei shemaya; however, with respect to hitting, there is real chiyuv misas beis din that at least should theoretically be carried out, but for technical reasons is transformed into a lesser punishment b'ydei shamayim. Finally, the Rav noted that this is not the only case of misa b'ydei shamayim given to a nochri. Similar chiyuvim exist for a nochri learning Torah, keeping Shabbos, and other cases. Although any violation of the 7 mitzvos is punishable by misas beis din, apparently these other violations, including striking a yisrael, are categorically different. The question is why, but I'm short of time, so we'll leave that discussion for another time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

years of chiyus when you would least expect them

We learn much about the history of Ya’akov Avinu’s life only indirectly, e.g. knowing Yishmael’s age at death, we can calculate that Ya’akov spent 14 years learning in Yeshivas Shem v’Eiver before going to Lavan’s house. Yet, the Torah is unusually verbose at the opening to our parsha in relating chronological detail. The Torah tells us not only how long Ya’akov lived in total, but also how long he lived specifically in Mitzrayim, something we could easily figure out ourselves. Meforshim and Midrash suggest that the Torah here is telling us more than chronology. VeYechi Ya’akov” – these 17 years (gematriya tov) were years of chiyus, years in which Ya’akov flourished spiritually more than he had done so in the past, years which uplifted all prior years and infused them with new meaning. These final seventeen years were the crowing achievement of Ya’akov’s whole life.

If you are not troubled by this idea, you should be. These seventeen years are the years of Ya’akov’s greatest spiritual ascent? OK, so the years spent apart from Yosef were difficult. The years spent working for Lavan were difficult. But what about those years spent in yeshivas Shem v’Eiver? What about the years spent in Yitzchak Avinu’s home, living in Eretz Yisrael, living under his father’s roof? While Ya’akov was still young he might have even had a chance to learn with his zeide, Avraham Avinu! Years spent in the galus of Mitzrayim were greater than those years?

R’ Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik 1) teaches that this is why Parhas VaYechi is a parsha stuma, a parsha that is written with no space separating it from the previous parsha. The spaces between parshiyos were opportunities for Moshe to think, to reflect on what he had been taught, “revach l’hisbonein bein parsha l’parsha” (Rashi, VaYikra 1:1). Reflection here serves no purpose, for all the reflection in the world will not help us unravel the mystery of Ya’akov’s spiritual success davka in Mitzrayim, in galus.

This same mystery repeats itself throughout Jewish history. Galus Bavel, with the Mikdash destroyed, gave rise to Talmud Bavli. Look at the vast Torah literature produced throughout the long galus we are currently in. R’ Tzadok cites R’ Bunim m’Peshischa that although niskatnu ha’doros over time, the lev becomes more pure.

What is true of the klal is true of the prat as well. Situations which seem most bleak, least opportune for spiritual development, can be the very situations in which an individual can thrive and grow to the greatest heights.

10 Teves -- fasting for the future

The Avudraham's opinion that one would be required to fast on 10 Teves even if it fell on Shabbos is well known (see here and here). The same is not true even of 9 Av. Why is 10 Teves more significant than other fast days? Why should the beginning of the siege process that years later led to churban be more significant than the churban itself?

Chasam Sofer explains that 17 Tamuz is a fast which commemorates past events – the walls of Yerushalayim were breached. 9 Av is a fast which commemorates past events – the churban, among other tragedies, took place. Same for the fast of Gedlaya. Not so the fast of 10 Teves. True, the siege was put in place on 10 Teves, but other enemies has also laid siege to Yerushalayim and they were defeated. There was time yet to avert a churban. The fast of 10 Teves is not a fast that commemorates events which already occurred, but is rather a fast of an eis tzarah, a fast to avert future tragedy.

The failure to rebuild the Mikdash is tantamount to witnessing its destruction. The din v’cheshbon of whether this year will be another year of continued churban or whether this year will be the year we avert 9 Av and witness the rebuilding of the Mikdash occurs on 10 Teves. The future is in our hands to determine.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the multiple facets of talmud torah

I wrote earlier about the focus of Brisk on the “4 amos of halacha.” It would be wrong to assume that this focus, for all its narrowness, excludes an appreciation of devikus, of avodah, etc. While these might not be viewed as independent values (as they are in the world of chassidus), they nonetheless still exist, subsumed under and part and parcel of the experience of talmud Torah.

The Rambam counts tefilah as a mitzvas aseh d’oraysa (Sefer haMitzvos #5). In addition to citing the derasha of “Ulavdozu tefilah,” the Rambam also cites a derasha of, “U’lavdozu talmud.” Rav Soloveitchik (Shiurim l’Zecher Aba MoriBirchas haTorah) notes that the implication of the Rambam is that talmud Torah itself is a kiyum in avodah. Study of Torah is not merely an intellectual endeavor, but is an act of devotion.

The Rambam writes in ch 3 of Hil T”T:

אף על פי שמצוה ללמוד ביום ובלילה, אין אדם למד רוב חכמתו אלא בלילה; לפיכך מי שרצה לזכות בכתר התורה, ייזהר בכל לילותיו, ולא יאבד אפילו אחת מהן בשינה ואכילה ושתייה ושיחה וכיוצא בהן, אלא בתלמוד תורה ודברי חכמה. אמרו חכמים, אין גורנה של תורה אלא לילה, שנאמר "קומי רוני בלילה"

If the pasuk of “Kumi roni balayla” refers to Torah study, how are we to interpret the end of the pasuk, “Shifchi kamayim libeich?” What does this pouring forth of the soul have to do with the heady intellectual experience of learning? This is exactly the Navi's point -- the stirring of the neshoma is as much a kiyum and part of talmud Torah as it is of tefilah.

The gemara (BK 81) derives from pesukim in Parshas Beshalach that Moshe Rabeinu instituted kri’as haTorah on Monday, Thursday, and Shabbos so that three days should not pass without Torah study. What was the nature of this takanah of public Torah study? Parshas Beshalach is pre-mattan Torah – there was no mitzvah of talmud Torah; there was no formal corpus of Torah to study!? Apparently this study of Torah was not done in fulfillment of any technical requirement of the mitzvah talmud Torah, but was a means of the people forging a relationship with Hashem (compare with the Shem m'Shmuel we discussed here.)

This notion can help us answer Tos. (Brachos 11) question of why we do not recite a new bracha every time we sit down to learn just as we recite a new bracha every time we (to take one example) enter the sukkah. The bracha on sukkah relates solely to the ma'aseh mitzvah of sitting in sukkah. Not so birchas haTorah, which relates more generally to this relationship between man and G-d forged by Torah. Even when one closes the gemara, the roshem of this relationship remains intact and reverberates throughout the day.

This is the meaning of the term “crown of Torah” used by the Rambam, similar to the crown of kehunah and malchus. Just as kehunah and malchus endow the individual with special qualities others lack, the study of Torah is not just a mechanical act of study, but produces a trans formative effect on one’s personality and character.