Sunday, February 27, 2011

tadir vs. mekudash

Rashi writes that the placement of the parsha of Shabbos before the parsha commanding the building the Mishkan teaches that Shabbos is more important than the Mishkan; from here we learn that one is not permitted to violate Shabbos even for the noble task of building a Mishkan. If so, since the Torah places the mitzvah of kibud av before the mitzvah of Shabbos, "Ish imo v'aviv tira'u v'es Shabsosai tishmoru," it should follow that kibud av is more important than Shabbos -- one should be allowed to violate Shabbos to do a parent's bidding. Why does the halacha not entertain such an idea?

Those learning daf yomi will remember that items which are tadir and items which are mekudash take precedence over items which are not. The gemara in Zevacim debates what to do when one has a tadir item on one hand and a mekudash item on the other -- which comes first -- and comes to no clear conclusion. The Rambam paskens one can take either one first.

Chasam Sofer explains: the mitzvah of kibud av is tadir because it can be done all week. Therefore, it takes precedence in the pasuk over Shabbos, which comes only once a week. Shabbos is tadir relative to the Mishkan -- Shabbos comes every week; there is only one opportunity to build a Mishkan. The only possible justification for placing the parsha of the Mishkan before the parsha of Shabbos would be if the Mishkan was more mekudash than Shabbos, in which case its construction should be permitted even on Shabbos. Since the Torah places Shabbos first, QED that we cannot conclude that the Mikdash is more mekudash, and we have no source to permit its being built on Shabbos.

I told this C.S. to a daf shiur expecting to be jumped on with questions, but no one took the bait, which leads to to suspect I'm missing something. The gemara in Zevachim draws a distinction between tadir and matzuy. Tadir means there is an obligation to frequently or repeatedly do a mitzvah. Matzuy means something happens to come up often, but there is no chiyuv forcing it to recurr. Korbanos shelamim may be offererd far more frequently in the mikdash than korbanos chatas, but they are matzuy, not tadir -- shelamim are usually donated voluntarily; there is no chiyuv compelling one to offer them. A person can eat multiple times a day, but bentching is not called tadir because one can choose not to eat at all (Sha'agas Arye #21). The Sha'agas Arye goes so far (#28) as to say the mitzvah of tzitzis is not called tadir because the mitzvah is conditional on wearing a four cornered garment and there is no chiyuv to don such a garment. Even if one chooses to do so, that does not change the nature of the mitzvah.

Is the mitzvah of kibud av tadir or matzuy? I think it belongs in the same category as tzitzis, matzuy. So long as a parent has no requests, no action is required to fulfill kibud av. True, there are things one should not do because of yirah for parents, but when we discuss whether kibud av is doche Shabbos or not, we are speaking of aspects of the mitzvah that require action. I don't understand why the Chasam Sofer classifies kibud as tadir -- do you?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

selfless gifts

"Kol ish v'isha asher nadav libam osam l'havi l'kol ha'melacha asher tzivah Hashem b'yad Moshe, heivi'u Bnei Yisrael nedavah laHashem" (35:29)

The pasuk opens speaking of "kol ish v'isha" who wanted to donate to the Mishkan. It would seem to make sense for the pasuk to conclude "heivi'u... nedavah," meaning these same men and women mentioned at the start of the pasuk fulfilled their pledge and dontated. Why does the pasuk add the words "Bnei Yisrael" in place of "ish v'isha" as its subject?

My wife suggested that those who were true nedivim did not call attention to their gifts -- there was no big plaque, no dinner to celebrate their generosity, no announcement of their pledge -- nothing that called attention to the personality of the giver. These true selfless souls looked at their gifts not as their personal bequests, but simply part of the contributions of the people as a whole, hence, "hevi'u Bnei Yisrael..." (see Ksav Sofer as well)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

what makes genius

What makes genius? Or perhaps the question we should first ask is whether genius can be made. Modern research answers in the affirmative (as you Malcolm Gladwell fans all know). The difference between becoming a good violin player vs. becoming a great violin player, becoming a good basketball player vs. becoming a great basketball player, is the amount of practice put in. Great achievers typically put in at least 10,000 of practice in their discipline, far more than others.

This came to mind when I read Gary Kasparov's review of a new bio of Bobbly Fischer. He writes in the NY Review of Books:
The focus is on Bobby and the chess, as it should be, though I was hoping for a little more meat on the topic of the nature of prodigy and Fischer’s early development, beyond his own famous comment “I just got good”—but perhaps there is nothing more. The nature of genius may not be definable. Fischer’s passion for puzzles was combined with endless hours of studying and playing chess. The ability to put in those hours of work is in itself an innate gift. Hard work is a talent.
As I've written before, I don't see any reason the same does not apply to Torah study. What makes a talmid chacham? In short: hasmadah, hasmadah, and more hasmadah. That does not mean anyone can become R' Akiva Eiger or R' Chaim Brisker (who were blessed with hasmadah + truly incredible amounts of genius), but it does mean that a person of "average" intelligence (whatever that means) who truly puts in the time can become an outstanding talmid chacham. The only catch, as Kasparov notes, is that hard work is a rare talent indeed.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

making Aharon make an eigel

"Vayigof Hashem es ha'am asher a'su es ha'eigel asher asah Aharon..." Hashem brought a plague on the people who made the eigel which Aharon had made.

Why does the pasuk need to remind us that Aharon made the eigel, something we learned just a few pesukim earlier in our parsha? In fact, the pasuk seems almost self-contradictory, on the one hand speaking of the "people who made the eigel," on the other hand, speaking of the eigel, "which Aharon had made."

Ksav Sofer explains that although the eigel was the handiwork of Aharon (and of course Aharon had his cheshbonos as to why he did what he did), he did not create it in a vacuum. It was the circumstances created by the eiruv rav, by those who clamored for an eigel, which put Aharon willy-nilly into the difficult situation that led to the eigel's creation. When Hashem now comes to punish the people, he not only punishes them for the sin of worshiping the eigel, which would be bad under any circumstances, but he punishes them for dragging Aharon down as well, for causing him to be the one to make an eigel, heightening the tragedy and chilul Hashem.

Even without getting into mystical considerations like whether Aharon’s participation gave the eigel certain powers or animation, think practically of the public relations coup his participation led to. “What do you mean you don’t want to be part of the eigel movement? I have here a signed haskamah from none other than Aharon himself declaring, ‘Chag la’Hashem machar!’”

This is our society today. It’s not enough for some people to run around and advocate all kinds of nonsense, but they also have to shlep in the Aharon haKohen’s of our time, or the memory of Aharon haKohen's whom they said would condone their approach, to give themselves legitimacy. This invites one of two responses: 1) those who go ahead and worship eigels, convinced that either they are not really eigels or eigel worship is OK because there is some proclamation that sounds like Aharon haKohen sanctioned it; 2) those who wrap themselves in a mantle of righteous zealousness and use the opportunity to rip apart not eigel worship, but to rip apart our modern day Aharon haKohen’s, never once pausing to consider that there is more to what is going on than meets the eye.

aninus and aveilus (II)

We left off yesterday with a question on the Rambam. Given that aveilus is a begins at kevura and aninus ends at kevurah, it seems that there is no overlap between the two. How then can the Rambam use the pasuk of “V’achalti chatas ha’yom,” from which we learn hilchos aninus, namely that an onein may not eat kodshim, as the source for a chiyuv of aveilus d’oraysa?

Rav Soloveitchik (Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mori vol 2) answers this question by first setting down the following yesod: aveilus, though primarily demarcated by restrictions on the aveil, is actually a kum v’aseh, a positive kiyum mitzvah. Not wearing shoes, not bathing, not sitting on a chair, etc. are not ends in themselves, but are primarily designed to elicit a certain mindset of mourning.

Though nihugei aveilus, the prohibitions that the aveil must observe, do not apply until after kevurah, that does not mean a person is an onein and not an aveil to that point. A person has a shem aveil, he wears the hat of onein/aveil simultaneously, from the moment of his relative’s death. However, just as aninus exempts the mourner from all other positive mitzvos, it also exempts the mourner from the positive kiyum of aveilus as well.

Kevurah is not the mechayeiv of aveilus; the mechayeiv is misah, exactly like aninus. Kevurah merely brings to a close the state of aninus, which exempted the mourner from practicing nihugei aveilus, and m’meila those obligations set in.

Rav Soloveitchik has a number of proofs that the shem aveil applies earlier than kevurah. 1) Under certain circumstances (see M"K 22) where the body is shipped of for burial, aveilus sets in immediately for those mourners who stay behind and do not travel with it. Kevurah has not yet happened, but nihugei aveilus begin because the period of aninus comes to a close at that point. 2) The view of the SM”K (which we do not accept l’halacha) is that although we do not begin counting shiva until burial, nihugei aveilus begin from the time of the relative's death. Why do these days not count for shiva if nihugei aveilus apply? Because, answers the Rav, the prohibitions of nihugei aveilus do not make for a positive kiyum.

Monday, February 21, 2011

aninus and aveilus (I)

Those learning the daf this past Shabbos (Zevachim 1010) got a taste of the sugya of aninus. The d'oraysa halachos of aninus can basically be summarized on one sentence: a person who is an onein is not allowed to eat kodshim or ma'aser sheni. The gemara learns from the pasuk, "V'achalti chatas ha'yom?" that Aharon Hakohen could not eat kodshim after the deaths of Nadav v'Avihu. (I guess on a d'oraysa level that we can also throw in the exemption from positive mitzvos as well if it is based on oseik b'miztvah patur min hamitzvah.)

The halacha of aninus is completely different than that of aveilus. Aninus is d'oraysa; aveilus according to most Rishonim is derabbanan. An aveil is allowed to eat kodshim; an onein is not. Aninus begins when a person finds out that his relative has passed away and ends with burial; aveilus begins at burial and extends through the shiva period. An aveil doesn't wear shoes, sit on a comfortable chair, launder his clothes, etc., none of which is practiced during aninus.

The Rambam opens hilchos aveilus by saying that observing the first day of aveilus -- the day of death and burial -- is d'oraysa, based on this same pasuk of "V'achalti chatas ha'yom" that the gemara learns the issur of achilas kodshim for an onein from. The Rishonim and Achronim all ask how the Rambam could mix together these two very different sets of halachos. When a person is an onein he is not an aveil; when he is an aveil he is not an onein -- never the twain shall meet. To be continued bli neder...

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Shushan Purim Katan?

Kiddush in shul this morning was given in honor of Shushan Purim Katan, which I thought was interesting because I never knew there was such a thing as Shushan Purim Katan. I told me wife afterwards that I guess it really doesn't matter, because, as the Rama says, "Tov lev mishteh tamid," so what's one more day of partying.

Truth be told, the Rama may actually address this issue. Rama (O.C. 697:1) writes, "Yesh omrim she'chayav l'harbos b'mishteh v'simcha b'14 Adar Rishon..." Notice that the Rama says nothing about making a party on 15 Adar Rishon -- he only mentions 14 Adar. And remember the gemara (Meg 6b) that we quoted last week -- "There is no difference between 14 Adar Rishon and 14 Adar Sheni except for reading of megillah and matanos l'evyonim" -- no mention again of 15 Adar. Of course you could argue that the gemara, and perhaps the Rama, are speaking in a general sense, as most people observe Purim on 14 Adar. However, the Pri Megadim for one is convinced that the diyuk of 14 to the exclusion of 15 is correct, and the Mishna Berura follows suit -- there is no chiyuv to make a party on Shushan Purim Katan. (Since 15 Adar was on Shabbos this year things may be a little different, as, at least according to the Yerushalmi, even if Purim itself fell on Shabbos the din of having a party is pushed off to another day. ) Shu"T Minchas Yitzchak (vol 10 #58) is less convinced, and he cites a Levush that argues in favor of celebrating both days.

The Minchas Yitzchak quotes an interesting Ksav Sofer (found in his commentary to Parshas Titzaveh) who suggests that since the whole point of mishloach manos is to contribute to and share in each others seudos Purim (the Briskers read the Rambam this way if I am not mistaken; others suggest that mishloach manos is just to enhance re'yus, the bonds of friendship between neighbors), there should be a din of mishloach manos on Purim Katan just like Purim in keeping with the Rama's psak to have a seudah in celebration of Purim Katan. Since no one delivered any mishloach manos to me before Shabbos, and I did not see anyone else out delivering to others, I am pretty confident this minhag has not taken off (unless, like the superbowl party, it's just me?)

So how do you decide between a diyuk of the Pri Megadim and a Minchas Yitzchak? Doesn't the Rama answer this one already? -- "Tov lev mishteh tamid!" which brings me right back to where I started.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moshe's request to know G-d and the 13 midos

The Rishonim struggle to understand what Moshe's request for Hashem to reveal his presence to him, "Hodi'eini na es derachecha..." meant and why that request was made only following Moshe's tefilos to forgive cheit ha'eigel. Rambam (Yesodei haTorah 1:10) writes that Moshe was asking to know Hashem in a very deep way, with the same degree of certainty that a person has when he sees his friend he recognizes and knows that it can be no one else (the Rambam's analogy fits his idea that knowledge of G-d means knowing what G-d is not; we can never know anything about G-d or describe him as having any specific attribute, as the Rambam discusses in Moreh). Ra'avad on the spot asks two questions: 1) Didn't Moshe already attain this level of knowledge at har Sinai during mattan Torah? 2) How does Hashem's response - 'V'chanosi es asher achon v'rrichamti es asher aracheim" - relate to Moshe's request?

Ra'avad interprets Moshe's request differently. Hashem had told Moshe that because of the cheit ha'eigel, only an angel, but not Hashem himself, would guide Bnei Yisrael. Moshe's request of "Hodieini na..." was a demand to restore Hashem original personal hashgacha immediately, not only when Bnei Yisrael would get to Eretz Yisrael. Hashem partially consented. "V'richamtei es asher arachem," Hashem promised mercy to those who were worthy, but not all.

The Kesef Mishneh answers the Ra'avad's questions. 1) Moshe did not necessarily attain already at Har Sinai the level of knowledge he now sought. 2) Hashem meant that the knowledge Moshe requested could only come as a matanah, a gift from Hashem. V'chanosi es asher achon -- I, Hashem, decide who to grant that gift to. I wonder what the Rambam would make of this defense in his name. The Rambam is the champion of the intellect as the vehicle to come closer to Hashem. Does it make sense that the end game of the grand quest for intellectual dveikus is completely unattainable -- true knowledge of G-d on the highest level comes *not* from the mind, but comes from without, only as a gift?

What I also find interesting is that the Ra'avad's explanation implicitly answers a question that he conspicuously never articulates in his critique of the Rambam. How does the Rambam's interpretation fit the context of the parsha? Why would Moshe davka now ask for this supreme gift of knowledge? Granted, as the KS"M writes, there is no proof that this gift of knowledge was already bestowed at mattan Torah, but would not that have been the more appropriate time for Moshe to seek such knowledge? At least on a level of pshat in the parsha, the Ra'avad approach seems to have the advantage.

I want to leave off with an amazing comment of the Derashos haRan (in Derush #4) on the topic of the 13 midos. The Ran interprets Moshe's request, similar to the Ra'avad, as a supplication for Hashem's personal hashgacha in place of that of a malach. But what of the danger that hashgacha would bring? Sin done in the presence of the King is far more serious a crime than sin done in the presence of a mere angel. Therefore Moshe asked, "Hodi'eini na es derachecha," show me the path by which the people can be forgiven should they slip. Hashem responded, "V'chanosi es asher achon," I will forgive those who deserve forgiveness. Moshe still was not satisfied. Moshe wanted a guarantee of forgiveness for all, under any and all circumstances. This is the covenant of the 13 middos. Hashem promised that at this moment of creating this bris of the 13 midos that he will do a miracle unseen before by any nation or people. What is this great miracle that surpassed (so writes the Ran) even yetzi'as Mitzrayim and the splitting of Yam Suf? The Ran explains that as great as the exodus and the splitting of the sea was, both events were a reflection of G-d's will to save Bnei Yisrael. G-d's will is of course supreme and trumps all else. The 13 midos that elicit Divine forgiveness do not work because of G-d's will to forgive -- they work because of our desire to ask for forgiveness! Even if G-d is kavyachol angry, the 13 midos trump even the Divine will to punish and lead instead to rachmanus, forgiveness, reconciliation. A great idea to return to again in a few months when we get closer to Tishrei (someone remind me of this post ; )

Purim Katan

The Mishna (Meg 6b) writes that the only difference between Adar I and Adar II is that the reading of the megillah and matanos la'evyonim must be done in Adar II. The implication is that the day of 14 Adar I still counts as a holiday and should be celebrated as such, e.g. have a seudah. Tosfos, however, rejects this idea. The gemara writes that the two 14 Adar dates are identical with respect to hesped and ta'anis, meaning you cannot fast or deliver a eulogy on either one. Sounds like only with respect to the issur of hesped and ta'anis are the two dates identical, but not that one is required to have a full celebration on 14 Adar I just like 14 Adar II.

Tosfos seems to be splitting hairs a little too finely. How do we know that one cannot deliver a hesped or have a ta'anis on Purim? Because, as the gemara darshens (5b), the day is described as one of "mishteh v'simcha," partying and celebration. How can one say that a full holiday celebration is not required, i.e. 14 Adar I is not a day of "mishteh v'simcha," but at the same time say ta'anis or hesped are not permitted? Either it is a day of mishteh v'simcha or it's not, but you can't straddle the fence. Something to look into over Shabbos.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

what budget crunch?

In the past I've wasted my time writing about the proliferation of luxurious Pesach getaways, which continue to increase in number. I keep telling myself, "kein yirbu!" as obviously it means a good measure of acheinu Bnei Yisrael are not suffering from any budget crunch whatsoever and all those kollelim and yeshivos that are on the verge of closing will be thriving again. Yes, I am being sarcastic. Even cynical me did a double-take when I saw an ad last week for "Lizensk VIP - -"First class, first time ever!" Four star hotels, gourmet catering, new coach buses so you can travel between hotel and R' Elimelech's kever in comfort. And on the side of the ad, in little letters: "Parnasa, shidduchim, yeshu'os v'refu'os." I guess after you plunk down whatever this trip costs, you better hope for that parnasa bracha. Am I the only one who sees any irony in an ad promoting luxury, comfort, etc. for a trip to R' Elimelech of Lizenk's kever? Is this really what R' Elimelech wanted people thinking about?

Just open to this week's parsha: "P"sol lecha..." Chazal darshen that the p'soles, the leftover scraps from the carving of the luchos, were "lecha," given to Moshe. The Noam Elimelech explains that Hashem was telling Moshe that the "lecha"'s is life, what we think we need for our own parnasa, our own comfort, our own needs, are to be looked looked at as p'soles, unimportant, something to be pushed aside, certainly not something that should motivate us in our avodas Hashem. Is this the Reb Elimelech that you go to visit because you are reassured you will be put up in a four star hotel and served gourmet meals (chassidishe shechita, of course)!?

It's a bracha l'vatalah to discuss these things, so maybe I'll take this post down later. I shouldn't rant. Ads like this are why I am completely opposed to so-called Jewish newspapers. At least when I read a secular newspaper I have no pretenses about why I am reading it and the newspaper makes no pretense about who it is aimed at. What is far more dangerous is the ta'aroves of tov v'ra in so-called Jewish papers, where you can delude yourself into thinking there is some value to reading them and becoming exposed to a warped version of Judaism that is portrayed as mainstream.

Instead of travelling to Lizensk, open a Noam Elimelech and learn a little. It will bring far more nachas ruach to R' Elimelech in shamayim as well as to your own neshoma.

chinuch lessons from Parshas Titzaveh

I meant to post this earlier for Titzaveh - better a little late than never:

"V'atah t'daber el kol chachmei lev asher mileisev ruach chochma..." (28:3). Chasam Sofer explains that Moshe was told to tell the "chachamei lev" that they are already, "asher mileisiv ruach chochma," endowed with the wisdom, knowledge, the capacity to do the job of building the Mishkan. Nothing else is needed except for them to make full use of talents they already have. This vort should be plastered on the walls of every yeshiva classroom in the world. "Asher mileisiv ruach chochma," you have what it takes to learn and succeed, even if you make mistakes along the way.

Talent alone is not enough to produce results. It also takes hard work. Chasam Sofer interprets the light of the menorah symbolically as representing the wisdom of Torah. That light comes from oil that must be "kasis," crushed and pounded to the finest consistency -- without grinding away at learning, without effort, nothing can ever be accomplished.

There is one other ingredient needed for success, and that is a rebbe or morah. There is a tremendous Ksav Sofer that caught my eye. The Ramban asks why the Torah places so much emphasis on Moshe's personal participation when it comes to making the oil for the menorah: "Atah tetzaveh... V'yikchu eilecha..." etc. Ramban suggests that Moshe had to make special effort to get proper oil, as it was not readily available, and he personally had to supervise its pressing to make sure it was done properly. It is difficult to understand why Moshe had to personally serve as mashgiach here; however, as the Ksav Sofer writes, it teaches an important lesson in light (excuse the pun) of the symbolism of oil as chochmas haTorah. You can't delegate Torah learning; you can't delegate chinuch. If you want the light of Torah to burn, you have to personally make sure that it happens. Yes, I know must of us pay good money for yeshiva tuition and are not personally involved in every step of our children's education, but that does not mean we get a free pass on all our responsibility and involvement.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

the term kiddushin

We left off yesterday with a question: Tosfos says the term kiddushin applies to a woman because through the kinyan of kiddushin she becomes off-limits to all other suitors. Tosfos, however, says the term kiddushin cannot apply to an object, e.g. you can't say, "This talis is mekudeshes to me." Why not? Doesn't the talis become similarly off-limits to all others (there is now an issur gezel for them to take it) through the kinyan?

Those of you who are Telzers probably were thinking something like this: the act of kiddushin is the cause (sibah - the magic word behind half of R' Shimon Shkop's sefer) of two independent halachos: 1) a woman becoming one's wife; 2) the prohibition of her marrying anyone else. It is this second aspect which allows us to invoke the term "kiddushin," excluded from others. The same is not true with respect to other kinyanim. The issur for others to use an object is not an independent halacha, but is simply an extension of the definition of ownership. An easy proof that this distinction holds water can be brought from the question Achronim ask of why not apply to every case of safeik in dinei mamonos the rule of sfeika d'oraysa l'chumra - safeik gezel - and force the money to be turned over. Where do we get this idea of "hamotzi m'chaveiro alav ha'araya" from? R' Shimon Shkop explains that gezel is a function of faulty/false ownership. You can't claim someone is a gazlan or even a safeik gazlan unless you can first raise doubts about their ownership rights. Gezel is simply the absence of ownership, not an independent halacha. (For more on this idea, see previous post here.)

My son intuitively liked this idea, but I wanted a Brisker answer. Here's my two cents (the more I think about it the more I convince myself it's not that different than the first answer): the issur for others to be with a married woman is a function of the woman's status; it's an issur cheftza. The issur gezel on an object is an issur gavra on others -- the Torah wants you to not be a thief, not for objects not to be stolen. It's not kinyanim which "create" the issur gezel -- kinyanim merely create the metziyus, the practical context in which people can either ability to curb their desire to steal or to exercise power to take what belongs to others.

My son's rebbe had a different pshat in Tosfos that I don't understand. If I get a chance to ask him maybe I will update this.

14 Adar and Moshe Rabeinu

1) The Chasam Sofer quotes from R' Ya'akov Emden that Moshe Rabeinu was born on 7 Adar on Shabbos, making his yom hamilah on Shabbos 14 Adar. Since Moshe was born mahul, all that was required was hatafas dam bris, which was done on 15 Adar (the hatafah in this case is not doche Shabbos). Therefore, these two days of 14/15 Adar are days of simcha for all future generations.

The C"S is not completely happy with this idea -- why should 14 Adar should be a special day if no milah was done? You can't celebrate a non-event! He therefore suggests a different reason why that day is special. In Parshas Nitzavim, the last day of Moshe Rabeinu's life, Moshe gave a sefer Torah to sheveit Levi. The other shevatim complained -- why was Levi alone worthy of such a gift? It was about that day that Moshe said, "Lo nasam Hashem lachem lev lada'as ad hayom ha'zeh," which Rashi explains to mean that the people finally arrived at an understanding of da'as rabbam. This was a day of kabbalas haTorah, a true cause for celebration! The problem was that it is also the day of Moshe Rabeinu's petirah. Before the celebration could begin, aveilus set in. A week later, when the period of shiva ended, on 14 Adar, this kabbalas haTorah could be properly commemorated. The reverberations of that simcha were felt generations later -- "hadar kiblu'hu b'ymei Achashveirosh." (The C"S further ties this in with the parsha's opening -- take a look.)

2) The opening of the parsha is replete with difficulties and diyukim. The command to take oil to light the menorah seems out of place, sandwiched here between the construction of the mishkan and the making of bigdei kehunah. The format of parsha -- Hashem telling Moshe that he will teach a mitzvah to Bnei Yisrael -- is unique; in all other places Moshe simply relates the mitzvah or is commanded (i.e. the imperative is used, as opposed to the future tense, the way it is used here) to instruct Bnei Yisrael. The special emphasis on Moshe's personal role -- "atah titzaveh," "v'yikchu eilecha" -- is striking. Hopefully I've piqued your curiosity and you have some time to dig through the meforshim this Shabbos. Since it is not yet Shabos I haven't had time to do all my digging, so I just want one to share with you one beautiful remez of the Maor v'Shemesh.

"Titzaveh" is related to the same root as the word "tzavsah," to connect, to join -- Moshe was commanded to join with, to connect with Bnei Yisrael. It goes without saying that the closer our leaders are to us, the greater our benefit. But it's not only we who benefit. "V'yikchu eilecha" -- the people also bring something to Moshe, namely, "shemen zayis zach," pure oil, symbolizing refined knowledge and wisdom, "kasis la'maor," made from beaten olives, symbolizing humility. Just as we grow from our leaders, they in turn grow from our attention and dedication.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

the term kiddushin

Tosfos (Kiddushin 2b) writes that the term "kiddushin" in the context of marriage means that a wife is designated as being permitted only to her husband, just as an item of "hekdesh" is designated for the use only of the Beis haMikdash.

What if a person uses the term of "kiddushin" to refer to an object? Can a person say, "This talis is mekudeshes for me," meaning designated only for that individual's use? Tosfos says not. Designating a wife to be one's partner precludes her having a relationship with any one else (b'mah she'meyuchedes li hi ne'eseres...). The same cannot be said with respect to an object.

Why not? What does Tosfos mean? If a talis is lying in the street, anyone can take it. If I designate it as my talis and acquire it, this creates a prohibition of gezel which precludes anyone else from taking it. Why does the term kiddushin work with respect to a wife but not with respect to the talis -- in both cases other parties are precluded from having access?

Maybe I'll update with my thoughts later, but first I'll give you a chance to think it over.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


In the footnotes to the Chofetz Chaim al haTorah on last week's parsha it records that the C"C asked R' Yisroel Salanter whether it was better to learn one topic b'iyun or to cover ground. R'YS answered with a mashal: learning only one topic in depth to the exclusion of all else is like buying a beautiful tie but not having any other clothes. Moral of the story: stock up on bekiyus. (The note adds that psak halacha, however, requires specialized in depth knowledge. RY"S himself had the idea of talmidei chachamim specializing in specific areas so as to best be able to pasken in those domains.)

Monday, February 07, 2011

too much mesirus nefesh?

The Meshech Chochma devotes his closing comments on last week’s parsha (Terumah) to the topic of the gates of Nikanor that stood in the Beis haMikdash. The gemara (Yoma 38a) tells us that all the gates of the Mikdash were gold plated except for the gates donated by Nikanor, which remained in their original bronze. The gemara offers two explanations why. The first explanation has to do with the history of those gates. Nikanor obtained the gates from Alexandria and needed to ship them back to Yerushalayim. On the return journey a typhoon threatened his ship and he was forced to toss one of the gates overboard. The sea still raged, and the sailors demanded that the other gate be tossed as well. Nikanor refused, and declared that they should throw him into the sea with the remaining gate. The storm stopped, he made it to shore, and miraculously the gate tossed overboard was discovered floating below the boat. In remembrance of Nikanor’s mesirus nefesh, the gates remain exactly the way he presented them and are forever known as Nikanor’s gates. The gemara gives a second explanation: the bronze of the gates shone like gold and there was no need for added gold plating.

I would have assumed that the gemara is simply presenting two equally plausible explanations as to why the gates were not covered with gold. Not so says the Meshech Chochma. He writes that the two views are actually in disagreement as to whether Nikanor’s self-sacrifice should be memorialized. Proof that not everyone would celebrate Nikanor’s actions comes from B”K 61, where the gemara teaches that if someone risks his life for the sake of a din Torah, e.g. a soldier travels through enemy lines to go ask a shayla to the Sanhedrin, the halacha is not said over in that person’s name. Excessive mesirus nefesh is not rewarded! According to the second answer of the gemara Nikanor should not have been so willing to jump into the sea after his gates, and his deeds should not be celebrated.

By coincidence, the Shem m’Shmuel opens this week’s parsha of Tetzaveh with a vort that casts that proof text of the Meshech Chochma in a completely different light. In Parshas Ki Tisa, Moshe Rabeinu pleads with Hashem to forgive the cheit ha’eigel or to erase his name from the Torah (we discussed this in previous years; see the Ki Tisa archives). The absence of Moshe Rabeinu’s name in our parsha is understood to be a result of Moshe’s demand.

Does it make that much of a difference if Moshe's name is explicitly mentioned or not? The Shem m'Shmuel explains that a person’s name refers to the individual’s body/soul combination. Your name – Moshe, Chaim, Sarah, Rivka – refers to the physical "you" as well as the spiritual "you" that appears in the body with that name. What happens if a person so transcends this world that they no longer have a real physical presence? Then their name no longer applies -- you can’t give a name to something that isn’t there.

By making the extraordinary demand of “M’cheini na,” by demonstrating complete selfless mesirus nefesh for the sake of Klal Yisrael, Moshe Rabeinu completely transcended his physical self – he lost his name.

When Chazal say that we do not say over halacha in the name of someone who endangers his life for the sake of Torah it is not because that person is undeserving, but to the contrary – that person has attained such great heights that to associate a physical name with their presence diminishes who they are.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

4 amos of halacha

Sorry, I could not think of anything original to say this week. A bit of a likut instead:

"Li hakesef v'li hazahav
," says Hashem -- so what can we bring to the table for the building of the Mishkan? What can you give the King who literally has everything? The answer is, "Hakol b'ydei shamayim chutz m'yiras shamayim." "M'eis kol ish asher yidvenu libo tikchu es terumosi" -- R' Yosef Shaul Natahanson explains that the gift we can give is our nedivus lev, our decision to be generous, because that is completely under our own control.

Ain lo l’HK”H elah 4 amos shel halacha.” (Brachos 8) Where did Chazal come up with this number of “4 amos” from? The Iyun Ya’akov explains that the aron measured 2.5 amos x 1.5 amos – add the numbers together you get four. (The length of the aron represents bekiyus, the width, iyun. Since sinai tops oker harim, bekiyus is more valuable than iyun, it is the larger side. The gemara does not take account of the aron's height because it represents sisrei Torah, of which we have no conception. Why do all the measurements have halves? To emphasize the need to view oneself as always no more than halfway to achieving success, to emphasize that there is always more to grow towards completion.)

The badim, the polies used to carry the aron, were not permitted to be removed from their rings. This halacha is unique to the aron; there is no similar prohibition with respect to the shulchan and mizbeiach, also carried with poles. The Meshech Chochma explains that the poles of the aron remained in place even when the aron was at rest to demonstrate that these poles were not functional in nature -- they were not really needed to carry the aron. Chazal teach that the aron was “nosei es nos’av,” it carried those who carried it – it floated along by itself and did not really require physical exertion or support to be moved. These staves used for carrying the aron represent those who support Torah. Torah carries along its supporters – they get credit for expending their wealth and effort for the sake of Torah, but it is really the Torah which supports them.

The menorah is the symbol for pilpula shel Torah, in depth learning. Mikshah hi” – it was made of one solid block of gold. The many differing views of poskim and talmidei chachamim come from the same source, they are all part of the same solid block of gold.

The flowers and adornments of the menorah were also chiseled from that same solid block and not added on. Chasam Sofer explains that the interpretation and exposition of Torah, which is the beauty and glory of Torah, must be minei u’bei, from within the framework of Torah itself, not the product of other wisdoms and viewpoints grafted onto the body of Torah.

Though Moshe was unable to figure out how to fashion the menorah from that solid block and it had to make itself, which is why the pasuk uses the passive voice, “te’aseh es hamenorah,” the Torah in the same parsha later commands, “v’kein ta’aseh,” that we must make it. Learning is “yagata u’matzasa” – we must put in the effort, even though at the end of the day it is a metziya, our success is a gift from Hashem, above and beyond what our own efforts could produce.

Moshe was told by Hashem to make a Mishkan "k'chol asher ani mareh oscha," exactly as I saw you. Why the extra word "oscha" in the pasuk? The real Mishkan, the dwelling place of Hashem, is in the heart and soul of tzadikim. By looking at oscha, at Moshe himself, Klal Yisrael would understand what a true Mishkan is. We lack a Mikdash/Mishkan, but hopefully, if not by looking at ourselves, by looking at great people, we can catch a glimpse of what it means to have a hashra'as haShechina in our midst.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

odds and ends and some chizuk

A few odds and ends:

1) A short while ago a fellow blogger put up a post, since taken down, about people introducing sports team cheer song melodies into nusach hatefilah. I don’t know why he took the post down, because I would expand the point further. Why is every kosher takeout in my neighborhood now offering super bowl halftime party packages? Is everyone having a party except me? Maybe subconsciously I'm writing this post because I'm jealous that no one has invited me to their party (...yet - there’s still time!) Rather than emphasizing greater heights of kedusha, modern frumkeit often amounts to nothing more than finding ways of being matir and machshir the lowest elements of modern culture. On Rosh Chodesh Adar the Beis Din would make announcements about shekalim and kilya'im. R' Ahron of Karlin explains that the shekelim used for the purpose of korbanos, to come closer to Hashem, go hand in hand with the birur of avoiding kilayim, a mixture of ideologies, tov and ra.

2) Jumping from low culture to high… (the amazing thing is that you can easily get a big glatt hechsher on your superbowl party hero, but art and literature are always treif gamur, but that's another discussion). For those in NY, the Met currently has on display two items of interest. One: a stone floor mosaic found in Lod in Eretz Yisrael dating from the third century and remarkably well preserved. Nice website here. Second: a 12/13th century copy of the Rambam which happens to be open to the Rambam’s description of the bigdei kehuna, so it’s inyana d’yoma.

3) With all the bad weather (and yes, I know compared to Chicago we are getting off easy) I was wondering if rock salt is muktzah on Shabbos. It seems to be like stones/gravel, which would be off limits barring any preparation, but if you know the storm is coming and you have in mind before Shabbos that you need it, is there any reason why the rock salt should still be muktzah? My son mentioned to me that he saw in some English language book that you can salt because of sakanah, which I don't understand. Plenty of people rush off to work before salting their walk; no one rushes home from vacation to salt their walk -- what happened to the sakanah in these cases?

4) Last but not least, a little chizuk to get through mid-week: Eveybody asks why the pasuk says, “V’Yikchu li terumah m’eis kol is hasher yidvenu libo,” when it should say, “V’Yitnu” – you give terumah, you don’t take terumah. The Chasam Sofer explains that there were people who really wanted to give to the Mishkan – they were “nediv lev” – but they didn’t have what to give or what was needed. The Midrash says that when the man fell, these people discovered along with their portion that Hashem had also given them precious gems to donate. These are the people whom the pasuk is addressing: those who desire to give, “V’Yikchu,” should take these special gifts from Hashem, because he wanted to enable them to fulfill their desire to give back.

The obvious lesson here is that if one truly desires to be a nediv lev and give, whether it be to give charity, to give over Torah, to give in some other way, “V’Yikchu,” we will be able to take from Hashem the kochos and materiel we need and be able to fulfill that desire.