Sunday, July 31, 2011
Thursday, July 28, 2011
Last week we touched briefly on the power of one’s tefilos to affect another person’s ruchniyus. The Maor Va’Shemesh writes that even those who did join in the physical battle against Midyan shared responsibility for the soldiers’ hirhurei avirah during battle. Why are those who remained behind responsible for the aveiros of the soldiers? Because had they been davening better for the soldiers' success, there would not have been aveiros!
We find the same idea in this week’s parsha. One who murders b’shogeg must remain in a city of refuge until the death of the kohen gadol. The Mishna says that the mothers of the kohanim used to deliver food to these refugees so they wouldn’t daven for the death of their children. What did the kohanim do wrong to deserve this? The gemara explains that they should have davened that there be no killings on their watch (see Maharal, Gur Aryeh, on Rashi 35:25!)
(Parenthetically, the Targum Yonasan says the K.G. should have davened for this on Yom Kippur, opening the door to the question of why a K.G. appointed after Y.K. who dies before the next Y.K. responsible. I'm not so bothered if the details of derush don't match the halacha 100%, but see the notes in the Gan Ravah which discusses this.)
Another example: The gemara (Brachos 10) tells us that Brurya told her husband, R’ Meir, that rather than pray for the demise of the sinners in the neighborhood, he should daven that they do teshuvah.
Question: Hakol b’yedei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim – commitment and belief must be arrived at through free will, bechira chofshis. How then can one person’s tefilos influence whether another person will do teshuvah, will do aveiros or mitzvos?
There are two basic approaches to the issue:
1) Tefilah has an indirect effect. Most of the meforshim I have seen take this approach. Bechira does not take place in a vacuum. There are always obstacles which prevent us from being truly free to make any choices we like. Temptation, a lack of ability to focus on what is important, jobs and stress which sap energy and concentration all tilt the scale. Another person’s tefilah cannot cause me to choose to do the right thing, but it can cause Hashem to remove some of the obstacles that might be preventing me from framing the issue properly and being truly free to choose.
2) Tefilah has a direct effect. This approach is developed by R’ Dessler in Michtav m’Eliyahu. Every cheit in effect is a chilul Hashem, as it minimizes Hashem’s glory in the world. Onesh is not punitive or vindictive, but rather is meant to restore that glory to its proper place by showing that those who act improperly suffer consequences. But what if Hashem’s glory could be restored in some other way? That’s exactly what happens when someone else is inspired to daven for a chotei. Instead of sin desecrating G-d’s name, sin becomes a vehicle for people to draw close to Hashem.
There seems to be differences in the way this idea is presented in different essays in Michtav. In my simplified version the chotei escapes punishment because the chilul Hashem he/she caused is rectified in some other way, namely by arousing tefilos of others. In other places R’Dessler seems to stress that tefilah must also impact the chotei. By becoming aware that he/she has served as an inspiration to tefilah, the chotei him/herself is inspired to do better. In yet other places Michtav relates this idea to his concept of nekudas habechira. We do not actively engage in choosing every action we do. Most of what we do is by rote and habit – e.g. I did not really have to exercise my bechira chofshis in deciding not to eat treif for lunch today. On the other hand, someone who is used to eating a Big Mac for lunch and then becomes a ba’al teshuvah may really have to exercise bechira and choose to not go down that road again. Which situations require active bechira varies by person. Somehow tefilah can change someone's nekudas habechira so they are not forces to choose how to act in scenarios that might trip them up. I’m not clear on how this works or how it fits together with the other points R' Dessler makes.
Along similar lines as this topic, Chassidishe seforim in many places mention that a tzadik has the power to elevate tefilos of others even where those tefilos are inadequate or would otherwise be rejected (one example: see Tiferes Shlomo, Parshas Pinchas, on “Vayakreiv Moshe es mishpatan…:) I don’t fully understand how this works. How can someone else help my tefilos do their job if the words are undeserving? Maybe somebody can explain it.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
1. The Sifri darshens that when Bnei Yisrael waged war on Midyan they were told to not surround the Midyanim, but to leave one side open for escape. A surrounded enemy is a hopeless enemy and a far more dangerous enemy – the Torah doesn’t want us to wage war this way. Ramban counts the command to fight in this way, “Vayitzbe’u al Midyan,” as separate mitzvas aseh; Rambam does not. Meshech Chochma explains that the Rambam held that this din is just a detail that falls under the broader mitzvah category of waging milchemes mitzvah.
Yesterday we discussed the chiddush of the Rogatchover that the battle against Midyan was not technically a milchama, but rather was an act of nekama. Perhaps the machlokes Rambam/Ramban hinges on that chakira. Rambam's view (as understood by the Meshech Chocma) makes sense if one assumes the battle with Midyan was a war like any other war, and therefore falls under the umbrella of milchemes mitzvah. Ramban may have disagreed because he understood the fight with Midyan as nekama, a distinct and separate category from normal warfare.
(It is still a bit difficult according to Ramban why the mitzvah given in the context of nekama should apply to other war situations as well. It seems Ramban understood that the mitzvah relates to the act of fighting, irrespective of whether that act takes place in the context of nekama or milchama.)
2. Rav Shteinman in his sefer on chumash raises the question (link) of whether a bracha was recited over killing the men of Midyan (or over killing Amalek). It sounds from his wording that his safeik was only with regard to the killing of Midyanites in particular, which he compares to misas Beis Din, but not to war in general. Again this reinforces the notion that the parsha of nekama is a unique category.
Monday, July 25, 2011
1. I have to thank Havolim for mentioning a beautiful sevara of the Rogatchover that I otherwise might have missed. The Rogatchover notes that the Torah characterizes the fight against Midyan as an act of nekama, not a war. Placing this battle in its own halachic category explains a number of its unique characteristics:
a) On Shabbos I saw the Taz quotes a Tzeror haMor who holds there was no heter to take a yefat to'ar during this war. Tos' (Shabbos 65, also quoted in the Da'as Zekeinim al haTorah) asks why the generals were concerned lest the soldiers had sinned with hirhurei avirah -- if actually taking a yefat to'ar in battle was permitted, how could hirhur of the same be prohibited? The Tzeror haMor's approach renders this question moot. Tosfos is forced to answer that the concern was for the women who were exceptions to the rule of yefat to'ar and could not be taken.
The Taz assumes that the Tzeror haMor held there was no heter of yefat to'ar for wars waged outside Eretz Yisrael and he marshals proof otherwise. However, based on the Rogatchover one could suggest a different justification for the Tzeror haMor’s view: the battle against Midyan was not a war, but rather was an act of nekama.
(Parenthetically, from a mussar perspective it makes perfect sense that there be no heter of yefat to'ar here. The troubles with Midyan started because of the enticement of znus -- would it make sense to allow the same situation to develop? On the other hand, chassidishe seforim argue just the opposite -- the reason the soldiers at first let the women live was to prove their ability to overcome the yetzer ha'ra that had previously possessed them and do teshuvah gemurah.)
b) Ramban asks why the Torah teaches the halachos of kashering and toiveling only after the war with Midyan and not earlier, after the wars against Sichon v'Og. He answers by quoting the gemara in Chulin (17) that katli d'chaziri was permitted during wars of kibush v'chiluk -- chazir was allowed to be eaten during the wars of conquest of Eretz Yisrael. The wars against Sichon v'Og were wars of conquest, for the purpose of obtaining territory; the war against Midyan was not. Based on the Rogatchover, one can draw an even sharper distinction -- the war against Midyan wasn't a war at all.
Current events sheds some light on why some people are averse to the use (or overuse) of lomdus like this. Does calling something a "kinetic military action" (Pres. Obama's description of what we are doing in Libya) make it any less of a war than it otherwise would be? Does calling a battle an act of nekama instead of milchama change reality? Does a rose by any other name.... I love lomdus like this, but I can see why it would drive some people crazy.
2) M'inyan l'inyan -- Why did Reuvain and Gad wait until after the battle with Midyan to request that they be given the
3) Last week we touched on the question of why the generals did not step forward with their gifts to the Mishkan for the sake of a kapparah on hirhur immedately after the war ended -- why did they wait? Some of the meforshim explain that it was hearing the parsha of kasheing kelim which made them recognize the need for kapparah. A kli can be completely clean from ma'achalos asurus, yet it still needs to be kashered. It's not just mamashus of issur which is a problem, but it is also that which is absorbed, that which lies unseen below the surface, which is halachically dangerous. The generals realized that even if the army was innocent of any mamashus of aveirah, the thoughts that lurked below the surface might have a ta'am issur that needed kashering.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
One of the most enjoyable books I read recently is Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua, a professor at Yale, describes how she constantly pushed her two daughters to overachieve by being what others might describe as an overbearing, relentlessly authoritarian parent. Chua sees her own demanding expectations as a product of her Chinese upbringing, which she contrasts with American cultural expectations that allow children to slack off and to do as they please.
Chua takes things to an extreme (read the book), but I sympathize with her position, in part because my parents raised me the same way. A 95 on a test meant 5 points were missing.
To take an example from another great book I recently read, in Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Econimoc Miracle (p.124), the following description of a visit to an Israeli high school is recounted:
The Google founders strode into the hall an the crowd roared. The students could not believe their eyes, "Sergey Brin and Larry Page... in our high school!" one of the students proudly recalled. What had brought the world's most famous tech duo to this Israeli high school, of all places?
The answer came as soon as Sergey Brin spoke. “Ladies and gentleman, girls and boys,” he said in Russian, his choice of language prompting spontaneous applause. “I emigrated from
when I was six, “ Brin continued. “I went to the Russia . Similar to you, I have standard Russian-J parents. My dad is a math professor. They have a certain attitude about studies. And I think I can relate that here, because I was told that your school recently got seven out of the top ten places in a math competition throughout all United States .” Israel
This time the students clapped for their own achievement. “But what I have to say,” Brin continued, cutting through the applause, “is what my father would say – ‘What about the other three?’"
You betcha this type of approach is outside the norm these days. I heard a H.S. principal once describe his talmidim as “pampered” – I cannot think of a better word. Parents are afraid of pushing, teachers are afraid of pushing, as a community we are afraid of pushing. After all, look at all the kids that went off the derech – they must have been pushed too hard, right? Look at how many people hate going to shul – it’s all because the candyman did not given them an extra lollipop and a pat on the head. (Yes, I’m painting a caricature, but you get the idea).
When you read stories of the "greatest" generation, the common theme is pushing to do more. You had to -- who wanted to spend the rest of life in a slum, a ghetto, or worse? Who wants hardship and poverty? So you claw your way out, build a better life. But what's there to motivate you if you start with that better life to begin with?
My son's Rebbe once told the shiur about an amazing peirush on the Yerushalmi written in Siberia, of all places. Look what can be accomplished in the bleakest of bleak conditions if one has drive! And in America, concluded my son's Rebbe, what have we produced? -- Artscroll.
I think we, the Jewish people, used to have that tiger attitude. Forget the Torah giants of the past -- look at what we have contributed to the secular world in every field. But sadly, that attitude is quickly being lost. There is a pervasive attitude that scamming the system, getting something for nothing, cutting corners, is the way to go, and hard work is just not worth it or foolish.
Monday, July 18, 2011
The title of this post may sound something like, “What color is George Washington’s white horse?” but things are not so simple.
תניא אמר ר"ש ארבעה דברים היה ר"ע דורש ואני אין דורש כמותו צום הרביעי זה ט' בתמוז שבו הובקעה העיר שנאמר (ירמיהו נב) [בחודש הרביעי] בתשעה לחדש ויחזק הרעב בעיר ולא היה לחם לעם הארץ ותבקע העיר
One of the events which we commemorate in our fast is the breach of the wall of Yerushalayim. Yirmiyahu haNavi tells us that the breach did not occur on 17 Tamuz, but rather on 9 Tamuz. So why are we fasting on the 17th? Why not hold the fast of 17 Tamuz on the 9th?
There are two basic answers to this question:
1) The Rishonim (Tos R”H 18b, Ramban) explain that the breach of the city walls during churban bayis sheni occurred on the 17th of the month. Since that churban was more severe than the first, we fast on the 17th.
2) The Yerushalmi answers that in the confusion and panic leading up to the churban there was a mix up as to the dates. The city walls were breached on the 17th, but the people thought it was only the 9th.
It could be that these are simply two equally viable alternatives, but it could also be that there is a point of machlokes underlying the answers. Perhaps the Yerushalmi was not convinced that the second churban was more severe than the first, or, if it was (a more plausible assumption so as to avoid making a machlokes in metziyus), that is perhaps insufficient license to warrant changing the date of the fast. It seems from the language of the Rishonim that this latter point bothered them. In explaining why we fast on the 17th instead of the date of the 9th that the Navi refers to, Ramban adds a justification for moving the date – since the point of the original fast was to commemorate the breach of the city walls, if that event historically moved to a different date during the second churban, the fast should move as well. According to Ramban the reason for the fast defines its date, its parameters. It could be that this is the sticking point for the Yerushalmi. Whenever one speaks of a takanah derabbanan, the reason for the law’s institution does not always match or define its parameters. This is why, for example, even when the reason behind a takanah is no longer relevant, in many cases the law remains in effect (as GR”A assumes in many places). One could argue that even if the date of 9 Tamuz no longer makes sense, if the ta’anis was instituted on 9 Av, that date should remain binding. Therefore, the Yerushalmi learns that even during churban bayis rishon, the true date of the fast was 17 Tamuz.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Rav Zalman Sorotzkin in his Oznayaim laTorah writes (based on Chazal) that when Pinchas killed Zimri, the tribe of Shimon was ready to pounce on Pinchas and attack him. A miracle happened -- Pinchas’s neshoma departed and he appeared dead, thus escaping their wrath. R' Sorotzkin quotes that mekubalim teach that when revived, rather than Pinchas' own neshoma returning to his body, the neshomos of Nadav and Avihu descended instead.
Why davka the neshomos of Nadav and Avihu? What do they have to do with the story? Obviously when dealing with sisrei Torah there are limits to what we can understand, but R’ Sorotzkin reveals at least some of the surface meaning. The sin of Nadav and Avihu was that they were “moreh halacha bifnei rabam.” Rav Sorotzkin explains that Nadav and Avihu desired an even greater hisgalus of Hashem than could be provided by their rebbe, Moshe Rabeinu. The gemara (Brachos 7) relates that Hashem wanted to reveal everything to Moshe when He appeared at the burning bush. Moshe, however, turned away; he felt he was not yet ready for such a revelation. Later, at mattan Torah, Moshe regretted his decision and begged Hashem, “Hodi’eini na es derachecha.” Hashem responded, “When I was ready you refused; now that you are ready I am not.” Nadav and Avihu understood that was a limit even to what Moshe apprehended – Moshe forever suffered the shortcoming of having turned away at the sneh. That level of full understanding was what they aspired to. That’s why they tried to offer ktores in the kodesh kodashim even without instruction or advice from their rebbe, Moshe. In that respect, they jumped beyond what they were ready for.
Remember the end of last week’s parsha: Zimri approached Moshe with Kozbi and challenged Moshe to stop him. Moshe froze – “nisalma mi’menu halacha.” It was Pinchas who reminded Moshe of the din of “kana’im pog’im bo,” and who carried out that halacha. Pinchas at that moment had the clarity to see and act when even Moshe Rabeinu himself was unable to. Nadav and Avihu’s desire to surpass their rebbe may have gone awry in their lifetime, but the spirit of their actions, the ability to transcend even Moshe Rabeinu, was fulfilled a generation later through the actions of Pinchas.
(Side point: Rashi in our parsha writes that Moshe’s not knowing the halacha of yerusha when asked by the Bnos Tzelofchad was a punishment for his declaring that all difficult shaylos should be brought to him. Why does Rashi not bring up this punishment at the end of P’ Balak where we learn that Moshe forgot the din of “kana’im pogim bo”? In both cases Rashi uses the term, "nisalma mi'menu halacha.")
Monday, July 04, 2011
שתי שערות האמורות בבן ובבת, ובכל מקום--שיעורן כדי לכוף ראשן לעיקרן. ומשיצמחו ויהיו יכולות להינטל בפי הזוג, עד שיגיעו לכוף ראשן לעיקרן--דנין בהן להחמיר, בכל מקום: לפיכך בבן ובבת, נחשוב אותם גדולים להחמיר, הואיל וצמחו כדי להינטל בפי הזוג; ונחשוב אותם קטנים להחמיר, הואיל ולא הגיעו לכוף ראשן לעיקרן.
There are different opinions of Tanaim as to the minimum length which defines a hair. The Rambam writes that we adopt the chumros of all views. So long as the hair is long enough to be cut, we treat the child as a gadol l'hachmir. However, until the hairs are long enough to bend over back to their root, we do not allow for any of the leniencies of being a gadol.
Yet, the Rambam writes with respect to Parah Adumah (1:4):
היו בה שתי שערות עיקרן מאדים וראשן משחיר, עיקרן משחיר וראשן מאדים--הכול הולך אחר העיקר; וגוזז במספריים את ראשן המשחיר, ואינו חושש משום גיזה בקודשים--שאין כוונתו לגזוז.
וצריך שיישאר מן המאדים, כדי שתינטל בזוג--שכל שערה שאינה ניטלת בזוג, הרי היא כאילו אינה; לפיכך אם היו בה שתי שערות לבנות או שחורות, שאינן נלקטין בזוג--הרי זו כשרה.
So long as the root of the hair of a cow is red, the hair is treated as red even if the top is black. How much of the hair has to be red to call it a red hair? The Rambam writes so long as it is long enough to be cut.
The Kesef Mishneh asks: Since the Rambam follows the stringencies of all views when it comes to defining a hair, shouldn't the Rambam pasken that until the hair is long enough to fold over back to its root, it is not called a red hair? Why is the Rambam lenient here and allow a hair to count as red even if it is just long enough to be cut?
R' Chaim Brisker has an answer to this question, but I would rather share R' Shach's answer (Avi Ezri, Hil Ishus) which is similar, but slightly easier to understand and a lot easier to write over : ) The difference between the two cases is that when it comes to defining adulthood, the presence or absence of hair is the key criteria; the Rambam in that case defines a precise strict shiur of what defines hair. Not so when it comes to parah adumah. There, the key criteria is redness. The presence or absence of hair is just a means of measuring the presence or absence of redness, but is not a defining feature in and of itself. A hair long enough to be cut but not long enough to bend back over may be a hair of insufficient length to define gadlus, but that does not mean it is anything other than a hair and its color is anything other than red.
Sunday, July 03, 2011
The Yerushalmi gives a different answer (Dmai 1:3; 4a in the Vilna edition). According to the Yerushalmi, R' Pinchas ben Yair said, "What do you want from me -- my donkey is a frummie."
Moral of the story: one can be a frummie and still be a donkey.