Thursday, December 29, 2011

the mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos

On I found a sefer call Oros Shabbos by R' Shlomo Wahrman that I am enjoying immensely.  I remember years ago R' Wahrman's seforim (he has a number of volumes titled She'eris Yosef) were very popular among the YU / Morasha Kollel chevra, no doubt in part because in addition to being a gaon atzum, he is a Rosh Yeshiva at HANC (Hebrew Academy of Nassau County) -- there was a certain feeling that he is one of us, or at least knows where we are coming from.  Anyway, I thought it would be nice to do a series on some of the torah in his sefer so that I remember it better (the self-serving motive here) and so that you can share in the enjoyment.  (I'm open to comments if you think this is not a good idea or a waste of time, and it goes without saying that summaries are only a taste and not a replacement for the sefer and any mistakes in the posts are mine alone.) 

The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 250) writes that there is a mitzvah on Friday to prepare for Shabbos.  R' Wahrman discusses three different possible sources for this din: 

1. The meforshim on the S.A. (see GR"A) point to the gemara in the beginning of the second perek of Kiddushin (41), where, in the context of discussing "mitzvah bo yoseir m'bshlucho"(Rashi: because one gets greater schar for personally attending to the mitzvah), the gemara mentions how various Amoraim would personally attend to Shabbos preparations in their home.  Given this context, it seems that the mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos is no different than any other mitzvah which should preferably be done personally rather than through an agent.

2. Rav Wahrman points out that there may be an additional element to the mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos that is unique to hilchos Shabbos.  Rashi elsewhere explains (Shabbos 119a) that the reason for the elaborate preparations for Shabbos is because it shows the importance of the day, similar to the preparation one would make for one's rebbe or an important guest.  Preparing for Shabbos is not just a means to an end, a way to make sure one can fulfill the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos properly with cholent and kugel, but rather it is an end in its own right -- the very act of preparation demonstrates the importance of Shabbos.  Personal involvement is necessary not just as a function of mitzvah bo yoseir mbshlucho, a means of getting extra schar, but rather personal involvement is an essential component of the etzem hamitzvah because it is this personal attention which demonstrates kavod for Shabbos.     

3. Aside from the divrei kabbalah elements of kavod and oneg Shabbos there is a d'oraysa kiyum in preparing for Shabbos based on the pasuk of "V'haya bayom hashishi v'heichinu es asher yavi'u" (see Biur Halacha).   

One nafka minah between these sources might be when preparation should be done.  The M.B. (250:5) writes that it is better (if possible) to make preparations on Friday for Shabbos rather than on the preceding day.  If the mitzvah of preparing for Shabbos was just a means to the end of ensuring one has food, then it would seem to make little difference if cooking is done on Thursday, Friday, or any other day.  However, if preparing for Shabbos is itself a fulfillment of kavod Shabbos, then it is understandable that preparations should be made davka on Friday when they stand out as being undertaken specifically for the honor of Shabbos. 

This factor of kavod can also help resolve another difficulty.  The Chavos Ya'ir writes that even though kavod habriyos overrides mitzvos derabbanan, the Amoraim put aside their kavod to personally be involved in making ready for Shabbos because of its great kedusha.  If preparing for Shabbos was just a means to an end, then it would not seem to matter how it got done, whether personally or through an agent, and there would seem to be little reason to sacrifice one's kavod to do the mitzvah.  However,if  personally being involved is what defines preparations as being l'kavod Shabbos, if personal involvement is part of the definition of the etzem hamitzvah, obviously it is impossible to delegate the chore.  

Yosef's wagons

"Ani Yosef achichem asher machartem osi...." (45:4) 
"I am your brother Yosef whom you sold into slavery..." 
The Ohr haChaim says a fantastic vort here.  Yosef told his brothers that even when they sold him, he still felt towards them as a brother and bore no animosity.

Why does the Torah tells us, "Vatechi ruach Ya'akov," only after he saw the wagons which Yosef sent from Mitzrayim?  Chazal tell us that when Yosef left home he was learning the sugya of eglah arufah with his father.  By sending agalos, Yosef was hinting that he was still holding in learning despite his 22 years of seperation.  The Divrei Shaul adds an additional point which ties together nicely with this post on the parsha of eglah arufah.  The reason an eglah arufah is brought by the closest city to where a dead body is found is because even if no one in that closest city is guilty of murder, the fact that such a heinous act occurred on that particular city's doorstep indicates that something is rotten.   Hashgacha, not chance, dictates the location the body is found.  It was this element of hasgacha pratis that Yosef was hinting to his father.  Whatever his brothers had done, Yosef did not want Ya'akov to lose sight of the fact that yad Hashem dictated his fate.

The Beis Ya'akov of Ishbitz takes a different approach in an amazing torah here.  A little more background on eglah arufah: The gemara  asks why the eglah arufah ceremony is done by the elders of the city -- surely we don't suspect them of doing wrong?  The gemara answers that the zekeinim are accountable because perhaps this stranger who is found dead came to their city and they allowed him to pass through without a greeting, without an escort ("leviya") to the road, without being made to feel at home.  Who is more vulnerable than a stranger left alone in a strange place? 

The word "leviya" means more than escort -- it means connection.  When Levi is born, Leah says, "Hapa'am yilaveh ishi eilei," now Ya'akov will really connect with me.  What Chazal are telling us is that the job of the zekeinim is to build and strengthen the connections between us.  Someone recently told me about his experience coming to a Beis Medrash to look into a certain yeshiva for his son and no one came over to say "shalom aleichem," no one asked who he was or what he was doing there.  Those zekeinim failed to do their job.  When there is a sense of belonging, of connectedness, among members of Klal Yisrael, then no evil can befall us.  When their is divisiveness and strife, then bad things follow and you need eglah arufos. 

Yosef knew that relations between himself and his brothers were frayed, so he had immersed himself in this parsha of eglah arufah -- the "ben zekunim" needed to take the role of the zakein and ensure that there was no sheivet left out in the cold by his dreams.  When it came time to reunite with his brothers, to reunite with his father, he reminded them that he was still holding by this same parsha.  These wagons were Yosef's eglah arufa -- a kaparah on the strife that might have left any one of the brothers without "leviya," without that feeling of connection to each other. 

(I don't really need to go into detail about current events and how they relate to this idea.)

I thought I had once posted it, but I can't find it, so I'll mention it here.  The Midrash compares Sarah Imeinu to an eglah temimah, a beautiful calf.  R' Tzadok quotes his rebbe, the Ishbitzer, as explaining that the word eglah is like the word "agol," round.  Sarah's life did not have high points and low points in her avodah -- it wasn't like a wave -- but rather every point around the circle from beginning to end was the same.  Any point might be labelled the beginning, any point the end.  

Yosef perhaps sent agalos to signal to his father this idea that his life had come around full circle -- he remained the same Yosef haTzadik that started the journey from home 22 years earlier.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

the brothers' admission of guilt and Reuvain's response

There is a tremendous mussar to be learned, says the Sifsei Tzadik, from the Shevatim's admission of, "Asheimim anachnu...," "We are guilty... [of selling Yosef]," when faced with the accusation of being spies.  How do most of us (myself included) usually respond when things don't go our way?  We yell that life's unfair.  We wonder why G-d has it in for us.  We ask why we have it so bad and the other guy has it all.  The Shevatim were tzadikim; they deliberated over every detail and possible repercussion of their actions.  Surely they had a right to clamor that life's unfair if, despite all their tzidkus, they suffer!  Yet, rather than blame G-d or blame fate or wonder why they suffer more than others, their response to adversity was to look at their own shortcomings and blame only themselves.   

Following the brothers' admission of guilt, the Torah tells us that Reuvain spoke up.  "Vaya'an Reuvain osam leimor, 'Halo amarti aleichem al techetu bayeled....'" (42:22)  Reuvain spoke, saying to them, "Didn't I tell you not to harm the child [Yosef]..."  Just what everyone needs when they finally admit that they messed up -- someone to jump in with an 'I told you so!'  What is Reuvain doing?  How can he callously rub salt in the brothers' wounds at this crucial moment?   

The Ksav Sofer explains that the Torah here is telling us a "din" in hilchos teshuvah.  It's far worse to do something wrong after you were warned not to do it than to do something wrong without being advised or aware of the consequences.  That's why a person can only be chayav misa or malkos if they were given has'ra'ah, a warning of what the penalty would be.  Reuvain was telling his brothers that if they truly wanted to do teshuvah, they would have to admit not only to doing wrong, but to doing wrong even after being warned of the consequences.  Hence the double language, "Vaya'an... leimor," in the pasuk: Reuvain said to the brothers that to do teshuvah properly they must say and acknowledge that they ignored his warning.

It's still a hard pasuk to digest, so let me give you a little Ishbitz torah to make it go down easier.  The Beis Ya'akov writes that had the brothers really been convinced that Yosef deserved to die, Hashem would have gone along with their psak.  The Rishonim write based on the pasuk, "Elokim nitzav b'adas K-l," that the Sanhedrin has Hashem's backing in every decision they make (see Ramban on the parsha of eidim zomimim, Derashos haRan 11); kal v'chomer Hashem would support the psak of a Beis Din of the Shevatim, even if it meant Klal Yisrael would have one less sheivet.  But truth be told, the brothers were not really convinced of their own judgment.  No sooner had they paskened than they began to have doubts and hedge their bets.  Reuvain had rachmaus and wanted to save Yosef; Yehudah had rachmanus and said to sell, not kill Yosef; none of the other brothers spoke up in opposition and insisted on sticking with the original death penalty.  Hashem didn't need to prove the brothers wrong, as in their heart of hearts, the rachmanus they felt for Yosef already told them that they were wrong.  Hashem will go along with whatever Beis Din feels is emes, but Hashem will not go along with the plan when everyone really knows it's sheker from the get go. 

When the brothers said, "Asheimim anachnu...., " "We are guilty...," they finally acknowledged the rachmanus they felt for Yosef and had been trying to sublimate and ignore for years; they finally admitted that the doubts they felt from the get-go proved that their plan was not just.  And who had the most guilt to confess?  Reuvain, as it was Reuvain who most felt in his heart that they should have mercy on Yosef; it was Reuvain who begged them from the get-go not to harm Yosef; it was Reuvain who was most aware from the outset that the plan being hatched was a big mistake.   Therefore, it is Reuvain who follows the brothers admission of "Asheimim anachnu...," with his own admission of added guilt.  When he says, "Didn't I say not to harm the child...?" he is not criticizing his brothers.  Rather he is criticizing himself -- if only I had paid more attention to those feelings of mercy and followed through with the rescue of Yosef, how different the situation would be.   

What a world of difference the Ishbitzer's perspective makes.  Rather than foisting more guilt on his brothers, Reuvain was accepting greater personal responsibility for the events that transpired.  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

girsa d'yankusa

Abayei said (Shabbos 21b) that he wished he had learned the din of kavsa ain zakuk lah earlier in life and not only in his later years.  Asks the gemara: What difference does it make if you learned the din then or learned the din now -- as long as you know the din?  Answers the gemara, the difference is girsa d'yankusa -- what you learn as a child sticks with you. 

Why is it davka here, in the middle of the sugya of Chanukah, and nowhere else in sha"s, that an Amora bemoans not having learned a din earlier in life?

The Kozhiglover explains that the lesson of kavsa ain zakuk lah is that it's not the effect produced by having candles burning or how long they burn which is significant, but rather it's the initial act of lighting which defines the mitzvah.  Chanukah is about beginnings -- the rededication of the Mikdash, the first lighting of the menorah in the Mikdash.  So long as you get off on the right foot, no matter what happens afterwards, you've have accomplished something. 

The Achronim (see R' Yosef Engel in Gilyonei haShas) explain that even through tumah hutra b'tzibur and a pure jug of oil would ordinarily not be necessary to light the menorah when everything is tamei, nonetheless, when it comes to chinuch hamikdash 
there is no din of hutra or dechuya, i.e. when it's the first lighting that we are talking about, it must be done without shortcuts. 

Therefore, it is precisely in this context of Chanukah that the gemara stresses the importance of girsa d'yankusa, what we accomplish in learning and avodah when we are young and what we put into our children so that they can grow in Torah when they are young.  The initial steps in our chinuch make all the difference.

(I have had an impossible day at work and don't have anything important to say about the parsha yet.)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Why no recitation of "Al HaNissim" in Al HaMichya?

Why do we recite Al HaNissim in birchas hamazon but do not insert any mention of Chanukah in Al HaMichya, even though we mention other significant days like Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh?  Rav Shternbruch suggests that the chiyuv to mention Al HaNissim stems from the chiyuv to give hoda'ah on the nes; therefore, it belongs in Birchas HaMazon where we have Nodeh lecha..., a specific bracha of hoda'ah.  Al HaMichya is an abbreviation of bentching and has no specific bracha of hoda'ah; therefore, hoda'ah on the nes does not fit. 

I think this approach may depend on how you learn the sugya in Shabbos 24a.  The gemara raises the question of whether Al HaNissim must be recited in birchas hamazon or not.  Why did the gemara take as a given that Al HaNissim must be recited in tefilah, in shmoneh esrei, but have a doubt about whether it belongs in bentching?  Rashi explains that takanah to celebrate Chanukah with "hallel v'hoda'ah" by definition implies commemoration of hoda'ah in tefilah.  (I think what Rashi means is that mentioning the nes of chanukah is clearly apropos in tefilah, where we give thanks for "al nisecha she'b'chol yom imanu."  It is less clear that this type of hoda'ah for nes fits the theme of bentching.)  Tosfos, however, explains that reciting Al HaNissim in tefilah was a given because tefilah is done b'tzibur and therefore there is a kiyum of pirsumei nisa.  One can learn the gemara's conclusion on one of two ways: either pirsumei nisa applies even in meals, or perhaps the fact that we recite Al haNissim in bentching is evidence that the entire premis that the obligation Al HaNissim stems from pirsumei nisa is wrong. 

It sounds to me like R" Shternbruch's chiddush fits better with Rashi's view.  According to Tosfos, Al HaNissim is potentially a din in pirsumei nisa and is as much an intrusion into bentching as it would be in Al HaMichya.

Rav Soloveitchik (Igros haGRI"D, Hil Brachos) has an ingenious answers to this question of why Al HaNissim gets no mention in al hamichya.  He suggests that the chiyuv of mentioning Ya'aleh V'yavo or Retzei, the obligation to mention mei'ein ha'meora, is an additional kiyum tacked on to the mitzvah of Birchas Ha'Mazon.  Al HaNissim, however, is not an additional kiyum, but is part of the nusach habracha of birchas hoda'ah of Birchas HaMazon.  In other words, Chazal dictated that a different nusach habracha be said for Nodeh lech... on Chanukah.  Saying Al HaMichya instead of full bentching does not suspend the need to fulfill the additional chiyuv of mentioning me'ein ha'meora.  However, given that Al HaMichya is a shortened form of bentching, just like other parts of Nodeh lecha... are cut out, Al HaNissim can be cut out as well.

(There is supposedly an answer to this same question given by the Brisker Rav -- if someone knows where it is and can explain it, please let me know).  

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the nes of Chanukah

In his Moadim u'Zmanim (7:60), Rav Shternbruch asks why we commemorate the Chanukah miracle of finding the oil and lighting menorah with hallel and hoda'ah -- what's so extraordinary?  There were many other miracles that occurred on a daily basis in the Beis haMikdash.  One might even say that to not have a nes in the Mikdash would be something out of the ordinary, not the other way around. 

I don't understand his question.  True, when the Beis haMikdash was functioning properly, nisim were the norm.  But the Chanukah nes occurs against the background of "ba'u ba pritzim v'chililuha," the desecration and defilement of the Mikdash by the Greeks (Avodah Zarah 52).  To find an untainted remnant when the Mikdash was in a state of ruin is certainly an extraordinary nes.  It is the fact that we found ohr amidst choshech which we are celebrating.

Monday, December 19, 2011

dmus deyukno shel aviv

When Yosef was faced with the test of not succumbing to Eishes Potifar, he was aided by a visage of his father which appeared to him -- "dmus d'yukno shel aviv nirah lo."  Why do Chazal use the passive voice, "nirah lo," instead of the active voice, i.e. "Ra'ah Yosef dmus d'yukno...?"   

My wife suggested that Chazal use the passive voice to highlight the fact that Yosef was rescued through no merit or action of his own.  It was only through isarusa d'leila, only by virtue of  Divine intervention, that Yosef was spared.  

In the footnotes to the sefer Shemu'os Rei'Ya"h (essays on Sefer Braishis based on torah said by Rav Kook) there is another suggestion quoted from an unnamed talmid chacham.  Yosef was a carbon copy of Ya'akov in many aspects of his life (as Rashi notes at the beginning of VaYeishev), with one glaring exception.   While Ya'akov was "yoshev ohalim," removed from the world and cloistered in the ivory tower of the beis medrash, Yosef felt he could maintain his tzidkus and also blend into society.  These were two different philosophies of life.  When Yosef was faced with the test of dealing with Eishes Potifar, he finally acknowledged, "nirah lo," as in the sense of being modeh to another point of view, that his father's approach had the advantage over his own.   

eating a bechor which one made a ba'al mum

Rashi (Devarim 14:3) writes that the issur of eating a to'evah prohibits 1) shechting and eating a bechor which a Jew has caused a blemish to, as well as 2) eating basar b'chalav. 

Tosfos (Chulin 115) asks: Why does the issur of eating a bechor which was intentionally blemished apply only when a yisrael causes the blemish?  Just like basar b'chalav cannot be eaten even if cooked by an aku"m, so too, even if the blemish to the bechor was caused by an aku"m, shouldn't it be called as toevah?   

Tosfos answers that we know a blemished animal is not a toevah because animals which are blemished pesulei hamukdashim are allowed to be eaten.  Therefore, the pasuk cannot prohibit eating any bechor which has a mum -- there has to be a case which is permitted. 

Tosfos seems to straddle the fence -- M'mah nafshach: If a mum is a toevah, then every case of mum should be assur.  If mum is not a toevah, as we see from psulei hamukdashim, then even if a yisrael causes the mum, the animal should be able to be eaten.  How can you split the baby? 

Maharal in Gur Arye  rejects Tos.' answer and offers in its place a bit of lomdus.  He explains that it is the metziyus of basar b'chalav which is prohibited, irrespective of who does the cooking.  You can't say the say the same thing about a mum.  The proof is simple: Were mum a toevah b'metziyus, then even an animal born with a mum should have issurim attached it it.  That's obviously not the case -- an animal born with a mum simply lacks kedushas bechorah; there is no status attached to it.    It's not the mum itself which is the problem, but rather it is the ma'aseh aveira of creating the mum which the Torah prohibits.  Therefore, the din of toevah applies only where a yisrael does a ma'aseh aveirah and causes the mum, but not where the mum is produced by an aku"m. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

emor me'at v'aseh harbeh

R' Nachman opens his famous "azamra" torah (Likutei Moharan 282, link) by explaining the pasuk, "V'od me'at v'ain rasha,v'hisbonanta al mekomo v'einenu."  Every person has some good in him/her.  By finding that goodness and judging another favorably, the individual being judged is actually transformed into a better person.  "V'od me'at," if you can find just that little bit of good, then "v'ain rasha," the rasha will be no more.   (R' Nachman goes on to say that this applies not just to others, but to oneself as well.  It is easy to fall into despair and feel that one's avodah has no value, but this road of despair leads to becoming a rasha.  One needs to remind oneself that every drop of avodah has value to Hashem -- there is no greater motivator).

My wife suggested that this idea may also be alluded to in the expression, "Emor me'at v'aseh harbeh."  If one speaks about and praises that "me'at" of goodness that can be found even in the rasha, it will produce enormous results, "v'aseh harbeh."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Reuvain's plan to save Yosef and to save himself

1. You almost have to read "re'eh es shlom achecha" as Ya'akov telling Yosef more than just to see how his brothers' were doing -- Ya'akov was telling him to view his brothers with an eye toward making shalom, toward avoiding stirring up their animosity. 

2. The Midrash writes that had Reuvain known the Torah would praise his efforts to save Yosef, "Vayatzileihu m'yadam," he would have run with Yosef on his back and brought him home to his father.   

Surely it was not the publicity, the praise of having his good deeds mentioned, that motivated Reuvain!  If he thought Yosef should be saved, wouldn't Reuvain have made every effort to do so regardless of whether the Torah mentioned it or not?  (Those who are regular readers may recall a hesber we said from the Lubliner Rav about a similar statement the Midrash makes about Aharon.  When I wrote that post (link) I commented that I don't know how to fit his pilpul into the same Midrash about Reuvain...  well, now I know, and so will you.) 

Ksav Sofer explains that Reuvain actually had every reason to not want to bring Yosef home.  Remember, it was Reuvain who was guilty of being "mebalbel yetzu'ei aviv," moving Ya'akov's bed from Bilhah's tent into Leah's (according to Rashi).  What better way to diminish his own embarrassment at having done wrong than to have Yosef delivering gossip about his brothers shortcomings to his father.  Even though in reality Reuvain's motivation was pure, the greater the effort Reuvain would have made to save Yosef, the greater the gossip would be that he only went the extra mile because of self-interest.  Therefore, he restrained himself.

The pasuk in our parsha, "Vayatzileihu...," testifies that Reuvain in fact was motivated only by his desire to save Yosef and not by any selfish motives.  "Had I know that the Torah itself would testify as to my motives," said Reuvain, "I would have grabbed Yosef and run home with him," as he would not have to be concerned with whispers behind his back.

Pilpul is geshmack, isn't it?  

3. Since we are dealing with Reuvain, let me share with you a Yismach Moshe.  The pasuk says that the brothers plotted to throw Yosef into a pit, "V'nireh mah ye'hiyu chalomosav," (37:20) and we will see what will be with his dreams.  Rashi splits the pasuk into two parts: The brothers plotted, but it was a bas kol that declared from Heaven, "We will see what happens with those dreams.  It's as if Hashem was saying kavyachol, "Let's see whose plot wins -- yours or mine."

The very next pasuk tells us, "Vayishma Reuvain vayatzileihu m'yadam," Reuvain heard and saved Yosef.  What did he hear?  The simple pshat is that Reuvain heard the brothers plan and wanted to thwart it.  However, in light of the way Rashi explains the previous pasuk, the Yismach Moshe explains that it was the bas kol that Reuvain heard.   

4. Reuvain tells his brothers to throw Yosef into a pit, and the Torah immediately again reminds us that Reuvain's plan was to save Yosef, "l'hashivo el aviv," to return him to his father (37:22).  If Yosef is saved, doesn't it go without saying that he will be returned to his father?   

The Radomsker explains that it's not Yosef the pasuk is talking about, but Reuvain -- Reuvain will be returned to his father.  He doesn't say it, but I think it's fair to suggest that the pasuk means that Reuvain himself would be returned to the good graces of his father by saving Yosef.  Note Rashi's comment to 37:29 -- Reuvain was engaged in doing teshuvah for that sin of bilbeil yetzuei aviv while all this was going on.  But the Radomsker goes a step further: The father being spoken about in the pasuk is not Ya'akov, but rather it is our Father in heaven.  Reuvain's mission was to return himself, his personality, to its former state of closeness to Hashem (see his explanation of why specifically Reuvain). 

This vort sheds light on what the whole parsha of Yosef and his brothers can teach us.  Yosef is that aspect within us that pulls us to tosefes kedusha, yet with every aliya, with every step upward, there are more faults of ours that we have to contend with.  Rather than face the "dibasam ra," we try to quiet Yosef, maybe by tossing him in a pit somewhere where he cannot be heard.  Reuvain's job is to come to the rescue, to return Yosef, and in doing so, to return himself to that state of closeness to Hashem.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

no escape

It seems that the malach who attacked Ya'akov in P' VaYishlach did so as he was completing the process of transferring his family across the Yabok river.  Rashbam explains that Ya'akov's plan was to flee from Eisav.  He first ferried his family out of danger and then was going to flee across the river himself.  However, the malach interrupted those plans.  Hashem did not want Ya'akov to flee; Hashem wanted to demonstrate that his promise of protection would be fulfilled.  Chizkuni goes a step further and adds that the reason Ya'akov got a patch on his leg was precisely because he was trying to run.  When Hashem gives you a mission, you can't run away.

Even though Chazal are critical of Ya'akov for having sought out Eisav and his having sent messengers to him, and even though Ya'akov was fearful that his zechuyos would not be enough for him to escape unharmed from an encounter with Eisav, Rav Gifter writes that we learn from these sources that once Ya'akov made the decision to invite the encounter, backing out and fleeing was wrong.  To avoid waking the sleeping giant of Eisav does not prove any lack of bitachon.  However, once events that encounter has been precipiated, fleeing at that point shows a lack of trust in Hashem.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

hidden gifts

You probably wouldn't think of looking at the Kozhiglover's torah on Parshas Pinchas this time of year, but you should, otherwise you will miss a gem that relates to our parsha.  The Kozhiglover (Eretz Tzvi, Parshas Pinchas) asks why the word "shalom", the reward earned by Pinchas, is spelled with a little letter vav (there are different minhagim -- some write a borken vav, others spell it normally).  Halacha says that a person who intends to give a gift does so b'ayin yafeh, in the most generous manner.  Certainly if Hashem wanted to gift Pinchas a reward, he would not skimp! 

The Kozhiglover answers that it is precisely the fact that the vav is written small which proves the greatness and fullness of the gift.   

In our parsha, the word "Vayishakeihu," Eisav kissed Ya'akov, is written with little dots over it.  This is done to show (see Rashi) that Eisav did not mean it with a full heart.  There are other examples in the Torah of letters written with dots over them to temper the meaning of the action or word in question.  What is it about the dots that changes the meaning?  The Tikunei Zohar says that the relationship between nekudos and letters is like the relationship of the soul to the body.  The nekudos, the dots, are what invest meaning into words and letters.  The nekudos are the ratzon, chochma, pnimiyus -- the letters are the skeleton, binah, what is animated.  Pnimiyus is by definition hidden; what a person truly feels deep down remains deep down.  Feelings that are displayed in public, on the surface, are just that -- superficial and lacking true depth.  Chazal tell us that an empty vessel with a bit in it makes a lot of noise; the more open the display, the more "noise" it makes, the more assured one can be that it is not real.  (I admit my bias here -- this makes sense to me because I'm an introvert; I don't know if you all will agree.)   "Vayishakeihu" has its nekudos lying right there in the open on top of the word where you can't miss it.  Eisav came running over to Ya'akov to give him the biggest kiss and biggest hug you can imagine.  But it's precisely because Eisav made such a point of putting on a public display of his feelings that we know they were not genuine.  "Lo yachpotz k'sil b'tevunah ki im b'hisgalos libo."  (Mishlei 18:2) 

The vav in shalom is small and hidden because what Hashem gave Pinchas had depth and meaning far beyond what could be seen.  

why Ya'akov was afraid

"Va'Yira Ya'akov me'od vayetzer lo..."  Considering that in Parshas VaYeitzei Hashem had promised Ya'akov a safe return to his father's home, what did he have to be afraid of? (We've discussed this before [link, link, link]and I don't want to rehash old material, but can't help mentioning the insight of the Abrabanel: Bitachon does not mean not being afraid.  It means that despite being afraid, overcoming those fears and trusting in Hashem.)  The Chiddushei haRI"M offers an interesting answer.  He interprets,  "Vayetzer lo," to mean that Ya'akov caused himself to have fear and anguish.

Ya'akov certainly could have relied on Hashem's personal promise to him that come what may, he would make it home.  However, Ya'akov realized that what was on the line in this encounter with Eisav was more than his personal safety -- it was an encounter that would shape and reverberate through the history of Klal Yisrael.  Though Ya'akov might have a personal guarantee from Hashem, a get out of jail free card, his children and descendants and future generations would not.  Therefore, Ya'akov chose to ignore that guarantee, that personal promise, and instead model for us and all future generations how to deal with Eisav when there are no guarantees and when the danger is real.  Ya'akov chose fear over safety in order to teach us how to overcome this trial. 

There are two interesting ideas here.  Firstly, I can't help but think that the Ch. HaRI"M mean to tell us more than just pshat in this parsha.  There are lofty and exalted souls that have a special relationship with the Ribono Shel Olam -- I think that is bread and butter of the way chassidus thinks of Rebbes.  And yet, rather than take advantage of the benefits of their special position, these lofty souls choose to suffer with us in order to show us how to uplift ourselves from that suffering.  Like Ya'akov, they put themselves in our shoes.  The same lesson can be applied in other areas as well.   A teacher may know a sugya or topic inside and out, but he has to put himself in the shoes of his students who are seeing it the first time to best explain it.  

Second point: Ya'akov wants to show us how to deal with Eisav without relying on the lofty level of direct hashgacha he was promised.  So what does he do? -- He davens (he does other things as well, but without tefilah those other things wouldn't be enough).  Apparently expecting a response to tefilah or at least to try to offer tefilah has nothing to do with special promises or direct hashgacha -- tefilah is part and parcel of normal preparation.  If you have done everything practical in your power to do but haven't davended, that's not a lack of bitachon -- that's a lack of hishtadlus.

when to say tein tal u'matar in Australia

Aside from the question of what the individual who travels to Eretz Yisrael when they have already started saying tein tal u'matar but we haven't should do in his tefilah, there is a question of what residents of an entire country that does not need rain should do when everyone else in the world has started saying tein tal u'matar.  What do you do if you live in Australia, when the seasons are the reverse of ours?   

The Rambam (Tefilah 2:17) paskens (based on Ta'anis 14) that if a particular place needs rain when other areas do not, the residents of that place should insert their request for rain in shome'a tefilah, where bakashos of individuals are inserted, but not in bareich aleinu.  The takanah of saying tein tal u'matar in bareich aleinu is based on general seasonal patterns and is not adjusted based on particular need.  Yet, the Rambam in Peirush HaMishnayos in Ta'anis acknowledges that in certain areas, asking for rain at the time of year in which tein tal u'matar is normally recited is nothing less than dangerous -- if our prayers were answered, it would result in a seasonal aberration.  Apparently the Rambam does allow for adjusting when tein tal u'matar is recited based on the climate of the particular locale.  The Kesef Mishna and Shu"T haRos"h both point out the apparent contradiction. 

R' Shmuel Vosner (Sheivet haLevi I:21) writes that he thinks the Rambam makes perfect sense.  The Rambam in Hil Tefilah is speaking about a location that by and large follows what we think of as the normal climate pattern.  However, things can be a little off -- there might be a particularly dry year, a particularly wet year, and that place may need an extra bakasha to meet its needs.  In that case, writes the Rambam, thebakasha belongs in shome'a tefilah.  The Rambam in Peirush haMishnayos, however, is speaking about Australia -- a place where what we think of as the "normal" climate pattern is completely reversed.  It doesn't make sense in that case to put the addition of tein tal u'matar in bareich aleinu at the same time as Northern hemisphere countries. 

Many other gedolim discuss this issue and disagree (e.g. the Minchas Yitzchak), but R' Wosner is convinced his pshat in Rambam is correct, even though he hedges his bets a bit halacha l'ma'aseh in his teshuvos.   

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

conventional conventions

Disclaimer: I have never attended any convention from any major Jewish organization, nor have I read the press reports of what goes on there.  The less I know, the less upset I can get.

When I saw a listing of what was on the agenda for one of these conventions I remarked to my wife that it seems that the topics being discussed never change.  I am willing to bet that if you look at the agenda from 20 years ago, even 30 years ago, you will find many of the same topics that are on the plate today: da'as Torah, threat to kedusha from the outside environment (those days it was TV, now it's internet), halacha in the workplace, etc.  If you belong to a different chevra, at your convention the discussion will be about the limits of da'as Torah, how to synthesize the influence of the outside world with Torah study, etc.  Whatever makes you happy -- it's all the same.  Conventions have become just so conventional.

Maybe I'm a bit slow, but it seems to me that if you keep rehashing the same message over and over again, year after year, doesn't that mean these conventions aren't accomplishing anything?  I mean, if you beat me over the head with the message last year and I didn't get it, is beating me over the head this year going to do the trick?  

Now, you could say that these are perennial problems that will always be with us.  But hadra kushya l'duchta -- so if you are not changing the dynamics one iota, if the problems are indeed perennial, why hold a convention?  What are you hoping to accomplish?

Is there anyone that went to one of these conventions with, for example, the hava amina that spending 10 hours a day on Facebook is a great idea, and then had his/her eyes opened and did an about face as as result of hearing a presentation?  Is there anyone that spends his days writing a blog or reading blogs ridiculing gedolim, then went to a convention and decided to stop?  

A chacham is ro'eh es ha'nolad -- do conferences and committees proactively head off problems?  If they do, I must have missed something -- what solutions were put in place to help us avoid yeshiva costs that exceeed 20k and in some cases 25k per child?  What was done to help us avoid the mess called the "shidduch crisis"?  Did I miss something because I never attended?

Maybe this is one of the blog posts those speeches were designed to not get you to read.

kavanah requirement for chalitza

The Keztos (275:4) discusses how to understand the requirement for kavana by chalitzah: Is it the same din of kavanah that is required for all mitzvos based on the rule of mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, or is it a kavanah similar to the da'as required to make a kinyan?   

Tosfos (Bechoros 19b) based on the Yerushalmi writes that m'doraysa a ketana can perform chalitza.  The Chacham Tzvi (quoted in the Ketzos) argues that since a ketana has no da'as, she would not be able to meet any requirement of kavanah based on mitzvos tzerichos kavanah.  The kavanah requirement must be similar to kinyan, in which case so long as a gadol is the counter-party in the transaction, his kavanah for the kinyan fulfills the necessary requirement (da'as acheres makneh). 

However, Tosfos elsewhere (Yevamos 104b) writes that the requirement of da'as for chaliztah is satisfied by the fact that the ceremony is performed in the presence of Beis Din -- gadol omeid al gabav is sufficient.  The din of omed al gabav usually comes into play when there is a requirement of lishma, e.g. baking matzah.  It never comes into play in the context of kinyanim.  Apparently the type of kavanah/da'as required for chalitzah does not fall neatly into the kinyan category the Chacham Tzvi places it in.

This topic is discussed b'arichus in the seforim of various roshei yeshivas: R' Chaim, R' Shimon in Sha'arei Yosher, and others.  Too much of an arichus for me to write about now. 

Monday, December 05, 2011

Scrying in Scripture

I told my wife I like her chiddush so much I am going to steal her post and copy it here:

Scrying in Scripture

Now there's a word that doesn't come up everyday. You don't have to Google it. I'll provide the Webster online definition right here:
"Scrying (also called crystal gazingcrystal seeingseeing, or peeping) is a magic practice that involves seeing things supernaturally in a medium, usually for purposes of divination or fortune-telling. The media used are most commonly reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances such as crystals, stones, glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke. Scrying has been used in many cultures as a means of divining the past, present, or future."

Like other practices of divination, scrying would come under the general order of black magic and necromancy that is forbidden by the Torah. But we see that some people did use these means. 
According to some views, the reason Rachel stole her father's Teraphim was because they could be used for divination, and she wished to prevent him from using them to find out where Yaakov had gone with his family. When Yosef had not yet revealed himself to his brothers, he indicated that his goblet was his means of scrying. 

But the real purpose of this post is to bring up two particular incidents of scrying in TaNaCh, both of which use a chalon, which is normally translated as window (as per my husband's request; he was taken with the view quoted below): "Vayashkef Avimelech melech Plishtim b'ad hachalon, vayar vehine Yitzchak metzachek eth Rivka ishto." (26:8) This is usually translated as saying that he peeked into their window and saw intimacy between them.  Their behavior indicated that the women Yitzchak traveled with was not his sister but his wife. 

 In Lev Eliyahu on Bereishis, (90-91) Rav Eliyahu Lopian rejects that pshat that Avimelech saw them through a window because he cannot accept that they would have not maintained absolute tznius and would have kept their interaction absolutely privateHe invokes a story involving the Gaon of Vilna who said that the man who boasted knowledge of what people did in private did so through black magic. In the same way, R' Lopian says, Avimelech used black magic to gaze into his chalon, a device used for scrying, into the private room of Yitzchak and Rivka. 

The next day, I was reading through Shoftim and noticed that toward the end of Shiras Devorah,  when Sisro's mother is invoked, the text also refers to her gazing at a chalon: "B'ad hachalon nishkefa vateyabev em Sisro b'ad haeshnav, madua boshesh richvo lavo, madua echaro pa'amey marchevothav." (5:28) I noticed that it would fit the text very well to say that she was not just anxiously looking out the window to find out why her son was delayed in battle but to say the she, too, was scrying in her attempt to find the answer. It actually fit in very well with the fact that she gets answers from the wise women around her and answers herself. She also suggests that they are gathering women for each man. Considering how Yael was supposed to have succeeded in tiring out Sisro, it makes perfect sense for her to draw that conclusion based on her vision from scrying.

But don't take my word for it. After formulating my own take,  I looked through the commentators to find out if someone did say something like that. Sure enough, the Malbim, who always focuses on the distinction between words when there appears to be duplication maintains that the eshnav (usually translated as lattice) is what we think of as a window, but  "chalon hakesem shebo hishkifa em sisto liksom kesamin," a device for divination that the mother of Sisro used to attempt to divine what happened to her son.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

lift up your feet

"VaYisa Ya'akov raglav..."  It's sounds poetic - lifting up your feet to get moving - but considering the context is a pretty prosaic parsha and the Torah doesn't throw around unnecessary verbiage, we have to wonder what the phrase means.  Why not just say Ya'akov went... why the focus on his feet?

Gemara in Avodah Zara 5b:
א"ר יוחנן משום רבי בנאה מאי דכתיב אשריכם זורעי על כל מים משלחי רגל השור והחמור אשריהם ישראל בזמן שעוסקין בתורה ובגמילות חסדים יצרם מסור בידם ואין הם מסורים ביד יצרם
The gemara darshens the pasuk in Yeshaya (32:20) that refers to those who "send out the feet of the ox and the donkey" to mean those who engage in Torah and chessed merit the yetzer ha'ara being under their control.

משלחי רגל. משלחים ומשליכין רגלי יצר הרע הבא על האדם מעליהם 
"Sending out the feet" means casting off the yetzer ha'ra. [feet=the lowest elements, the coarsest elements within a person]

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ya'akov: model of bitachon (II)

Last post (link) we discussed the Ksav Sofer's interpretation of Ya'akov's fleeting thought that his situation was hopeless before he reminded himself that "Ezri mei'im Hashem..."  The Ch. haRI"M and Shem m'Shmuel also present an approach to this Chazal and in doing so teach us something fundamental about bitachon.  Yesh lachkor whether bitachon means being so connected to Hashem that one is oblivious to all danger and problems, or whether bitachon means that despite knowing full well that b'derech ha'teva there are dangers, one still trusts in Hashem?  Is a ba'al bitachon "mufka" from "reality", or is a ba'al bitachon aware of reality but trusts it can be overcome?   

By expressing his awareness of his own precarious situation in contrast to that of Eliezer, Ya'akov Avinu models the answer for us.  Ya'akov's thoughts do not reflect a lack of bitachon, explains the Shem m'Shmuel, but to the contrary, reflect the very definition of bitachon -- a recognition of shortcoming, of the hopelessness of relief through derech ha'teva, alongside an equally strong recognition that af al pi kein, there can be yeshu'a.  A ba'al bitachon is a realist; he sees the world as-is and is not oblivious to danger.  However, that does not preclude his trust in a higher plane that exceeds his vision. 

This brings to mind another Sefas Emes: Chazal teach that Chizkiyahu could have been mashiach if only he had not failed to sing shira at Sancherev's downfall.  Why indeed did Chizkiyahu not sing shira?  The S.E. explains that Chizkiyahu saw nes and teva as one and the same.  The miraculous downfall of Sancherev in his mind was just another routine occurance, like the sun rising and setting.  Someone who lacks bitachon sees the world only through the lens of derech ha'teva.  Chizkiyahu went to the opposite extreme -- he did not see teva anywhere, and therefore could not sing shira; there can be nothing outside the norm when you don't recognize the existence of a norm.  Ya'akov managed to see the world in both ways at the same time. 

One final point on the parsha that I'll stick in here: Even with his having all the bitachon in the world, R' Leibele Eiger writes that we cannot imagine the broken heart Ya'akov must have had when he left home.  The spiritual center of the universe was the beis ha'Avos, the residence of Avraham and Yitzchak.  Ya'akov was being forced out of the one and only repository of ruchniyus he knew. 

"Vayifga ba'makom" -- suddenly, Ya'akov found himself in a makom tefilah.  Vayifga is like bumping into someone you never thought you would see.  Suddenly the Beis haMikdash was right there -- the mountain literally came to him (see Rashi, Ramban).  Ya'akov Avinu's journey teaches us that in all our journeys, even when we think we are leaving behind all that is spiritually dear, the truth is that those very feelings of longing will bring the mountain to us.  That's a thought to carry with you to uplift your bitachon. 

Ya'akov: model of bitachon (I)

The Midrash describes how Ya'akov fled to Charan without a penny in his pocket (according to Midrash all he had was taken by Elifaz).  En route, he thought about the contrast between his situation and that of Eliezer, who years earlier had made the same journey to Charan with an entourage of camels laden with gifts and goods as proof of Avraham's wealth.  Ya'akov thought to himself that the situation seemed hopeless.  He immediately reminded himself, "Ezri mei'im Hashem osei shamayim va'aretz." 

The meforshim are bothered by Ya'akov's "hava amina" -- doesn't having bitachon preclude there ever being such a thing as a hopeless situation?  (The easy answer to the question is why not?  Shema yigrom ha'cheit...) 

The Maharasha (Sanhedrin 95a) writes that the word "ozer" in Tanach always means (and I know you are going to get out your concordance to check) to help a person help him/herself.   

I once heard someone explain that the phrase in our davening, "Melech ozer u'moshi'a u'magen," refers to three distinct types of aid.  When Hashem is ozer, it means we have to do our part.  He is there to help -- that's what ozer means -- but we need to take an active role in our own deliverance.  Moshia means Hashem saves us without our having to do anything -- Hashem yilachem lachem v'atem tacharishun.  Magen means a shield -- Hashem is there to protect us from trouble before it reaches us so that we don't need him to be a moshia or an ozer after the fact. 

(Parenthetically, your spouse is called an eizer -- eizer k'negdo -- from the same root as ozer.  When it it time to take out the garbage, do the laundry, or wash the dishes, you may want a moshia to rescue you without your having to lift a finger, but that's not the relationship the Torah has in mind.) 

Returning to our original question, the Ksav Sofer explains as follows: Ya'akov was forced to flee his home and run for his life.  He was forced to fend for himself in Lavan's home.  One might have had a hava amina that something is off -- where is Hashem to come to the rescue and help Ya'akov avoid such trials?  Ya'akov reminds us that "Ezri m'im Hashem" -- even when we have to make our own efforts, Hashem is still there and we are not alone.