Monday, October 07, 2013

some assorted thoughts

1) Over the past year my son has started really delving into learning halacha (aside from his regular gemara sedorim) and I like to joke with him that he deserves to be made an honorary sefardi because he usually has a Chazon Ovadya with him.  The wealth of mareh mekomos those seforim make so easily accessible is wonderful.  R’ Ovadya was literally a walking encyclopedia of Torah – no other way to put it.  A tremendous loss for Klal Yisrael.  What ean be said?

2) Noah Feldman had a nice piece in Bloomberg on BMG/Lakewood (link):
Graduates of institutions such as BMG won’t solve the demographic challenges to American Jewry highlighted by the Pew study. Moreover, the American Jewish community will not be fundamentally transformed by an Orthodox population that hovers near 10 percent. But BMG matters. It matters for the future of Jews in America precisely because it matters for the future of Judaism in America. By privileging ideas and thought over identity, it proudly stakes out a position of genuine durability.
3) When the number of Jews who view having a sense of humor as essential to their Jewishness far exceeds the number who report that adherence to Jewish law matters, as reported in the Pew study, is there any hope left?

4) A few thoughts on past/present parshiyos:

  Vayehi Hevel ro’eh tzon v’Kayin haya oveid adamah.”  What was the difference between Kayin and Hevel that led to one bringing an offering that was accepted and the other taking a path that was rejected?  Is being a shepherd so much more of an elevating experience than being a farmer?

The Tiferes Shlomo reminds us of a rule Chazal give us: “Vayehi” usually portends something bad happening; “haya” usually portends simcha (this is actually a hava amina in Midrash, but many meforshim take it as a rule that words in most places.) 

Man was not in Gan Eden any more, and Kayin and Hevel therefore had to choose professions to work at.  The Torah introduces Hevel’s choice with the word “vayehi” because Hevel felt sadness at being pushed into a life tending to sheep as opposed to a life of working on his relationship with G-d.   Kayin’s choice, however, “haya,” had a feeling of joy at being let loose in the world. 

It's not so much what you do for a living that is important, as what your attitude is.  When you leave the beis medrash to pursue your parnasa or tikun olam, is it with a sense of "haya" or a sense of "vayehi?"

5)   The Torah tells us that about Noach building the ark “va'ya'as Noach k’chol asher tzivah oso Elokim kein asah” like all he was commanded by G-d.  The Ksav Sofer suggests that the pasuk does not simply mean to tell us that Noach followed all the instructions he had been given with respect to the ark – were that the case, why repeat "va'ya'as" and then again "kein asah.  Rather, what the pasuk is telling us is that Noach observed the command to build the ark (kein asah) just as he observed all the other commandments which G-d had given to mankind (va'ya'as...), meaning the seven Noahide laws (which had actually been given to Adam.  The term “Noahide” is a misnomer.)

The Ksav Sofer suggests that this pasuk is a tremendous criticism of Noach.  Everyone had/has to follow the commandments of not stealing, of not killing, etc., but only Noach was addressed directly by G-d and given a special command to build the ark.  It was a special mission assigned only to him.  He should have approached it as such.  Instead, he treated it as any other task that he was obligated to perform. 

The Noam Elimelech on this week’s parsha speaks of each generation having a specific mitzvah that becomes its focus.  Perhaps the same is true for individuals.  We all have to observe as many mitzvos as we can, but sometimes a specific mitzvah captures our individual attention and has special meaning for us.  Rav Scheinberg, for example, was known for the many, many pairs of tzitzis he wore; Rav Neubert, the author of Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchisa, made hilchos Shabbos his special area of expertise.  Do any of us really feel tefilas neilah on Yom Kippur is the same as a weekday mincha because, after all, both are just mitzvos of tefilah?  Of course not.  Not all mitzvos command the same attention, and each of us perhaps feels drawn to some more than others.  I don't think that's a defect in our thinking -- I think it's our neshomos speaking to us about what our own special mission might be.  To dismiss that special pull and treat all acts the same may be throwing out the hisore’us Hashem gives each of us to help us discover our own unique mission.
To be continued, bl"n.

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