Tuesday, May 13, 2014

the visit of the Chief Rabbi and the Rishon l'Tzion

We have the good fortune in and around our neighborhood this week to have three distinguished visitors.  Sunday night the Rishon l’Tzion R’ Yitzchak Yosef spoke, last night R’ Dovid Lau was in town, and tonight R’ Jonathan Sacks will be speaking at an AIPAC event. 

The technical part of R’ Yosef’s shiur was devoted to answering a R’ Akiva Eiger.  If a person has a safeik whether or not he said a birchas hane’henin, the rule of thumb is safeik brachos l’hakeil.  Yet, the halacha is that someone who has hana’ah from this world without saying a bracha violates an issur me’ila.  Since a safeik bracha amounts to a safeik issur, so why not just skip eating the food and avoid the issur? 

R’ Yosef suggested that it’s not that there’s an issur me’ila that a bracha comes to remove, but rather it’s the failure to say a bracha which creates the issur.  Since the chachamim never obligated a person to say a bracha in a case of safeik, m’meila there is no issur.  He brought a number of proofs that I won’t go into, among them the fact that an onein can eat without a bracha even though an onein obviously cannot do issurim. 

The highlight for me was the tangents that he interspersed throughout the talk.  For example, on the topic of chumra, he mentioned a Shu”T Ginas Veradim (not the PM”G – not sure who it is) that holds that if all the poskim in Klal Yisrael are meikil on a certain issue, someone who chooses to be machmir is an apikores for disregarding the views of chachamei yisrael!  A person needs to have a Rav who is competent to advise on what chumros are proper chumros to take on and what chumros are unnecessary and strange.  He did offer some interesting examples of “good” chumros: 1) waiting for the Rabeinu Tam zman to end Shabbos, as Maran the beit Yosef paskens like R”T (even though m’ikar hadin the minhag is like the Geonim); 2) wearing Rabeinu Tam tefillin; 3) women should avoid wearing sheitels. 

I've only seen videos of R' Ovadya zt"l, but from the tinted glasses and turban to the ability to quote Maran in Shulchan Aruch all over without opening a sefer, his son is the spitting image of his father. 

R’ Dovid Lau said over a nice vort in the name of his grandfather, R’ Yedidya Frankel.  Rashi writes at the beginning of Netzavim that when Klal Yisrael heard 100 minus 2 kelalos in the tochacha of Ki Tavo, they were crestfallen.  Therefore, Moshe Rabeinu told them that despite all the threatened punishments, “Atem Nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem,” they remain standing proudly before G-d and will always remain that way.  Three questions on the Rashi: 1) Why does Rashi say “100 minus 2” – is this a math test?  Why did Rashi not just say 98?  2) The tochacha in Ki Tavo includes the line that “kol choli v’kol makah asher lo kesuvim” will also be brought on them, so there are actually more potential punishments then the 98 that are spelled out; 3) Why were Klal Yisrael crestfallen after the tochacha in Ki Tavo but not after the tochacha in our parsha of Bechukosai?

R’ Lau answered that at the end of the tochacha in Bechokosai we have the pesukim of “Lo me’astim v’lo ge’altim…” and “v’Zachti lahem bris rishonim…”  After all the threats and punishments, there is a nechama.  When Rashi in Nitzavim says that Klal Yisrael were afraid because they had heard “100 minus 2” he doesn’t mean that they heard two kelalos short of 100 –- what Rashi means is that they heard kelalos short the two pesukim of nechama found in our parsha.  Tochacha without nechama is unbearable. 

I would like to suggest at least to answer question #3 that the difference between the two parshiyos is that the tochacha in Bechukosai was said by G-d; the tochacha in Ki Tavo was Moshe’s words.  Even if G-d himself is giving the tochacha, so long as Moshe Rabeinu and our others leaders are standing with us, then we are not that afraid.  But if Moshe Rabeinu, if our leaders, turn against us and they too beat us down with words of rebuke, then we know we are in trouble. 

Having seen the Rishon l’Tzion and R’ David Lau, I feel pretty confident that our leaders stand with us as our noble defenders should c”v there be tochachos against us.

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