Friday, August 29, 2014

when going to work is a ma'aseh mitzvah

For the past few weeks I’ve at least touched on a topic that relates to Eretz Yisrael in every parsha, and I don’t know if a cease fire is a reason to cease this practice.  Last post I mentioned the din that a new chassan who has just gotten engaged is exempt from going to war.  The Torah has a similar din that if you just built a home and have not yet done a chanukas habayis you are also exempt.  Rashi explains that there would be tremendous agmas nefesh to start a home or become engaged and not return from battle to see things completed.  However, the Yerushalmi at the end of Sotah (8:4) darshens “v’lo chanacho” as a miyut – you are excused only for a home that there is a mitzvah to make a chanukas habayis on, i.e. a home in Eretz Yisrael.  According to the Yerushalmi, the dispensation is based on a consideration for yishuv ha’aretz.

(The Shiurei Korban points out that the Bavli reads the pasuk as coming to exclude a house that you steal.  However, since the Rambam quotes both halachos, presumably the pasuk implies both dinim and there is no machlokes.  He also points out that you see from this Yerushalmi that there is no mitzvah to make a seudas chanukas habayis if you move into a new home in chutz la’aretz.) 

The Chasam Sofer doesn’t quote the Yerushalmi, but what he writes certainly touches on the same theme.  He writes that the parsha places building a home before working the vineyard, the reverse of the Rambam’s advice in Hil Deyos to first get a job, because the parsha is talking about Eretz Yisrael when Klal Yisrael is doing what they should be doing.  The gemara (Brachos 35) writes that according to RshBY”Y in those circumstances we don’t need to work for parnasa – Hashem will have others take care of everything.  So why plant a vineyard at all?  Because even if the work is not needed for parnasa, there is a value to secular education and work as a means of fulfilling yishuv Eretz Yisrael.  Work in that circumstance is not merely a means to make ends meet, but is a positive end in its own right, a ma'aseh mitzvah.  

some day my prince will come

I was at a sheva brachos this week and was surprised that more than one speaker stood up and prefaced their divrei Torah with the remark that this parsha is a difficult one to relate to the theme of marriage.  In actuality, this parsha contains a pasuk that reveals a tremendous yesod as to what getting married is all about.  If you want to find one word that sums up all the preconceptions and misconceptions about marriage, it’s the word “bashert.”  Chazal tell us (Sotah 2) that even before a child is conceived an announcement is made upstairs that says, “Bas Ploni l’Ploni.”  Everyone has a soul mate, a special he or she that is Mr. or Mrs. Right, as predetermined by Heaven.  The challenge is finding this specific bashert.  It’s a romantic idea, it’s mystical, you hear the violin music in the background.  People spend years investing tremendous emotion and energy in their quest for The One, wringing their hands lest G-d forbid they make an error and end up with the wrong Ben or Bas Ploni, never mind the Maharal’s question of why make any effort at all when the outcome is predetermined anyway.  Too bad on them that the Rambam tells us that it’s nonsense.  Mi ha’ish asher eiras isha v’lo lekacha yeilech v’yashov l’beiso.”  Our parsha says that someone who is engaged is exempt from army service lest he die in battle and someone else marry that girl.  Maybe it's not the nicest thing to say at a sheva brachos, but the point, says the Rambam (in a letter to Ovadya the Convert), is that marrying Mr. or Mrs. X is not inevitable and predetermined.  Were that the case, there could be no possibility of the chassan dying in battle his Bas Ploni ending up with someone else! 

The Rambam advances a philosophical argument against this concept of “bashert” as well.  The Rambam holds that getting married is a mitzvah.  Without the ability to choose whether to do a mitzvah or not, fundamental ideas like schar v’onesh make no sense.  Free will is Judaism 101.  If it was predetermined that “Bas Ploni l’Ploni,” it would mean a person had no free choice whether or not to fulfill the mitzvah of marriage. 

When a statement in Chazal like “Bas Ploni l’Ploni” contradicts a pasuk or a basic tenet of hashkafa, it means (in the Rambam’s view) that statement is not meant to be taken literally.  We may be born with a predisposition to enjoy the company of one type person over that of another and that may direct us toward choosing one individual over another as our spouse, but by no means is there one specific Mr. or Mrs. Right out there for anyone.

Now for the most important point that's the take away lesson.  The Rambam says that it’s mefurash in Chazal that your spouse it not determined by Heaven, and he quotes a gemara that we would probably interpret exactly the opposite of the way he does: “Hakol b’ydei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim.”  Doesn’t that mean that who your spouse is and most everything else in life – “hakol b’ydei shamayim” --  is in fact predetermined?  No, says the Rambam.  Your marriage, your job, where you live, etc. are all parts of the exception.  Who we choose to marry and how we live our married lives is all about finding the means to grow in yiras shamayim.  It's all part of the "chutz..." part of the equation that is in our hands alone.

Based on this Rambam perhaps we can read Adam’s response to Hashem when he is accused of eating from the eitz hada’as a little differently than the usual pshat. Adam blames his mistake on, “Ha’isha asher nasata imadi…,” the wife that you, Hashem, gave me.  Adam was perhaps saying that because Chavah was given to him – he had no choice – he was deprived of an opportunity to grow in yiras shamayim and that contributed to his downfall. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

the king's sefer torah

According to the Targum Yonasan, the sefer torah of the melech was given to him by the zekeinim – it was not written by the king himself.  The simply pshat in the pesukim is not like that, as the Rambam writes in Hil Melachim (ch 3):

 בעת שישב המלך על כסא מלכותו. כותב לו ספר תורה לעצמו יתר על הספר שהניחו לו אבותיו. ומגיהו מספר העזרה על פי בית דין של שבעים ואחד. אם לא הניחו לו אבותיו או שנאבד כותב שני ספרי תורה. אחד מניחו בבית גנזיו שהוא מצווה בו ככל אחד מישראל. והשני לא יזוז מלפניו. אלא בעת שיכנס לבית הכסא. או לבית המרחץ. או למקום שאין ראוי לקריאה. יוצא למלחמה והוא עמו. נכנס והוא עמו. יושב בדין והוא עמו. מיסב והוא כנגדו שנאמר והיתה עמו וקרא בו כל ימי חייו:

And in Hil Sefer Torah (ch 7) he writes as well: 

 והמלך מצוה עליו לכתוב ספר תורה אחד לעצמו לשם המלך יתר על ספר שיהיה לו כשהוא הדיוט שנאמר והיה כשבתו על כסא ממלכתו וכתב לו וגו'. ומגיהין אותו מספר העזרה ע"פ בית דין הגדול. זה שהיה לו כשהוא הדיוט מניחו בבית גנזיו. וזה שכתב או שנכתב לו אחר שמלך יהיה עמו תמיד. ואם יצא למלחמה ספר תורה עמו. נכנס והוא עמו. יושב בדין והוא עמו. מיסב והוא כנגדו שנאמר והיתה עמו וקרא בו כל ימי חייו: 
There are minute differences between the Rambam's words (why he repeats the halacha in two places is itself worth asking) but I don't know if there is any substantive change.  What bothers me is this din that the sefer torah of the melech has to be checked against the sefer in the azarah by B”D of 71.  The Ralbag explains pshat in the pasuk “v’kasav lo… al pi hakohanim ha’levi’im” as referring to this copying of the azarah text, which was considered the most exact, the “master copy” against which all other texts were judged.   But if it’s just a matter of ensuring the accuracy of the text, why is this halacha limited to a melech – shouldn’t every individual strive to copy the most accurate text possible, as efshar l’vareir?  And why does this process of proofing the text require a B”D of 71?  I haven’t looked into any meforshim yet, just scratching my head and wondering. 

Another difference between the extra Torah of the king and that of the individual: while an individual has to ideally write his own sefer from scratch and cannot inherit or buy one, the same rules don’t apply to the king’s sefer (see KS”M to Melachim 3:1 who learns that it’s the first sefer that the king is allowed to inherit, against the pashtus of the gemara.)  R’ Reuvain Katz suggests derech derush that the idea here is that simply imitating the past, inheriting a sefer Torah from one’s parents, will not solve the problems or satisfy the needs of the present and future.  Nor can an individual buy a sefer Torah, adopting or acquiring his hashkafos and derecho from the outside.  Each individual must forge his/her own unique path.  Not so the king.  The second sefer of the king represents the national trust of Klal Yisrael.  Rulers come and go, but the core mission of Am Yisrael represented by that sefer remains constant and unchanged.  That sefer can be passed on from father to son, from one generation to the next.  The Targum Yonasan’s idea of this sefer being given to the king by the zekeinim and the Rambam’s halacha that the B”D of 71 is involved in the process fits beautifully with this concept. 

I was wondering what type of lishma is needed for the king's sefer.  The Meiri already indicates that the king doesn’t have to do the writing himself.  Whether you need a formal shlichus, or maybe it suffices to have just a tzivuy to write like the din of “kasav lah” by get, or maybe even that is not required, is debatable.  What if the sofer writes a sefer for whoever’s in charge – is that enough, or does he have to have in mind the particular individual, e.g. “Shlomo ben David haMelech?”  Does “lishma” mean that the sefer has to be written for the office of the king, or does it mean it has to be written for the sake of the individual who occupies that office?  Based on R’ Reuvain’s Katz’s derush, I’m inclined to say that the lishma here is for the office, not the individual, but I’m just speculating.

Based on a Shem m'Shmuel maybe there is yet another dimension to the writing of this second sefer “lifnei hakohanim ha’levi’im” and using specifically the text from the azarah.  The Shem m’Shmuel contrasts the king with the shofeit: the latter just as well as the former could administer justice and lead the nation into battle.  What was the difference between them?  In a nutshell, the shofeit was limited to setting domestic policy.  Even when waging war, the shofeit’s role was limited to protecting against attack by hostile enemies. In contrast, the king and only the king had a foreign policy.  The king could project the power and authority of Am Yisrael outward and proactively expand the borders of Eretz Yisrael.  Parshas Re’eh ends with the mitzvah of aliya la’regel, coming to the azarah, drawing Klal Yisrael inward and rebuilding internal unity.  The parsha of the melech (see Ba’al haTurim who connects the earlier parsha of the shofeit with the regalim) is the flipside: it projects the azarah outward.  Instead of drawing the Jewish people to Yerushalayim, to the Mikdash, for inspiration, the king could bring the same Torah that inspired the kohanim and levi’im in the azarah out to the world, to the people.

Update -- my wife's cousin, R' Avraham Wagner, suggested another approach derech derush: there are two types of halachic judgment: that of beis din, and that of the Melech. The judgment of beis din requires a plurality, burden of proof, etc., while the king judges alone, without need for eidim and hasra'ah. Perhaps these two systems are represented by the two sifrei Torah; one in which he is equal to all of klal Yisrael, signifying the legal system instituted by Moshe al pi haDibbur. This may be left to him by his father. But the second, the Torah in which he must read all the days of his life, which is always with him, represents the king's unique judicial authority. This must be written specifically for him, because his own personality will inevitably color his judgment, and he needs to take that into account. And, lacking the checks and balances inherent in the regular system, this ST must undergo, at the outset, the highest possible level of scrutiny, to ensure no mistakes which can later wreak havoc.

On a practical level, we can all take a limud from this. We all try to act in accordance with halacha and the ratzon Hashem. To this end, we study, discuss with our betters and peers, and introspect, seeking clarity and correctness to the highest possible degree. However, we all incorporate a "melech " as well; there are times when we act instinctively, emotionally, or intuitively, without prior rational investigation. We need to be aware of this reality, so we can shape and guide it before the fact, in order that the results of our melech also follow the dictates of pas'shegen Oraysa hada.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

v'asisa ha'yashar v'hatov vs. ta'aseh ha'tov v'hayashar

At the end of chapter 2 of Orot Teshuvah Rav Kook writes that the “tov v’yashar” of G-d which permeates the universe acts as a magnet that causes the “yasahr v’tov” within the individual to resonate in concert, causing the individual to want to remove the barriers of sin that separate and isolate.  In R’ Ya’akov Filber’s notes (sorry, I don’t know of an online version to link to) he points out the subtle inversion of one phrase: in speaking about G-d, Rav Kook says “tov v’yashar;” in speaking about man, he says “yashar v’tov.”  It’s not by accident.  We find the switch in Tanach, as with respect to G-d the pasuk says, “Tov v’yashar Hashem…,” but with respect to man, “Elokin asah es ha’adam yashar…” and “v’asisa ha’yashar v’hatov.”  I don’t fully understand R’ Filber’s explanation, but as best as I can muster what he suggests is that G-d is inherently good; ethics and justice are results of that goodness -- yashar follows from tov.  However, the same cannot be said of mankind.  If we behave justly and ethically, it establishes us as tov -- tov follows from yashar, but not the other way around, as we are not inherently a source of goodness.

The monkey wrench in all this is the pasuk in last week’s parsha, “…ki ta’aseh hatov v’hayashar b’eini Hashem Elokecha.” (12:28)  Why here does the Torah put tov before yashar?  Rav Filber notes this problem in parenthesis and just says “yesh l’chaleik” but offers no hint as to what he had in mind.

I found the Ksav Sofer asks this question.  The pasuk in Va’Eschanan, “v’asisa hayashar v’hatov,” tells us the ideal of not only doing right, “yashar,” but going “lifnim m’shuras hadin,” doing “tov.”  One might be tempted to simply aim to do right – there is no requirement, after all, to go above and beyond the letter of the law.  Yet, the Torah knows human psychology and recognizes that this approach is doomed to failure.  As I tell my children all the time, if you aim to give 100%, you probably will end up with something like 75%.  It’s giving 125% that will give you 100%.  We all fall short of what we aim for – that’s life.  The pasuk in Re’eh tells us “ki ta’aseh ha’tov,” if you aim to go above and beyond the letter of the law and strive for tov, “v'hayashar b’eini Hashem Elokecha,” then you will at least end up fulfilling the letter of the law in G-d’s eyes.

My wife suggested another answer on Shabbos that I really like and that is perfect for inyana d’yoma.  The pasuk in Va’Eschanan that speaks of “yashar v’tov” is addressing the individual.  On a personal level, one is obligated to give first priority to acting ethically toward others, even if that doesn’t make things “tov” or easy for oneself.  The pasuk in Parshas Re’eh is speaking to the nation, and in particular note the pesukim that follow speak of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.  In that context we are obligated to first do that which is “tov,” that which is good for our needs as a people.  What is yashar in the eyes of the world is a secondary concern, as the Jew-haters out there will never be satisfied, no matter how careful and ethical our behavior is.

Friday, August 22, 2014

the test of the navi sheker

1. Our parsha warns (13:1-6) not to pay heed to the false prophet even if he presents signs and miracles because G-d is testing to see if you love him or not.  The Shem m’Shmuel wonders what kind of test this is.  How does listening to a false prophet prove that you don’t love G-d?  To the contrary, the reason a person might be swayed to listen to the false prophet is because he really believes the prophet is speaking in the name of G-d! 

The Maharil Diskin in his commentary to the parsha raises a similar question.  The Rishonim tell us that there is an issur of bal tosif in creating a new mitzvah and adding it to the Torah.  What if the Sanhedrin really thinks that there is such a mitzvah – are they inadvertently violating bal tosif if they think they are obeying the Torah, not changing it? 

The Shem m’Shmuel answers that true, ex post facto you can justify following the false prophet by claiming you believe he was speaking in G-d’s name.  But how did you ever arrive at that belief to begin with?  Someone who truly loves G-d will never become so twisted in his thinking as to not only do wrong, but think that he is obeying G-d’s prophecy in doing so.

Sadly we see many people who think they are listening to G-d by following this -ism or that -ism and their many false prophets.
2. Why in the middle of this parsha of the navi sheker does the Torah stick in a reminder that “acharei Hashem Elokeichen teilechu v’oso tira’u…” etc.   Doesn’t all that go without saying? 

The person who falls prey to the navi sheker is someone looking for spirituality, someone filled with idealism who wants to hear the voice of G-d.  The answer to the lure of the navi sheker is not shutting down that craving for idealism and/or spirituality – the answer is redirecting it in a positive way.  Whatever you seek from the navi sheker can already be found in Torah (see Seforno).

I was thinking that perhaps the key words in that pasuk are “bo tidbakun,” from which Chazal learn the principle that one imitate G-d and do chessed, visit the sick, bury the dead.  The false prophet tells a person that worship consists of all kinds of ritualistic rites and ceremonies .  The Torah, by contrast, emphasizes that true religion emphasizes interpersonal relationships and helping one’s fellow man.  The prophet who talks only about sacrificing to some idol is clearly on the wrong track.

3. The Torah writes that eating ma’aser sheni in Yerushalayim brings a person to yiras shamayim.  Tos (Baba Basra 21) explains that when a person sees the kohanim engaged in avodas Hashem he is inspired in his learning and avodah.  R’ Shteinman in his Ayeles haShachar asks why this point is emphasized particularly in connection with ma’aser sheni – the Torah does not say the same thing about the mitzvah of aliya laregel that brings a person to Yerushalayim 3x a year. 

I think the answer is that when you make aliya la’regel, everyone is doing it.  It becomes an event.  It’s true that a person would see miracles and the wonder of avodah in the mikdash during those times, but it would be in the context of the crowd and the masses all doing and seeing the same thing.  When a person brought ma’aser sheni, it was a personal journey.  It therefore afforded more of an opportunity for introspection, more or an opportunity to ask, “Why am I doing this and what does it mean for me?” 

4. Just to leave off with something about Eretz Yisrael: the Torah writes (12:28) “shmor v’shamata es kol hadevarim ha’eileh…” commading us to keep ALL the Torah and mitzvos.  The very next pasuk continues, “ki yachris Hashem Elokecha es hagoyim… v’yarashta osam v’yashavta b’artzam,” commanding us to conquer and settle Eretz Yisrael.  The GR”A in Aderes Eliyahu explains the juxtoposition, the smichus haparshiyos: Eretz Yisrael is equal to all the other mitzvos combined. 
Keep up the tefilos for its safety.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the issur of lo tochal kol to'evah -- shabbos vs. basar b'chalav

Rashi writes that the issur of “lo tochal kol to’evah” (14:3) prohibits eating foods that have an issur attahced to them, e.g. basar b’chalav.  Tosfos (Chulin 115a d”h hachoreh) explains that food cooked on Shabbos is not assur as a to’evah.  The difference between Shabbos and basar b'chalav is that when you see a cheeseburger (for example), you recognize that there is something obviously wrong; however, there is nothing discernably different about food cooked on Shabbos.

The Maharal answers Tos' question with a lomdus that R’ Yosef Engel also discusses at greater length in his Esvan d’Oraysa.   When it comes to basar b’chalav, the cheftza of the food is inherently tainted; basar b’chalav is like food that contains halachic poison.  The food therefore is prohibited forever.  When it comes to cooking on Shabbos, however, it’s only the context of time in which the cooking takes place that is the issue.  There is nothing inherently wrong with the food.  The best proof that this is true is that the food is allowed to be eaten once Shabbos is over.

R’ Noson Gestetner suggests yet another answer.  When it comes to the issur of basar b’chalav, the Torah is concerned about the outcome, the result.  Not so when it comes to melacha on Shabbos.  A number of the classical Achronim (Beis Meir, Chasam Sofer, I believe the Pnei Yehoshua says this as well) prove this from the din of shlichus.  In other areas of halacha, we pasken l’chumra that something done by a shliach who is an aku”m counts as my deed.  Not so in hilchos Shabbos – m’doraysa, amira l’aku”m is permitted.  Shlichus causes the end result produced to be attributed back to the mishaleyach, but the reality is that it's the shliach, not the meshalayach, that puts in the sweat and work.  The focus of Shabbos is avoiding the sweat and work -- creating a day of menucha.  When it comes to basar b’chalav, the outcome, which is the focus of the issur, is called a to’evah.  When it comes to hil Shabbos, the issur is the action of violating Shabbos, not the food product itself, and therefore it is not called a to’evah.

My son once told me a great question that his rebbe asked on this approach.  If a sick person needs one piece of meat on Shabbos, but instead of cooking one piece I cook two pieces, I have violated Shabbos -- there is an issur of ribuy shiurim.  If the issur melacha is dependent on the outcome produced, then obviously there is a big difference between cooking one piece or cooking two pieces of meat.  But if the issur melacha is measured by the action involved, not the outcome, then what difference does it make how many pieces of meat are in the pot?  It’s the same act of cooking either way!   

We also once discussed a question of the Nimukei Yosef that is relevant to this issue.  R’ Yochanan (Bava Kamma 22) holds that the act of arson is like shooting an arrow at someone else’s property.  Nimukei Yosef in his hava amina understands this to mean that I become a mazik when the arrow strikes its target or the fire causes its damage.  If so, asks the Nimukei Yosef, how can we light Shabbos candles – it should be like we are burning things on Shabbos as the fire consumes its fuel?  If the Nimukei Yosef held that Shabbos was different than other areas of halacha because the chiyuv stems from the action rather than on the result, this question would not get off the ground.  There is no comparison between mazik, where one is chayav for the result when the damage occurs, and Shabbos, where one is chayav for initiating the action, which occurs before Shabbos and not on Shabbos itself.  

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

rav kook on what a machlokes in hil brachos teaches us about zionism

1. The Torah in last week’s parsha tells us that unlike in Mitzrayim where every farmer could dig his own irrigation ditch and water his own field, in Eretz Yisrael the crops are completely dependent upon rainfall (11:10-11).

Rav Kook explains that in Mitzrayim one could live a life apart from the community.  Each individual could dig his own irrigation ditch, find his own parnasa, live for himself and ignore his neighbor.   In Eretz Yisrael, however, the individual is always connected to the larger community.  The rain falls for everyone or it falls for no one. 

2. The gemara (Brachos 41) relates that Rav Chisda and Rav Hamnuna sat down to a meal together where they were brought a plate of dates and pomegranates to eat.  Rav Hamnuna said a bracha on the dates and ate them first.  Rav Chisda asked: the rule of thumb is that given two foods of the 7 minim, the one that comes first in the pasuk of “eretz chitah u’se’ora…” should have the bracha recited over it first.  Since dates are the last item mentioned in the pasuk, why say the bracha over them first?  Rav Hamnuna answered that the rule is actually whatever is closest to the word “ha’aretz in the pasuk comes first.  Although dates are last on the list of 7 minin, since the pasuk repeats the word “aretz:

 אֶרֶץ חִטָּה וּשְׂעֹרָה וְגֶפֶן וּתְאֵנָה וְרִמּוֹן אֶרֶץ זֵית שֶׁמֶן וּדְבָשׁ

It comes out that dates are the second min after the second “eretz” while rimonim are the fifth from the first.  Second in order beats fifth.  Wow!  Rav Chisda was so impressed by this vort that he said he wished he had legs of iron so he could always follow Rav Hamnuna and serve him.

I don’t know about you, but give me a yesod of R’ Chaim, give me an answer to a R’ Akiva Eiger, then I’ll give you a “Wow!” Rav Hamnuna’s din at first glance doesn’t do it.  So what are we missing?

Rav Kook explains that hilchos brachos are supposed to inculcate certain values within us.  The idea of giving precedence to that which comes closer to the word “aretz” in the pasuk reinforces the idea that shleimus and bracha come from a love of Eretz Yisrael.  The closer you are to Eretz Yisrael, the more you love Eretz Yisrael, the closer you are to bracha.

There are many reasons why a person may love Eretz Yisrael.  To some, Eretz Yisrael is a place to do more mitzvos, a place where spiritual growth that is possible nowhere else can take place.  To others, Eretz Yisrael is special because it is the only place that a free Jewish homeland exists.  It’s the political, social, and economic reality of the state more than its spiritual essence that these folks connect to.   The 5 minim mentioned in the pasuk after the first “aretz” correspond to the 5 chumshei Torah – these represent the spiritual desire for Eretz Yisrael.  The 2 minim mentioned last, separated from those 5 by another “aretz,” represent those for whom the land represents political, economic, social opportunity, distinct from its religious flavor. 

What Rav Hamnuna taught Rav Chisda is that while it’s true that the last of these minim represent those who lack in spiritual desire, they are “sheni la’aretz,” mentioned secondarily, and therefore you would have thought that any of the other minim take precedence in bracha, that’s not the case.  Someone on the lowest rungs of spirituality who yearns and loves Eretz Yisrael is actually closer to sheleimus and bracha than someone who may seem to be very pious but who is distant and further removed from love of Eretz Yisrael and not working to rebuild Eretz Yisrael.

Why is that true?  Because whatever the motivation, strengthening Eretz Yisrael will ultimately will lead to a strengthening of the spirit of Am Yisrael and the ruchniyus of Am Yisrael. 

(See Pninei HaRAY”aH from R’ Moshe Tzuriel).

Monday, August 18, 2014

sounding our voices

Need some more encouragement to make your voice heard?  Matthew Foldi, writing in the Jerusalem Post, hits the nail on the head in describing the objective of pro-Hamas demonstrators:
They weren’t there to debate or defend their ideas.

They were there to end debate and discussion through intimidation. It is not knowledge they wished to share, but ignorance.

Matthew and a few other concerned people took a stand and staged a counter-rally at the cost of being harassed and abused both physically and verbally.  At the end of the day on his way home, regular folks who he met were supportive, sympathetic, and thankful.  It’s these average-Joes, not the screaming protestors who are featured on the news, who represent the true views of the American public.  The lesson Matthew learned:

My experience that day made me realize the power we all have, the things that we can accomplish simply by sounding our voices. The protesters wanted to silence and pretend away reality. But because of Manny [a Marine guard], and the Israeli tourists, and yes, even me, they failed.

After seeing my post of the protest on my Facebook page, that night friends I hadn’t spoken with in years, and even total strangers shared my post and thanked me for standing up for Israel. Simply by sounding my voice, I empowered them. Now, they said, they too will sound their own voices.

Friday, August 15, 2014

sefas emes on eretz yisrael

If you've been reading this blog the past few weeks you can probably guess that I'm going to focus not only on the parsha, but on Eretz Yisrael.  If you are going to look at a Sefas Emes this week, let me recommend this piece from 1888.  Our parsha sings the praises of Eretz Yisrael and the Sefas Emes makes the lesson even richer and deeper. 

We are promised in the parsha we recite twice daily, “v’haya im shamo’a,” that if we do mitzvos Hashem will bless the land with rain and crops and we will eat and be satisfied and satiated.  But (see Rambam Hil Teshuvah ch 9) don’t we have a principle of “schar mitzvah b’hai alma leika,” that G-d does not give reward for mitzvos in this world?  The Sefas Emes quotes the Midrash at the beginning of our parsha that there is an exception to the rule when it comes to the reward for shabbos, as shabbos is a taste of olam ha’ba.  Similarly, Eretz Yisrael is a taste of olam ha’ba as well. 

The meforshim (see Rashi, GR”A,) interpret the pasuk in Mishlei (5:15), “shtei mayim m’borcha v’nozlim m’toch b’ercha,” using the symbolism of water = Torah.  Learning Torah is like drawing water from a well – it’s hard work that involves great effort (see GR”A).  Our parsha describes Eretz Yisrael as a land of “nachalei mayim,” where rivers flow in the valleys and the mountains.  Torah is everywhere in Eretz Yisrael.  It’s called an “eretz tovah” because, says the Sefas Emes, “ain tov elah Torah,” Torah is found in every nook and cranny.  We have alresdy been zochek to see the flourishing of Torah in Eretz Yisrael beyond whatever could be achieved in chutz la’aretz.

We say in pesukei d’zimra, “v’charos imo habris lases es eretz hakena’ani… lases l’zaro.”  Why do we repeat the “lases” twice?  The Sefas Emes explain that the second “lases” is not talking about the land, but rather it’s talking about the bris itself.  We are given Eretz Yisrael (the first “lases” in the pasuk) because Eretz Yisrael is the place and the means by which Hashem canmake manifest (the second “lases”) his covenant with us. 

The mitzvah of birchas hamazon after eating that appears in our parsha is a command, yet the Torah doesn’t phrase it as such.  V’achalta v’savat u’beirachta” is a description, not an order.  The gemara (Brachos 35) suggests that the requirement to say a bracha is a sevara; it’s something logical and natural.  Maybe the Torah here is alluding to that point -- a command is not needed, as a person is naturally inclined to thank G-d after eating.  The Sefas Emes goes a step further and suggests that the Torah is telling us that the bounty of Eretz Yisrael, “v’achalta v’savata,” inspires a person to bless G-d.  An amazing chiddush: a physical act can produce a spiritually uplifting outcome.  And the Sefas Emes goes yet another step further: the achila itself of the fruits of Eretz Yisrael is an act of praise to G-d.  Celebrating the land is not a means, but is the very essence of what celebrating Hashem is all about.

Chazal tell us that the bracha of “hazan” in bentching was composed by Moshe while the bracha of “al ha’aretz” was composed by Yehoshua.  It sounds like these brachos refer to two different phenomena – just like you say ‘ha’eitz” on an apple and “mezonos” on a piece of cake and never the twain shall meet, so too, Moshe composed a bracha on the mon and Yehoshua composed a bracha on the produce of Eretz Yisrael and never the twain shall meet.  So why do we say both together?

It must be that these two brachos are really thanks for the same thing.  Whether Hashem’s bracha to us is packaged as mon that falls from the sky or is packaged as figs and dates that grow on trees in Eretz Yisrael, it’s the same underlying shefa.  We just perceive it differently and receive it differently.  You want to know what it was like to eat the mon?  Eat peiros of Eretz Yisrael with the right kavanah and you will find out.

We end off the Torah portion of bentching with the bracha of “u’bnei Yerushalayim.”  What does rebuilding Yerushalayim have to do with the food on my plate?  Based on the previous point of the Sefas Emes the answer is obvious.  The food of Eretz Yisrael provided not just material and physical sustenance, but it provided spiritual sustenance as well.  Eating in Eretz Yisrael is an act of avodah.  When I look at the food on my plate in chutz la’aretz and it’s just that – food on a plate and nothing more – it should arouse a longing for what was, for a rebuilt Eretz Yisrael with a Yerushalayim that houses a Beis haMikdash, for a world where “v’achalta v’savata” was itself an act of “ubeirachta.”  The point is not just to give a little sigh and remember what was.  The point is that that yearning for what was transports us to the Yerushalayim that should be – even if we can’t physically be there, we can be there in mind and spirit, and in that way have a taste (excuse the pun) of the ideal.

What I wrote barely scratches the surface of this one piece and what I wrote doesn't do justice to it. 

One final point: After promising that Eretz Yisrael will be land of bountiful harvests, the Torah tells us (8:9) “lo techsar kol bah,” that nothing will be lacking there.  Why give us the whole goody list of the shivas haminim and the promise that there will be no shortage of bread or water, asks the Maor v’Shemesh, if at the end of the day the Torah promises that nothing will be lacking?  If nothing is lacking, then by definition anything we can think of is included and goes without saying!?

He doesn’t quote the Ramban in Braishis 24:1 but I think his answer follows the same line of thought. Commenting on the pasuk, “V’Hashem beirach es Avraham ba’kol,” Ramban explains that “kol” doesn’t mean “everything in a general sense, but refers to a specific spiritual quality:   

אבל אחרים חדשו בפירוש הכתוב הזה ענין עמוק מאד ודרשו בזה סוד מסודות התורה, ואמרו כי "בכל" תרמוז על ענין גדול, והוא שיש להקב"ה מדה תקרא "כל", מפני שהיא יסוד הכל, ובה נאמר (ישעיה מד כד): אנכי ה' עושה כל, והוא שנאמר (קהלת ה ח): ויתרון ארץ בכל הוא, יאמר כי יתרון הארץ וטובה הגדולה השופע על כל באי עולם בעבור כי בכל היא, והיא המדה השמינית מי"ג מדות
After listing all the material blessings that will come to us in the Land, the Torah tells us that material comfort will not come at the expense of moral growth – the land will not lack that quality of “kol,” of spiritual presence and direction.

I would add that the “bah” in the pasuk “lo techsar kol bah” is perhaps referring to the very same fruits and bread that the previous pesukim promise.  The spiritual promise of Eretz Yisrael is not a gift in addition to the material blessings of the Land, but is a quality inherent in those very same gifts, if they are seen and used in the right way.

it's time to act!

Dr. Joseph Frager writes (link) regarding the reaction of American Jews to the treatment of Israel by Obama and the media:
There should have been outrage. Instead there was silence. Going forward, Israel needs to hear from American Jewry more than ever. It is not enough to sit back and say Israel can handle it. Too many lives are at stake. We have the luxury of influencing policy from afar. Midterm elections are coming. Jews can show the President their dismay at the voting booth. The Media can be held with its feet to the fire too.

American Jewry has a responsibility to make sure the Media is fair and unbiased. Blogs, Letters to the Editor, Emails to Media Outlets and Publishers,and overall outrage at the distortion, lies, and irresponsibility all helps. Wake up Jews of America, it is time to act.
I’ve written pretty much the same thing here last week and the week before and the message can’t be repeated enough.  Is anyone out there listening? 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

kri'as shema - a 24x7 mitzvah

1. Compare how the Rambam opens Hil Tefilah:

 מצות עשה להתפלל בכל יום, שנאמר "ועבדתם, את ה' אלוהיכם

With how he opens Hil Kri’as Shema:

  פעמיים בכל יום, קוראים קרית שמע--בערב ובבוקר: שנאמר "ובשוכבך ובקומך

In the former case the Rambam gives us an active voice statement that there is a command to daven every day, but in the latter case the Rambam gives us a passive voice description of what people do every day – read shema – without mentioning any command.  Why the difference?

Lechem Mishna explains that the mitzvah of shema is about more than simply reciting a parsha.  The mitzvah is really yichud Hashem, acknowledging and accepting that G-d is one.  Since that mitzvah of yichud Hashem applies 24x7, therefore the Rambam did not want to write that the mitzvah of shema applies only twice daily. 
The GR”A is medayek from the first mishna in Brachos that there is no din of shome’a k’oneh by kri’as shema.  Perhaps the reason why is because shomea k’oneh applies only to mitzvos that involve recitation of a text.  The mitzvah of kri’as shema is not about reciting a text, but is about the kabbalas ol of yichud Hashem the words are supposed to engender.

2. Last week I mentioned the Yalkut that learns from Moshe’s tefilah of va’eschanan that one should pray even in a time of tzarah and I quoted as hesber from the Chasam Sofer as to why davka this incident is the source for that idea.  The sefer Dudai Reuvain from R’ Reuvain Katz has a simpler explanation.  Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabeinu davened 515 tefilos to be able to enter Eretz Yisrael.  At that point Hashem commanded him to stop praying because he did not want to let him go.  Why did Hashem need to command Moshe to stop?  Just like Hashem did not respond to the first 515 tefilos, he could not ignore the 516th as well?! 

We from here, writes R’ Katz, the tremendous power of tefilah.  Even though Hashem had made a gezeirah, had Moshe been able to keep davening, he would have gotten his way.  Tefilah is not a mystical reward that Hashem gives out if and when he chooses – it’s a metizyus built into reality.  When you daven as much as necessary, it elicits a response.  That’s the unique lesson of our parsha that the Yalkut is teaching us.

Friday, August 08, 2014

praying to be able to pray

Chasam Sofer (in his Derashos) quotes a Yalkut that learns from Moshe’s tefilah, “Va’eschanan el Hashem.. leimor” that a person has to daven when there is an eis tzarah.  Why does the Yalkut wait until now to come up with this chiddush?  Moshe’s tefilah after the cheit ha’eigel, his tefilah after the sin of the meraglim, his davening for Miriam did not already prove the same point? 

Why does the pasuk include the word “…leimor” when the word “va’eschanan” itself tells us that Moshe davened?  Chazal learn from Moshe’s tefilah that a person needs to include divrei shevach before his bakasha.  When a person is feeling down and broken and in desperate straits, it’s hard to sing out the praises of Hashem.  Moshe's tefilah here, according to the Chasam Sofer, was the most desperate request of his life; his greatest torment was at this moment when he stood on the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael filled with such desire to enter the land, only to be denied the privilege of doing so.  C.S. quotes from the Hafa’ah that “…leimor” means that Moshe asked Hashem for the ability at this moment of deep personal suffering to find the words for shevach to Hashem.  This was Moshe Rabeinu’s “Hashem sifasay tiftach” – a prayer for the ability to pray.

We know from many parshiyos that a person should daven when there is an eis tzarah.  What Moshe taught us here is that a person has so sing Hashem’s praises in an eis tzarah as well.

The Shem m’Shmuel quotes a Midrash Rabbah that speaks of the greatness of Hashem responding to a person’s request before they even articulate it in tefilah – “terem nikra’u v’ani e’eneh.”  Is that really such a good thing, asks the Sm”S?  Don’t we say that Hashem made the imahos barren because he desired to hear their tefilos?  The gemara in Ta’anis speaks about Hashem responding to a fast for rain before anyone has a chance to daven as not being such a good thing because it shows Hashem doesn’t want to hear the tefilah. 

I thought this Chasam Sofer could help explain the Midrash as well.  Of course Hashem wants to hear our tefilos. However, every tefilah consists of two parts – the shevach to Hashem, and our list of bakashos.  What the Midrash is saying is that Hashem promises  that we don’t need to spell out our bakashos and beg for him to respond.  Once we come close to Hashem through the tefilah of shevach, he will give us what we want without our even having to ask for it.

These past few weeks we’ve been talking about the importance of Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara (Sotah 14) asks why Moshe wanted so much to enter the land – did he want to eat the fruit there?!  Of course not, says the gemara.  He wanted to do the mitzvos.  The Tur (O.C. 208), based on this gemara, objects to our saying in our bracha me’ein shalosh the words, “she’hinchalta l’avoseinu le’echol mipirya v’lisbo’a mituvah.”  The Bach, however, disagrees.  The fruits of Eretz Yisrael have a special bracha and special kedusha to them.  When the gemara says Moshe did not want to just enter the land to eat the fruit, the gemara simply meant that the physical pleasure of eating was not what Moshe was after.  Eating the fruit of Eretz Yisrael to partake of the kedushas ha’aretz, however, is something we can all yearn for.

showing up is the battle

Y’yasher kochachem to all who came out last night to protest and rally in front of the CNN building in NY: to people like Chloe Simone Valdary, who deserves a medal for bravery and courage; to people like Joe Hyman of, who spoke so eloquently and said what had to be said; to people like the 15-year-old Christian girl who on the spot volunteered to sing the Star Spangled Banner at the start of the rally; to gifted musicians like Ari Lesser, who flew across the country to be there;  to all the New Yorkers who took the time to come out in order to show their support for Israel and protest the media bias that infects our news.  There were many more speaker and performers and organizers who make stuff like this happen, all of whom deserve thanks. 

Are we going to change the way CNN covers the story in Gaza?  Probably not.  But that doesn’t excuse our not making the effort to get our side of the story out there.  If you had a time machine and could go back to 1938, wouldn’t you be writing letters to every newspaper about what was happening to the Jews of Europe, wouldn’t you be pounding on the door of every Congressman or Senator who would listen to you, wouldn’t you be holding rallies and protests everywhere and all the time?  Well folks, 1938 is not something we can turn the clock back on and do something about, but 2014 is.  If you haven’t gone to a rally, written to a representative in government, made your voice heard somewhere, somehow, what exactly are you waiting for?  How bad does ithave to get?

The old cliché is that showing up is half the battle.  When you need to ask for help for any worthy cause, Thank G-d in our community there is no shortage people will immediately take out a check book and ask who to make the check out to.  We are gomlei chassadim and know how to give.  And that’s important – whether it is for Israel or causes in our own communities.  But sometimes it’s not a check that’s needed, and here maybe we (myself included most of all) need a little chizuk.  Sometimes it’s showing up that is the battle.  It’s not hard.  You can just stand in the street -- holding a sign or banner is not m’akeiv -- and you don’t even have to stay until the end.  Open a sefer and learn.  Mingle through the crowd ask people if they want to put on tefillin like the three Chabad sheluchim did last night.  But be there.  We are so used to showing support by giving that we often don’t think about the many other opportunities we have to show support that are just as critical and crucial and which need our participation -- not just our dollars.

Rabosai, it’s time to show up.  I don’t know of anyone who is such a ba’al bitachon that they don’t seek medical help when ill.  I don’t anyone who is relies on G-d alone (not a parent, an in-law, or a wife’s salary) to pay their rent.  I don’t know anyone who thinks food will come to their table without their shopping in the supermarket.  As critically important as the tehillim and Torah are, we also need to make a hishtadlus.  G-d will help us get the job done, but we have to do our part as well.  It’s time for the rallies to not just have a few hundred people who show up, but to have thousands and thousands. 
Atem ha’me’at m’kol ha’amim” – we are outnumbered in terms of sheer population, but the number that really matters is the number of people who care and who make their voice heard.  Every single one of us can make a difference.   

Thursday, August 07, 2014

lo plug rabbanan -- siman or sibah?

Is a lo plug a siman that a gezeirah should be interpreted very broadly in scope, or is lo plug a new sibah to prohibit items that were otherwise not included in the original din?

Magen Avraham (447:5) writes that the issur of nosein ta’am l’pegam by chameitz is a lo plug extension of the issur of chameitz b’mashe’hu.  Even though one could distinguish between the two – n”t l’pegam has a bad flavor; mashe’u has no flavor -- the assumption is that since neither gives off a ta’am of issur, the two go hand in hand.  The issur mashe’u applies to chometz noksheh – what about the issur of n”t l’pegam?  The MG”A is willing to at least entertain the possibility that it does not.  The implication is that lo pelug does not mean there is one broad blanket gezeirah covering both cases, but rather than there is an issur mashe’hu that was then extended further through a new sibah called “lo pelug.” That new sibas haissur may be limited to only real chameitz and not extend further.

There is a din that a nursing woman may not remarry for a certain period of time lest she become pregnant and be unable to nurse.  The gemara (Kesubos 60b) uses lo pelug to extend this dineven  to cases where there is no danger to the baby, e.g. the mother hires a wet nurse, the baby was weaned, or the baby dies c”v.  Yet, the gemara tells us that R’ Nachman made an exception and allowed a member of the Reish Galusa’s family to remarry right away because she hired a wet nurse.  Tosfos writes that the lo pelug here does not tell us to equate all cases, even where the reason for the din doesn’t apply.  Were that the case, no exception would be possible.  Rather, the lo plug tells us that the reason for the din should be understood as applying even to the most remotely possible cases.  If a woman gives the baby to a wet nurse, that’s not a guarantee of anything – maybe she will change her mind and decide to nurse again herself.  Therefore, Chazal said lo plug whether she hired a nurse or not.  With respect to the Reish Galusa, their going back on their decision was not even a remote possibility -- it was completely off the table, hence the exception. 

I would say the shakla v’teryla of Tosfos hinges on this lo plug chakirah.  If lo plug is it’s own sibah, then by definition it serves as a justification for extending the din even where the original reason doesn’t apply – it by definition precludes exceptions.  But if  lo plug is just a siman that the original gezeirah should be interpreted very broadly, then where the original gezeirah has no chance in the world of coming into play, e.g. the Reish Galusa case, exceptions can apply.

Just to play fair, I should mention Rashi in Kesubos sounds like he understands the lo plug there as the former type – apply the din across the board irrespective of the reason involved – and nonetheless, R’ Nachman made an exception.  That throws a monkey-wrench into the works here.

Obviously looking at two cases is just a starting point and to do this right you would have to collect all the lo plug cases and see how they work.   Unfortunately, I need to leave that job for someone else to pick up on for now.

the myth of "never again"

The idea that post-Holocaust the world will not allow genocide to happen is a lie that has been proven so many times over.  The world would rather sit on its hands and look the other way, except of course if Jews can be blamed.  The latest example concerns 40,000 Yazidi Kurds and Christians trapped on Mount Sinjar surrounded by hostile ISIS forces.  The world knows about this – it has been in newspapers, in magazines, on the web.  Time magazine’s headline presents the choice these people face simply and starkly: remain on the mountain and starve or dehydrate as supplied run out, or come down and be massacred by ISIS.   While the U.N. wrings its hands and screams war crimes over 1500 Hamas killed (many of whom were terrorists), according to one report 1500 men from Mount Sinjar were killed just yesterday in cold blood in front of their wives and families.  45 children died of dehydration.  Parents are throwing their children off the mountain to their death rather than leave them to starve and die. 

40,000 people risk being massacred.  What did our government do yesterday?  Why they issued a statement of course, calling on “all parties in the conflict” to allow “humanitarian assistance” to pass through. 

I’m sure ISIS was very impressed and will be quick to throw down their arms.

There is no question here who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Even the leftists who castigate Israel have not stooped to defending ISIS.  And yet, the world lacks the moral backbone and courage to do anything about it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

from "batzar lecha" to "nachamu"

Batzar lecha u’metzau’cha kol hadevarim ha’eilah b'acharis hayamim v’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha…”  (4:30) The simple pshat in the pasuk is that when things get bad, that will motivate us to do teshuvah and return to G-d.  We’ve had enough of a taste of that over the past few weeks.  Chasam Sofer, however, understands the pasuk a little differently (link).  After all, it's unfortunately not only "u'metza'ucha b'acharis hayamim" that we discover persecution -- it's been with us for a long time.  Explains the Chasam Sofer, the pasuk is not talking about the suffering of the present, but about appreciating the past -- having a historical consciousness.  If "b'acharis hayamim" we haven't forgotten what churban habayis means, what being in galus -- even a pleasant galus -- means,  and we yearn for redemption, that appreciation and yearing itself is a return to G-d. 

The Midrash writes that when Bnei Yisrael heard Yeshayahu haNavi say “Nachamu nachamu ami,” they had a hava mina that this prophecy was for their generation alone.  Not so, says the Midrash.  The Navi uses the word “yomar Elokeichem,” future tense, not “amar.”  This is a prophecy for all future generations. 

Why did Bnei Yisrael think that “nachamu” was meant for their generation alone?  Ksav Sofer answers that when people are devastated, they will grasp at any small measure of relief and be satisfied.  Klal Yisrael thought that the nechama promised by Yeshayahu would be enough for their generation which experienced the total destruction of the churban, but what meaning would it have for our generation, where people live in galus surrounded by 8 kosher pizza stores and a daf yomi on the LIRR train?  The Navi reassures us that the nechama promised will be so great that no matter how comfortable our life in galus, we will be thankful for the consolation of redemption.

I would like to suggest a different answer.  The generation that experienced the churban had seen what a Jewish nation living in its homeland with a beis hamikdash was all about.  Nachamu nachamu ami,” be consoled my nation, were words they could relate to.  They wondered, however, if we could relate to those words.  Would galus turn us into a bunch of splintered communities, each with its own minhagim, each with its own particular dialect of tefilah, foods, dress, language, ideas and ideologies?  What would become of that sense of ami, that we were one people, one nation, with a common destiny?

These past few weeks have proven that hava amina incorrect – that sense of “ami” that the Navi speaks to is alive and well.  No matter if you live in the most tranquil community where there is never a whiff of anti-semitism – these have been painful weeks.  Is there a shul out there that has not been saying tehillim and davening extra?  Is there anyone in our community who still does not get the fact that the media, the world at large, treats us differently than other groups?  Is there anyone in our community who does not yearn not just for a cease-fire of who knows how long, but for a real nechama that will wipe away these sorrows? 

 I don’t know if it’s still the slogan, but the rage among certain movements used to be the term “Jewish identity.”  From our perspective it makes no sense – how do you create a Jewish identity without Torah and mitzvos?  But the truth is, maybe there is something to it.  My wife noticed yesterday that the speakers in the 9 Av program we attended, who were by and large from the yeshiva world, not flag waving tzionim, referred to “our soldiers,” attacks on “our people.”  One of the speakers mentioned that last week he was in Eretz Yisrael and he had to get out of his car because there was a siren that went off.  He found himself lying alongside the highway with a “traditional” Jew next to him on one side and a chiloni on the other side -- but he felt one with them.  Yair Lapid’s views on many issues may clash with ours, but Yair Lapid knew where to find a sefer Tehillim when those kidnapped Jewish teens needed G-d’s help.  That’s Jewish identity.  What defines the unaffiliated Jew as unaffiliated is not his lack of shemiras hamitzvos or lack of belief in this or that of the ikkarei emunah.  What makes him unaffiliated is his not shedding a tear or uttering a prayer these past few weeks. 

Maybe that’s the pshat in the pasuk we started with.  The road out of galus starts with “batzar lecha,” when each one of us is bothered by “kol hadevarim ha’eileh,” all Jewish pain and suffering -- not just the suffering is c”v in our home or family or community.  Whether it’s a Jew in France that can’t go outside wearing a kipah or a Jew in Sderot who has to run to a shelter to escape a rocket, we suffer along with them.  Why it takes suffering to bring out this feeling is something I can't explain.  But at least now that we’re in this boat, let’s not lose that sense of shared purpose and destiney, and hopefully instead of suffering as  nation will will soon see “nachamu nachami ami” consolation and rejoicing as a nation as well.

Monday, August 04, 2014

some 9 Av thoughts

1)      Interesting Biur Halacha discussing those who must eat on 9 Av because there was a cholea outbreak (important to note that he is not talking about people who are actually ill, but rather about people who are not yet sick eating in order to maintain their health and not become sick).  He writes that the shiur which may be eaten is a k’koseves.  Lichorah that shiur applies only to Yom Kippur where the issur is one of inuy.  On a ta’anis the shiur achila is a k’zayis.

 2)      The gemara in a number of places writes that an aveil is chayav in all mitzvos except for tefillin (on the first day of aveilus).  All mitzvos?  Isn’t an aveil not allowed to engage in talmud Torah, asks the Ritva in Moed Katan (15)?  The Ritva gives two answers: 1) an aveil is exempt from talmud Torah and the gemara was just giving a general rule to which there are exceptions; 2) an aveil is chayav in talmud Torah and fulfills that obligation with the minimum of reciting shema.  According to the first answer, it seems that learning topics like aveilus and midrashim about the churban, which according to the Ritva are permissible both during aveilus and on 9 Av, is not done for the sake of fulfilling the chiyuv of talmud Torah – no such chiyuv exists.  Rather, these limudim are permissible as part and parcel of absorbing the message of the day and engaging in aveilus. 

Shu”T Divrei Yatziv (O.C. 240 here) writes that the reason we abstain from learning on 9 Av is to show that our mourning is not primarily about our loss of sovereignty – it’s about the bitul Torah caused by galus (see Chagigah 5b).  We ask Hashem to bring geulah so that the glory of Torah should be returned.  (I think you can say the same vort even if you don’t agree that bitul Torah is the primary focus of our mourning.)

3)      It’s not clear why the shir shel yom is pushed from shacharis to minchah on 9 Av.  Since you are allowed to say everything that is part of the normal seder of tefilah, why is the shir shel yom any different than, for example, korbanos? 

4)      The Navi promises that the fasts we have for the churban will one day become celebrations.  Tisha b’Av itself is called a “moed” and we skip tachanun (according to some views ironically an aveil may not daven for the amud on 9 Av because it is a moed).  B’shlama cancelling the aveilus and fasting, we understand that once there is a complete geulah there is no need to mourn, but why must these days gufa become transformed into yamim tovim? 

Hashem does not engage in destruction for the sake of destruction – every soseir is soseir al menas livnos.  What the Navi is telling us is that these difficult days themselves, which to us appear so filled with suffering, are in truth the building blocks of geulah.  The very same events which we look at as tragic today will one day become sources of celebration. 

Friday, August 01, 2014

knowing the big picture doesn't take away the pain

I wanted to clarify a point regarding the last post.  After all the remazim and derush is said and done, the bottom line message is that as miserable as the three weeks are, we have to trust that there is a bracha buried in all that pain.  Is that an answer to why people suffer or does it make the suffering any less tragic?   Of course not.  It’s simply an affirmation of faith that not only is G-d just, but that he is good as well. 

Aderaba, telling someone suffering that their pain is just imaginary because in truth everything is goodness and bracha is callous.  The Rambam says failing to mourn is “achzari” (Hil Aveil ch 13).   Philosophical truths about G-d’s goodness do not remove the pain in the here and now – nor are they intended to. 

The Midrash writes that of all the many terms used to describe nevuah, the harshest is chazon.  When you see that word, you know something bad is going to happen.  What is it about the word “chazon” that sets it apart?  The Aish Kodesh explains with an analogy: a father may know that an operation is what is best for his child, but were he to witness his child being cut open and being put through pain, he would not be able to withhold himself from stopping it.  It’s one thing to know something bad is going to happen; it’s another thing to have a “chazon,” a vision, to see it in reality.  All the philosophy and knowledge and theoretical justifications go out the window at that point.

Ra’oh ra’isi es ani ami,” Hashem told Moshe that he saw the affliction of the Jewish people in Egypt and therefore he is going to save them, “ki yadati es macho’vav.”  The Aish Kodesh explains that since G-d sees the pain of the Jewish people – it’s not just some theoretical awareness – therefore “yadati es machovav,” kavyachol he can think only about their pain and suffering; the philosophical knowledge that it might be for their good gets pushed out of mind, as if G-d were unaware of it.

The experience of pain and suffering in times of crisis instead of feeling like all is bracha and chessed is not a shortcoming of our being human, a shortcoming of our missing the “big” picture.  G-d himself kavyachol “feels” pain and suffering when he sees his children in pain and he surely knows the big picture better than we do.  That is the way he chooses to run the world.  To us it looks like a paradox -- so be it.

Mah hu, af atah.  The response to Jewish suffering must be 1) empathy; 2) doing all that is possible to remove or ameliorate the pain. One day when pain and suffering are no more, when we don’t have the vision of churban in front of our eyes, perhaps them we will better see the reality of the bracha and tovah that underpin what today are only philosophical constructs.

vyachpiru lanu es ha'aretz -- yishuv ha'aretz lishma

Again, I think we need to focus our attention in these weeks on learning divrei Torah that pertain to Eretz Yisrael and on chizuk for Am Yisrael.  The Radomsker explains the pasuk, “Hashem Elokeinu dibeir eileinu b’chorev leimor” as hinting that Hashem speaks to us still even “b’chorev,” even when things are in a state of churban, of destruction and ruin.  The words of Torah are there to comfort us and inspire even in difficult times.

There is an important Tanchuma that opens our sefer by telling is that the same miracles that G-d did for the Jewish people in the desert will be done for us again in Tzion.  When Bnei Yisrael were still in the midbar they heard, “Eileh hadevarim…,” the words that open our parsha, and we are promised (Yeshayahu 42:16) that in the future G-d will make the darkness into light and the twisted roads straight, “eileh hadevarim asisim v’lo azavtim.”   We hope that we see this vision soon!

When it comes to describing the mission the spies were sent on, our parsha uses the term “v’yachpiru lanu es ha’aretz,” as opposed to in parshas shelach, where the term “v’yasuru is used. Why the change?  And why did Moshe not only agree to the mission, but “vayitav b’einay ha’davar,” he thought it was a good idea? 

The Maor v’Shemesh writes that Bnei Yisrael came to Moshe with the claim that they did not want to be motivated to fulfill the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz because of the beauty of the land of Israel.  That would be she’lo lishma!  The term “v’yachpiru” which describes the spies’ mission is similar to the word “cherpah,” embarrassment.  They deliberately wanted to hear the downside, the reasons not to go, all that was wrong and could go wrong in Eretz Yisrael, so that had they gone despite all that, it would have been purely out of love for the holiness of the land.

Aside from the obvious risk of this plan backfiring and the people being swayed by all the bad news, which is exactly what happened, I think it was flawed for another reason.  In the introduction to the Eglei Tal the Sochotchover writes that there are people who think that the simcha and enjoyment that comes from learning Torah takes away from the lishma.  However, quite the opposite is true.  The enjoyment that comes from learning is part and parcel of the lishma, part and parcel of the mitzvah of talmud Torah itself.  In that same way, I would argue that appreciating the beauty of the physical land of Eretz Yisrael does not take away from the lishma of the mitzvah of yishuv ha’aretz, but is rather part and parcel of what Hashem wants from us in doing the mitzvah.

At the end of the parsha the Torah begins to describe (3:12) the apportionment of land in Eiver haYarden to the tribes of Reuvain and Gad, but then seems to go on a tangent and talk about the lands in Eiver haYarden that Moshe gave to half the tribe of Menashe, only to then come back again a few pesukim later (3:16) and resume the description of Reuvain and Gad’s portion.  Why not finish the narrative with respect to Reuvain and Gad instead of interrupting it with what was given to Menashe?

The Netziv answers that the tribe of Menashe were great talmidei chachamim – these were the scholars and Roshei Yeshiva.  The story of Menashe’s settlement in Eiver haYarden is not an interruption to the story of Reuvain and Gad’s settlement of those lands, but is a crucial element in that narrative.  Moshe Rabeinu deliberately encouraged Menashe to settle near Reuvain and Gad because without the spiritual energy of Menashe, the communities of Reuvain and Gad outside of Eretz Yisrael would be religiously unable to sustain themselves. 

Living in chutz la’aretz, outside the center of Torah, requires extra spiritual insurance.   

Moshe gives Bnei Yisrael a bracha at the beginning of the parsha that Hashem should add to us a thousand fold over and bless us "ka'asher dibeir lachem."  As a general rule, the term “dibur” is used when harsh words are spoken, while the term "amira" is used for words of comfort or a soft spoken message.  When then does Moshe Rabeinu say (1:11) that Hashem should bless us “ka’asher dibeir lachem?”  Wouldn’t bracha be given using “amira,” not “dibur?” 

The Tiferes Banim (son of the Bnei Yisaschar) explains that what Moshe was saying is that even when we face harsh times, “dibur,” underneath those rough words we will also find Hashem’s bracha.  

He continues and writes that the gemara always uses the phrase “ta shema,” but the Zohar uses the expression “ta chazu.”  Shemiya is enough when the meaning is relatively clear, but when it comes to speaking about sodos haTorah, the deeper level of “chazu” is needed.  This Shabbos before 9 Av is called Shabbos Chazon because finding bracha behind the “dibur” of difficult circumstances is not something that is obvious; it is part of the hidden aspects of Torah that we have to search for a dig deeply to discover.  Our parsha reminds us that even if it's not obvious on the surface, we have to trust that the bracha is still there.  This is our avodah during these times, and it's not an easy one.

Let me just end with the second part of the vort of the Radomsker I started with: Hashem speaks to us through Torah even “b’chorev,” even amidst churban, and he tells us, “Rav lachem sheves…,” your “rav,” your teacher and guide during difficult times, is “sheves,” the day of Shabbos.  The chassidishe seforim say that these Shabbosos of the three weeks are the holiest Shabbosos of the year.  Shabbos lifts a person up and lifts up the entire week.  To lift a person up during these difficult times, to lift up the week in which 9 Av occurs, that must really be a holy, special Shabbos.   That’s our Shabbos of Chazon.