Sunday, September 27, 2015

talmud Torah as a kiyum of simchas Yom Tov

There is a machlokes Tanaim how to resolve the contradiction between the pesukim "atzeres l'Hashem" and "atzeres lachem" -- which one is it?  R' Yehoshua holds that you have to make a compromise and split Yom Tov between G-d and your own enjoyment; R' Eliezer holds it's either/or -- you can spend the day immersed in Torah and avodas Hashem, or you can spend the day immersed in doing what you enjoy.  This machlokes fits a general pattern of disputes in Chazal as to how to handle situations where there are contradictory pesukim or halachos and no "kasuv ha'shelishi" that resolves what to do: are you supposed to make some a compromise between the two extremes or choose between fulfilling one or the other.  (The two pesukim in this case appear in two different contexts with respect to two different yamim tovim, but the gemara was not willing to entertain the possibility of reading each pasuk as applying only to its particular yom tov context as a feasible answer.)

Maharasha (Pesachim 68) asks: according to R' Eliezer, if one spends the entire day immersed in Torah, how can one fulfill the mitzvah of "v'samachta b'chagecha?"

He answers that learning gufa is simchas Yom Tov!  What could be more enjoyable than a blatt gemara?  (R' Tzadok haKohen writes that the "atezeres lachem" is fulfilled by the joy in learning; the "atzeres l'Hashem" should be how you approach eating your meal -- it should be l'shem shamayim.)

R' Zolti suggested based on this Maharasha that when one learns on Y"T, aside from the kiyum mitzvah of talmud Torah, one gets an additional kiyum of simchas Y"T.  This may explain a difficult Rashi in Sukkah (25).  The Mishna tells us that people who are engaged in doing a mitzvah are peturim from sukkah.  Rashi gives as an example someone who is travelling to learn Torah.  Achronim ask: the rule of oseik b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah normally does not apply to talmud Torah -- we assume that you have to stop learning to do mitzvos.  The raison d'etre of learning is to perform mitzvos, so it makes no sense to say that learning should supersede doing mitzvos.  How then could Rashi say that someone going to learn is exempt from the mitzvah of sukkah?  

Some of the Achronim answer that Rashi is not speaking about learning itself. but about travelling to learn, and the travel, the hechsher mitzvah of going to learn, is what creates the exemption (which itself is an interesting chiddush -- the hechsher mitzvah of a mitzvah which itself does not exempt one from sukkah can create an exemption).  In the sefer "M'Shulchani shel R' Eliyahu Baruch" from the Mir he quotes from his son that based on R' Zolti's chiddush, Rashi makes perfect sense.  When one is learning on Y"T, it is also a kiyum of simchah.  It is not the mitzvah of talmud Torah which exempts one from sukkah, but rather it is the kiyum mitzvah of simchas Y"T inherent in that same act of learning which does so.

R' Eliyahu Baruch did not like this approach and argued that it's not the kiyum hagavra of  learning that does not allow any an exemption from mitzvos, but rather the cheftza of Torah itself is overridden by any other mitzvah.  Therefore, whether the kiyum mitzvah is one of simchas Y"T or purely one of talmud Torah does not matter in the end.

Friday, September 25, 2015

the meaning of "naval"

The meforshim struggle to make sense of the expression "Vayinabel tzur yeshua'so." (32:15)  The word "neveilah" is something you would normally associate with a physical thing.  Here, the pasuk is referring to disrespecting G-d, so it has to be taken less literally, which is how Rashi and Seforno interpret it.  Ibn Ezra sees a connotation of chilul Hashem.  The Meshech Chochma writes that the pasuk is referring to scoffers who go around attributing ridiculous meanings and interpretations to Torah so that it becomes an object of ridicule in people's eyes -- they make G-d repulsive to others.  What caught my eye is the Ramban, who reminds us that earlier in the perek (32:6)  Bnei Yisrael themselves are referred to as an "am naval v'lo chacham."  Ramban there writes that the term "naval" is the opposite of "nediv."  A naval is someone who has received gifts or consideration, but repays it with animosity and disdain rather than a thank-you.  A naval never shows appreciation.  Our pasuk is stressing that G-d acted as "tzur yeshu'aso," your redeemer, and yet, "vayinabel," rather than give thanks, we turned our back on him.

I want to suggest another possible interpretation to this ambiguous phrase also based on the earlier pasuk.  The Targum Onkelus explains the phrase "am naval" as "the nation who accepted the Torah."  How do you get that from the word "naval?"  The Peirush Yonasan on the T. Yonasan writes that the idea is that despite our receiving the Torah, we remained devoid of wisdom.  If so, ikkar chaseir min haseifer, because the translation of "naval" is missing.  The GR"A brilliantly  connects the Targum to a Midrash (in B.R. 17) that refers to there being three "novlos": 1) sleep is the noveles of death; 2) a dream is noveles of prophecy; 3) Torah is noveles of Heavnely chochmah.  The word "noveles" means an unripe date that falls off too early -- it's a taste of the real thing, but has not yet blossomed to fruition.  "Am naval" means we are the nation that got that noveles, i.e. the Torah, which is the noveles of the ultimate chochmah, but then we did not take advantage of that wisdom.  Turning to the our pasuk, although the Targum does not say it here, perhaps we could explains "vayinabel" to mean that we turned G-d's greatness into something unripe, something less than ideal, i.e. we minimized it's significance.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

wives are not angels

1. The Rama (O.C. 610:4) writes that the minhag is to wear white on Y"K to appear like an angel, which is also why we wear a kittil.  Additionally, the kittil is a reminder of shrouds, which reminds a person of death and causes a person to have humility and be contrite.

The MG"A comments on this Rama that the Midrash indicates that angels are male (my wife commented that an angel can't reproduce, so gender doesn't have much meaning up there.  I assume the terms male/female in this context are meant in the sense of mashpia vs. mekabeil, or chomer vs tzurah, though I found that the Anaf Yosef on the Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 31:5 asks this question and gives a different answer), and therefore women need not wear white.  However, they may wear a kittil to remind them of death.  Women, according to the MG"A, are not angels.

The M"B quotes the Mateh Ephraim who holds exactly the opposite.  Women should also wear white, but the custom is for women to not wear a kittil.  Interestingly, though, in O.C. 619:5 when the S.A. quotes the din of standing for all of davening, which is based on the idea of trying to be like an angel (they stand around on their one foot all day), the M.B. in the Sha'ar haTziyun writes that this does not apply to women.  The source is the previous din in O.C. 610, which seems true only if you hold like the MG"A.  To make matters more confusing, the reason the Tur gives for our saying "Baruch Shem K'vod Malchuso..." out loud is because Moshe heard the angels reciting this phrase, and on Yom Kippur we want to be like angels.  As far as I know, women also recite the phrase out loud as well.

2. Erev Y"K I was trying to find my kittil when my daughter reminded me that at the seder I had not worn a kittil since I am unfortunately in aveilus this year for my father.  Lichorah, the same logic should apply to Y"K as well.  She is absolutely right.  The Taz understands that the Rama is giving two reasons for wearing a kittil: 1) to be angelic; 2) to remind one of the yom ha'misah.  On Pesach as well, like reason #1 here, there are many positive uplifting reasons to wear a kittil, many of which are summarized in this post by R' Eliezer Eisenberg, who already has a full treatment of this topic to which I can add very little.  If the reason for wearing a kittil is a reminder of death, then there is no reason an aveil cannot wear one (though the MG"A in Hil Pesach writes that an aveil need not wear one since he has death on his mind without it); if the reason is to have some more positive experience of Yom Tov or of simcha, than the aveil is excluded because he is not supposed to be having positive uplifting experiences during aveilus. The Aruch haShulchan and R' Moshe both opine that an aveil should not wear a kittil on Y"K.  What I found interesting in that in Hil Pesach, the M"B (472 s"k 13) first writes that an aveil should not wear the kittil, but if he does, one need not object because the Taz says it is permitted.  In Hil Y"K (610 s"k 17) the M"B first quotes (giving this view primacy) the Taz's view that an aveil may wear a kittil and then quotes that there are minhagim not to.  Why give the Taz primacy here but put it on the back burner in Hil Pesach? 

3. The poskim have problems with the line in Ne'ilah, "Hayom yifneh, hashemesh yavo..."  If it is already after shekiya (which it was where I was davening when the shat"z got to this line, and I think that is probably true of many of not most places), then the day has in fact passed and the sun is down already, so the future tense seems wrong.  I saw that R' Chaim Kanievkey said to chang the nusach to past tense (i.e. "hayom panah, hashemesh ba'ah...") though the Aruch haShulchan opines that one need not do so.  In any case, it seems strange to me that in the previous line we say, "Psach lanu sha'ar... ki panah yom," here using the past tense.  Is it "panah yom" or "yifneh yom?"  I don't know how you can have it both ways.

4. Nu, on to preparing for Sukkos.  The Shem m'Shmuel writes that the reason we do na'anuim by waving the lulav away from and then to the heart is because while on Y"K we got our mind in order and now understand mentally what we need to do with out lives, we need to bring the lesson into our hearts, and that's what Sukkos is for.

Monday, September 21, 2015

you get what you ask for

This pasuk of “anochi haster astir” is tremendously difficult because it comes on the heels of Bnei Yisrael admitting that “ki ain Elokai b’kirbi metza’uni hara’os ha’eileh,” a seeming admission of guilt and wrongdoing.  Why does Hashem respond to that with greater hester panim even than before?  We’ve discussed this question before, but I want to mention an approach of the Abarbanel that I think rings especially true in our times.  It could be al pi peshuto the simplest answer is that the expression “ain Elokai b’kirbi” is actually referring to the avodah zarah idols.  Elokai should be with a lower-case e and read as chol.  The people are not confessing, but are actually ascribing what goes wrong to their avodah zarah abandoning them.  The difficulty is that idolatry is not usually referred to as "ELokai" (though my wife pointed out that when Lavan accuses Ya'akov of stealing his terafim, that is the word he uses).  Abarbanel suggests that the previous pesukim reveal that Bnei Yisrael were guilty of two sins: 1) worshipping avodah zarah; 2) not serving G-d properly.  These are not exactly two sides of the same coin.  When Bnei Yisrael confess, "Ain Elokai b'kirbi," they are taking responsibility for sin #2 -- they are acknowledging that they need to do better in their avodas Hashem.  What they fail to admit, and fail to acknowledge, is sin #1 -- that they are also guilty of idolatry.  What they fail to admit and fail to acknowledge is that you can't have more avodas Hashem without giving up the lifestyle of avodah zarah.  You can't be poseiach al shtei ha'se'ifim or have a shutfus.  It's either/or.  This is hard to swallow.  No one is an oveid avodah zarah, but the same idea can express itself more subtly.  We all want to strive for more in avodas Hashem, but we don't want to sacrifice our enjoyments or face our shortcomings either.  We prefer to ignore the negative within and instead just focus on doing more good in some way or other and think that absolves us.  As R' Yisrael Salanter put it, it's easier to learn shas than to correct one midah.  "Ain Elokai b'kirbi" so I have to take on another seder, write a bigger check to charity, daven a little slower, etc. -- all wonderful things, but if the same person ignores the avodah zarah/midah ra'ah that remains within and does nothing to correct it, he is doing half a job that is as good as no job.  Again, a very hard lesson to swallow.

So I don't want to enter Yom Kippur on a negative note, so on to something a little more positive, something I find a little scary.  Commenting on the phrase, “Anochi haster astir panei mei’hem,” (31:18) GR”A asks why the Torah uses the double-language of “haster astir.” He answers that the Torah is telling is that it is the very fact that Hashem is hiding himself, the “astir panay mei’hem,” which is what is being concealed with “hester.”  We think of all kinds of reasons to explain what happens to ourselves, to our families, to those living in Eretz Yisrael – the economy is bad, anti-semitism, politics, etc.  We invent a reason for everything.  The only reason we don’t consider is the real reason: Hashem has removed his hashgacha because we are not doing what he wants.  The real reason remains hidden; we have a mental block that prevents us from thinking about it.  This part of the GR”A, the pshat in the pasuk, I think is pretty well known, but my impression is that the rest of the GR”A’s comment, what I call the scary part, is less well known.  The GR"A continues and asks why it is that Hashem conceals from us the fact that he is concealed and he answers that if we knew what was going on, if we knew we were being punished with hester panim, then we would daven for Hashem to reveal himself, and He would inevitably respond.  The only way we can be punished by the removal of hashgacha is if we don’t daven to prevent it. 

It’s up to us – all we have to do is daven for Hashem to remove this block of hester panim and whatever gezeiros are lined up against us will be removed. 

On Yom Kippur night one of the first things we say after kol nidrei is the pasuk, “VaYomer Hashem salachti k’devarecha.”  This pasuk is Hashem’s response to Moshe’s tefilah to forgive Bnei Yisrael for the cheit ha’meraglim.  Of all the pesukim and tefilos we could possibly use to “lead off” our Yom Kippur, why is this the one that is chosen?  In one of R’ Ya’akov Shapira’s sichot he makes reference to a Sefas Emes in the likutim for Parshas Shelach that may answer this question.  The Rishonim point out that Moshe invokes some, but not all of the 13 midos in that tefilah for forgiveness.  There are various explanations as to why Moshe omitted some of the midos, e.g. Ramban explains that Moshe could not invoke the midah of “emes” because the meraglim were guilty of saying sheker about Eretz Yisrael.  Whatever the explanations, bottom line is that Moshe pulled his punches.  Hashem’s responded: “Salachti k’devarecha” -- exactly what you asked for, "k'devarecha," that’s what you will get.  Half of a request means half forgiveness, but the slate is not going to be wiped clean.  True, Moshe had all kinds of good reasons for not invoking all 13 midos, but af al pi kein…  Maybe the lesson is that when you daven, all the reasons and analysis of what you should say and how you should say it don’t matter.  When you are in pain and in need, you scream out – you don’t make cheshbonos.  That’s what tefilah has to be. 

So we learn from the GR”A that the removal of hester panim is completely in our hands if only we ask for it.  And we learn from the Sefas Emes that tefilah is not a time to pull punches -– it’s the time to swing for the fences and ask Hashem for anything and everything.  That's what we want to remind ourselves of as we enter the most auspicious day of the year.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

a special time of year

Chazal (R”H 11) tell us that Chanah, Rachel, and Sarah were all “remembered” on Rosh HaShana and Hashem gave them the ability to have children.  What meaning does this have for us?  None of us measure up to these tzidkaniyos, so just because they merited special deliverance doesn’t mean we will get the same treatment.

R’ Leibel Eiger explains that we see from this Chazal that despite the great merits that Sarah, Rachel, and Chanah surely had, those merits were in-and-of themselves not enough to warrant their being blessed with children.  It was only because Hashem reviewed their case, so to speak, on Rosh HaShana, that they were zochos.  The time of year is what made all the difference.  We of course don’t have the same level of zechuyos that these tzidkaniyos had, but we do have the same opportunity to take advantage of this special, mesugal time period.  The gates upstairs are open and things that a person couldn’t be zocheh to, no matter how great he/she is, are now possible to merit.
It’s been a short week with less time than usual, so I just want to pose a question on the parsha and leave it at that because I don't yet have a good answer to share.  The theme of Parshas VaYeilech is the transition from the leadership of Moshe, whose life is coming to a close, to that of Yehoshua.  We have Moshe giving a final speech to Bnei Yisrael, Moshe turning over the sefer Torah he completed to the Bnei Levi, Moshe giving a charge to Yehoshua to be strong, and in the middle and midst of all this we have the mitzvah of hakhel.  Why give that mitzvah here?  Why not discuss it in Parshas Shoftim, where the laws of the king are discussed, since it is the king (Ralbag interestingly writes that the kohen gadol or any nasi can do the reading) who reads the Torah, or maybe in Parshas Behar, where the laws of shemita appear, since hakhel is done right after the shemita year?  Why stick it in the middle of our parsha, in the middle of Moshe turning over the reins (and the reign) to Yehoshua? 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chanah's tefilos

I know the minhag is for most Rabbis to say divrei hisorerus before tekiyas shofar, but I was thinking that if you read the news and have any idea what is going on the world and that is not me'orer you to daven and focus on Rosh haShana, then I don't see what a Rabbi can say in 10 minutes that will make any difference.  (Of course I guess if you are a practicing Rabbi I guess you have a right to tell me that I haven't heard what you can do in those 10 minutes... )

The navi tells us that after Chanah davened, "Va'teilech ha'isha l'darka vatochal u'paneha lo hayu lah od." (Shmuel I 1:18)  Chanah had some measure of comfort and she went back to being her normal self -- she ate, she looked okay, etc.  Practically speaking, nothing in Chanah's life had changed, yet she obviously looked at the world in a different way than beforehand.  What changed? 

The Chasam Sofer in his Derashos writes that it was not that Chanah was so confident that her tefilah would be answered.  Chazal (see Tosfos R"H 16b d"h iyun) frown upon a person who feels assured that his/her prayers will be answered -- there are no guarantees no matter how hard you pray.  Rather, what changed is that Chanah was now willing to accept her situation even if in the end she would not have a child.  A person has to make the maximum hishtadlus, including and especially tefilah, but once that hishtadlus is exhausted, a person has to surrender and accept whatever G-d chooses to do.  If after coming to the Mishkan on Rosh haShana and pouring her heart out Chanah still was not blessed with a child, she was willing to accept that that was the ratzon Hashem and live with it.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

it's not about us

I really wanted to write about both the parsha and Rosh haShana, but as usual, too much to do and too little time, so I have to keep this short and will try in a jumble to touch a few bases.

R’ Chaim Volozhiner takes note of the fact that when the navi describes Chanah’s tefilah, which we will IY”H read on Rosh haShana, it doesn’t say, “vatispallel EL Hashem,” but rather “vatispallel AL Hashem.” (Shmuel I 1:10)  Why the strange expression?

We learn from the navi something important about how we should daven and what we should daven for.  The Zohar uses very harsh language and compares someone who comes before Hashem with a list of requests to a dog that cries “Give! Give!” to its master.  So what are we doing when we daven for health, for parnasa, for all the other things we ask for?  On Rosh haShana even the shofar is a means of bakasha.  The Sefas Emes writes that the 12 shofar blasts, Tekiya-Teruah-Tekiya, Tekiya-Shevarim-Tekiya, Tekiya-Shevarim-Teruah-Tekiya, correspond to the 12 middle brachos of our shmoneh esrei where we make our requests to Hashem.  How in light of this Zohar could Chanah devote an entire tefilah to pleading with Hashem for a son and how can we devote so much of our tefilos to making requests?

The answer is that we are not davening “EL Hashem,” to G-d, bringing to him a laundry lists of our personal wants, but rather we are davening “AL Hashem,” davening about G-d, davening for kavyachol his needs and his wants.  A world with a Shmuel haNavi who can serve in the Mishkan and who can inspire Klal Yisrael with his leadership is a world with a greater presence of the Shechina, a world that is closer to G-d.  Had there not been a Shmuel haNavi, there would be a tremendous vacuum of ruchniyus that would have been unfilled.  When Chanah asked Hashem for a son, it was not a personal request rooted on her emotional needs and wants, but rather it was a request rooted in the desire to bring about hashra’as haShechina, what Hashem wants.  

Everyone thinks that the reason we eat the simanim on Rosh HaShana night is because it’s not enough to just ask for the laundry list of things that we want, but we have to go a step further and translate those requests into symbolic actions to make them more real, to give them more weight.  The Sefas Emes in his first piece on Rosh haShana says exactly the opposite.  A siman is just a remez, a little hint.  Our main concern and our main request on Rosh haShana is that there be more kvod malchus shamayim.  As an aside, we sneak in a little hint to some of our own personal needs and wants as well.  We don’t do it openly – we just make a siman, a remez, because these are all secondary to what our real focus is, which is malchus Hashem.  If we are leading lives l'shem shamayim and our needs and wants are l'shem shamayim, then m'meila when there is more kvod shamayim our needs will be fulfilled as well. 

The Tiferes Shlmo on Parshas Nitzavim echoes the same theme.  He points out that the word “shama” at the end of the pasuk, “…V’hasheivosa el levavecha b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha Hashem Elokecha SHAMA,” (30:1) seems completely extraneous.  Be inserting a few commas, a few extra pauses, he reads the pasuk in way that makes every word count.  “V’hasheivosa el levavecha,” we have to take to heart, “b’chol hagoyim asher hidichacha,” in all those places that Hashem was forced to send us because we needed the punishment of galus, “Hashem Elokecha shama,” Hashem himself is there along with us.  Sure, our being in galus feels bad for us, but what should really bother us is kavyachol the pain the Shechina is in because it is schlepped into galus along with us, just so we are not abandoned.  The next pasuk then continues, “V’shavta AD Hashem Elokecha” – again, not “EL Hashem,” but rather “AD Hashem” (just like the words of the haftarah ,“Shuvah yisrael AD Hashem Elokecha…”)  The return being spoken about is a return to a focus on the Shechina rather than ourselves, a re-orientation to the right priorities.

That in a nutshell is part of our avodah for the upcoming days.  Hopefully we will all be vehicles through which there is a greater giluy of kvod shamayim in the world, and through that we will benefit bracha and hatzalacha in the upcoming year.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

bikurim vs challah: mitzvah vs matir, and more

1) The Beis Ya’akov of Ishbitz points out that the idea of bikurim is reflected in the root of the word: b-k-r.  The letter beis is the second letter of the first unit of 10 in the aleph-beis; the letter kaf is the second letter in the unit of the next 10; the letter reish is the second letter in the last group.  B-k-r is all about coming in second.  The farmer says, “Hinei heiveisi es reishis pri ha’adamah,” these are my first fruits, but the truth is that before he even planted the seed from which those fruits grew there was an earlier reishis, the reishis of Hashem’s plan for these seeds to grow for this farmer and be used for this purpose.  When the farmer brings those first fruits to the Beis haMikdash, he reminds himself of the real reishis.

2) Rashi comments on the word “reishis” in the pasuk, “V’lakachta mei’reishis kol pri ha’adamah”:

לא כל ראשית, שאין כל הפירות חייבין בבכורים אלא שבעת המינין בלבד

The Mizrachi makes one little change in the girsa -- he takes out the letter “shin” before the word “she’ain...” – but boy, does changing that one letter make a difference.  According to Mizrachi, Rashi is making two separate unrelated statements: 1) you can’t designate an entire field as bikkurim, i.e. there has to be something leftover after you take off the reishis; 2) only the seven minim are obligated in bikurim. 
What’s motivating Mizrachi here is the parallel between this Rashi and another Rashi.  In the parsha of hafrashas challah Rashi comments on the words “mei’reishis arisoseichem” (Bamidbar 15:21) that challah must be “miktzasa v’lo kulah,” i.e. it is a piece that is taken off from the batch of dough, but it cannot be the entire batch.  Here too, according to Mizrachi, bikurim must be “mei’reishis,” part of the crop, but one cannot designate the entire crop or field to be bikurim.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh disagrees and says a lomdish chiluk.  There is an issur of tevel that prohibits eating the food before challah and terumah are taken.  The hafrasha of terumah and challah is a matir - it comes to remove that issur; therefore, there has to be something leftover upon which the matir is chal.  Not so bikurim.  There is no issur of eating the crop before bikurim have been taken off – it’s a mitzvah to tak bikurim, but it’s not a matir of anything.  Tosfos (Bava Basra 81) writes that bikurim are a chiyuv on the person, not on the fruit.

The MG”A (O.C. 8 - posted on this in 2006 in piece that needs rewriting ) asks how it is that woman sit when they recite the bracha on hafrashas challah when birchos hamitzvah are supposed to be recited while standing.  He answers that there is a difference between mitzvos like challah and shechitah and other mitzvos.  The MG”A might be alluding to this sevara of the Gur Aryeh: hafrashas challah is a matir, not a mitzvah in its own right. (See this post as well.)

3) The halacha is that a person cannot appoint a shliach to bring his bikurim to the Beis haMikdash – he has to deliver them himself.  A shliach cannot give thanks for “ha’adamah asher nasatah li,” as is the nusach recited when bringing bikurim, if the bikurim are in fact not the fruits of his land but of someone else’s.  I would suggest that this is not just a technical issue with the nusach, but says something fundamental about the nature of the mitzvah.  If I remember correctly (sorry, I didn't double-check), the Avudraham writes that the reason we say modim derabbanan alongside the chazzan’s recitation of modim during chazaras hashatz is because the theme of modim is giving thanks.  Saying thank you is something that must be done personally, not via a shliach.  Here too, the purpose of bringing bikurim is to give thanks to Hashem for giving us Eretz Yisrael and its crops.  It has to be done in person by coming to the Beis haMikdash, not assigned to a shliach.

4) Since we (Ashkenazim) will IY”H start saying slichos this motzei Shabbos I wanted to highlight the Meshech Chochma’s observation that there are exactly 13 mentions of the shem Hashem in the parsha of bikurim which he says correspond to the 13 midos ha’rachamim.  Interestingly, if you look at Shmos 34 where the 13 midos appear, theataliya ends with the mitzvah of bikurim.  What are we supposed to make of this observation I don’t know, but it’s something to think about over Shabbos.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015


I don’t know why it never made an impression on me before, but when I started reviewing Rosh haShana this time I was struck by the pesukim the gemara quotes to prove that Nisan is not the start of a new year for kings of the umos ha’olam.  The gemara quotes that in Kislev a messenger came and told Nechemya about the terrible time that the people in Yerushalayim were having rebuilding the city because of the constant harassment by enemies.  The navi goes on to relate that In Nisan of the same year of Koresh’s reign (proving Nisan does not mark a new year) Nechemya was serving the king wine and Koresh remarked on how distressed and depressed Nechemya looked.  Nechemya was forced to explain that he was distressed over what was happening to his brethren in Yerushalayim and he used the opportunity to ask for help.  

I can go back to last week’s news and point to any number of stories that if you have half a neshoma should have made your hair stand on end – stories involving Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalayim in particular.  How many people even remember these stories a week later, much less feel any sense of pain about what is going on?!  And here, when he is appearing before the king and obviously needs to try to make sure he looks his best, Nechemya is so overcome with grief over news he heard **four or five months beforehand** that Koresh can read the depression and distress on his face! 

Maybe it’s because we are inundated with painful stories all day thanks to the news and the internet that none of them make an impression on us any longer.  We've become desensitized to things that should bother us -- and that's a tragedy that's almost as painful as some of the events themselves.