Thursday, August 24, 2017

Even ha'Azel: special din of bitul Torah that applies only to a melech

(If you don't want any derush skip 1-4 but don't skip #5, the Even ha'Azel's beautiful chiddush based on a diyuk in Rambam.)

1. In Gertrude Himmelfarb's The Demoralization of Society (p 39) she quotes Hipployte Taine as saying, "The aim of every society must be a state of affiars in which every man is his own constable, until at least none other is required."  In other words, "Shoftim v'shotrim titen LECHA," you have to make yourself into the shofet and shoteir.  You have to develop a moral compass and police yourself. 

2. Ksav Sofer notes that the parsha that speaks of the appointment of a king the Torah uses the singular voice: "Asima alay melech.... Som tasim alecha melech..."   There is a din (O.C. 53:19) that when a congregation appoints a new chazzan, any single individual may object to the appointment (provided they can offer a legitimate reason for doing so).  There has to be no dissension with respect to the final choice.  So too, suggests the Ksav Sofer, when it comes to the appointment of a king, the people have to speak with unanimity, with one voice.  There can be no objections to the selection. 

I wonder if this reflects the reality.  David haMelech was chased across the countryside by Shaul -- it doesn't seem that even he had the unanimous consent of the people, at least at the time of his appointment. 

3. Speaking of Shaul haMelech (that last paragraph was an excuse to make a transition : )...   The parsha tells us that we cannot use sorcery or fortune telling like the other nations do.  Hashem instead gives us nevi'im to reveal to us what we need to know of the future.  The Netziv says a chiddush: if there is no navi to consult, if there is no other recourse, and we absolutely need information, then those other means are at our disposal as well.  If it's pikuach nefesh and the only way out is through sorcery, then you have to use it.  Why then, asks the Netziv, was Shaul punished for consulting the witch of Endor?  He was not getting an answer from the u'rim v'tumim or any other way and had no other choice? 

Netziv answers that Shaul was punished because he created the situation in which he found himself.  He killed the kohanim of Nov, he caused G-d not to be responsive to him, and so he was responsible for the outcome.  You can't put yourself in hot water and then cry ones and expect to be excused.  (There is a similar idea the Brisker Rav has on parshas Braishis -- see this post from 11 years ago.)

4. Not every king has access to a navi, and we for sure don't have access to a navi, but Chasam Sofer says the parsha has a solution for us without our having to go to fortune tellers.  "V'haya k'shivta al kisei mamlachto," when the king is sitting on his throne, the Torah tells us that he has to write a sefer Torah.  Chasam Sofer explains that when Klal Yisrael is on the level we are supposed to be on, our king is not sitting just on his throne -- he is sitting on Hashem's throne, as Hashem is the true king.  The melech is just his top representative down here.  So the parsha is not speaking about that ideal time.  The parsha is speaking about the b'dieved state, when the king is just on HIS throne.  There is no navi, there is no ruach hakodesh when we are in that state.  So where are we supposed to get answers from?  This Torah says when "k'shivto al kisei MAMLACHTO," (as opposed to malchus Hashem,) then write a sefer Torah, "V'kara bo kol y'mei chayav," and read about life in it.  You want answers -- learn Torah.  

A solution that applies to us as much as a king.

5. The Rambam (Melachim 3:5) writes that a king is not permitted to drink like a drunkard, but rather he is supposed to learn Torah and deal with the needs of Klal Yisrael day and night.  The Rambam quotes as proof this pasuk of "v'kara bo kol y'mei chayav." 

Don't all of us have to (ideally) learn Torah day and night, to the extent possible?  The Rambam in hil talmud Torah ch 1 paskens this way with respect to any Jew.  So why do we need a special din by a melech that he has to learn day and night? 

R' Isser Zalman Meltzer in the Even ha'Azel answers that there is a difference.  If you or I want to relax, we are free to sit down and have a beer, read a book, take a jog.  If that leads to some bitul Torah, we are excused.  Enjoying life is not assur.  Bitul Torah means deliberately not learning when one has nothing else to do and no other interest at the moment.  The melech, however, is different.  The melech is not allowed to sit back and relax with a beer or go for a jog.  He has an affirmative obligation to be engrossed in Torah and the needs of Klal Yisrael every moment, irrespective of his personal interests. 

When I saw this Even ha'Azel I understood in a completely different light the statement of "man malchai? -- Rabbanan."  The true kings are the Rabbis, talmidei chachamim, because only they, like kings, are engaged every moment in the dvar Hashem to the exclusion of their own interests and pleasures.


  1. Interesting that v'kara bo seems to imply shebi'ksav, not sheba'al peh.
    Of course, it is said about the GR"A that in his last years, he would learn from a sefer
    torah, instantly cross-referencing in his mind all the torah sheba'al peh relevant to the
    posuk [or word, or letter, or tag] he was reading.

  2. 1. "every society" -- but is Israel EVER to be included in a generalization* about societies/nations? in this case, does "police yourself" really tune to, for example,
    "'more nafshecha m'ode" (Dev. 4:9)?

    *see the >lesser< level kingdom of point 4., where the people Israel ask for a king >like the nations<

    2. did Shaul have "a legitimate reason" to give chase?

    3. sorcery--an abomination--rather than emunah in Hashem? sorcery--an abomination--rather than bitachon? hearing this, one wants to call a constable or two!
    however, if the particular technique is neither idolatrous nor adulterous nor murderous, how far would the heter extend? could the Kohen Gadol, on Yom Kippur, in the Kodesh Kodashim, perform the unsavory deed to save the life of his dying wife back home (and the life of any alternate wife*, should there be one), with the following rationales: a) the forces of "the other side" would be most eager to manifest in such a context, would be more responsive than ever-- almost a guarantee of contact! and b) he, the Kohen Gadol, must remain married for the duration of the service...?

    *both stricken with a deadly affliction (chas v'shalom) spreading only through priestly wives (or such designees thereby), with the u'rim v'tumim ominously dark about the crisis

    4. "he is sitting on Hashem's throne"

    a man may not sit in his father's place, Kid. 31b, kal v'chomer, no man may ever sit upon his god's/G-d's (symbolic,) earthly throne-- ergo when the Klal's level rises enough, the king must quit His throne!

    5. "The melech is not allowed to sit back and relax"

    yet the wordless restoration of a king's soul is in the national interest, as we can take David literally in Tehilla 23-- on kingly missions, or to survey the nation, green pastures, quiet pools, were stations of holy repose, helping him to find and maintain paths of righteousness

    {meanwhile this character Trump probably busies
    himself "tweeting" in the pleasant coves of Camp David}

  3. Re: #3, see the Beis Halevi at the end of Parshas Vayeishev (I think) where he explains al tizkor lonu avonos rishonim in this vein - that if our prior, intentional aveiros are disregarded, the later ones become mitigated, carrying, as they do, elements of oness. I don't remember if he continues to say that the chessed of maavir rishon rishon can also be explained in this way.

  4. What about a father or rebbe who's relationship reflects hashems?? Is that not similar to a king? So the same yisod and din should apply to them?

  5. I once spent some time "bothering" Rav Shach and asked him about this Even Haozel.[He is a nephew of Rav Issur Zalman] The issue being whether it shlugs-up all the schmoozen about bittul Torah that I had received. [See the synopsis of this piece -written by Rav Shneur Kotlar- where his wording is that if you are enjoying yourself, shekein nehena, there is no issur of bittul Torah]

    He explained that there is little chance of this being an actual hetter. Being that the hetter is that he is enjoying what he is doing, the test will be if he switches to another activity when given the option. Taking a bachur who loves swimming, which he described as an activity with no obvious issur, he said "imagine if a bachur is swimming rather than being in seder learning and his chaveirim come to invite him on a tiyul. If he now opts to go along it is a sign that he was not swimming because he loves it so much, but rather that he was not interested in learning. He really does not want to learn, but knowing that that is wrong he finds some pastime to occupy himself with. He now does not feel that bad. If he chooses to now go on a tiyul it is a sign that his interest was not so much to swim but not to learn. With a better activity coming along, switching to that shows that even the swimming was not for its sake but rather to not be learning. My Rebbi Rav Yakov Weinberg Z`L from Ner Yisroel made the same point, but used reading a kosher book and then being invited to go to a ball-game as the scenario that illustrates this point.

    This was in the early 80`s that I heard this and am certain that I am not giving it over with the clarity it deserves.

    1. Reb Moshe in Dorash Moshe Parashat Terumah goes one step further - that if a person does not enjoy learning, he has no chiyuv of yomam valailah beyond b'shochbecha uv'kumecha. If he still learns for other reasons, he only gets schar like a aino metzuva v'oseh.

      Apparently, a person who does not enjoy learning cannot be oiver on bittul torah. So much for schmoozen.

    2. Yeah, but if he sits and does nothing, he's over on bal tashchis. I'm something of an expert on the topic.

    3. Like a man that was given a Stradivarius and uses it to shoot paper clips. Boiiinggg!

    4. but oh what a lovely sound it makes...

  6. I have Rabbi Shimon Krasner at my house, and he wanted to say that R Isser Z is only talking about this issur like in Avos 3:10 or Menachos 99 about ופן יסורו מלבבך במסירם מלבו הכתוב מדבר, that as far as that lav is concerned it will not apply to a hedyot when you are engaged in a tainug of reshus. But it will apply to a melech. He admits that it's hard to read it into the words עובר על ופן יסורו מלבבך כל ימי חייך ועוד הרבה פסוקים מחיובי ת"ת, which imply that he's saying his pshat on all the pesukim that are mechayeiv talmud torah.
    אלא יהיה עסוק: יש לדקדק במה שכתב הרמב"ם דין מיוחד במלך שדבקו הכתוב בתורה יותר משאר העם שנאמר כל ימי חייו ולכן חייב לעסוק בתורה יותר משאר העם וקשה דבהל ת"ת פ"א הל' כ' כחב עד אימת חייב ללמוד תורה עד יום מותו שנאמר ופן יסורו מלבבך כל ימי חייך ומבואר דזה דין בכל אדם מישראל ונראה דכאן אנו דנין באיסור המלך לשתות אף שרוצה להתענג בשתיה וכן בהל ו' שרוצה להיות מצוי אצל אשתו וזה אינו אלא במלך אבל הדיוט מותר לו להתענג אף שזה יגרום לבטול תורה בהכרח ע״י השיכרות או בעילות נשים ולהדיוט אינו אסור אלא לבטל תורה בלי כל סבה שאז אם הוא מסיר לבו מהתורה עובר על ופן יסורו מלבבך כל ימי חייך ועוד הרבה פסוקים מחיובי ת"ת ועי' בספר מעלות התורה בתחילתו שמנה יותר משלשים מ"ע ומל"ת על ביטול תורה
    Similarly, the Gemara after that in Menachos that you avoid lo yamush if you just learn morning and evening, clearly the Gaon's list of pesukim goes beyond just lo yasuru and lo yamush, and it's hard to see how RIZ's pshat works with those.
    I wish I could find it, but my father zatzal used to say from the Chofetz Chaim that businessmen that get together to shmuz are not over bittul torah, but bnei torah are. Because the former talk business, and for them, that's not bittul torah. The bnei torah don't talk business, and they don't talk torah, so for them, it's bittul torah mamash.
    תניא רבי יוסי אומר אפי' סילק את הישנה שחרית וסידר את החדשה ערבית אין בכך כלום אלא מה אני מקיים לפני תמיד שלא ילין שלחן בלא לחם א"ר אמי מדבריו של ר' יוסי נלמוד אפילו לא שנה אדם אלא פרק אחד שחרית ופרק אחד ערבית קיים מצות (יהושע א, ח) לא ימוש (את) ספר התורה הזה מפיך אמר רבי יוחנן משום ר"ש בן יוחי אפי' לא קרא אדם אלא קרית שמע שחרית וערבית קיים לא ימוש ודבר זה אסור לאומרו בפני עמי הארץ ורבא אמר מצוה לאומרו בפני עמי הארץ

  7. Someone asked me on this EhE from Brachos 5a,
    כל שאפשר לו לעסוק בתורה ואינו עוסק הקב"ה מביא עליו יסורין מכוערין ועוכרין אותו שנא' נאלמתי דומיה החשיתי מטוב וכאבי נעכר ואין טוב אלא תורה שנאמר כי לקח טוב נתתי לכם תורתי אל תעזובו.
    Why? If he wants to play ball, he doesn't have to be oseik.