Friday, September 17, 2021

growing fat on Torah and mitzvos

Transitioning from the seriousness of Y"K to the simcha of Sukkos is apt to give one spiritual whiplash, and I am not sure that having to think about parshas Ha'azinu in the middle makes it any easier.  Not to mention that there is not much time to prepare the parsha with all else that is going on.

 וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ן יְשֻׁרוּן֙ וַיִּבְעָ֔ט שָׁמַ֖נְתָּ עָבִ֣יתָ כָּשִׂ֑יתָ וַיִּטֹּשׁ֙ אלו-ק עָשָׂ֔הוּ וַיְנַבֵּ֖ל צ֥וּר יְשֻׁעָתֽוֹ (32:15)  

First the simple pshat and then a really sharp Sefas Emes.  

The appellation Yeshurun is not too common.  It appears only 4 times in Tanach, and of the 4, interestingly, three appear at the end of Sefer Devarim.  Why does the pasuk use such an uncommon term here?  Seforno (see Netziv as well) explains that it refers specifically to  קהל תופשי התורה ובעלי העיון, the spiritual elite, what we might call the yeshiva community (whether the yeshuiva is YU or Lakewood doesn't matter).  The pasuk is warning that not only can regular Joe Yisrael's religious commitment be damaged by too much enjoyment of worldly pleasures, but even those on the top rung of the community religiously, those who we least expect it to happen to and who we might think are immune from such things, even they will quickly slide down the ladder if they indulge too much in pleasure.  Ad kan what is a fairly straightforward message. 

Sefas Emes (5637), however, says we are not talking about growing fat on the pleasures of olam ha'zeh here.  Peshita that if that's the case, one will drift away.  Yeshurun is all about those who are doing the right thing, those who are growing fat on Torah and mitzvos.  It's days before Sukkos and everyone is buying lulav and esrog, everyone is putting up their sukkah, people are learning daf yomi, tomchei shabbos is delivering food packages for Y"T.  What the Torah is telling us is that sometimes a person can do all of the above, and still miss the boat.  How?  Because a person can get so caught up in what THEY are doing for Y"T, for chessed, for Torah, that they forget that someone else is really directing the show.  וַיִּטֹּשׁ֙ אלו-ק עָשָׂ֔הוּ, they forget that G-D is the one doing it all.  It is possible to be fully immersed in religion at the expense of having a relationship with G-d.

Another interesting twist in the pasuk is that it switches from third person וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ן ... וַיִּבְעָ֔ט  to second person שָׁמַ֖נְתָּ עָבִ֣יתָ כָּשִׂ֑יתָ.  Ibn Ezra learns that the third person is the pasuk's description of what is happening; the second person voice is the person speaking to himself.  Every person at some point stumbles, but even if there is a וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ן יְשֻׁרוּן֙ , so long as a person at some point wakes up and says to himself, שָׁמַ֖נְתָּ עָבִ֣יתָ כָּשִׂ֑יתָ, "You are losing your focus and going in the wrong direction," they will recover.   When Ibn Ezra comments שמנת – ולא חשב לאמר לנפשו: שמנת עבית כשית, I'm not sure this is exactly what he means, but the way I read it is the וַיִּבְעָ֔ט is modifying those next words of שָׁמַ֖נְתָּ עָבִ֣יתָ כָּשִׂ֑יתָ.  When a person turns off and rejects the message of that inner voice, then they are in real trouble. 

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

you have to ask for it

There is a din of piyus on erev Y"K, that someone who did wrong has to go and ask mechila from the person they harmed.  The gemara (Yoma 87a) has an additional chiddush.  The gemara relates that when R' Zeira knew someone had wronged him, he would make sure to present himself to that person to afford them the opportunity to ask mechila.  There was a butcher who insulted Rav and never came to ask mechila, so on erev Y"K Rav went to the butcher himself so that the butcher could ask mechila of him. Even though Rav and R' Zeira were  the aggrieved party, they were the ones who went to seek out the chotei rather than wait for the chotei to come to them.  

What's the source for this halacha?  Why should the aggrieved party have to do anything?

R' Yitzchak Blazer answers that the source is midosov shel haKB"H.  Dirshu Hashem b'himatz'o -- Hashem comes close to us during the 10 days of teshuvah to make it easier for us to repent.  The King is in the field, as the Baal haTanya teaches; he has made himself readily accessible.  Mah hu, af atah.  Instead of waiting for the party who has wronged you to step forward, you can take the first step and come to them to afford them the opportunity to ask for forgiveness.

It's a beautiful vort, but R' Wahrman asks a simple question:  Since Rav and R' Zeira were going to forgive the other party anyway, why play this game of trying to get them to ask for mechila?  Why not just forgive them!?   

We see from here, writes Rav Wahrman, that piyus is not just a means to get the other person to forgive.  Rav and R' Zeira would have forgiven anyway.  But that's not enough.  In order to achieve kaparah the chotei does not just needed forgiveness, but he/she needs to go through the process of asking for reconciliation and wanting that forgiveness.  It is the sometimes painful and embarrassing experience of making amends which is what leads to true reconciliation -- not just saying, "I'm mochel you." 

Let's say that Reuvain and Shimon have a longstanding feud going on, like the Hatfields and the McCoys.  Let's be real -- an simple apology on erev Y"K is not going to wipe everything wrapped up in that feud away.  So what is this halacha of piyus?  What are we trying to accomplish?  The answer, I think, is like R' Wahrman suggests: piyus is an expression of the desire to be forgiven.  That's the first step, the hardest step.  From there, mitzvah gorreres mitzvah and the rest will follow in time.    

It's an avodah to forgive people, but it's also an avodah to recognize one's mistakes and to want to be forgiven, to ask to be forgiven. 

The goal of all this is to being people together, esp as we approach Y"K.  Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo notes that when the Torah talks about the avodah of Y"K, even though it's a mitzvah l'doros, the parsha does not talk about the avodah being done by "a kohen," or "the kohen gadol", but rather it refers again and again to avodah being done by Aharon haKohen specifically.  (It could be that there is a difference between the avodah as done by Aharon and the avodah l'doros - see how GR"A and Netziv following in his footsteps learn the peshut shel mikra.)  Perhaps the idea here is that it's not a din in the position of K"G which qualifies one for the job on Y"K, but its embodying the traits of Aharon, of being "oheiv shalom v'rodef shalom..." which qualifies one for the job.

Gmar chasima tovah

Friday, September 10, 2021

v'amar ba'yom ha'hu -- don't delay!

I am trying to wrap my head around the phenomenon of flying hundreds of miles to spend Rosh haShana in less than luxurious accommodations to be close to the kever of a tzadik ostensibly because one craves the spiritual uplift and boost from being there, and then on the way back breaking the law by falsifying Covid tests.  I know - who am I to talk since despite spending hours in shul on R"H, I've probably done plenty wrong already, but in my meager defense at least it has not made the front pages of the news.  

וְחָרָ֣ה אַפִּ֣י ב֣וֹ בַיּוֹם־הַ֠ה֠וּא וַעֲזַבְתִּ֞ים וְהִסְתַּרְתִּ֨י פָנַ֤י מֵהֶם֙ וְהָיָ֣ה לֶאֱכֹ֔ל וּמְצָאֻ֛הוּ רָע֥וֹת רַבּ֖וֹת וְצָר֑וֹת וְאָמַר֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא הֲלֹ֗א עַ֣ל כִּי־אֵ֤ין אלקי בְּקִרְבִּ֔י מְצָא֖וּנִי הָרָע֥וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה

 וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא עַ֥ל כׇּל־הָרָעָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה

Ramban asks: if Bnei Yisrael acknowledged that  עַ֣ל כִּי־אֵ֤ין אלקי בְּקִרְבִּ֔י מְצָא֖וּנִי הָרָע֥וֹת הָאֵֽלֶּה, that it is because they turned away from Hashem that they are in trouble, i.e. they acknowledged their sins, why should Hashem respond with further hester panim instead of accepting their return?

R' Tzadok haKohen answers that hester panim here does not mean turning away from Bnei Yisrael, but rather it means looking away from their wrongdoings.  Because there was teshuvah, Hashem no longer looks at the sins done in the past.

HaKsav v'haKabbalah proves this pshat from the language of the pesukim.  In the first pasuk the Torah identifies "them," the people,  וְהִסְתַּרְתִּ֨י פָנַ֤י מֵהֶם֙, as the ones Hashem is turning away from.  The second pasuk  just says וְאָנֹכִ֗י הַסְתֵּ֨ר אַסְתִּ֤יר פָּנַי֙ , with no object, and then continues  עַ֥ל כׇּל־הָרָעָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה.   It's must be that it is the רָעָ֖ה which Hashem is turning away from, not the people.  He writes:

  כי לעיל אמר והסתרתי פני מהם שפי׳ ההסתרה תהיה מהם, אבל כאן סתם לדבר, לכן נראה שהכתוב פי׳ ההסתרה ממי יסתיר, ומובנו הוא ממש להפך,... 

 אני אעשה כענין מאמר המשורר הסתר פניך מחטאי וכל עונותי מחה, שהסתר פני׳ מחטאי׳ שהיא ממש מחוי העונות שמעביר מכנגד פניו ולא יביט עוד בהם, כן אנכי הסתר אסתיר פני על כל הרעה, תהיה ההסתרה על הרעה שעשו, שלא אראה ברעתם שעשו

Chazal tell us that as a general rule אין והי׳ אלא לשׁון שׂמחה.  When you see the word והי׳, it means we are talking about something good.  What's so good about what this parsha is describing?  What is there to be happy about when you read וְהָיָ֣ה לֶאֱכֹ֔ל וּמְצָאֻ֛הוּ רָע֥וֹת רַבּ֖וֹת וְצָר֑וֹת?

Rav Schwadron in Techeiles Mordechai quotes the Yaaros Devash that it is much easier to do teshuvah if it is done immediately rather than delaying.  If you push a problem to the back burner, it is hard to come back to it, and it becomes part of the harmful baggage that one shleps around.

The chapter of Tehillim (51) that talks about David's reaction to Noson ha'navi telling him that what he did with Bat Sheva was wrong starts with the words לַמְנַצֵּ֗חַ מִזְמ֥וֹר לְדָוִֽד.  It's a mizmor, not a kinah, explains the Yaaros Devash, because by Noson telling him right away that he had done wrong, David was able to immediately do teshuvah and not let the cheit linger.

The silver lining of the punishment Bnei Yisrael receive for their sins is that  וְאָמַר֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֔וּא הֲלֹ֗א עַ֣ל כִּי־אֵ֤ין אלקי בְּקִרְבִּ֔י, it elicits an immediate reaction of teshuvah.  The simcha of the parsha is that we don't delay; we seize the opportunity to repent as soon as wrongdoing presents itself.

When one faces up immediately to one's faults and faces up to them, then Hashem inversely reacts in turn by "haster astir," by turning his face away from those wrongdoing and clearing one's slate.

Monday, September 06, 2021

l'maancha Elokim chaim

In parshas Ki Teitzei, Rashi (22:8) explains the smichus ha'parshiyos, the juxtaposition of the mitzvah of shiluach ha'kan with the mitzvah to build a maakah and then the mitzvah of not plowing with kilayim of a donkey and ox and the mitzvah of not wearing kilayim: 

כי תבנה בית חדש ועשית מעקה וגו׳ – אם קיימת שילוח הקן, סופך לבנות בית, ולקיים מצות מעקה, שמצוה גוררת מצוה, ותגיע לכרם ושדה ובגדים נאים. לכך נסמכו פרשיות הללו.

If you fulfill shiluach ha'kan, writes Rashi, you will be zocheh to build a house and do the mitzvah of maakeh, and then you will be zocheh to have a field and vineyard that need plowing and will keep the issue of kilayim, and you will have beautiful clothes to wear and you will get to fulfill the mitzvah of shaatnez.  

Shem m'Shmuel asks: Schar mitzvah b'hai alma leika!?  The reward for mitzvos comes only in the next world, not in this world.  Why here do you get a new house, a field, a vineyard, nice clothes one right after the other in this world for doing these mitzvos? 

Schar mitzvah b'hai alma leika, he explains, because reward is the tachlis, the end result.  The world of tachlis is the next world; this world is just the world of hachana, where everything is a means to the end, but not an end in itself.  If you are collecting schar a final reward for the hard work you put in, then you have to wait until you get to the next world.  But if the schar you are collecting is itself a means to a greater end, then that falls under this world, the world of means.  When you get a house not to show everyone the new kitchen you put in but rather as a means to do other mitzvos like maakah; when you have a field or vineyard not just to build your wealth but as a means to fulfill kilayim; when the clothes you wear are not to show off your new outfit but because you are mekayeim shaatnez and other mitzvos, then Hashem piles on more so that you can do more.  (Compare with Rambam in Hil Teshuvah perek 9).

Now we understand what we mean when we say, "Zachreinu l'chaim..,. l'maancha Elokim chaim."  We ask Hashem for life, we ask Hashem for so many other things.  Schar b'hai alma leika, why should we imagine we will get any of it?  The answer is, "L'maancha Elokim chaim."  We're not asking just to satisfy our own selfish needs, but we're asking so that we can use what we get "lmaancha," for your sake Hashem.  It's all just a means so that we can be better ovdei Hashem.

If that's the attitude you bring to your bakashos in davening, then hopefully you won't be turned away.

Kiddushin 25a:

 הכל מודים בלשון לענין טומאה דגלוי הוא

The gemara writes that the tongue, the mouth, is considered "galuy," a revealed, open place.  If a sheretz comes in contact with a person's tongue, the person is tamei; it's not maga beis ha'starim.  

A person can articulate and express through the tongue and the mouth things that are "galuy," that he/she can to reveal and communicate to others.

But there is a whole deeper level of pnimiyus in a person that is not galuy, that the mouth and tongue cannot formulate into words, that we can't articulate either to others or maybe not even to ourselves.  That's the kol shofar.  That's the cry that  cannot be formulated into words, but which stirs inside of us.

That's the kol that we cry to Hashem with on Rosh haShana. 

Friday, September 03, 2021

b'makom she'baalei teshuvah omdim

Perek 30 opens by telling us that as a response to the brachos and kelalos we will eventually do teshuvah:

 וְהָיָה֩ כִֽי־יָבֹ֨אוּ עָלֶ֜יךָ כׇּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה הַבְּרָכָה֙ וְהַקְּלָלָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר נָתַ֖תִּי לְפָנֶ֑יךָ וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ֙ אֶל־לְבָבֶ֔ךָ בְּכׇ֨ל־הַגּוֹיִ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֧ר הִדִּיחֲךָ֛ ה׳ אלקיך שָֽׁמָּה

The pesukim then continue that as a result, Hashem will gather us back to Eretz Yisrael, and everything will be great.

But then 8 pesukim later, the Torah again tells us:

וְאַתָּ֣ה תָשׁ֔וּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֖ בְּק֣וֹל ה׳  וְעָשִׂ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־כׇּל־מִצְוֺתָ֔יו אֲשֶׁ֛ר אָנֹכִ֥י מְצַוְּךָ֖ הַיּֽוֹם

And we have a description of the brachos that will come as a result of that return.

If the beginning of the perek describes our return to Hashem, הֲשֵׁבֹתָ֙ אֶל־לְבָבֶ֔ךָ, then what is this return of וְאַתָּ֣ה תָשׁ֔וּב וְשָׁמַעְתָּ֖ בְּק֣וֹל ה׳ that comes later in the perek?  We already did teshuvah -- why do we need an encore performance?

There are two types of teshuvah.  There is teshuvah that happens when a person can no longer tolerate the weight of sin on his/her shoulders and is therefore moved to turn to G-d (or his/her fellow man) to ask for forgiveness.  That's the first section of our parsha.  This teshuvah is an attempt to find refuge and catharsis from the pain at hand.  

But then there is yet another level of teshuvah.  Once the sin has been rectified and that burden removed, instead of just moving on with life as "normal," a person can instead hold on to those feelings of humility, contriteness, and the longing to draw closer to G-d that teshuvah brought.  Rav Kook in Orot Teshuvah sees teshuvah as a lifelong process, a process that even tzadikim can engage in, because teshuvah of this type is not just a bandaid, a way to remove that burden of guilt and sin, but is an attitude that brings one ever closer to G-d.  This is the second half of the parsha.

Sefas Emes (5638) writes that when we talk about "b'makom she'baalei teshuvah OMDIM afilu tzadikim ainam yecholim laamod" it's this type of teshuvah that we are talking about.  The teshuvah that sticks with a person forever -- that a person is OMEID in -- not just teshuvah that a person does to get rid of a sin and then moves on.  

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

are tekiyos and brachos m'akeiv each other

The gemara (R"H 34b) writes  תקיעות וברכות של ראש השנה ויום הכפורים מעכבות זו את זו  Tos (33b towards the end of the long Tos) quotes that Rashi explained that this means the two mitzvos of shofar and tefilah must go hand in hand -- you can't be yotzei tekiyos outside the context of tefilah, and can't be yotzei tefilah unless you blow shofar during the davening.  

Tos disagrees and says this can't be the pshat.  Proof #1 - the din is that if you have a choice between going to a place where there is shofar blowing or a place that has a minyan and sha"tz for davening, the gemara says to go hear shofar since it is d'oraysa.  If you can't be yotzei shofar without tefilah, what good is that?  

Proof #2 - the gemara says if someone davened without having a shofar and then later in the day managed to get a shofar, he blows.  According to Rashi, shouldn't he have to daven again, since davening without a shofar doesn't count?

Tos therefore learns that the gemara means that the 3 brachos of malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros are m'akeiv each other, i.e. if you only know one but not the others, you can't be yotzei tefilah.  Similarly, the different kolos of shofar are m'akeiv each other, i.e. if you only know how to blow a tekiya, for example, you are not yotzei blowing that kol alone multiple times.  But the two mitzvos have nothing to do with each other.

It's very hard to understand this shitas Rashi.  What does he do with those gemaros?

In R' Wahrman's sefer Oros Ymei HaRachamim he quotes a very Brisker-ish sevara from R' Leizer Silver.  Rashi agrees that of course you can be yotzei the mitzvah of shofar even if you don't daven, and you can be yotzei davening without a shofar.  But Rashi understood that gemara on 34b to mean that in addition to the independent chiyuv of shofar and the independent chiyuv of tefilah, there is a new composite chiyuv of tekiyos al seder ha'brachos that requires both elements.  

The gemaras that Tos quotes are talking about the independent chiyuvim of shofar and tefilah, not the composite chiyuv.  It's that new composite chiyuv cannot be fulfilled unless you have both elements.

This, he suggests, is why many have the practice of blowing shofar even in the middle of the silent amidah.  The tefilah would be a tefilah even without shofar, but you would lack the added kiyum of the composite chiyuv that requires both.

who you are vs who you choose to be

 הַעִדֹ֨תִי בָכֶ֣ם הַיּוֹם֮ אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֒רֶץ֒ 

Rashi explains:

אמר להם הקב״ה לישראל, הסתכלו בשמים שבראתי לשמש אתכם, שמא שינו את מידתם, שמא לא עלה גלגל חמה מן המזרח והאיר לכל העולם, כעניין שנאמר: וזרח השמש ובא השמש (קהלת א׳:ה׳)? הסתכלו בארץ שנבראת לשמשכם, שמא שינה מידתה, שמא זרעתם אותה ולא צמחה, או שמא זרעתם חיטים והעלה שעורים? ומה אילו שנעשו לא לשכר ולא להפסד, אם זוכין אין מקבלין שכר, ואם חוטאין אין מקבלין פורענות, לא שינו את מידתם, אתם שאם זכיתם אתם מקבלים שכר, ואם חטאתם תקבלו פורענות, על אחת כמה וכמה.

Look at the heavens.  Does the sun ever choose to not do its job that day?  Look at the earth. Do you ever plant wheat and the ground decides to do its own thing and produce barley instead?  If the sun and the earth can do the ratzon Hashem without the promise/threat of schar/onesh, kal v'chomer we who do get schar/onesh have no excuses for not doing so.

What's the comparison?  The sun is not a baal bechira.  The earth is not a baal bechira.  They have no choice but to do the ratzon Hashem.  We are not like that.

Sefas Emes explains that what Rashi is telling us is that just like it's built into the teva of the sun and the earth and everything else in nature to do the ratzon Hashem, so too, it's built into our teva as well.  A human being is not a barbarian who has to affirmatively choose to curb his natural instincts in order to do the ratzon Hashem.  Aderaba, a human being is preprogrammed to do the right thing, like the rest of nature, unless he/she affirmatively chooses otherwise.  

People on the wrong path sometimes say, "What do you want from me -- that's who I am."  Comes our pasuk and tells us that's not who you are -- that's who you choose to be.  But you can choose otherwise, and correct your mistakes.

(This is very much in keeping with the Maharal's idea that cheit is not b'etzem, it's b'mikreh.  When a Jew sins, it is not because he/she by nature is corrupt; it's simply a product of circumstance.)

Friday, August 27, 2021

connection between bikurim and the 13 midos ha'rachamim

Fascinating Meshech Chochma points out that there are 13 times that the shem Havaya is mentioned in the parsha of bikurim, and he suggests that these correspond to the 13 midos ha'rachamim which Ashkenazim will start saying in slichos this motzei shabbos.  Interestingly, in Ki Tisa, the very last pasuk of the aliya in which the midos are mentioned is  רֵאשִׁ֗ית בִּכּוּרֵי֙ אַדְמָ֣תְךָ֔ תָּבִ֕יא בֵּ֖ית ה׳ אלקיך.  

Here are his words:

בפ׳ בכורים נזכר י״ג פעמים שם הוי׳, לנגד שלשה עשר מדות של רחמנים, ובפרשה דויעבור ה׳ על פניו ויקרא כו׳ הי״ג מדות הזהיר על ראשית בכורי כו׳ תביא בית ה׳ כו׳. ודו״ק.

The root of sin is to be kafuy tovah.  The 13 midos are all about recognizing the chasdei Hashem, that he is rachum v'chanun, and without that we are nothing.  Bikurim is the same idea -- to be makir tovah to Hashem for bringing us into Eretz Yisrael and giving us its peiros.