Friday, September 29, 2006

Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha - ad v'ad b'chlal or ad v'lo ad b'chlal?

Yoma 86a according to the girsa of the Yalkut and Ain Ya’akov-

R’ Levi:tshuvah is great in that it reaches even the kisa hakavod, ad v'ad b'chlal, as the pasuk says, “Shuvah Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha”.
R’ Yochanan: tshuvah is only ad v’lo ad b’chlal; it reaches up to, but not quite until the kisa hakavod.
Gemara: how can R’ Yochanan really hold ad v’lo ad b’chlal? R’ Yochanan himself holds tshuvah is doche a lo ta’aseh, as it is compared to a a husband remarrying a divorced woman who already remarried someone else (see gemara for pasuk quoted)? Answers gemara: R’ Yochanan holds ad v’ad bchlal with respect to a yachid, but agrees that tshuvah of the tzibur reaches even the kisa hakavod.

The entire sugya is a pliya. What does it mean to speak of ad v’ad b’chlal or ad v’lo ad when it comes to the mitzvah of tshuvah? And how does the fact that R’ Yochanan describes the geder of tshuvah as aseh doche lo ta’aseh prove ad v’ad b’chlal? Why does R’ Levi quote the pasuk of “shuvah yisrael” from Hoshea and not the earlier pasuk in parshas Nitzavim “v’shavta ad Hashem Elokecha”? And what is the difference between a yachid and tzibur?
A few weeks ago we
discussed the yesod of the Shiurei Da’as (vol. 2 “Bein Yisrael laAmim”) that there are two perspectives on schar v’onesh of mitzvos and aveiros – the model of the king and the model of the doctor. When the doctor tells you to eat healthy or take medicine, if you do not listen, it is not the doctor who is punishing you by making you sick, but that is the nature of teva. However, when the king orders you to fulfill a command, e.g. pay taxes, if you fail to obey, the punishment is not a natural outcome of the behavior, but is directly imposed by the king. Mitzvos reflect an overlap of these themes.
As explained by the Sefer haIkkarim, only a willful act is punished by the Torah; once one has grown out of the mindset of cheit and done tshuvah, in retrospect, the act of sin was not willful and premeditated, but just a chance occurance. Is that opportunity to reflect on one’s will and undo a prior action a function of the model of the doctor, or a function of the model of the king? Is it implicitly part of the nature of reality, or is it a function of a special grace made possible by Hashem’s direct intercession and rachmanus? R’ Levi understood that a person can accomplish the totality of the tshuvah process through his/her own efforts – ad v’ad b’chlal. R’ Levi davka quotes the pasuk in Hoshea of “shuvah yisrael” and not the pasuk of “v’shavta” in P’ Nitzavim because the parsha in Nitzavim ends “v’shav Hashem Elokecha es shevuscha” – it reflects tshuvah which does not go all the way to accomplishing its goals but needs Hashem to reach out and help.
R’ Yochanan on the one hand tells us that man’s efforts alone leave a residue of cheit – ad v’lo ad b’chlal. On the other hand, if such a residue of cheit remained, how do we understand the analogy to a woman remarrying her husband? Drinking even a drop of poison with the best intentions can nonetheless prove fatal - tshuvah must eliminate cheit completely! The gemara’s answer distinguishing the tzibur from the individual perhaps revolves around the distinction between the model of the doctor and the model of the king. The tshuvah of the individual is of a personal nature and is not all-encompassing. It cannot catapult the world as a whole to a higher plane, and does not even completely eliminate the poison of cheit, but instead relies on the benevolence of the king to reach out to pull us up the final rungs of the ladder we climb ad v’lo ad b’chlal. However, the power of the tzibur is such that their tshuvah brings correction not just to each person’s life, but to the world as a whole – gedolah tshuvah she’mevi'ah refuah la’olam. Refuah is the role of the doctor. When the community as a whole elevates their entire environment, the complete elimnination of cheit is a natural byproduct of the tshuvah process. Shuva yisrael, this time of year when we all work together, ad Hashem Elokecha, ad v'ad b'chlal, to the highest reaches of the kisa hakavod.

(adapted from an approach based on Rav Kook’s Orot Tshuvah).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

chinuch and mitzvas lulav

The Shulchan Aruch writes (658:6) that on the first day of Yom Tov one should not give a lulav to a child before fulfilling the mitzvah onself because the child cannot be makneh the lulav back to an adult and without owning the lulav one cannot be yotzei the mitzvah of "v'lakachten lachem". A second opinion holds this would not be a problem if the child is old enough to understand and make simple monetary transactions. The issue (see Biur Halacha) here is whether da'as acheres makneh - i.e. even though a katan has no formal da'as, a katan can acquire goods if someone with da'as does the hakna'ah - is a din d'oraysa or a din derabbanan. If it is a din d'oraysa, a katan can min hatorah acquire a lulav from a gadol, but has no d'oraysa means of "selling" it back. However, the Ran holds da'as acheres makneh is only derabbanan, and m'derabbanan children can make the simple sale to return the lulav. A third opinion holds
that the adult owner of the lulav should hold the lulav with the child for the na'anuim. The Mishna Berura points out (Sha'as haTziyun 36) that according to this opinion of the Ra'avan the katan never actually acquires the lulav. Even though a gadol would not be yotzei unless he owns a lulav, with respect to the mitzvah of chinuch the we suspend this extrinsic formality. It seems to me that if we define the chiyuv of chinuch as an obligation m'dinei lulav that falls on the father or child, the Ra'avan is difficult to understand. However, if we define chinuch as a general seperate obligation, even though the formal mitzvah of lulav has not been fulfilled, the act of taking the lulav has served the broader goal of educating the katan.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

buying a lulav for a child - chinuch for a hechsher mitzvah

The shulchan Aruch (657) writes that a father should fulfill the mitzvah of chinuch and buy his son a lulav if he is old enough to do na'anuim. The Maharashal questions the need for the father to purchase a lulav. The mitzvah of lulav entails taking the lulav, but there is no reason a child cannot fulfill the mitzvah of netilas lulav with his father's lulav if he does not own his own. It sounds like there are overtones of yesterday's hechsher mitzvah discussion here as well. It is unclear to me if the SA's position is based on 1) a simple blurring of the lines between buying a lulav and the mitzvah of netilas lulav because practically speaking it is easier to do na'anuim (certainly during hallel, see Taz) if you own your own lulav, 2) the assumption that there is a
chiyuv of chinuch even for a hechsher mitzvah, or 3) somehow the purchase of a lulav is considered more a part of the mitzvah of lulav than a regular hechsher mitzvah.

Monday, September 25, 2006

do hechsher mitzvos require kavanah?

Hope everyone had a nice Rosh haShana!
The Rishonim and Achronim offer numerous answers to explain why the Rambam paskens like Rava (chameitz u'matzah 6:3) that one is yotzei matzah even if coerced to eat and has no kavanah to fulfill a mitzvah but by shofar the Rambam paskens (2:4) like R' Zeira that one is not yotzei shofar without kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah. Putting that issue aside, the Yom Teruah asks: the gemara (Kesubos 86) writes that if one refuses to build a sukkah or make a lulav Bais Din imposes malkos until the person relents and does the mitzvah - doesn't this prove Rava's point that mitzvos fulfillment can be coerced and kavanah is not integral? The Yom Teruah distinguishes between the matzah case where the coercion is done by Persians who certainly have no mitzvah kavanah and the case of coercion by Bais Din which is done with their intent to see a mitzvah fulfilled. The Aruch laNer says this distinction is irrelevant - the kavanah of Bais Din is no substitute for the person's own kavanah. Aruch laLer offers an interesting distinction between eating matzah, which itself is a mitzvah, and building a sukkah or making a lulav, which are just hechsheirim to allow the person to accomplish the mitzvah act. Mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, but hechsheirim that enable the mitzvah to be performed do not.

Friday, September 22, 2006

hayom haras olam

"HaYom haras olam, hayom ya'amid b'mishpat kol yetzurei olamim." At first glance the two halves of this statement have little to do with each other - there is no intrinsic reason that the anniversary of creation as opposed to any other day must be the day of judgment.
The Ar"i is medayek that the tefila describes Rosh haShana not as the day of creation, but as the day of hirayon, conception. Rosh haShana is not in fact a celebration of creation alone, because, as the Ba'al haTanya's asks, if we were celebrating creation then why does Rosh haShana not occur on 25 Elul, the start of creation? Our focus on 1 Tishrei can be explained with the distinction made famous by the GR"A between malchus and memshala. Memshala is the autocratic imposition of dominion on subjects; malchus is the willing acceptance of a ruler by a group of subjects. The first 6 days of creation were days of memshala, where G-d imposed his will on the Universe to bring about the reality of creation. The creation of man on 1 Tisrei celebrates Hashem's malchus, the creation of a being uniquely endowed with the free choice to accept his Creator through his own volition - this is why we stress over and over in our R"H tefilos the word and concept of melech and malchus. Rosh haShana celebrates creation as "haras olam", a world conceived and pregnant with potential, but not a finished product until man uses his free choice to bring about the malchus of Hashem. Precisely because the world is "haras olam", entrusted to our care to complete, "hayom ya'amod b'mishpat", we are called to account for whether we have lived up to that charge.
Wishing everyone shana tova, and thank you all for your feedback and comments through the year! Hopefully we will be able more learning together in the coming year.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

tekiyos al seder habrachos - brisker rav vs. chazon ish

Although the Ba’al haMaor writes that tekiyas shofar must be fulfilled in the context of tefila, the parameters of the chiyuv are not clear. Minhag Ashkenaz is to blow shofar only during the chazaras hashatz and not in the silent amidah (according to some Rishonim, the silent tefilah of musaf consisted of only seven brachos and did not reference malchiyos, zichronos, or shofaros). The Brisker Rav as well as R’ YB Soloveitchik held that one must be careful to be attentive and listen to every word of chazaras hashatz in order to fulfill the chiyuv of tekiyos in the context of brachos – one is “credited” with being yotzei the malchiyos , zichronos, and shofaros only by hearning every word of the shaliach tzibur. In the case of someone who will not hear the chazaras hashatz in its entirely, it seems according to the Brisker Rav that one gets no kiyum of tekiya al seder haberachos (though obviously one still has fulfilled the mitzvah d’oraysa of shofar). The Chazon Ish (siman 137) disagrees and writes that the chiyuv of blowing while reciting malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros is not a chiyuv on each individual, but is a chovas hatzibur – i.e. the tzibur must schedule the blowing of shofar to occur in the context of brachos of tefila, but each individual does not have a specific chiyuv to hear those brachos. According to the Chazon Ish, if one entered shule in the middle of chazaras hashatz and heard tekiyos blown in their proper place, even though the listener missed hearing tefila, he/she fulfills hearing tekiyos al seder habrachos by simply by having heard tekiyos blown in their proper place.

tekiyos d'meyushav (II)

The Ba’al haMaor has a unique approach to understanding the whole concept of tekiyos d’meyushav. Unlike most Rishonim who read R’ Yitzchak’s question “Why do we blow sitting and then standing?” as referring to the tekiyos before mussaf (tekiyos d’meyushav) and tekiyos during mussaf, the Ba’al HaMaor says this cannot be R’ Yitzchak’s intent because in the days of Chazal there was no tekiyas shofar at all outside the context of tefillah. The proper kiyum of shofar is only possible within tefillah’s framework of malchiyus, zichronos, and shofaros, and therefore, claims the Ba’al haMaor, we never find in Chazal a formula of “..asher kideshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu…” on tekiyas shofar – the brachos of tefila themselves serve as the bracha-context for shofar. R” Hershel Shachter elaborates on this theme in his sefer Eretz HaTzvi and writes that we find this with respect to other mitzvos as well: according to R’ Amram Gaon there is a brachas hamitzva on shema when said independently, but no birchas hamitzva required when shema is said in the context of birchos keriyas shema. This may be why there is no separate bracha on haggadah on leil Pesach – the mitzvah of sipur yetziyas mitzrayim occurs in the context of the other mitzvos of seder and therefore a unique birchas hamitzva being required. So what of our blowing before mussaf? The Ba’al haMaor claims this is a late minhag which developed because of the sick or inform who could not stay in shule until the completion of mussaf, which we daven late in the day on Rosh HaShana.
The Ramban in Milchamos vigorously disputes this Ba’al haMaor. Although there is a kiyum of tekiyos in the context of malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros, this does not exclude the fact that there is a birchas hamitzva and a kiyum of shofar independent of tefillah.
When my kids were babies and needed my wife’s attention at home (which they probably still will) preventing her from staying through all of davening, I always thought this machlokes was relevant to deciding how to divide the time. Given the choice of being in shule for only part of daveing, would it be better to hear the tekiyos d’meyushav and probably miss some during chazaras hashatz, or better to hear the tekiyos of chazaras hashatz and miss the tekiyos d’meyushav (assuming you can reasonably schedule your kids one way or ther other)? According to this Ba’al haMaor, the ikkar kiyum is tekiyos al seder habrachos, during chazaras hashatz, not the tekiyos done earlier. But, things may not be so simple… stay tuned bli neder for more.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

tekiyos d'meyushav - minhag and bal tosif

The gemara (RH 16) quotes R' Yitzchak: "Why do we blow shofar both standing and while sitting? - In order to confuse the satan." Rashi explains that the satan will be silenced in the face of our show of love for mitzvos. The simple explanation of the gemara is that R' Yitzchak was questioning why we blow two sets of tekiyos - one before musaf, called tekiyos d'meyushav, sitting tekiyos, because they do not accompany tefila b'amidah, and one during tefillah (more on this later, bli neder). If the ideal kiyum of tekiyas shofar is "tekiyos al seder haberachos", blowing in the context of the recitition of malchiyos, zichronos, and shofaros, why should we preface this kiyum with an additional set of tekiyos before musaf? The Rishbon add to the gemara's question and ask why these additional tekiyos do not pose a problem of bal tosif. The simplest answer seems to be that of the Rashba: once the chachamim for whatever reason decide to make a takanah to blow additional tekiyos, by definition a minhag or takanah derabbanan cannot be a violation of bal tosif. The concept of "lo tasur" implicitely allows the chachamim to add practices and safeguards to the Torah, provided that these enhancements are demarcated as dinei derabbanan (see Rambam, Mamrim 2). Yet, Tosfos avoids this answer and writes a chiddush that the performance of a mitzvah twice never constitutes bal tosif, e.g. a kohein saying birchas kohanim 2x, or picking up lulav 2x, or in this case, doing tekiyas shofar 2x. Why didn't Tosfos give the answer of the Rashba which seems far more intuitive? R' Chaim Brisker writes that tekiyos d'meyushav were never established as a full takanah, but the practice began as a minhag. While "lo tasur" clearly gives the chachamim license to enact takanos without fear of bal tosif, the issue before the Rashba and Tosfos is whether the same applies to minhagim as well. The Rambam (Hil Mamrim) consistantly refers to minhagim under the rubric of "lo tasur", but perhaps Tosfos here disagrees and holds that a minhag has its own parameters.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the issur of blowing shofar on shabbos

Much is written in sifrei machshava regarding the suspension of the mitzvah of tekiyas shofar on Shabbos – when one weighs the potential gain of the tremendous zechus of shofar against the remote possibility that someone might violate an issur of ma’avir in reshus harabim, especially b’zman hazeh when no true reshus harabim exists, it seems that somehow more is lost in the equation than is gained. The Meshech Chochma writes that this indeed is the point - what greater parallel to the zechus of akeidas Yitzchak can there be than our own willingness to sacrifice our tekiyas shofar to enhance the geder of shmiras Shabbos. The gemara (RH 16) tells us any year that does not have tekiyos in its beginning will have wailing in its end, but Tosfos immediately adds except when RH falls on Shabbos. The Minchas Eluzar (Sha’arei Yisaschar, Moznayim laMishpat #59) offers a hesber based on an issue we discussed earlier in the year here and here. The gemara (Shabbos 4) discusses whether one who placed bread in the oven at the onset of Shabbos is permitted to violate the issur derabbanan of rediyas hapas, scraping bread from the oven, to avoid the issur d’oraysa of baking that is going to occur. Tosfos (d”h kodem, which we did not discuss previously) asks what the gemara’s hava amina is – the chotei will not listen to us if we prohibit his removal of the bread because why should be be oiver an issur chamur of chilul Shabbos for the sake of keeping a din derabbanan?! Tosfos answers that if we prohibit removing the bread from the oven, then the person is absolved of any culpability for chilul Shabbos – it is not his fault or action which causes the baking to take place, because he is just listening to Chazal. The Minchas Eluzar writes the same is true of tekiyas shofar. Just as Chazal absolve one who obeys the issur of rediyas hapas from the d'oraysa of chilul Shabbos, Chazal can also insure that we suffer no loss for obeying their words and not blowing shofar on Shabbos - aderaba, Chazal guarantee that we receive the same bracha of slicha and kaparah that we would have received had we had the zechus of shofar.

Monday, September 18, 2006

tshuvah and hester panim (II)

Ramban and others ask why hester panim should be Hashem's response once the chotei has acknowledged that punishment is not a chance occurance, but comes "al ki ain Elokai b'kirbi", because the chotei has drifted far from Hashem (see previous post). The Seforno's pshat answers this question and sheds light on the whole process of tshuvah. "Ain Elokai b'kirbi" is not an admission, but a part of the corrupt outlook of the sinner - Hashem has abandoned the world and abandoned man to suffer in his own morass. This is the negation of the concept of "imo anochi b'tzarah", the belief that even in sin, Hashem is always with us. The resultant hester panim is a perfect midah k'neged midah of the sinner's own corrupt belief system.
Rav Kook writes that the greatest obstacle to tshuvah is our lack of appreciation of its effectiveness. R' Nachman also bemoans the tremendous damage of ye'ush, despair, which can far exceed the harm of sin itself. The hashkafa of "ain Elokai b'kirbi", of abandonment and hopelessness, is what prevents one from seizing the opportunity to grow.
The Midrash teaches that unlike someone preparing for a solemn death row case in court, a Jew prepares for Rosh haShana with simcha and anticipation. The Koznitzer Maggid quotes R' Dov Ber as explaining "kosveinu l'chaim" means writing in our hearts - we beg Hashem to let us believe in the power of tshuvah so we approach the yom hadin with confidence of mechila v'kapparah. It is not sin alone which condemns the rasha, because "ain tzadik ba'aretz", no one alive has not sinned, but what condemns the rasha is the loss of hope and connection to the power of renewal.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

tshuvah b'lev and hester panim

Despite the admission of the chotei that "al ki ein Elokei b'kirbi m'tza'uni kol hara'os ha'eilah", that punishment is only because of cheit which drove the Shechina away, Parshas Nitzavim writes that Hashem will remain hidden, "Anochi haster astir panai." Why is the chotei's admission not sufficient tshuvah to remove punishment and hester panim? Ramban answers that the admission is not complete viduy, but is just a "hirhur halev", a thought of tshuvah without a complete committment or verbel confession.
The gemara in Kiddushin (49) writes that if one is mekadesh a woman on the condition that he is a tzadik gamur, the kiddushin is valid "shema hirher tshuvah b'libo", because perhaps at that moment of kiddushin the mekadesh had in his heart a thought of tshuvah which is sufficient to establish a status as tzadik. The implication of the gemara is that hirhurei tshuvah, thoughts of tshuvah, are a fulfillment of the mitzvah of tshuvah!
I am not sure that this poses a problem for the Ramban. Perhaps through hirhurei tshuvah one can attain the status of tzadik in the sense of negating prior sins and removing punishment. However, (and I think this is implied by a careful reading of the Ramban on the parsha), one is still lacking the relationship with Hashem that could have been forged had the time of cheit been spent engaged in Torah and mitzvos. Hester panim is not a punishment in the same sense of the other punishments of the parsha; hester is an absense of presence and and absence of any relationship. For that rift to be repaired requires more than a hirhur b'lev; it demands tshuvah with viduy and a total committment of ahavah.

Friday, September 15, 2006

throughts on yeshiva education

I was going to gripe some more about parent orientation, but I will cut to the chase and get to education itself. Someone named Benjamin Bloom 50 years ago came up with a hierarchy of cognitive skills and corresponding questions an strategies a teacher can use to elicit use of those skills – here is a quick summary. A question like “Which general led the British during the Battle of Brooklyn Heights” demands simple recall of facts; a question like “What lessons of Teddy Roosevelt’s foreign policy might be relevant to current US policy” is a much more cognitively demanding (see the hierarchy). More important than letting parents know what is being covered, e.g. “we will cover US history from 1776-WWI”, is telling parents (and teachers themselves knowing!) how the information will be presented, what skills the teacher will focus on, and what strategies will be used to elicit thinking skills from students with different learning styles and personalities. I have yet to hear a teacher devote time to this at orientation; what I usually here is the # of pages that will be covered. Bloom’s taxonomy also goes for teaching chumash, gemara, or anything else. The problem is most of the yeshiva curriculum is dedicated to rote recall in the attempt to impress people with the quantity of knowledge amassed without ever developing thinking or analytical skills. The better students eventually get it on their own, the worse students waste years dreaming through shiurim that they cannot relate to because they have never been explicitly taught the skills to do so.
By way of example: my son’s Rebbe plans (we are dealing with 7th graders who spend the great majority of their day learning gemara) to “teach” the boys parshas hashavua “inside” the chumash, about 35 pesukim a week, and he will occasionally “speak out” some important detail. The process of teaching chumash is simple mimicry: Rebbe reads and teitches, boys repeat, boys copy to notebook point “spoken out” and repeat for test. To me, this is a complete waste –aside from learning to mimic, nothing is accomplished. The work is inherently boring and not challenging, so all kinds of external stratagems are devised to give a “geshmack” to learning. The best Rebbeim are the one’s who are most entertaining or strictest disciplinarians who can hold order in the classroom in lieu of the work itself actually being stimulating. Following Bloom’s taxonomy, chumash demands a whole host of skills be mastered, some of which are: 1) Decoding – kids need to read the pesukim correctly (and for those of you who think every 7th grade yeshiva kid can read, listen to a few bar mitzvah kids lein and you inevitably hear the mil’el turned into milra, no idea of sheva nach vs/ sheva na, and a host of other simple blunders; this is not dikduk, it’s keri’ah). 2) Understanding what each word means. 3) Identifying the shorashim and what they mean, otiyot shimuch, conjugations of po’alom, etc. (Many kids memorize “teitch” and never learn to associate the same shoresh elsewhere with what they already know; they can never learn without an english crutch.) 4) Analysis: your classic “mi amar el mi” or “al mi ne’emar” questions to identify characters, dialogue, places, events, objects. 5) Synthesis: are there extra words in the pasuk that you could leave out – why are they included? Why does the Torah tell us the location of this event? Can you explain why this parsha comes after/before the next or previous one? etc. At first the teacher raises the questions and students try to answer, but with enough practice kids start asking these questions themselves and develop a "feel" for text. Most classrooms reward good answers; teachers should also reward good questions. 6) Eventually, kids “discover” that the questions by now they might be asking on their own are asked by Rashi, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, etc. and then the whole whole process of decoding, comprehension, analysis, etc. repeats as they learn to master meforshim “inside”. The meforshim are not independent limudim (i.e. we learn chumash and Rashi), but become integrated with thinking about the text. Rashi is not something you have to learn because the teacher said so (as my daugher thinks), but someone who is worth learning because he had really smart things to say. 7) Evaluation – questions like, “Does Rashi or Ramban better fit the words of the pasuk?” - this is beyond an elementary school level. I am not a teacher and am out of practice, so this is just a rough overview, but I think it is good enough to illustrate the point. By the time a kid is in eighth grade, after years of doing this, it seems reasonable to expect that any yeshiva kid can read a text, explain it, break down and analyze the pesukim into parts of speech and clauses, find discrepancies, unnecessary words, and other difficulties, suggest answers or ideas, and appreciate and explore basic meforshim who ask and answer their questions (foremost being Rashi), etc. Not just a few bright kids, but most kids. So why do I have little confidence that my son will be able to do this based on his schooling? Simple: his day is spent mostly doing rote work and whatever skills he is getting come inductively instead of being fed a curriculum designed explicitly to develop those skills. Even if a teacher breaks down the information in a way that touches all these bases, it still is not enough. Most schools pay lip service to the idea of “multiple intelligences” (it is worth reading every book Howard Gardner has ever written even if you disagree with some of his stuff) but do not
implement it at all. All work is visual – read, repeat, write answers. A kid who can’t sit and do that is labeled a “problem child” and send out for testing or resource room. You do see in the younger grades some variation, but it gets lost by about 4th grade. No more chumash play, no more Torah fair projects, etc.- now we are really learning, meaning now we are depriving kids of other ways of experiencing Torah and forcing them to a single method that caters to a specific type of intelligence. This makes no sense to me. I am not saying you have to go wild, but even a simple question – compare and contrast the hachnasas orchim of Avraham with that of Lot - can be answered in an essay format, using a Venn diagram, using a chart, doing an oral report, or even acting out the two different episodes. Preparation for lessons like this takes time and you cannot cover 35 pesukim a week. You have to also be open to kids working independently in small groups, encouraging creativity, and spending a lot of time thinking about what you want to accomplish and how each child’s needs can be met. Wow, that is a big job! If that were being done is my child’s classroom, I can’t swear to it, but I would actually understand why my tuition bill is so high. That is a full day of work, planning, thinking about kids, working with kids, and helping children develop. Running through “teitch” of a bunch of pesukim and having kids spit it back and memorize a "vort" the Rebbe "spoke out" to say at the Shabbos table does not impress me and is not worth the money charged. What I do not understand is why I am a shitas yachid in this area? Why is there not a demand for schools that actually teach skills? Where are the creative projects, new ways of approaching material, and dynamic teaching models that yeshvos, as private schools, can more easily implement than public schools? I think most people's views have been shaped by having gone through the system themselves and thinking there is no other way to do things. I wish more people were willing to rethink that assumption - our yeshivos would be better for it, and our children better educated.

mitzvot lav le'henot nitnu (IV) - kilayim b'tzitzis

R' Shimon Shkop asks a beautiful kashe worth savoring over Shabbos. The issur of kelayim is to have hana'ah from wearing clothing of wool and linen. R’ Shimon asks: According to the Rashba, mitzvot lav le’henot nitnu teaches us that even when there is physical hana’ah associated with a mitzvah, we look at the act purely as a ma'aseh mitzvah and discount completely the hana'ah. If one is wearing a garment of kilayim for the sake of the mitzvah of tzitzis, based on the Rashba's understanding, the hana'ah derived from wearing the garment is not considered hana'ah; therefore, one is not in violation of the issur kilayim. If so, why do we need a pasuk to teach us that one is permitted to wear tzitzis made from kilayim based on aseh doche lo ta'aseh - since mllh"n, there is no hana'ah here and no violation of the lo ta'aseh!?

mitzvot lav le'henot nitnu (III)

The gemara (Pesachim 25b) discusses a case of walking through a market and getting hana’ah from the scent of avodah zarah perfume – the issue depends on a combination of considerations as to whether it is possible to take some other path and whether or not one has kavanah to get benefit from the fragrance (2 leshonos in the gemara as to the details of a machlokes Abaye and Rava). The gemara relates this issue to the classic machlokes R’ Shimon and R’ Yehudah by davar she’eino mitkavein - if I drag a chair across my lawn on Shabbos, the fact that a furrow gets plowed does not make me chayav because my intent defines my action as dragging a chair, not an act of plowing (according to R’ Shimon). Apparently the same underlying consideration operates in the fragrance case as well – intent helps define whether one engaged in the act of simply walking through the marketplace or an act of deriving hana’ah from avodah zarah fragrance.
With this background, we can explain the Rashba and Ba’al haMaor (see postings earlier this week). We asked: if mitzvot lav le’henot nitnu (mllh”n) is a meaure of a shiur of hana’ah and the hana’ah of having been yotzei a mitzvah does not meet the threshold of significance to be prohibited, nonetheless, if there is a physical hana’ah associated with the mitzvah act it should meet the shiur of hana’ah and cause the act to be assur – how can the Rashba disagree? R' Soloveitchik suggested (see also Shiurei R' Shimon Shkop, Nedarim) the Rashba may hold that violating an issur hana'ah requires an ACT of deriving hana’ah from the issur. Mllh"n is not a measure of the quantity of hana'ah, but a definition of the act one is engaged in as not being a ma'aseh issur. Just as in the case in Pesachim the consideration of kavanah causes us to view one's action as simply walking through the marketplace and not an act of being ne’hene from issurei hana’ah, the fact that one is engaged in a ma’aseh mitzvah causes us to define one's action as a ma’aseh mitzvah and not as an act of hana’ah even if there is a physical hana'ah that goes hand in hand with the same action. With this sevara one can understand the distinction between issurei d’oraysa and issurei derabbanan. By issurei d’oraysa, the command of the Torah defines the specific act as a ma’aseh mitzvah and not an act of hana’ah. However, by a kiyum derabbanan, the specific act is question was never commanded by the Torah, and so we are forced to consider the personal hana’ah involved. Returning to the Ba’al haMaor, the distinction between shofar and chatotzros cannot be between mitzvot d’oraysa and mitzvoth derabbanan (as some understood), because blowing chatzotzrot is itself also a mitzvah d’oraysa. However, one can distinguish between the two different mitzvot of blowing (as noted in the comments previously). By tekiyas shofar, the mitzvah is incumbent on each individual, and so each individual’s blowing is defined as a ma’aseh mitzvah and not a ma’aseh of hana’ah. However, R’ Soloveitchik suggested (Mesorah journal, vol 5) that the mitzvah of blowing chatzotzros is a chovas hatzibur, a communal obligation, and so we cannot point to the act of any one individual and say that is a ma’aseh mitzvah commanded by the Torah and not a personal act of hana’ah.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

parent orientation power play

I should just avoid parent orientation night at school. For the first time ever I had to simply walk out between teachers to come home because I was too upset to sit through the whole thing. The ma’aseh as it occurred (7th grade, boys school), names omitted: Rebbe gives presentation on his “derech” and concludes by asking for questions. Parent raises hand and asks what could be done about the sheets. “Meaning what?” asks the Rebbe. Parent replies, “They writing is so horrendous that the kids cannot make it out.” Rebbe begins by saying since he was asked in public he will reply in public and asks parent how old his oldest child is. “25,” answers parent. Rebbe indignantly asks, “You mean your oldest child is 25 years old, has gone through school, and you don’t know that is not the way to speak to a Rebbe!” After a bit more lambasting he went on to ask who this parent’s son was and remarked that now he understands why the same child complained about the sheets the day before – he of course heard it at home. This continued for a bit more back and forth, but I think you get the gist from my paraphrase. This is one week into school in public at a general orientation meeting. Yes, perhaps the parent's question was a bit blunt, but b’mechilas kvodo of this Rebbe, if you cannot find a way to diffuse this situation with a little wit or perspective, find another profession. Maybe more on the "derech" later if I am not too frustrated to write about it.

mitzvot lav le'henot nitnu (II)

The gemara (Nedarim 15b) discusses a case of a man who takes a neder to avoid hana’ah of relations with his wife. The Ran asks why this neder should prohibit the fulfillment of the mitzvah of onah or peru u'revu – why don’t we apply the principle of mitzvot lav le’henot nitnu (henceforth: mllh”n) and allow marital relations for the sake of the mitzvah? Ran answers that this case is very different from the case of shofar in the previous post. By the case of blowing shofar, one ostensibly receives no benefit from the act of tekiya other than fulfilling the mitzvah of shofar. However, one does have a physical benefit that comes along with the mitzvah act of onah or peru u'revu. Ran writes that mllh”n tells us that the specific benefit of being yotzei a mitzvah is not considered hana’ah, but if one receives a tangible physical benefit along with doing a mitzvah that would fall under the prohibition of the neder. Proof to this idea comes from the same sugya in Rosh haShana (28) of mllh”n – the gemara tells us that if one takes a neder from a river, one can still be toivel in the winter months for the sake of mitzvah, but during the summer where being toivel carries with it the physical hana’ah of cooling off along with the mitzvah act, being toivel would be prohibited. The Rashba answers the Ran’s question in Nedarim differently; he suggests that one can fulfill pru u’revu with another wife, and since the neder has the power to break shibudim (obligations) it also severs the marital obligation of onah between husband and wife. Apparently the Rashba did not accept the Ran’s distinction between physical hana’ah and the hana’ah of kiyum mitzvah – if not for the reasons the Rashba gave, mllh”n would indeed allow any han'ah that is associated with a mitzvah act. Aside from the proof from tevila which clearly is in the Ran’s favor, the Rashba is conceptually difficult to understand. Similar to the question we raised on the Ba’al haMaor (see previous post), we can ask of the Rashba: if mllh”n is a measure of a shiur of hana’ah, i.e. the fulfillment of the mitzvah is not a sufficient quantity of hana’ah to fall under the prohibition of the neder, how does that allow the far greater physical hana’ah which is part and parcel of a mitzvah act lie onah?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

tekiyas shofar and mitzvot lav le'henot nitnu

The gemara (R”H 28) tells us that it is permitted to use a shofar from a korban olah or shelamim because “mitzvot lav le’henot nitnu” – fulfilling a mitzvah is not considered a form of hana’ah. The Ba’al haMaor writes that this halacha applies only to the tekiyos of Rosh haShana which are mitzvos d’oraysa, but tekiyas chatzotzros which was done on a ta’anis would be prohibited. (It is unclear from the Ba’al HaMaor whether all tekiyos of R”H are permitted, or only the shiur needed to fulfill the mitzvah d’oraysa). At first glance this opinion of the Ba’al HaMaor is very difficult to understand. Firstly, tekiyas chatzotzros is also a mitzvah d’oraysa and not derabbanan – what distinction is the Ba’al haMaor trying to draw? Secondly, if the hana’ah one gets from having fulfilled a significant mitzvah d’oraysa which one would otherwise have to find some other way of accomplishing is not considered enough hana’ah to prohibit using the shofar, doesn’t it stand to reason that the hana’ah received from being able to fulfill a more minor mitzvah derabbanan is not considered significant enough hana’ah to create an issur? IOW, if mitzvos lav le’henot is a function of the shiur (quantity) of hana’ah received, then one would expect to draw the opposite conclusion as the Ba’al haMaor? There must be some other model of understanding mitzvot lav le'henot nitnu which the Ba'al haMaor subscribes to - to be continued bl"n...

Monday, September 11, 2006

r' tzadok hakohein on the tochacha

The Ramban writes in Parshas Bechukosai that the two parshiyos of tochacha in the Torah correspond to the destruction of the first and second Bais HaMikdash. (For the record: see the Abarbanel in P’ Ki Tavo who takes issue with this approach and says that there was never a true geulah from the first churban, just a temporary reprieve with very limited autonomy. We are still, according to Abarbanel, in galus from the destruction of the first Bais haMikdash, and both parshiyos of tochacha provide perspective on that event only). This view is echoed by the Zohar and many other Rishonim as well. R’ Tzadok HaKohein (Pri Tzadik, Ki Tavo) explains that the theme of each tochacha corresponds to the holiday which it precedes. Based on the takana of Ezra, Parshas Bechukosai is read before the holiday of Shavuos. “Al mah avdah ha’aretz”, wonders the Navi – what caused the destruction of the first Bais HaMikdash? Chazal tell us that the churban was a result of not saying birchas hatorah, a lack of appreciation and respect for the torah, which led to the other sins and churban. Therefore, this parsha of tochacha is read before the holiday of Shavuos, zman matan toraseinu. The second Bais haMikdash was destroyed because of the sin of sinas chinam, hatred and lack of unity. Therefore, the tochacha of Ki Tavo is read before Rosh haShana, when we daven “v’yei’asu kulam agudah achas l’asos retzoncha’, that the world should be united in its acceptance of the malchus of Hashem. See the Pri Tzadik for other parallels between the themes.

tochacha vs. kelala - parshas ki tavo

Chazal tell us that Ezra made a takana to read the parsha of “kelalos” before Rosh HaShana so that the curses of the old year are finished off before starting anew (Megila 31). Based on this takana, even when the krias haTorah followed a tri-annual cycle, Parshas Ki Tavo was read immediatly prior to Rosh haShana (see Maharat"z Chiyus). As noted on Friday, the difficulty that anyone with a calendar will notice is that we do not read Ki Tavo immediately preceding R”H, but insert Parshas Nitzavim in between! Rabeinu Nissim (quotes by Tosfos) explains that Parshas Nitzavim also contains negative elements that must be read before R”H to fulfill Ezra’s takana. Tosfos disagrees and writes that Nitzavim is not part of the kelalos, but is a break so we do not end the year on a completely negative note. According to Tosfos, there seems to be a fundamental difference between the negative elements in the keri’ah of Ki Tavo and the negative elements in the keri’ah of Nitzavim: Parshas Ki Tavo is called a parsha of “kelalos”, but Parshas Niztvaim is simply tochacha (see R’ Ya’akov Emden’s notes on Tos). In other words, the focus of Ki Tavo is portraying the terrible destruction that can emerge when society becomes steeped in cheit; the focus of Nitzavim is on reproof, with the destructive consequences mentioned just as a motivation to improve. We commonly refer to Parshas Ki Tavo (and Bechukosai) as the parsha of the “tochacha”, but based on Tosfos' reading, the gemara is precise in its use of the term “kelalos” and not tochacha when referring to the parsha.

Friday, September 08, 2006

takanas ezra to read the tochacha before rosh hashana - sweeping out the old year's curses

The gemara (Megila 31b) tells us that Ezra made a takanah that the parsha of tochacha be read before Rosh haShana so that “tichleh shana v’kililoseha”, the year and its curses should come to completion. But, as anyone with a calendar can see, this is not the Shabbos immediately before R”H? Tosfos answers: 1) Parshas Nitzavim also contains kelalos; or 2) we do not want to close out the old year and enter the new on a completely bad note so we break for the positive note of Parshas Nitzavim. For those who want a head start thinking about next week’s parsha, it seems that these two views reflect two different layers of meaning that can be found in the parsha. The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo explains that the takanas Ezra to read the tochacha is a kiyum of “u’neshalma parim sefaseinu”, our tefilos are a substitute for actual experience – in the event that we have not had our share of kelalos during the year, we read the parsha as a substitute. What bothers me is if this were true why not read the tochacha immediatly after Rosh haShana and avoid any experience of kelala during the year to begin with?!
The Minchas Eluzar (Munkatch) explains the word “tichleh” as similar to “kalsa nafshi” – to desire. “Tichleh shanah v’kililoseha, tachel shanah u’birchoseha” – the desire of the old year itself and its kelalos is that they should be removed and replaced by the New Year and its brachos, KY”R

Thursday, September 07, 2006

leaving eretz yisrael to visit kivrei tzadikim

I am feeling a bit out of it, so will be ‘yotzei’ writing by passing on a mareh makom to this article, which has a nice collection of sources on whether one may leave Eretz Yisrael to daven by kivrei tzadikim. One point I thought worth highlighting is a Chasam Sofer cited by R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”tl. The Mishna (Gitin 43b) tells us that a slave sold to an aku”m (so he is prevented from observing mitzvos) or from Eretz Yisrael to chutz la’aretz must be set free. The gemara (Gitin 44a) leaves unresolved whether a slave sold with an exception that allows him to keep Shabbos or Y”T goes free or not. Yet, the gemara (44b) is clear that a slave sold to chutz la’aretz is free. The Chasam Sofer asks: why is it that a slave who can keep ALL mitzvos with the exception of yishuv ha’aretz is automatically free, but the gemara remains in doubt regarding a slave who can keep Shabbos and Y”T but is prevented from keeping ALL other mitzvos? The C”S explains: Chazal tell us that ‘Hadar bchu”l k’mi she’ain lo Eloka’, one who lives outside Eretz Yisrael is as if he has no G-d – the mitzvos that a slave does in chutz la’aretz are nsignificant compared to his loss of living in Eretz Yisrael, the nachalas Hashem. “V’zehu musar gadol” – “And this”, writes the Chasam Sofer, “Is a great lesson.” Indeed.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

halachic ethics - the akeidah, hutra vs. dechuya, mitzvos the avos did not keep

Returning to the Shiurei Da’as’ idea that there are two independent sources for a halachic ethic – the model of the doctor who simply prescribes what naturally is good or bad, and the model of the king who creates law – there are two other examples he gives that are worth touching on:
1) The Rishonim raise the famous issue of how the Avos and Shevatim were free to violate certain issurim (e.g. how could Ya’akov have married two sisters) when Chazal tell us that the Avos accepted and kept the entire Torah even before it was given. The Shiurei Da’as answers that the observance of the Avos conformed to the model of the doctor. Just as in medicine, a prescription that works for one person can cause problems for another person or unwanted side effects that are more damaging than the original illness, so too with mitzvos. The Avos were able to intuit where the exceptions based on greater gain were warranted. However, post-mattan Torah, the Jewish people accepted the model of observance that defines ethics as simply obeying the King’s wishes, to which there can be no exception.
2) The Shiurei Da’as offers a beautiful hesber of the distinction between hutra and dechuya (see Rashi Brachos 20a d”h shev v’al ta’aseh). In both cases there is no issur from the perspective of the model of obeying a king’s decree – the mitzvah pushes off the lo ta’aseh. So why with respect to an issur dechuya do we assume that there is some "pushback" from the lav? The S.D. explains that although the King’s decree is lifted, there is still something wrong from the perspective of the doctor model – the issur has not lost its natural inherent danger.
This last case interests me most because it points to a circumstance where the decree of the king commands a certain practice, but the law of nature (the model of the doctor) still cautions restraint. The most extreme example of such a phenomenon (not discussed by the Shiurei Da’as) seems to me to be the parsha of the akeidah. Although killing a child is morally repugnant, Avraham did not hesitate in that circumstance to obey the command of Hashem. Kierkegaard referred to this as the “teleological suspension of the ethical” – i.e. the command of the akeidah does not render murder as ethically acceptable, but the human ethic is temporarily suspended to accomplish the will of G-d. I wonder what the Shiurei Da’as would make of such a theory.

Friday, September 01, 2006

eishet yefat to'ar - the nature of halachic ethics

Parshat Ki Teitzei opens with the parsha of eishet yefat to’ar – a beautiful women taken captive by a Jewish solider during battle, who subsequently becomes permitted for him to marry. The Torah seems to acknowledge that the temptation for the solider is too great – “lo dibra Torah elah k’neged yetzer hara”, the Torah allowed the permissibility of the yefat to’ar as a concession to the evil urge (Kiddushin 21), but by placing the parsha of ben sorer u’moreh immediately afterwards warns that no good will come out of such a relationship (Sanhedrin 107). How is one to understand this idea? If indeed, the yefat to’ar is ethically wrong, then how can the Torah allow a concession to evil? And if indeed it is morally justified in battle to claim a captive wife, then why should no good emerge from such a relationship?
The Shiurei Da’as (vol 2 "Bein Yisrael l'Amim) poses the following chakira: are the laws of the Torah a reflection of what is right and good based on the design of nature, and punishment and reward are just natural outcomes of violating the rules, or are the laws of Torah like the mandates of a King, arbitrarily set up based on certain objectives but distinct from the natural order? Is G-d like a doctor who tells us how to live in harmony with nature, or like a King who establishes a social order above and beyond the base dictates of nature?
Like most chakiros, both sides have a grain of truth. The gemara (chagiga 3) tells us that the mitzvah of hakhel includes bringing children so that their parents would receive reward. We certainly have many mitzvos we can do to receive reward – why do we need this extra detail just to pile on more schar? The Sheuiri Da’as explains that parents will naturally be forced to bring their children along with them even without a mitzvah, but by adding a tzivuy, the Torah transforms natural consequences into a mitzvah. It is like the King ordering someone to take his/her vitamins – you would do so anyway to be healthy, but now you reap the extra benefit of showing obedience and gaining reward for the effort. The chiddush of hakhel is not that Hashem arbitrarily creates mitzvos to give us more schar, but the fact that where there already exists a predisposition for an action, Hashem will sometimes add a tzivuy to what we would naturally do anyway in order to enable us to receive reward.
The yefat to’ar is the other side of the coin. A solider who engages in taking a yefat to’ar is violating the natural order and therefore no good can come of his relationship. It is like placing your hand on a hot stove – the burn is an inevitable natural consequence of the act. However, unlike hakhel where the Torah added the mandate of mitzvah to what already is part of the process of nature, here “dibra Torah k’neges yetzer hara”, the Torah made an allowance for man’s base nature and did not legislate a prohibition. The danger of the ben sorer u'moreh outcome remains , but the Torah adds no other barrier to the soliders actions.
There are other examples R’ Bloch brings to illustrate his point (maybe I’ll get to a few more later) – it is worth seeing the entire essay. For those familiar with R’ Ahron Lichtenstein’s essay on whether there exists an ethic independent of halacha, it seems to me that the underlying issue is the same.