Thursday, November 30, 2006

educational malpractice

My wife left me a message today after receiving my daughter’s IOWA test results in the mail. A few years ago we had a major battle with a principal of a certain school regarding my daughter’s placement. She has a late December birthday, and the school insisted she should be in the lower grade, i.e. she will be turning 9 this December, so they would have placed her in 3rd grade. Fortunately she is in 4th grade in her current school, where she scored in the 97th percentile on her IOWA, meaning she is in the top 3% of 4th graders in NYS. I can vouch for the fact that she cares nothing about school performance, in part (I think) because she is not being challenged. I don’t write this to brag (OK, maybe just a little bragging : ), but to reflect on the misguided advice of her former school which is symptomatic of what schools do. I can’t recall who made this point – I think Herbert Kohl, but I may be wrong – but it is simple and obvious. If someone came to your workplace and decided to do a corporate re-org and assign job function and responsibility by people’s age, that would be construed as unfair, discriminatory, and downright stupid. But when a school takes children and assigns them to classes based purely on birthday cutoff without any discrimination as to ability, that is viewed as a sensible rule to be enforced as a yehareig v’al ya’avor. Let me just head the pedants off at the pass – true, developmental stages roughly correspond to chronological age, but the key word is roughly. Chazal say 40 se’ah are a kosher mikvah, but 40 se’ah chaseir kurtav is pasul, but children’s developmental stages are not mikvaos! Not that her current school is perfect – one teacher suggested her poor penmanship is a sign of a potential learning disability which could interfere with her school performance and therefore we should ask the district for testing. Glad we turned that advice down as well. I guarantee that if you walk into a doctor’s office and subject yourself to endless tests, something wrong will turn up somewhere. Yet, your doctor would be guilty of malpractice if a single test or cutoff was used to determine your prognosis without taking a holistic view of your medical history and overall health. Too bad schools don’t take the same approach, and too bad they can’t be held accountable for the educational malpractice that occurs all too often.
One other point while I am ranting on the sad state of education. My older daughter last week needed some help with her math homework, which involved factoring. While helping her I asked her why she needed to know how to factor. Answer: because the teacher gave us this work. And why did the teacher do that? Answer: because it is in the math book. Ah Ha! That explains it – there is a conspiracy of math book publishers to crowd kids’ minds with useless information! How can anyone feel motivated to learn anything if it is presented as useless trivia which does not enhance one’s comprehension of the world or provide a practical benefit? (I am too afraid to ask her teacher if she can answer my question as to why kids need to learn factoring, but if I’ve made you curious, take a look here for starters).

more on arvus and whether it applies to women

The principle of arvus means that person a who has already fulfilled his/her (assuming arvus applies to women, see previous posts) mitzvah can still be motzi someone else, e.g. someone who has already said kiddush may recite kiddush for someone who has not. The gemara (Brachos 48) qualifies this with respect to birchas hamazon – the motzi has to have eaten a k’zayis of food. Rashi and Tosfos both question how this din works. The gemara elsewhere (Brachos 20) tells us that someone who is not a bar chiyuva d’oraysa, e.g. a katan, cannot be motzi a man who is mechuyav m’doraysa in bentching. Arvus seems to require parallelism between the chiyuv of the person being yotzei and the person being motzi him/her. How then can someone who ate only a k’zayis, who is only mechuyav mderabbanan in bentching, be motzi someone who ate to the point of satiation, k’dei seviya, who is chayav min hatorah - why is this case different than the case of a katan who cannot be motzi a gadol who ate k'dei seviya?
The simplest answer to this question is that of the BH”G, who denies the whole premis. Perhaps one who ate a k’zayis cannot be motzi someone who ate k'dei seviya - perhaps he can be motzi only someone else who ate a k’zayis! Rashi and Tosfos both reject this chiddush and offer other answers. Rashi explains that a katan is not a bar chiyuva at all – the obligation of chinuch rests entirely on his father (see previous discussion), but someone who ate a k’zayis becomes at least a bar chiyuva on a derabbanan level. Tosfos points out that this begs the question of how a katan can ever be motzi someone considering that he is never a bar chiyuva. Tosfos argues that chinuch does create a chiuv on the child m’derabbanan to do mitzvos, but a katan is still categorically different than a gadol who ate a k’zayis. A katan can never be rise to the level of bar chiyuva d’oraysa no matter how much he eats; a gadol has the potential to be a bar chiyuva d’oraysa if he eats the necessary shiur.
I am still mulling over in my brain what the hesber of the machlokes BH”G and Rashi and Tosfos is and what it tells us about how arvus works (any suggestions?), but for now I wanted to get back to the issue of arvus for women. R’ Akiva Eiger points out that the gemara (20b) lumps together women with ketanim (assuming their chiyuv in bentching is derabbanan). According to Rashi a katan may not have an independent chiyuv derabbanan to bentch, but a woman certainly does – if so, why should the principle of arvus not allow her to be motzi a gadol?! To play devil's advocate, this is only a problem l'shitaso of R' Akiva Eiger, but the Dagul m'Revava might take it as a proof that he is correct in excluding women completely from the principle of arvus.
(For more on the issue of whether a katan is a bar chiyuva, see Koveitz Shiurim of R’ Elchanan, # 30)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

shabbos kiddush - does arvus apply to women

The gemara in Brachos has a safeik whether women are chayavos in birchas hamazon min hatorah or not. The Rosh writes that since this issue is unresolved, a woman may not be motzi a man in bentching because her chiyuv may be derabbanan and his chiyuv is d’oraysa. Asks the Rosh, why should this distinction in the levels of chiyuvim matter? – just like a man who ate a k’zayis (chiyuv derabbanan) can be motzi a man who ate k’dei seviya (chiyuv d’oraysa) because of the principle of arvus (i.e. even if I have no chiyuv, I have to help someone else fulfill their chiyuvim), even if a woman’s chiyuv is derabbanan, she could be motzi a man through arvus?! (Arvus would theoretically work even if the one being motzi his/her friend ate nothing, e.g. someone can be motzi a friend in kiddush without drinking the kos, but there is a special din derabbanan by bentching that the motzi has to have eaten). The Rosh answers with a tremendous chiddush that the principle of arvus does not apply to women. The Dagul m’Revava raises a number of questions all based on this yesod of the Rosh, the most well known (O.C. 271) relating to the mitzvah of kiddush. According to the Magen Avraham, a man is yotzei his mitzvah of kiddush m’doraysa by reciting kiddush hayom in ma’ariv of Shabbos. How can a man be motzi his wife, who is chayeves in kiddush min hatorah, when he has already fulfilled his kiddush m’doraysa and the principle of arvus does not apply to women?!
R’ Akiva Eiger completely disagrees with the Dagel m’Revava’s reading of the Rosh. The Rosh never meant that arvus does not extend to women – what the Rosh meant is in a case where the status of chiyuv is a safeik, like the question of a woman’s obligation to bentch, we do not extend the principle of arvus. Perhaps the reason many women who ordinarily do not daven ma’ariv have the minhag of doing so on Shabbos and Y”T night is to avoid this issue raised by the Dagul m’Revava. Depending on how low you define the threshold for mitzvas kiddush, perhaps a woman wishing her husband “Good Shabbos” suffices on a d’orasya level (R’ Akiva Eiger). Furthermore, the Minchas Chinuch (again, thank you Bill Selliger) challenges the whole premis of the MG”A based on the gemara in Pesachim which says that zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim is an integral part of kiddush, which is lacking in ma’ariv. But unless I am missing something, there is another answer available based on yesterday’s discussion. Even though m’doraysa kiddush can be accomplished with a minimal statement mentioning kedushas shabbos, once Chazal added the obligations of kiddush being said al hakos b’makom seudah, then a failure to meet the derabbanan criteria should also mean the d’oraysa kiyum is not fulfilled either.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

where failure to fulfill a din derabbanan negates a kiyum d'oraysa

The Pri Megadim (Pesicha haKolleles 3:8) questions whether in a case where the Chachamim added extra criteria to the performance of a mitzvah and one failed to meet those criteria, is the kiyum d'oraysa of the mitzva also negated? One of the proofs to this issue comes from the case of a small sukkah which can fit a person’s head and body but not a table – although this sukkah is kosher m’doraysa, Tosfos (sukkah 3, brachos 11) writes that since it is pasul m’derabbanan one would not get any kiyum d’oraysa by using this sukkah. This chakira perhaps explains the debate in the first Mishna in Brachos. The Chachamim hold that keri’as shema should be recited only until chatzos – even though m’doraysa the mitzvah can be fulfilled until morning, the Chachamim set up a safeguard so people do not delay performing the mitzvah and come to forget about it. When Rabban Gamliel’s children came home past chatzos from a party, they asked their father whether they should recite kerias shema or not. Explains the PM”G, even though one cannot gain a kiyum mitzvah d’oraysa done deliberately not in accordance with the parameters set up by the Chachamim, here R’ Gamliel’s children missed the cutoff of chatzos only b’ones, unintentionally. R' Gamliel's children argued that violating a d'rabbanan b'ones should not negate a kiyum d'oraysa. I would just add two points: 1) the qualification for situations of ones perhaps points to the fact that lo tasur cannot be violated b’ones (whether that is the pshat here is admittedly debatable); 2) perhaps one could distinguish between different types of dinim derabbanan – is violating a seyag the same as violating other dinim derabbanan? To borrow another case from the PM”G, if someone recites birchas hamazon but leaves out the term “melech” from the bracha, which fails to meet the bracha formula set by the Chachamim, is that parallel to the other cases?

Friday, November 24, 2006

p' toldos - Yitzchak's reaction to having been tricked

Upon discovering that someone has usurp’s Eisav’s brachos, Yitzchak cries out (27:33), “Mi eifoh hu hatzad tzayid va’yavei li va’ochal m’kol b’terem tavo va’avaracheihu” – “Who was it that trapped food, brought it to me, I ate all of it before you came, and I blessed that person…”
The pasuk seems to stress the ancillary details of trapping, cooking, bringing the food, and Yitzchak's eating before getting to what we expect is the true focal point - the fact that the brachos have been stolen. Perhaps the wordiness serves to emphaisze that this was no casual pop-in who Yitzchak mistakenly blessed, but someone who had devised a careful plan with deliberate intent to deceive. My wife suggested a clever reading: perhaps the word “tzad” is a double entendere, referring not just to the trap laid for animals, but the trap laid for Yitzchak himself!

brachos from a tzadik - parshas toldos

Before getting to the hard questions, I just want to underscore one simple point in the parsha: a righteous person can bestow a bracha on someone that can radically affect that person’s life. A bracha is not just an expression of hope for the future, or good wishes, because were that the case why would Yitzchak not hope the best for both of his children, and why would Ya’akov risk so much to receive that bracha? The parsha only makes sense if we assume there is some tangible benefit to receiving a bracha from a tzadik. Now for the hard part – how does this bracha work? If a bracha is a type of prophetic revelation of future events, then whether or not Ya’akov did anything or stood before Yitzchak, the same future should have been foretold. If brachos are a tefillah asking Hashem to bestow certain gifts, how could Ya’akov have hoped to benefit from the tefillah of Yitzchak when Yitchak’s kavanah was on Eisav? – if I say a “borei pri ha’eitz” on a tomato, it obviously does not turn the fruit into an apple! The Rishonim grapple with these issues (see Derashon haRan, Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel). The simple answers assume that Yitzchak did not really have kavanah for Eisav but suspected someone else before him, or that Ya’akov’s being present merely thwarted Eisav’s receiving the brachos even if it accomplished nothing for himself. I don’t find these answers very satisfying and was drawn to the Abarbanel’s more substantive approach, but I am still trying to digest what he says. Going back to an idea discussed in a previous posting, the idea of bracha is perhaps related to the idea of dibbur being a “poel”. A women can become mekudeshes thorugh dibbur; we create a chalos of kedushas korban through dibbur; kiddush done through dibbur sanctifies shabbos; bais din’s declaration is “mekadesh” the new month – these are not just legal fictions, but the force of speech literally causes a change in state. The Abarbanel writes that Yitzchak’s bracha was like a carpenter who builds a window through which light now enters a house – once the window is there, the fact that the carpenter built it by mistake or wants the sun to shine elsewhere has absolutely no effect. Mashal l’mah hadavr domeh (l’aniyus da’ati): compare with Bais Shamai’s opinion that hekdesh b’ta’us is still hekdesh. Hekdesh bestows a status on the animal which makes it ra’uy for korban, but the fulfillment of the ma’aseh mitzvah is in the actual offering of the korban on mizbayach. Similarly, a bracha’s power is in the potential it invests in an individual to become the recipient of shefa from Hashem, but much still hinges on the individual’s efforts to bring that potential to fruition.

Minchas Chinuch - darkei emori

Since it is Thanksgiving (actually, the day after), special thanks to Bill Selliger for making my Minchas Chinuch learning that much easier – and on that note…
The gemara (B”K 83a) writes that someone who is “misaper kumi”, gets a specific type of haircut that shaves the forehead, has violated the issur of chukos ha’akum (darkei Emori) because that haircut was a specific non-Jewish practice (see Rashi). However, the gemara notes that someone who is “karov l’malchus”, who represents the Jewish people before non-Jewish kings, is permitted to take this type of haircut to conform with the societal norm. The Minchas Chinuch (262) asks how this can be permitted – how can the Chachamim allow a violation of an issur d’oraysa for the sake of appearance? The Bais Yosef answers that “hatzalas yisrael” is different. Minchas Chinuch quotes a second answer from achronim that the entire issur of darkei emori is b’geder “masaro hakasuv l’chachamim”, defined by the limits set by the chachamim, who in this case excluded krovim l’malchus from the issur. This is implied by Tosfos in B”K who writes that kerovim l’malchus were not included in the original gezeirah. Minchas Chinuch does not elaborate further, but there seems to be a significant difference between these answers: if “hatzalas yisrael” is the heter, the permissibility for kerovim l’malchus to get this haircut should apply only to the narrow range of cases where Jewish life is threatened unless represented before the Kings court.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

chukos ha'akum - the issur of copying non-Jewish practices

I assume this is the inyana d’yoma …
The gemara (Avodah Zara 11) discusses the practice of burning the belongings of a dead king, which was both the practice for Jewish kings as well as non-Jewish kings. Why does this not constitute a chok of avodah zarah which the Torah prohibits copying? The gemara answers “sereifa lav chukah elah chashivusa”. There are two possible ways to read the gemara’s answer: 1) even though burning was a practice of idolatry, since it also practically served the function of honoring the dead kings, it was permitted; 2) the burning was done simply to honor kings and was never an idolatrous practice, hence it is permitted. A very important nafka minah between the two readings is whether a practice used for idolatry is permitted to be duplicated if done for some practical function – the Ran, based on this gemara, holds this is not a problem, but Tosfos disagrees. Support for Tosfos comes from the sugya in Sanhedrin 52 which quotes a pasuk to justify using a sword to carry out the punishment of misas sayif, as that was the method also used in idolatry – if using a sword is functionally the best way to carry out this penalty (the gemara tells us other ways constitute “misa minuveles”), why does the gemara need a pasuk as a matir? Therefore, Tosfos argues that there are two types of practices the issur of chukos ha’aku”m relates to: practices that are used in the worship of avodah zarah, which would be prohibited even if they serve a useful function unless we have a pasuk as a matir, and practices which aku”m do which are not used in avodah zarah worship but are just customs or social norma – here a matir is also needed, but finding a functional use for the practice or behavior suffices. In a nutshell, the machlokes Tosfos and the Ran may boil down to a simple definition of terms: is chukkas ha’aku”m a prohibition against idolatrous practices, or practices done by idolotors (with the caveat that they serve no greater function). What if all non-Jewish doctors and hospitals have doctors wear white robes – is that prohibited because of chukos ha’aku”m? The Mahari”k addressed this very question and held that unless there is a breach of tzniyus, based on the Ran unless the manner of dress is used in the practice of idolatry there is no issue, which is how the Rama paskens. The GR”A (Y.D. 178:7), however, favors the opinion of Tosfos, which leads to far greater stringencies – even in matters of social norma, a matir based on functionality or practical benefit is needed if a gentile practice is duplicated. Does a tie serve a function other than imitating the social norma of the gentile society? If not, then wearing one might not be permitted! From celebrating Thanksgiving (and soon to be inyana d’yoma: office holiday parties) to yalmukahs in the workplace, determining where to draw the line in issues of chukos ha’aku”m is an inevitable dilemma of living in a free society that encourages “blending in” with the crowd. Tosofos and the Ran are the starting point for working out the details.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

would they have banned the printing press?

I mentioned to my wife that blogs were going to be a topic of discussion at the Agudah convention. Her response – “Would they have banned the printing press?”
Nothing I can add to that.

the mitzvah of kevurah and sarah's burial

Avraham approached the people of Bnei Cheis and asked for a burial plot for Sarah, ‘v’ekbira es meisi milfanei’, so that her body could be removed from before him for burial.
1) Ramban infers from the words “before him” that had Avraham not been able to purchase a burial plot, he would have carried Sarah’s body with him interred in a coffin. The Chavel edition of the Ramban notes that this contradicts the Ramban’s position in Toras haAdam that burial must be done in the ground. The Klei Chemdah suggests that there are 2 reasons for burial in the ground: a) because the human body comes from the ground and needs to be returned to its rightful place; b) so that the body does not suffer bizayon, disgrace, by lying in the open. The Ramban took Avraham’s words to mean that even if he was denied a burial plot in the ground, he would still fulfill the aspect of the mitzvah of kevurah of preventing the body from coming to disgrace by interring the body in a coffin.
2) The gemara (Sanhedrin 46b) debates whether the reason for the mitzvah of burial is “m’shum bizyonei”, so that the body is not disgraced, or “m’shum kapparah”, so that the dead receives kapparah by the body decomposing. The nafka minah would be if a person requests that his body not be buried – if the reason for burial is to avoid disgrace, to some degree it is the family who suffer disgrace by their relative not being buried, and a person has no right to inflict this situation on others; however, if the purpose of burial is for person kaparah, a person has a right to forgo the process. The gemara asks if the reason is kaprah, why do tzadikim who have not sinned need to be buried? The gemara answers “ain tzadik b’aretz”, everyone needs some degree of kaparah. The Yismach Moshe writes that given Rashi citation of the Midrash that Sarah was untainted by sin like a 20 year old, she indeed was a perfect tzadeikes and perhaps did not need the kaparah of kevurah. Therefore, Avraham pleaded for a burial plot “milfanei”, so that his bizayon at not burying his wife should be removed from before him, but not for her sake, as she transcended the need for kaparah.

Monday, November 20, 2006

hiddur mitzvah - ner chanukah, ner shabbos

This is a follow up based on some of the comments to this post. We know that if one does not have an adequate number of candles, ner shabbos takes precedence over ner chanukah (is it almost that time of year?). What would be the din in the following scenario: Erev Shabbos Chanukah falls out on the first day of Chanukah and a person has only 3 candles - since Erev Shabbos will be the second night of Chanukah, 2 menorah candles need to be lit, but on the other hand, the minhag is to light 2 candles for neiros Shabbos. You only have 3 candles, so which mitzvah gets shortchanged?
My 2 cents upfront: ner Chanukah wins, but that’s all I’ll say for now – what’s your sevara to agree or disagree?

yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos

If sicha is a “lower” level fo speech, e.g. sichas chulin, al tarbeh sicha im ha’isha (my wife pointed that one out), and dibbur is a”higher” level speech reserved for Torah, e.g. divrei Torah (see previous post), how do we make sense of the statement yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoseir m’torasan shel banim? One approach (which seems the most popular from my quick glance around in some seforim) is that the message is akin to gedolah shimusha yoseir m’limuda or yafeh sha’ah achas b’olam hazeh m’kol chayei olam haba– middos and derech eretz can only be taught through observing behavior, and derech eretz itself is a prerequisite for Torah, hence the sicha of Eliezer which is part of the whole behavioral lesson of the Avos takes on a significance that exceeds halaca itself. But in line with R’ Tzadok (jf you see both pieces inside the parallel is striking), the Sefas Emes offers a different explanation. Sefas Emes (like R’ Tzadok) draws a dichotomy between sicha—tefilla—eved on one hand and dibbur—torah—ben on the other. However, the dichotomy is not linear, i.e. unlike other meforshim understood, there are not mutually exclusive stages of eved/tefilla/sicha vs. dibbur/torah. Rather, every stagein life is both an opportunity for both sicha and dibbur, eved and ben, chayei olam of torah and chayei sha’ah of tefila, a chance to bask in the accomplishment of reaching new heights, but also a chance to strive to that next hihest rung that now stands just a small jump away. Yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos – the tefila that expresses the desire to grow to that next level, the feeling that one’s accomplishment is still just sicha and one must still work as an eved, is of greater import than the feeling of torasan shel banim, the feeling of attainment and accomplishment that are the divrei Torah of the stage reached.

Friday, November 17, 2006

sicha vs.dibbur

Tonights chaburah in R’ Tzadok will focus bl”n on the difference between tefillah and Torah. R’ Tzadok notes that tefilah is associated with the word sicha, e.g. in this week’s parsha Chazal darshen "vaYeitzei Yitzchak lasuach basadeh" to mean Yitzchak davened mincha; Torah, however, is associated with dibbur, e.g. divrei Torah. This is not just a semantic point, but tells us about the relative value of each activity – sicha is used for lighter matters, e.g. sichas chulin shel talmidei chachamim, but dibbur indicates serious speech; tefillah is relatively less important that engaging in Talmud Torah (see Kedushas Shabbos for greater elaboration). However, it seems that this yesod is belied by a statement of Chazal from this week’s parsha – yafeh sichasan shel avdei avos yoseir m’torasan shel banim - the conversation of Eliezer is recorded in elaborate detail, demonstrating its superior value to the halachos of Torah which are not spelled out, but must be derived from minute details of sparsely worded text. How indeed can it be true that the value of Eliezer's common speech outweighs the value of Torah, even if it is torasan shel banim? If you’re curious and live in the 5T, chaburah tonight at 7:30 bl”n, 26 Columbia.

l'olam bahem ta'avodu (III) - Eliezer eved Avraham

Anon1 has not let me off the hook yet, pointing out Gittin 40 where the gemara allows inheritors to fulfill their father's death bed instructions to free a shifcha. Isn’t this a violation of l’olam bahem ta’avodo? True, mitzva l’kayeim divrei hameis and fulfill a last request, but presumably not at the cost of violating an issur d’oraysa! Tosfos (38a d”h kol) answers that since the inheritors of the estate cannot use this eved for work because they are bound to fulfill the deathbed request of their father, there is no violation of freeing the slave. There are two possible ways to understand Tosfos' answer: most achronim understand Tosfos to mean that the father had already freed the slave with a verbal declaration, and that prevents the inheritors from using the slave; the children in this case are merely finalizing matters with a shtar shichrur, the formal emancipation contract. One could also possibly learn Tosfos as saying that the children cannot use the slave because of mitzvah l'kayeim divrei hameis; once the slave cannot be used for work, the prohibition of l'olam bahem ta'avodu categorically no longer applies (this possibility is raised in the Rashba). Does being blocked from enjoying the labor of a slave automatically give license to grant freedom - is the issur fundementally designed to preserve the slave's burden of labor, which in this case is inapplicable, or designed to maintain the status of servitude, which applies irrespective of the burden of work? Be that as it may, as Anon1 pointed out, the Rashba offers an alternative answer more in line with the Ramban’s approach to the whole sugya. The issur of emancipating a slave applies only if freedom is granted as a free gift with nothing received in return. In the gemara’s case, the freedom was in exchange for the great benefit the slave had given the master during his lifetime.
Minyan l’inyan: according to many meforshim, Eliezer served as the shliach of either Avraham or Yitzchak to be mekadeish Rivka, and although an eved is pasul for shlichus of gittin and kiddushin, Eliezer (based on Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer) was freed for the mission. One can use some combination of the above sevaros to how Avraham (or Yitzchak) could do that without violating any issur.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

girls lighting shabbos candles from age three

When Rivka comes to Yitzchak’s home the Torah tells us “Vayive’ha Yitzchak ha’ohela Sarah imo vayikach es Rivka vat’hi lo l’isha vaye’ehaveha”, Yitzchak first brought Rivka into the tent of his mother Sarah, and then he married her and loved her. Rashi explains that there were three miracles that were always present in the tent of Sarah – the dough was blessed, the candles remained lit from erev Shabbos to erev Shabbos, and a cloud enveloped the tent. Despite all the miracles which Eliezer related as having occurred on his journey, Yitzchak did not take Rivka as his wife until she proved capable of duplicating the miracles of his mother Sarah.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos vol.15, see here) notes that the assumption of Rashi seems to be that Rivka performed the mitzvah of hadlakas neiros Shabbos even before marriage (see the footnotes of the sicha which discuss whether an arusa is chayeves in hadlakas neiros), even (according to Rashi’s chronology) from the young age of three years old. I have not noticed it lately, but I do recall years ago Lubavitch actively campaigning to have all women, even little girls, participate in the mitzvah of lighting neiros Shabbos.
Regardless of the merits of this proof (might the hadlakas neiros here have been a test of some sort and not simply a kiyum of ner Shabbos?), there is a custom in many homes of having girls light Shabbos candles. The minhag is brought by the Aruch haShulchan, and I have seen quoted in a number of places that this was the practice of the Brisker Rav. My older daughters (11, 8) do light candles, but not my 5 year old. Assuming the hadlakah is a kiyum of mitzvas chinuch, I am not sure a three or five year old is ready for the mitzvah yet (especially using matches and a candle), so in our house we wait for the girls to get a little bigger.

more on lo techaneim and l'olam bahem ta'avodu

The gemara Gittin 38a tells us that one who frees an eved kna’ani violates a mitzvas aseh of l’olam bahem ta’avodu. Assuming this is a real derasha and not an issur derabbanan (as most rishonim hold), how is it that we do find cases where a slave may be freed? The Mishna itself tells us that in a case of a chatzi eved chatzi ben chorin, e.g. a slave owned by to masters who was freed by one and is now caught in between being a slave or a full yisrael, there is a mitzvah on the second owner to free the slave. The gemara Brachos 47b also tells us that R’ Eliezer freed his slave to make a minyan – how could that be permitted? The gemara in Brachos asks this very question and answers that a mitzvah is different, i.e. freeing a slave for purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah is permitted. The gemara continues and asks isn’t this mitzvah a mitzvah haba’ah b’aveira, and answers that “mitzvah d’rabim” is different and overrides the aveirah. Tosfos in Gittin uses this same concept to explain freeing the chatzi eved – in the state of half-eved the person cannot fulfill peru u’revu, which is a fundamental mitzvah, and therefore the greater mitzvah overrides the issur of freeing the eved. However, the Ramban in Gittin suggests a completely different approach. According to Ramban, the mitzvah of freeing a slave is patterned after the issur of ‘lo techaneim’, not giving a free gift to a non-Jew. Yesterday’s comments by anon1 suggested that the benefit received by the master by the slaves years of hard work render his release not a free gift, but a gift in exchange for services provided. If this is what the Ramban meant, the problem is (as asked by the Magen Avraham and Turei Even) why does the gemara in Brachos need to invoke the idea that the slave of “mitzvah d’rabim” to obviate the problem of mitzvah haba’ah b’aveirah– as long as the release is not a free gift there is no issur?! It seems that a release on the basis of past service provided is not sufficient – there has to be some pressing need to release the slave into freedom, a need like “mitzvah d’rabim” which is strong enough to override the prohibition. The disagreement between Tosfos and the Ran is whether that need is doche “l’olam bahem ta’avodo”, or is the issur of releasing the slave “hutra” because it is no longer a free gift.
Returning to the original question of how Avraham could give matanos to the children of the pilagshim, the gemara in Sanhedrin asks what these matanos were and answers that they were the magical “shem tumah”. The Margolias haYam in Sanhedrin quotes a source as saying the reason the gemara asked what the matanos were and did not take the word at face value (as meaning some type of presents) is precisely because of this issur of “lo techaneim”! I don’t get the punchline, and the Margolias haYam does not explain further – does “lo techaneim” only apply to concrete gifts and not to abstractions like a “shem tumah”?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

the excesses of fundamentalsim

The critique of “fundamentalist” atheism which I excerpted yesterday (which I would extend to any form of fundamentalism) begs the question of what exactly is meant by the term fundamentalist. A comment even questioned the applicability of the term outside the realm of religion. Is anyone committed to an ideology a fundamentalist? Were that the case, the term would be meaningless, as we are all fundamentalists with respect to certain issues/beliefs. It seems to me that what defines a fundamentalist (as the term has come to be used) is the inability to step outside one’s own perspective and see things from the "others" point of view, the inability to recognize that being committed to a position does not demand deprecating and dismissing the other side's arguments as completely without merit or validity, or denying that one’s own position might suffer deficiencies that require refinement and better explication. A fundamentalist looks down from the pinnacle of having arrived at the TRUTH, and truth brooks no compromise and requires no nuance. No matter what the argument or evidence to the contrary, the fundamentalist has a response that affirms the superiority of his/her position - there is no such thing as an unresolved dilemma, a challenge that cannot be met, or even a weakness in an argument, for to acknowledge any of these is to surrender debating points to the other side. The religion/atheism debate is a classic case in point. I want to focus on the side of religion because I am admittedly biased in favor of belief, and therefore the excesses here trouble me more than the excesses of the likes of Richard Dawkins. Much written in defense of religion bothers me as failing to be honest in recognizing the weak as well as strong points in arguments for belief. When learning a sugya a lamdan worthy of that title can distinguish a chiluk that has the ring of emes, and an answer which b’dochak may solve a problem but is unsatisfying, and a kashe that remains b’tzarich iyun because no answer has been discovered. Religious fundamentalism of the Torah variety has lost sensitivity to these gradations in the zeal to defeat the opposition and “defend the faith”. There is no sense of humility, no recognition that sometimes the challenge is stronger than the teirutzim proposed, no acknowledgement that sometimes it is OK to say tzarich iyun or recognize a position as a dochak, and worst of all, there is a cavalier dismissal even of objective evidence that poses a challenge, replacing ‘ain l’dayan elah mah she’einav ro’os’ with a solipsistic denial of what is before one’s own eyes. Yes, when R’ Akiva Eiger said tzarich iyun he did not have someone waiting in the wings to pounce and say “Aha! If you can’t solve that it proves your religion is defective”, which is very much the case in the charged debates on religion and atheism. But in the long run, the extremism of the opposition does not excuse tone deafness to what constitutes a reasoned argument and what constitutes intellectual gymnastics, hair splitting, or worse. Tzarich iyun is not surrender, but a recognition that the struggle for answers is an ongoing process of learning. The same holds true in the debate of science vs. Torah - sacrificing mesorah to the god of science is not the best approach, but neither is glibly asserting truisms that contradict reason or evidence. What is the answer? It is the claim by anyone to know THE answer which troubles me - perhaps for many individuals there is an answer of one sort or another, but that is not the same as a total resolution of the issue with no nettlesome details that need to be worked out (at least I haven't discovered one yet, which will inevitably draw the critique that I have either not read enough science or my emunah is lacking otherwise I would see the truth.) The argument for religion is not that faith provides neat and simple answers to all life's questions, but that in spite of lacking answers to a great many questions, a life of religious faith is a far better choice than a life of disbelief.

chazon ish on basar b'chalav with neveilah

The gemara derives from the 3x repetition of the issur of basar b’chalav in the torah that there are 3 prohibitions associated with the issur: cooking, eating, and deriving benefit from basar b’chalav. If one cooks neveilah meat with milk, since the meat is already assur to eat because of the issur neveilah, we apply the rule of “ain issur chal al issur” (you can’t prohibit something already prohibited) and the issur of eating basar b’chalav has no effect. The Rambam (Peirush haMishnayos, Krisus) adds what he calls a “nekudah nifla’ah”, an amazing point. Not only does the issur of eating basar b’chalav not apply to this neveilah cooked in milk, but according to the Rambam the issur hana’ah does not apply either. Even though neveilah is not assur b’hana’ah so it would seem “ain issur chal al issur” does not apply, since the issur hana’ah is derived from the same pasuk as the issur achilah, the two always go hand in hand. Hana’ah is just an extended form of the issur of eating.
What is the din regarding drinking the milk in this neveilah b’chalav mixture? Since the milk is not neveilah and there is no issue of "ain issur chal al issur", one might conclude that the milk does become prohibited because of basar b’chalav. However, many achronim assume that the milk itself does not become assur either. The Chazon Ish (Y.D. 22) offers a fascinating hesber (which I’m not sure I fully grasp) which sounds very much like the Rogatchover’s distinction between “harkavah mizgit” and “harkavah shichnit”. A composite can consist of multiple items simply located in proximity, or can consist of a synthesis into a new whole. Basar b’chalav according to C. I. is a harkavah mizgit – both food items must form a new synthesis, a cheftza in which both parts adopt a new identity of issur basar b’chalav. Since in our case the meat cannot attain the status of issur basar b’chalav because it is neveilah, the milk also will never become assur because this new harkavah mizgit is missing a necessary component part of the synthesis. What stands out in this case is that the harkavah mizgit is being prevented not by the physical absence of meat, but by the meat being unable to change its halachic status to a different state – to me that sounds like quite a chiddush!

lo techaneim - avraham's gifts to the pilagshim

Last night after Ma'ariv a friend asked me why the matanos (gifts) Avraham gave to the Bnei haPilagshim (25:6) were not a violation of the issur of 'lo techaneim', which prohibits giving a free gift (for which one receives nothing in return) to a non-Jew. I am not familar with anyone who asks this question and have never thought about it - so far, no ideas have come to mind.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

fundementalist atheism

From an article in Wired Magazine on New Atheism, the radical form of atheism espoused by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett:
"The New Atheists will not let us off the hook simply because we are not doctrinaire believers. They condemn not just belief in God but respect for belief in God. Religion is not only wrong; it's evil..."
"My Pilgrimage is about to become more difficult. On the one hand, it is obvious that the political prospects of the New Atheism are slight. People see a contradiction in its tone of certainty. Contemptuous of the faith of others, its proponents never doubt their own belief. They are fundamentalists. I hear this protest dozens of times. It comes up in every conversation. Even those who might side with the New Atheists are repelled by their strident tone…The New Atheists never propose realistic solutions to the damage religion can cause…The New Atheists care mainly about correct belief. This makes them hopeless, politically."
(I'm less interested in the critique of atheism than with the critique of fundementalism, which is definitely something those of us in the religious community should bear in mind.)

outreach - pardes or pundak?

There is a difference of opinion in the Midrash as to what the “eishel” Avraham set up was – a pundak (inn), or a pardes (orchard). If taken literally, the Midrash seems to be offering unnecessary details that don’t add much to our appreciation of the text. The Maharal, however, suggests that these two views symbolically represent two very different approaches to kiruv. The term pardes is used by Chazal to represent higher wisdom, e.g. the story of four Tana’im who were “nichnisu l’pardes” to experience some high level of giluy Shechina. The term ‘pundak’ is a simple inn that the average person can sit down in and have a meal and drink. One approach to outreach is to present the world of Torah in all its complexity, with all its demands of intellectual rigor and thought, despite the fact that this may appeal only to an intellectually sophisticated audience. A different approach is to present a Shabbos meal, a tisch, a niggun – the menu of the pundak that even the average Joe can appreciate – and attract the masses to the Torah way of life. The pundak approach seems to have far more populist appeal – it seems to me that more stories of ba’alei tshuvah focus on being attracted to the sense of family and community of Judaism and the beauty of a religious lifestyle than on intellectual arguments for religion or the depths of Talmud Torah. On the other hand, I find myself drawn to the pardes more than to a hot cholent (maybe that’s why the R’ Tzadok chaburah has such a low attendance – no refreshments) or any aesthetic beauty of mitzvos. Eilu v’eilu…

Monday, November 13, 2006

the redemption of Lot - r' tzadok on tzedaka

The Midrash and Yerushalmi refer to tzedaka as stam “mitzvah”. R’ Tzadok offers two reasons for this: 1) Each particular mitzvah “corrects” a specific aspect of Creation. Only tzedaka, however, brings about a global uplifting of the entire world because it does not effect just a part of the person (e.g. tefillin relates specifically to the arm), but effects the entire person who is a microcosm of reality. 2) Tzedaka is ingrained in the Jewish persona – no matter how far a Jew has strayed, he/she is apt to perform some charitable act in their lifetime that reflects their Jewish roots. Chazal tell us that Avraham, the paradigm of chessed, stands at the threshold to Gehennom waiting to pull back any Jew who falls there, for every Jew has some merit of charity.
With this idea we can perhaps explain why Rashi focuses on Lot’s merit in not revealing that Avaraham and Sarah were husband and wife but does not mention Lot’s hachnasas orchim. A Jew does not become a ba’al chessed because he/she does a lot of charitable acts; a Jew is born a ba’al chessed almost as a genetic aspect of his/her personality. However, Chazal (Baba Basra 10) tell us “chessed l’umim chatas”, the chessed of non-Jews is not ingrained in their personality, but a non-Jew becomes a ba’al chessed because he/she engages in acts of charity. The difference is these acts are considered to always be tainted by ulterior motive (Michtav M’Eliyahu I:191), even something as subtle as responding to the emotional need to do good. For this reason, a Jew who pledges tzedaka on the condition that his child be healed is considered a tzadik, as he/she would have given the money anyway, but the same assumption is not make about a non-Jew (Tos Pesachim 8b). The gemara (B.B 4) tells us that Daniel was punished for advising Nevuchatnezer to perform tzedaka to aver an decree against him. At first glance this is hard to understand – if tzedaka would make Nevuchadnezer less of a rasha, then why would there be any objection to it, and if he would be guilty despite his charitable acts, why should the decree against him be mitigated? Perhaps the explanation is that the superficial act of charity does weigh in a person’s favor, but where chessed l’umin chatas the core of the person remains the same. The superficial covering over of sin is not something to strive for. Various Midrashim contrast the wickedness of Sdom with that of Yerushalyim at the time of the churban – in both cases people engaged in Avodah Zarah, murder, and licentious relationships, but Yerushalyim is credited with fulfilling tzedaka (Sanhedrin 104), while Sdom’s fate was ultimately sealed because they did no charitable acts (Ch. haRan Sanhedrin 56b). It is not the superficial act of charity which is the distinction, but the underlying personality – a Jew, even one who engages in the most vile behavior, is still assumed to have a core the descends from Avraham and marked as a ba’al chessed. Lot may have engaged in acts of chessed, but these acts did not form the core of his personality. When push came to shove, it was the simple act of silence that saved Avraham which was considered his greatest merit.

Friday, November 10, 2006

the zechus and rescue of Lot

As the city of Sdom is destroyed, the Torah tells us “vayizkor Elokim es Avraham,” Hashem remembered Avraham and saved Lot from the destruction. The simple reading of the pasuk perhaps gives the impression that Lot was saved in the merit of Avraham. However, Rashi interprets the clause to refer to Lot’s own merit. When Avraham was travelling through Egypt with Sarah, he professed that she was his sister. Lot obviously knew that they were husband and wife, but nonetheless kept quiet and went along with the ruse. In repayment for his silence, Hashem rewarded Lot with rescue.
The Alter m’Slabodka (I could not find this last night in Ohr HaTzafun – if anyone digs it up, please let me know) asks why Rashi calls our attention specifically to this merit. Lot was Avraham’s nephew, and as depicted in the various episodes of Braishes, was consistently the beneficiary of rewards based on that relationship. It would have been truly callous of Lot to turn in his own uncle! Surely a much greater zechus for Lot is the remarkable feat of hachnasas orchim he performed in the midst of the wicked city of S’dom itself, taking in the wandering angels despite great risk to himself and his family. Yet, that entire parsha is overlooked – why?
I hate to do it, but I’m leaving you with a teaser to think about (or find the hidden [pun intended] Ohr Tzafun) because I intend to try to deal with this in the R' Tzadok chaburah and can't risk giving the game away in advance. However, in response to a much appreciated comment yesterday, here are some mareh mekomos for those who can’t attend. I try to connect R' Tzadok's theme to the parsha; the piece we are up to relates to the mitzvah of tzedaka, which ties into S'dom's guilt and can shed some light on the Alter's kashe. Bl"n summary next week.
1) R’ Tzadok haKohein, Kedushas Shabbos p.2 d”h vahapashut
2) Baba Basra 10a “chessed l’umim chatas”
3) Baba Basra 4a “Daniel lama ne’enash”
4) Pesachim 8b, Tosfos d”h “sheyizkeh”
5) Michtav m’Eliyahu I p.291 (lishma)
6) Parashas Derachim, Derush 18, esp the Midrash in the opening
7) Yechezkel 16:49 “Hinei zeh haya avon S’dom achoseich…v’yad ani v’evyon lo hechzika”
8) Chiddushi haRan Sanhedrin 56b (note the proof from S’dom)
9) Sanhedrin 104b
Question: does giving a lot of charity make you a “ba’al chessed”, or is someone who is a “ba’al chessed” motivated to give a lot of charity? What comes first – chicken or the egg?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

was avraham a yisrael or a ben noach?

Was Avraham a Yisrael or a ben Noach? Before you get to essays in the Parashas Derachim (who made the question famous) and fancy questions of whether Avraham kept Shabbos (mitzvah on a yisrael, but assur for a ben Noach), take a look at this Rashi in Avodah Zarah daf 3a d”h Nimrod, my rough translation: “Nimrod threw Avraham Avinu in Ur Kasdim because Avraham refused to accept the worship of idolotry which is prohibited to a ben Noach. Avraham was a ben Noach, for he was not present at mattan Torah…”

Sarah's laughter

After hearing the blessing/promise (see meforshim) of the visitor/angels that she would have a son, Sarah Imeinu cannot restrain herself from laughter, albeit “b’kirba”, in the depths her heart. Nonetheless, Hashem immediately rebukes her for having the slightest doubt that such a promise or prophecy could come true. Yet, in last weeks’ parsha we read that Avraham also laughed when he was told that he would have a son, and surprisingly he receives no rebuke. Why the difference? The classical approach (Rashi) is to distinguish different types of laughter – the laughter of Avraham was one of joy, the laughter of Sarah was one of doubt. The Meshech Choma offers a brilliant insight based on a Rambam we discussed in the past. The Rambam writes in Into to Peirush haMishna that what Hashem privately promises a Navi may not be fulfilled – it is subject to terms and conditions, such as the Navi being required to remain at a high level of tzikdus, e.g. although Hashem promised to protect Ya'akov, Ya’akov was fearful of encountering Eisav because he thought his sins would negate the promise. Yet, continues the Rambam, nevuah, words that a prophet is instructed to publicly proclaim, are guaranteed to come to fruition (see Rambam Yesodei HaTorah ch 10 that a Navi can be tested by seeing whether his words are fulfilled). When Avraham heard the private promise told to him that he would have children, he laughed as he could not conceive of his being worthy of such a zechus coming to fruition. However, Sarah heard the promise of children uttered by a Navi – Avraham was told to change her name to Sarah (17:15-16) and tell her she would have a son. A promise proclaimed by a Navi is unconditionally guaranteed. Therefore, Sarah’s laughter was inappropriate.
(See Maharal, Gevuros Hashem ch 7 for more on this yesod fo the Rambam)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Highlights - chaburah in R' Tzadok haKohein

The Ishbitza asks why Avraham did not perform the mitzvah of milah before it was given, considering that he observed all other mitzvos? The Ishbitza writes (see here for other approaches) that the mitzvah of milah was a chiddush, as our a priori perspective is that a perfect G-d should create perfectly formed creations – it smacks of chutzpa to suggest that G-d created mankind with a ‘defect’ of orlah. Therefore, Avraham waited for the tzivuy of Hashem. As we learned in the past, the Ishbitza sees man as placed in an existential state of “incompleteness” so that he can earn schar though his own efforts; the tzivuy of milah underscores this mission. Continuing that theme, we have been learning in R’ Tzadok that this concept of perfecting the world is the role of tzelem Elokim and can be accomplished through derech eretz, e.g. farming, physical work, or through learning Torah, which is the ideal. Just as G-d created the world through speech, through speech of Torah one emulates G-d and impacts the world. R’ Tzadok elsewhere (Tzidkas haTzadik #90) elaborates: the physical world, the nefashos of klal Yisrael, and the Torah are mapped directly to each other. The change in the nefashos of each dor causes a change in the way the chachamim of the generation perceive the Torah, which in turn alters and builds the physical world. A machlokes over whether something is a treifa or not means that for chacham X who paskens treifa the physical reality is such that the animal is a treifa, and for chacham Y who paskens kosher the physical reality is such that the animal is kosher (this is understood if you work with a constructivist theory of truth, not a correspondence theory). The gemara (Avodah Zarah 3) tells us that in the future day of judgment the non Jews will claim that all their constructive works like building bridges and markets was for the sake of Torah. In light of R’ Tzadok, we can understand this claim (see the Brisker Rav al haTorah for a similar analysis) – although the intention of the non Jews was obviously not to benefit Torah, any physical change in the world, be it a new building, an improvement in technology, etc. ultimately stems from a change in the understanding of Torah which directly remaps to a changed, improved physical reality . The non Jewish construction is just a fulfillment of the new map of Torah being expressed on a physical level. With this concept, it becomes very clear how limud haTorah brings about not just a ruchniyus benefits, but is also a building of the world and fulfillment of being tzelem Elokim.
This week: Friday night, 7:45, Tiferes Tzvi Yeshiva Minyan, 26 Columbia Ave, Cedarhurst.

good chinuch does not treat kids like pavlov's dogs

“Skillful teaching involves facilitating the process by which kids come to grapple with complex ideas—and those ideas, as John Dewey has told us, have to emerge organically from the real-life interests and concerns of the kids. "Which is bigger, 5/7 or 9/11?" The correct answer is, "Who cares?" But kids care very much about how fast they are growing. Within that context, the skills necessary to figure it out become interesting to most kids. "What's the difference between a simile and a metaphor?" Same answer; few members of our species would find that distinction intrinsically motivating—but kids are highly interested in writing a story about dinosaurs or how a spaceship carries them away. In the context of a task that matters to students, the specific skills we care about can be taught naturally without sugarcoating, without games, and above all without offering kids little doggie biscuits for doing what we tell them.” (Alfie Kohn)
So how should gemara or chumash be taught? Is it about memorizing a list of unknown words or terms, spitting back concepts on a test, all in the hopes of a pizza party, raffle ticket, or good grade? Or should students be engaged by challenging to think about issues and ideas because they are inherently valuable, interesting, and worth discussing? And how do you create a lesson that does that? More importantly, are the schools that are charging an arm and a leg for tuition striving for the excellent teaching that draws students to think and learn through discovery and curiosity, or do schools settle for enforcing compliance to a rigid curriculum and behavior code that reinforces rote learning of fact with external reward systems like pizza parties and raffles?
Warning: thinking about these questions may cause the desire to rip your hair out of your head when your older kids tell you about their school day.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

davening for the donuts

My son came home from school last week and told me that the principal announced in the middle of davening that he bought donuts for all the boys, but he expects them to finish davening nicely so they can earn their reward. My son commented that 1) everyone who started davening well from that point was just davening for the donuts, so what’s the point; 2) the principal was obviously not going to return or throw out boxes of donuts that he already purchased, so why make conditions?
Too bad the principal of the school is not as intelligent as my 7th grade son.

(If you are interested in the abused system of reward by incentive (or as my wife puts it, jumping through hoops to earn the fish), the man to read is Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards, or see for some interesting articles. I can’t say I’m persuaded by everything he writes, but it is certainly worth considering. He hits the nail right on the head in claiming schools stress short term compliance with expected behaviors over long term inculcation of values - external compliance wins out over internal motivation. Reinforcing good davening with extrinsic rewards gets kids to daven better for the moment, but unless time is taken to build some internal motivation and understanding of davening, why should a kid daven when there is no reward? And if a school run minyan is not the place for that internal value of tefillah to be developed and nurtured, what is?)

mar'is ayin

1) Beitzah 9 – the Mishna records a machlokes Bais Shamai and Bais Hillel whether a ladder can be carried from one bird coup to another. The gemara writes that the issur here is one of mar'is ayin because a ladder is used to repair roofs. Rashi (d”h haro’eh) explains that carrying the ladder gives the appearance that one is violating the issur of working on Yom Tov.
2) Krisus 21 – Even though there is no issur of eating the blood of a fish, the gemara says that it is prohibited to gather the blood in a cup to drink. Rashi (d”h she’kinso) explains that should someone see blood being drunk, he/she will come to the mistaken impression that it is permitted to drink any blood, i.e. even animal blood, which is an issur d’oraysa.
From these two snippits it seems that there are two different reasons for the issur of mar'is ayin: Rashi in Beitzah focusses on the onlooker having the misimpression that the person engaged in some act is violating an issur (see also Rashi d”h kol makom Avodah Zarah 12a “haro’eh choshdo b’dvar aveirah”), while Rashi in Krisus focusses on the onlooker him/herself perhaps being led to err in halacha based on what he/she witnesses. Interesting that the Badei haShulchun (Hilchos basar b’Chalav 87:4 Beiurim d”h Davka) cites these sources, but fails to mention another relevant case from Hilchos Basar b’Chalav:
3) Chulin 107 – One is not permitted to eat meat at the same table as someone eating a dairy meal. The gemara questions whether this would be permitted if the two eaters are ‘makpid’ not to share food with each other. The gemara answers ‘yomru kol hasrikim assurim u’serikei Baysus mutarim?’, an expression borrowed from Pesachim meaning that we do not distinguish between someone like Baysus who is a very fast baker and other people. Explains Rabeinu Gershom: it would not be apparent to an onlooker that the two people eating together are makpid not to share food, which would lead the onlooker to think it is permitted for any two people to eat basar b’chalav together. Rabeinu Gershom’s concern is not that the onlooker might think that the two people eating together are violating an issur, but that the onlooker him/herself will be led to violate an issur based on his/her misunderstanding the situation.
It seems to me that Rashi stressed the need to avoid appearing doing something wrong only where the gemara explicitly uses the phrase mar’is ayin. Perhaps one could argue that there are two types of issurim: a separate independent issur of mar’is ayin, which the sugya in Beitzah and A”Z addresses and which revolves around the doer becoming suspect of violating issurim, and cases like the cup of blood or not eating meat and dairy at the same table, which are just extensions of the larger issurim of dam and basar b’chalav and the issue of misunderstanding is just an explication of why Chazal extended these issurim so broadly.

Friday, November 03, 2006

tzedaka as the root of emunah

Not much time to write today, but a quick mareh makom that is worth thinking about -
V’He’emin b’Hashem, VaYachsiveha lo tzedaka (15:6) – Avraham believed in G-d, and he considered it an act of charity. Who considered what an act of charity? Based on the context of the parsha, which discusses the promise of Eretz Yisrael to Avraham, Rashi explains that G-d considered Avraham’s belief in the promise without asking for proof an act of tzedaka. Ramban disagrees and says that Avraham’s belief without proof was not extra meritorious considering that Avraham was a prophet; rather, the pasuk means that Avraham considered G-d’s promise to give him the Land of Israel an act of tzedaka, charity, that exceeded his merit.
Says the Maggid m’Koznitz:
V’He’emin BaHashem – Avraham believed in G-d;
VaYachshiveha Lo Tzedaka – And he considered this belief, which we think resulted from pondering nature or burning birahs, not a result of intelligence, persistence, insight, his value system, culture, etc., but simply a result of G-d’s tzedaka. There is no a priori reason to think that a finite human being could ever have any intelligence of an invisible, incomprehensible, all powerful being. G-d's perhaps greatest charity is creating us with the ability to believe in Him.
Short vort, but a powerful idea - maybe more on it another time. Good Shabbos!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

the institution of ba'al korei

People who brought bikkurim were often ignorant and unable to read the parsha of arami oveid avi themselves, so they avoided performing the mitzvah. The Chachamim at first instituted reading the parsha for those who could not do so themselves, but people still avoided the mitzvah out of embarrassment. Therefore, the Mishna at the end of Bikkurim tells us that the Chachamim instituted that the parsha be read for everyone. Rabeinu Tam writes that this practice of reading the parsha for someone who cannot do so is the same function performed by the ba’al koreh who leins on Shabbos. The Rosh (Megillah perek 3) disagrees with this comparison. By the case of bikkurim, Chazal had to institute a ba’al koreh otherwise people would not perform the mitzvah d’oraysa of bringing bikkurim. When it comes to getting an aliya on Shabbos, there is no mitzvah to get an aliya – argues the Rosh, let those who can read be called up and those who can’t simply not be oleh! Therefore, concludes the Rosh, the oleh should only be someone capable of reading, and the oleh should in fact read along with the ba’al koreh to properly fulfill the mitzvah.
Why according to the Rosh does it seem like the institution of ba’al koreh is only a b’dieved? Just as someone can recite kiddush to be motzi someone else who may or may not be able to read, or someone can recite a bracha and listen to someone else’s tekiyas shofar even if he does not know how to blow tekiyos (assuming the mitzvah is blowing tekiyos), why does it not follow that someone can say a bracha and listen to someone else lein the parsha on his behalf? Floor is open for comments….

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Highlights - chaburah in R' Tzadok haKohein

Last week we explained that humans are created unaware of G-d’s infinite presence so that they can earn schar by using bechira to independently come to a recognition of G-d. Humans are created b’tzelem Elokim, which R’ Tzadok interprets as humans possessing the creative capacity to change the world. This week we discussed the enigmatic gemara (Sanhedrim 99) which darshens the pasuk “adam l’amal yulad”. What type of ameilus are humans charged with? - the gemara debates whether it is ameilus of work or speech, and after concluding it is ameilus of speech debates whether it is speech of sicha or Talmud Torah, concluding it is the latter. Why is ameilus so critical to mankind’s existence? “Adam rotzeh b’kav shelo yoseir m’tisha kabin shel chaveiro”, a person desires one portion of his own more than nine portions of his fellow (Bava Kamma 38). Rashi explains that the one's own portion provides more pleasure because it has been earned through ameilus. Ameilus thus is the key to fulfiiling humankind's mission of earning schar and removing the stigma of nahama d’kisufa (see Michtav m’Eliyahu III:13). Anu ameilim u’mekablom schar – it is precisely because we engage in ameilus, which creates this sense of ownership, that our reward is called schar and not nahama d’kisufa. The debate of the gemara in Sanhedrin seen in this light is a debate over the mechanism by which mankind expresses the creative energy of being tzelem Elokim and acheiving this goal. Does our independence express itself only in the way we physically transform the world, or is its ultimate expression when we engage in Talmud Torah? We saw a distinction (see Sefas Emes 5640) between the attitude of the generations leading to Noach, who focussed on engaging in the physical building of the world, and the approach of Avraham Avinu, whose focus became ameilus in Torah.
For those who can attend the chaburah, we will IY”H this week finish discussing the significance of ameilus b’torah in this light, and discuss how Torah itself has a transformative effect even on the physical world. For a sneak preview, see the Ishbitza’s (vol 2) answer to the famous question of why Avraham did not perform milah before receiving the mitzvah. NEW TIME: Friday, 8:00, Tiferes Tzvi Yeshiva Minyan, 26 Columbia Ave. in Cedarhurst.