Friday, March 30, 2007

bedikas chameitz (IV) and tashbisu

The gemara (4b) tells us that bittul alone is sufficient to remove any issur of chamietz, but Rashi and Tosfos disagree as to why this should be true. Rashi explains that since the Torah uses the general term "tashbisu" instead of specifying any specific method of destroying chameitz, bittul suffices to fulfill the mitzvah. Tosfos disagrees and holds that tashbisu can only be fulfilled by destroying the chameitz or burning it according to Rabbi Yehudah. The reason bittul removes the issur chameitz is not because tashbisu has been fulfilled, but because bittul makes the chameitz hefker, and one is not responsible to destroy chameitz which is hefker.

The Minchas Chinuch suggests that Rashi and Tosfos disagree over the fundemental definition of the mitzvah of tashbisu. According to Rashi, the mitzvah is an issur aseh which is fulfilled so long as one avoids the possibility of owning chameitz. According to Tosfos, tashbisu is a real aseh that is fulfilled only through a kiyum b'yadayim of actually destroying chameitz.

Returning to R' Akiva Eiger's answer, according to Rashi, just like bal yera'eh is not violated by chameitz found during Pesach so long as one has made all ncessary efforts to remove chameitz beforehand, so too the issur aseh of tashbisu cannot be violated. Only according to Tosfos can one argue that if one discoveres chameitz, even though bal yera'eh has not been violated because one has already done bittul, there still exists a mitzvah b'yadayim to destroy the actual chameitz if one is unwilling to declare it hefker.

Perhaps another dimension to this machlokes revolves around the understanding of bittul as hefker. The Rambam in Hil Nedarim (2:14) famously writes that hefker works like a neder that one accepts not to benefit from the mufkar property. If bittul is just a form of hefker, R' Yosef Engel asks, why are we not concerned with the possibility of sha'aila which would revoke the hefker status - in fact, using the principle of ho'il, just the possibility of revoking the neder should render bittul ineffective (the Rambam writes that it is assur to revoke a neder of hekdesh, but many achronim hold that if one ignores the issur and does revoke the neder it can be undone)? According to the Rambam, one is forced to learn that bittul is far more than ordinary hefker - it is tanatamount to an actual destruction of chameitz, a fulfillment of tashbisu, just as Rashi explains.

lechem oni

One of my children asked: if matzah is "lechem oni" [poor man's bread], why does it cost so much?
A good question indeed.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

bedikas chameitz (III)

Continued from Parts (1) and (II)

R’ Akiva Eiger answers his question on the Ran by contrasting bittul with other forms of kinyanim. The rule of devarim sheb’lev means that mental reservations have no legal impact on an act of a sale – actions speaks louder than words. However, bittul is itself fundamentally is a mental renunciation of ownership – the verbal declaration is just a means of announcing the change of status our decision has effected. The Ran later writes that bittul is actually even weaker than hefker. Since chamietz is assur b’hana’ah it is inherenly ownerless, but the Torah penalizes someone for keeping it in their possesson – bittul simply negates that penalty from setting in, but is not itself what imposes the status of hefker on the chameitz. Devarim sheb’lev cannot undo action – but they perhaps can undo other devarim sheb’lev and render the original bittul invalid.

R’ Akiva Eiger quotes a second answer from his son in law. Even though bittul suffices to remove the issue bal yera’eh and cannot be undone, if one finds chameitz and delays destroying it, one has violated the positive mitzvah of tashbisu, which commands one to destroy chameitz found in his possession.

This implicit assumption of this answer is that tasbisu is not just an issur aseh, a commandment to passively avoid owning chameitz, but rather demands that one actively and immediately destroy chamietz. This issue is a major debate in Rishonim and Achronim, with many consequences. See Minchas Chinuch, and maybe more later…

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

rectangular seder plate

Seen in a local store: an artistic seder plate which was retangular, with all the seder items lined up in a straight row. I have never seen anything like this - seder plates are traditionally round, with various minhagim as to how/where to place he items on the plate. Would you say there is a preference based on minhag to use a round plate, or is it just a matter of taste?

eilu v'eilu

R’ Chaim haKoton has started a discussion of eilu v’eilu and would welcome your feedback – ayen sham.

bedikas chameitz (II)

Rashi explained that the reason for bedikas chameitz is to avoid a potential issur of bal yera’eh. Why were Chazal concerned for bal yera’eh when everyone, even someone who has done bedika, must do bittul as well? The Ran explains Rashi by offering an interesting historical analysis of the gemara. Ran writes that min hatorah, either bittul or bedika suffices. At the time of the Mishna, it would have been perfectly acceptable to do bedika alone, which is why the Mishnayos that discuss the takanah of bedika never mention bittul. In that context, the reason for bedika is to avoid bal yera’eh, as Rashi writes. At a later point, the Amoraim made an additional takanah that even one who does bedika should also do bittul – there is a double-protection against owning or eating chameitz on Pesach.

If bittul alone suffices, why did the Chachamim make a takanah that every person must do a bedika? Ran explains that bittul depends on the willingness of the owner of chameitz to declare chameitz ownerless and void. Faced with valuable chameitz or an appetizing piece of chameitz found in the middle of Pesach, who can insure that the owner of that chameitz remains steadfast in his willingness to renounce ownership? Perhaps the owner will regret, and mentally accept ownership of this newly found piece of chameitz, thereby violating bal yera’eh. Therefore, Chazal instituted bedika to try to insure all chameitz is removed and will not be found.

R’ Akiva Eiger asks on the Ran: bittul is not merely a decision the owner of the chameitz comes to, but is a verbal declaration through which the chameitz becomes ownerless. We have a rule in halacha that devarim sheb’lev ainam devarim – lit. words in the heart are meaningless, e.g. if I sold my car but had in the back of my mind that if I can’t find a better one the sale is invalid, unless I formally express that condition as part of the contract, it has no validity. The world of commerce does not recognize intent or thought as having legal standing. If so, asks R’ Akiva Eiger, why according to the Ran are we concerned lest someone might find chameitz in the middle of Pesach, mentally regret his bittul, and come to violate bal yera’eh – the mental regret of bittul is simply devarim sheb’lev, and devarim sheb’lev cannot undo an action! Once one has declared chameitz hefker through bittul, how can mental regret alone reverse the process and make one the owner of that chameitz?

R’ Akiva Eiger gives two fascinating answers – bli neder more to come…

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

bedikas chameitz (I)

The first Mishna in Pesachim discusses the mitzvah derabbanan to do bedikas chameitz. Rashi writes that teh reason for the obligation of bedika is lest one violate “bal yera’eh u’bal yimatzey”, the prohibitions against ownsing chameitz. Tosfos disagrees, citing the gemara that even if one does bedika, one is still required to do bittul, declaring chameitz ownerless and like dust [bl”n more on how bittul works later], which effectively eliminates any possibility of violating bal yera’eh. The reason for bedika, says Tosfos, is not bal yera'eh, but lest one find chameitz and come to eat it during the chag.

Two issues that are consequential to the dispute: 1) whether one must do a bedika after Pesach if one forgot to do one before Pesach – there is no longer a risk of bal yera’eh, but there is still a risk of eating chameitz she-avar alav haPesach; 2) whether one must do a bedika for chameitz noksha, which according to many Rishonim cannot be eaten, but is not subject to bal yera’eh.

The Aruch haShulchan (633:12) writes that although the common practice is to do bedika in a shule or bais medrash, one should not recite a bracha or say bittul afterwards. If the reason for bedika is bal yera'eh, then there should in fact be no obligation of bedika at all as no one person is the formal owner of the shule and its chameitz; although we do bedika because of the reason of Tosfos, the bracha should not be recited m'safeik. Additionally, since only the owner of chameitz has the power to do bittul, the bittul of the gabai or shamash has no effect.

The gemara (4a) raises a question regarding someone who rents an apartment on 14 Nissan - does the obligation of bedika rest on the landlord who possesses the chameitz, or on the tenant who now possesses the dwelling? R’ Elchanan Wasserman points out that the gemara’s question may hinge on the dispute regarding the reason for bedika. If the reason for bedika is to avoid bal yera’eh, then the obligation of bedika should rest upon the owner of the chameitz. However, if the reason for bedika is lest one come to eat chameitz, then the obligation of bedika should rest upon the person using the dwelling, regardless of whether he is the formal owner of the chameitz or not.

What still needs explaining is why Rashi was concerned with the whole issue of bal yera’eh, if, as Tosfos points out, bittul removes the whole problem. Stay tuned…

Friday, March 23, 2007

korban pesach and aseres y'mei tshuvah

Last week in Parshas haChodesh we read that Bnei Yisrael on Rosh Chodesh Nissan were given the instructions to take the korban Pesach. Shemos 12 ends “vayeilchu va’ya’asu Bnei Yisrael”, which implies immediate action in response to the command, which was impossible – the command was given on Rosh Chodesh, but the taking of the korban was not until the 10th of the month. I spoke about this at the bar mitzvah last week. Rashi quotes the Mechilta that once one makes a kabbalah to perform a mitzvah it is as if the deed were done already. The effect of such a kabbalah is powerfully illustrated in the story (B.M. 84) of Reish Lakish, who was a famous robber before becoming the great student of R’ Yochanan. The gemara describes how he leapt across a river to attack R’ Yochanan, but R’ Yochana was able to turn him to tshuvah. Once Reish Lakish agreed to join the yeshiva, he found he could not leap back across the river he had just crossed. The kabbalah of Torah and mitzvos literally transformed him on the spot. This kabalah and the transformation it produces is what the celebration of bar mitzvah is all about.

The question remains, however, why the command to take the Korban Pesach was given on Rosh Chodesh when it could have just as easily been given on the 10th of the month. What purpose did these 10 days serve? “Mishcha u’kchu” meant Bnei Yisrael first had to separate themselves from the idolatry of Egyptian culture, and only then could they properly offer the korban pesach. Even though we are aware of the Talmudic dispute whether the world was created in Tishrei or Nissan, we usually think of these time periods as sharing a common theme. However, if Rosh Chodesh Nissan is really a Rosh haShana, we can appreciate the Shem m’Shmuels’ chiddush that these 10 days between Rosh Chodesh and 10 Nissan correspond to the aseres y’mei tshuvah which culminate in the kabbalas pnei Hashem (like we find on Yom Kippur) in the korban Pesach and the leil haSeder.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

more on parshas parah, Rabbi Eliezer, and Moshe Rabeinu

I discussed in a previous post the Midrash that Moshe desired a son named Eliezer when he heard R’ Eliezer, the tanna, cited in Mishnayos Parah, and Josh weighed in on the same at parshablog. I happened across a R’ Tzadok that touches on the issue, but he does not elaborate in detail. From what I am able to gather, R’ Tzadok draws a dichotomy between the development of torah she-ba’al peh through human reasoning, which demands that we draw our own conclusions, and the giving of torah she-b’ksav which comes with pre-packages “right” answers. In the famous story of tanur shel achna’i (B.M. 59), the Chachamim argue with Rabbi Eliezer based on their interpretation of torah sheba’al peh, and declare “lo bashamayim hi”, that the process of interpretation guided by human intelligence, is supreme. Rabbi Eliezer, however, called on miraculous signs from Heaven to try to prove that his position was correct – he looked toward pre-packaged “right” answers, duplicating the torah sheb’ksav process. This story exposes the affinity between the “soul” of Rabbi Eliezer, and that of Moshe, the primary giver of torah sheb’ksav. Parah Adumah is the paradigm of the “chok”, a law which is unfathomable, which seems to prove that as great as man’s intellect is, there is a limit beyond which torah sheb’al peh cannot take us and we must rely on Heavenly revelation alone. Moshe Rabeinu saw all of Torah through the lens of the torah sheb’ksav process. When Moshe Rabeinu heard the shiur of Rabbi Akiva he was discomforted until hearing that all is really based on “halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai”. When Moshe Rabeinu heard the laws of Parah Adumah, especially as expressed by Rabbi Eliezer, who also typified that same torah sheb’kav approach, he wanted to preserve this paradigm of limud for future generations, and therefore called his son Rabbi Eliezer as well.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

learning hilchos Yom Tov 30 days before the chag

Getting back to the topic, does the shiur of learning hilchos Yom Tov 30 days before the chag contradict the shiur of learning hilchos chag the day of the chag? Most of the comments to the previous post intutited the answer my son said over at his siyum, but which interestingly is not found in the classical earlier achronim - I guess we have all been brainwashed by lomdus to think more immediatly in these terms.

The Ramban writes that the pasuk “VaYidaber Moshe es moadai Hashem el Bnei Yisrael” refers to the takanos of learning hilchos Yom Tov on Yom Tov and reading the Torah parsha of the day, citing the last gemara in Mes. Megillah. The Ramban continues that this same idea is conveyed in Onkelus’s explanation, which he quotes - Onkelus writes that Moshe taught the Jewish people the calculations of the calendar that fix the precise day when each holiday will occur. Isn't this Ramban self-contradictory? What do the instructions of how to calculate a calendar have to do with the takanah of learning hilchos Yom Tov? How can these both be called the same interpretation?

Rav Soloveitchik (in Shiurim l'Zecher Aba Mari) explained that both interpretations convey the same fundamental point. “VaYidaber Moshe es moadei Hashem” means that Moshe and every future Bais Din is charged sanctifying Yom Tov as a special day. How does Bais Din do that? One way is by fixing a calendar which demarcates certain days as special holidays. Another way is by dedicating those days to special activities – to studying the Torah laws of those days and reading Torah parshiyos that are special.

Based on this idea, we better understand the role of learning hilchos Yom Tov. There are two separate functions to studying hilchos Yom Tov: firstly, fulfilling the mitzvah of talmud Torah; secondly, fulfilling the mitzvah of “vaYidaber Moshe es moadai Hashem el Bnei Yisrael”, of creating and enhancing kedushas Yom Tov. The obligation to study the halachos 30 days before Yom Tov is purely a function of the mitzvah of talmud Torah, to know the halachos. The obligation to study halacha on Yom Tov itself fulfills that added dimension of “vaYidaber Moshe es moadai Hashem el Bnei Yisrael”.

Monday, March 19, 2007

bar mitzvah thanks

My son made it through his leining and siyum, and we owe a great debt of gratitude to a lot of people: neighbors and friends who helped with preparations and finding places for our guests over Shabbos; my brothers-in-law R’ BenTzion Unger and R’ Yosef Bechhofer and who always make me feel special and shared some beautiful divrei Torah with us; my BIL Ben Tzion who managed to find a musician for the melaveh malkah at 3:00 on Friday when we found out the one who was supposed to come was snowed in; my parents; my in-laws (thank you to Edna for working on the music problem despite being in aveilus and not even being able to listen); my mother-is-law, whose follow up phone call yesterday was very very much appreciated; Rav Friedman for hosting the whole event in the yeshiva, and so many other people who just made us feel good by coming over to say mazel tov, offering to help if we needed anything, and whose sincerity and warmth made the bar mitzvah boy and his parents enjoy the day.
I'm not sure how many of them read my blog, but to those who do, thank you.

shmuel hanavi's me'il katan and a special thank you

The Navi tells us that Chanah davened for a son who became Shmuel haNavi, and after his birth, she brought him to the Mishkan to grow up. The Navi tells us, “U’me’il katan ta’aseh lo imo v’ha’also lo m’yamim yamima…” (2:19), Chana would make a “little coat” for her son and bring it to him every year. What is this “little coat” and why was it so important? The Koznitzer Maggid writes on the Mishna “Moshe kibeil Torah m’Sinai” that Sinai, the lowest mountain, exemplifies humility, which is the prerequisite for all learning – one cannot grow in Torah without first recognizing that there is more than where "one is holding" to aspire to. Explains the Koznitzer, this was the gift that Shmuel haNavi’s mother gave him – the me’il hakatan is the levush of katnus, this trait of humility and good midos which empowers and unlocks all learning and growth.
The seifa of the pasuk continues, “…ba’alosa es isha lizboach es zevach hayamim”, meaning Chanah gave the coat when she went up to offer the annual korban with her husband. Although in pshuto shel mikra the word “es” here means “im”, with, I think the Navi deliberately uses “es” and not “im”. The word “es” indicates a transitive verb – not going up, but bringing up, causing others to go up. I would like to suggest that Chanah did not just for make a me’il for her son, but “ba’alosa es isha”, she caused her husband to go up in ruchniyos and Torah as well.
My son got through is bar mitzvah with flying colors, and although there are many people who deserve thank you’s (more to follow), a special thank you goes to my wife, the one who fashioned the me’il katan which made the bar mitzvah boy what he is, and who “ba’alosa es isha” inspires me as well.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

quantum theory, "biocentrism", and belief

From an article by Robert Lanza, a noted scientist and professor, published in The American Scholar, the journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society:
Modern science cannot explain why the laws of physics are exactly balanced for animal life to exist. For example, if the big bang had been one-part-in-a billion more powerful, it would have rushed out too fast for the galaxies to form and for life to begin. If the strong nuclear force were decreased by two percent, atomic nuclei wouldn’t hold together. Hydrogen would be the only atom in the universe. If the gravitational force were decreased, stars (including the sun) would not ignite. These are just three of more than 200 physical parameters within the solar system and universe so exact that they cannot be random. Indeed, the lack of a scientific explanation has allowed these facts to be hijacked as a defense of intelligent design.

As we have seen, the world appears to be designed for life not just at the microscopic scale of the atom, but at the level of the universe itself. In cosmology, scientists have discovered that the universe has a long list of traits that make it appear as if everything it contains—from atoms to stars—was tailor-made for us. Many are calling this revelation the Goldilocks principle, because the cosmos is not too this or too that, but just right for life. Others are calling it the anthropic principle, because the universe appears to be human centered. And still others are calling it intelligent design, because they believe it’s no accident that the heavens are so ideally suited for us. By any name, the discovery is causing a huge commotion within the astrophysics community and beyond.

At the moment, the only attempt at an explanation holds that God made the universe.
Of course, Lanza is not satisfied with that answer and instead proposes a theory of “biocentrism” based on quantum mechanics. His argument is that physical reality is created by the mind, and that is why it so perfectly conforms to our expectations. If that’s the best a rational scientist can come up with, I think G-d is getting the best of the skeptics these days.

hilchos chag b'chag or thirty days before?

I was listening to a shiur by R’ Hershel Shachter on P’ VaYakhel and he referenced an interesting Yalkut Shimoni at the beginning of VaYakhel (here) which notes that this is the only parsha which begins with Moshe calling a gathering of all the people together. The purpose of the gathering was to publicly teach hilchos shabbos, which served as a lesson for future generations that shabbos should be spent gathered together in the bais medrash learning the inyana d’yoma, hilchos shabbos. This takana is an extension of the takana of Moshe Rabeinu mentioned at the end of Mes. Megillah to study the halachos of each Yom Tov on that respective Yom Tov, .i.e. hilchos pesach b’pesach, hilchos chag b’chag – according to the Midrash, inyanei shabbos should be learned on shabbos as well. (I was wondering if this is the source of the practice of gedolim like the GR"A and R' Tzvi Pesach Frank who would finish Masechet Shabbos each Shabbos).

By coincidence my son is also making a siyum on Mes. Megillah, and IY”H will be speaking about this takanah. Chazal teachesthat it is a mitzvah to study (shoalin v’dorshin) the laws of each Yom Tov thirty days before the chag (Pesachim 6a). The Sha’gas Arye (and others) ask, if there already exists a takanah to study the halachos thirty days before Yom Tov, why is an additional takanah to study the halacha on the day of Y”T itself necessary?

The Ran is medayek in the words shoalin v’dorshin, we ask about the halachos and explain them. Ran writes that this takanah is not an obligation to study halacha, but a direction to poskim and Rabbis as to how to prioritize questions. Within thirty days before a Yom Tov any query that relates to the upcoming holiday takes precedence over other questions and research. The takanah referred to at the end of Mes. Megillah is a separate din that teaches that one should study the laws of Yom Tov on the day of the holiday itself.

The majority of Rishonim (see Biur Halacha, O.C. 429), however, do not learn like the Ran and explain shoalin v’dorshin simply as an obligation to study halachos. According to this reading, the question of overlapping takanos remains. Stay tuned for more...

not building the mishkan on shabbos

Rashi explains that the reason the Torah prefaces the command to build the Mishkan in Parshas VaYakhel with a repetition of the mitzvah of Shabbos is to tell us that building the Mishkan, albeit being a mitzvah, cannot be done on Shabbos. The Netziv has an interesting chiddush based on the Torah’s use of the passive voice (niphal) in the pasuk, “sheishes yamim te’aseh melacha…”, six days work shall be done, but on Shabbos it must cease. The Mishna in Shabbos writes that according to Hillel it is permitted to start a process on Friday that will continue autonomously on Shabbos, e.g. although it is prohibited to dye wool on Shabbos, it is permitted to place wool in a dye pot before Shabbos and let the wool continue to soak on Shabbos; although it is prohibited to do laundry on Shabbos, one can place clothes in the washing machine and set it running before Shabbos. We do this all the time – we set a time before Shabbos, and the work we need done occurs on Shabbos. Says the Netziv, by the Mishkan all work shall be done (passive voice) before Shabbos, meaning even if you are not the one doing the work but just set a timer or put wool in the dye pot etc. so the work continues automatically, this too can not be done for the purpose of building the Mishkan because of its higher level of kedusha.

In addition to the prohibition of building the Mishkan on Shabbos and Yom Tov, the Rambam tells us (Bais haBechira 1:12) that Mishkan can be built only by day and not by night. In the very same halacha the Rambam tells us that both men and women are obligated in the mitzvah of building a Mishkan. The Marcheshes asks: if the Mishkan can only be built during specific time periods, why is it not categorized as a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama from which women are exempt? A whole range of answers are possible, some of which my son will hopefully speak about this Shabbos.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

parshas parah and Eliezer, son of Moshe Rabeinu

I have never succeeded in understanding this Midrash on Parshas Parah - maybe someone out there has an idea. The Midrash teaches that Moshe Rabeinu began learning the halachos of parah adumah with Hashem. Hashem kavyachol recited the Mishnayos b’shem omro, beginning with the first Mishna in Parah, “R’ Eliezer omeir…” that a parah refers to a cow that is 2 years old. When he heard that Mishna, Moshe was so impressed by R’ Eliezer’s statement that he said he hoped to have a son just like him. This, according to the Midrash, is why Moshe Rabeinu’s son is named Eliezer.

Maybe it bothers me because my son is also named Eliezer, but whatever the reason, I am baffled. There is a piece in the Piecezna’s sefer Aish Kodesh that explains how Moshe Rabeinu wanted to pass to his children davka the message of Parah Adumah, but this strikes me as missing the main point. The Midrash seems to be highlighting some aspect specifically of the words of Rabbi Eliezer which captivated Moshe Rabeinu. Why was Moshe captivated by Rabbi Eliezer and this halacha in particular more than any other Mishna or meimra in shas???

interesting safeik of r' akiva eiger

The halacha is that a person over bar-mitzvah who ate to the point of satiation (kdei seviya) is obligated min haTorah to say birchas hamazon and a katan who only has a chiyuv derabbanan cannot be motzi such a person in bentching. R’ Akiva Eiger (O.C. 186) has a fascinating safeik regarding the case of a katan who ate k’dei seviya for dinner (as my son regularly does : ) just before the night of his bar mitzvah, bentched, and then while he still had that satiated feeling it turned dark and he was bar mitzvah – does he have to repeat birchas hamazon? R’ Akiva Eiger writes that his son-in-law told him the Chochmas Adam raised the same safeik regarding an onein who ate and still felt satiated after the burial of the meis. As R’ Akiva Eiger notes, these two issues are not exactly the same. By the case of onein, the person is a bar chiyuva, but because oseik bamitzvah patur min hamitzvah, he is exempt from bentching while he has the onein status. By the case of katan, the person was not a bar chiyuva at all when he ate.

It seems from R’ Akiva Eiger that the issue here is how to define the role of seviya. Is it the act of eating which triggers the obligation of bentching, and satiation is just a condition (a tnai) in the definition of eating, or is it the state of being satiated itself which obligates bentching, provided that state occurs through an act of eating.

Another possible way to view the safeik here is whether a katan, though he has no chiyuv, can have a kiyum mitzvah. R’ Soloveitchik brought a proof to this issue from the case of a katan who becomes bar mitzvah in between Pesach rishon and Pesach sheni. The Rambam paskens (K.P 5:7) that as long as a katan was counted in a group that brought the first korban pesach, he need not bring a pesach sheni. Even though the katan had no chiyuv to participate in the first korban pesach, he still gains a kiyum mitzvah from doing do which exempts him from pesach sheni (this proof is cited by R’ Reichman in Reshimos Shiuirim, Mes. Sukkah; however, see GR’Ch al haRambam there). Perhaps by birchas hamazon as well, though the katan had no chiyuv to bentch, his birchas hamazon counts as a kiyum mitzvah min haTorah. This safeik is relevant to many other areas as well, including the famous case of a katan who becomes bar mitzvah during sefira.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

zerizus vs. hiddur when performing a mitzvah

The Torah uses the words “chachmei leiv” to describe those who made the curtains for the Mishkan. How did these people demonstrate the great intelligence the Torah notes? The Netziv writes that when Moshe gave the instruction to make the Mishkan, each person had a choice of what project to work on. The achronim discuss whether it is better to do a mitzvah b’zerizus, at the earliest possible moment, or b’hidur, delay the mitzvah until later if doing so would enable it being performed in a more beautiful or perfect fashion. The vessels of the Mishkan were clearly of greater import and greater sanctity than the curtains and walls. Yet, as Rashi in Parshas Pekudei writes, the building tent itself had to first be erected before starting work on the kelim. The builders were faced with the dilemma: is it better to seize the opportunity b’zerizus to work on the curtains of the Mishkan, or is it better to wait for the hiddur of working on a kli which has more kedusha? The Netziv writes that in this case, the correct answer, which the “chachmei leiv” intuited, was to work on the first project available. The safeik of achronim applies only where a single mitzvah can be done either b’zerizus or b’hiddur; here, the choice is between different projects. Also, the task of building the kelim was not even on the table as an option until the tent of the Mishkan was built.

Monday, March 12, 2007

new issue of magazine

To top off the hectic season, my wife just put out the latest edition of Kallah Magazine. You should be able to find a print copy over the next few days if you live in the 5T, Queens, and parts of Brooklyn, or you can just read the whole thing in .pdf format here: I have an article on the role of Tziporah and galus hadibbur on p. 15. If you take a look and call any of the advertisers, please mention where you saw the ad.

when did ahron become a kohein?

A comment to last week’s post suggested that Moshe did not become kohein because he had slain a Mitzri; Ahron had never taken anyone’s life. I replied that Chazal (Zevachim 102, cited by Rashi) comment on the words “ha-lo Ahron achicha haLevi” (Shmos 4:14) that Moshe had in fact been destined to be a kohein, but because of his reluctance to accept the mission of Redeemer, his brother Ahron was chosen in his stead – not because Moshe shed blood. The counterargument is that the election of Ahron was determined by multiple causes.

Chazal (Sanhedrin 7) justify Ahron’s choice to fashion the eigel by citing the pasuk promising destruction “Im yehareig b’mikdash Hashem kohein v’navi”, if a kohein and prophet be killed. Chur, the son of Miriam, who was a prophet, had already been killed by the mob as he tried to oppose them. Had Ahron stood in the way and been killed as well, the punishment to the nation would have been far worse. Therefore, Ahron decided to play along and fashion an eigel, doing his best to stall the people and mitigate the damage.

The Maharasha asks: why does the gemara consider Ahron as having the status of kohein? His election as kohein does not occur until later parshiyos. Maharasha answers that Ahron was a bechor, a first born, and before the election of Levi’im the avodah was entrusted to the bechorim.

We can perhaps answer the Maharasha’s question if we assume that Ahron’s election occurred earlier during the episode described in Parshas Shmos referenced above (Margoliyas haYam). Ahron was not just the kohein in-waiting, but actually had the status of kohein from that early moment onward. This would also resolve the question according to the Midrashic sources that say Miriam was the first-born and not Ahron.

bar mitzvah

Today is my son’s Hebrew birthday and therefore his official bar mitzvah. Those of you who are regular readers and are in the 5 Towns for Shabbos are invited to drop in for kiddush at Mesivta Rambam; 8:30 start for davening. My son plans to lein both VaYakhel-Pekudei and Parshas haChodesh (fortunately for the olam he tends to go too fast, because done at typical bar-mitzvah boy speed the leining has the potential to make for a l o n g davening : ) and IY”H make a siyum on mesechet megillah, so he has had his work cut out for him the past few months.

As to why the minhag is to celebrate bar mitzvah on Shabbos and not on one’s birthday, well I guess you will just have to show up to hear some of the divrei Torah that may answer that question.

Friday, March 09, 2007

cheit haeigel and the election of the levi'im

Moshe commanded the Levi’im who gathered to kill the eigel worshippers, “milu yedcham hayom laHashem” (22:29). Rashi interprets the term “milu’im” as a reference to initiation into service in the Mishkan. Although the first born were supposed to have served in the Mishkan, they were removed because of their participation in the eigel and the Levi’im who followed Moshe took their place. I think there might be more between the lines here. The halacha is that a kohein who kills someone is not permitted to do avodah or duchan. We know that David haMelech was prevented from building the Mikdash because his life was spent fighting wars. The concept of spilling blood, even when justified, seems to be antithetical to the idea of Mikdash. Moshe assured the Levi’im that contrary to the norm, the killing of those who engaged in the worship of the eigel would not preclude their having a role in the Mishkan – to the contrary, it would sanctify the Levi’im and they would become the primary agents of avodah.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

cheit haeigel, mishkan and the order of the parshiyos in sefer shmos

Anonymous comment yesterday wondered why the Torah places the sin of the eigel in the middle of the discussion of the Mishkan, with some of the Mihskan material before it and some afterwards. Let me take the easy way out – what’s the problem? According to the Ramban the order of the Torah is chronological (see his comments at beginning of Parshas Terumah and VaYakhel). After accepting some of the major precepts of the Torah, Moshe gave the command to construct the Mishkan – hence parshiyos Terumah and Tetzaveh follow after Yisro and Mishpatim. Moshe then went up to Har Sinai to receive the rest of the Torah, during which time the eigel was made – Parshas Ki Tisa. Hashem threatens to distance himself from Bnei Yisrael, but Moshe’s prayers are effective and the bond between G-d and people is restored. The Shechina once again returns to the Mishkan, as related in parshiyos VaYakhel and Pekudei, completing Sefer Shmos.

Of course, I am cheating a bit because I ignored Rashi, which is what prompted Anonymous' comment. Rashi writes (see 21:18) that “ain mukdam u’muchar baTorah”, the Torah parshiyos are not in chronological order. The command to build a Mishkan came only after Yom Kippur, after the completion of the entire process of receiving the Torah and being granted atonement for the cheit haeigeil. According to this view, the parshiyos of Terumah and Tetzaveh, which are read before Ki Tisa, actually chronologically occurred afterwards.

It seems to me that Ramban and Rashi differ on two fundamental issues. Firstly, the Ramban in many places writes that the principle of “ain mukdam u’mecuchar” should not be invoked unless there is a very compelling reason to do so – without strong evidence to the contrary, we assume the Torah does follow a chronological order. The Ibn Ezra, and perhaps Rashi, do not assume a chronological framework – they are much more liberal in applying “ain mukdam” and rearranging timelines. Secondly, this dispute perhaps relates to the function of the Mishkan, as discussed in previous posts. According to the Ramban, the Mishkan was an extension of the experience of Har Sinai, part of the process of kabbalas haTorah. It makes perfect sense that the original command to build a Miskan (P’ Terumah-Tetzaveh) should occur in the context of the initial occurrence of mattan Torah. Rashi, however, focuses on the role of the Mishkan as a means of atonement for the eigel. Therefore, he assumes it could only have been commanded after the sin of the eigel occurred.

But, as Anonymous asked, according to Rashi, why indeed should the Torah chop up the Mishkan parshiyos and place Terumah-Tetzaveh before the eigel and vaYakhel-Pekudei afterwards – even if the Torah's order is not chronological, thematically doesn’t it make sense to group all the Mishkan material together?

The Targum explains the word “anveihu” in the pasuk “zeh K-li v’anveihu” as stemming from the root n-v-h, to dwell. Even as early as the week after escaping Egypt, Bnei Yisrael did not want Hashem to pop into their lives for a miracle and then depart – they wanted the Shechina to dwell with them. The parshiyos in Sefer Shmos are the story of this desire and its fulfillment and tie together thematically. Yetziyat Mitzrayim introduced the bond between G-d and Bnei Yisrael; Yam Suf forged the desire for a permanent Mishkan; Yisro/mattan Torah was a prerequisite; finally, Terumah-Tetzaveh is the culmination of the ideal. The chronological reality of events was that the process was never finished. The sin of the eigel interrupted events, and instead of a Mishkan which was an ideal fulfillment of Redemption, we received a Mishkan which was a kapparah. The break in the Mishkan parshiyos, I think, was necessary to reflect two different roles of the Mishkan: one the one hand, the ideal thematic relationship of Mishkan with the process of Redemption, on the other hand, the reality of events as they transpired, which led to a lesser fulfillment of that aspiration.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

tax season

On another mundane note, today’s Wall Street Journal (the article is not available in the free online section) reports that about 60% of all Americans use a professional tax preparer to do their income taxes, with mixed results – even professionals miss deductions and miscalculate. Special thanks to my wife Ariella who once again has performed this task of drudgery which I have no patience for or skill at. We (or actually, she) always prepares our own return, which we always file on time. The one year we hired a professional we gave this person all our paperwork a few weeks in advance only to receive a phone call literally the night before the taxes were due explaining that he had fallen behind, he had other personal issues, etc. and could he file an extension for us. We adamantly insisted he finish our relatively simple return that night and have never used a tax preparer again. For those of you who are accountants, good luck over the next few weeks of sleepless nights.

Interview with Lemony Snicket

For those of you who do not know who Lemony Snicket is, please do yourself a favor and get to a library or bookstore ASAP and start reading “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (though once you taste greatness, you may never want to return to that mediocre Harry Potter series again). You don't need to be a child to enjoy Snicket's marvelous dark humor. Fans of the series know that scattered among the books are allusions to Jewish ideas and Hebrew words that give no doubt as to the author’s religion. Moment Magazine has an interview entitled “The Jewish Secrets of Lemony Snicket” with more on Lemony's Jewish background.
(P.S. you may want to read the author’s humorous “Unauthorized AutoBiography” to learn more.)

m'cheini na m'sifricha - the mishkan and the sin of the eigel

Moshe pleads with Hashem in our parsha, “Micheini na m’sifricha”, if you, Hashem, deliver a harsh penalty to Bnei Yisrael, erase my name from your sefer. There are many interpretations of this enigmatic dialogue between Moshe and G-d. The Chasam Sofer explains that we find that each of the parshiyos dealing with korbanos, e.g. the parsha of olah, the parsha of chatas, etc., opens with the phrase “VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor”, Hashem spoke to Moshe and related that particular parsha. Each specific korban, explains the C.S., constitutes a unique type of kapparah which was taught to Moshe on a korban by korban basis. Had the Jewish people not sinned, the parshiyos of the Mishkan should have been taught the same way – each kli, e.g. the menorah, the shulchan, the mizbayach, etc., served its own unique function which would have been taught to Moshe on a kli by kli basis. The instructions of how to make each kli would have been prefaced with, “VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe…”. However, now that the Jewish people had sinned so grievously, the Mishkan as a whole served one purpose and one purpose only – as a kapparah. Moshe said to Hashem, “micheini na”, erase my name, meaning the phrase “VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe” is no longer needed before each item because the parts of the Mishkan are now subsumed under the more global function of achieving kapparah for the eigel.

Although he does not mention it, it seems to me that the pilpul of the Chasam Sofer should depend on the machlokes Rambam and Ramban discussed in previous posts. According to the Ramban, since each kli functioned as a hechsher mitzvah for a specific type of avodah, we would have anticipated a phrase like “vaYidaber Ashem el Moshe leimor” introducing it. However, according to the Rambam, the kelim are not hechsheirim, but chalakim of the larger mitzvah of building a Mishkan, and one introductory statement should suffice for all the parts.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

the mitzvah of bigdei kehunah (II)

The pasuk describes the bigdei kehunah as “l’kavod u’l’tiferes”, something which adorns and brings honor to the wearer. The Lev Sameiach writes that had the Ramban been right that bigdei kehunah are not an independent mitzvah but just a necessary ingredient to performing avodahm their function should have been described as “l’amod u’l’shreis”.

Be that as it may, the Ramban in his commentary to the Torah writes on “l’kavod ul’tiferes” that the bigdei kehunah had to be made lishma, with the proper kavanah that these garments would be used as bigdei kehunah. The Rambam, as the Minchas Chinuch notes, nowhere cites such a requirement. (The point seems to be a machlokes in the Yerushalmi).

This is pure speculation which may not make sense, but perhaps this machlokes is also l’shitasam. If bigdei kehunah are a hechsher mitzvah to avodah, perhaps they take on the requirement of lishma just like avodah itself. But if it is an independent mitzvah, like the Rambam holds, the requirements need not match.

the mitzvah of bigdei kehunah

I previously posted on why the making of individual kelim such as the shulchan, menorah, etc, are not counted as separate mitzvos. The Ramban writes that making these items are just hechsheiri mitzvah; e.g. making the menorah is not an independent mitzvah, but is just a necessary ingredient to fulfilling the mitzvah of lighting menorah lamps; making a mizbayach is not an independent mitzvah, but is just a necessary ingredient to performing the mitzvah of offering korbanos. The Rambam opined that the making of kelim is not counted as independent mitzvos because these are all just parts of the larger mitzvah of making a Mishkan.

Is making and wearing bigdei kehunah a mitzvah? The Rambam (aseh #33) counts it as one, but the BH”G disagrees. Ramban explain l’shitaso that the wearing of bigdei kehunah is not itself a mitzvah, but is just a hechsher mitzvah to performing avodah. BH”G only counted doing avodah without bigdei kehunah as an issur. The Megillas Esther defends the Rambam l’shitaso as distinguishing between a hechsher mitzvah and a cheilek of a mitzvah. There are many hechsheiri mitzvah which do count as independent mitzvos, e.g. shechting the korban pesach, preparing the ashes of parah adumah – and, according to the Rambam, bigdei kehunah. What does not count as an independent mitzvah is when something is just a part of the broader mitzvah, a cheilek of the mitzvah, e.g. making kelim for the mikdash. It is easy to impose this distinction on mitzvos after the fact based on what the Rambam did or did not count, but I am unclear as to what exactly defines the difference between the two categories. Why indeed is shechting the korban pesach an independent mitzvah and not just a cheilek of the larger mitzvah of properly offering the korban pesach? What rule does one use to determine hechsher or cheilek?

Monday, March 05, 2007

shushan purim

I once heard from R' Ahron Kahn shlit"a that Shushan Purim is a celebration of the achdus of Klal Yisrael. Even though the events of that day affected only the Jews of Shushan, all of Klal Yisrael celebrates the day as one people.

Friday, March 02, 2007

R' Ahron Lichtenstein on morality and destroying Amalek

R’ Ahron Lichtenstein on the problem of morality and the command to destroy Amalek:

...Subsequently, I heard that a leading Religious Zionist rabbi in a prominent yeshiva had taken thirty minutes out of his Gemara shiur in order to attack what I had said. I called and asked him, “What did I say that merits this great wrath?” He replied, “I think it is a terrible thing to speak in this way, describing the divine command to destroy Amalek as asking a person to do something which ordinarily is not moral. This poses an ethical problem.”

I said to him, “Wiping out Amalek does not conform to what we would normally expect a person to do. Normally, you should not be killing ‘from child to suckling babe.’ But I’m not saying, God forbid, that it is immoral in our case, where God has specifically commanded the destruction of Amalek—‘A faithful God, without iniquity, righteous and upright is He’ (Devarim 32:4). Although generally such an act would be considered immoral, it assumes a different character when God, from His perception and perspective, commands it. The same holds true of the akeida—it demanded that Avraham do something which normally is immoral. But in the context of the divine command, surely it partakes of the goodness and morality of God. We must admit, though, that there is a conflict in this case between the usual moral norm and the immediate tzav given here.”

I recall in my late adolescence there were certain problems which perturbed me, the way they perturb many others. At the time, I resolved them all in one fell swoop. I had just read Rav Zevin’s book, Ishim Ve-shitot. In his essay on Rav Chayim Soloveitchik, he deals not only with his methodological development, but also with his personality and gemilut chasadim (acts of kindness). He recounted that Reb Chayim used to check every morning if some unfortunate woman had placed an infant waif on his doorstep during the course of the night. (In Brisk, it used to happen at times that a woman would give birth illegitimately and leave her infant in the hands of Reb Chayim.) As I read the stories about Reb Chayim’s extraordinary kindness, I said to myself: Do I approach this level of gemilut chasadim? I don’t even dream of it! In terms of moral sensibility, concern for human beings and sensitivity to human suffering, I am nothing compared to Reb Chayim. Yet despite his moral sensitivity, he managed to live, and live deeply, with the totality of Halakha—including the commands to destroy the Seven Nations, Amalek and all the other things which bother me. How? The answer, I thought, was obvious. It is not that his moral sensitivity was less, but his yirat Shamayim, his emuna, was so much more. The thing to do, then, is not to try to neutralize or de-emphasize the moral element, but rather to deepen and increase the element of yirat Shamayim, of emuna, deveikut and bittachon.

I have subsequently thought of that experience on many occasions. I recall once hearing someone, regarded as a philosopher of sorts, raise moral criticisms of various halakhic practices. When asked about these criticisms, I said, “I know that particular person. He doesn’t look for a foundling on his doorstep every morning.”

So what we need to do, I think, is not to weaken our moral sense or that of our children and students. Rather, we need to deepen and to intensify our commitment, our faith, our sense of obedience, our yirat Shamayim. We need to deepen our sense that God has nothing in this world besides yirat Shamayim, and that our moral conscience needs to develop within its context.

R' Tzadok on Amalek - gadol shimusha yoseir m'limuda

R’ Tzadok haKohein (Resisei Layla #52) explains that there is a gate of Torah that corresponds to each nation of the world, and through the power of each gate’s Torah the goodness of that nation is redeemed and becomes part of the Jewish nation. The 50th gate of wisdom, which was not revealed even to Moshe, is the gate which corresponds to Amalek. There has not yet been revealed in the world the chochmas haTorah that can redeem Amalek, and hence they must be destroyed. Moshe Rabeinu, who embodies the chochmas haTorah, could not lead the battle against Amalek because he lacked this 50th level, and therefore appointed Yehoshua to do so. Yehoshua was the meshameish of Moshe, the attendant who clung to his master and exhibited the selfless dedication of a pure desire to learn. Gadol shimusha yoseir m’limuda, R' Tzadok explains, means that the desire to learn is more powerful than the act of study itself, and through that power, Amalek can be destroyed.

I think what R’ Tzadok is telling us is that Amalek preaches to our own shortcomings. Amalek feeds our sense of despondency and yeiush with the knowledge that as Torah and Hashem are one, as surely as we are human and can never attain that 50th gate of Torah, we can never truly have a relationship with Hashem. On the pasuk “Vayelech Agag ma’adanot” the Ishbitza writes that Agag professed a “givun tov”, an outer daintiness that concealed his inner evil. Amalek tells us that we are all just pretenders wearing a “givun tov”, a mask of goodness, for even people we consider models of righteousness still fall short in G-d’s eyes. If so, why bother to try?

Gadol shimusha yoseir m’limuda means that closeness to G-d does not come only from achievements and ability, but comes from desire as well. And where ability and achievement fall short, desire can more than make up the difference. The battle against Amalek, writes R’ Tzadok, was always carried on by descendents of Rachel – by Shaul, by Mordechai, by Esther, who embodied the tzniyus of Rachel. Leah gave birth to the majority of shevatim in Klal Yisrael, but Rachel had within her the burning desire to be able to fill that role.

On Purim we don masks because, as the Ishbitza writes, a Jew is the opposite of Amalek. Whereas Amalek proclaims that goodness is just a mask over man’s inherent shortcomings, a Jew says that shortcoming is just a mask over the inherent goodness of each of soul.


Aside from checking the usual venues, one of the ways I discover blogs I like to read is when people leave comments here and I then go start reading their blog. That happened this week, and I found someone who managed to encapsulate a mouthful of truth in a single sentence. "Tmeishar" writes, “I don't think that it is a positive phenomenon that we view frumkeit independent of halakha as a value.” Very very well put.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

ta'anis esther and megillah reading at night vs.during the day

I just saw this essay of Rav Yonasan Sacks on ta’anis esther and megillah and thought it fit well with the idea of the Rav in the previous post. The gemara derives from derashos that megillah can be read by villagers on 11 and 12 Adar, and notes that it obviously can be read on 13 Adar because that day is a “zman kehilah”. The Rosh interprets zman kehilah as a reference to gathering for the fast. Why, asks R’ Chaim Turtzin, should this be a mechayeiv of kerias megillah? What does the fast have to do with the celebration of the miracle of being saved?

R’ Sacks quotes the Rambam in the conclusion of his intro to the Yad that the theme of the megillah emphasizes Hashem’s bringing redemption from danger in response to our prayers. Rav Sacks concludes that, “On Purim, we do not merely celebrate the miracles themselves, but rather, the metamorphosis from disaster to tranquility. The contrast is what is critical.” That being the case, ta’anis Esther, whose fasting marks the potential tragedy Haman planned, is an essential component of the pirsumei nisa of Purim itself.

Perhaps this is the difference between the keriah at night, which the Rav saw as preparatory to the actual mitzvas hayom of Purim, and the kerih during the day, which Tosfos’ holds is the primary reading. During the reading of the night, coming immediately at the close of the ta’anis, we are captivated by the danger of the story, as the tragic plans of Haman unfold before our eyes. This reading stands in contrast to the reading during the day, when we already know how the story will end, and focus our attention more on the happy conclusion to be celebrated through seudah and mishloach manos.

the takanah of reading megillah at night

Tosfos’ opinion (Meg 4) is that a bracha of she’hechiyanu is recited before reading megillah during the day even though it has already been recited on the reading of the previous night. The Rambam disagrees, and holds that since she’hechiyanu has been recited at night it is not repeated. I offered a few approaches to understand this machlokes last year, but wanted to add two new ideas this year. The gemara quotes R’ Yehoshua ben Levi as saying one is obligated to read the megillah at night and repeat it during the day, but no mention of this night time reading appears anywhere in the Mishna. Perhaps, some intriguingly suggest, the original takanah of megillah was to read only during the day, with the full set of brachos. The night reading was only a later takkanah made by R’ Yehoshua ben Levi. This idea is consistent with the Turei Even’s chiddush that the reading by day is a chiyuv m’divrei kabbalah, but at night is only a takanah derabbanan. (This idea makes for a difficult reading of a gemara on daf 20 that I don’t want to get bogged down in, so I’ll just leave you with the mareh makom).

Tosfos proves that the day reading is primary from the fact that Purim seudah is done during the day but not the night before. R’ Soloveitchik (quoted in Moadei haRav) used this as a springboard for another interesting distinction between the two readings. The Rav suggested that other Yamim Tovim have a kedushas hayom from which stems all the associated mitzvos of the day. The kedushas hayom of each Yom Tov begins with sunset the previous night. Purim, however, does not have a kedushas hayom which obligates mitzvos. There are mitzvos hayom - mishloach manos, matanos l’evyonim, kerias hamegillah - which must be done on the day of Purim, to the exclusion of the previous night, but nothing more. The reading at night is not part of the mitzvos hayom of Purim, but is just a preparatory act in anticipation of the day of Purim itself.