Monday, April 30, 2007

shome'a k'oneh and the concept of zimun (II)

Continuing the previous post, aside from R’ Akiva Eiger’s question, the Rishonim reject Rashi’s assertion that someone who ate a k’zayis can be motzi someone who ate to the point of satiation because of a more fundemantal reason: from the Torah perspective, eating a k’zayis is the same as not eating, so what empowers such an individual who has no obligation to be motzi someone who does?

R’ Soloveitchik (Shiurim l’Zecerh Abab Mari vol. 2) suggested that the key to Rashi is understanding the concept of zimun. When three people become obligated to join together to fulfill the obligation of zimun, which in the days of Chazal was done by one person reciting all of birkat hamazon aloud and the others listening, it does not mean that each person has an individual obligation to bentch which is fulfilled by listening to the leader. Zimun means, rather, that the entire group as a whole is obligated in a single act of bentching. Just as elsewhere in halacha there exists a concept of a chovas hatzibur, a communal obligation, here too, the obligation is for one communal bentching, but instead of a tzibur of 10 the obligation rests on a group of 3 for zimun.

When each individual member of the community has a personal obligation to perform a mitzvah, e.g shofar, megillah, etc., we need to invoke the principle of shomea k’oneh to ascribe the mitzvah act of shofar blowing or megillah reading by one person to others. Shomea k'oneh means hearing someone blow the shofar is the same as individually blowing, but only if both the listener and doer are obligated in the mitzvah. This requirement stems from two seperate needs: 1) the need to define the act performed as a mitzvah, meaning here is an obligation to perform it; 2) the exclusion of a non-bar chiyuva from being motzi others. Ascribing the act of person A who has no Biblical obligation to fulfill a mitzvah to person B who does simply does not work.

The same is not true with respect to the mitzvah of zimun. Each member of the zimun is not obligated individually to bentch - all that is necessary is that the group as a whole share a single mitzvah act together. Shomea k'oneh is not needed; all that is needed is a shared mitzvah act. What defines a mitzvah act? Even though being obligated m’derabbanan does not make one a bar chiyuva on the Biblical level, it does suffice to define the bentching as a mitzvah act. According to Rashi, even a birchas hamazon recited by an individual who is only obligated to bentch m'derabbanan suffices to serve as the cheftza shel mitzvah to fulfill the communal chiyuv of zimun.

With this we can resolve R’ Akiva Eiger’s question. The gemara’s dilemma regarding a woman's obligation in bentching was not whether she is a bar chiyuva or not. The gemara’s question was whether since certain portions of bentching (such as the mention of inheritance of the land, or bris milah) do not apply to woman, is her bentching a mitzvah act parallel with that of a man or not? Rashi's opinion that a valid mitzvah act can be used to fulfill a communal obligation regardless of the level of obligation of the performer is irrelevant to the gemara's question of whether a woman's birkat hamazon constitutes a Biblically valid mitzvah act! In Brisker jargon, the gemara's safeik is in the cheftza shel mitzvah; Rashi is discussing the chovas hagavra.

R’ Soloveitchik has many proofs to this concept of zimun as a communal obligation, but I want to cut to the chase and get to what I’m stuck on. More to come…

shome'a k'oneh and the concept of zimun

Over Shavuos I am supposed to say a shiur, and since the other shiurim over Y”T are going to be dedicated to issues of “dibbur”, I decided to be subversive and discuss shome’a k’oneh, speech without speaking. I ran into a difficulty that I can't yet resolve, and while I could avoid the topic in the shiur, it bothers me that I have no answer – maybe someone out there has some idea.

Before I get to my question, I need to first lay a little groundwork with a chiddush of Rav Soloveitchik's. There are a few proofs for the concept the Rav developed, so I'll take one from a sugya discussed before. The chiyuv to bentch requires (b’pashtus) eating to the point of satiation – "v’achalta v’savata u’berachta". Yet, the gemara (Brachos 48) relates that Shimon ben Shetach led a zimun for King Yanai even though Sb"S ate only a k’zayis of bread. One cannot be motzi someone else in a mitzvah unless one shares an obligation in that same mitzvah – for this reason, a minor who has no mitzvah obligation may not be motzi a gadol. If Shimon ben Shetach ate only a k’zayis and was not satiated, he was not obligated in the Biblical mitzvah of bentching; King Yanai, however, was. How could Sb"S have been motzi King Yanai in his chiyuv d’oraysa of bentching if Sb"S did not share his Biblical obligation to bentch?

The Rishonim offer numerous answers to this question. Rashi writes that a gadol who ate a shiur derabbanan can in fact lead a zimun for a gadol who ate a shiur d’oraysa of satiation. One who ate a kzayis, although not satiated, is still obligated on some level to bentch.The case of a minor is different because a minor has no obligation whatsoever – the chiyuv of chinuch rests on the father to educate his child to bentch, but does not transform the child into a bar chiyuva, someone obligated in mitzvos.

R’ Akiva Eiger challenges Rashi's answer based on the following gemara (Brachos 20): the gemara raises the question of whether a women is obligated min hatorah or only m’derabbanan in the mitzvah of bentching, and says that this question impacts whether a women can be motzi a man in the mitzvah of bentching. If a man eats to the point of satiation and has a Biblical obligation to bentch, only if a woman has a parallel Biblical obligation could she be motzi him.

Doesn’t this gemara contradict Rashi’s answer? According to Rashi, even though a man ate only a k'zayis and is not Biblically obligated to bentch, he may lead a zimun for someone else who is satiated and Biblically obligated. Shouldn’t a woman who therefore has at least a Rabbinic obligation in bentching (like someone who ate a k'zayis) also be able to be motzi a man, even though his chiyuv is d’oraysa?

Stay tuned for R’ Soloveitchik’s chiddush…

Friday, April 27, 2007

v'ahavta l're'acha kamocha - a rashi question

On the pasuk of "v'ahavta l're'acha kamocha" Rashi cites Rabbi Akiva's famous teaching that "zeh klal gadol batorah". Presumably Rashi is concerned with explaining textual difficulties and pshuto shel mikra, not to collect famous Midrashim (actually, I wouldn't want to have to defend that thesis, but many people seem to accept it as a given). What is the textual difficulty in the words "v'ahavta l're'acha kamocha" that prompts Rashi's comment?

[Update: see AddeRabbi’s discussion here.]

standing for a talmida chachama vs. standing for the wife of a talmid chacham

In the book “The Legacy of R’ Ahron Kotler” by R’ Yitzchok Dershowitz, the author records the advice of R’ Ahron given to someone who was going to teach in a Bais Ya’akov. I had to return the book to its owner so I cannot quote word for word (the exact story is around p. 215 or so if you want to check), but the gist of it was that although the halacha demands that one stand in respect for an eishes chaveir, the wife of a talmid chacham, there is no obligation to stand for a girl who herself may know every Ramban in chumash. The implicit message as to the goals of B”Y education are clear, but what left me perplexed was the halachic source for the statement. While the gemara clearly states (Shavuos 30b) that there is an obligation to stand for an eishes chaveir, I could not think of a source or understand why indeed there should be no chiyuv to stand for a woman who knows every Ramban. Since the mitzvah appears in parshas hashavua I checked the Minchas Chinuch last night and discovered he writes based sevara alone that the definition of “zakein”=zeh shekanah chochma or talmid chacham applies only to those obligated to learn Torah, to the exclusion of a women who may be learned or avadim, such as Tevi, the slave of Rabban Gamliel who the gemara says was a chacham. The footnotes of the new edition of the M.C. quote a dissenting view. Interesting.

While on the topic, the M.C. points out that while a talmid chacham can be mochel on his kavod and tell people not to stand in his honor as toraso dilei hu, the Torah being honored is his, an eishes chaveir does not have this option, as the Torah being honored is not hers to be mochel but rather belongs to her husband. Based on the same logic, many Rishonim write that after the death of the talmid chacham, there is no longer an obligation to honor the eishes chaveir, as the honor afforded to her is just an extension of the honor due her husband but not a separate din.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

nega'im and kedushas arei chomah

The gemara (Brachos 5b) writes that negaim are yisurim shel ahavah in Bavel but not in Eretz Yisrael. Rashi explains that in Eretz Yisrael the affliction of negaim was more severe because the leper had to be send out of his home in a walled city; in Bavel where there is no kedushas ha’aretz a leper could stay at home. Tosfos disagrees, as the gemara (Archin 29) tells us that the law of batei arei chomah (walled cities) was not in effect once the count of yoveil ceased, meaning there was no longer a kedushah to the walled cities (see Rashash). Certainly by the days of R’ Yochanan the yoveil was no longer being counted and the law of shiluach machaneh was not in effect even in Eretz Yisrael. Tosfos explains the gemara to mean that negaim in Eretz Yisrael were a more severe punishment because the laws of taharos were more strictly observed there than in Bavel.

The Tzla”ch offers a novel defense of Rashi. Although the kedusha of walled cities was no longer in effect without a yoveil count, Yerushalayim has an additional level of kedusha because it was the makom Shechina, and a leper would have to move outside its city walls. The simplest proof to this contention is that the parsha of metzora was given in the desert (and practiced there, as we see from the episode with Miriam) before the conquest of Eretz Yisrael and before the yoveil count ever started. Since the desert camp surrounded the Mishkan, it had the kedusha of makom mikdash. Furthermore, the Rambam (Bias Mikdash 3:8) writes that a leper who enters a walled city violates the mitzvas aseh of “badad yeishev m’chutz lamachaneh”, but if he enters the boundaries of Yerushalayim it violates a lav as well. Even though the kedusha of arei chomah was not in effect when R' Yochanan lived, the law of metzora still was practiced with respect to Yerushalayim.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

yisurim shel ahavah - does G-d bring suffering to those who are innocent?

"R’ Yochanan said nega’im and the death of children are not yisurim shel ahavah (Brachos 5b)."

Before getting to the meat and potatoes of why and which negaim are excluded, this whole concept of yisurim shel ahavah, afflications of love, needs explanation and is the subject of a fascinating machlokes. Rashi (Brachos 5a) writes that yisurim shel ahavah are pains G-d brings on the righteous in this world even though they have not sinned so that their reward in the World to Come will be greater than their deeds alone. The Ramban in Toras haAdam (p. 270-272 in the Chavel edition) does not cite Rashi by name, but takes issue with this whole concept of suffering without sin. Ramban writes that G-d does not afflict any person unless they have done something wrong to deserve punishment - “Ain yisurim b’lo avon”. But if all suffering is brought upon sinners alone, why are these pains called yisurim shel ahavah? G-d does not love sinners – he is, after all, punishing them! Ramban explains that G-d’s punishment cleanses the righteous from whatever minor iniquity they may be guilty of (Ramban writes that even sins done b’shogeg, of which the doer may be completely unaware, still blemish the soul and require expiation) so they may merit their full portion of the World to Come. Precisely because of G-d’s love He sometimes visits suffering on righteous people so that they may fully enjoy their portion after death.

The gemara (Sanhedrin 101) writes that when R’ Eliezer was sick his students came to visit him and all except R’ Akiva were upset at the state of pain they found him him. R’ Akiva explained that they were worried for naught, for as long as R’ Eliezer’s wine never spoiled and grain was bountiful, it might have been presumed that he was receiving all his reward in this world – now that we see his suffering, we know that he will receive reward in the World to Come as well. R’ Eliezer asked, “But Akiva, have I not kept any precept of the Torah?”, meaning, why would you think I would not get reward in the next world just because I did not suffer? To which R' Akiva replied, "There is no righteous person who has never sinned". Ramban offers a very convincing proof to his position from this episode. Why according to Rashi should R’ Akiva have ascribed the suffering of R’ Eliezer to sin and not yisurim shel ahavah done out of G-d's desire for R’ Eliezer to accrue even more merit? It seems from the gemara that ALL yisurim, even those occurring to the most righteous, must be the result of sin. Aside from this proof, I find Rashi very difficult to understand philosophically – doesn’t reward earned through suffering alone circumvent the entire idea of earning reward only through bechira? The Ramban builds a very convincing case - tzarich iyun on how to understand Rashi.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

yerushalmi - no machlokes in metziyus

The Yerushalmi in Pesachim has a machlokes whether karmis, some type of millet-like grain, can become actual chameitz or not (similar to the more well known machlokes Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri and Rabbanan by millet and rice). Asks the Yerushalmi (17a), why not simply test it and see? The gemara answers that a test was in fact done and what the results were is precisely the point of machlokes.

I seem to recall the Yerushalmi in other places asking similar questions when a debate focuses on issues of fact rather than interpretation – if all that is in question is fact, then we should be able to settle the machlokes. Bnei yeshiva usually operate under a similar assumption that "there cannot be a machlokes in metziyus" and all issues boil down to conceptual disagreements. Interestingly, I cannot recall offhand anywhere that a similar question is raised in the Bavli, but if anyone remembes otherwise, let me know.

Torah or the Land?: R' Elchanan Wasserman vs. R' Ahron Soloveitchik

R' Elchanan Wasserman, "Ikvesa d’Meshicha", #40
Another analogy: a person’s survival depends on air to breathe and food to eat. What if a person’s lacks both – which do we provide first, food or air? Obviously, without air, there is no one to give the food to! The Jewish people need the Land of Israel, but have not yet merited it. The Jewish people also need Torah, and we are all witnesses to the diminution of Torah, as most of the younger generation is removed from it. Let us ask then, the same question – to what shall we attend first: the need for Torah, or the need for the Land? The Land is necessary, but without Torah, we will not have a Jewish people. First we must assure that there is a Jewish people, and only afterwards, that they have a land.
R’ Ahron Soloveitchik, "Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind", p. 184:
Now the question arises, why did Y’ravan ben Yoash, certainly no greater tzadik than Ben Gurion, merit such a great privilege? In answering this question, we will also be able to answer the question of how relief, any form of geulah, can take place for the Jewish people when the Jews have not prepared themselves for it through universal repentance?...
The answer is, “And G-d had not said that he would erase the name of Israel from under the Heavens, so he saved them by the hand of Y’ravan ben Yoash” (Kings II: 14:27). During the reign of Y’ravan ben Yoash, had this deliverance not been realized by G-d then the name of Israel could have been wiped out. Similarly, 800 years ago, in the time of the Rambam, and 500 years ago in the time of the Shulchan Aruch, a Jewish state was not indispensable for the survival of the Jewish people. The Jews survived very well; they suffered, but they survived. And they blossomed intellectually and spiritually without a state. But after the Nazi Holocaust, the Jewish people cannot survive any longer without a state.

Monday, April 23, 2007

religious nationalism - R' Elchanan Wasserman vs. Rav Kook

R’ Elchanan Wasserman, Ikvesa d’Meshicha #34
After time, the nationalist idea gave birth to an offshoot – "religious nationalism". The name alone indicates that the term “religious” alone is incomplete unless accompanied with the term “nationalist”. This name alone is kerfirah [apostasy] against one of the fundamentals of faith, that “Toras Hashem temimah”, i.e. the Torah is lacking nothing and has no defect… If the idea of nationalism is avodah zarah [idolatry], the idea of religious nationalism is avodah zarah b’shituf [joining idol worship with worship of G-d].
R’ Kook, Orot Yisrael, ch. 6
The practical nationalistic drive of the Jewish people is just the external manifestation (levush) of its inner spiritual drive. The latter is the light and soul of the former. Both stem from the Living G-d, and from the spring of truth and belief.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

kiddush Hashem - those who fought for Eretz Yisrael

The Chasam Sofer (Shu"t Y.D. 239) cites the gemara (Sanhedrin 47) that any Jew murdered by a gentile, even a wicked evildoer, is called holy. Certainly, the same is true of those who sacrificed their lives for our Land. "R' Shimon said: come see how beloved is the Land of Israel. All those who go to war run and then walk and then their feet stop and tremble under them as they draw close to battle. The Jewish people are not like this; when they come close to the Land their feet carry them faster, and they say one to another if we were to enter the Land and immediatly perish, it would still be worth it for the privilige of entering the Land promised to our forefathers." This is what was done by those holy ones who gave their lives fighting the Arabs - can there be any doubt that they merit Olam haBa?! Is it not a clear testimony that even if they did not see, their souls - the Jewish soul in their breast - saw, and yearned to return to its roots. "All who live in the Land are as if they have G-d" (Kesubos 110) - meaning, even those who do not understand or articulate the call to G-d, their soul still stirs and feels this need and calling. That is the meaning of "it is as if..." - even if their outward behavior does not reflect [this acceptance of G-d, it surely is within them].

-Eim haBanim Smeicha, p.121

Friday, April 20, 2007

Ikvesa d'Meshicha and Zionism: R' Kook vs. R' Elchanan Wasserman

R’ Elchanan Wasserman, Ikvesa d’Meshicha, #36 –
These [people] have caused a confusion of mind and distorted concepts. Before they came on the scene, it was known to all that a Jew is only one who accepts the yoke of Torah. One who is a denier of Torah is an apostate and has no ties to us. The religious Zionists argue otherwise: though he be an apostate, since he shares our national identity, he is one of us. The halacha states, “One who has no fear of Heaven may not be appointed to any position [of authority] among the Jewish people.” Yet, they sanction the heretics becoming leaders.
Rav A. Y. haKohen Kook, Orot, 84 –

The nefesh-soul of the sinners of Israel in the time of “ikvesa d’meshicha” [i.e. just before the Messianic era], those who cling with love to the Jewish people, to the Land of Israel, and to the rebirth of our nation, is even greater than the nefesh-soul of the faithful believers who lack this elevated quality of personal concern for the community, for rebuilding the nation, and for the land….
Yet, the ruach-soul is far more perfected in those who fear G-d and observe his commandments…
Just as wine cannot be made without sediment, so too, the world cannot exist without the wicked. And just as the sediment preserves and protects the wine, so too the untamed desires of the wicked can help preserve the spirit of life…The return of the Jewish people to its homeland for its survival is a necessary occurrence, and this event will lead to the creation of “sediment” – the wickedness and chutzpa of “ikvesa d’meshicha” which troubles the heart when mentioned...
R' Kook concludes that the nefesh of the faithful will ultimately be improved by the nefesh of those who though not-observant identify with the national aspirations of the Jewish people and work to establish the State, while the ruach of those who are not-yet-observant will be uplifted by those who do believe so that ultimately they find their way to return to G-d.

R' Kook: “Gam mitoch hachol yegaleh hakodeh”.
R' Elchanan: "M'maga b'kedusha bilvad ain miskadhim, aval m'maga b'tumah nitmeyim".

Two completely different approaches, and it is devarim ha'omdim b'rumo shel olam, the most profound questions that face Judaism in our time, that hang in the balance. More to come, bl"n...

Thursday, April 19, 2007

when is yom ha'atzmaut celebrated?

The knee-jerk reaction to the question titling this post is “5 Iyar”, but knee-jerk reactions are often wrong. The Israeli Rabbanut policy is not to celebrate Yom ha’Atzmaut on 5 Iyar when the date falls immediately before/after Shabbos so as to minimize the risk of chilul Shabbos. This year, although 5 Iyar is Monday, since Yom ha’Atzmaut always follows Yom haZikaron and Yom haZikaron would fall out immediatly after Shabbos, the Rabbanut pushed Yom haZikaron to Monday, 5 Iyar, and Yom ha’Atzmaut will be celebrated Tuesday, 6 Iyar. This also somewhat obviates the problem for those who will fast BH”B on Monday and feel that adding a celebration and/or hallel to tefillah would be inconsistent with the spirit of the ta’anis (I seem to recall this issue coming up in the YU Bais Medrash).

Whether or not American (or other diaspora communities) should schedule their celebrations for 6 Iyar or keep to the date of 5 Iyar always seems to be a matter of debate (there seems far less concern for celebrations creating chilul Shabbos here, esp. with respect to Yom haZikaron). I noticed the OU website lists the dates as matching the Rabbanut’s decision, and after a bit of googling I found that the last time this occurred (2004) R’ Gedalya Dov Schwartz originally said to celebrate on 5 Iyar (Monday) but then in response to a request from a Rabbanut advised the RCA to celebrate on 6 Iyar. I heard in the name of R’ Ahron Soloveitchik that 5 Iyar should always be celebrated. Of course, this entire discussion is moot if you don't celebrate in some way or other and see no theological significance to the re-establishment of the State, but that’s a discussion for another post.

saying one's own bracha vs. listening to the shaliach tzibbur (shomea k'oneh)

R’ Akiva Eiger questions the common practice of the chazzan reciting a bracha on sefira, the tzibur answering amein and listening to his count, and then each member of the tzibur reciting his/her own bracha and counting – why should each individual recite his/her own bracha and not simply have in mind to be yotzei with the bracha of the chazzan, fulfilling b’rov am hadras melech? Although various achronim suggest reasons for the practice, the question seems to me to be far stronger than the answers offered (is it really so hard to concentrate on a short bracha while bearing in mind what night of the count it is?)

The same issue may be raised with respect to the bracha before k'rias hallel. The common practice is for the shat”z to recite the bracha, the tzibur answers amein, and then each individual again recites his/her own bracha. Especially on Rosh Chodesh where there is a major dispute in Roshonim whether a bracha should be recited at all, why not simply listen to the bracha of the shat”z having in mind to be yotzei and answer amein, accomplishing b’rov am hadras melech as well as minimizing the chance of bracha l’vatalah?

If I recall correctly, Rav Soloveitchik opposed each individual reciting his/her own bracha after hearing the shat”z (I recall hearing this with respect to hallel in particular) based on a different consideration. The Rav held that once one answers amein to the bracha of the shat”z, it is as if one has recited his/her own bracha because of the principle of shomea k’oneh and repeating the bracha would constitute a bracha l’vatalah. I believe I heard from my rebbe, R’ Y. Sacks, a proof to this position from Brachos 54. The gemara records that R’ Yehudah was sick; when he recovered and was visited by other Rabbis they praised Hashem for sparing his life and he answered amein – R’ Yehudah then remarked that by responding amein he fulfilled his obligation to recite birchas hagomel. The Shita Mekubetzet notes that those reciting the bracha clearly did not have in mind to be motzi R’ Yehudah – the “shomea k’oneh” which answering amein invoked seems completely independent of kavanah to be motzi or to be yotzei by that means. With respect to hallel, answering amein to the shat”z would similarly be the equivalent of reciting one’s own bracha even without specific kavanah. It was not clear to me in looking back at the Shita Mekubetzet whether the same holds true if one has specific kavanah not to invoke "shomea k’oneh" (IOW: does shomea k’oneh work as a mechanical principle outside any kavanah considerations, or does the shita mekubetzet simply mean there is a level of "stam" kavanah that is assumed sans specific intent to the contrary, but kavanah is still a necessary ingredient?). If one accepts this chiddush, it would seem that it is certainly preferable to listen to the shat”z and be yotzei with his bracha or to recite one’s own bracha word by word simultaneously with the shat”z’s rather than to repeat a new bracha after answering amein.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

a guide to tosfos for those learning b'kiyus

The KBY website has what looks like a nice resource here for those who want to cover ground in b’kiyus but still see some of the key Tosfos’ on a masechta. R’ Meir Orlian has put together lists that highlight the Tosfos by daf which are most crucial and he provides a one line summary of the content or issue discussed. Y’yasher cheilo and I hope he continues on other masechtot as well.

the minhag of women not to work on rosh chodesh

The Rishonim (see Rashi, Tosfos, Meg 22b) record the minhag of women to refrain from doing work on Rosh Chodesh based on the Midrash that the day was given to them as a holiday in reward for not giving their jewelry for use in the eigel. (Worth thinking about: what does Rosh Chodesh in particular have to do with the eigel?) The Biur Halacha (O.C. 417) writes that the implication of these Rishonim is that the minhag is not simply an optional practice that women can elect to adopt or not adopt, but it is a “minhag tov” that has already been adopted generations ago, and women are obligated to follow the accepted practice.

The achronim discuss whether the minhag applies to both days of a two day Rosh Chodesh or only to the second day. Mishna Berura (417:4) cites the Rokeach who held that the minhag applies to both days, while the Shibolei haLeket and Pri Chadah held it applies only to the second day, but the first day is optional and dependent on minhag hamakom.

Exactly what types of work cannot be done is not clear from the Rishonim - it is hard to imagine that the issur should be stricter than chol hamoed, where many types of work are permitted. Biur Halacha cites R’ Ya’akov Emden’s opinion that only public work is prohibited (i.e. the issur is melacha b’farhesya), and therefore all work done at night is permitted, but the B.H. concludes that he does not know if the minhag as practiced is in accordance with this view. It seems to me that those who prohibit doing laundry with a washing machine (as some practice) do not accept the parameters suggested by RYE, as a private washing machine does not seem to me to be a melacha b'farhesya.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

sefira, she'hechiyanu, and zecher l'mikdash

Given the ground covered in the past 2-3 posts on the idea of zecher l’mikdash, we can now begin to understand Ameimar’s opinion (Menachos 66) that counting weeks of sefira is unnecessary because the count is merely a zecher l’mikdash.

As we have seen, when a zecher l’mikdash is simply a symbolic act to remember what had been done in the past, the obligation to recite a bracha is not binding. The Ba’al haMaor (end of Pesachim) asks why there is no bracha of she’hechiyanu recited over sefira and answers that something which is only a zecher l’mikdash does not obligate a she’hechiyanu being recited – in the framework of the Brisker Rav’s analysis, the Ba’al haMaor is an indication that the mitzvah of sefira is less significant in terms of bracha than a true takanah.

And if the mitzvah is defined as a symbolic act alone, the tzuras hamitzva can change as well – non-shemurah matzah is acceptable b’dieved for koreich, pesulim of the 4 minim become acceptable after the first day, etc.

While Abayei understood (according to Tosfos) that the mitzvah of sefira is a Rabbinically mandated continuation of the same mitzvah of sefirah that had existed pre-churban and hence follows the same formula, Ameimar held of the more radical formulation of zecher l’mikdash – the original mitzvah of sefirah no longer applied, and all that we fulfill is a mere symbolic counting, which does not necessarily bind us to the same details in performance.

zecher l'mikdash and the shiur of mitzvas maror

The Biblical mitzvah of maror was fulfilled by eating the maror vegetables with the korban pesach, which we no longer have. The Chachamim nonetheless instituted that we continue the mitzvah even sans korban. The Rosh (perek arvei pesachim) writes that a minimum of a k’zayis (an olive-size piece) of maror must be eaten because we say a bracha of “al achilas maror”. The Sha’agas Arye raises a number of difficult questions on this explanation of the Rosh. For any mitzvah or issur, whether the term “achila” is used or not, the definition of eating is always assumed to be a k’zayis sized portion. For example, one does not violate the Biblical commandment of eating basar b’chalav unless one has eaten a k’zayis portion, even though the Torah never uses the term “achila” in the context of the issur. The fact that the bracha on maror (which the Rosh refers to) contains the term “achila” seems entirely irrelevant to consideration of the amount that must be consumed to fulfill the mitzvah. Secondly, one clearly fulfills the mitzvah of maror even if the bracha is omitted – why then should the recitation of the bracha be the criteria which defines the mitzvah itself? Finally, the Rosh simply begs the question of why the Chachamim formulated the bracha as "al achilas maror", obligating us to eat a k'zayis, instead of simply formulating the bracha as "al mitzvas maror", avoiding the term "achila" entirely.

Rav Hershel Shachter in his sefer Eretz haTzvi offers an explanation of the Rosh that is consistant with the thinking of the Brisker Rav. Since we no longer have a korban, the mitzvah of maror is a remembrance to the mitzvah that was, a type of zecher l’mikdash. As we saw yesterday, one could very well argue that a mitzvah which is celebrated as a zecher l’mikdash should not require a blessing – recall the gemara (sukkah 46) that RYb”L held that one can not say a bracha of “al netilas lulav” because taking the lulav fulfills a new mitzvah of zecher l’mikdash, not the old mitzvah of lulav, and Rabeinu Yerucham held that an independent bracha on counting weeks of sefira is not recited because counting weeks is only a zecher l’mikdash.

Furthermore, if zecher l’mikdash is indeed a new form of mitzvah, the entire tzuras hamitzvah, the format of the mitzvah’s performance, need not conform exactly to the rules that governed the old mitzvah. Perhaps this is precisely why many of the disqualifications that render an esrog unfit on the first day of Sukkos are suspended during the remaining days – it is not merely that the mitzvah is only Rabbinic in nature on those days, but that the mitzvah being fulfilled is not one of lulav and esrog but of zecher l’mikdash. The Ran writes that in cases of extreme need the mitzvah of koreich done on the seder night need not be done with matzah shemurah because it is a zecher l’mikdash (as we recite in the haggadah) - even if non-shemurah matzah is disqualified as matzah, it is not disqualified from being used as a zecher.

Is the mitzvah of maror a true zecher l’mikdash mitzvah like these other examples? This is exactly the issue the Rosh was addressing. The Rosh never meant to prove the requirement of eating a k’zayis from the text of the bracha, as the Sha'agas Arye understood. What the Rosh meant is that the very fact that a bracha of “al achilas maror” is recited proves that the mitzvah of maror is not just a fulfillment of a new concept of zecher l’mikdash, but is a fulfillment of the same old mitzvah of maror which we continue to practice even though we no longer have a korban. And since the mitzvah is not a new enactment of zecher l’mikdash, but is an extension of the same old mitzvah of maror which always existed, the tzuras hamitzvah, the format of the mitzvah in terms of what must be eaten and the quantity which must be eaten (a k’zayis) remains unchanged.

Monday, April 16, 2007

bracha on a zecher l'mikdash

The Biblical mitzvah of lulav applies outside the Mikdash for only the first day of Yom Tov, but as a zecher l’mikdash, in remembrance of the Mikdash which we no longer have, we take lulav for all 7 days of the holiday. The gemara (Sukkah 46) quotes R’ Yehoshua ben Levi that only the first day is “mitzvas lulav”, but the remainder of the days are “mitzvas zekeinim”. Rashi explains that RYbL held that the bracha on lulav should be recited only on the first day of Yom Tov, but the bracha of netilas lulav should not be recited on the days instituted as a zecher l’mikdash. Rav disagrees, and holds that the bracha of lulav should be recited on all 7 days.

Perhaps the gemara’s debate can be explained in light of the Brisker Rav’s (Menachos 66 stencil) suggestion of two different possible understandings of the concept of zecher l’mikdash: 1) despite the loss of the Mikdash which would nullify certain mitzvos, the Rabbis instituted that the nullification be ignored and the same mitzvah continue for posterity as a remembrance; 2) the destruction of the Mikdash did nullify the original mitzvah, but the Rabbis instituted new acts that were similar to the original nullified mitzvah to serve as a remembrance of what was.

If one adopts the first approach, then the same mitzvah of lulav which was in force for 7 days at the time of the Mikdash continued even post-destruction and the same bracha of netilas lulav should be recited. However, if one holds that that the mitzvah of lulav was cancelled with the destruction of Mikdash and all we have left is a new mitzvah to remember what once was, then this new mitzvah of zecher l’mikdash should not require a bracha of netilas lulav, as the mitzvah being fulfilled is not one of netilas lulav, but simply the mitzvah of making a zecher l’mikdash.

Friday, April 13, 2007

sefirah: counting days and counting weeks

Even though we reject the opinion of Rabeinu Yerucham that distinguishes the sefirah count of weeks as being only a zecher l’mikdash from the count of days, which is a Biblical obligation, that does not necessarily mean the count of days and weeks should be viewed as a single unit. While Ameimar’s opinion in Menachos 66 to count days and not weeks clearly separates between the two, it is unclear how to interpret Abaye’s position that both the count of days and weeks are obligatory. Does Abaye reject Ameimar's fundamental point that these two counts are separate mitzvot, or does he agree that the count of days and the count of weeks are separate obligations, but holds that both still apply in our time?

The Bais haLevi suggested that if one forgot to count a day of sefira, one may still count the units of weeks at each week's end, i.e. one may count day 7, 14, 21, etc. with a bracha. Clearly, the assumption of the Bh”L is that the count of days and the count of weeks function as separate units, and losing the opportunity to fulfill one with a bracha does not affect the opportunity to fulfill the other.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

sefiras ha'omer and zecher l'mikdash

Menachos 66 records Abaye's opinion that it is a mitzvah to count both days and weeks of sefirah, which the gemara indicates was accepted l’halacha. Ameimar disagrees, and holds only the days but not the weeks need to be counted because “zecher l’mikdash hu”, the mitzvah of counting is only a reminder of the practice which was done at the time of the Bais haMikdash when an omer offering was brought.

Ameimar’s opinion is at first glance very difficult to understand – just because a mitzvah is only a zecher l’mikdash, why should the way in which it is performed change? For example, taking a lulav during 7 days of sukkot is only a zecher l’mikdash – no one holds that since it is only a zecher one needs to take only 2 minim and not 4. Why then should we dispense with counting weeks and only count the days of sefirah because it is a zecher l'mikdash?

R’ Yerucham asks why we do not recite two brachos on sefira, one for counting days and one for counting weeks, just as we recite two separate brachos on tefillin, one for the shel rosh and one for the shel yad. R’ Yerucham answers that the mitzvah of counting days is still Biblically in effect today and warrants a bracha; the mitzvah of counting weeks only applied when there was a Bais haMikdash, and hence in our times, when it is only a zecher, it does not warrant a bracha.

Why there should be a distinction between days and weeks is left as a “sod Hashem” by R’ Yerucham, but the Ohr Sameiach (Hil Temidim) reveals the secret. The gemara in Rosh haShana (5) writes that even though Shavuos is only a one day holiday, one has tashlumin for the korbanos of Yom Tov for seven days, just like other regalim. Since we count weeks leading up to the holiday, and the holiday is in fact called the “Holiday of Weeks”, it indicates that the period of time open to bring korbanos is one week. Even though we also count days, notes the O.S., we see from the gemara that the count of weeks specifically is associated with korbanos. Therefore, post-Bais haMikdash, this count is not Biblically mandatory.

Based on R’ Yerucham, the dispute in the gemara is clear. Abaye held that the count of weeks is Rabbinically in force even though there is no longer a Biblical obligation; Ameimer held that we are left only with the Biblical count of days but no count of weeks is required.

Most RIshonim do not accept R’ Yerucham’s split – either they hold that the count of both days and weeks is still Biblically mandatory (Rambam) or entirely Rabbinic (Tosfos). According to these approaches, further explanation of the gemara is needed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

pesach recovery - two ideas from the Ishbitza

Getting back to business is always hard to do after Yom Tov. Two thoughts from the Ishbitza:

1) After keriyas yam suf, the Torah tells us that Moshe forced Bnei Yisrael to leave the riverbank, “vaysa Moshe es Yisrael m’Yam Suf”. Of course collecting the booty and spoils of Egypt was an enticement to linger, yet all we find mentioned in the text mentions is the shirah itself. The Ishbitza explains that shirah was a spiritual boost of energy that affected all of Bnei Yisrael, from Moshe Rabeinu down to the lowest maidservant – ra’asa shifcha al hayam mah she’lo ra’ah Yechezkel ben Buzi. It is very hard to walk away from a spiritual plateau once reached. Yet, not walking away poses a great danger – Torah demands constant growth and hischadshus, not leveling off and becoming satisfied with having reached any level. Precisely because shirah already had such a powerful affect on the entire nation, Moshe realized nothing more would be gained by simply lingering at the same location. After appreciating an accomplishment, one must be willing to walk away and move on to the next set of challenges.

2) After leaving Yam Suf, Bnei Yisrael walked in the desert for three days with no water. In response to the people’s murmuring, Hashem showed Moshe a branch which turned the bitter waters which were found into sweet potable water. When walking away from a spiritual plateau, we should not fool ourselves into thinking we will immediately experience the same spiritual energy that brought us to past accomplishments – we may find ourselves thirsting for the water of Torah and spirituality and not find any to drink. This too, writes the Ishbitza, is part of the process of growth. Eventually those bitter waters can be turned into a sweet oasis, but what appears to be spiritual “downtime” is an inevitable part of journeying to greater heights.

Monday, April 02, 2007

chag sameiach

If you have the strength to blog today, then you have far more kochos than I or you are going away for Pesach : )
Have a chag kasher v'sameiach everybody!