Tuesday, July 31, 2007

chacham lev yikach mitzvos: tzidkus and struggle (II)

To get back to the gemara in Sota, one other yesod is needed to answer the questions. Chazal in many places take note of the strong influence of environment on a person’s thinking, and they therefore encourage us to live in a makom torah and to be surrounded with talmidei chachamim. When I told this vort to my wife she brought up the idea of “group think”, the tendency of people to not stray from the consensus, By no means are leaders immune from this phenomenon, and if anything, they can be more susceptible to being dragged along by the masses.

Sifrei chassidus develop this relationship between leader and community further. Leaders are not just psychologically influenced by the moods, tendencies, and desires of their followers, but also embody the neshomos of their followers. The psychological pull to follow the crowd is not just a response to external social stimuli, but is a response to the inner voice of the neshoma which echoes the voice of the masses because to some degree it is the voice of the masses.

We asked on the gemara in Sota why proof is needed from the episode of Moshe gathering Yosef’s bones to establish that he loved mitzvos, and why this good deed cannot stand on its own right without being contrasted with Bnei Yisrael’s gathering of spoil. In light of the mashal of the Yismach Moshe and the yesod above, both questions can be answered. Of course Moshe Rabeinu loved mitzvos, but going back to our analogy, it is not surprising that the person who has billions in capital can create tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. It is not surprising that Moshe could love mitzvos when surrounded by the dor dei’ah seeking Hashem. When you see a tzadik who has tremendous kavanah in shabbos kiddush while sitting at tisch with hundreds of Chassidim expecting no less, or when you see a rosh yeshiva who can say a brilliant shiur surrounded by the best chaburah in the beis medrash, neither takes us by surpise.

Chazal credit Moshe because Moshe alone had the ability to rise to the challenge of loving mitzvos even when faced with difficulty. When the rest of Bnei Yisrael was out looting Egypt, the effect of the “group think” pulled even at Moshe Rabeinu (this itself is a tremendous mussar haskel – even Moshe Rabeinu is not immune to such effects!). Precisely at this moment when the tide was moving against being involved in mitzvos, Moshe collected the bones of Yosef. Doing mitzvos when it is socially encouraged and fits one’s schedule and needs is valuable; doing mitzvos when we feel the pull to be doing other things and overcome that challenge is “chacham lev yikach mitzvos”.

Monday, July 30, 2007

chacham lev yikach mitzvos: tzidkus and struggle

The gemara (Sota 13a) darshens the pasuk “chacham lev yikach mitzvos” as referring to Moshe: “Come see how beloved mitzvos were to Moshe, for when the Jewish people were involved in demanding spoils from their Egyptian former-slave masters, Moshe involved himself in collecting the bones of Yosef [for burial in Eretz Yisrael]”.

Diyukim to ponder:
1) Without reference to this episode would we not know that Moshe Rabeinu loved mitzvos?!
2) Why must the gemara contrast Moshe's behavior with that of the Jewish people to prove its point - can't Moshe's behavior stand on its own as proof?

I want to preface the answer with a mashal of the Yismach Moshe that is fantastic in its own right. Three friends were discussing the fortune of Ploni, the well known billionaire. One remarked that he is amazed that Ploni’s revenue is in the tens of thousands of dollars every day. His friend retorted that is no kuntz, because if you have a billion dollars in capital you too could generate huge amounts of revenue; the chap is how Ploni was able to start out with nothing and amass such a fortune to begin with. The third friend chimed in that this is no kuntz either, as over 30 or 40 years anyone might hit a luckyt stretch and emerge with a fortune. The real genius of Ploni is that it looked like he was bankrupt and out of luck just a few years ago and in no time he rebuilt his fortune again.

The nimshal: some people are impressed with the deep avodah of a tzadik or the genius of a lamdan and wish that their avodah and learning could match. A more intelligent person realizes such attainments do not come overnight but are the product of decades of hard work; if only we put in the same effort we would perhaps also attain reward. But a still more insightful person realizes that the tzadik or lamdan’s ability goes even beyond that. No one can achieve a plateau in avodah and then coast; we each have ups and downs. Life intrudes; the mundane is inescapable, and even the greatest tzadik and biggest lamdan must emerge from the Bais Medrash and have a hefesk. Those decades of work are not a smooth line upward, but involve countless ups and downs - small steps forward, perhaps a step back, but always that step back is followed by a greater effort to make the next step a positive one forward. It is not smooth upward sailing which is the hallmark of greatness, but consistent upward sailing, despite the frequent bumps in the road.

I was very taken by this mashal and think there is a lot of truth to it. There is a danger of dismissing the model of a tzadik or lamdan as irrelevant because we see their lives as idyllic and without struggle. The real lesson is not that they don't have struggles, but that they don't get stuck by their struggles. The mashal also answers the kashes raised, but I’ll leave that for next post.

"shelo lishma" in mitzvah performance for an "aino metzuveh" and amein groups

The gemara (Sota 14) writes that Hashem responded to Moshe’s request to enter Eretz Yisrael by saying “If all you want is the reward of mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz I will give them to you without your entering the Land”. The Yismach Moshe connects this response to a Midrash that Moshe involved himself with removing Yosef’s bones from Egypt only for the sake of schar mitzvah – midah k’neged midah, just as Moshe began the journey from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael by focusing on schar, this in the end prevented his entering the land. (As to why Moshe was motivated by schar and not lishma, ayen sham, or maybe more on that later).

The Maharasha makes an interesting point with regard to the motivation of schar mitzvah: since Moshe was not yet obligated to do any of the mitzvos hateluyos ba’aretz, there was nothing wrong with being motivated by schar to want to become obligated by entering the Land. Our wariness for performance “al menas l’kabel pras” extends only to someone who has an obligation and discharges it solely to receive reward; someone who has no obligation but wants to undertake greater obligations faces no such test of having proper intentions.

Apropos of the latest round of discussions (here, here) of amein/tefilah groups, I wonder why when it comes to women performing mitzvos or learning Torah there is an immediate suspicion of improper motive. Could one not argue based on the Maharasha that any cheshbonos of “al menas” apply only to someone who is already metzuveh; for someone who wants to undertake an extra obligation there is much less of a burden to insure and insist that motives be “lishma”.

Friday, July 27, 2007

final thoughts on psak, hashkafa, and ikkarei emunah

For some reason I really don’t enjoy writing about this topic so I’m going to make it brief. Some more (final?) thoughts on psak and hashkafa:

1) Shapiro writes, “I have said, and I repeat now, that no rishonim that I am aware of, and certainly not Rambam, believed that Principles of Faith can be decided in a halakhic fashion.” I’m really confused by this one: aren’t there dinim that tell us who is a min? Wasn’t that the whole point of the 13 ikkarim?

2) I assume Shapiro meant the more narrow claim that halacha cannot decide between different shitos of theology. His proof: since Rishonim critique the Rambam as having rejected views which were at one time espoused by Chachamim without considering that the Rambam chose to pasken against those views, QED psak is impossible. I don’t follow the logic here. These Rishonim assumed that an ikar must be axiomatic, not something over which there was different views (see Sefer haIkkarim 1:3). Even Rishonim like the Sefer haIkarim who do not have substantive disagreement with the Rambam still take issue with his labeling matters upon which there was disagreement as ikkarim. While Shapiro highlights these views, he seems to forget that the Rambam himself obviously disagreed with them! And, as Shapiro himself demonstrates in the first chapter of his book, most achronim accept the Rambam’s 13 ikkarim despite the critique leveled against them. This is no different than any other area where Rishonim stake out different position and tradition has accepted one view over the other, namely the view of the Rambam that labels an ikar as a significant belief even though views to the contrary may have once existed. Note as well that Rishonim like Albo do not disagree with the notion of deciding which beliefs are correct (e.g. Albo assumes one must believe in mashiach even though a Rabbi Hillel in the gemara did not hold of such a belief) - they disagree only with the semantic issue of labelling these beliefs as ikkarim.

3) There is a recurring claim in comments that belief is different than action, but no one has gone beyond stating this as a truism to adequately explain why or what source would indicate this. Furthermore, and this is a critical point: isn’t every statement about what to do implicitly a statement about belief? One cannot don Rashi’s tefillin every morning and simultaneously believe that Rabeinu Tam was correct in how the parshiyos should be ordered. If you put on Rashi’s tefillin it is because you believe that such an act fulfills the will of G-d. Actions are just expressions of our beliefs, So why the distinction?

4) With regards to paskening on a “metziyus”, e.g. as raised in the comments, how can we use the rules of halacha to determine the historical truth of who wrote the last 8 verses of the Torah. Answer: we are not defining a metziyus, but deciding that one version of the mesorah is more authentic than another version. For example, if most historians date the birth of Ploni to July 4 and one historian claims his birth was July 5, assuming that Ploni was born on July 4 is simply choosing to accept the consensus view as a good indicator of what is factually accurate. The Mahartz Chiyus explains Tos, in Yevamos (to finally get back to that!) as properly claiming Malachi was Ezra because the targum proves that version of the mesorah more reliable.

5) None of the places in Peirush haMishna where the Rambam says he cannot pasken deal with necessary beliefs. I don’t see why these statement have any bearing on ikkarei emunah, which are necessary beliefs - you can't just throw up your hands and say you have no idea, because by definition these are required beliefs. Nor do these statements contradict Tos, because Tosfos needed to decide a historical question for the sake of bolstering a halachic argument. Where there are equally valid sevaros and claims and there is no pressing need to choose one mesorah over the other, or where the debate is of such a nature that one cannot choose one over the other, why should one do so? That's all the Rambam was saying. Why has this simply rule become a mantra among those who want to claim halacha cannot decide ikkarim?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

is halachic truth "historically conditioned"?

I “owe” getting back to Tosfos and the Rambam (previous post) on psak and hashkafa but haven’t had time to fully develop an approach, so I’m going to tackle things piecemeal. I want to start with a few comments on a point Dr. Marc Shapiro makes in an essay printed on the seforim blog in response to a review of his book, specifically his point #7. I do not want to make my post excessively long by quoting it in its entirety, so ayen sham.

Shaprio approvingly quotes Prof. Menachem Kellner, “Dogmas, it must be recalled, are beliefs taught as true by the Torah; is the truth taught by the Torah historically conditioned?” I don’t get it, and this seems to be a crucial point in their argument. To take one possible example: R’ Eliezer believed that the assertion that machshiri milah are doche shabbos was a Torah truth, and undoubtedly this was the halacha as practiced in his community. Today, we assume machshirei milah are not doche Shabbos. Why is Kellner not troubled in this case by halacha being “historically conditioned”? Why is he not troubled that the entire community under the leadership of R’ Eliezer may be classified as mechalilei Shabbos based on our definition of Torah truth?

A more radical example of "historical conditioning" is the recent daf yomi (Yevamos 77) regarding the debate over generations whether the derasha of “amoni v’lo amonis, moavi v’lo amonis” was true. Until Chazal determined that this halacha was rooted in a kabalah, there was room for the Bais Din of each generation to rule differently on the issue. Thus (as the Brisker Rav explains) Ploni Almoni did not question Boaz’s psak that Rus was a kosher convert, but he worried about whether a later B”D would overturn that psak and declare his grandchildren to be goyim.

In his review of Shapiro’s book, Kellner writes that Ikkarim cannot be decided as other psak halacha is because it leads to “weird” conclusions, “the weirdest of which is the idea that holding a certain belief at one time time could cause one to be excluded from the community of Israel and to lose his or her share in the world to come, while holding that belief at another time carries with it no such consequences.” Perhaps I am missing something, but I really don’t understand why that is any weirder than someone who is Sabbath observant by R’ Eliezer’s standards being considered chayav kareis (i.e. their soul cut off from Heaven) if they perform the same action in a different locale, or why it is any weirder than Rus being considered Jewish at one point in time and perhaps being labeled a goya in a different historical period. Ain lecha “exclusion from the community of Israel” gedola m’zu! Why is dogma in a different category than these questions?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

what the Maharal or Brisker Rav adds to our understanding of 9 Av

Apparently I may have not explained the Brisker Rav in the previous piece as well as I should have. Someone (anonymous) in the comments (I am assuming his/her reference to Maharal was simply an error as no Maharal was cited) pointed to the explicit gemara in Ta’anis 29a that says that although R’ Yochanan wanted to fix the fast on 10 Av when the bulk of destruction took place, the fast was set on the 9th because “aschulei puranusa adifa”, the beginning of the destruction is a better point to commemorate. So who needs my post with its lack of knowledge of gemara and tanach (as the comment stated), and I guess the unstated point may be who needs this Brisker Rav when you have an open gemara?

In the Shiurei Da’as of R’ Bloch there is an essay called “Darcha Shel Torah” in which he says a fundamental yesod in learning (I have heard the same in the name of the Chofetz Chaim as well): in order to understand and appreciate any sevara, chiddush, idea, one must first be aware of what one thought before learning the new idea and understand how that prior knowledge proved inadequate. If you don’t see a kashe, you can’t appreciate a teirutz. On that note:

It seems from a prima facie reading of the gemara that the debate between R’ Yochanan and Chachamim is not about the historical question of when the bulk of destruction took place – the Chachamim seem to agree that the destruction took place on 10 Av, but argue that the "aschalta", the beginning of events, is “adifa” better, meaning more apropos a time to commemorate. But WHY should that be so? WHY is the beginning more apropose to commemorate than the date of destruction? Clearly R’ Yochanan did not think it was! Rather than close the issue, the gemara provides more food for thought –what exactly are these two views arguing about?

I can think offhand of 4 possible ways to explain the debate:

1) While the bulk of destruction took place on the 10th, the psychological blow of the mikdash being violated and the loss of religious autonomy which it symbolized took place on the 9th. The argument in the gemara is how to frame the tragedy: physical destruction (R’ Yochanan), or psychological trauma and loss (Chachamim). Other variations on this theme are possible, with the common denominator that the tragedy is multi-faceted and different focal points are possible.

2) Both opinions focus on physical destruction as the cause for the fast, but differ as to how to define the act of physical destruction. We already have a discussion in the gemara (B.K. 23) whether the responsibility for arson is equivalent to damage like shooting an arrow, or a form or negligence, like failing to watch one’s animal. Here too, the same nezikin issue may be in play: is the arsonist culpable for setting the blaze, or only culpable because of the eventual destruction? The Chasam Sofer (cited by R' Zevin in Moadim l'Halacha) is one source that goes down this road.

3) Rather than focus on theories of torts or on the scope of the tragedy, the issue may boil down to hilchos ta’aniyos. The fast on 9 Av is multi-layered in halacha, with elements of ta’anis and aveilus. While the theme of ta’anis and its emphasis on tshuvah is perhaps appropriate to reflect on at the moment destruction begins, the theme of aveilus seems more appropriate for the day on which the actual bulk of destruction took place. Which do we emphasize?

4) Finally, as I quoted in the name of the Brisker Rav, one can explain the emphasis on aschalta d’puranusa based on the kedushas mikdash itself, which was violated on 9 Av. The gemara may be debating whether the fast commemorates physical destruction of the mikdash or the violation of its kedusha. Alternatively, R’ Yochanan may have held that the kedusha was not violated in fact until the 10th (and understanding such a position would require further research into the sugya in A.Z. 52). Other possibilites can be raised here as well, but the common denominator is that the focus of the debate is on kedushas mikdash.

I don’t mean to limit the possibilities to these 4 – aderaba, the deeper we think about the issue, the more possible explanations and variables we may uncover that may explain the issue. And thinking about the issue is what yesterday, and to a lesser degree today, is all about. I regret that a don’t really have time to always fully unpack my thinking about a gemara in every post and will sometimes just throw out a Brisker Rav or other chiddush, but I do have a day job and do the best I can here in a very limited amount of time. This blog does not even scratch the surface of a full analysis of any sugya, but hopefully in this case I have succeeded in shedding some more light on the issue.

Monday, July 23, 2007

9 Av is not 9/11 - churban and chilul kedusha

I’m not in the mood to continue on the topic of ikkarei emunah and psak today, Erev 9 b’Av. Bl”n I’ll get back to it on Wed., but if you have a craving for the topic until then, take a look at David Guttmann’s posts.

To view 9 Av as a Jewish 9/11 I think misses the point. The gemara quotes and rejects R’ Yochanan’s view that the fast should be on 10 Av, the date when the majority of the destruction and burning of the Mikdash took place. Instead, we mark the churban on 9 Av when the fire was first set to the Mikdash. Why? The Brisker Rav explains the choice of date based on the concept of “ba’u bah pritzim v’chililuha”, once the enemy entered the Mikdash, its kedusha was removed (See Avodah Zarah 52b and the rishonim there). The fire of 10 Av may have been more intense and catastrophic than the fire which started on 9 Av, but that fire was a fire which “only” destroyed a building of wood and stone. 9 Av is not marked because of the physical destruction which took place, but because that is the day on which the greatest chilul kedusha occurred.

I don’t mean to minimize the events of 9/11 (I work a few blocks away) – loss of life is always tragic, especially so when it comes at the hands of an enemy intent on senseless violence. But I think the Brisker Rav reminds us that tragedy, loss, destruction has to be seen within the framework of chilul Hashem, chilul kedusha, and not just a sense of personal loss and suffering. In that respect, one cannot possibly compare the destruction of 9/11 to the destruction of the Mikdash.

R’ Dessler (Michtav m’Eliyahu) asks: if the Jewish people failed to fulfill their mission in Eretz Yisrael, in a makom kadosh, what sense does galus make as a punishment – kal v’chomer we are bound to fail when further removed from the protection of that makom kadosh? The answer underscores the point of the Brisker Rav. When we were in Eretz Yisrael our failings not only were our own undoing, but they also polluted and caused a chilul Hashem and chilul of the kedushas ha’aretz. In galus, there is the danger of further failure, but that failure is tempered by it not polluting the kedushas hamakom of Eretz Yisrael.

R’ Soloveitchik in a eulogy of the Brisker Rav noted that one could not call the Brisker Rav a Zionist, but that is not because he did not love Eretz Yisrael, but simply because the question of a State is political and not halachic. The Brisker Rav and R’ Chaim’s chiddushim are filled with torah that analyzes every aspect of kedushas ha’aretz, kedushas mikdash, kedushas yerushalayim; these giants were sensitive to every nuance of kedusha that manifests itself in Eretz Yisrael, and their great love for Eretz Yisrael sprang from that appreciation.

Simply rebuilding the makom mikdash or its kelim are not the way out of 9 Av. The physical mikdash is a reflection of the mikdash in our hearts (see Nefesh haChaim section 1). A physical building which we are not ready for will just be a building, not a Mikdash; kelim which we are not ready to use will just be utensils, not vehicles for avodah. The tikkun for 9 Av is not recreating a physical building – it is recreating the sense of hashra’as haShechina which once was, in removing the chilul Hashem and chilul kedusha.

While the process of tikkun may seem impossible, recall that while it took 2000 years for Klal Yisrael to deserve Eretz Yisrael again, it took just 20 (1948 to 1967) for us to once again deserve Yerushalayim once we had a State - the military victory is just a siman in chitzoniyus to what we reclaimed in pnimiyus. The kinyan of Eretz Yisrael itself, if appreciated properly, can strengthen our avodah and speed up the process, but the battle is far from over. Just walking down the streets of NY (just living in NY instead of Yerushalayim!) should give anyone with eyes in their head a sense of the chilul kedusha that we live with daily. That’s what we shed tears over tomorrow, and beg for a nechama from, b’meheira b’yameinu.

Friday, July 20, 2007

psak on hashkafa and formulating a torah theology

I have been trying for 3 days to complete a post on the subject of ikkarei emunah, hashkafa, and psak, and I keep putting off finishing it, but by coincidence Matt posted on the same topic yesterday and got me to crystallize my thoughts a little more (see comments to his post). Let me start with this: There is a notion of there being no psak in matters of hashkafa, leading in its most extreme formulation to the premis “out there” in jblogger velt which says that in areas of hashkafa one can basically formulate one’s own theology without any regard to mesorah, opinions of Rishonim, achronim etc. If there is no psak, then in a machlokes between me and the Rambam there can be no final world on who is right and who is wrong. (Just for the record: this is NOT Matt’s view!) All that psak halacha can determine is behavior, but in matters of belief, anything goes. Is such a view compatible with Judaism? I would have thought the answer "No" is obvious, but I underestimate the degree people can misinterpret Judaism : )

The first point to be made is that many people who point to the Rambam’s statement in a few places in Peirush haMishnayos that he cannot offer a “psak” on hashkafa and note that this position was adopted by R’ Aryeh Kaplan z”l in one of his essays seem to forget R’ Aryeh Kaplan’s other point made in the same speech: “So the first principle is that, in any question of hashkafah, one must go back to sources. If a person wants to develop a hashkafah, this is the way it must be. A person must be careful to make sure that the great gedolim of the past did not say the opposite.” Hashkafa is not a free for all. Hashkafa is not about what theology you choose to espouse and feel comfortable with, but what theology the giants of the Jewish people have espoused and said a Jew should be comfortable with and live by. There can be no machlokes between me and the Rambam in hashkafa any more than I can decide to read a gemara differently than the Rambam and think my version is correct. This is obvious and should go without saying, but I’ll just put it on record because there is a “yesh omrim” that doesn’t even get past this stage.

But now we get down to more serious business. The Rambam after all does say that in disputes among Tanaim in areas of emunah he cannot offer a psak where there is no practical ramification. Meaning, when there is a dispute among Tanaim, Amoraim, gedolim (not me vs. the Rambam!) involving matters of belief, there is no concept of being bound to one view over the other.

Tosfos (Yevamos 86b d”h mipnei) in the middle of a halachic discussion makes the passing comment (relevant to the construction their argument) that “kayma lan Malachi zeh Ezra”, we pasken that Malachi is the same person as Ezra (see Megillah 15 for other opinions). The Mahartz Chiyus asks: how can Tosfos possibly pasken on an issue like this? The entire discussion of who Malachi was is a historical fact, and the issue is one of aggadita, belief, not halacha. You can’t pasken an aggadita or pasken historical facts!

So what shall we say – do we want to turn this issue into a machlokes Rambam and Tosfos about whether you can pasken an issue like who we believe a historical figure was? Or is there a way to reconcile the two positions?

does mikveh before shabbos require kavanah?

The gemara (Chulin 31) writes that tevila in mikveh for kodhsim requires kavanah but for chulin it does not (discussed this back in Feb – see here). The Sidduro shel Shabbos writes that for those who follow the minhag to be toivel in mikveh before Shabbos (I don't), kavanah is required; nothing is accomplished by doing a “ma’aseh kof” and just dunking without any intent. The tevilah should bring to mind 1) that one is divesting oneself from activity of chol, and 2) that one is accepting the kedushas Shabbos (according to R’ Chaim Vital two tevilos are actually required, one for each goal).

Thursday, July 19, 2007

why everyone holds we can darshen semuchim in sefer devarim

The gemara often debates whether semuchim can be used as a tool of derash (i.e. using the juxtaposition of two topics as proof to a halacha), but even R’ Yehudah who ordinarily rejects semuchim agrees to its use in Sefer Devarim. Why is Sefer Devarim unique? Rava”n (cited in the gloss of R”B Ranchburg Yevamos 4) explains that the other seforim of Torah are written as dictated by Hashem to Moshe, as indicated by the constant repetition of “VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor…” and were never arranged in a formal structure, e.g. “ain mukdam u’meuchar baTorah”, we know the Torah does not follow a chronological arrangement. Sefer Devorim is written as a speech delivered by Moshe to Bnei Yisrael without explicit reference to being dictated by G-d. Since the Sefer is presented as a human speech, we can assume it follows a specific structure and the juxtaposition of ideas is significant.

The Maharatz Chiyus (comment to Brachos 21) offers a different explanation. The gemara (Gittin 60) debates whether the Torah was given “megillah megillah”, section by section, or “chasumah” as one unit. Assuming the Torah was presented section by section, there is no logic behind the juxtaposition of ideas other than that’s the order they were received. In other words, similar to the Ra’avan’s approach, there seforim of chumash were never redacted and organized in a way that would give the work as a whole structure. Sefer Devorim, on the other hand, was given "chasumah", in its entirety at one time, in the 40th year just before Moshe’s death. Since the entire Sefer was presented as one unit and not in smaller subsections, it must have a coherence as a whole and the juxtaposition of ideas must make sense.

Much is written in Chassidic seforim about Sefer Devarim serving as a bridge between Torah sheb’ksav and Torah sheba’al peh (see Marty Bluke’s post here) based on it being written as coming from Moshe’s mouth and not G-d’s The Shem m’Shmuel writes that the Torah sheb’skav contains within it the seed of torah sheba’al peh, but the roots of the halachos are hidden in hester until Chazal reveal them through derashos. In Sefer Devarim those roots are more revealed than other seforim, it’s torah sheba’al peh aspect is more evident, and therefore even though the idea of semuchim is too enveloped in hester to be used in other seforim, it can be used in Sefer Devarim.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

bechira chofshis and our perception of reality

The common perception of bechira chofshis is that it is no different than choosing between a chocolate ice cream cone and a vanilla ice cream cone. The world is composed of ruchniyus and gashmiyus mixed together, and you get to choose your flavor. However, this is not the case. Ramchal writes in Derech Hashem (I:4:9 - the same idea is found in other seforim like Nefesh haChaim):

ובכל אלה העניינים לא די מה שקונה האדם בעצמו מעלה ושלמות, אלא שמציאות הבריאה כולה בכללה ובפרטה מתעלה ומשתלם, ובפרט על ידי התורה

When you choose the chocolate ice cream cone over the vanilla one, you are the thing that changes – the ice cream cones are no different than they were before. When you exercise your bechira, aided by talmud Torah, it’s not just you who change, but the world changes as well as a result.

If you have a half-full/half empty glass, whether you say it is half-empty or say it is half-full, in either case it is the same glass. When you exercise your bechira, the glass will be full or empty in response to your choice. Bechira is a function of the tzelem Elokim, which is the creative capacity of mankind. Our mental map is not a construct based on how we view “objective” reality, but reality is a construct which results from our mental map (see Tzidkas haTzadik #90).

Someone who is immersed in Torah and sees the world as filled with ruchniyus is not just seeing our world through rose colored glasses, but that person's world is actually different. R' Chanina ben Dosa could use vinegar in place of oil - that's not a matter of perception, but it's living a different reality. By the same token, a rasha can so immerse him/herself in gashmiyus that even that which is holy and pure is transformed into something unrecognizable to us. They look at Torah and fail to see its beauty and truth not because that beauty and truth is lacking, but because they have chosen to construct a frame of reference which excludes it from their reality.

simcha during Av - the heter of tzorech mitzvah

The Shulchan Aruch writes that once the month of Av starts we minimize business activity, we cannot build for the purpose of simcha (e.g. a wedding hall), or plant a garden for simcha, and we do not schedule weddings during this time. The Rama adds that for mitzvah purposes these prohibitions are lifted. By the Rama’s logic why would there be a problem of having a wedding during Av – isn’t getting married a mitzvah? The Magen Avraham answers that we don’t have weddings because it would be bad mazal. In one of the Mesorah journals R’ Soloveitchik is quoted as giving a different answer which sheds more light on the nature of the issurim here. The Rama does not mean that mitzvah need pushes off the issurei aveilus of the month of Av in "aseh doche lo ta'aseh" fashion. What the Rama means is that the issurim of aveilus only apply to acts of simcha. In order to define an act as simcha-related, we need to take account of that act’s purpose. If someone builds a wedding hall, the building is an act of simcha; if someone builds a beis medrash the act is one of kiyum mitzvah. This applies to building, planting, business activity, where purpose serves to characterize action. However, getting married is by definition an activity of simcha – the fact that an added kiyum mitzvah is also accomplished is irrelevant. Therefore, weddings are prohibited as part of the minhagei aveilus.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

on women's observance of halacha and ideals in avodas hashem

The previous post touched on halachic particulars, but I think the topic of teaching girls halacha also calls attention to sociological biases. My wife touched on this in a recent post of hers regarding what makes some things frum and others not. Our shared assumption is that halacha demands the same meticulousness in observance from women as it does from men (in those areas that women are obligated in), but reality seems to prove otherwise.

The approach of beni torah in the yeshiva world (esp. in recent years) is to try to be “yotzei kol hadeyos” in halacha. That doesn’t mean where circumstances warrant one cannot rely on ikar ha’din or kulos, but no one would suggest institutionalizing these heterim as ideals to aspire to or a baseline of observance.

However, when it comes to women's and girls' observance, the situation is very different. From tefilah to shabbos makeup, somehow it is OK to teach as an ideal a level of observance that falls far short of what yeshiva educated men would aspire to themselves. Somehow the approach shifts from being “yotzei kol hadeyos” to “let’s look for an out”. Somehow the "ben Torah" who won't carry in an eiruv has no problem with his wife pushing the baby stroller down the street on Shabbos.

At the risk of being overly harsh, most women have never been educated to think independently about halacha and growth in observance, and most men care more about what's for dinner than whether their wife is keeping or knows a chumra of the chazon ish. Shouldn't we be striving for higher ideals than that?

on eating before daving and women's obligation in tefilah

My eldest daughter’s birthday was erev Rosh Chodesh Av, making her bas mitzvah, and with that came the requirement to keep halacha as an adult. One of the challenges this presents is dealing with the bias against females keeping halacha meticulously. One example that immediately came up relates to hilchos tefilah. The Rambam’s opinion is that tefilah is a Biblical obligation, but the Torah does not impose a set time or text to fulfill the mitzvah – a minimal supplication is sufficient. On the other hand, the Ramban (and other Rishonim) hold that tefilah is a Rabbinic enactment and the same takanah, with all its details, which applies to men applies equally to women. Even according to the Rambam's view, many opine that once the text and time of tefilah was formalized, there is little difference between the obligation of women and men. Finally, it is also worth mentioning that according to some opinions even the Biblical obligation of tefiah cannot be fulfilled with any supplication, but requires a prayer which has components of shevach, bakasha, and hoda’ah like our shmoneh esrei.

I am not going to discuss popular psak here – I am speaking of my personal situation, and everyone has their own choices to make when it comes to how to keep halacha. The Ramban seems to be the view adopted by most Rishonim, and a good case can be made that even according to the Rambam’s view women are obligated in tefila the same way men are, which is why many achronim (R’ Chaim Brisker among them) hold that women should daven a full davening each morning. This is what I think my daughers should do (and it is what my wife does).

What should follow is that just like a man cannot eat before he fulfills his obligation to daven, a women may not eat before she fulfills her obligation to daven. Until her bas mitzvah, we sort of let my daughter do her own thing when it came to this area, but now we feel she should daven first and eat later.

Problem: while my son’s school has a breakfast time for the boys after davening, my daughter’s school does not. My daughter explained in camp that she was going to daven at home so she could eat breakfast, but this got no more than a begrudging OK. Same halacha for boys and girls, different attitude.

Have any of you faced this issue before and how have you dealt with it?

One other note: before anyone comments quoting me tshuvos that allow women to eat, let me just say that unless you are willing to defend such a position (and not just name drop), don’t bother. This psak you have in mind in very difficult to understand, and ask yourself this – would you be comfortable putting yourself into a situation where you l’chatchila relied on such a chiddush (where the tshuvah itself leaves off “tzarich iyun l’dina”), or would you strive to be yotzei without looking for hetereim? More on this to come bl”n…

UPDATE: My wife posted on the same topic from a slightly different angle; her thoughts here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Aharon haKohen and kedushas Am Yisrael

R’ Tzadok haKohen, Yisrael Kedoshim 7b:
V’heyisem li kedoshim [ki kadosh ani] – mah ani kadosh, af atem…” (Toras Kohanim) obligates one to strive to achieve the greatest heights of kedusha, kedusha comparable to G-d’s kedusha, as much as human effort allows. Through these efforts G-d will [in turn] from above [reciprocate] with kedusha, separating [the nation] from all tumah and evil so they holds no power or sway, and no nation or people will be able to rule over [the Jewish people]… The dominion of other nations is caused by an erosion of the recognition of that singular sense of kedusha. Therefore, when Aharon died and the Ananei haKavod vanished the King of Arad attacked and took captives, because Aharon was the kodesh kodashim, embodying the greatest revalation of kedusha possible in olam hazeh.

simcha on rosh chodesh

The gemara (Brachos 49a) writes that if a person forgot to recite ya’aleh v’yavo in bentching on Yom Tov but did not yet start the bracha of hatov v’hameitiv, he/she inserts the bracha “Baruch shanasan Yamim Tovim l’amo Yisrael l’simcha ul’zikaron…”. If the same mistake is made on Rosh Chodesh, a similar bracha is recited, “Baruch shanasan Roshei Chodashim l’amo Yisrael l’zikaron…”, but here the gemara quotes R’ Zeira as being in doubt whether the text includes the word “simcha” or not.

Food for thought: what is the gemara’s safeik? Was the gemara entertaining the possibility that there is a din of simcha on Rosh Chodesh like on Y”T (if so, why is there no chiyuv seudah?), or is the gemara’s safeik simply whether the lower level simcha of Rosh Chodesh warrants mention in the bracha?

It is a bit ironic to post this on Rosh Chodesh Av, as mshe’nichnas Av m’ma’atim b’simcha, but as seforim explain, the greatest ohr comes from the removal of hester panim; with the geula shleima which we will hopefully soon see these weeks of bein hametzarim will be the “chol hamoed” between the great yamim tovim of 17 Tamuz and 9 Av.

Friday, July 13, 2007

mishpitei ha'tena'im and shlichus (II)

Yesterday in the comments the sevara was thrown out that the criteria of being able to appoint a shliach is required to make a tnai because it indicates control over the consequences of an event. I like the sevara (I think I have heard it in the name of R’ Chaim), but I’m not sure it helps answer R’ Akiva Eiger’s question from neder. It was suggested that since one must personally fulfill the neder one is obviosuly the ba’alim over the ma’aseh. But were that true, I don’t understand the gemara. In every case that one cannot appoint a shliach, why wouldn’t one say that it demonstrates that one is personally the ba’al hama’aseh – what then does the gemara mean to exclude?

The Pnei Yehoshua (Gittin 75) takes almost the opposite approach. Under normal circumstances a verbal declaration cannot undo an action – ain dibur m’vateil ma’aseh. The reason tnai can “undo” an action by making it dependent upon some condition is because the action is not truly complete yet– there is a lack of ba’alus! The fact that something can be turned over to an agent proves this lack of relationship between fulfillment and the personal actions of the ba’alim. But this criteria is necessary only when we are speaking about undoing actions. Words can without question undo other words, and therefore, when it comes to nedarim, nezirus, kiddushin, etc., the criteria of shlichus does not apply – there is question that the words of a tnai can “undo” the words that create these circumstances.

This is not the last word on the topic, but I have not finished my homework on it yet. R’ Chaim in the stencil has a different answer, and the GRI”Z (al haRambam, beg of Hil Nezirus) explains at length the difference between Tos’ approach and that of his father.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

consequences of victory

“Rav XXXX was reported to have said after the [6 day] war—when the entire Jewish world was celebrating with such great euphoria and joy at what had transpired—with great tears and emotion, that as a consequence of this victory, Jews would be stabbed on the streets of Israel’s cities.”

I guess this is true – has we lost the 6 day war then there would probably no Jews (c”v) left to stab and no Jewish cities to speak of.

(I’m not giving a link or filling in XXX because I have no way to verify whether XXX really said something like this and I do not wish to be motzi la’az on a gadol b’yisrael because someone uses a story to support their distorted viewpoint.)

mishpitei ha'tena'im and shlichus

P’ Matos is the source for the halachos of “mishpitei hatena’im” – when a person wants to make an act conditional on something else, there are specific rules that govern how to make such stipulations; these rules are modeled on the agreement made between the tribes of Reuvain and Gad and Moshe that their inheritance of Eiver haYarden was conditional on their participation in the war for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael.

One of the rules of tnei is that the act upon which one is imposing conditions must be able to be fulfilled by an agent (Kesubos 74 - interestingly, the Rambam never quotes this rule). The gemara in Nazir (11a) rejects an acceptance of nezirus conditional upon the person being able to drink wine because that tnei violates another principle – one cannot make a condition that undermines a Torah law, in this case, the law that a nazir by definition is not permitted to drink wine. Tosfos writes that before evaluating whether the condition in question undermined Torah law the gemara should have rejected the tnei for a more fundamental reason - nezirus cannot be fulfilled through a shliach!

Tosfos answers that although the laws of nezirus must be observed by the person who accepted upon him/herself the nezirus and not through an agent, at the conclusion of nezirus it is possible to send the required korbanos to the bais hamikdash through a shliach. In Tos’ view this element of shlichus fulfills the requirement needed to set up a tnai.

Though it solves the problem of tnai by nezirus, R’ Akiva Eiger points out that the gemara also has cases of a tnai in hilchos nedarim. There are no korbanos brought when a neder is completed, and the laws of neder must be observed by the person who makes the neder and not an agent. How then can a tnai be set up in such cases?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

talmud torah and the creative process: from he'elem to giluy

Unlike tefila, which emphasizes hisbatlus, talmud torah celebrates the human ego, the independent "I" that thinks and has the capacity to be mechadesh. Perhaps this is the meaning of the Midrash that “istakel b’oraysa u’bara alma”, that Hashem looked in the Torah and created the world. The process of talmud torah itself conceals Hashem and creates olam=he’elem, concealment, by emphasizing the human capacity for personal achievement. The Zohar teaches that the process of talmud torah creates new heavens - man's intellectual creativity is a surrogate for physical creativity, but really any act of creativity reinforces independence. "B'dvar Hashem shamayim na'asu" is read by the Sidduro shel Shabbos (3:1) to mean,“b’dvar Hashem”, by our engaging in talmud torah, “shamayim na’asu”, the heavens are created.

Why would we want to participate in creation? Doesn't creation, human independence and ego just conceal G-d? This brings us full circle from where we started from - nefila l'tzorech aliya. Paradoxically, instead of pulling us away from Hashem, talmud torah draws us closer. Precisely because we are endowed with creative ability and intelligence and feel that it is not just “toras Hashem” but “toraso", we pursue torah with even greater zeal, and in doing so come to greater appreciation of the ratzon Hashem and its beauty. Without G-d's concealment we would be automatons, and we would not have the opportunity to channel our independence, to excercise our bechira, to earn true dveikus devoid of nahama d'kisufa. Talmud torah is about transformation - turning pitfalls into opportunities for growth, turning our own egos to the service of Hashem, which in turns tranforms the world of he'elem into a world of giluy Elokus.

They key to this whole process is speech - the dvar Hashem, which explains the focus in creation on man as "ruach m'malela", a speaker. G-d speaks and creates worlds of he'elem for the sake of affording us the opportunity for independence; we use that independence to speak Torah and draw closer to Hashem. The "dvar Hashem" is simulataneously G-d's words and ours, which creates the bond of dveikus.

kiddush during tosefes shabbos

Before I forget about it, AddeRabbi has an interesting thread going about davening mincha after plag and ma’ariv early for those who make early Shabbos. I just want to throw out on a related note that the gemara (brachos 27b) relates that Rav was mekabeil Shabbos by davening early and the gemara raises the question of whether Rav also said kiddush early or not (the conclusion is that he did; it is permissible to say kiddush before nightfall). Food for thought: if Rav was mekabeil Shabbos early, why would the gemara entertain the thought that it is not permitted to recite kiddush during this time of tosefes Shabbos?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

hisbatlus: tefila vs. talmud torah

The biggest hester of Hashem is in man’s heart – the more we look at ourselves and focus on the “I” that is human ego, the less we see Hashem; the smaller the human ego, the closer we can come to dveikus. R’ Dessler (Michtav m’Eliyahu vol IV p 33) writes that the simplest path to overcome the hester of the human ego is through the avodah of tefila. What is prayer if not a constant reinforcement that the human “I” is itself powerless without the intervention of G-d? When the yetzer that says “kochi v’otzem yadi” is crushed, when a person becomes overwhelmed by a sense of hisbatlus, the hester of the world ceases to exist because the “I” that is our independence has been erased.

Anyone who experiences the joy of limud haTorah will find that description of avodas Hashem inconsistent with reality. Who, asks R’ Dessler, does not get an ego boost from being mechavein to a good sevara, who does not feel “I did it!” when they answer up a difficult Rambam or say a new chiddush? Part of the “rischa d’oraysa” that comes from being willing to argue the point with a Rebbe or chavrusa is because it is not just “toras Hashem” we are fighting for, but “toraso” – the torah becomes part of us, our Torah, attached to who we are, and so we stand up for ourselves. When a kashe is raised on our sevara, it is the “I” inside us which drives us to try to answer the point. But this begs the question: if the tachlis of avodas Hashem is hisbatlus, surrendering the ego in self-sacrifice to G-d’s ultimate power, how do we justify the “I did it” that is inevitably a part of limud haTorah? One can’t simultaneously pat the “I” inside on the back for its brilliance and at the same time say that the “I” is nothing and bateil!

The mechanism of drawing close to Hashem through talmud torah is clearly very different than the hisbatlus of tefilah, and we need to understand how it works.

nefila l'tzorech aliya and the purpose of G-d's concealment

(again, some of these posts are works in progress, so please bear with me...)
As discussed last week, in reality our entire existence is dependent on Hashem, and our neshomos desire nothing less than complete dveikus. G-d is the ultimate perfection, and by acting in G-d’s ways and becoming like G-d we share in that perfection and achieve dveikus. However, as symbolized by the moon, which is always smaller and incomplete in comparison to the sun, physical existence by definition blocks complete dveikus, otherwise we would have no independent identity. Olam=he’elam, concealment, or as the Ishbitza puts it on “vayapeil Elokim tardeima”, man must by existential definition be in a state of unawareness.

What is the purpose of G-d concealing himself from us? “Rotzeh adam b’kav shelo yoseir m’tisha kabin shel chaveiro” – a person is always more satisfied by something that is truly theirs more than a free gift or loan even of a better product. If G-d gave us the gift of perfection, meaning complete dveikus, without our earning it, that gift itself would be tainted by its being an unearned reward, “nahama d’kisufa”. Therefore, G-d placed himself in concealment and gave us an independent identity so that we may become like Him through our own efforts.

Why could Hashem not simply have made us happy with receiving the free gift of dveikus? The answer I think is because that would be a logical contradiction. If the ultimate purpose of man is to achieve dveikus by imitating G-d, the fact that G-d is an independent cause of His own actions and man is not presents an unbridgeable gap. It is the miracle of bechira that comes about because G-d chooses to conceal himself which presents us with the opportunity to truly imitate Him by acting on our own initiative. “Vayapeil…tardeima” is a “nefila l’tzorech aliya”, a fall that ultimate empowers man to rise to even greater heights.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Rogatchover's "peulah hanimshechet"

Posting may be a bit off this week because I have to give a shiur on Shabbos and need time to transform some loose thoughts into something coherent - please bear with me, because while in general my blogging is more "thinking out loud" rather than a finished product, this week may be messier than usual.

On that note, can someone who knows what the Rogatchover means by “peula hanimshechet” please help me come up with an explanation in English that is understandable? I keep working the idea over in my brain into various-Brisker type formulations, but I don’t think I am capturing what the Rogatchover really meant. Some examples (culled from the fantastic sefer “M’Fa’aneiach Tzefunot”):

1) The Midrash writes that when David haMelech was in the bathhouse and was saddened because he found himself bereft of any mitzvah performance at that moment, he took heart from the mitzvah of milah that is always present. If the mitzvah of milah is simply a one time act, it should have given no more comfort than tefillin, lulav, or sukkah. It must be that milah is a peulah hanimshechet….

2) The mitzvah of taking lulav is not just a one time act that must be performed at some point during the day of Sukkot, but is a peulah hanimshechet through the entire day, hence the lulav is huktzah l’mitzvaso the entire day.

3) Pinchas’ act of zealotry is described as “heishiv es chamasi”, past tense, but the pasuk continues “vayichaper al Bnei Yisrael” indicating a continuous act of kaparah, a peulah hanimshechet l’doros…

In the first case, a Brisker would probably say that milah involves creating a chalos of being mahul which is a status, not just an isolated act. One might even argue in the second case that lulav creates a status of being a mitzvah object which transcends the actual act, or one might say that the chiyuv of lulav is a din in the cheftza shel lulav, which is why it is huktza beyond the time that the kiyum hagavra is finished. But I don’t think these formulations really are what the Rogatchover meant – the Brisker reformulation shifts the focus from action to status; the Rogatchover I think is distinguishing between two types of actions. I have an idea, but I will wait to see if anyone else has thoughts before posting.

Friday, July 06, 2007

"bring a kaparah for my making the moon small" - does G-d sin???

Once when we had been living in Passaic there was a Rosh Yeshiva who was visiting and on a Friday night there was an open question-answer session at someone’s house. I recall that someone asked this R.Y. about the Rashi in our parsha which explains the korban musaf of Rosh Chodesh was a kaparah brought on behalf of Hashem for making the moon smaller than the sun. his person said his kid had asked what that meant and he had no explanation. The RY said he did not know either, to which the person objected that he could not simply tell his child that “Tatte does not know”. The RY dismissed that fear by saying that kids need to know their parents don’t know everything either.

The mussar is nice, but I guess I don’t take “I don’t know” too easily – what can it mean to bring an offering on behalf of G-d so he can have atonement? Does G-d sin?

On David Guttman’s blog he already posted in this same topic based on the Rambam in Moreh. The Rambam writes that we must be especially attentive in focusing on the the New Moon korban as dedicated only to serving Hashem because pagan religions engaged in actual moon worship with sacrificial rituals. While this approach explains the extra use of “LaHashem” in the pasuk as a point of emphasis, it does not really explain the language and imagery of the Midrash.

For a different approach, see the Maharal on this Chazal in the Gur Arye; it is rather lengthy, but has a number of key yesodos in machshava (the RY I guess was not a Maharal fan). This is not exactly what he says, but the idea is that the act of creation by definition introduces a distance between the Creator and the physical world, between giver and receiver. We are not yet ready to live in a physical world while simultaneously experiencing G-d’s complete immanence. This symbolically is the moon’s complaint at the moment of creation that it and the sun cannot share the same crown. Creation necessitates the imperfection (which Maharal proves is the true meaning of the word cheit), of blindness to G-d, a necessary evil because of our limitations.

Our job, through Torah and mitzvos, is to bring together the sun and the moon, to work on breaking that polarity and achieve complete dveikus. Hashem asks that we bring a kaparah on behalf of his cheit – i.e. that we perform avodah to elevate the world so that the inherent imperfection that was built-in for our behalf is no longer necessary. Kaparah is not used here in the sense of atonement (compare with Ya’akov’s message to Eisav – “ulay achaprah panav”) but in the sense of removing limitations; removing our inability (not G-d’s!) to perfect our dveikus.

If you make it through the Maharal, I would also recommend seeing the footnotes in the new edition of Mei haShiloach (Ishbitza) on P’ Shmini regarding the conversation between Aharon and Moshe regarding whether the korban of Rosh Chodesh was burnt or eaten, and see also the Tiferes Shlomo (Radomsker) on P’ Korach regarding the Midrash that the sun and moon came to G-d and said that if He does not stand up for Moshe they will no longer shine – why did they not object by other rebellions?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Your choice: a talmid chacham with average parnasa or a rich am ha'aretz

If you read this blog regularly you probably know I have little appreciation for the pragmatism that has infected Judaism in lieu of ideology. This article is the latest evidence of the trend: a celebration of the power of Jews to make money [yes, you did read that correctly]. Instead of brushing off the “hondling gene” as an anti-semitic pejorative, it is applauded as a typically Jewish attribute. The article quotes from a Satmar Chossod, “An education is helpful for earning a living, but it’s irrelevant if you want to make MONEY.” [caps in the original] Yes, I know – there are wonderful things you can do with money, and the more money you have, the easier it is to help have that yeshiva built, dedicate a hospital wing, and what not, activities which undoubtedly are fulfilling and rewarding endeavors. But should a Jew set his sights on making "MONEY", or should a Jew be satisfied “earning a living” and dedicating the rest of his time to avodas Hashem? Is every Jew considered capable of engaging in limud haTorah and avodah on some level, which should be a priority after their living needs are met, or do some Jews now have a blanket heter to devote themselves 150% to making “MONEY” because they are incapable of learning and that is there only possible outlet for avodah? Is celebrating "MONEY" a Jewish value?

Let’s put it this way: given the choice to raising your child to be a talmid chacham but with average parnasa, or a rich am ha’aretz who can devote himself to good causes, which would you prefer? (I wish I was convinced that the answers to this were going to be as clear cut…. Please prove me wrong!)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

appointing a shliach to fast for you

I am a very poor faster and it is almost inevitable that at some point during this long fast I will be miserably sick. My daughter who is 9 kept saying she wants to fast, so I jokingly told her she could be my shliach and fast for me. I asked my son (who is 13) what is wrong with that sevara – why does shlichus not work for a ta’anis? His answer: the whole point of a fast is to suffer “affliction” (his words, not mine); if someone else fasts for me then they will experience the suffering, not me. Leaving aside whether there is a din of “affliction” by a regular ta’anis, I thought the answer was very Telzer-like: the over-arching reason behind the din drives the sevara to explain the details. Of course, there are far simpler ways to explain why shlichus doesn’t work, and you don’t even need to come on to “mitzvah sheb’gufo”…

a six year old's innate curiosity - why was ahron punished?

My youngest daughter has progressed by leaps and bounds from not being able to read independently a few months ago to being able churn through a few easy readers a day by herself (she just turned 6 last month). Included in books she enjoys is the My First Parsha Reader series. After telling us about Balak on Shabbos, she went back to Chukas and told us the story of Moshe hitting the rock and Moshe and Ahron getting punished. Suddenly she stopped in the middle and said, “Wait a minute - What did Aharon do wrong?!”

Two quick points: 1) How does formal education manage to destroy in short time this innate sense of interest, curiosity, and wonder that children are blessed with (and yes, it inevitably does)? 2) The Lubavitcher Rebbe in many sichos assumes that Rashi addresses himself to questions that even a 5 year old child would ask based on the idea of “ben chameish l’mikra”. Interestingly, Rashi does not address this issue.

Monday, July 02, 2007

ta'amei hamitzvot as presented in rambam's yad

Last week in the discussion of ta’amei hamitzvot I focused on the Rambam’s presentation in Moreh Nevuchim. R’ Soloveitchik pointed out that the Rambam in Mishne Torah takes a completely different philosophical approach. One of his examples is the mitzvah of shofar, where the Rambam (Tshuvah 3:4) writes that the mitzvah is a gezeiras hakasuv but contains within it a hint to the concept of tshuvah.

ז [ד] אף על פי שתקיעת שופר בראש השנה גזירת הכתוב, רמז יש בו: כלומר עורו עורו ישנים משינתכם, והקיצו נרדמים מתרדמתכם; וחפשו במעשיכם וחזרו בתשובה, וזכרו בוראכם. אלו השוכחים את האמת בהבלי הזמן, ושוגים כל שנתם בהבל וריק אשר לא יועיל ולא יציל--הביטו לנפשותיכם, והטיבו דרכיכם ומעלליכם; ויעזוב כל אחד מכם דרכו הרעה, ומחשבתו אשר לא טובה.

Instead of finding a reason for the mitzvah based on some external value (the approach the Rambam takes in Moreh), here the Rambam writes that the mitzvah is performed simply because the Torah says so – gezeiras hakasuv. There is no other motivation or reason which we can point to as a justification. However, that does not mean we should turn a blind eye to the effect performing such a mitzvah has on our behavior or ideology. Remez yesh bo… means inherent in the performance of the mitzvah is an obvious effect on our religious consiousness.