Monday, December 31, 2007

"Al yishu b'divrei sheker" - a powerful R' Tzadok not for the faint of heart

Unlike a novel which presents ideas and thoughts from a particular character’s perspective, R’ Tzadok holds that every word contained in the narrative of the Torah is absolutely true – not just true from the perspective of the person saying them or true in the context of the time or place of the story (which goes back to my post on anachronism), but eternally and absolutely true. R’ Tzadok (Pri Tzadik, Shmos 3) therefore asks:

ובזה נוכל להבין מה שכתוב בתורה ״ואל ישעו בדברי שקר״ שנדרש במ״ר שאמר פרעה על המגילות שהיו משתעשעין בהם וקראם פרעה דברי שקר. ובאמת הם דברי אמת שהיו הנביאות וההבטחות להאבות. ואיך תכתוב התורה דברי בדאי שאמר פרעה. וכמו שאמרנו כמה פעמים שאף שהדבר אמת שאמר כן מ״מ כיון שאמר דברי בדאי אין התורה כותבת אותם

How can it be that the Torah records Pharoah’s description of the scrolls of nevuah that Bnei Yisrael had with them in Mitzrayim as “divrei sheker”, falsehoods? These scrolls contained the prophetic truth of geulah as handed down from the Avos and were studied by Bnei Yisrael to remind them of the hope of redemption. What truth could there be to calling these “divrei sheker”? Fasten your seatbelt from R’ Tzadok’s answer:

אך לפי האמור מובן מפני שמה שהיו משתעשעין בהמגילות לומר שהקב״ה גואלן לא הי׳ להם האמונה בשלימות ע״כ קראם הכתוב דברי שקר

Pharaoh got exactly right what we, the Jewish people, thought of the legacy of our Avos. It made for nice Shabbos reading, a nice story to pass on and give the kids hope, but when push came to shove, it was Moshe and Ahron who were left to face Pharoah alone. No Zekeinim. No friends and neighbors. No support from anyone, especially once Pharaoh decreed that they would have to get their own straw. Easy to say “vaya’amein ha’am”, much harder to live it.

ובאמת כל א׳ וא׳ מישראל מאמין שהכל מהש״י והוא הזן ומפרנס ומ״מ רואים אנו שמבטלין מן התורה ומטרידין א״ע בהשתדלות הפרנסה. ואף שמאמינים שהכל מהש״י והי׳ לו לסמוך שאין מעצור לה׳ להושיע במעט השתדלות והי״ל לעשות תורתם עיקר ומלאכתם ארעי

Ask any frum Jew and they will tell you Hashem gives them their parnasa, Hashem ultimately is the one who provides food, sustenance, a roof over our heads. But that same Jew is spending 15 hours a day at his law firm or doing computer support or running his business. That same Jew can’t sleep at night because he worries about his job and his parnasa. That same Jew doesn’t have time for a seder because he has another project to do at the office or another deal to close. I know because I do the same myself. We profess belief, but the voice of Pharoah cries our “Divrei Sheker!” And you know what? We don’t like to admit it, but that voice has a lot of truth to it.

I warned you to fasten your seat belt! This R' Tzadok pulls no punches.

are Chazal legislators or scientists?

There is a long chain of comments (many written by me) over at Dixie Yid regarding women and their place in halacha and in the world which I recommend having a look at. One point raised deserves elaboration in its own right. Are Chazal legislators who formulate laws from scratch based on their interpretation, or are they scientists who discover truths that are immutable elements of reality? A commentator who is the author of a book writes, “G-d’s laws - which include the laws of the Sages whom He appointed to be his agents - cannot be changed to our likes and dislikes, any more than one can change the laws of physics or chemistry….Just as the scientist cannot change the laws of nature, he can only learn to understand and apply them, so the rabbi cannot change the laws of the Torah, he can only show us how to understand and apply them.” I find this claim striking. While I wouldn’t dismiss it as completely untenable, the is not at all something I would assert so confidently as being self-evident. In fact, the opposite position seems far more consistent with sources.

What immediately comes to mind is the famous question of why according to the Rambam who holds Rabbinic laws must be followed because of “lo tasur” is there a difference between a safeik d’oraysa and a safeik derabbanan. The answer which many suggest is that Torah prohibitions are inherently wrong. A piece of safeik neveilah is like a piece of safeik poison – why chance eating it? However, Rabbinic laws are not inherently wrong, they are not like laws of chemistry which will have an effect willy-nilly. The only problem with Rabbinically prohibited food is that eating it undermines the legislative authority of the Rabbis. The existence of doubt justifies acting without violating anyone’s authority.

Clearer proof to the distinction can be found in a recent daf-yomi. The Ran explains (Nedarim 8) that a shevuah cannot be taken on what the Torah has already commanded – ain shevuah chal al shevuah. However, one can take a shevuah on a law derived from one of the 13 middos (and certainly a Rabbinic law). In the former case the Torah law is inherently assur already; a shevuah adds nothing. In the latter case, since the law stems from Rabbinic interpretation, it is not inherently wrong – what makes it wrong is the violation is deemed a challenge to Chazal’s authority. Therefore, a shevuah which defines the act itself as inherently to be avoided can work (see Sha’arei Yosher 1:7).

Friday, December 28, 2007

Which shirah are you singing? - isre'usa d'letata / d'l'eila and Moshe's role

The gemara (Sotah 12b) records a dispute regarding on which day Moshe Rabeinu as a baby was placed in the Nile. One opinion holds it was the 21st of Nisan, and the Malachim protested to G-d that it would be unjust for baby Moshe to come to harm on the very day that he would later recite shirah [i.e. Shiras haYam]. Another view holds it was the 6th of Sivan, and the Malachim protested that it would be unjust for baby Moshe to come to harm on the very day he would later receive the Torah.

The Shem m’Shmuel explains that this machlokes is not just a matter of chronology. The miracle of Yam Suf took place in response to the initiative - the isreusa d’letata - of Bnei Yisrael and the Shirah was their composition. Kabbalas haTorah was G-d reaching out to Bnei Yisrael - isre’usa d'l'eila – to bestow upon us His “composition”. With which event do we associate Moshe? Is he the passive recipient of G-d’s law, or his he the driving force behind Bnei Yisrael’s development as a people? When we consider the Shiras haYam vs. “kisvu lachem es hashirah hazos” [referring to Torah], which song are we singing? Is religion about passive acceptance of boundaries, or creative initiative in avodas Hashem?

While on the sugya, I want to note a different point highlighted by R’ Tzadok. Kabbalas haTorah, Shiras haYam – these are distant events down the road of Moshe’s life. How can the Angels mentioned in the above sugya plead on behalf of baby Moshe based on the merit of deeds which he has not yet accomplished? The answer is that although events in our bechira-determined lives must unfold through the passage of time, k’lapei shemaya, from the perspective of Hashem’s yediya and our destiny, the future already exists. Future events exist and exert their influence in history even before they unfold before our eyes. (Compare with the Rogachover's idea that time exists as a single point k'lapei shemaya). R’ Tzadok brings other examples to illustrate this point. When Rashi tells us of Avraham or Lot celebrating Pesach, it is more than a celebrating in anticipation of a future event – it is celebrating because the event of Pesach has occurred already kelapei shemaya even if it had not yet unfolded before them.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

the shevuah of Moshe: the Rogatchover's chiddush on text and truth

The Mishna is Nedarim (10) mentions Moshe Rabeinu’s oath to Yisro to remain in Midyan as a kinuy shevuah. Yet, the gemara later (65a) writes that Moshe was matir neder (aside: I don’t fully understand why the Mishna calls it a shevuah but the gemara treats it as a neder) in order to return to Mitzrayim. The halacha is that hataras nedarim is “okeir haneder m’ikaro”, it uproots the neder and is as if it never existed. If so, asks the Rogatchover, any reference to a shevuah of Moshe should be meaningless!

The Rogatchover derives an important yesod from this question: even though the halachic reality is that the words of Moshe became meaningless, since they are recorded in the Torah they retain eternal validity. There is no such thing as a pasuk which is a hava amina, or a falsehood, in Torah. Simply by virtue of being included in the text, every word becomes eternal truth. (I think this fits nicely with a prior post I did on the existence of the text as an independent construct and not conditional on historical or other considerations.)

The yesod of the Rogatchover is incredible, but perhaps this question on the sugya in Nedarim can be answered differently. R’ Shimon Shkop explains that being okeir haneder does not mean we went back in time and erased the neder, but that we treat the neder going forward as if it never existed. In other words, being okeir a neder does not change the historical reality; it is simply renders consequences that may have emerged from the neder as null and void going forward. When someone uses the “shevu’a of Moshe” as a kinuy, it is the historical reality of the shevuah which is being invoked regardless of the fact that those words were stripped of legal consequence at a later point in time.

Can G-d violate laws of logic? - Ya'akov Avinu lo meis

Shemesh b’Givon dom (Yehoshua ch 10) – While the sun stood still for the Jewish people to complete their battle against the Emori kings, presumably, had we been alive at the moment of that battle living in NY or wherever, we would have noticed the sun passing overhead as usual and our watch (or sun dial) would not have deviated from usual. How can the sun have been still in one location and moving overhead in another? The Maharal (Gevoros Hashem, Into II) writes that this is not a question for one who understands the concept of nes. A miracle creates a different perception of reality unconstrained by the laws of nature, and that perception is no less real than the laws of nature are. The person in NY living outside the plane of the miraculous would see the sun's usual passge through the sky; the person living within the plane of the miraculous experiences a completely different reality which is no less true.

In short, the Maharal allows for miracles to violate the law of noncontradiction: things can both be and not-be at the same time (for the record: others disagree). Maharal gives a list of many other examples, among them the miracle of the water of the Nile turning to blood. As explained in Midrash, when an Egyptian drank a cup from the Nile it was blood; if a Jew drank from the same cup it was water. How can the same physical reality be blood and not-blood at the same time? The answer is that physical reality is no more than perception, and perception is relative to the observer.

Rav Dessler (Michtav m’ELiyahu I:309) uses this premise to explain the famous gemara which teaches that Ya’akov Avinu did not die (Ta’anis 5). The gemara itself asks how that can be when he was embalmed, to which the gemara answers that the teaching is based on a derasha. How does that answer the question? Embalming is certainly what happened based on our physical perception of reality, but if within a different level of perception, Ya’akov is still with us, not just in the sense of his spirit being here, but actually alive. (This does bring to mind Schrodinger’s Cat.)

Two notes: Rationalists will dismiss the gemara claiming Ya’akov lives as simply meaning his spirit lives on. Problems: 1) Rashi in Ta’anis explains the maskana: “sevurim hayeu she’meis”, meaning he is still alive and they just thought he had died; 2) Why would the gemara make such a statement about Ya’akov and not the other Avos or any other Tzadikim? Doesn’t their spirit live on? 3) It means the makshan of the gemara made no sense; 4) See Gilyos haShas of R’ Akiva Eiger Kesubos 103 that Rebbi after death appeared in a body to his family to be motzi them in kiddush because tzadikim are “chaim”. Of course, you could overcome these hurdles – I’m just pointing them out for thought. Second note: on logic as an eternal inviolable construct, see the Chazon Ish ch 1 of Emunah u’Bitachon as printed in C.I. Taharos at the end. It is censored out of the edition printed separately, which should be enough incentive to look it up.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

some quick points from yerushalmi megillah

A few quickies from Yerushalmi (dapim based on Vilna ed):

1) "Tzarich likrosa lifnei nashim u'lifnei ketanim sh'af osam hay'u b'safeik" (21a). It sounds from the Yerushalmi that there is a chiyuv for men to read the megillah to an audience of women and children, but there is not an independent chiyuv upon women to read for themselves (just like there is not an independent chiyuv on ketanim to do their own reading).

2) There is a fascinating hava amina (28a) in the Yerushalmi that Targum is m'akeiv in kri'as haTorah. This suggests that either a) the nature of the mitzvah of kri'as haTorah is limud haTorah, and reading without understanding is an incomplete kiyum hamitzva; b) the Targum is not merely an added translation but is an integral part of the text of Torah.

3) Rabbi Yehudah holds that someone born blind cannot serve as a shaliach tzibur (32a), implying that someone born sighted who went blind can. The Yerushalmi notes that this seems to contradict R"Y's opinion elsewhere that a blind person, whether born sighted or not, is exempt from all mitzvos. To avoid the contradiction the Yerushalmi relearns the Mishna so that it is not speaking of a case of a blind person at all. Tosfos on the Bavli (24a) raises this same question (it is not asked by the Bavli) and answers that although m'doraysa a blind person is exempt from all mitzvos according to R"Y, he would still be obligated m'derabbanan. There is an interesting debate in Achronim whether Tosfos meant that a blind person is not obligated in any mitzvos m'doraysa, or is Tosfos speaking only about mitzvos aseh (see Noda b'Yehudah Mh"T O.C. 112).

Monday, December 24, 2007

galus and our national identity

I know, I have to get back to palginan diburei, but I have a cold and don’t have energy for it. P’ VaYechi opens with Ya’akov asking Yosef to bury him in Eretz Yisrael. The parsha continues, “Vayehhi achar hadevarim ha-eilah”, after some time Ya’akov became ill and called Yosef to bless him and his sons, granting Ephraim and Menashe the status of shevatim. In the middle of presenting these brachos, Ya’akov seems to switch topics and speaks of having buried Rachel on the road to Beit Lechem instead of M’earat haMachpeila. Why does Ya'akov need to revisit Rachel's death here? The classical meforshim (Rashi, Ramban) read these words as Ya’akov defensively justifying his request to be buried in Me’arat haMachpeila despite the fact that he failed to do the same for Rachel. But if that was Ya’akov’s intent, shouldn’t this have been part of his conversation earlier in the parsha, when he discusses burial plans, and not here, in the middle of the blessings of Ephraim and Menashe (Ohr haChaim)?

Our parsha is the threshold between freedom and galus for Klal Yisrael, bringing to fruition the prophecy of “yado’a teida ki ger y’hiyeh zaracha” given to Avraham because he questioned G-d's promise of Eretz Yisrael. Was this question really a lack of emunah? R’ Shaul Yisraeli z”l suggests (see article on VaYechi) that Avraham’s question did not stem from lack of emunah, but aderaba, it stemmed from his heightened sense of emunah. Avraham did not understand why a Jew needed a country – could we not be citizens of the world, finding G-d in all places, teaching about G-d in all places? The message that G-d had to imbue in Avraham and his decendents is that Judaism is our national identity, not a religious movement of individuals. Creating this Jewish nation could only be done in our own country and homeland.

With this idea we can perhaps better explain the Ramban’s theory (see post here) that the Avos only kept mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael. In Eretz Yisrael there was no room for the type of personal cheshbonos that would allow for marrying two sisters if this was necessary for avodas Hashem; these calculations make sense only if G-d’s relationship is forged on the individual level. Eretz Yisrael is where G-d’s relationship is forged with Am Yisrael as a nation, and the same law had to apply across the board for all people.

Ramban (P’ Acharei Mos) goes so far as to write that the reason Rachel died on the road to Eretz Yisrael is because the Land would not tolerate Ya’akov living within it in violation of the issur of marrying two sisters.

I suggested over Shabbos that this Ramban is the key to reading Ya’akov’s revisiting Rachel’s death in the context of the brachos to Yosef. Ya’akov sensed the danger of the blessing which would turn Menashe and Ephraim into new shevatim as being taken as a sign that Mitzrayim could be a new homeland where the building of Klal Yisrael as a nation could continue. He therefore reminded Yosef of the death of Rachel. Rachel's death occurred davka because in Eretz Yisrael and only in Eretz Yisrael we relate to Torah as a national blueprint, not simply as individuals with private cheshbonos. Even if Torah could be learned in Mitzrayim, even if shevatim could be created in Mitzrayim, the mission of Klal Yisrael remained unfulfilled until we returned to our homeland.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

palginan diburei and teaching lomdus

My son is learning Makkos this year and and I have noticed that he grasps gemara with rashi well from what he learns in school, but moving him beyond that to conceptual thinking (i.e. lomdus) is a bit of a struggle. I’m not sure if grasping more abstract analysis is something one picks up with maturity (there is a reason algebra is not taught before high school) or is it a matter of being exposed to enough of it until one assimilates the thought patterns. The nafka minah is whether it pays to provide exposure to lomdus in the hopes that it rubs off, or take a wait and see attitude. I try to provide some exposure, with little results so far, but I’m patient... (those who know me will undoubtedly recognize that the last half of that sentence was a joke : )

Last night we were reviewing the gemara (7a) which raises the question of whether eidim who are related to a cosigner (areiv) of a loan are disqualified from testifying about the loan. The gemara concludes that they are disqualified because of their relationship being that the areiv must pay if the debtor defaults.

The Rosh here raises a famous question. Elsewhere the gemara introduces the concept of palginan diburei, splitting testimony. If Reuvain testifies that Ploni is pasul l’eidus because he charges interest on loans, and Shimon testifies that Ploni is pasul l’eidus because he charged him interest on a loan, we accept their testimony and believe Ploni charges people interest. How can we believe Shimon when his testimony implicates himself and ain adam meisim atzmo rasha? The answer is that Shimon’s testimony really consists of two parts: 1) Ploni lends people money with interest; 2) Shimon himself was lent money and charged interest. Palginan dibiuei allows us to split testimony; we reject the part which contains Shimon’s self-implication but accept the rest.

What is the difference between a case of palginan diburei and the case of the relatives of the areiv who want to testify? In effect, their testimony consists of two parts: 1) the debtor took a loan which must be repaid; 2) the areiv agreed to repay if the debtor defaults. Why not say palginan diburei and accept their testimony with respect to the debtor’s obligation, and reject the portion of their testimony that relates to the areiv (to whom they are related)?

I like to throw these type issues at my son to try to force him to be medameh milsa l’milsa, which is really what all advanced learning boils down to. I don’t want to spoil the fun of thinking about it if you haven’t seen this Rosh, so I'll leave off without posting an answer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

the shalosh shavuos - inciting rebellion and civil disobedience in halacha

For those finishing Kesubos, before you get ready to dismiss the “shalosh shavuos” gemara (Kesubos 111) as aggadita, take a look at the Aruch haShulchan C”M 2:1 who writes l'halacha that the Jewish community should not participate in or tolerate those who incite rebellion against the government, as this is a direct violation of one of the shavous! Was the Aruch haShulchan just throwing this in to make a good impression on the censors, or provide some apologetic cover? Nothing else in the siman seems to cry out for a patriotic pledge at this point, so who knows.

When I mentioned this to my wife she asked whether a Jewish person would be prohibited from participating in the type anti-war or civil rights protests that were common in the -60s (and far less common now). My initial reaction was that protest is not a form of rebellion, but a demand for a change in government policy, and is protected by the law itself within our democratic system. But can we say the same of civil disobedience, openly disregarding the law of the land? What should we make of the famous picture of A.J. Heschel marching alongside Martin Luther King in Selma? Another example my wife thought of: July 4th should be assur as it celebrates a violation of one of the shavuos! My hunch is that we have to draw some line between civil disobedience as a protest against specific laws and civil disobedience of the type practiced by Ghandi or advocated by Thoreau that is intended as a rebellion against and rejection of the sitting government. I don't really know - anyone know of good reading on this topic?

theological response to the Shoah

Cross Currents raises the question (link) of whether the Shoah is sui generis or simply one of many tragedies to befall the Jewish people through the ages. As the article notes, some prefer the term “Churban” to "Shoah" or "Holocaust" because it connotes continuity with other events in Jewish history. For those opposed to creating a unique Yom haShoah, 10 Teves is an opportunity to mourn the Churban/Shoah in the context of other tragedies.

By coincidence, I recently came across the following words of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (VaYechi 5751). Aside from his use of the term Shoah, the implicit recognition of the Holocaust as a sui generis event (except perhaps the churban habayis itself), the Rebbe’s theological approach to the tragedy is worth taking note of:

ישנם עמינים בלתי-רצויים שאינם באים בתור עונש על עונות כי אם מפני שכך גזר הקב״ה ללא טעם והסברה כלל בשכל וחכמת התורה. ובלשון חז״ל...״שתוק כך עלה במחשבה לפני״, ״גזירה היא לפני״

ובנד״ד: השמדת ששה מליון יהודים באכזריות הכי גדולה ונוראה - שואה איומה שלא היתה (ולא תהי׳ ר״ל) דוגמתה במשך כל הדורות - לא יכולה להיות בתור עונש על עונות, שכן אפילו השטן עצמו לא יוכל למצוא חשבון עונות בדור ההוא שיהי׳ בו כדי להצדיק ח״ו עונש חמור כזה
אין לנו שום הסבר וביאור (ע״פ חכמת התורה) כלל וכלל על השואה, כי אם ידיעת העובדה ש״כך עלה במחשבה לפני״... ובודאי ובודאי לא הסבר דעונש על עונות.

In other words: while we are all familiar with the “mipnei chataeinu” approach which connects tragedy to sin, there are events which cannot be understood using that model. For example, the angels complained to G-d that Rabbi Akiva was unworthy of death – his suffering could not be ascribed to any sin for which he was guilty of (Menachos 29). G-d responded that the explanation for Rabbi Akiva’s death was held in G-d’s own thoughts. We are not privy to the reasons for such matters – G-d’s inner thought is not revealed - and can say no more than such is G-d’s unfathomable will.

The death of six million is such an event. Even Satan himself could not find enough sins in that generation to justify the horrific fate which those who perished suffered. We have no explanation for what occurred other than to say such is G-d’s unfathomable will – but certainly, our sins alone cannot explain such a tragedy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

do these questions really help kiruv efforts?

A news story in a local Jewish paper opens, “Is it permissible for an Orthodox family to play host to a Jewish couple if they don’t observe laws mandating sexual abstinence during the period surrounding menstruation? That was among the questions posed to two leading rabbinical authorities at the XXXX Convention….”

I nearly fell off my chair and choked while reading this over dinner. One of the many reasons I will never be a “leading rabbinical authority” of any kind, aside from not knowing anything, is because I could never restrain myself from screaming “Are you people crazy?!” if asked a question like this. What is the hava amina to think one needs to be privy to people’s bedroom practices to invite them over for Shabbos or Yom Tov?

The article goes on to tout this organization’s efforts to put more effort into kiruv. I wish them luck, because if were I a regular reader of jewish magazines and newspapers and paid attention to the great ideas the members of these grand organizations were dreaming up I would need a lot more kiruv myself.

women rabbis and the conflict between moral sensibilities and halacha

A post by me on women rabbis, tefilah groups, and the conflict between moral sensibilities and halacha over at Mishmar.

Monday, December 17, 2007

issur gavra/cheftza: Brisk vs. R' Shimon's derech

Awhile back I did a post that drew a contrast between R’ Shimon Shkop’s style and that of R’ Chaim. Briskers are interested in structure as an end in itself; R’ Shimon is always looking for a “why” that is hiding behind the scenes. Brisk is gavra/cheftza; Telz and R’ Shimon is all about sibah/siman and finding the true “goreim” of the din. The first sugya in Nedarim jumps out as an example of the difference in approach. Every Brisker jumps for joy when he reads the gemara’s distinction between nedarim, which are issurei chefzta, and shevuos, which are issurei gavra. But R’ Shimon is not satisfied. The Rishonim say (I did not double check, but IIRC this is a Ritva) all issurei Torah are issurei gavra. R’ Shimon (Shiur #1 on Nedarim) asks: if an issur cheftza means the object is somehow spiritually “tainted” in some way, why should the issur of neveilah or cheilev not also be categorized as issurei chefzta in the same way a neder is? What is it about neder that distinguishes it from other cases? I don’t think a Brisker would ever ask such a question, nor to the best of my knowledge does Brisk ever formulate an answer. A Brisker just accepts the distinction as an a priori part of halacha: in some cases the focus is on excluding objects from use, in other cases it is on human behavior, but why and where the focus is placed on one of the other is of no concern to us.

R’ Shimon takes the Brisker world of gavra/cheftza and transforms it into the sibah/siman world of Telz. Cheilev or neveilah are simanim that the ratzon Hashem has declared these products off-limits. The issurim themselves are the products of Hashem’s plan for perfecting us (i.e. ratzon Hashem is the goreim,not the anything inherent in the object itself). The issur of a neder is not the product of G-d’s will; the issur is its own sibah and motivation, it is an end in itself which start and stops with the object at hand.

10 Teves and fasting on Shabbos

My friend R’ Chaim Markowitz recently posted on the topic of fasting a ta’anis chalom on Shabbos. Rishonim explain that the ta’anis is permissible because the issur of fasting is based on a consideration for oneg shabbos; where one feels so distressed that sitting down for a meal would cause discomfort, a meal is no longer oneg. I added in a comment to his discussion that the Ohr Sameich quotes a chiddush of the Mabi”t that the issur of fasting on Shabbos only applies (m’divrei kabbalah) if one fasts the entire day, sundown to sundown. A ta’anis chalom requires fasting only from morning to night.

This chiddush, as the Ohr Sameich explains, sheds light on the gemara (meg 5b) which tells us that Rebbi wanted to abolish the fast 9 Av when it fell on Shabbos – since the fast must be nidche anyway, it can (in Rebbi’s view) be completely done away with. The same issue should have come up with respect to 17 Tamuz which would also have fallen on Shabbos three weeks earlier, but we have no record of Rebbi wanting to abolish that fast (see R’ Y. Emden on the daf). The O.C. writes that there is a crucial distinction – the fast of 9 Av cannot be done on Shabbos, as a 24 hour fast is prohibited m’divrei kabbalah; the fast of 17 Tamuz could theoretically could be fulfilled on Shabbos as it does not prohibit eating at night.

This also explains the famous opinion of the Avudraham that should 10 Teves fall on Shabbos (which it never does) there would be an obligation to fast. Again, since eating would be permitted on Friday night, the fast would not violate the issur of ta’anis on Shabbos. (I am not sure that the O.C. makes of the Avudraham’s statement that since the fast of 10 Teves is defined as “etzem hayom hazeh” it must be done even on Shabbos – the derasha seems to have little to do with the logic he is suggesting).

Sunday, December 16, 2007

radical ideas in chassidus

I wasn't sure whether to post this or not....hopefully it will not have been a bad idea (and its Sunday so fewer people are reading anyway : ). Some ideas in sifrei chassidus need to be appreciated against a background of immersion in those seforim and their outlook, and to take an isolated quote of of context can risk distorting a nuance of hashkafa into something completely foreign to Judaism. A few years ago R' Shochet made this point in an article written in response to a critique against Chabad which combined hearsay stories, statements made by nobodies, and a few isolated incidents with toras hachassidus of chabad taken out of context, which of course leads to total distortion. Lubavitch is an easy target these days, ad k'dei kach that some will claim that chassidism treat the Rebbe like a deity and are ovdei avodah zarah without exaggeration. I am not out to defend the extreme elements of Chabad who may be misguided, but simply wanted to provide an example from chassidus from an unquestioned source which, without context, may/should raise a red flag. The Berdichiver on P' VaYechi on Yosef's statement "hatachas Elokim ani" quotes the Targum's translation that Yosef was a yarei Hashem and adds:

ונראה כי הכלל האדם בכל מידותיו צריך להדבק עצמו להבורא ב״ה במדת היראה...במדת האהבה...במדת התפארת...וכן בשאר המידות וזה הוא עולם האמת ואם תבין זה תבין מאמר חז״ל מנין שה׳ קראו ליעקב ק-ל וגם מאמר חז״ל מה ה׳ בורא עולמות אף הצדיקים וגם מאמר חז״ל עתידים צדיקים שיקראו בשמו של הקב״ה וגם מאמר חז״ל עתידין מלאכי השרת לומר לפני הצדיקים קדוש. והנה אם האדם דבוק בכל המדות להבורא אז הוא אינו ״תחת אלקים״, אדרבא הוא דבוק בה׳

Tzadikim who are called G-d, angels singing "kadosh" to tzadikim?! No one has yet banned the Kedushas Levi or accused him of kefirah - quite the contrary, the sefer is a foundation stone of toras hachassidus. Yet, obviously, reading such a torah and taking it literally at face value can lead a person to draw very dangerous conclusions, and worse, to ascribe those false and dangerous conclusion to the Berdichiver! The same can be said of certain radical ideas found in Ishbitz, in R' Tzadok, in Likutei Moharan. I always wonder when I read polemics against various chassidic groups what their authors would make of statements like these.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ya'akov's doubts and Yosef's faith

The Midrash comments that Ya’akov’ expressed wonder at Yosef’s tzikus. While Ya’akov at times had felt abandoned by G-d, but Yosef always remained steadfast in his faith.

ויאמר ישראל רב, רב כחו של יוסף בני, שכמה צרות הגיעוהו ועדיין הוא עומד בצדקו הרבה ממני, שחטאתי שאמרתי (ישעיה מ)נסתרה דרכי מה',ובטוח אני שיש לי, במה רב טובך.

I think this Midrash reflects the Abarbanel’s model of bitachon (discussed here). Ya’akov remains confident that he is worthy of “rav tuvcha” that Hashem guarantees for the righteous, but he does not hide the fact that his faith was challeneged.

Yosef, on the other hand, is seen by Ya’akov as never having faltered. Having had no contact with his son for 22 years, and having experienced his own aliyos and yeridos, his own feelings of abandonment and longing for G-d, why was Ya’akov so sure that Yosef did not share those same experiences? Why was Ya’akov sure that Yosef never once cried out through his years in prison, “nistera darki”, Hashem does not see my plight?

The Shem m’Shmuel (5672) answers that it could be no other way:

ונראה שזה עיקר גדול להיות יודע שכל מאורעותיו הכל הוא בהשגחה פרטית מאת ה׳ וכל ההסתרות והמניעות הכל הוא אלקות ממש...ובכח אמונה זו שבלב האדם שהכל הוא אלקות הוא מחליף כח לעמוד כנגד הגל ואין הגל שוטפו, ואם ח״ו הוא חושב שהוא מושלך מאת פני ה׳ ואינו מביט עליו בלתי אפשר לו לאדם להחזיק מעמד שישאר בצדקתו אחרי התלאות המרובות והשונות שעוברות עליו חליפות אין מספר

Precisely because Yosef’s trials were so great, Ya’akov was sure he could never have contemplated doubt. When sorrows, crises, and tribulations are so numerous and challenging, it is only the belief that G-d never abandons any person which can prevent one from being overwhelmed. Sitting in a foxhole repelling life’s attacks is not a moment which tolerates crises of faith without leading to complete defeat.

I am not fully satisfied with this answer. Ya’akov also faced so many tribulations and challenges, from Lavan’s duplicitous dealings to facing Eisav to the thought that Yosef was lost. Ya’akov ultimately did have the strength to overcome these obstacles even while feeling “nistera darki”. If so, why was he not confident that Yosef could do the same while facing the challenges of Mitzrayim? I've been trying to thing of a meaningful answer but have not yet come up with something I like, so I figured I would post what I have so far and see if anyone else has thoughts.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

yados nedarim, yados kiddushin

While the idea of the term kiddushin stemming from “hekdesh” and reflecting the sanctity of marriage makes for a nice derasha, it does not at first glance seem that there is any conceptual relationship between the ideas. Tosfos (Kid 2b) writes regarding the terminology that “pashta d’milsa, mekudeshs li=meyuchedet li”. However, perhaps there is more to it than that. The gemara in Nedarim introduces the din of yados nedarim and debates (6b) whether a similar halacha of yad exists elsewhere, e.g. by tzedaka, pe’ah, and even kiddushin. Why should we extend the gezeiras hakasuv of yados from the world of neder to the world of kiddushin? The Ran explains that neder is a biyan av, but Tosfos writes that since kiddushin reflects the idea of hekdesh, just as yad applies to nidrei hekdesh it applies to kiddushin as well.

What is the chiddush of yad that we would not have known without a limud? I think two approaches are possible: 1) since yad is a truncated form of speech without a limud it might not count as a statement; 2) since yad is a truncated form of speech we cannot be sure of the speaker’s intent.

The Mishna in Gittin has a machlokes Rabbi Yehudah and Chachamim whether the text of a get must spell out explicitly that it is the instrument of divorce being given from husband to wife – in other words, is a partial yad-text sufficient or not. The Rishonim ask why there should be any doubt whether yad works by kiddushin if we find an example of yad by gittin. Ran answers that while the case of gittin involves passing a get from husband to wife, which implicitly demonstrates intent to divorce, the case of kiddushim mentioned in the gemara does not involve any action (the money was not handed to the women but to a different party). Just because yad works in the former case when accompanied by action, it does not necessarily work in the latter case.

The Ran’s focus on context and action as significant in revealing the speaker’s intent and validating yados seems to point to the second model of understanding the chiddush of yad, i.e. dependent on kavanah. Other Rishonim (see Tosfos Nedarim 6a who answer’s this question differently) may have a different approach.

Monday, December 10, 2007

yosef's bitachon

The Midrash famously comments that Yosef exemplified bitachon, but because he asked the Sar haMashkim to remember him and mention him to Pharoah he had two years of prison time added to his 10 year sentence. The meforshim all are troubled by the contradiction: one the one hand the Midrash praises Yosef as a model of bitachon, on the other hand the same Midrash sees Yosef’s bitachon as flawed because he relied on the Sar haMashkim.

The Yismach Moshe resolves the question with a diyuk. The language of the Midrash picks on the fact that Yosef said to the Sar haMashkim to remember him. Yosef's trust in G-d was never in question, as Yosef knew that his fate was in the hands of hashgacha and foresaw that the Sar haMashkim would ultimately be the agent of his deliverance. Z’chartani… v’hizkartani are the foretelling of events, not mere requests. Yosef’s only error was in relating this information to the Sar haMashkim instead of keeping it to himself.

What is a bit unclear from the Yismach Moshe is why Yosef should be criticized for revealing G-d’s ultimate plan. Perhaps the answer is related to the Rambam’s principle (see here) that nevuah which is spoken is guaranteed to come true while that which is given to the Navi as foreknowledge can be changed. By articulating G-d’s plan to the Sar haMashkim, Yosef in effect guaranteed its fulfillment. Paradoxically, and perhaps this is the meaning of the Midrash, being sure enough to tell others what would happen diminished the need for bitachon in the long run.

Friday, December 07, 2007

"af al pi she'chatah yisrael hu" - R' Tzadok on Jewish identity

You can run away from your mother, you can avoid your boss, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t run away from yourself. The halacha that af al pi she-chatah yisrael hu, that a Jew retains his identity no matter how far from Torah he/she drifts, makes no sense if Judaism is a philosophical system designed to lead a person to a correct set of rational beliefs – if one forsakes those beliefs and doesn’t want to engage in the pursuit of philosophical truth, what of this identity remains? Similarly, if Judaism is about “orthopraxy”, deed and not belief, once Jewish practice has been forsaken, what’s left? It only make sense if one acknowledges that Jewish identity is not about thinking, not about doing, but simply part of one’s being. You can never escape G-d because you can’t escape yourself. As R’ Tzadok writes (Resisey Layla #19):

אפ׳ בלב המשקע מכל מיני תאוות וזוהמא שהם הנקרא בלשון הכתוב טומאה, מ״מ חלק ה׳ עמו ואע״פ שחטא ישראל הוא שרשו דבוק הוא בהי״ת וקדוש שרוי בתוך מעיו ובמעמקי לבו הנעלם

Perhaps l’ha’aviram m’chukei retzonecha involves confusing Jewish identity with a set of rules, a philosophy, or other transient factors, instead of being solely as an expression of G-d's unfathomable and eternal will, his ratzon. R’ Tzadok interprets G-d’s promise to Ya’akov Avinu to protect him (Resisey Layla #28) in ALL circumstances as follows:

נקרא ה׳ השומר אמת לעולם וכן שומר ישראל ע״ש הבטחתו ושמרתיך בכל אשר תלך וגו׳ היינו נקודת האמת הנקרא ישראל זה ישמור לעולם שלא יארע בה קלקל כטעם אע״פ שחטא ישראל. וזהו ״בכל אשר תלך״. מלת בכל יש לדרש כד״ש בהרואה (סג.) על ״בכל דרכך דעהו״ אפ׳ לדבר עבירה דגם כשחוטא ה׳ שומרו שלא יוכל לחטוא כ״כ עד שיאבד שם ישראל ח״ו ונקודת האמת ממנו להיות נשקע בעוה״ז לגמרי זה א״א כלל. וידע אדם שאפ׳ הגדיל עבירות עד אין קץ מ״מ לא ניתק מנקודת האמת ושרש ישראל אף זיז כל שהוא

G-d told Ya’akov not to worry because sin cannot obliterate Jewish identity. Deeds and thoughts come and go, but G-d's will is eternal and immune to change. The bracha to Ya’akov continues with the words “v’hashivosicha”, I will return you, because (as R’ Tzadok explains) one is never so far lost that return is impossible.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Rogatchover Chanukah chakira:one 8 day holiday or 8 one day holidays?

The gemara (Shabbos 23) presents a case of someone who lit a very long-burning candle on Erev Shabbos e.g. a yahrzeit type candle, that was still burning Motzei Shabbos. Since hadlakah oseh mitzvah, to fulfill the mitzvah of ner chanukah the candle must be extinguished and relit. Rashi and Tosfos have slightly different readings of the case, but those slight differences may have major significance. Rashi explains the case being addressed is a long-lasting Chanukah candle lit on Friday afternoon – if that same Chanukah candle is still burning Motzei Shabbos, it must be extinguished and relit. Tosfos explains the case being addressed is long-lasting Shabbos candles lit on Friday – if the Shabbos candles are still burning on Motzei Shabbos, they must be extinguished and relit for the sake of Chanukah.

The Rogatchover infers from Tosfos that the need to extinguish and relight the candles is only where the candle was originally not lit for Chanukah, e.g. Shabbos candles. But if one lit a Chanukah candle and it remained burning through the next night, it would not have to be relit, contrary to Rashi's view.

The Rogatchover poses the following chakira: is Chanukah 8 one-day holidays, or 1 holiday lasting eight days? If it is 8 individual holidays, then each night needs its own lighting, as Rashi holds. However, if Chanukah is a single 8 day unit, then theoretically a candle lit for Chanukah which burned for all 8 days would suffice, as Tosfos holds.

This machlokes between Rashi and Tos. May have other ramifications. If a child becomes bar mitzvah or a ger converts in the middle of Chanukah, according to Tosfos there may be no chiyuv to light menorah – if one is patur at the start of the eight day holiday, then one is patur for its duration. Only if one considers each night a separate Yom Tov, like Rashi, would a new chiuv take effect.

seichel and ratzon: R' Tzadok on Yosef in the pit

Your brain tells you the food is fattening, but your stomach demands that you eat it anyway. The vast number of overweight people attests to the fact that ratzon is stronger than seichel. We know certain things are wrong but we do them anyway because desire overcomes reason. There is a certain understanding of religion which says that the telos of religion is to reverse this pattern and subjugate desire to reason. Man is the savage beast tamed by culture, in this case the culture of G-d’s law. This model places man at the center of a never-ending struggle to overcome his natural tendencies, a battle that probably few can emerge victorious from, but not to worry, because you also get schar for the struggle. If I wanted to sum up the entire mussar movement in a paragraph, this is it.

But this dichotomy between seichel and ratzon is not exactly accurate. The halacha is that a person can be coerced to give a get or to bring a korban and we assume that the choice ultimately made under duress is still willful. Why? The Rambam (hil geirushin ch 2) explains:

לפיכך מי שאינו רוצה לגרש--מאחר שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל, רוצה הוא לעשות כל המצוות ולהתרחק מן העבירות; ויצרו הוא שתקפו. וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר, רוצה אני--כבר גירש לרצונו

In other words, man is not a savage beast of passion who must overcome his instinct to obey G-d’s will. Man, or more precisely, a Jew, innately desires to fulfill G-d’s will. The ratzon Hashem is not “out there” imposed upon us, but is implanted within our consciousness. The challenge is to harness this ratzon and develop it despite the many competing desires that we pick up along the road in life, and to accomplish this take we need a seichel.

The brothers threw Yosef into a pit described as “ain bo mayim”. Water is traditionally the symbol of Torah, “ain mayim elah Torah. R’ Tzadok haKohen (Resisey Layla #58) interprets this episode in light of the symbolism of water=Torah (“ain mayim elah Torah”) and the nachash found in the pit as the symbol of anti-Torah forced. Yosef was stripped of his connection to Torah and tossed out into life’s struggles. What better way to test which of the two models above is superior - would Yosef sink to the level of society around him once robbed of the “civilizing” force of Torah-law, or would he find the ratzon Hashem within himself? We all know the conclusion. It is worth quoting R’ Tzadok directly (and worth seeing the entire piece inside if you have the sefer):

וזהו שורש היסוד דכנס״י שאין צריכים לעצות דדברי תורה כי הם מתקשרים בהש״י לגמרי ביסוד קבוע וקים שלא ינתק בין ע״י מסיתים ומפתים כנחש ושאור שבעיסה בין ע״י כפי׳ וגזירות ויסורין כעקרבים ושעבוד מלכיות לא יוכלו לערבבו עמהם גם בלי שום סיוע דתורה תבלין...

To get back to Al haNisim, “l’ha’aviram m’chukei retzonecha” is not just about forgetting chukim as a category of mitzvah, but about forgetting that our Jewish identity is a “chok”. It is not externally imposed, it is not something we choose to accept, not something that is a function of seichel, but it is an innate connection between our ratzon and G-d’s ratzon. Law and reason are not there, as the Greek's understood, to ennoble the savage beast; rather, law and reason exist to allow the inner goodness of ratzon to fully express itself.

Two mareh mekomos: 1) with this background you can appreciate R’ Tzadok’s take on galus haShechina in Resisei Layla #19 if you have the sefer (maybe I will post later). 2) R’ Tzadok opens the door to other questions: what is the relationship between formal halacha and its imposed rules and this personal innate connection to ratzon Hashem? What if the two contradict? Take a look at the Mei HaShiloach’s analysis of Yosef/Yehudah. Enough for now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

chanukah and the mystery of "chukei retzonecha"

The aim of the Greeks is described in Al haNissim: ‘l’haskicham torasecha ul’ha’aviram mei’chukei retzonecha’, to cause the Torah to be forgotten and to cause us to violate the chukim of G-d’s will. The Shem m’Shmuel and others are medayek that it was not Torah in toto that the Greeks objected to, but specifically chukim. The Greeks were philosophers, logicians, the great minds of the ancient world. They respected statutes of the Torah they saw a rational and necessary to form an ethical and lawful society. What they could not accept was the Jewish people’s stubborn adherence to laws which are unfathomable. What is the purpose of law which is not a handmaiden to reason, morality, or social structure? The lesson of chok is that Torah law is obeyed because it is G-d's will, and will/desire is irreducible to reason and logic.

Ironically, we tend to think of mysterious things as shrouded in darkness, and the process of understanding as "shedding light" on a problem. Chanukah is all about light which celebrates the mystery of the incomprehensible.

The Shem m'Shmuel's vort sets up a dichotomy between ratzon/will and seichel/reason, but that is perhaps a bit of an oversimplification - maybe more later.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

punishment of zomimim: malkos vs. mamon

The halacha is that if a set of eidim are proven zomimim and are chayav malkos, each eid individually receives the full measure of 39 malkos. However, if the eidim zomimim are chayav money, the amount is split between them. My son is learning Makkos and his shiur discussed why there should be a difference in the way the punishment is meted out. Based on the chakira in yesterday’s post (is a haggadah of an eid echad not a haggadah, or is it a valid haggadah but beis din cannot act unless two eidim come) one might suggest the following: by mamonos, each eid’s haggdah is valid and causes a % of the total amount being assessed. By malkos, however, each eid’s haggadah individually is meaningless - the haggadas eidus is the voice of the set of eidim as a unit, not of any individual member. The punishment of malkos is therefore is not based on a % of damage that each individual eid tried to cause, but is based on the “shem” eid zomem, the status of being a person who testifies falsely, which demands complete punishment.

R’ Shimon Shkop rejects this sevara in favor of a different approach. R’ Shimon suggests that the purpose of payment by the eidim zomimim is to make restitution; the intended victim cannot collect more than he would have stood to lose, and therefore each eid pays only a % of the total. The purpose of malkos is to punish each witness, and each witness individually must bear that suffering.

R’ Shimon’s sevara strikes me as the type of thinking that seperates Sha’arei Yoser from the world of Brisk (this would be a great topic for a longer series of posts that I don’t have time for). Briskers notoriously avoid asking “Why?” – the focus is on structure, not reason. R’ Shimon constantly looks at the underlying cause of the din – the reason the eidim get malkos or pay is crucial to being able to properly understand the structure that emerges. It would be nice to take a few sugyos written on by both and compare, but I’m afraid I don’t have time now to do that.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Reuvain's attempt to save Yosef and the written word

I have to take a little break from the hilchos eidus topic to post on a midrash that my wife has a nice pshat in. The Midrash comments, “If Reuven had known that the Holy One Blessed be He was writing about him, ‘Vayishma Reuven vayatzileyhu miyadam,’ he would have carried him [Yosef] on his shoulders to his father.” It seems unconscionable to think that Reuvain, one of the holy shevatim, was motivated by a desire for personal fame and that knowing that his deeds would be recorded would have made any difference in how he acted. So what are we to make of Chazal’s anlysis?

My wife already set me up by linkng here for my take, but I’m not sure I have a good pshat. The Shem m’Shmuel suggests that once the brothers came to agreement, there was good reason to assume that their unanimous decision was the ratzon Hashem. Just like once a Rav paskens “mutar” or “asur” one can act on his advice without pains of conscience or doubt, so too, once the brothers came to agreement, there was no reason to hesitate. So why did Reuvain have second thoughts?

While the brothers planned, a bas kol (as Rashi cites from Chazal) declared that G-d in fact had a different plan, “nireh mah y’hiyu chalomosav”. Apparently Reuvain was stirred by this bas kol that echoed in his mind or heart, but which his brothers were deaf to. He was unsure what to make of it – the bas kol did not demand the return of Yosef to his father (perhaps return to his father would only impede the realization of the dreams), but it did not allow him to sit passively while Yosef was harmed.

Had Reuvain known what the Torah would record – that there was a clear ratzon Hashem concurring with his effort to save Yosef - he undoubtedly would have gone above and beyond the efforts he made and would have certainly brought Yosef home.

I think the lesson here is as follows: The Midrash does not mean that Reuvain would have acted differently from his natural inclination had he known his deeds would be recorded, but quite the contrary –Reuvain had an innate desire to save Yosef which he forced himself to restrain. Only had he been aware that the Torah confirmed his interpretation of ratzon Hashem, would he have deviated from his brothers’ psak. (If you look up the Midrash in Rus Rabbah I am not sure this explains the other cases).

haggadas eidus

Makkos 5b quotes R’ Yosi’s opinion that the halacha that an entire group of witnesses becomes disqualified if one member’s testimony is invalid applies only to capital cases but not to monetary cases. Rashi explains the distinction is based on “v’hitzilu ha’eidah’; since the Torah’s command us to try to avoid administering the death penalty if any exculpatory reason can be found, we have a higher standard for acceptable testimony is capital cases.

Tosfos asks: the gemara equates the criteria of eidus between mamonos and nefashos based on the based on the pasuk of “misphat echad y’hiye lachem”; just as relatives cannot testify together in capital cases, they cannot testify together in monetary cases (Sanhedrin 28). If in nefashos cases the entire set of witnesses are rejected where one is proven invalid, why would we not apply the the same criteria for mamonos cases and reject the entire group where one witness is invalid?

Tosfos answers that we cannot equate the criteria. If two witnesses testify in a nefashos case and one is invalidated, the testimony of the single kosher witness is worthless. If two witnesses testify in a mamonos case and one is invalidated, the testimony of the single witness still has worth – a single witness is sufficient to cause the opposing party to be chayav a shevu’a.

Tosfos answer seems only to beg the question – based on the halacha of “mishpat echad”, we should equate the rules completely; a single witness should have validity in both cases or in neither?

R’ Chaim and R’ Shimon Shkop use the chakira mentioned in Friday’s post to explain Tosfos. The halacha of eidus for nefashos works as a unit – each witness individually accomplishes nothing. There is one haggadas eidus which emerges from a set of two witnesses, not two haggados. If one witness is invalid, we don’t have 50% testimony left, we have 0% testimony. However, eidus for mamonos works very differently. Each witness who testifies provides a valid haggadas eidus; e.g. if the debtor is declared to owe $100, it is as if each witness is responsible for $50 of the penalty being assessed. The fact that a single witness can cause a chiyuv shevua proves that the testimony is not judged as a unit, but as two separate composite parts.

When it comes to determining who an acceptable witness is, we reject relatives both by nefashos and mamonos based on mishpat echad. But when it comes to defining what constitutes a unit of haggadas eidus, the halacha of shevu'a proves that the mechanics of the cases are different.