Thursday, January 31, 2008

kufra kaparah - eidim zomimim who testify someone is chayav misah b'ydei shamayim

Jumping back into things, I just want to mention an interesting Ramban that I saw when learning Makkos with my son, which is sort of apropos of parshas hashavua (but then again, so is most of choshem mishpat). Eidim zomimim who testify that Ploni’s muad ox killed someone and Ploni must pay kofer do not get punished in turn by having to pay kofer; instead they receive malkos. The gemara (2b) explains that kufra kaparah, the payment is exculpatory for the person whose ox murdered; since the eidim zomimim do not have an ox which killed anyone, the payment is not applicable to them.

This is not the only place that we find that money paid as a kaparah takes on a different character than other payment. Tosfos (Kesubos 30b d”h zar) writes that mechila by the recipient does not exempt an obligation to pay kaparah.

The Ramban adds an interesting lomdus to the gemara’s explanation which sounds almost like something an acharon would say. The Ramban writes that kofer is a substitute for the ox's owner receiving misah b’ydei shamayim. It makes no sense to say that eidim zomimim through false testimony attempted to cause someone to be chayav a misah b’ydei shamayimk’lapei shemaya, from Hashem’s perspective, the truth is always known, and no one can ever receive a misah b’ydei shamayim unjustly! (Compare with the Ramban’s explanation on chumash as to why if the nidon was killed, eidim zomimim are also exempt – Ramban explains that since Elokim nitzav b’adas K-el it is impossible for Beis Din to kill someone who does not deserve death.)

What makes the Ramban interesting is that he directs us to look at the mechayeiv, the root cause behind the payment, instead of just looking at the consequence (very R’ Shimon Shkop-ish). R’ Akiva Eiger points out based on the Ramban that the gemara’s chiddush is not just true of kofer, but would be true of any attempt of zomimim to be mechayeiv misah b’ydei shamayim.

Friday, January 25, 2008

a meal of korbanos or simple bread - a lesson in kedusha from Yisro

Administrative note: I’m going to be away from my computer for the first few days of next week, so no postings.

Yisro rejoins Moshe and “Vayikach Yisro chotein Moshe olah u’zevachim l’Elokim”, he offers a korban olah and other korbanos; the pasuk continues, “VaYavo Ahron v’kol ziknei yisrael l’echol lechem im chotein Moshe lifnei haElokim,” Ahron and the rest of the elders joined Yisro to eat bread.

The Radomsker (Tiferes Shlomo) notes that the pasuk’s opening sets our expectation for a banquet of korban meat to be served, yet it seems Yisro was joined by Ahron only for a simple meal of bread. It’s almost like the frum Jew at the office party who takes the fruit plate and ignores the steak dinner everyone else is eating. Was there something wrong with the korbanos that caused the switch to bread, or is there something else going on here?

The danger in making the sort of life-changing commitment Yisro undertook is that a person may whiplash from one extreme to another. I don’t need to point to the not-uncommon image of the ba’al tshuvah who one day is clothed in T-shirt and spiked hair and overnight is found wearing bekeshe, beard and peyos. I can even point to my own world, as my son, who had once been an avod reader, now scarcely opens a book as his immersion in gemara has increased. This is the world of “olah u’zevachim l’Elokim”, where one’s only desire is for dveikus and spirituality, where fulfillment comes through separating from the mundane, rejecting the world of the past, and clinging only to pure holiness.

Ahron and the Zekeinim did not hesitate to join Yisro, but their meal had a different flavor. A person is simply deluding him/herself if he/she thinks life will be an endless stream of uninterrupted “olah u’zevachim”. The challenge a Yisro must eventually confront is how to remain engaged in that high level of spiritual commitment even while eating mundane bread, “le’echol lechem”, while engaged in the daily routine. It is almost ironic that Ahron haKohein, perhaps the paradigm of a person whose life was dedicated to avodas hakorbanos, here sits down davka to eat bread, as if to underscore to Yisro that he too, despite his lofty role and position, remains a simple man of bread.

The Radomsker notes, the eating of “lechem” is described as “lifnei haElokim”, suggesting an even higher level than the korbanos offered “l’Elokim”. The ability to remain engaged in a life of kedusha even while baking the bread or making the donuts on a daily basis is perhaps a far greater achievement than withdrawal into the cocoon of korbanos. It is a challenging lesson to absorb.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

the seven names of Yisro

The Ishbitzer teaches that a person’s name reflects his/her essence – the Hebrew word shem has the same numerical value as the word ratzon (written chaseir), a person’s innermost desires. The fact that Yisro had seven names tells us that he was a complex person, an individual with multifaceted interested, desires, and drives. Seven always represents a complete unit in olam-hazeh terms (e.g. 7 days of a week); seven names reflects the maximum potential of curiosity and ratzon. Yisro tested every avodah zarah in the world, yet his soul was not quenched. Avodah zarah is a one-dimensional fix. Think of the pantheon of Greek “gods”, each one individually incapable of addressing all needs. Think of the person is driven by the desire for money who must sacrifice family life for that goal, or the person who is passionate about art and as a result abandons a career. The one-dimensional person can find his/her fix in a particular avodah zarah, but a complex person who wants to balance many drives and interests will not have it so easy. Hafoch bo v’hafoch bo because only in Torah can one find everything, a complete balance that can fulfill every aspect of a person’s soul.

why issurei hana'ah have no value: din or metziyus?

To address the issues raised last post, R’ Elchanan poses a chakira: why is it that issurei hana’ah have no value – is it a din or a metziyus? Meaning, is value simply a practical function of whether or not something can be used, or is it a halachic / legal function of whether it is permissible to use an object? If value is simply a function of practical use, it makes no difference whether an item is assur b’hana’ah mederabbanan or m’doraysa. However, if value is a function of the halachic right to use an item, then an item may on a d’oraysa level be classified as having value, but mederabbanan be off limits and valueless.

If value is a function of the halachic right to use an object, it becomes easier to understand why Rashi (Pesachin 7) resorts to the mechanism of “afk’inu rabbanan l’kiddushin” to explain why kiddushin using chameitz derabbanan is invalid. Practically, chameitz which is assur b’hana’ah mederabbanan is useless and valueless. However, legally, halachically, that chameitz on a d’oraysa level is permissible to use and does have value. Rashi defines value based on the legal rights to use an object. If m’doraysa an object has use, it has value, and m’doraysa the kiddushin is valid. Rashi therefore introduces “afk’inhu l’kiddushin” to explain how the Rabbanan can dissolve kiddushin which is effective on a d’oraysa level.

R' Elchanan writes that this approach also explains why according to the KS”M (and some Rishonim) kiddushin may work using a double derabbanan (chameitz derabbanan during a time period where the issur applies only mederabbanan). Since value is measured by halachic rights, there is room to distinguish between an item excluded from use by one derabbanan vs. two.

For more on this issue, see R’ Shimon Shkop in Sha’arei Yosher I:9-10.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

kiddushin using chameitz derabbanan

Chameitz derabbanan includes two categories of prohibitions: 1) items not defined Biblically as chameitz, but which Chazal prohibit; 2) items which the Torah defines as chameitz eaten during the early hours of Erev Pesach when the issur applies only mederabbanan. The Kesef Mishne (Ishus 5:1) holds (as previously discussed) that chameitz is the only issur hana’ah derabbanan which cannot be used for kiddushin. The KS”M infers from the Rambam that this is true only in the two scenarios above. However, if one combines the derabbanan aspects of both scenarios, i.e. using for kiddushin an item classified as chameitz mederabbanan during the time period where chameitz is prohibited only mederabbanan, the kiddushin is chal. R’ Elchanan asks: If chameitz derabbanan is categorically excluded from use for kiddushin, why should compounding multiple derabbanans make any difference?

With respect to chameitz derabbanan, Rashi (Pesachin 7a d”h afilu b’chiti) explains that Chazal dissolved the kiddushin based on the principle of “afk’inhu rabbanan l’kiddushin”. The implication of Rashi is that the kiddushin is valid min haTorah. R’ Elchanan notes that a far simpler explanation of why the kiddushin is invalid is possible. For kiddushin to be valid the husband must give an item valued at at least a perutah to his kallah. Since issurei hana’ah – whether d’oraysa or derabbanan – have no value, they cannot be used for kiddushin. The kiddushin should therefore have no validity min haTorah. Why does Rashi need to invoke the principle of “afk’inu l’kiddushin” instead of using this simpler explanation?

R' Elchanan answers both questions with one principle... stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

an anonymous "kinah" over inter-denominational MLK Day commemorations

There was a ceremony last evening in honor of MLK day held at a local Reform temple and attended by a mixed gathering of Reform, Conservative, and some Orthodox Rabbis along with non-Jewish clergy and politicians. I don't take the bunch of fliers sitting around in the local shule I was in last night as of evidence of anything other than the fact that someone found a convenient dumping ground, not necessarily that the Rav or shule in question supports the sentiments conveyed, but here is the poetic lament of some anonymous author:

אוי נא לנו כי חטאנו
כשחשובי אנשט שלומינו
משתתפים באסיפה גדולה בעירנו

בתערובת רפורמים קונסרבטיבים ונוצרים
בה״טעמפל״ של הרפורמים
עם מקהלה של ילידי נוצרים

שלא כדת ושלא כדין
אפילו כשיטת ה״רב״ זצ״ל מבאסטן

מתקבצים לשמוע הספדים
על אחד מגדולי השחורים
שנהרג לפני כמה שנים

זמירות אומרים אבל קינה מבעים
לאלה שראתה זאת ולא מוחים

פורצים פרצות בגדרנו
אוי לנו כי חטאנו

The reference to the Rav is footnoted with a comment in small print the bottom of the page that refers to the Rav's psak that it is prohibited to enter a Refrom shofar to hear shofar, "al achas kamah v'kamah" it is prohibited to go to an "asifas kofrim im komer". I don't know what the "al achas kamah v'kamah" kal v'chomer is (while one may wish to avoid recognizing Reform practice as a valid kiyum mitzvah, there is no similar danger of anyone perceiving a MLK gathering as anything other than a political event), but in any case, I'll avoid any other comment on this and let you make of it what you will.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King Day

OK, I can't resist posting something on "inyana d'yoma". LBJ's "we shall overcome" speech following the racial violence in Selma in 1965 is a classic:

But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. For, with a country as with a person, "what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem....

What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and state of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life. Their cause must be our cause too. Because it's not just Negroes, but really it's all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

And we shall overcome.

kiddushin using chameitz d'rabbanan

[In case you missed last week's post, I've started a new series focussing on learning through R' Elchanan's 'Kuntres Divrei Sofrim'. You can sort by the label KDS on the post to see others in the series.]

Why does the KS”M use such elaborate reasoning to explain the Rambam instead of taking the more direct approach R’ Elchanan suggests? Furthermore, why would the Rambam use an example like chameitz when the KS”M’s approach would work with any issur hana’ah derabbanan?

The first question becomes a little weaker if one takes the KS”M in the context of the perek (Mamrim 4) as a whole, where the Rambam lists many other examples of halachos that fall under the zakein mamrei umbrella because they can have ramifications for questions of chalos kiddushin. For example, the Rambam writes:

וכן אם נחלקו בלקט שכחה ופיאה, אם זה לעניים או לבעל הבית--הרי זה חייב: שהרי לדברי האומר לבעל הבית--הרי זה גזל ביד העני, ואם קידש בו אישה אינה מקודשת

With respect to the second point, R’ Elchanan points us to the Rambam in Ishus 5:1

המקדש בדבר שהוא אסור בהנאה--כגון חמץ בפסח או בשר בחלב, וכיוצא בהן משאר איסורי הנאה--אינה מקודשת; ואפילו היה אסור בהנאה מדבריהם, כגון חמץ בשעה שישית מיום ארבעה עשר--אינה מקודשת.

Notice that when the Rambam speaks of issurei hana’ah d’orayasa, he uses two examples: basar b’chalav and chameitz. When he speaks of issurei hana’ah derabbanan, he uses only the chameitz example. Why? The KS”M writes that chameitz is the single case of issurei hana'ah derabbanan which compromise chalos kiddushin. Unlike other issurim which are a new cheftza shel issur derabbanan, chameitz derabbanan meets the Biblical definition of what chameitz is, and is simply an extension of the time period during which chameitz is prohibited.

The KS"M concludes that using a type of chameitz which is only defined as such m'derabbanan during this extended time period to effect kiddushin should not pose a problem. More on this to come bl"n.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Bobby Fischer and the longing for order

The NY Times headlines this morning refers to the death of Bobby Fischer, and by coincidence last week I finished reading Bobby Fischer Goes to War: How a Lone American Start Defeated the Soviet Chess Machine. Fischer has been insane for many years, and as far as his Jewishness, I believe he wrote a letter to Encyclopedia Judaica asking to be de-listed, denying his Jewish identity (aside from the many anti-semitic ramblings he vented during his life). But putting that aside, there has always been fascination with Fischer because of his tremendous genius on the chessboard.

I think chess perhaps satisfies some inner need to withdraw into a confined space where movement is restricted by precise rules, where logic and order reign supreme, but at the same time where creativity is not compromised. While Fischer was still sane he always carried with him a pocket chess set that he would pull out anytime and anywhere to study chess problems while ignoring his surroundings. I have been reading some other books on chess players and could not resist comparing their concentration and mindset to that which we use to approach learning. L'havdil, how many similar stories are told of gedolim who could have a gemara handy at all times and be learning no matter what was occurring around them. The yam hatalmud is a similarly confined space, with its own logic and rules (13 midos, what makes for a good kashe or teirutz, etc.), yet which also allows for brilliant creativity which can be aesthetically pleasing to behold as well as logically compelling. I wonder if enjoyment in learning, chess, or similar activites stems from some type of need to withdraw from the messy unpredictability of every day life into a world of ordered rules and logical calculation that we can mentally assert control over. Returning to this artificial world provides a safe harbor, and the greater the mastery of this artificial environment, the greater the almost addictive infatuation with it becomes.

(To avoid misinterpretation: I am not suggesting gedolim learn she'lo lishma, motivated only by psychological need. I am suggesting that chess and learning and math and other activities may be pleasurable in part because they satisfy a psychological longing for order.)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

zakein mamrei and chameitz derabbanan

R’ Elchanan opens his Kuntres Divrei Sofrim with the Rambam Mamrim 4:3 –

וכן אם חלק עליהם בגזירה מן הגזירות שגזרו בדבר שיש בשגגתו חטאת ובזדונו כרת, כגון שהתיר החמץ יום ארבעה עשר בשעה שישית, או אסרו בהניה בשעה חמישית--הרי זה חייב מיתה; וכן כל כיוצא בזה

A zakein mamrei is a person who challenges Bais Din’s authority by disagreeing with a ruling of Beis Din relating to an issur kareis, or with gezeirah derabbanan that was instituted as an extension of an issur kareis. The Rambam’s example: challenging the gezeriah derabbanan against eating chameitz during the sixth hour of the day on Erev Pesach (the issur d’orasya takes effect after the end of the sixth hour).

How is this issur derabbanan of chameitz associated with a punishment of kareis? The Kesef Mishne explains that were a man to be mekadesh a woman during the sixth hour with chameitz, whether or not that chameitz is assur b’hana’ah m'derabbanan will effect whether the marriage is valid, which in turn effects whether a breach of that relationship is adultery (=chiyuv kareis) or not.

R’ Elchanan proposes a simpler reading of the Rambam (which I think is the one we intuitively arrive at without the KS”M): since the Biblical issur of chameitz is an issur kareis, the issur derabbanan of chameitz is categorically within the realm of issues one can become a zakein mamrei for objecting to.

There is a something to be said for the KS”M’s interpretation, but before we get to that, let’s sum up the nekudas hamachlokes, the point of disagreement: according to KS”M, it is the fact that chameitz derabbanan can lead to an actual chovas hagavra of kareis which is crucial; according to R’ Elchanan, it is the fact that the the lav of chameitz is categorically subject to kareis which is crucial, irrespective (in this case) of whether there is any actual kareis ramification for violating the derabbanan in question.

starting again

After some more thought I am going to pick up again. Going forward I am going to try to keep lomdish posts focused on a single sefer so you can follow along inside if you like, everyone will have a better idea as to the progression of topics, and the sugyos will hopefully provide some valuable yesodos. My choice for now is to work through the Kuntres Divrei Sofrim of R’ Elchanan (henceforth: KDS) found in vol 2 of the Koveitz Shiurim. I know some of the ideas touched on are popular topics, some I have written up here before, and some will be new ( to me at least). I will label the posts KDS to make sorting through them easier.

I will still try to do some machshava posts, etc. and other more varied topics as time allows. Also, I'm going to try to keep the posts a little shorter so they are more easily digestible (and less time consuming to write).

The blogpshere seems filled with so much trash and bad thinking that I'm skeptical whether good posts make any difference or are simply bateil to an overwhelming rov, but I'm putting the kashe aside for now.

Monday, January 14, 2008

taking a break

I am taking a break from blogging for a few days because I want to rethink the whole blog content and direction. Writing has gotten more tedious than fun, so I want to mull things over. Thanks for your patience. I'll bl"n post something before the week ends.

Friday, January 11, 2008

band-aid for the neshomo on winter vacation

A local newspaper (The Jewish Star) has an article about a letter that all our local yeshivos were going to send to all parents warning about the dangers of unsupervised behavior by teens during winter vacation. There have been some pretty ugly incidents in the past, and this was a noble attempt to be proactive and warn parents and teens to be on guard. The letter was to have been jointly signed by the principals from every single school - that is, until one of them balked and the plan fell apart.

My kids are not really old enough for me to have these nisyonos to deal with, so maybe it’s not fair for me to comment at all. On the one hand, great idea! Why can’t there be a try for unanimity on more issues. Why did this one fall apart and what can be done to make it work?
On the other hand, who are we kidding? A teen breaking his (or her) head over a gemara with enthusiasm and a desire for ruchniyus usually does not suddenly throw everything away and engage in a week of orgiastic pleasure seeking. That week of fun in the sun is a siman that there is a pervasive rot within that is not being addressed by our schools in an effective manner. Dear Principals – have you ever walked down Central Ave. on Motzei Shabbos or taken a peek in the many pizza places there? And those are probably the more innocuous of hangouts.

A letter may head-off the problem of the moment, but only a 365 day a year effort to create an environment in the school, the home, the community of kedusha and hislahavus is going to have a chance of success with most kids.

the big letter "yud" (III)

Now that we have the building blocks (see parts I and II), we can get to the punch line. Every Jew soul is a letter written on the parchment of Jewish destiny (sounds poetic, no? My wife would call it purple prose). How that letter appears is subject to our bechira. If a Jew chooses lives according to pnimiyus, the letter within him is revealed clearly and distinctly. But if a Jew c”v acts according to hi/her own machshava, taking pen in hand and scrawling his/her own message, than the ratzon Hashem of his/her neshoma remains hidden, that potential letter in the destiny of Klal Yisrael that he/she could contribute is erased. Every decision we face really boils down to one question: what’s my letter and where does it come from, machshavos b’lev ish or Toras emes?

The Sefas Emes explains: Had Reuvain realized that the urge to save Yosef came from within his pnimiyus, that it is letters of Torah, he would have seized the opportunity. But it’s not so easy to see to distinguish our own thoughts from the letters of Torah within, and even the shivtei K-h can err (compare with the Shem m’Shmuel discussed once before).

Shlomo haMelech thought that he could take as many wives as he liked – the “yud” of “yarbeh” was just not his letter, it did not radiate in his neshoma, it was erased from his book. But Hashem does not let letters get erased, his ratzon will come to fruition, even if we choose to ignore the message.

And to return to the starting line again, “Netei es yadcha al Eretz Mitzrayim” now also makes a bit more sense. Yad-cha – your "yud". "Yud" (as we explained) is the aspect of machshava; Moshe, the transmitter of Torah, represented the highest level of da’as and machshava a human can attain. The “yud” was Moshe’s letter. That “yud”, which we can all attach to, can either be constrained and confined in the meitzar, the narrow straits of galus, or it can transcend the highest Heavens.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

the big letter "yud" (II)

We still have to understand what the Midrash means (see previous post) when it refers to the letter “yud” complaining of being erased. Even if a person does an aveira, does that erase the crime from the books? My thinking on this was opened up by a Sefas Emes on VaEra, but it is echoed in many mekoros.

The Sefas Emes focuses on a Midrash my wife wrote about once. “Had Reuvain known that the Torah would write of his efforts to save Yosef”, says the Midrash, “He would have carried him on his shoulders back to his father.” Under the spotlight, we all make an extra effort; however, the Midrash is not talking about us, it is talking about the bechor of the shivtei K-ah. Reuvain did not act for fame, and it is hard to imagine that he acted less enthusiastically just because he thought the spotlight was off.

R’ Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik, Shmos #1) writes that every letter of the Torah corresponds with a Jewish soul. There is a paradigm of 600,000 souls in the Jewish nation, and a mesorah of 600,00 letters in Torah (no, this is not accurate. See R’ Tzadok as to how it works).

Just to expand a bit on this idea, here is how the Tiferes Shlomo uses it. Chazal tell us (Pesachim 22b) that Shimon ha’Amsuni was able to darshen every single word “es” in the Torah until he got to the pasuk “Es Hashem Elokecha tira” and he ran out of ideas. What can you be marbeh that can stand alongside yiras Shamayim? The gemara continues that R’ Akiva succeeded where Shimon haAmsuni failed and darshened the pasuk as coming to include yirah of talmidei chachamim. Did R’ Akiva have more imagination that Simon haAmsuni? Did he have a mesorah that Shimon haAmsuni lacked?

The Tiferes Shlomo explains that a Chacham making a derasha must understand how the neshomos of Klal Yisrael relate to the Torah he is expounding (see R’ Tzadok in Reseisei Layla). Shimon haAmsuni did not perceive how any neshomos could be included in the word “es” in the pasuk “es Hashem Elokecha tira” and he could not darshen a ribuy. Rabbi Akiva, on the other hand, had the deepest insight into how each Jewish soul is rooted in ratzon Hashem and has a place in Torah. “V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha – zeh klal gadol baTorah” (dayka). Precisely because we all share a Divine spark rooted in Torah, we must also share love for each other as well (see Rashi, Shabbos 31a d”h lo ta’avid, R’ Tzadok Pri Tzadik P’ Kedoshim, and the famous ch. 32 of Tanya). R’ Akiva was able to sense that even this word “es” of “es Hashem Elokecha tira” has a parallel in the neshomos of talmidei chachamim.

[Why the derashos were focused on the word “es” and not some other recurring word is a story for another time, but something to just note.]

To summarize: the idea here is that there is a deep pnimiyus behind the world (the Havaya behind teva, like we have been discussing in previous posts) which represents the ratzon Hashem. We can discover that deep pnimiyus by probing within ourselves (asking “mi” and “mah”, as we have been discussing) or by contemplating the Torah. Both paths lead to the same result and revolve around the same nekudah.

So these are the building blocks, and bl”n next post will bring it all together.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

the big letter "yud"

I can’t copy the entire text of the opening Midrash in VaErainto a post, so have a look at the text here. In a nutshell, the Midrash compares Moshe’s questioning G-d’s (lamah harei’osa…lamah zeh shilachtani) with Shlomo’s questioning the prohibition of lo yarbeh lo nashim. Although the Torah warns that a king who has too many wives will be led astray, Shlomo haMelech thought he was immune to such a possibility. The Midrash relates that the letter “yud” of “yarbeh” complained to G-d that Shlomo was erasing it from the Torah. G-d responded that Shlomo himself would be gone before even one little “yud” from the Torah would be erased. Even the letter “yud” which was subtracted from Sarai’s name (when it was changed to Sarah) was not bateil but was added to Hoshea’s name to form Yehoshua. In the end, Shlomo was led astray. So too, G-d was originally angry at Moshe for questioning the foresight of Providence, which had already revealed that Pharoah would not immediately send the Jews out. However, when Hashem saw that Moshe speech was motivated by his love for the Jewish people, his anger was assuaged and he showed Moshe the deeper revelation of the Shem Havaya.

The textual “hook” for the Midrash is the opening pasuk of Va’Eira – “Vayidaber Elokim el Moshe vayomer eilav…” Dibbur usually connotes harshness, while amira is softness of speech. Which was it – was G-d angry and speaking harshly to Moshe, or was he engaged in a more pleasant dialogue? The end of the Midrash amplifies on the change in voice and its cause.

Moving beyond the hook, we need to understand the body of the Midrash – the lesson it teaches and the way it is conveyed. What does it mean that the “yud” of "yarbeh" complained – why not the entire word, or the entire pasuk (see the Matnos Kehunah and others)? How could Shlomo be mevateil a letter of Torah by disobeying - doesn't the text remain unchanged whether we obey it or not? What is the meaning of the proof from Sarah-Yehoshua that letters are not bateil? And finally, what are we supposed to take away as a lesson?

The key to understanding the significance of the letter “yud” is found in a Rashi on a pasuk we say every morning. “Az yashir Moshe” – Why is the word “yashir” written in future tense when the event occurred already? Rashi explains that the Torah is referring to Moshe’s thought – az alah b’libo yashir – Moshe had the idea to sing, which he then carried out. The “yud” reflects the machshavah which precedes action. One can change a verb to future tense by simply adding a “yud” in front of it – yashir, yidabeir, yarutz, yachalom etc. Future action is always anticipated by the thoughts of the present, the “yud”, which precede it.

Shlomo haMelech thought he could predict the future and not be swayed by his many wives, but the “yud” of “yarbeh”, the Divine foreknowledge of the truth, was far ahead of his plans and came to complain. We find this same idea echoed elsewhere. The word “nesi’im” is written without a “yud” (Shmos 35:27) by the dedication of the Mishkan as a punishment for the Nesi’im letting Bnei Yisrael donate first, figuring they could fill in any shortfall – their future planning did not work out quite as they liked. The Nesi'im lacked foresight, their “yud” was missing. The “yud” from Sarai moved to Yehoshua, who needed the foresight to escape the plan of the Meraglim and lead Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael [K-h represents the sefiros of chochma-binah, "moshiacha m'*atzas* meraglim" (dayka)]. My wife wrote today about the significance of Ashrei which reminded me of the Tiferes Shlomo’s (and Noam Elimelech, I think) reading of “poseich es yadecha” as “poseich as yudecha” (if you read it with the chassidish havara it does sound the same), open your letter “yud”s, i.e. Hashem, reveal your machshava in our reality.

Returning to my earlier post, I think perhaps one can read “netah es yadcha” in this light as well. Moshe, extend your “yud” over the sky of Mitzrayim, step outside the box of your limited thinking and you will see the darkness and choshech of Mitzrayim's narrow vision, and the great ohr possible through geulah.

Bl”n maybe more to come to explain some of the other points….

the "waters above the Heavens"

The Tiferes Shlomo wonders how G-d can instruct Moshe to bring about the plague of darkness by raising his hands above the sky, “Netei es yadcha al ha’shamayim”. Obviously, one cannot lift one’s hands above the sky - the text must be a metaphor; what does it mean to convey?

The Radomker begins his answer by analyzing a perek in Tehillim which we include in Pesukei d’Zimra each morning: “Halilu es Hashem min hashamayim… v’hamayim asher m’al l’shamayim…” What are these “waters above the Heavens” which sing to G-d? The Radmonsker has a beautiful approach, but perhaps the question can be addressed using the Koidenover’s shalosh seudos torah. Recall that the Igra d’Kallah taught that “hamayim” is a contraction of two questions: “mi” and “mah”, the questions of “who am I” and “what is my obligation in the world”, which allow man to pierce the veil of nature and recognize that Havaya, the boundless light of G-d, is one and the same as teva, the laws of nature which seem to have their own independent reign. The praises of G-d are sung by all of nature, up to the greatest heights of the Heavens and the Angels which inhabit it. But there is an even higher praise of G-d we can sing. This is “hamayim”, when we see creation using “mi” and “mah”, which stands "m'al hashamayim", transcending even the physical heavens.

Darkness and light represent the forces of good and evil which are all mixed up in our topsy-turvy world. Hashem disperses hashpa'ah to all because there are no pure tzadikim who deserve it to the exclusion of pure reshaim who do not. It's is up to us to straighten things out so the good can get what they deserve and l'havdil, evil gets its downfall. If we extend our hand and reach “al hashamayim”, above the constraints of teva, by asking "mi" and "mah", meaning we rise above our own selfish constraining nature, then we will have exclusive rights to enjoy the ohr Hashem while Mitzrayim remain in darkness.

It's still a bit of a strange expression - why place the focus on raising one's hand, "yadcha"? Perhaps more to say on this down the road...

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

eidus she'atah yachol l'hazima

My son had a farher at a cetain yeshiva on Sunday and although he did not tell me too much about what they asked, he mentioned that the interviewer posed a kashe of R”Y Salanter which the interviewer said he had no good answer for. All eidus must be “efshar l’hazima” i.e. it must be possible for the eidim to be proven zomimim by other testimony. Given that there are a limited number of people in the world who can be eidim, if everyone in the world pairs up into groups to testify, the last group will have no one who can possibly prove them zomimim. If this last group is disqualified because their testimony is not efshar l'hazima (because there is no one else left in the world who can do so), the second to last group becomes the last group, and again, no kosher witnesses are left who can prove them zomimim. Following this chain of regression backwards, we can disqualify all witnesses – so how does this halacha of efshar l’hazima work?

I understand why this is a nice brain teaser to give a 13 year old, but I am not sure why the interviewer himself claimed to be stumped, unless I am missing something. Efshar l’hazima does not mean practically (b’poel) that there has to be some witnesses out there who can make eidim into zomimim; it means that the eidus has to have the *quality* of specifying a date, place, time, etc. which render it susceptible (b’koach) to hazamah.

(One might claim that whether efshar l’hazima means a potential for hazamah or b’poel actually being able to carry out hazamah depends on the two opinions in Tosfos Makkos 2a d”h m’idin – I think the point is debatable, but I’m still happier saying the point depends on two deyos in Tosfos than to leave the question as unresolvable).

Monday, January 07, 2008

Koidenover Rebbe's visit to the 5T - seudah shlishis Torah

The 5T had the zechus this past Shabbos of hosting the Koidenover Rebbe (thanks to the tireless efforts of R’ Shlomo Slatikin). Dixie Yid has already posted someone’s summary of the Friday night tisch which I unfortunately lived too far away from to attend. My son and I were able to attend seudah shlishis with the Rebbe, summary below. Of course, I alone am responsible for errors, and no summary can capture the hislahavus which the Rebbe radiated.

The Rebbe began by praising the community for utilizing this time of seudah shlishis, which is known in Zohar as “rava d’ravin”, the time of deepest ratzon, for Torah and zmiros.

The Rebbe posed the question of the Degel Machne Ephraim: why should “v’yad’u Mitzrayim ki ani Hashem” have been a motivation for makkos? The Mitzrim were culpable for their evil and deserved punishment; whether they ultimately chose to acknowledge G-d’s hand or not seems entirely irrelevant. The Degel answers that “v’yadu Mitzrayim” does not refer to the Egyptians, but to the Jewish people, who through their many years of galus had become like the Egyptians themselves. The goal of the makkos was for each Jew to recognize “ki ani Hashem”.

The Rebbe cited the Igra d’Kallah on the pasuk of “va’yotzei Pharoah hamayma”: the word “hamayma” is a composed of the Hebrew letters that form the words “mi” and “mah”, who and what. The world as we see it, teva, which has the same gematriya as Elokim, is a veil for Hashem’s infinite presence, which is the root of all creation. “Havaya hu Elokim” means that behind teva=Elokim is the infinite light of G-d, Havaya. How does one arrive at that recognition? The letters of Elokim can be read as a contraction for two questions: “Mi Eileh” and “K-eli Mah”. A person must first ask himself “Mi Eileh” – what is around me? Who am I and what is the true nature of reality? When a person can answer the “mi”, recognizing that he has a neshoma and the world contains Elokus, a person must then ask, “K-eli mah”, what must I do to be a faithful eved Hashem? Pharoah was “yotzei hamayma”, he ran away from these questions of “mi” and “mah” and looked only at the veil of teva. But Moshe was “min hamayim m’shi’sihu”, his entire essence was dedicated to revealing the true “mi” and “mah” within Creation.

The Rebbe quoted R’ Shlomo m’Karlin as saying that worse than all the avieros in the world is for a Jew to forget that he is a “ben melech”, that there is a “mi” and a “mah” and everything is rooted in Elokus.

This revelation is possible in all doros, as the Tiferes Shlomo teaches that the neshoma of Moshe exists in each dor, and especially on Shabbos. The Rebbe explained that the two crowns given to Bnei Yisrael at kabbalas hatorah were these revelations of “mi” and “mah”. Even though the crowns were taken after the cheit ha-eigel, on Shabbos the crowns can be restored by Moshe to each one of us. The Rebbe ended with a bracha for the tzibur to realize these aspirations.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Shalom Aleichem... Tzeischem l'Shalom: why goodbye so soon?

I can’t end the week on such a cynical note as the last post – it just doesn’t feel right. Every Friday night Jews sing Shalom Aleichem and welcome the angels of Shabbos into their home. Neicha that we say Shalom Aleichem…Bo’achem l’Shalom…Barchuni l’Shalom… but why Tzeischem l’Shalom? Such a short visit – we started singing 3 minutes ago with a big hello and already it’s a Tzeischem l’Shalom, goodbye?

I want to preface the Shem m’Shmuel’s answer to this kashe with a different vort. The gemara (Beitzah 16) darshens from the pasuk “vayinafash – vay avdah nefesh” that on Shabbos a person receives a neshoma yeseira. The question is asked (the Sefas Emes in Braishis quotes this kaske from the Besh’T): “vay avdah nefesh” is the pain we feel when the neshoma departs, but the pasuk of “vayinafash” is written by the beginning of Shabbos, not the end?

The Sefer Emes in Braishis gives one answer to this, but if you remember the kashe when P’ Shmini rolls around, he has a better (or so it seems to me) answer. A person, says the Sefas Emes, can only have three levels of neshoma manifest in him at any one time. Normally, a person has the lower nefesh operating all week + two higher levels. When Shabbos rolls around, something has to give to make room for the neshoma yeseira. Therefore, before Shabbos starts, the normal “weekday” of the neshoma must depart. “Vayinafash – vay avdah nefesh” is our little cry of pain as that weekday nefesh leaves us at the start of Shabbos, but we quickly recover as the neshoma yeseira makes its presence felt.

Explains the Shem m’Shmuel: as a person moves to higher madreigos, they “interact” with different levels of malachim (interpret that any way you like) according to their level. Shabbos lifts each of us to a higher level, and so as Shabbos starts not only do we welcome the Malachim of Shabbos which guide us through the day, but we also bit farewell, Tzeischem l’Shalom, to the “weekday” Malachim that have helped us through the previous week.

This same yesod appears in many other places, but in a nutshell, a person can’t say I’m the same person on Satuday that I am on Tueday, Friday, or Monday, just I can’t do melacha. The idea of Shabbos is that on that day a person is a different gavra entirely.

The Lomdishe Guide to Marriage: Men are Gavras, Women are Cheftzas ( - not!)

By coincidence I discovered an affirmation of the “equal value – separate services” concept just a day after posting about it! I am reading King’s Gambit by Paul Hoffman and in chapter seven he writes about his trip to Libya for the World Chess Championship. While waiting for a game to begin, he started reading Muammar Gadhafi’s Green Book (kind of like Mao’s Little Red Book). The Green Book chapter entitled “Woman” ends with the observation that although women and men are “equal as human beings”, they still do not have “absolute identity between them as regards their duties.” I don’t know if a haskama for your ideas from Muammar Gadhafi is something to tout, but interesting, no?

On a more serious note, I want to make one other point about this whole (in)equality argument. Taken in context, halacha does not say much more about women than the fact that they are bound by different mitzvah obligations than men. Not content with a minimalist approach that says “ain lecha bo elah chidusho”, some use this as an excuse to justify all kinds of gender stereotypes. An example is this paragraph from Heshelis’ article:
The sin changed the nature of most women from that of an abstract type to that of a concrete type. Concrete types are not intellectuals, nor are they interested in metaphysical contemplation. They understand things on a more external level. Concrete types have capabilities and interests in concrete physically related activities, such as cooking, sewing, carpentry, gardening, organizing the physical world, etc. Abstract types, although they may also do well in concrete activities, possess an added dimension of understanding of, and interest in, abstract ideas: they understand underlying principles behind the ideas, are often interested in philosophy, the metaphysical, and the hidden working of the human psyche. Unlike concrete types, who are interested only in the practical application of knowledge, abstract types want knowledge for its own sake.
Women’s role: cooking and sewing. Men’s role: philosophy and abstract ideas. To really get the full flavor of this approach try reading Catherine Beecher’s (the sister of Harriet Beecher of Uncle Tom's Cabin fame) The American Woman’s Home (not the emphasis on "woman’s" home- sorry men, but you are just guests in your castle). “To man is appointed the out-door labor – to till the earth, work the mines, toil in the foundaries, traverse the oceans, transport merchandise…” etc. On the other hand, to women belong, “the many difficult and sacred duties of the family state”. The only problem is you may not find the book in print: these home economics tracts from the 1800s don’t quite sell as well as they used to. I don’t know if Heshelis read John Stuart Mill’s On the Subjugation of Women, but it’s been close to 150 years since he noted, “As I have already said more than once, I consider it presumption in anyone to pretend to decide what women are or are not, can or cannot be, by natural constitution.” Apparently, the lesson still has not seeped in.

Since these type easy bifurcations like “men are abstract, women are concrete” are far more popular and easier to sell than the complex idea that “men are people, women are too”, I have in mind to write the definitive guide to frum gender relationships: The Lomdishe Guide to Marriage: Men are Gavras, Women are Cheftzas. You heard about it here first!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

more on the nature of dinim derabbanan: chatzotzros on ta'anis and mitzvos lav l'henos nitnu

Continuing on the theme of the nature of mitzvos derabbanan, the Ba’al HaMaor (daf 7 in R"IF to R”H) writes that someone who is mudar hana’ah from another is still permitted to blow shofar for him on Rosh haShana because mitzvos lav l’henos nitnu. However, he is not permitted to blow chatzotzros on ta’anis as this is only a mitzvah derabbanan. At first glance one would have thought the opposite should be true – if helping someone fulfill a mitzvah d’oraysa which is a serious responsibility is not considered hana’ah, certainly helping them fulfill a less stringent derabbanan should not be considered hana’ah?

R’ Shimon Shkop explains the Ba’al haMaor based on the idea suggested in this previous post. We apply the principle of mitzvos lav l’henos nitnu to mitzvos d’oraysa because the act is inherently defined as a ma’aseh mitzvah. However, a mitzvah derabbanan is not inherently a ma’aseh mitzvah; its performance is just a means to accomplish the goal of obeying Chazal and not violating "lo tasur". Therefore, since the act itself is not a mitvah, the neder is chal.

This is another opportunity to compare/contrast R’ Shimon and Brisk. The Mesorah Journal (vol 5) presents the R’ Solovetichik’s approach to the same Ba’al haMaor. Nedarim prohibit acts done for the sake of hana’ah. RYBS argues (see post here for more on the topic) that where the Torah labels an act as a mitzvah, it cannot be excluded by a neder because it is by definition not an act of hana’ah. However, by dinim derabbanan, the act itself is not defined by the Torah as a ma’aseh mitzvah and therefore the hana’ah received is considered a direct benefit resulting from the performance.

The difference between the approaches is subtle, but I think it is there. R’ Shimon likes to look at causes. What is the goreim, the sibah? Both dinim d’oraysa and derabbanan are “ma’asei mitzvah”, but one is intrinsically wrong and the other is just a means to avoid lo tasur. Brisk is not about underlying causes, it’s about labels. A derabbanan is “ain sh’ma ma’aseh mitzvah klal”, it cannot be labeled a mitzvah act. It’s not enough to say it is a ma’aseh mitzvah but has a different goreim because philosophizing about reasons and causes has no place in the world of Brisk. There is little practical difference between the explanations here, but I think it does reveal different modes of thinking.

On a final note: R’ Shimon does not address the problem, but see the Mesorah Journal article’s explanation on why the Ba’al haMaor calls only tekiyos on R”H d’orasya when themitzvah of chatzotzros is also derived from a pasuk.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

eidus meyuchedes

Theatre, equality... feh, too little meat and potatoes lately. I feel a need to reverse my slide and post something more substantive : )

The gemara writes (Makkos 6b) that eidus meyuchedes, i.e. each witness observes an act but is unaware of the other, is considered valid for dinei mamonos but not for dinei nefashos. The necessity for “two witnesses” means producing two witnesses aware of each other. “Maskif lah Mar Zutra”, the gemara asks, “m’atah b’dinei nefashos tatzil”? Meaning: if we have 1 witness and 1 witness in a capital crime, the principle of eidus meyuchedes serves as a leniency and the witnesses are not joined as a group of 2. But what if we have 2 witnesses and 2 witnesses who claim no knowledge of each other? Had we considered eidus meyuchedes valid, the 4 would become one single group. Had even one member of the 4 been pasul, all 4 would be thrown out. However, since eidus meyuchedes doesn't work, they are viewed as 2 and 2. If 1 witness is pasul, the accused can still be killed on the basis of the testimony of the other two. Since the Torah commands us to use every leniency at our disposal in capital cases, why not accept eidus meyuchedes just like in dinei mamonos for the sake of invalidating the entire group?

I did not understand this kashe when I learned it with my son. If eidus meyuchedes is invalid for dinei nefashos, how can we suddenly ignore the rules of testimony and accept it in order to spare the accused?

I think the answer is that the psul of eidus meyuchedes is not a din in hilchos eidus that says witnesses or testimony is invalid. It is a din in Bais Din, that the court cannot prosecute judgment on the basis of this type of eidus. However, “v’hitzilu haeidah” the command to try to save the accused, is also the responsibility of the Court. Where the Court faces conflicting responsibilities, the need to save the accused should win out over other priorities.

New Jerusalem: a play about Spinoza

(I think this is the first recommendation of a play I have done on this blog. She'hechiyanu?) My wife and I had the opportunity this past Sunday to see the Classic Stage Company’s production of New Jerusalem, a play about the interrogation of Spinoza. If you are in NY and can still get tickets (the performance we went to was sold out), I highly recommend it both for intellectual stimulation as well as for the wonderful performance by Fyvush Finkel as the Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam. I thought the play gave Spinoza a little too much credit his philosphical arguments, but the playwright (who spoke after the play about his work) deserves a lot of credit for finding a way to present philosophical debate as part of a drama and keep the audience entertained (which judging from the applause and packed house, it was). If you really want to feel like part of the NY intelligentsia, stick around after the play for the lecture series on Spinoza held after every Sunday’s performance (you have to attend the play, but are entitled after that to come back for all the lectures. Rebecca Goldstein is slated for one of them, so if I had I to choose one, that would be it. Unfortunately, I did not know about it until after we went this week).

(P.S. In each of the past two years Classic Stage Company has done a Shakespearean work (last year: Hamlet; this year: Richard III) starring Michael Crumpsty. You missed your chance until next year, but Crumpsty is amazing.)

equality in halacha: good question, not so good answers

Dixie Yid and I have been going at it on his blog (here and here in comments) about the arguments advanced in a book by Devorah Heshelis (a pseudonym) called “The Moon’s Lost Light”. I have not bought the book, but have read Ms. Heshelis’ ideas in an article (link) she published in Orot (some sample pages from Google books match the article nearly word for word).

I am less willing than Rabbi Meyer Twersky (see his review) to dismiss the question of inequality in halacha as inappropriate, but at the same time am very uncomfortable with Heshelis’ approach. In a nutshell, Heshelis’ view is that Chavah’s sin created a “hierarchy of service” preventing women from performing certain mitzvos or having certain rights. G-d values women no less than men, because innate worth is a function of fulfilling that role which G-d preordained. In the future, when Moshiach comes and Chavah’s sin is rectified, G-d will grant women “male capabilities and privileges”.

Heshelis’ distinction between “service” and “value” is a very poor answer to the question of inequality. A company which claims, “We value ALL of our employees, but management positions are reserved only for men” is viewed as guilty of discrimination. If religion claims that “We value ALL people, but certain service is reserved only for men”, it will be viewed as no less guilty of discrimination.

If certain employees have done something wrong, wouldn’t that warrant a curtailment of their rights or responsibilities? Heshelis feels that women would be happy to accept this notion of second-class “service” responsibility if they only recognized that they are to blame for their own situation – it’s not G-d who is guilty, but women themselves. Actually, Heshelis does not claim any individual woman is at fault. It’s just that every woman is descended from Chavah, and therefore all women, as a collective group, are tainted with original sin. It’s like saying to an African American, “Of course you personally are qualified for the job, but you can’t have it because you were born black. But what’s a job anyway? – we still value your innate worth as a human being.”

I’m not sure I find any more comfort in the fact that Heshelis assures us that when Moshiach comes these inequalities will be rectified (Just for the record, I am aware of no sources that promises that a future Sanhedrin will overturn established halachos). The feminist movement, in her view, is a sign that we are approaching the ultimate Redemption. Logically, halacha should change to accommodate this new social reality, but Heshelis falls back on the fact that without a Sanhedrin, change is impossible. In effect, halacha is emasculated from having any inherent meaning; we are stuck obeying formal rules which do not reflect the social reality of our times, without any possibility of relief until Moshiach. I’m not a woman so perhaps I am missing something, but this line of thinking does not make me feel very good about Torah law.

Heshelis does marshal sources to support her case, but sources are subject to interpretation (e.g. the relationship between feminism and Redemption is an example of an interesting conjecture, but not explicit in sources). Even if an approach is possibly correct, we still must critically examine its philosophical strengths and weaknesses before embracing it as a final conclusion. In this case, I remain in need of convincing that the approach suggested solves more problems than it creates.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

ne'emanus of an eid echad for what is b'yado

If while working with taharos someone delcares that the taharos have become tamei, the worker is believed (Gittin 55) and the presumption of taharah is dismissed. Why? Abayei explain that this is based on the idea of "b'yado". Had you asked me, I would have explained that "b'yado" is a type of migo. Since the person working with taharos has the power to contaminate it with tumah, he is believed if he declares that the taharos have in fact become contaminated. But since you didn't ask me, we can learn the better pshat of the Rosh (#13) : ) It makes for a far fetched claim, says the Rosh, to suggest "since he could have contaminated the taharos himself..." when the worker would never do so because of the risk of liability - if caught contaminating taharos, he would have to pay for them. The Rosh therefore suggests that this is a new type of ne'emanus that has nothing to do with migo. The worker is believed based on the principle of ba'alus, i.e. a person has ne'emanus over whatever is in his control.