Friday, February 29, 2008

netziv on vayakhel

Two insights of the Netziv you can take home to your Shabbos table:

1) Why specifically are those who made the tent fabrics of the Mishkan described as “chacham lev”? The Seforno answers that making the fabric required special skill, as there were separate designs visible on either side. The Netziv uses this issue as a way to explore the halachic question of whether hidur takes precedence over zerizus. Building the Mishkan entailed many projects, from tent fabric to keilim. One might have thought it better not to jump into the first project, but to delay until work was needed on kli, as the kelim had more kedusha than the tent walls. The “chacham lev” was the person who realized that the potential hidur of working on an item with greater kedusha is less significant than the value of demonstrating zerizus by immediately contributing. (A thought: perhaps this same issue of hidur vs. zerizus underlies the criticism of the Nesi’im cited by Rashi 35:27.)

2) The Netziv notes that the lists of items made for the Mishkan follows the pattern of naming the materials used and then describing the work process. A few examples: “VaYa’as es hamenorah zahav tahor, miksha asah….” (37:17); “VaYa’as es mizbach haketores atzei shitim…” (37:25); “Vaya’as es mizbach ha’olah atzei shitim…” (38:1.) The one exception to the rule is the curtain which hung at the Mishkan’s entrance, which is first described as “ma’aseh rokeim”, made using a professional embroidery process, and then the colors and fabrics used follow (38:18). The Netziv writes that the Torah reversed the order to stress the beauty of the embroidery, which surpassed the beauty of the other tent walls. Why is this significant? Even though the entranceway was far removed from the kodesh kodashim and other more sanctified areas of the Mishkan, it was the first thing that a person noticed when he/she approached the Mishkan. It is not enough for a person to enter the Mishkan and only then become sensitive to being in a makom kadosh; that sensitivity to kedusha, that preparedness and expectation for the beauty and holiness of the Mishkan must be imparted at the entranceway, before one crosses the threshold. One simple mussar haskel: sharing the beauty of what will be accomplished before a project starts is one way to build enthusiasm for the work ahead.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

machatzis hashekel and kinyanim by ketanim

Even though women and minors are exempt from machatzis hashekel (as discussed in yesterday’s post), they are permitted to donate if they so choose. The only catch is that the money must be donated to the public; a korban tzibur cannot be bought from money over which an individual retains private rights of ownership. The Minchas Chinuch quotes a question raised by the Sha’ar haMelech and Ktzos (235:4): We are familiar from the laws of sukkos with the din that a katan cannot make kinyanim. One should not give a lulav to a katan on the first day of Yom Tov (before one has fulfilled the mitzvah) because the lulav must be owned (“lachem”) and a katan can acquire the lulav but has no ability to be makneh the lulav back to its adult owner. By that same token, a katan should have no ability to be makneh his own machatzis hashekel to the public!

Perhaps the simplest solution to this question (which the Minchas Chinuch rejects) is to accept that the kinyan of the katan is in fact invalid, but considering that there are thousands of other shekalim in the public store, the few shekalim contributed by ketanim are bateil b’rov. Another possible approach stems from the fact that the Rishonim debate whether the obligation of machatzis hashekel begins from age 13 or from age 20. Perhaps the ketanim spoken of are halachic adults above the age of 13 who have not yet reached the age of 20. The Ketzos denies the whole premis of the question and uses this problem to bolster his contention that a mitzvah d’oraysa can be fulfilled using kinyanim derabbanan. One of the classic cases of this genre is the question of whether kiddushin using a ring purchased though a kinyan derabbanan has any validity on a d’orasya level.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

rabbi meir the peacemaker

After telling a story of how R’ Meir interceded to help yesomim in his town, Gittn 52 recounts how R’ Meir was passing through another town where every erev shabbos two of the ba’alei batim got into a fight. R’ Meir spent three weeks there, and through his intercession the fights ended. The gemara concludes with the upset yetzer hara being left without a home.

Sometimes the details of a story can be so revealing. Unlike the first story in the gemara, this episode did not occur in R’ Meir’s hometown. He was just a visitor, maybe a “scholar in residence”, yet he felt obligated to intercede to make peace. Not only that, but these fights occurred on erev shabbos, when even talmidei chachamim are personally involved in preparing for shabbos (kiddushin 42) and time is short, yet R’ Meir made it his business to address the situation. This was also not a one time event, but it took three weeks of R' Meir's time to reslove the problem. Lastly, I think it’s not by accident that the gemara juxtaposes the story of the fight with the story of R’ Meir helping yesomim. It goes without saying that it would be unconscionable for R’ Meir to say, “Why do I need to get involved in the mishegas of these ba’alei batim? – I have important shaylos like whether a chicken is kosher or not to pasken,” and even more unconscionable for him to divest himself of the problem and go back to his learning. But lest one think that R’ Meir would avoid the issue because he was involved in other important communal needs like tending to yesomim, kah mashma lan that this is equally an important issue to tackle.

do women have to give a machatzis hashekel?

A quick look around at some of the Rishonim seems to confirm the psak of the MG”A that women are not obligated in machatzis hashekel. Although it is not an aseh she’hazman gerama, there are other reasons to exempt women, among them: the mitzvah is given to “kol ha’over al hapekudim” which does not include women; the mitzvah is directed to “bnei Yisrael” to the exclusion of “bnos yisrael”; the mitzvah is to give “ish kofer nafsho” to the exclusion of “isha”. However, the language of the Mishna in Shekalim seems to suggest that there is a chiyuv. The Mishna (1:3) writes that we do not take a mashkon (collateral) from women for the machatzis hashekel, implying only that no coercion is used to get them to pay, but they are still obligated to donate. The She’arei Korban in the Yerushalmi takes issue with the MG”A based on this diyuk, but does not explain what he does with the Rishonim.

I noticed an interesting Alshich quoted in the footnotes to the Halichos Beisa to explain why a half-shekel and not a whole shekel is donated. The purpose of shekalim is a kaparah for the cheit haeigel, “ish kofer nafsho”. Since the women did not sin with the eigel, they are exempt from the need for kofer. Ishto k’gufo means a husband and wife count as one unit and would be required to donate one full shekel. Since only half of that unit sinned, the kofer amounts to only half a shekel.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

how long must a woman's skirt be?

Brachos 24 tells us that the exposed “shok” of a woman is considered ervah in the presence of which kri'as shema cannot be read (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 75). What is the part of the body known as the “shok”? The Pri Megadim, based on the Rambam’s description of the parts of an animal (Ma’aseh Korbanos 9:10), writes that the “shok” is from the knee and above. The Mishna Berura cites the PM”G and notes that as long as the common practice is not to cover the body below the knee it is no different than the hands, face, etc. (Just a note to avoid confusion: the "shok" is an ervah regardless of whether people in society expose that area or not. Outside that area is dependent on social norma).

The discussion does not quite end there. Even though in the context of ervah it may seem reasonable that the term “shok” refers to the upper leg, the Shulchan Aruch elsewhere seems to use the term to refer to the lower leg. The S.A. writes with respect to chalitzah that the shoe is tied on the “shok” (E.H. 169:28). The proof of the PM”G from animal parts is also not so clear cut, as Tosfos (Menachos 37) writes that the terminology that is applied to animal parts is not necessarily analogous to corresponding parts of the human body. The Chazon Ish raises these issues as a matter of discussion, but does not go far as to say the Mishna Berurah is wrong. Others, such as the R' Shmuel haLevi Wosner (in the first tshuvah in his sefer), are adamant that the entire lower leg must be covered.

Nafka minah l’dina and l'shopping: are your daughter’s skirts supposed to drag to the floor, or just cover the knee?

min b'mino aino chotzeitz

The Tiferes Yisrael (Zevachim ch 13) raises the following question: there are many examples in halacha of the principle that min b’mino aino chotzeitz. The Mishna in Zevachim (13:5) writes that with respect to the issur of offering korbanos outside mikdash, the meat of an animal attached to the eimurim are not a chatzitzah between the eimurim and the mizbeiach; placing a hunk of meat + eimurim on an outside mizbeiach would be assur. Another example is the halacha that the leaves of a hadas which fall off are not a chatzitzah between the hadas and the lulav. Yet, the halacha is that if a person goes to mikveh and presses his/her lips together tightly, he/she has not properly done tevilah. Even though the lips are part of the body, i.e. lips are min b’mino with respect to the body, they are considered a block to proper tevilah. Why do we not invoke the principle of min b’mino aino chotzeitz in this case? The lips should still be considered ra’uy l’biyas mayim so long as the only block comes from the body itself. Nu, what do you think?

Monday, February 25, 2008

all concerts assur?

I don’t own a single Lipa CD, I can’t recall the last Jewish music concert I attended (it may have been an Uncle Moishy with my kids a few years ago), and so none of the ban news is of much interest to me except as a sociological phenomenon. Nonetheless, this quote reported in Yeshiva World News b’shem Lipa is a bit chilling:

“People should know that this Kol Koreh and ban against The Big Event was not directed at me personally, but at all concerts in general. The Rabbonim felt the need to put their foot down and attempt to stop all future concerts in NY.” [empahsis mine]

halachic paradox revisited: ksav al gabei ksav

I wrote about halachic paradoxes a few months ago, but since my son came across this sugya in his learning, I wanted to revisit the topic and mention a case which came up in a comment to the earlier post (thanks AddeRabbi). (My son attends a very nice Shabbos chaburah in Esvan d’Oraysa by a talmid chacham who told the boys who attend that when he was a teenager he had a notebook where he jotted down the many paradoxes raised by the Minchas Chinuch. Not a bad idea.)

Gittin 19 raises the question of “ksav al gabei ksav” – is one traces over letters which have already been written, is that tracing considered an act of writing (or erasing the existing letters) or not? Among the issues this impacts is 1) whether a get written shelo lishma can be traced over to create a new ksav done lishma; 3) whether tracing over existing letters is an act of chilul Shabbos. The Minchas Chinuch (in meleches koseiv) asks what the din would be if someone traced over a get on Shabbos to make it lishma? If ksav al gabei ksav is considered writing, then the writer, in his attempt to create a valid get, has been mechalel shabbos. However, if the writer is a mechalel shabbos, then he is not an acceptable sofer to write gitin and the get is pasul. If the get is pasul, then the second ksav has not accomplished anything, and it is not an act of writing. But if it’s not an act of writing, the sofer is not a mechalel shabbos, back to square 1 and the circle repeats.

chilul shabbos for cha'yei sha'ah

There is a wild Ohr haChaim in last week’s parsha. The Torah warns “ach es shabsosai tishmoru”; why the need to repeat “v’shamru es hashabbos…la’asos es hashabbos”? Explains the Ohr haChaim that pikuch nefesh is doche shabbos only if the person being saved will live and continue “la’asos es hashabbos”, to observe the shabbos. But to save someone for chayei sha’ah, to save someone who will die on that same day before shabbos is even complete, to break shabbos so someone can have just a few more minutes or hours of life, this is not permitted. The halacha is quite the opposite – one is permitted to break shabbos even for chayei sha’ah, even to extend someone’s life for a few moments longer. The Ohr haChaim seems to be built on the idea (thought he does not explicitly reference it) that the heter for pikuach nefesh stems from the sevara “chalal alav shabbos achas k’dei she’yishmor shabbosos harbei”, it is permissible to break one shabbos to extend a person’s life for the sake of the many future shabbosos that the person can observe. If the person will die within hours of being saved, the basis for the sevara doesn’t work. See Shu”t Minchas Eluzar I:9 which one of the new Mikraos Gedolos editions mentions in a footnote.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

10 year old's impression of gadol biography

One of my daughters is doing a school report on Eretz Yisrael which involves writing about some of the mekomos hakedoshim, some of the mitzvos teluyos ba'aretz, and selecting two "gedolim" who lived in Eretz Yisrael to write about. One of my daughter's choices of a gadol to write about is R' Arye Levin (the other, at my suggestion, is Rav Kook.) She has yet to read the R' Ayre Levin bio (A Tzadik in Our Time by Simcha Raz), but last night asked me what R' Arye Levin's favorite color was. She explained that if someone were to write a bio about her she would want it to include her favorite color, so of course R' Arye Levin must have a favorite color included in his bio as well. My daughter clearly has a long way to go on this project : )

Seriously, there is a real mussar haskel here to think about. When we evaluate a gadol's life, do we project our standards about what is important or significant onto them, fitting them into our preconceived framework, or do we change our thinking about what is important and significant in response to what we learn about their life?

Friday, February 22, 2008

a stool of only one leg vs. a stool of three: nationhood and the Avos

Chazal (Brachos 32) record Moshe Rabeinu’s argument against Hashem threat to rebuild the Jewish nation from him alone (32:10): if a stool of three legs, meaning a nation built on the legacy of the three Avos, cannot not stand in a moment of G-d’s wrath, kal v’chomer a stool of one leg, a nation built on the legacy only of Moshe, will not stand.

The kal v’chomer invoked by Moshe seems to have an obvious flaw. The new stool will not have one leg, but four – Moshe plus the legacy of the Avos, as he is obviously their descendent!

R’ Elchanan explains (in “aggados al derech hapshat” at the end of Koveitz He’Oros) that we invoke the zechus of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya’akov not merely because we are physically descendent from these great people. There are other tzadikim who lived before the Avos from whom we are also descendent, e.g. Noach and Shem, but we do not invoke their zechuyos. What makes the Avos unique is not their status as our physical forefathers, but their status as our national forefathers. Just like we use the term “father of the nation” for George Washington even though he is not anyone’s physical father, so too, the Avos are the forefathers of the Jewish people as a distinct national entity. Only based on that status do we invoke their zechus.

While the lineage to the Avos would remain even if a nation were built from Moshe’s progeny alone, the Avos’ unique status as “fathers of the nation” would be lost. The new nation would be rooted in Moshe as its forefather, and would hence be a stool of only one leg.

I think this vort is interesting because we have discussed in the past in other contexts at what point geirus into a Jewish nation becomes a meaningful concept. R' Elchanan's sees the change of Avraham's name to "av hamon goyim" as reflecting a change in his status from just a family unit among the clans decendent from Shem into an indepedent nation. Yet, R' Elchanan elsewhere places tremendous emphasis on Torah as the sole binding force holding together the Jewish nation. I wonder how he squares this idea with Avraham being an independent nation even pre-mattan Torah. Of course, one could point to the Midrashim that opine that Avraham observed the Torah... just thinking out loud.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

does the mitzvah of tzedaka require a kinyan by the recipient?

Can the mitzvah of tzedaka be fulfilled by nesina, giving, if the recipient cannot do a kinyan to accept? Nafka minah if the recipient is a katan, a shoteh, or even a woman (mah she’kansa isha kanah ba’aleh means everything you give to her would revert to her husband’s possession and he might not need the money). R’ Elchanan raises this chakirah in the end of Koveitz He’Oros in the aggadita section.

A am a bit confused as to why he cites this sugya as relevant. Nedarim 34b raises the question of whether a neder of “kikarei elecha” would prohibit the mudar from eating the kikar of bread if it is given to him by the madir as a gift – do we say that once the kikar leaves the madir’s possession it is not longer “kikari”, his kikar, and it becomes permitted? The gemara first argues that it is obvious that the kikar is assur even if given as a gift. While in the madir’s possession and under his control, there is no need for a neder to prevent the mudar from eating the loaf. The whole point of a neder is to prohibit the kikar from being eaten even after it leaves the madir’s possession. However, the gemara rejects this reasoning. Perhaps the neder may have been taken to prevent the mudar from eating the kikar even while it remains in the madir’s possession, e.g. the mudar is invited for a meal.

I am not sure why R’ Elchanan needed to cite this gemara to prove what seems to be a simple point: one can give benefit to someone without actually being makneh anything to the recipient. What remains unclear (and R’ Elchanan acknowledges that this gemara does not resolve the dilemma) is whether such benefit fulfills the mitzvah of tzedaka or whether (though it may be a chessed) the mitzvah of tzedaka requires a formal act of kinyan.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

dinim derabbanan - Rabbinic will or G-d's will?

Some of R’ Elchanan’s proofs that takkanos derabbanan are not rooted in a pasuk but are rooted in Chazal’s ability to intuit or interpret the ratzon Hashem:

1) Takanos existed before matan Torah introduced “lo tasur”. One example is Moshe interpreting Hashem’s command to include an extra day of preparation before mattan Torah (“hosif yom echad m’da’ato”). The license to interpret Hashem’s command preceded any formal granting of authority to do so. We also find various references in Midrashim to takanos of Shem v’Eiver.

2) The Rambam (Hil Shabbos ch 24) writes that Chazal instituted the laws of muktza to limit weekday activities and enforce the idea of Shabbos as a day of rest, as taught in the pasuk “l’ma’an yanuach”. Someone who violates a law of muktza is certainly not guilty of violating a Biblical commandment of “l’ma’an yanuach”. The commandment is not the source for the specific laws of muktza, but is the source for the fact that G-d desires Shabbos to be a day of rest, which in turn is the impetus behind the Rabbinic muktza laws.

3) R’ Elchanan presents an interesting spin on the Bila’am story. Since G-d did not explictely tell Bila’am not to go with Balak (see the meforshim who offer various suggestions on how to read Hashem’s warning to Bila’am so that it was not an explicit command), why is Bila’am blamed for acting based on his own desire? R’ Elchanan answers that it is not the command of G-d alone which we should heed, but G-d’s will. Since Bila’am recognized G-d’s desire to protect the Jewish people, even sans an explicit command not to harm them he should not have gone with Balak. What comes out of this discussion is a powerful moral lesson: a legal technocrat may skirt the law by taking advantage of existing loopholes, but the goal of halacha is not simply obedience to technical statutes but obedience to G-d’s will.

The Nesivos famously writes that an issur derabbanan violated b’shogeg requires no kaparah because the entire basis for dinim derabannan is to prevent a rebellion against the authority of Chazal – “lo tasur”; an act done b’shogeg cannot be called a rebellious act. However, according to R’ Elchanan’s thesis, Chazal’s role is to reveal the ratzon Hashem; the reason for obedience is not just to respect their authority, but because the laws they enact reflect what is inherently right/wrong. Lack of intention to disobey common sense does not preclude getting burned while touching a hot stove. Similarly, lack of intention when violating a din derabbanan may not preclude the need for kaparah for performing that which is wrong. (My son asked me over Shabbos based on a shiur he attends whether eating an issur derabbanan b’shogeg is metamtem halev. Perhaps the question hinges on this issue).

Midrash on why Kosel remains standing for eternity

Does anyone know the source for the Midrash that the Kosel remains standing because it was built with gifts from the poor? My wife raised the same question here. I have found Midrashim that associate west with the place of the Shechina and give that as a reason for the wall escaping destruction, but have not found the source associating it with gifts from the poor.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

lo tasur and dinim derabbanan

Returning to R’ Elchanan’s Kuntres Divrei Sofrim, I am going to do some jumping rather than slavishly follow the order of the sefer point by point. Continuing with the topic of zakein mamrei, the Rambam writes that one can become a zakein mamrei by challenging Bais Din even on a din derabbanan provided it is a detail of an issur which is categorized among those which can lead to a punishment of kareis. The Ramban disagrees. The prohibition of zakein mamrei stems from the pasuk of “lo tasur”, which (Ramban writes) could not possibly refer to dinim derabbanan. If every derabbanan was included in the prohibition of “lo tasur”, why should there be any difference between dinim d’oraysa and dinim derabbanan? Why is it that s’feika d’oraysa l’chumra, but sfeika derabbanan l’kula? One could perhaps say that the rabbanan legislated that one need not be stringent in cases of doubt, but that approach seems forced and only begs the question of why there was a need to make any distinction.

Implicit in the Ramban’s attack is a rejection of “lo tasur” as the basis for obeying Rabbinic law. But if the need to obey a din derabbanan is not rooted in some pasuk, why indeed are we bound to obey? R’ Elchanan suggests a chiddush: a Jew is bound to obey the will of G-d. That will can be expressed in the form of a Biblical command, but it also might remain for us to intuit without an explicit command. The basis for all Rabbinic law is our trust that the Rabbis successfully intuited the will of G-d and revealed it to us.

I already did some posts in the past on this chiddush (here, here, here, and here) and will just bli neder just briefly review some of REW’s proofs. One point to ponder which R' Elchanan comes back to: granted that according to Ramban there is no pasuk in which dinim derabbanan are rooted, but given that dinim derabbanan are as much the will of G-d as a Biblical command, why (as the Ramban himself asks!) do they not carry the same stringency?

Monday, February 18, 2008

missing letters on the choshen mishpat

The gemara (Yoma 73b) asks how the U'rim v"Tumin could answer questions of Bnei Yisrael when there was no letter tzad"i in the names of the shevatim inscribed upon it (Rashi: if the question asked required an answer of "tatzil" [save], how could it be given?). The gemara answers that in addition to the names of the shevatim there was also inscribed "Avraham, Yitzchak, v'Ya'akov". The gemara further asks that the letter te"is was also missing, and the gemara answers that the words "Shivtei Yeshurun" were inscribed as well.

The Chasam Sofer has an elaborate pilpul (quoted in many likut seforim on the parsha) to explain why the gemara first was bothered by the missing letter tzad"i and only afterwards by the missing te"is. Following the order of the aleph-beis, one should first notice the missing tei"s before the missing tzad"i!

I'll leave it to you to look up the Chasam Sofer and will just present my own answer here. The gemara's shakla v'terya does not follow the sequential order of the aleph-bes; rather, it follows the degree of usefulness of the letter. The gemara first asked about the missing tzad"i because tzad"i seems necessary for meaningful responses. I would suggest that Rashi deliberately gave us an example of the use of tzad"i in the world "tatzil" and no example of the use of tei"s to emphasize this point. We could of course think of our own example of the use of tzad"i without Rashi. Rashi is not just providing an arbitrary illustration of the letter's use, but Rashi is telling us that the usefulness or need for the letter is what motivated the gemara's question. Only after this issue was addressed does the gemara move to ask about the missing letter tei"s, a letter far less useful, as evidenced by Rashi offering no example of a response which would be impossible to formulate without a tei"s, but a letter which the gemara at this point still things should have been available if needed.

Friday, February 15, 2008

priviledge vs. egalitarianism: why children of talmidei chachamim do not become talmidei chachamim

Nedarim 81 tells us that talmidei chachamim usually do not produce children who are talmidei chachamim “shelo yomru yerushah hi lahem”, so that it should not be said that the Torah is an inheritance for them. Ran and Rosh offer two very different interpretations of this line. Ran explains that the children of talmidei chachamim feel a sense of entitlement in their learning and do not strive as hard as others. In the end, this lack of effort catches up with them. Torah is not genetic; it is not an inheritance - without work and toil, one cannot succeed. According to the Ran, the gemara’s lesson is directed at the children of talmidei chachamim to not rely on their pedigree as a guarantee of success.

Rosh (and Tosfos) on the other hand explain that children of talmidei chachamim do not become talmidei chachamim themselves lest all others who do not come from a lineage of scholars simply give up hope of ever succeeding in learning. The lesson of the gemara is directed at the hoi polloi: scholarship is not for descendents of the intellectual elite alone, but is within reach of all.

I do not fully understand this Rosh. According to the Ran, the gemara is simply expressing a rule of thumb about human behavior: when we think we have something coming, we work less to achieve the desired goal. But according to the Rosh, the behavior of the children of talmidei chachamim has nothing to do with the outcome. It is not their lack of effort which prevents the children of talmidei chachamim from becoming scholars in their own right, but it is G-d’s intervention, done for the sake of demonstrating egalitarianism. Doesn’t this intervention interfere with the bechira (free will) of children of talmidei chachamim to achieve what they can on their own merits? Or to put it another way, is it fair to take away the achievements of a minority for the sake of levelling the playing field and creating a more egalitarian distribution?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

more on birthdays and double Adars

Getting back to the halachic issue of the double-Adar, the MG”A paskened that a child born in Adar I of a leap year does not become bar mitzvah until Adar II if his bar mitzvah also occurs on a leap year. However, R’ Akiva Eiger and others disagree. If a child is born in a regular Adar, then his birthday is celebrated in the “real” Adar, Adar II of a leap year. But a child born in Adar I of a leap year was not born during the month of Adar! The child was really born in the month of “tosefes” Adar. Therefore, he does not need to wait until “real” Adar to become bar mitvzah, but he becomes bar mitzvah once that same month of "tosefes" is reached.

(I happen to have a nephew whose bar mitzvah is upcoming in a few weeks during Adar II. If I am not mistaken, 1995 was a leap year as well, but I have no recollection if he was born in Adar I or Adar II.)

What remains a bit confusing to me is how to deal with the proof of the MG”A. The Yerushalmi in Kesubos does say that a three year old girl with an Adar birthday who is niveles during Adar will retroactively not be considered be’ulah if the year is made a leap year. The assumption seems to be that the girl’s birthday is postponed until Adar II. Why doesn’t the Yerushalmi in Megillah take this case as proof that the “real” Adar is Adar II? Is there anything gained by using the need for a korban less than a year old as a test for the “real” Adar vs using this well known case? The Ridba”z asks this questions and offers an answer, but after re-reading it a couple of times I still can’t make heads or tails of what he is saying. I will just note that interestingly the GR”A (O.C. 57) cites the Kesubos case as the source for the din in S.A. and does not cite the Yerushalmi in Megillah.

While not directly relevant to this topic, I have to mention a fantastic chakira which my wife thought of, which goes to show you what can happen after years of living with someone who tries to brainwash you into thinking in "lomdish" categories. Yesh lackhor: is Feb 29 of a leap year the last day in February, or the day after Feb 28? Nafka minah: if you are born on Feb 29 of a leap year, when do you celebrate your birthday? If Feb 29 is the last day in Feb, then on a non-leap year your birthday would be on Feb 28. But if Feb 29 is the day after Feb 28, then on a non-leap year your birthday would be March 1. I think this must be a discussion in achronim somewhere : )

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

double Adar and the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabeinu

This morning I came home from shul and told my wife that there was no tachanun because of 7 Adar. She responded, “What about Adar Sheni?” I honestly never thought about it, but since the whole issue of yahrzeit’s in a double-Adar is a matter of debate (see O.C. 568) , I propose we skip tachanun during both months : )

Yesterday I posted the safeik of the Yerushalmi whether which month, Adar I or Adar II, is the “real” and which is the addition. There is more to be said on the halachic issue, but for today I want to focus on what the debate might teach us for our avodas Hashem. The Shem m’Shmuel writes that the number 12 is symbolic of the natural order, teva; e.g. 12 constellations in the sky, 12 months in a regular year, 12 hours in a halachic day. The number 13 is symbolic of transcending the natural order; e.g. 13 middos harachamim are used to ask G-d to extend his mercy beyond what we deserve. There is something to be said for living within natural boundaries – go to work, have a regular seder in learning, take care of chores around the house, repeat. This is the world of the number 12. But sometimes a person needs to make a jump into the world of 13, a world without limits or boundaries, a world where a person can be inspired by ideas that transcend the practical routine even while knowing that the world of 12 will ultimately pull one back to reality. The world of 13 provides the boost, the vision, without which a person could not sustain himself day after day in the world of 12.

So which is the ikkar and which is the tafeil, which is the “real” world and which is the “tosefes”? The world of 13 is inspiring, but unless it impacts the day to day world of 12, its platitudes are meaningless. On the other hand, the world of 12 has no meaning without the goal and vision of the world of 13 to sustain it. Which Adar is the “real” Adar – the 12th month, or the 13th?

There is an opinion in Chazal that the day baby Moshe was thrown in the Nile was the last day of Pesach (see previous post which discussed this gemara). The gemara asks how this can be, as we know Moshe was hidden for three months, and we know he was born on 7 Adar – there are not three months between 7 Adar and 21 Nissan! The gemara answers that Moshe was born in a leap year, and the three months consist of part of Adar I, Adar II, and part of Nissan. The Shem m’Shmuel notes that even the opinion which holds that Moshe was thrown into the Nile on 6 Sivan also agrees that the year he was born was a leap year (although that assumption is not necessary to work out the date calculation). Just a coincidence? Or, as the Shem m’Shmuel suggests, does this perhaps tell us something about Moshe, about being born with the sensitivity to a that world of 13 which transcends the regular boundaries of teva?

Just want to note that if the Shem m’Shmuel is right that everyone agrees that Moshe was born in a leap year, one can infer that the second opinion in the gemara must hold that Moshe was born in Adar II and not Adar I (he does not discuss this point). Since the year Moshe died was not a leap year, and we assume the date of his birth and death coincide, might that not have a bearing on the halachic question of which Adar is the “real” Adar? Just throwing out the idea – need more time to think about it.

Update: this article makes a similar point, but I am not sure what to make of the idea that Moshe was not born in a leap year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

which Adar is the "real" Adar?

Sorry for the delay in posting – lots of work and other issues have come up. The Yerushalmi (Meg 7 in Vilna ed) raises a safeik which month of Adar is the “real” month of Adar and which month is the tosefes, the added month. The gemara writes that the nafka mina would be for the daily korban tamid (acc to girsa of Korban Eidah), which must be no more than one year old. Let's say an animal was born on 15 Adar. If the next year is a regular year, on 20 Adar the animal would be pasul for a korban because it is over a year old. If the year is declared a leap year, then if Adar I is the “real” Adar and Adar II is a “tosefes”, the animal is pasul. However, if Adar I is a “tosefes” and Adar II is the “real” Adar, then the animal is still kosher.

The S.A. paskens that if a child is born in a regular year, his bar mitzvah will be during Adar II of a leap year because Adar II is the “real” Adar. What if the child is born during a leap year on Adar I - would his bar mitzvah be in Adar I or Adar II? The MG”A (O.C. 56) paskens that the bar mitzvah should still be in Adar II, as the bar mitzvah always must occur in the “real” Adar. One of the MG”A proofs comes from a well known Yerushalmi in Kesubos. Chazal assume that a girl’s besulim will grow back if she is niveles before age three. If a girl’s birthday was on 15 Adar and she was niveles on 20 Adar, she is assumed to have lost her besulah status. However, if even on 29 Adar Bais Din declares the year to be a leap year, the girl would retroactively retain her besulah status because she has not yet reached her third year. (Many interpret this Yerushalmi to mean that B”D’s declaration does not just change the girl’s legal status, but changes reality and causes the girl’s besulim to return – this is a discussion for another time.) Just like the besulah is assumed to have not yet reached her third year until the date of her birthday in Adar II, so too, reasons the MG”A, a bar mitzvah boy does not reach the age of gadlus until his birthday is reached in Adar II.

Many Achronim (see R’ Akiva Eiger) disagree with the MG”A… IY”H more to come, and IY”H I will get more time to write : )

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

issur hana'ah: practical use or permissability to use

The Ran (Nedarim 85a) cites the Rashba’s psak that if a person takes a neder not to benefit from his/her own property, others are permitted to help themselves to the nodeir’s goods. Since the property is assur b’hana’ah to the one who took the neder, it has no value; the nodeir suffers no loss. However, if the nodeir was to be matir neder, the neder is retroactively considered non-existent (chacham okeir neder m’ikaro), and those who took the property of the nodeir must now pay for the goods.

R’ Shimon Shkop (Sha’arei Yosher I:9) writes that this Rashba is a clincher proof to the chakira (raised by R' Elchanan) whether issur hana’ah is a function of not being halachically allowed to use something or the item practically having no value. If issur hana’ah is a function of whether something practically can be used, the fact that a neder is considered uprooted retroactively is irrelevant – the practical bottom line remains the same that the item was off limits until the chacham was matir neder. The Rashba only makes sense if one assumes that issur hana’ah is a function of legal status, of the halachic permissibility to use or not use an item. Once the chacham uproots the neder, the legal status changes retroactively. Therefore the items taken from the nodeir are retroactively considered valuable, and must be paid for.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

kiddushei kesef and kiddushei shtar using issurei hana'ah

The Yerushalmi writes that neither issurei hana’ah d’oraysa or derabbanan can be used for kiddushei kesef. A shtar kiddushin, however, can be written on issurei hana’ah derabbanan but not issurei hana’ah d’oraysa. If a shtar must be written on something which has value, why are issurei hana’ah derabbanan acceptable? Why is there a difference between shtar and kesef?

As we learned in previous posts (see posts labeled KDS), R’ Elchanan suggested that there are two possible reasons why issurei hana’ah lack value: 1) metziyus - practically these items are worthless; 2) din – the halacha prohibits using these items. The difference between the two is with respect to issurei hana’ah derabbanan, which practically are off-limits, but on a d’oraysa level are halachically permissible to use.

With this distinction R’ Elchanan explains the Yerushalmi. Kiddushei kesef requires something that has real-world value, to the exclusion of even issurei hana’ah derabbanan. A shtar, however, does not have to be written on something that has value; it has to be written on something permissible to use. Since issurei hana’ah derabbanan are permitted to be used from a d’oraysa perspective, they are not disqualified.

Monday, February 04, 2008

brilliance: genius vs. hard work (II)?

More on hard work vs. genius from the NY Times (link to article):

…As humans, we want to believe that creativity and innovation come in flashes of pure brilliance, with great thunderclaps and echoing ahas. Innovators and other creative types, we believe, stand apart from the crowd, wielding secrets and magical talents beyond the rest of us.

Balderdash. Epiphany has little to do with either creativity or innovation. Instead, innovation is a slow process of accretion, building small insight upon interesting fact upon tried-and-true process. Just as an oyster wraps layer upon layer of nacre atop an offending piece of sand, ultimately yielding a pearl, innovation percolates within hard work over time.

interesting Abrabanel on aliya la'regel

My wife pointed out (see her post) an interesting Abarbanel that says the mitzvah of aliya la’regel is incumbent upon all males between 20 and 50 years old. I have no idea why he would be compelled based on pshuto shel mikra to say such a thing or what possible halachic explanation there could be. It seems pretty clear that all males (from bar mitzvah) are obligated in aliya la’regel, and even children are included as part of the mitzvah of chinuch (see Rambam, Hil Chagiga ch. 2). Any ideas?

is making someone a "goseis" an act of murder?

I discussed the following interesting Minchas Chinuch with my son over Shabbos: The halacha is that we pasken dinei nefashos based on rov (Sanhedrin 69). We also know that rov gosisin l’misah. It should therefore follow that if Reuvain makes Shimon into a goseis (and Shimon is subsequently killed by Levi, so we can’t just wait and see if he recovers or not), Reuvain would be chayav for murder. By way of analogy: if Reuvain pushed Shimon off a cliff and on the way down Shimon was shot by Levi so we don't know if he would have miraculously survived, Reuvain is guilty of murder (thanks R’ P.C. for the analogy).

The logic sounds right, but Tosfos (Sanhedrin 78a d”h b’goseis) writes that Reuvain is not chayav for making Shimon a goseis. Putting aside Tos’ proofs (which the Minchas Chinuch takes issue with), why does the principle of rov not apply in this case?

Friday, February 01, 2008

Tiferes Shlomo on why a slow conquest of Eretz Yisrael

It’s Friday, so how about a little Tiferes Shlomo? Hashem tells BN”Y that the Cannanite nations will not be conquered at once, but rather bit by bit, lest the land become desolate “v’rabah alecha chayas hasadeh”, and wild animals overcome the population (23:29). A strange pasuk - certainly, says the Radomsker, it is not outside Hashem’s power to find some way to thwart the danger of wild animals without extending the time needed to conquer the land. Why the deliberate delay?

I think perhaps there is room to read at least derech remez the phrase “chayas ha’sadeh” in the pasuk as perhaps not meaning “wild animals” in the sense of lions and tigers and bears (oh my!), but rather, as the phrase literally means, “lives of the field”. Building a new country demands the creation of new political, social, legal, and cultural structures and organizations that take time as well as effort to develop; there is a period of gestation and growth that marks the transformation from “life of the field” to a civilized nation. To allow that process to unfold in an orderly way, the Torah promises a slow conquest.

Perhaps this is something worth reflecting on when we look at the development of Eretz Yisrael in our time and witness the struggles to manage its growth and development.

(P.S. Since I have been quoting Tiferes Shlomo on and off, you will probably wonder why I seem to be missing the discussion of the klipos and chitzonim from the piece I am basing this on, or why the piece I quoted last week also did not match exactly. So here is my editorial disclaimer for all posts like this: I don’t pretend to be faithful to the Tiferes Shlomo’s vocabulary, which I doubt I could make understandable on a blog. Instead, I try to be faithful to his ideas, or at least what how I interpret them. Discussing the effects of chitzonim while being ma’aleh nitzotzos from klipos would definitely be more authentically Tiferes Shlomo, but I don’t think that sentence has meaning for most people. I would even say that if you just walk away from the Tif Shlomo with that pie-in-the-sky sentence and don’t think about what it means on a level that relates to your life, you are missing the point of learning sifrei chassidus. If my reworking of the idea does not resonate, by all means see the Tiferes Shlomo inside, as the sefer has tremendous depth and one should not be dissuaded from learning the original by my presentation.)

brilliance: genius or hard work?

Are brilliant talmidei chachamim blessed with some sort of genius gene, or is success in learning as much a matter of hasmadah and hard work as raw intelligence? From Complications, by Atul Gawande:

Surgeons as a group adhere to a curious egalitarianism. They believe in practice, not talent…Nonetheless, attending surgeons say that what’s most important to them is finding people who are conscientious, industrious, and boneheaded enough to stick at practicing this one difficult think day and night for years on end…
And it works. There have been many studies of elite performers – international violinists, chess grand masters, professional ice-skaters, mathematicians, and so forth – and the biggest differences researchers found between them and lesser performers is the cumulative amount of deliberative practice they’ve had. Indeed, the most important talent may be the talent for practice itself. K. Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist and expert on performance, notes that the most important way in which innate factors play a role may be in one’s willingness to engage in sustained training. He’s found, for example, that top performers dislike practicing just as much as others do. (That’s why, for example, athletes and musicians usually quit practicing when they retire.) But more than others, they have the will to keep at it anyway.