Friday, May 30, 2008

more on yediya and bechira - the fate of Shimshon

R’ Elchanan Wasserman in Koveitz He’Oros points out a different sugya in Sota that also seems to suggest (as discussed yesterday) that Divine foreknowledge poses no contradiction to free choice. The gemara (9b) writes that Shimshon was punished by being blinded because he was led astray by his eyes by being taken in by the sight of Delilah. The gemara asks: we see from the pasuk “v’aviv v’imo lo yad’u ki mei’Hashem hu” that this entire episode was part of the Divine plan to allow Shimshon to strike at the Plishtim – how could Shimshon be punished for what was bound to occur anyway? The gemara answers: “ki azil basar yashrusei azal”; when Shimshon acted, he was following his own desires. Even though there was Divine foreknowledge of events, even though there was a Divine plan for Shimshon to be taken by the Plishtim and ultimately to attack them, Shimshon was not privy to these plans and acted out of free choice.

Using my analogy from yesterday: just as if someone had theoretical foreknowledge of what I will eat for breakfast, it would not prevent my opening the breakfast cabinet and freely choosing which cereal to eat, so too, G-d’s foreknowledge of Shimshon’s actions does not contradict his freedom to act of his own volition.

R’ Elchanan considers this approach to be so sensible that he wonders why it was not suggested by the Rishonim. I assume he is alluding to Rambam in Hil. Tshuvah 5:5 who writes that the entire topic of free will vs. foreknowledge is irreconcilable within the limits of human intelligence. However, it seems to me that his approach is exactly what the Ra'avad meant in his critique of the Rambam when he refers to knowledge of the astrologers having no effect on freedom of action.

like sand and like stars: more kamus vs. eichus

The Jewish people are compared to the stars in the sky and the sand of the earth. The Shem m’Shmuel on this week’s parsha points out that there is a difference between the two analogies. The comparison to sand highlights kamus, the quantitative numerical population explosion that the Jewish people will merit. The comparison to stars highlights eichus, the qualitative greatness to which the Jewish people can rise.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

eidus, chazakah, and rov: halachic forms of proof

Just to finish up a topic from yesterday (and please read that post first to understand this one): For any type of halachic proof we need to analyze whether that proof tells us something about the metziyus, the facts of the case, or whether the proof tells us something about the din, the halachic conclusion that we should draw. R’ Elchanan (Kovetz He’oros, Yevamos #71) distinguishes between proof that is derived from eidus and proof that comes from rov.

Eidus establishes fact. If two witnesses tell us that Reuvain is dead and we conclude that his wife is permitted to remarry, we have a big problem if Reuvain shows up a few days later alive and well. The halachic conclusion drawn on the basis of eidus is no better than the underlying metziyus it rests on; if our facts are wrong, our conclusion is erroneous.

Contrast that with rov. If a nice trief steak gets mixed up in a display case with two kosher steaks, according to some Rishonim you can actually eat all three steaks. How can that be – the metziyus, the reality, is that one steak is definitely treif!? The answer is that rov does not tell us anything about reality; it tells us about the halachic system. Within the halachic system the definition of kosher is based on rov; if a majority of the meat is kosher, all the meat is considered acceptable.

I would interpret Tosfos in Nazir 58a using this same idea. The rule of safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid helps determine metziyus. Where that determination would lead to two mutually exclusive possibilities being simultaneously true, the rule cannot apply. If a witness testifies that one nazir among two became tamei but he cannot identify which one it was, declaring both nezirim tamei or tahor would contradict realtity. However, the rule of chazakah operates differently; it determines halachic rules, not metziyus. Even where contradicted by reality, chazakah still allows us to declare both nezirim tamei or tahor.

yediya vs. bechira: how shidduchim and zivugim are made

The first daf of Sota has an interesting piece of shakla v’terya which is hard to understand because there seems to be too many pieces in the jigsaw puzzle. The gemara presents a statement of Reish Lakish saying that one’s choice of spouse is influenced by one’s personality; a righteous person will have a righteous spouse, while a wicked person will end up with a wicked spouse. This is followed by R’ Yochanan’s declaration that arranging zivugim is as difficult as splitting Yam Suf. The gemara then asks a kashe: we learned that before a child is born, there is a declaration in Heaven announcing “bas ploni l’ploni”, whom that child will marry. Who is this teaching meant to challenge? Is it a question on Reish Lakish who says that zivugim depend on a person’s deeds and personality traits which cannot be pre-ordained? If so, why does the gemara mix in R’ Yochanan? Is it a question on R’ Yochanan, i.e. why is it so hard to make zivugim when things have been set up beforehand? If so, why mix in Reish Lakish?

Rashi d”h zivug sheni solves this problem by merging the statements of R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish so the question challenges both: because zivugim must be tailored to each individual’s evolving personality, their occurrence is as miraculous as the splitting of Yam Suf.

Interestingly, the same shakla v’terya appears in Sanhedrin 22a, yet there the statement of Reish Lakish is omitted entirely. R’ Elazar Landau (his comments are right under the Gilyon Maharasha in the back of the gemara) suggests that Reish Lakish appears in our sugya because he was presenting an introduction to the topic of sota, but his statement has nothing to do with the ensuing shakla v’terya that relates only to R’ Yochana’s statement.

There a subtle philosophical point to the chiddush here aside from the textual diyuk. R’ Landau explains that there is no contradiction between Reish Lakish’s statement that zivug is determined based on deeds and personality and the statement that zivugim are declared in Heaven beforehand. Put another way, there is no philosophical contradiction between the Divine foreknowledge of who a person will marry (yediya) and that person’s free choice to select a fitting spouse (bechira). Since man remains blissfully unaware of what has been foretold, his actions are not performed under compulsion or duress.

By way of analogy, if someone had ruach hakodesh and yesterday afternoon knew that I would eat Cheerios for breakfast this morning, that would in no way influence my behavior when I entered the kitchen and selected the box of Cheerios from the others sitting in the breakfast cabinet. As far as I was concerned, foreknowledge did not deprive me of the right to choose the cereal I like best.

This issue is another deep well with lots of good torah. Maybe more down the road…
(My first article for Kallahmagzine touched on the Rambam's approach to this issue - article is archived here.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"v'hishbati chaya ra'ah"- danger and hashgacha

The Ramban (Parshas Bechukosai) quotes a machlokes Tanaim regarding whether the bracha of “v’hishbati chaya ra’ah min ha’aretz” means wild animals will disappear completely (R’ Yehudah’s opinion) or that wild animals will become domesticated (R’ Shimon). Just an aside, my wife noted that expending so much money to save wild endangered species seems a waste according to R’ Yehudah, as these animals will become extinct anyway. Be that as it may…

A few weeks ago we visited this machlokes in the context of eichus vs. kamus. The Rogatchover explains that R’ Yehudah holds “v’hishbati” means a quantitative elimination, l’shitaso of his understanding of the mitzvah of “tashbisu” as demanding that chameitz be burned. R’ Shimon interprets “v’hishbati” as including even a qualitative change. Nafka minah: if chameitz is bateil in a ta’aroves, does that fulfill the mitzvah of tashbisu? The same quantity of chameitz exists, but the mixture does not have the qualitative halachic nature of chameitz.

The Meshech Chochma connects this machlokes to a different debate. The gemara (Brachos 35) has a machlokes how to interpret the contradictory pesukim of “v’asafta deganecha” and “lo yamush”. R’ Yishmael’s approach is to compromise – plant in the planting season, plow in the plowing season, harvest in the harvest season, the rest of the time devote to learning. R’ Shimon bar Yochai’s approach is either/or – if the Jewish people serve G-d properly, then they will be blessed with the ability to learn all day and their work will be done by others; if the Jewish people are lax in observance, then they will be forced to spend time toiling in the field.

Hashgacha pratis works to the degree we trust in Hashem and are aware of His presence. R’ Shimon (stam R’ Shimon in the Mishna is Rashb”i) l’shitaso holds that for some (at least), it is possible to attain the goal of complete and constant immersion in Torah, meriting in turn constant and complete protection of hashgacha pratis. Wild animals need not be eliminated, as hashgacha affords protection from harm -- these animals are no different than domesticated animals. R’ Yehudah, however, like R’ Yishmael, holds that complete dedication to Torah is impossible. Man must break from his learning to plant, plow, and engage in the normal mundane activities of life. If wild animals remained, they would pose a danger during these periods of mundane activity when there is no protection of hashgacha. Therefore, the only way to guarantee bracha is to eliminate them.

chazakah vs. eidus

Last week I touched on Tosfos Nazir 57 but missed an important point. To recap: the Mishna (Nazir 57) describes a case of a witness who sees one of two nezirim become tamei and is not sure which one it was. The gemara asks why there is a safeik - since this case involves 2 nezirim + the observer, it should be considered safeik tumah in reshus harabim and both nezirim should be tahor. The gemara answers that the case must be where the observer was not immediately proximate to the two nezirim but just saw tumah thrown in their direction. Tosfos asks: If the observer is not proximate to the nezirim, then this should be a case of safeik tumah in reshus hayachid and both nezirim should be tamei? Tosfos answers that the rule of safeik tumah b’rechus hayachid tamei, which is derived from the parsha of sota, does not apply where we are forced to draw two mutually exclusive conclusions. The fact is that only one nazir became tamei. The halachic rule of safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid would force us into the counterfactual conclusion that both nezirim are tamei.

If we throw out the rule of safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid, then why not also throw out the rule of safeik tumah b’reshus harabim? What then was the gemara’s question to begin with? Tosfos answers that the rule of safeik tumah b’reshus harabim is not based on a gezeiras hakasuv from parshas sota but is based on chazaka. Each individual nazir has a chezkas tahara. Even if both chazakos mutually exclude each other, until we can prove which nazir became tamei, the chazakos still stand.

I never explained (and it did not dawn on me until Shabbos) why this distinction should be true. Why is it that the rule of safeik tumah derived from parshas sotah cannot be applied where factually there is no way both nezirim are tamei, but the rule of chazakah can be applied even though we know factually both nezirim cannot be tehorim? I'll leave this one unanswered for now...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

career vs. family: does halacha demand women make a choice?

I have noticed that simply avoiding reading Jewish magazines, periodicals, and opinion blogs leads to a much more positive feeling toward Judaism. Chazal and halacha are far more reliable sources about what Judaism is about than the latest _____ Magazine or newspaper editorial. Nonetheless, I fell victim last week to reading two pieces, and I will just extract two quotes as representative sampling (who said them is irrelevant, as similar statements can be found in many, many publications):
The Jewish woman's career is tending to the needs of her family as a loyal wife, mother and homemaker; and, if she must go to work, the purpose is to help support the family, and not to look for a career outside her home.
The second author has an even bigger soapbox and is far more grim:

But pretending that men and women are identical and interchangeable in their life-roles – the much-cherished “egalitarian” approach – not only offends Jewish tradition, it may bode demographic disaster…Jewish women can choose to embrace
contemporary society’s game-playing in the guise of egalitarianism and squander their specialness. Or they can answer life’s “role-call” with a resounding, Abrahamic, “Here I am!”
The problem with these approaches is that they assert a false dilemma, a tactic I discussed once in the context of Zionism, but which rears its logically fallacious head over and over. The argument assumes that there is a necessary contradiction between career and home and then forces the reader into making a choice. Yet, even those who espouse this view are forced to confront reality: many women have careers (and yes, even teaching kindergarten in Bais Ya’akov is a career of sorts) and still maintain Torah-true homes. Rather than abandon the argument, instead, these folks claim that motive rather than deed is the true measure of (wo)man. As long as our veiber pledge allegiance to the home, the reality of working 9-5 and having the kinder watched by a babysitter need not concern us.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of any issur for a woman to pursue a career. One of the follow-up comments argued that of course the husband must work because he is bound by the kesubah to support his wife. Ironic choice of proof, because Chazal actually legislate that a wife has the express right to say “aini nizones v’aini oseh”, I will forgo being supported by my husband and take charge of my own finances! Sure, the Torah emphasizes the importance of the home and family, but who does the chores and who goes to work is not subject to halachic mandate. Even if one must make a choice between career and home, working out a proper balance is a topic that must addressed by a husband and wife together in the context of their individual relationship, taking account of their joint responsibility to home and family as well as their individual career aspirations. There is no one cookie-cutter answer that halacha directs every couple to follow.

These attitudes make their way into our children’s world of chinuch. To quote another blogger’s post, her daughter was told by a well-meaning teacher, "Your daughter is smart, but you don't have to worry. She's not so smart that she'll have a problem getting a shidduch." After all, one would not want to risk having a girl who might be more intelligent than her husband, or who might want to use that intelligence to pursue a career or even to take a leadership role in Judaism. Best to squash this notions from the beginning and dumb down our daughters.

Fortunately, my depression was lifted slightly when I read an article about the new girls’ HS, Midreshet Shalhevet, opening in the 5Towns. The Jewish Star reports (p. 7) on the mentoring program the school intends to initiate to expose the girls to role models who manage to balance home, career, and family. Dr. Blau, the principal, is quoted, “We are here to… prepare women academically, professionally, and personally, and to install in them the confidence to do all they desire in the future. We want our girls to be Jewishly and secularly educated in a first-rate way, participating in Jewish communal life and taking on significant roles to fulfill their potential.” Rabbi Friedman, the head of Machon haTorah, the umbrella organization the school is under, further commented, “The whole world is open to them, within the framework of halacha.”

Of course, not every school fulfills the lofty intentions it sets out to achieve, but it is heartening to note that there is no false dilemma philosophy here, no artificial ceiling on success. One can only hope that these young women absorb the ideals of their chinuch and in turn can serve as role models for others.

ameilus b'Torah

The real Divrei Chaim (i.e. R' Chaim of Sanz) has a beuatiful vort which I guess I should mention on divreichaim.blogspot. Rashi famously explained "Im b'chukosai taileichu" as referring to "ameilus b'Torah", toil in Torah, as a prerequisite for receiving bracha. We usually assume ameilus has a positive connotation and attests to the degree of value one places on the task of learning. Yet, says the Divrei Chaim, the opposite should be true. When one truly loves what one is doing, one does not feel a sense of toil, but of enjoyment. We find that when Ya'akov worked for Rachel the days went by swiftly "bahavaso osah", because he was enraptured by his love of Rachel. I can't tell you how many Rebbes my son has had who express the desire for the class to get a "geshmack" from learning. Can you get a "geshmack" from something you think of as "toil"?

The Divrei Chaim explains that in hachi nami, for the student who gets a "geshmack" in learning, who loves Torah, it goes without sayng that he/she will receive bracha. The chiddush of the pasuk is that for the student who gets no "geshmack", the student for whom learning is ameilus and toil and frustration, if that student is not deterred but still keeps at it, that student will also receive bracha as well.

Not sure the vort fits the words of Rashi so well, but it is a nice idea.

Friday, May 23, 2008

lag ba'omer - freedom and individuality

The sefira period is a time for mourning the death of R’ Akiva’s students who were punished because they failed to respect each other properly. How could such giants fail in such a basic matter of middos? The Shem m’Shmuel offers an analogy: one’s hands do not show kavod to one’s feet for perambulation, and one’s feet do not show kavod to one’s hand for grasping. Kavod stems from the recognition of “otherness”. R’ Akiva’s students were so imbued with the idea of klal yisrael being one united entity that this notion of “otherness” was foreign to them. The mussar haskel is that unity should never cause us to lose sight of individual worth and distinctiveness. As opposed to counting shemita years, which is an obligation incumbent upon klal yisrael as a collective entity and carried out by beis din, “u’sefartem lachem” teaches that the count of sefira must be done by each individual.

The Shem m'Shmuel further explains that the date of La”g baOmer (or Lag laOmer, depending on your nusach) falls out three days after the man started falling (see Kiddushin 38). A recurrence of three times is normally sufficient to establish a chazakah. Until the man began, the Jewish people were sustained by the foods they brought out of Mitzrayim, food tainted with the taste of slavery. La”g baOmer is a celebration of the true start of freedom and break with the past.

I would combine these two ideas of the Shem m’Shmuel. The oppressor does not recognize the individual, but lashes out at the group, whether it is “the Jews”, “the blacks”, or some other collective. This is the mentality of Mitzrayim enslavement. Sefer Shmos opens with the names of individuals - Reuvain, Shimon…, but the new Pharoah refers only to “Am Bnei Yisrael”, forgetting Yosef, forgetting the relationship with the individual. Slavery depends on this depersonalization that causes the loss of respect for the worth of the individual. R’ Yonasan Sacks in Passaic once explained in a 9 Av shiur that the reason the sugyos in Gittin highlight vignettes that relate to the plight of individuals during the churban is because it is easy to lose sight of the scope and effect of tragedy when it is expressed only as the plight of masses. Until Lag baOmer we lived on the food of Mitzrayim, we retained some element of looking at the group instead of focusing on the individual. Even R’ Akiva’s students may have absorbed this mindset, albeit motivated by the positive goal of wanting to fully appreciate the bond of klal yisrael as a people. Lag ba’Omer is the time to break the mindset of Mitzrayim and to recognize the value of individuality.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

parshas sotah and safeik k'vaday

The Mishna (Sota 7) writes that when a husband brought his wife to Yerushalayim to drink the sotah waters, he was accompanied by two talmidei chachamim who could give him hasra’ah should he be tempted to have relations with his wife. What purpose this hasra’ah served seems to be a debate between Rashi and Tosfos. Rashi on the Mishna writes that the husband would be warned that the sotah waters would be ineffective if he has relations with his suspect wife. Tosfos (Yevamos 11b – see R’ Akiva Eiger in the gilyon as well) explains that husband is given hasra’ah for the punishment of malkos. Even though there is no explicit lav in the Torah for relations with a sotah, since the Torah teaches us with respect to sotah to treat safeik k’vaday, i.e. there is a presumption of guilt even though the facts remains uncertain, the lav of having relations with a vaday adulteress applies.

The point of debate between Rashi and Tosfos seems to parallel the debate between R’ Chaim Brisker and Tosfos discussed in yesterday’s post. Even though the facts of whether the sotah is guilty or not remain uncertain, the Torah declares her prohibited to her husband. Does this din mean that we assume factually that the woman did commit adultery until proven otherwise, or does it mean that although the facts of the case remain in doubt, the Torah created a categorically new prohibition that puts this case of doubt off-limits? According to Tosfos in Yevamos, the sotah is assumed factually to have committed adultery, and therefore the lav of relations with an adulteress applies equally to a sotah. According to Rashi, a sotah is a categorically new prohibition that leaves the uncertainty of the situation unresolved. The lav of relations with a proven adulteress does not apply to this indetermined situation.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

safeik tumah b'reshus hayachid

The Mishna (Nazir 57) describes a case of a witness who sees one of two nezirim become tamei and is not sure which one it was. Putting aside for the moment what the nezirim faced with this safeik should do, the gemara discusses why there is a safeik in the first place. The rule of thumb when it comes to sfeikos is that safeik tumah in a reshus hayachid is tamei, safeik tumah in a reshus harabin is tahor. Since this case involves 2 nezirim + the observer, it should be considered safeik tumah in reshus harabim and both nezirim should be tehorim. The gemara answers that the case must be where the observer was not immediately proximate to the two nezirim but just saw tumah thrown in their direction.

Tosfos asks: If the observer is not proximate to the nezirim, then isn’t this a case of safeik tumah in a reshus hayachid and both nezirim should be tamei? Tosfos answers that the rule of safeik tumah which is derived from the parsha of sota does not apply where we are forced to draw two mutually exclusive conclusions. The fact is that only one nazir became tamei. The halachic rule of safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid being tamei would force us into the counterfactual conclusion that both nezirim are tamei.

Tosfos’ pilpul is not over. It we throw out the rule of safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid being tamei, then why not also throw out the rule of safeik tumah b’reshus harabim being tahor? What then was the gemara’s question to begin with? Tosfos answers that the rule of safeik tumah b’reshus harabim being tahor is not based on a gezeiras hakasuv from parshas sota but is based on chazaka. Each individual nazir has a chezkas tahara. Even if both chazakos mutually exclude each other, until we can prove which nazir became tamei, the chazakos still stand.

Tosfos repeats in many other places this idea that safeik tumah b’reshus harabim is not derived from a gezeiras hakasuv and it really deserves a separate discussion (most of ther first section of Shev Shamytza deals with this topic). For now, I just want to point out that R’ Chaim had a different approach to this whole question. R’ Chaim reportedly answered that Tosfos is right – based on the gemara’s answer this should be a safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid. So why does each nazir not do a tiglachas tumah? Let’s say the safeik is whether these nezirim came in contact with a dead body – why is each one not assumed to be tamei meis?

There are two ways to understand safeik tumah b’reshus hayachid being tamei. One way is to assume that the rule reveals the facts on the ground: each nazir actually touched the dead body in question. Tosfos took this approach and rejected the rule of safeik in this case because it leads to two mutually exclusive outcomes. R’ Chaim suggested a different approach. In actuality we remain uncertain whether either nazir touched the dead body. However, the halacha has created a categorically new type of tumah that applies to situations of safeik. What is gained by this approach is that the new rule can encompass even circumstances that lead to mutually exclusive outcomes. However, since the tumah we are dealing with is a categorically new entity, it is not related to tumas meis or any of the other tumas which a nazir must do tiglachas for. That is why the Mishna's conclusion is that neither nazir must do a tiglachas.

Whether R’ Chaim’s model or Tosfos’ model of how safeik tumah brh”y works is correct seems to be debated by the ba’alei haTosfos in other sugyos, but enough for now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

ain ona'ah l'karka'os

My son is learning Kiddushin and is familar with the rule of "ain ona'ah l'karka'os", there is no issur ona'ah by a sale of land. I asked him on Shabbos how this makes sense when the issur ona'ah appears in the Torah davka in the context of selling land - the Torah tells us that the buyer and seller must calculate the number of years until shemita to determine the fair price of land and avoid ona'ah.

The Ramban on that pasuk offers a few approaches to resolve this question. When buying and selling metaltilin, if the discreprency between what was charged/paid is too egregious, the buyer or seller has a right to rescind the sale. "Ain ona'ah l'karka'os" may simply mean that the buyer and seller may not rescind the sale, but the issur of ona'ah still applies.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book recommendation: Turbulent Souls

Just finished reading Stephen Dubner's Turbulent Souls: A Catholic Son's Return to His Jewish Family. Go out and read it and you won't be disappointed. Dubner's parents were born Jewish, converted to Catholicism, and raised their children as Catholics. Dubner ends up stumbling on his Jewish ancestry and being drawn to it. In the process he delves into his parent's history in an attempt to discover what motivated their conversion, but ends up (I think) discovering more about himself than his parents. Aside from the view of Judaism from an outsider's perspective which the book provides, the writing is excellent.

One point which struck me is that the Jewish personalities which Dubner makes connections to in his life are intellectual-types who come across as deep thinkers not afraid to question or to doubt. His parents were deeply committed to the Catholic faith, but that committment never led to substantive intellectual inquiry. One of the trends in Orthodoxy today that I find disappointing is the fear of intellectual inquiry that has taken root, the dumbing down of education lest students be led "off the derech" by the world of ideas. I doubt Dubner would have been as attracted to Judaism if he experienced it as a world of intellectual stagnation.

ones vs. derech rechoka: the obligation to bring Pesach Sheni

The Rambam (korban pesach ch. 5) writes that a peson who missed Pesach Rishon b'ones and then b'meizid skips Pesach Sheni is chayav kareis. Yet, a person who was b'derech rechoka, too far from Yerushalayim to offer Pesach Rishon, and then skips Pesach Sheni b'meizid, is not chayav kareis. Ra'avad asks: why should there be any difference between these two cases?

Lomdus fans will like this one. Apparently the Rambam held that the ptur of ones and the ptur of derech rechoka are categorically different. Someone who was ones had a chiyuv to bring Pesach Rishon but was exempt due to circumstance; failing to make-up the chiyuv on Pesach Sheni renders one liable kareis for missing that original chiyuv. Someone who was b'derech rechoka is considered to have had no obligation whatsoever to bring Pesach Rishon. The opportunity to offer Pesach Sheni is a new obligation which does not carry the penalty of kareis.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

safety-nets and bitachon

כה) כִּי-יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ וּמָכַר מֵאֲחֻזָּתוֹ וּבָא גֹאֲלוֹ הַקָּרֹב אֵלָיו וְגָאַל אֵת מִמְכַּר אָחִיו
כו) וְאִישׁ כִּי לֹא יִהְיֶה-לּוֹ גֹּאֵל וְהִשִּׂיגָה יָדוֹ וּמָצָא כְּדֵי גְאֻלָּתוֹ
כז) וְחִשַּׁב אֶת-שְׁנֵי מִמְכָּרוֹ וְהֵשִׁיב אֶת-הָעֹדֵף לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר מָכַר-לוֹ וְשָׁב לַאֲחֻזָּתוֹ

If a person sells property, a relative has the right to redeem it on behalf of the owner. A person without relatives, the parsha continues, will find funds and redeem his own land. The Netzi"v is medayek: 1) Why not simply state that a person has the right to redeem his own land - why must this idea be couched in the context of someone who has no relatives? 2) The pasuk states as a matter of certainty that "he shall obtain funds", not "if he obtains funds..." Shouldn't this be a conditional clause?

What the formulation of the pasuk suggests, writes the Netzi"v, is that only the person who has no relatives upon whom to rely will find the funds to redeem his own land. When there is a safety net in life, be it relatives, be it some other means, a person's natural instinct is to place his/her trust in that safety net, lessing his/her trust in G-d (and I would add, lessening his/her self-reliance). When all the safety nets have been stripped away and one's full trust is placed in G-d alone, only then does Hashem guarantee with certainty that one will find one's own means of redemption (and I wouldn't take that in the financial sense alone).

Friday, May 16, 2008

kohein vs. nazir - who should become tamei for meis mitzvah (nazir 47)

One more word on the machlokes (Nazir 47) R' Eliezer and Chachamim regarding when no one else is available except a kohein and nazir, which should become tamei to bury a meis mitzvah. Both approaches suggested in the previous posts share the common denominator of approaching the Mishna as a debate over who ranks higher in the heirachy of kedusha, the kohein or the nazir. The debate is similar (to use R' Akiva Eiger's comparison) to the debate over which takes precedence, tadir or mekudash.

R' Yosef Engel suggests a radically different approach to the Mishna that is as equally brilliant as the others. Recall that R' Eliezer's argument in favor of the kohein becoming tamei stems from the fact that if a nazir becomes tamei he is penalized by having to offer a korban. We had understood that to mean that the kohein, who suffers no penalty, is heiarchichly on a lower level of kedusha than the nazir. Perhaps not, says R' Yosef Engel. Perhaps everyone agrees that the kohein ranks higher on the heirarchical scale of kedusha. However, R' Eliezer argues that since the nazir must offer a korban, it proves that he suffers more severly by the desecration of his kedusha. Should the kohein whose kedusha is greater avoid becoming defiled, or should the nazir, who despite having a lower kedusha suffers more greatly by its loss, avoid being defiled? That is the crux of the argument between R' Eliezer and Chachamim.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

more on nazir vs. kohein (Nazir 47), kamus and eichus

Yesterday’s post focused on the dispute in the Mishna (Nazir 47): where no one else is available except for a kohein and nazir, which one should become tamei to bury a meis mitzvah. R’ Eliezer argues that the nazir should not become tamei. Since the nazir must bring a korban if he becomes tamei, it proves his kedusha greater than that of the kohein. The Chachamim disagree and hold that the nazir should become tamei. The kohein has “kedushas olam”, a permanent and constant kedusha, which is more significant than the temporary kedusha of the nazir. R’ Yosef Engel explained the focal point of the debate revolves around the following abstract question: given that X is greater than Y, if Y endures longer, does that make up the difference? In our case, even if the kedusha of a nazir is more stringent, perhaps the fact that the kedusha of a kohein endures longer lends it greater significance.

R’ Akiva Eiger comments on the Mishna (pointed out by Anon1 yesterday) that the dispute in Nazir parallels the machlokes in Zevachim whether a korban which is tadir (offered regularly) is more or less significant than mekudash, a korban of greater sanctity. Using R’ Yosef Engel’s matrix, tadir vs. mekudash boils down to the same basic abstract idea: can a lesser kedusha which endures longer, or is more constant, be considered more significant than something which has a greater quality of kedusha?

I think one could argue that the two cases are different (and R’ Yosef Engel retracts the comparison later in his essay). Recall the case of kamus vs. eichus which we started this discussion with earlier in the week: if a sick person needs meat on Shabbos, is it better to shect an animal and violate Shabbos once to obtain kosher meat, or to eat non-kosher meat, violating a separate issur with each bite? Everyone agrees that eating non-kosher meat is the lesser issur – the point of debate is whether the fact that it is violated repeatedly lends it greater significance. This issue of tadir vs. mekduash parallels this type of debate. Tadir is obviously of lesser kedusha than mekudash, as the label itself indicates. The debate is whether the fact that tadir recurs lends it greater significance. The debate in Nazir 47 is not whether the kohein’s lesser kedusha is given more significance by virtue of being permanent – the debate is whether permanence is itself not indicative of the kohein having the greater level of kedusha to begin with! Who says the nazir is greater just because if he becomes tamei he must bring a korban - maybe the kohein is greater because his kedusha is “kedushas olam”?! This is a different question entirely.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Infinity and the Pardes story

An interesting post by my wife here.

does kamus outweigh eichus when time is on its side?

In his discussion of kamus vs. eichus, R' Yosef Engel factors in another dimension: time. If X is qualitatively more significant thatn Y, but Y continues for a longer duration than X, does the factor of time cause Y to now outweigh X? An example of a sugya which seems to weigh these factors: the gemara (Kesubos 34b) presents two cases where a ganav who kills an animal is patur - 1) where the theft took place on Shabbos; 2) where the theft took place in a machteres. The common denominator in both cases is that the thief is subject to the death penalty and therefore exempt from double-jeapordy financial liability. Why, asks the gemara, do we need two cases to illustrate the same principle? Because, answers the gemara, had I just had the example of Shabbos, I might have thought the exemption from payment is due to the unique stringency of Shabbos. Shabbos is an "issur olam", meaning at any point in time that witnesses testify that someone has desecrated Shabbos, he would be killed; someone tunneling in a machteres can be killed only if he if caught in the act. Similarly, had I just had the example of machteress, I might have thought the exemption from payment is due to the unique stringency of that case. An intruder intent on buglary may be killed with no warning (hasra'ah), while there is no punihsment for desecrating Shabbos if the violator is not warned. The principle of exemption from payment is illustrated using both cases to show the exemption is not due to some stringency unique to one case or the other.

The punishment in a case of machteres has a qualitative edge over the punishment for desecrating Shabbos because it comes without any warning to the thief. Yet, Shabbos perhaps is more stringent because it is an "issur olam", without time limitation. Time tilts the scale toward the qualitatively lesser issur.

If you read yesterday's post or are learning daf yomi you will have come across the case (Nazir 47a) of a nazir and kohein who discover a meis mitzvah - which one of the two should become tamei to do the burial? R' Eliezer holds the kohein should become tamei and not the nazir. Since a nazir who becomes tamei must being a korban while a kohein suffers no such penalty, it proves the kedusha of a kohein is less significant than that of nazir. The Chachamim disagree and hold that the nazir should become tamei. Since the kohein is permanently in a state of kedusha (see Tosfos and Rashas"h) while the kedusha of the nazir is temporary, it proves the kedusha of the kohein superior.

The focal point of the debate seems to center around R' Yosef Engel's chakrira. Is the qualitatively superior kedusha of the nazir outweighed by the lesser kedusha of the kohein by virtue of the fact that kedushas kehunah has time on its side? SeeR' Yosef Engel's essay in Lekach Tov where he suggests other approaches to explain the Mishna's debate, but this approach certainly seems compelling.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

more issues in kamus vs. eichus

The gemara at the end of Yoma tells us that in a case of pikuach nefesh where one has a choice between which issurim to violate, one should choose hakal hakal techila – always, where given a choice, violate the least stringent issur. This opens a pandora’s box of discussion as to the hierarchy of issurim. The Rishonim debate the following case: a person is deathly ill on Shabbos and requires meat. Non-kosher meat is readily available. Is it better to feed the sick person that non-kosher meat, or to slaughter an animal on Shabbos in order to obtain fresh kosher meat? At first glance one would assume that Shabbos is a far more stringent prohibition than eating non-kosher food. However, the Ra’avad makes the counter-argument that every single bite of non-kosher food counts as a separate issur while slaughtering an animal for kosher meat is a single prohibited act. Perhaps it is better to perform a single prohibited act, albeit one as serious as violating Shabbos, than to violate a lesser prohibition numerous times over.

R’ Yosef Engel writes that this debate revolves around the issue of kamus vs. eichus which we raised yesterday. Shabbos is qualitatively the more stringent issur, but eating non-kosher violates a greater quantity of issurim. The debate in the Rishonim centers around which of these factors wins out.

Those learning daf yomi recently studied the Mishna (Nazir 47) regarding the case of a meis mitzvah which is found by a nazir and kohein gadol. The Tanaim argue as to which of these two, the kohein or the nazir, should become tamei to bury the body. The MaHaRaT”Z Chiyus cites a question raised by the Sha’ar haMelech that relates to the previous issue. A nazir who becomes tamei violates a greater number of issurim than a kohein who becomes tamei (remember, there is bal yacheil in addition to the issurei nazir). If so, according to the Ra’avad who argues that it is better to violate Shabbos than eat non-kosher because kamus overrides eichus, why is it not clear that the kohein and not the nazir should become tamei?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Berya - qualitative or quantitative shiur

In a previous post (in the context of bitul chameitz) we touched on the issue of kamus vs. eichus, quantity vs. quality, a chakira discussed in many places by the Rogatchover and R’ Yosef Engel. I would like to pose the same chakira with respect to the din of berya. The Mishna tells us that even though one normally does not get punished for eating a prohibited food ft the amount consumed is less than a k’zayis, if one consumes an entire insect, even though it is very small, one would get malkos. Since a bug is a whole complete entity, a berya, it is considered a significant enough act of eating to warrant punishment.

Is berya a shiur of kamus or eichus, quality of quantity? Is the chiddush of berya that a whole insect has the quality of being a whole living discrete entity and therefore significant, or is the chiddush that the quantity of living matter in a berya is significant enough to warrant punishment?

I think perhaps this is the issue behind the gemara’s question in the recent daf (Nazir 51b) whether one is chayav for eating a bug which has a part ripped off but can still live. If berya is a qualitative shiur, then the fact that the bug can live as-is proves it still has the quality of berya. But if berya is a quantity, then if the bug is missing any part, even an insignificant part, it lacks the necessary shiur.

Friday, May 09, 2008

sefiras ha'omer - peulah ha'nimshechet?

I have no proof for this sevara, but was thinking that perhaps the mitzvah of sefiras ha'omer is example of what the Rogatchover calls a "peulah ha'nimshechet" (for examples of a peulah ha'nimshechet and an attempt to better define that term, see this previous post). In other words, the mitzvah is not simply for the gavra to count the day, but the mitzvah is for each moment of the day to be in a state of having been counted through the designation made at the beginning of the day. I think this sevara can help explain why the minhag is not to daven ma'ariv early on leil Shavuos. The Netzi"v in this week's parsha justifies the minhag based on the Torah using the term "etzem hayom hazeh", this specific day, in connection with the timing of Shavuos. I would like to suggest that if sefirah is a peulah hanimshechet, it means each moment of each day, through the completion of all 49 days, must undergo being counted. If one cuts short the last day, the peulah hanimshechet has not run to completion.
Not sure if this is right - feedback welcome.

Parshas Emor (II)

More from Anonymous:

On the smichus haparshiyos of Shabbos and Moadim:
Why did this Parsha in the first Posuk start talking about Yom Tov and in the next Posuk talk about Shabbos? The Vilna Gaon provides the answer there are שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים that are from the Torah but you are allowed to do Melacha for food. The first and last day of Pesach make 2 days and a third is one day of Shavous a Fourth is a single day of Rosh Hashanah and then again 2 days of Succos adding up to 6 days that the Torah gave us But then the last Yom Tov is שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן Yom Kippur and Hence the connection of the two Posukim is explained.

.וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
The Posuk seems to be repetitive "do not desecrate my name and I will be holy"? The Posuk is issuing a special warning. The Posuk is addressing certain special situations where there is potential for booth. The airplane minyan has a lot of potential for people who have never seen a davening before to see it first hand and take part aוְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי ְ but on the flip side it also has potential to be תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי with people being inconsiderate to the people sitting in this seats closest to the Minyan. Therefore Hashem in this Posuk is telling us see the Posuk when you go to make a Kiddush Hashem make sure וְלֹא תְחַלְּלוּ אֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי וְנִקְדַּשְׁתִּי.

Parshas Emor (I)

Some beautiful divrei Torah which were shared in the comments to an eariler post and may have escaped notice. Thanks to Anonymous:

וְכִי-תִזְבְּחוּ זֶבַח-תּוֹדָה לַיהוָה לִרְצֹנְכֶם תִּזְבָּחוּ
The Posuk structure is very strange what does it mean "When you give a Korban it should be willingly? The answer is profound. The Korban we are referring to is a Todah which is given after going through a life threatening experience. The person might say to himself, why should I thank God After all the reason I got out of this situation is because God put me into this situation? The Posuk foresees this situation and says no that is not the case you must give it לִרְצֹנְכֶם, and you must recognize that even though in your limited life view it was a negative experience your belief in Hashem tells you needed it.

ַחֲמִשָּׁה עָשָׂר יוֹם לַחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי הַזֶּה חַג הַסֻּכּוֹת שִׁבְעַת יָמִים לַיהוָהוּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם
בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים וַעֲנַף עֵץ-עָבֹת וְעַרְבֵי-נָחַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵיְ ה' אֱהֵיכֶם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים
The Sefer Bnei Yissachar has some very interesting Remazim for Succos. It is said that the Lulav includes all of the Torah. The Bnei Yissachar Illustrates this point .The Torah starts with the word בְּרֵאשִׁית and ends with the words לְעֵינֵי כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵלthe navi starts with וַיְהִי אַחֲרֵי מוֹת מֹשֶׁה and ends in Divrie Hayomim with אֱלֹהָיו עִמּוֹ וְיָעַל you put together the last and first letters you get Lulav. It is also interesting to note that Lulav is an Acronym for the words וטהר לבנו לעבדך באמת take the first letters and again you have Lulav. Another interesting one comes from the word Sukkah the structure of the letters can actually teach you the Halachos of how many walls are required to have a kosher Sukkah. There are 3 types of Kosher Succos one a Samech which has 4 walls first letter of the word Sukkah. Then a Mem which has three and half walls the second type of kosher Sukkah and then a Heh 2 and a partial wall the Third type of Kosher Sukkah and making up the word Sukkah.וּקְרָאתֶם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כָּל-מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם בְּכָל-מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶםThe Posuk makes a very strange comment "and you call in middle of this day" what is its significance? The Brisker Rav answers based on a Rambam months are sanctified based on two witnesses. It would happen every once in a while that the witnesses would come late and say a while back I saw the moon and it was Rosh Chodesh. The Rambam says in this situation we declare the day the witnesses saw the moon Rosh Chodesh. This means in middle of the day it can theoretically become a day of Yom Tov. This Posuk is talking about Shavous which is not based on Rosh Chodesh but on Sefirah meaning once Pesach happened count Sefirah and in the end is Shavous. Therefore our Posuk says בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה on Shavous is the only day you can be מִקֹדֶשׁ in middle of the day because it is definitely Shavous because Rosh Chodesh does not affect it.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

a day to be sad?

From the sichos of R' Avraham Shapira z"l:
צריך לדעת להעריך את הנס והפלא הזה, שעשו לנו מן השמיים, בביטול עול הגלות. צריך לדעת להעריך, שבוטל עול הגלות. הגלות היא מום. הגלות היא נגד היצירה הטבעית של עם ישראל. זוהי פגיעה בחיים, כפי שהם צריכים להיות. אי אפשר להיות גלות, בגלות אין חיים כפי שהם צריכים להיות, ואין תורה כפי שהיא צריכה להיות. בגלות אין עם ישראל כפי שהוא צריך להיות

Why is today tinged with a certain sadness? Because how can one not be saddened when one realizes the tremendous hisgalus Elokus that occurred 60 years ago - v'nahapoch hu from the near complete destruction of Jewish life as it was lived for hundreds of years to a miraculous rebirth that continues to this very day - and the same time see ma'aminim bnei ma'amainim who don't see any reason to acknowledge what occurred and express hakaras hatov with shevach to Hashem, who go about their business as if a world with a State of Israel as a political entity and a world without a State would be equal in their eyes. How can one not be saddened when bnei yeshiva, the elan of our people, do not realize that the flourishing of Torah is Eretz Yisrael would not be possible without the Zionism they disregard, if not outright disparage? R' Shapira continues in the same sicha (emphasis mine):

יש לנו חידוש של מצוות עשה מן התורה. כולם ראו זאת, אבל אעפ"כ צריך חסדי ה' כדי להבין שיש לפנינו ישועה. גם אנחנו צריכים חיזוק ולימוד. לכאורה, זה צריך להיות מובן לכל, כולם ראו שאחרי אלפים שנה החזירו לנו את מצוות ישוב ארץ שראל. כולם ראו שבטל עול הגלות מעלינו ושזכינו מחדש, במצוות עשה מדאורייתא, ואי אפשר לומר שאין זה מעשה ה', אבל אעפ"כ זה צריך לימוד. יתכן שרואים אבל לא מתבוננים בחסדי ה'. צריך ללמוד את חסדי ה', וצריך חכם שיבין אותם, ורק אז יכולים להודות ולהלל לרבש"ע, על עצמאותנו בשלמות.

To use the framework of the Shem m'Shmuel I developed earlier in the week, there is a re'iya, but no shemiya. There is no "hati ozneich", of thinking and hisboninus. Chodesh Iyar is the chodesh of shemiya; 5 Iyar is a good time to start.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Nisan - re'iya; Iyar - shemiya; Sivan - the pairing of both

I hate to disappoint the lomuds fans, but I want to finish the discussion of the dichotomy between re’iya and shemiya as reflected in Nisan/Iyar. The Shem m’Shmuel ties these two forces to the month’s mazalos. The mazal of Nisan is the t’leh, the lamb. The lamb follows the shepard wherever the shepherd leads; Bnei Yisrael lovingly followed Hashem’s lead into the desert during Yetziyas Mitzrayim. A lamb cannot be burdened or used as a pack animal, but is simply fed in its pasture, used only for milk and wool. Bnei Yisrael at the moment of Yetziyas Mitzrayim was unprepared for the burdens of Torah and mitzvos and were culturally little different from the Egyptians who enslaved them. It was only G-d’s love for the Jewish people which spared us.

The mazal of Iyar is a shor, an ox, a beast of burden. The miracles of Yetziyas Mitzrayim were a window on what could be accomplished, but it was now up to Bnei Yisrael to give their attention to their own development by preparing to bear the yoke of Torah.

Finally, the month of Sivan is the mazal of teumim, twins. The Shem m’Shmuel explains this mazal based on a Midrashic reading of “yanasi tamasi” not as the simple, pure dove, but as the dove which is “teumasi”, my twin. Bnei Yisrael can come so close to G-d as to seem a twin to the Divine presence.

The point I wanted to make is that I don’t know why the Shem m’Shmuel did not follow through with his re’iya/shemiya dichotomy to explain teumim as the twinning of these two ideas. Perhaps this is the notion of “ro’im es hakolos” that was experienced at Har Sinai – the simultaneous experience of re’iya and shemiya at once. Meaning, there was at Har Sinai a culmination of our preparation as well as a commitment to further “nishma” along with na’asah, but at the same time, there was an overwhelming experience of hisgalus that transcended what human preparedness could encompass.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

a taxonomy of rov: acharei rabim, bitul b'rov, rubo k'kulo

Judging from comments to the previous post, the audience is getting restless because of lomdus deprivation. More on Nisan-Iyar maybe later, but first a R’ Chaim to satisfy the lomdus craving. Those learning daf yomi recently came across the source for the din of rubo k’kulo (Nazir 42a). The Torah tells us that a nazir must cut all of his hair, not just a majority of his hair. The implication is that if not for the special gezeiras hakasuv in this case, cutting rov would suffice as if all the hair was cut. The Maharat”z Chiyus notes that although the principle of rov is well established elsewhere as a din d’oraysa (Chulin 11), there is an added element of chiddush to the din of rubo k’kulo. Had we only had the principle of rov, we would know that a majority counts as more than a minority, but the minority would still be theoretically present. Rubo k’kulo goes a step further and teaches that we treat the minority remnant as non-existent. For example: on Pesach night where according to some Rishonim one must drink the entire kos of wine, drinking the majority of the kos is considered equivalent to drinking the entire cup.

A full taxonomy of the concept of rov should include two other halachos, both learned from the pasuk of “acharei rabim l’hatos”: 1) the principle of following a majority; 2) the principle of bitul b’rov. Again, these are two very different chiddushim. The basic principle of following rov is useful to solve a safeik, e.g. if there are 9 frogs and 1 sheretz near a loaf of terumah and one of the above came in contact with the terumah, rov allows us to say with a degree of certainty that it was a frog and not a sheretz. Bitul b’rov is a different concept entirely. If a drop of milk fell into a pot of meat, bitul b’rov tells us that if the pot contains enough meat, it can be eaten. In the former case, rov tells us that a sheretz did not come in contact with the terumah. In the latter case, the halacha of bitul tells us that even though the milk fell into the pot, the meat can still be eaten.

R’ Chaim Brisker asked how these two very different halachos can be derived from the same pasuk. In a nutshell, R’ Chaim’s answer is as follows: “acharei rabim l’hatos” tells us that the psak of beis din always follows the majority. Tosfos (Bava Kamma 27) asks how we can decide dinei mamonos based on rov dayanim when we know that the principle of rov is not applicable to dinei mamonos. R’ Chaim explains that once beis din arrives at a psak, their conclusion is not just considered the conclusion of a majority of the judges, but is considered the conclusion of the court as a whole. The conclusion may be arrived at by polling the majority, but once decided, the minority of dayanim are bateil b’rov. Both halachos, rov and bitul b’rov, are operative in the psak of beis din.

Here is a question that has me stumped, and I am sure I must be missing something. Couldn’t the operation of beis din in cases of dinei mamonos be explained based on the principle of rubo k’kulo and not based on bitul b’rov? In other words, if 2/3 of the court reaches consensus, rubo k’kulo would mean that it is as if the entire court has reached a consensus. The justification for psak in dinei mamonos would therefore stem from the gezeiras hakasuv in hilchos nezirus, not from "acharei rabim l’hatos". If the operation of beis din could be explained in this way, then R' Chaim's question is left hanging: what is the source for the halacha of bitul b’rov in scenarios like a drop of milk falling into the pot of meat?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Nisan - re'iya; Iyar - shemiya

May seforim teach that the 12 months of the year correspond to the 12 shevatim [meaning: G-d reveals himself in certain paradigmatic ways in the context of time/space/people. There is a correspondence between the revelation of G-dliness brought about by the personalities of the 12 shevatim and the revelation of G-dliness which occurs through the yearly cycle of 12 months]. The Shem m’Shmuel teaches based on the Zohar that this relationship follows the birth order of the shevatim -- Nisan corresponds with Reuvain and Iyar corresponds with Shimon. The character of Reuvain is “re’iya”, sight, vision; in naming her son Leah referred to G-d seeing her plight. The month of Nisan is the month of the exodus from Egypt where we saw G-d’s presence revealed as never before in history. “Ra’asa shifcha al haYam…”, the maidservant saw G-d’s presence at the splitting of the Sea more clearly that the prophet Yechezkel. Seeing is believing; we attribute great certainty and confidence to what our eyes tell us. The process of seeing involves no effort other than to open ones eyes; similarly, the process of leaving Mitzrayim involved no effort from Bnei Yisrael other than to open their eyes to the deliverance being granted.

The month of Iyar corresponds to Shimon, the sheivet which characterizes the power of hearing. In naming Shimon Leah referred to G-d hearing of her plight, “ki shama Hashem…” We place far less confidence is hearsay than in what we witness with our own eyes. As David HaMelech tells us, “Shim’i bas ure’i v’hati ozneich…” (Tehillim 45:11) – hearing must be followed up with “hati ozeich”, a deliberate decision to attend to what was heard, to digest and assimilate what the ears absorbed. After the miracles of Egypt concluded, Bnei Yisrael were left with the task of assimilating what had occurred into their lives and consciousness. This is the avodah of sefirah and the month of Iyar. The Shem m’Shmuel forcefully writes that Hashem does not perform miracles to that we should be habituated to living in a world of supernatural, where every challenge is met by a burst of Divine deliverance and we stand by as idle witnesses, participating only through re’iya. Rather, Hashem does miracles so that we glean the inspiration to use our own efforts achieve the transcendent heights which the miraculous proved possible, participating as active agents, “hati ozneiach”. More to come bl”n.

Friday, May 02, 2008

"ki kadosh ani" - do we need a reason to be holy?

“Kedoshim tehiyu… ki kadosh ani”. Chazal in a different context note the multiple possible meanings of the word “ki”, but the ambiguity of the term certainly stands out in the context of our pasuk. I think Seforno comes closest to what we would call the pshuto shel mikra (in the sense of plain meaning) in his interpretation: man must be holy because the telos of human achievement is living b’tzlem Elokim, in G-d’s image, and G-d is holy. Ramban in a similar vein reads “ki kadosh ani” as an assurance that one who lives a life of holiness will be connected to G-d because (“ki”) G-d is holy.

If “ki kadosh ani” is a reason, a justification, for the goal of holiness, I think we need to take a step back and consider the question that just that begs asking – why does being holy need a reason or justification? Why does there have to be a “ki kadosh ani” to inspire us to holiness? We certainly find in Chazal the principle of imitation dei, emulating G-d as a reason for doing virtuous acts, in the formulation of “mah hu… af atah” etc., but I cannot think offhand of a clear textual basis in Torah for such a formulation outside of our pasuk. Puk chazei mai wikipedia dabar in its entry on imitation dei – our pasuk of kedoshim and no other is quoted as a Torah source.

Perhaps the answer is that we don’t really subscribe to the principle of imitation dei as the be-all and end-all of virtue after all. The Torah commands “V’asisa hayashar v’hatov” not because G-d is yashar or tov (as these justifications are not stressed), but simply because being “yashar v’tov” are worthy ends in themselves. Virtue should be pursued not just as a means of imitating G-d or of connecting to G-d, but virtue is its own reward.

The same cannot be said of holiness. Without G-d as its focus, holiness has no meaning or virtue. Ramban writes that the opening mitzvos of the parsha parallel the 10 commandments, with “kedoshim” paralleling “Anochi Hashem Elokecha”, the mitzvah of belief. “Ki kadosh ani” is not just a tangential reason, but is an inherent and necessary ingredient of the mitzvah of kedusha. Whether you retreat to live as an ascetic hermit on some Tibetan mountain or take more subtle steps at trying to create artificial kedusha by injecting contrived spirituality into mitzvah performance, neither will succeed because by definition a holy life is a G-d centered life. Creating your own spirituality may warm your heart, but does nothing for the soul.

Yom haShoah - "Breaking the Tablets" by David haLivni

I have read the argument that the Shoah is sui generis, incomparable to other tragedies in Jewish history, but have never quite been fully convinced. I say that fully aware that living at least a generation or two removed from the immediate historical context of the Shoah perhaps dulls one’s sensitivity to the events that occurred, but by the same token, those who experienced the Shoah live many generations removed from events like the Churban, the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, etc. Must we rank tragedies in order to fully appreciate the horror and significance of what occurred? Is there any historical or theological value to such rankings?

My reservations aside, I recently read and would recommend R’ David HaLivni’s Breaking the Tablets: Jewish Theology After the Shoah for a scholarly yet heartfelt articulation of the sui generis argument. Aside from making a historical argument, HaLivni also argues based on sources in Tanach and elsewhere that destruction on the scale of the Shoah cannot be attributed to our sins alone (an approach discussed here once before). The theological approach to the Shoah which he develops as well as some of the other issues he brings up deserve a full discussion best left for another time. I don't pretend to agree with everything he writes, but do find his essays well thought out and intriguing (life would be pretty boring if you only read books which you agree with). Just as an aside as it relates to the book, the content would I think have been better served as a long essay published in non-book format (as I believe it originally was) without the added introductory pieces written by Professor Ochs which in my opinion added little to the work.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

why a katan / ketana is excluded from shlichus

While on the topic of shlichus – why is it that a katan cannot be a shaliach? I count two or possibly three reasons, depending on how finely you want to split hairs. Rashi in Bava Metziya (71b) points to the derivation of shlichus from the parsha of hafrashas terumah. Since a katan cannot be mafrish terumah or make nidrei hekdesh, he is excluded from shlichus. Rashi in Kiddushin (42a) points to the derivation of shlichus from the parsha of gittin where the Torah uses the term “ish” (“ki yikach ish”), which excludes a katan. Now we get to the hairsplitting part. The way I read Rashi is that the exclusion is based on the gezeiras hakasuv that specifies “ish”. The last Ketzos in Hil. Shlichus, however, explains that a katan is excluded because a katan cannot marry or divorce. What difference does it make if you read it as an explicit gezeiras hakasuv or an implicit sevara? If it is a gezeiras hakasuv I’m not sure you need to be bothered by the Ketzos’ problem of how to exclude a ktana who is capable of getting married provided her father accepts kiddushin on her behalf.

The Ketzos explains that the two reasons offered by Rashi may depend on the issue of whether the halacha of “mufla hasamuch l’ish” is a din d’oraysa or not (as discussed in a recent daf yomi). If “mufla hasamuch l’ish” is a din d’oraysa, it means a child of 12, who is technically a katan, is still capable of being mafrish terumah or making nidrei hekdesh. Therefore, we cannot derive the exclusion of a katan from shlichus from the parsha of terumah. Instead, we have a source from the parsha of gittin.

This same issue may explain a difficult Rambam. Whatever the reason a katan/ktana cannot be a shliach, the same logic would also disqualify him/her from being a meshaleyach as well. The Rambam (Gittin 6:9) writes that a ketana cannot appoint a shliach kabbalah to receive her get because witnesses must testify that the shliach was properly appointed, and witnesses cannot testify as to the competence of a ketana who lacks da’as to make such an appointment. The Ra’avad offers a far simpler reason – the parsha of terumah teaches us that a katan/ketana is excluded from shlichus. Why does the Rambam need to re-invent the halachic wheel and suggest a new sevara?

The Ketzos explains that the Ra’avad must hold that that a mufla samuch l'ish cannot be mafrish terumah and therefore the parsha of terumah serves as a perfect source for the exclusion of a katan (like Rashi in Bava Metziya). Rambam disagrees and holds that a katan (who is mufla samuch l’ish) can be mafrish terumah and therefore suggests a sevara as a source.

I would be happy if I could find or work out another approach to the Rambam which still accepts the the parsha of terumah as the source for the exclusion of a katan but requires the additional sevara to explain some unique aspect of shlichus kabbalah. Don’t have this worked out yet, so consider it food for thought.