Monday, June 30, 2008

hefker (1)

The gemara (Bava Metziya 12a) discusses whether a kinyan chatzeir can take effect on an object which does not come to rest, e.g. a ball is thrown through someone’s yard and is caught by someone else after it passes through - is the ball now owned by the owner of the yard or by the one who caught it?

Rashi adds a detail (perhaps based on a girsa which we don’t have) to the example case that should put us on the alert: the thrower was mafkir the ball.

The gemara attempts to resolve this question by citing an analogous case. If someone tries to be makneh a present to his neighbor by throwing the object into his yard, even if the object does not come to rest and cannot be caught as it passes through, a kinyan chatzeir takes place.

Thanks to the detail added by Rashi, these two cases are not as analogous as they may seem. In the case introduced by the question, the thrower surrendered ownership of the ball by being mafkir it upon release. In the case the gemara presents as analogous, there is a da’as acheres makneh – there is intent to give the object specifically to the owner of the chatzeir. How can this be a proof to resolve the original question?

In other words, as Tosfos presents the problem, in the second case, the chatzeir is being koneh an object directed to it by a thrower. In the case used to illustrate the question, the object which is caught or which passes through the chatzeir is an object which is hefker and which therefore lacks any da’as makneh directing it.

My son was nice enough to alert me to a Ketzos (273:1) which opens a window into the whole sugya of hefker through his analysis of this issue, so stay tuned.

Friday, June 27, 2008

the indictment of Korach

It seems that a recurring theme of the past few parshiyos is that trouble is associated with Moshe’s use of his own da’as. We saw Miriam’s complaint about his decision to separate from his wife mida’ato, we saw the instruction of shlach lecha to send spies mida’ato, and now we have Korach claiming that everything Moshe did, from appointing Ahron and assuming leadership right down to the aseret hadibros (according to one Midrash) was all mida’ato.

Some thoughts on the opening of the parsha: I noticed a Netzi”v that fits nicely with a Radomsker discussed two years ago (wow, 2 years of blogging?). For those who were not reading back then, link is here. Korach is introduced as “ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi”, an illustriuous yichus, but a yichus which nonetheless is lacking as it omits any connection to Ya’akov. Rashi explains that Ya’akov davened not be mentioned in the context of this machlokes. Rashi’s explanation begs the question: had Ya’akov not davened, why would his name be associated with Korach? And were not Yitzhar, Kehas, and Levi also tzadikim? – why are their names associated with a rasha?

Moving on to the 250 people who joined in, I am not sure what the meaning of “anashim m’Beni Yisrael” is. Do the words “m'Bnei Yisrael” mean to suggest that they came ostensibly as representatives of the people, or to suggest that they were leaders selected from among the people perhaps randomly, but who lacked any inherent qualities of distinction? Whatever the answer, the 250 people are described as “kri’ey eidah, anshei shem”, people who held a leadership position. Why is the detail significant? Why is it important to recognize that this was a rebellion of the elite? The simple answer perhaps is that the Torah is revealing something about the ability of power to corrupt and drive men to seek even greater power and influence. It's hard to stop with a little leadership when the kehuna gedolah itself is within reach.

The Netzi”v offers a different reading and sees the description as an indictment. Had this rebellion been led by outsiders upset over the trappings of leadership which Moshe took upon himself, perhaps there would be some slight justification for their complaint. But these were men in the inner circle, men who themselves were leaders and who therefore knew that leadership sometimes demands exerting authority and acting in an authoritarian role. As the Navi would later tells Shaul, “Im katan atah b’einecha, rosh shivtei yisrael atah!” And as much as Moshe’s role demanded that he express authority, he still remained the humblest of men, and those who were close to the leadership circle and saw his daily activity were in the best position to recognize that. Precisely because they were "kri’ey eidah anshei shem” were the 250 people guilty.

Korach’s yichus is also, suggests the Radomsker, an indictment. The scion of Yitzhar, Kehas, Levi - such great people - should lower himself to this? The names of his ancestors stand in condemnation of Korach, not in his praise. Yet, Ya’akov’s name is omitted. Even though Korach deserves our scorn - shem resha’im yirkav – and there is nothing wrong with castigating the likes of Korach, Ya’akov’s extraordinary tzidkus led him to pray that his name not be used for such purposes. The indictment of Korach is strong enough without the addition of the name of Ya’akov, which stands always as a source of mercy and not justice.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

modern day witches

Of course there are no witches of the type in Wizard of Oz, with green skin and flying broomsticks. But clear your mind of Hollywood stereotypes:

We learned: one who is versed in mikra, who has studied Mishna, but has not apprenticed and served Talmidei Chachamim…R’ Acha bar Ya’akov says this person is a magosh. (Sota 22b)
Rashi d”h magosh – a witch who deceives the eyes [with illusions] and steals away people’s hearts, as does this person.

Rashi’s explanation suggests that the gemara is simply drawing an analogy, not that the person we are speaking of is literally a witch. Just like a witch purportedly is a master of illusion, deception, and trickery, so too, this untrained individual will lead others astray. It may be precisely because we are speaking of someone who has mastered some minimal level of learning that the danger is so great - this person has the superficial veneer of scholarship, but in reality knows not of what he speaks. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

But the Maharal (Nesiv haTorah ch 15) goes a step further, and I have been meaning to write about this but finally made time thanks to reading parshablogs’s post and his follow up here (hat tip to my wife’s blog as well). Yes, says the Maharal, a person who fails to study under a talmid chacham is indeed a witch!

Witchcraft is all about mystical occult practices – spirituality run amok. Spells, incantations, mumbo-jumbo are its hallmarks. You can't really explain why 2 parts clover and a zebra's hair mixed in with wine is an effective potion (I made that up), but it's not about understanding, it's about ritual. The mystery just enhances the effect.

Explains the Maharal, if you fail to delve into Torah and understand that Torah is about seichel, about a system of thought and law with rules, regulations, finely tuned fomula, and a philosophical basis, then you are in effect falling into the trap of the magosh.

When one reads of women feeling spiritual as they toil over their challah, saying tefillos as they change diapers, as if there was some ma’aleh to the toil itself, one is seeing the magosh in operation. There is no din of kavanah to kneading dough or changing diapers, no special halachos that define it as avodas Hashem, but doing so makes people happy, and so Judaism becomes the worship of that which makes us feel happy and spiritual. In truth, feeling spiritual is probably far more comforting that actually obeying real halacha, which often makes one uncomfortable. Given the choice of shutting the lights and singing zmiros or breaking one's head over a Ketzos, who wouldn't choose the former over the latter, especially if you can appear even more "frum" by doing so? This is intellectual antinomianism at its worst.

The Maharal goes on to give an amazing example of what seichel means. Imagine two people in doubt about a halacha. Person #1 has the latest handbook of collected achronim of the past 20 years, 600 pages on drying your hands after netilas yadayim, and quickly finds his answer. Person #2 learns through the sugya, and acts based on his conclusions - which happens to contradict person #1's answer. Who has achieved the desired ends of avodas Hashem? Person #1 may have gotten the technically correct answer according to most achronim, but he has no understanding of the logic of halacha, no understanding of its rules and system. He is blindly following ritual, just as the magosh mixes his potion. Person #2 may have erred in a technical detail (though he would debate the point!), but truly appreciates the logic of halacha. Says the Maharal, undoubtedly Person #2 has gone further in achieving the desired aims of avodas Hashem.

Spirituality needs to be rooted in an intellectual system to have value, otherwise we are simply acting like the magosh.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

kinyan 4 amos

The Mishna (B.M. 11a) says that if an injured animal or an object falls into a person’s chatzeir and the person declares “zachsa li chatzeiri”, I wish to acquire the object through my chatzeir, he/she is koneh the object.

Tosfos writes that the declaration of “zachsa li chatzeiri” is unnecessary. One of Tosfos’ proofs is from the takanah (see B.M. 10) that 4 amos surrounding a person are koneh without a declaration. The GR”A (see the note printed on the daf) notes that the Rambam disagrees (see Hil Aveidah 17:11, Hil Zechiya 1:4) and always mentions the declaration of “zachsa li”.

Perhaps the point of debate revolves around how to understand this kinyan of 4 amos. Is the kinyan of 4 amos an extension of the basic idea of kinyan chatzeir or a completely new takanah? From the fact that Tosfos lumps the two together, it seems 4 amos and chatzeir share the same basic dynamic. The Rambam, however, perhaps views kinyan 4 amos as a categorically new type of kinyan.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

tevel: a mixture containing terumah or an independent issur

The Minchas Chinuch quotes a machlokes Rishonim regarding the obligation to take challah from tevel. Tosfos in Sukkah (35a d”h asya) writes that challah must be taken only if there is enough dough which would be chayav if terumah and ma’aser were subtracted. The R’Sh disagrees; as long as there is a quantity of dough that meets the shiur of challah, even including ter”m which belong to the kohein, the dough is still chayav.

Seems to me that this machlokes hinges on an issue raised by R’ Yosef Engel (Esvan d’Oraysa #2) regarding terumah. Tevel may not be eaten before terumah is separated; once separated, terumah may not be eaten by a zar. Is this issur of terumah just an extension of the old issur of tevel which remains in place viz. a viz the zar, or is it a categorically new issur? One can flip the chakira and raise the same issue with regards to the issur of tevel: is tevel prohibited because it contains terumah, or is it a categorically independent issur?

Tosfos perhaps holds that tevel is prohibited because it is defined as a mixture containing terumah; therefore, the volume of terumah must be subtracted from tevel before evaluating whether it is chayav in challah. The R”Sh, on the other hand, holds that tevel is a categorically independent issur. True, potentially ter”m must be removed from the dough, but that obligation to give a portion to the kohein does not impact ownership of the dough before it is given.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

shlach lecha - spies: good idea or bad?

If you don’t speed up your daf yomi you are liable to miss a beautiful Maharasha on the episode of the spies. Reish Lakish darshens (Sotah 34b) the words “shlach lecha” as a message to Moshe that sending spies is “l’da’atcha”, based on your decision alone. Rashi explains that Moshe was never commanded to send spies; Hashem does not command something that will lead to wrong. Hashem left the choice in Moshe’s hands, and Moshe reacted positively to the people’s suggestion. “Vayitav b’einey” (Devarim 1:23) – Moshe tells us that he approved of the plan, but the gemara darshens “v’lo b’einey haMakom”, G-d did not.

(It is tempting to see significance in the juxtaposition of the episode of Miriam’s critique of Moshe where he acted “me’da’ato” by separating from his wife and “hiskim Hashem al yado”, Hashem concurred with his decision, and this case where Moshe acted “me’da’ato” and it led to tragic results. Da’as Torah is evidently not infallible, even where a Moshe Rabeinu involved.)

Ramban disagrees with Rashi’s approach. Firstly, Ramban disagrees with understanding the word “lecha” as diminishing the force of the imperative command “shlach”. Also, if Moshe approved of a plan which was unfavorable in G-d’s eyes, should he not share some of the culpability for the outcome? It was not the sending of spies itself which was unfavorable, argues the Ramban, but the outcome which was tragic. (You may want to read parshablog’s take on this issue.)

The Maharasha sees the question of whether sending the spies was a good idea or not as one of motivation. Sending spies is part and parcel of preparation for war. Yehoshua sent spies before waging war on Yericho and was not criticized for his efforts; there is no reason to think such efforts would be inappropriate for Moshe. Aderaba - “Va’yitav b’eini”, Moshe thought it was a good idea. However, this planning was not what motivated Bnei Yisrael’s request. This was not simply a scouting mission to prepare for war, but this was a mission designed to investigate whether there was truth to the claim that Eretz Yisrael was “Eretz hanivcheres”. That agenda was inappropriate and would lead inevitable to sin.

The Maharasha has a beautiful diyuk. The Ramban is right – “shlach” is a command – but at the same time we can say Hashem did not approve the mission. Hashem told Moshe if he must send spies he should make sure they go “l’da’atcha” – in accordance with your (Moshe’s) agenda, in accordance with your plan and motivation, but not in accordance with their own aims. Unfortunately, the wrong agenda won out, leading to tragic consequences.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

more on Lauren Winner's book

A few other observations about Winner’s book:

First, getting back to the book, I was amazed at the need Winner had to concretize her connection to G-d by worshipping through (or to - I am really not sure which word is more appropriate) various icons. She literally has a whole collection of crosses adorning her walls which she uses to channel her prayers. This need to find some tangible, concrete “thing” to focus one’s faith around struck me as reminiscent of the eigel and evidence that avodah zarah is alive and well in the 21st century. I had never appreciated the degree I am also surprised that Winner does not discuss this more - this whole use of icons and imagery struck me as the most extreme expression of the distance she has traveled from Judaism.

Another point of contrast with Dubner which struck me: Dubner travels to Poland to explore his family’s roots and is deeply moved by the records of his grandparents’ town and its destruction during the Holocaust. He is moved not just as a human being, not just because it was his family, but because he identifies with the experience as a Jew. Winner never seems to empathize with the Jewish people as her family in the extended sense. She connects with individuals, with families who befriend her, but I never felt that she connects with the Jewish people, with their destiny and history as a people. It made me recall the pasuk from Rus and appreciate that “ameich ami” precedes “Elokayich Elokai”, perhaps for good reason.

I liked the comment to yesterday’s post saying that Winner’s complaint of the lack of intellectualism among Jews as a reason for her leaving Judaism begs the question of whether there indeed are more intellectual Christians. However you interpret her remark, by my rough page-count estimate Winner spends only around 2% of her book discussing why she left Judaism, and her explanations (like this one) strike me as mostly after the fact ad-hoc rationalizations. Aside from the point I quoted yesterday she mentions that she was never fully be embraced by people – they may have admired her, but would never let their son marry her. Social stigma is a powerful force. I think the real explanation for her not digging deeper into her dissatisfaction with Judaism is that psychologically she really has not left Judaism at all. She describes getting together with another couple to hold a Christian seder, she sets up a tikun leyl shavuos learning sessions with Christian readings, she has a chapter devoted to her reading Rus (on Shavuos) as a Christian, and joins a Church which caters to her appreciation of close textual reading on the Bible. She even revisits a shule for a Shabbos davening. Her Christianity is just another layer added to the foundation of Judaism which informs and shapes that experience (and judging from the book reviews, it is this perspective that makes her writing interesting).

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dubner's "Turbulent Souls" vs. Winner's "Girl Meets G-d" :two books, two viewpoints on faith

A few weeks back I recommended reading Stephen Dubner’s Turbulent Souls and got back a comment from Bill S. to read Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets G-d. I found it in the library and finished it off. Very different style from Dubner (I enjoyed Dubner’s writing style much more than Winner’s). Dubner tells the story of his re-discovering Judaism after being raised as a Christian; Winner tells the story of her turning to Christianity after converting and practicing Orthodox Judaism. Dubner is not content with accepting his parents’ conversion to Christianity being the result of a religious epiphany. He tries to trace back his family’s history and uncover the psychological and emotional dynamics that may have led to their conversion. The Judaism which Dubner attaches himself to is more of a cultural / historical identity than a mystical feeling or theological set of principles. Winner, on the other hand, reiterates a number of times that although one might attribute her return to Christianity to various emotional or psychological factors, she firmly believes Jesus reached out to her and led her. The book is filled with her professions of faith, her theological musings, her feelings about G-d and religion. Her faith is not the result of rational inquiry, but is the stuff of dreams and mystical experience. It seems her faith is no less deep than Dubner’s, even though her understanding of her religious attachment is so different than his. If I had to sum up Dubner’s faith, I would say he believes in Jews, the historical / cultural “peoplehood” that we share, though not necessarily Judaism, meaning a specific set of religious tenets. Winner believes in Christianity with all its rituals and theology, but I got very little sense of a her feeling a shared identity with all her co-religionists.

One quote from the book that stood out:
To tell this story, I would also have to talk about the crass materialism that snaked its way around New York Orthodoxy and the anti-intellectualism of the community. My five closest friends in college were the most intellectually capricious people on earth, but many of the other Orthodox Jews at Columbia were the worst breed of intellectually insular, mastering just enough knowledge to scatter their dinner party conversations with references to Freud or Kant, never mastering any more than that. I would have to talk about those things to tell the story of my leaving Judaism.
Of course not all Jews are materialistic and anti-intellectual. But have to admit my sympathies with this viewpoint, especially when I look around my neighborhood replete with nail salons, high-budget shoe stores, multi-million dollar homes, etc. and local newspapers advertising programs that promise college degrees in as little as 18 months. Is this the “am chacham v’navon” which should attract the admiration of the outside world? Perhaps I am being too harsh – your thoughts?

Monday, June 16, 2008

does modeh b'knas have a moral obligation to pay anyway?

Interesting question raised by the Yerushalmi at the end of the third perek of Kesubos (and I don't think there is a parallel in the Bavli): in a case of modeh b'knas, where the guilty party is exempt from being fined by Beis Din because he/she admits to the crime committed, is there any moral obligation (chiyuv la'tzeis y'dei shamayim) for the guilty party to voluntarily pay the fine in question? Apparently the Yerushalmi is willing to entertain the possibility that knas is not just a function of Beis Din imposing a penalty, but is an inherent obligation created by the criminal act itself.

Miriam's complaint against Moshe

One of the three things Moshe added m’da’ato (Shabbos 88) was separating from his wife, leading to Miriam’s complaint which we read at the end of last week’s parsha. It seems from Rashi on chumash (on the words “peh el peh”) that Hashem directly commanded Moshe to separate from his wife. However, Tosfos argues that had that been the case, there would be little for Miriam to complain about. Moshe must have taken the initiative in separating, and afterwards received G-d’s consent (“hiskim Hashem al yado”). Based on R’ Elchanan’s approach (discussed last week) that m’da’ato means the chacham’s intuition of ratzon Hashem, the flaw in Miriam’s complaint is more apparent – the very fact that Moshe took the initiative and had an intuition of some aspect of ratzon Hashem which she did not establishes his superiority as a Navi to her.

What is unclear from the episode is what Miriam hoped to accomplish by voicing her complaint. My wife suggests that she intentionally approached Aharon because Aharon was known as a peacemaker, especially in the realm of shalom bayis. Who better to appreciate the plight of Tziporah and intervene on her behalf?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Moshe Rabeinu or Moshe the Navi

There is an interesting letter relating to the dual role of Moshe Rabeinu/ Moshe the Navi from the Chasam Sofer to the Mahartz Chiyus which the Mh”C responds to at the end of the section of his sefer called Toras Nevi’im. The Chasam Sofer claims that the rule of “lo bashamayim hi” did not apply to Moshe Rabeinu. The proof he offers comes from the case of the megadeif. The Midrash portrays the megadeif as coming to court to press his claim for a stake in the camp of Klal Yisrael and being rebuffed by Moshe because his father was not Jewish -- the megadeif was conceived during an act of z’nus between his mother and an Egyptian. Yet how did Moshe know this without DNA testing? The halacha regarding determining paternity is clear: rov b’eilos achar haba’al. The assumption is that if a woman is married and conceives, the child’s father is the women’s husband, even if she is known to be promiscuous or known to have committed adultery. The Chasam Sofer writes that Moshe must have ruled on the basis of prophetic insight, nevu’ah. Even though the world of halacha and nevu’ah are normally separate – it is reason and logic, not prophecy, which governs decisions in the Beis Medrash – these worlds overlapped and intersected for Moshe, who was entitled to rule on the basis of prophetic insight. Coming back to the Minchas Chinuch’s point, ultimately all of Moshe’s Torah knowledge sprang from his prophetic experience at Sinai, a unique encounter which no other Navi shared or can ever share in the future.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moshe "Rabeinu" or Moshe the Navi?

Hope everyone had a great Shavuos. Still pressed for time, but will try to post a little. There is a mitzvah d’oraysa to obey the words of a Navi. Minchas Chinuch (516) asks why is it that any time a person violates any mitzvah, he/she is not also guilty of a secondary issur of disobeying the words of a Navi? Since every mitzvah was transmitted to us through Moshe Rabeinu, the greatest of Nevi’im, by disobeying any mitzvah we have also disobeyed a Navi!

I would take the Minchas Chinuch’s question a step further. The M.C. presents a machlokes between Tosfos and the Rambam whether the mitzvah of listening to the Navi applies only to that which the Navi heard directly from G-d, or even to insights which the Navi thought of him/herself. If the mitzvah to obey the Navi applies even to ideas the Navi did not hear directly from G-d, then if someone violates a takana which was instituted by a Navi, why would this also not be tantamount to violating the din d’oraysa of listening to a Navi? For example, kri’as haTorah is a takana which was instituted by Moshe Rabeinu. Would skipping kri’as haTorah and violating that takanah also be a violation of the din d’oraysa of obeying a Navi?

R’ Soloveitchik answered the Minchas Chinuch’s question by suggesting that the mitzvah in question does not apply to the Navi as a gavra, a persona, but applies to words of nevuah. By definition, a mitzvos and takanos are categorically distinct from words of nevuah (see also the Rogatchover Mh”T Yesodei haTorah 9:1)

Be that as it may, given the Minchas Chinuch, I thought we might be able to answer R’ Elchanan’s question regarding the extra day of preparation before mattan Torah that Moshe added “mda’ato”. R’ Elchanan asked what authority Moshe had to offer his interpretation when the mitzvah of “lo tasur”, the “license” for Rabbinic interpretation, had not yet been given. R’ Elchanan postulated that Rabbinic authority must not be rooted not in a specific commandment like “to tasur”, but more generally in the Rabbis ability to intuit G-d’s will. I think R’ Elchanan is right that in this case Moshe intuited G-d’s will, but I’m not sure we can generalize from Moshe to Rabbinic authority in general. Perhaps Moshe’s authority in this case stemmed not from his role as Moshe “Rabeinu”, Moshe the Rabbi or chacham, but rather stemmed from Moshe’s role as Navi. It is not the Rabbi or chacham whose authority stems from some transcendent insight into G-d’s will – that is the role of the Prophet.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

no time

Sorry blogging has been spotty - too busy right now to get this topic done. Hope to have more time at some point soon.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

chazal's authority as an expression of ratzon Hashem - lo tasur and pikuach nefesh

Continuing from the previous post discussing the extra day Moshe added “me’da’ato”, whether we learn like Tosfos or like the Maharal, Moshe’s interpretation of Hashem’s command was accepted by Bnei Yisrael. R’ Elchanan in Koveitz Divrei Sofrim asks why this should have been the case. Since the command of “lo tasur”, which grants authority to Chazal, had not yet been given, there seems to be no basis upon which to accept the authority of Rabbinic interpretation, even coming from Moshe Rabeinu!

As discussed in the past, R’ Elchahan suggests that the authority for Rabbinic interpretation is not rooted in “lo tasur”, but is rooted in our assumption that Chazal have the ability to intuit the will of Hashem. It naturally follows that if one is privy to Hashem’s will, one should seek to fulfill it.

R’ Elchanan offers a number of proofs for his thesis, among them: 1) the fact that takanos and gezeiros existed before matan Torah, before “lo tasur” was commanded; 2) the fact that a katan is obligated in mitzvos derabbanan as part and parcel of chinuch even though a katan is not bound by “lo tasur”; 3) the punishment of Balak for participating in the attempt to curse Bnei Yisrael even though there was never a formal command from G-d for him not to go to Bila’am.

I would like to suggest a possible additional proof based on a question R’ Elchanan himself raises elsewhere but which he does not connect back to this discussion. The gemara (Gittin 56) relates that before the churban, the Emperor sent a korban to the Mikdash to be offered. A traitor had caused a blemish in the korban rendering it unfit, knowing that if the korban was not offered it would arouse the anger of the Emperor against the Jewish people. The Chachamim were at first willing to offer the korban despite the blemish because of “shalom malchus”, the need for peace. However, R’ Zecharya ben Avkolus argued against bringing the korban lest people think a defective korban can be brought. The gemara concludes that because of R’ Zecharya’s unwavering position the Mikdash was eventually destroyed. R’ Elchanan (Koveitz He’Oros #48) questions the sevara of R’ Zecharya. Concern lest people think a blemished korban is acceptable is a chashash derabbanan. Weighed against pikuach nefesh, there would seem to be no doubt that the saving of life should take precedence and the korban allowed. Why then was R’ Zecharya insistent that the chashash derabbanan be upheld despite the danger? R’ Elchanan seems unable to arrive at a firm answer to this question, but what R’ Elchanan was unwilling to say is actually spelled out by someone else. Sha’arei Yosher has a table of contents summarizing each chapter of each sha’ar. In the content table for the last chapter of sha’ar #4, the editor snuck in a chiddush (I assume this is the editor’s own summary and not R’ Shimon Shkop’s chiddush). He writes that the lav of “lo tasur” clearly must override pikuach nefesh. Since Chazal take the license of explaining the parameters of halachos that require ye’hareig v’al ya’avor, even extending the obligation to cases that are not apparent from the plain reading of the text, apparently one has no right to argue that pikuach nefesh overrides “lo tasur” undermining Chazal’s interpretive authority. The argument boils down to a reduction ad absurdum consideration, but missing is an explanation of why this should be so. Why indeed does pikuach nefesh not override “lo tasur” and undermine Rabbinic authority? I think the answer goes back to R’ Elchanan’s basic principle -- Rabbinic authority transcends “lo tasur” and stems directly from an intuition of the ratzon Hashem. If it is Hashem’s will that we sacrifice our lives, all pikuach nefesh bets are off. Obviously not all scenarios are equal in this regard, as pikuach nefesh does usually override dinim derabbanan. I cannot formulate a rule that would clarify why a case like R’ Zecharya ben Avdolus’s scenario is an exception and other cases not, but I think this approach does shed like on the operative mechanism behind how such exceptions work.

See, I told you there would be new stuff to this topic… more yet to come.

kvod Elokim haster davar

Some thoughts from my wife on last week's parsha.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Moshe hosif yom echad me'da'ato

I have to prepare a shiur for Shavuos, so I’m afraid blogging the next few days is going to be a first draft before going live (though reality blogging is really never more than a draft). I also have to beg longtime readers’ indulgence because the shiur will cover some ground we have done before (see here and here for starters), but I hope to spin things off in a new direction.

The gemara (Shabbos 87) tells us that Moshe Rabeinu did three things “me’da’ato”, based on his own reasoning, with which G-d concurred. One of the three is “hosif yom echad me’da’ato”. On the Wednesday before mattan Torah Moshe was given the command of hagbalah, to cordon off Mount Sinai for three days. One might have figured that Wednesday, Thursday count as the first two days of hagbalah, and the Torah would be given on Friday, the third day. Moshe Rabeinu reckoned the count differently. As the gemara describes, since he was told to do hagbalah “hayom u’machar”, today and the next day, he used the derash principle of hekesh to reason that the first day must be an identical block of time as the second. Just as the second day consist of a night + an ensuing day, so too must the first. Therefore, the count could not start on Wednesday, as the night had already passed. Instead, the count must start on Thursday and extend to Shabbos. The gemara concludes that the Torah was in fact given on Shabbos, showing that G-d concurred with Moshe’s reasoning.

Tosfos and the Maharal (Tif Yisrael ch 37) are bothered by the description of Moshe’s action as “me’da’ato”, something that was a product of his own reasoning. Moshe did not intuit or logically deduce the need to start counting on Thursday instead of Wednesday. He used the rules of torah sheba’al peh, a hekesh, to interpret the command he was given. If Hashem intended the Torah sheb’ksav to be read though the lens of Torah sheba’al peh, then isn’t the interpretation inherent in the text? And isn’t it obvious that any interpretation using those hermeneutical rules would be concurred with by Hashem?

This issue is interesting in its own right: to what degree is interpretation inherent in the text and to what degree is it a product and creation of our own reading? Tosfos writes that the hekesh the gemara refers to must not be a real derasha, otherwise it makes no sense to label it “me’da’ato” of Moshe. According to Tosfos, the 13 middot are inherent within the text's meaning and not products of our own mind. Maharal, on the other hand, writes that derashos are always a product of human interpretation and can be called "me'da'ato". Why is this instance of derash more noteworthy than any other? Maharal explains that Hashem’s agreement demonstrated that although derash usually is an external interpretation read into the text, in this particular case the derash was inherent in the original command. I would suggest by way of analogy that the pasuk “ayin tachas ayin” is of a similar nature. The interpretation of the pasuk as referring to compensation and not literally the taking of "an eye for an eye" is more than derash, but is quasi-pshat, a part of the inherent meaning of the text itself (yes, my example is debatable as well).

Stay tuned for more…

Yom Yerushalayim

From a sicha from R' Avraham Shapira z"l, full text here:

ותשכון בתוכה כאשר דברת', מדוע דוקא בתפילה על ירושלים מדגישים כאשר דברת, מה שלא מצינו בשאר הבקשות, והרי כל הבקשות מבוססות על פסוקי ודברי הנביאים? והביאור הוא, כי השכינה קיימת גם בזה"ז, שהרי קדושת ירושלים לא בטלה. ואנו מוסיפים בתפילה לבקש על השכינה בשלימותה. כמו שכתוב בספר זכריה שירושלים תיקרא עיר האמת, הר הקודש, והכוונה על בנין המקדש. וע"כ צריך להוסיף "כאשר דברת" כי יש תוספת לקדושת ירושלים, לשכינה במילואה, ע"י הקמת בית המקדש.
"כאשר דברת"

ירושלים הבנויה כעיר שחוברה לה יחדיו, ששם עלו שבטים, אין המדובר על עליה פיזית, אלא על עליה רוחנית. בירושלים נתעלו השבטים, כך מפרש המאירי, סגולת ירושלים - סגולה רוחנית שמרוממת את האדם. והתוס' בכתובות (ק"י ע"ב) כתבו שאין רוצים שיהיו עבדים בירושלים, ירושלים היא עיר של מלכות. מלכות היא סמל של חירות, גדר של מלך הוא מי שאין על גביו אלא ד' אלוקיו. ומשום כך ביציאת מצרים, ביציאה לחרות עולם, כותב התרגום יונתן (על הפס' ואשא אתכם על כנפי נשרים) שהקב"ה נשאם באותו לילה לירושלים, כי השלמת החירות בתכלית, היא רק עם ירושלים, אין עבדות בירושלים כדברי התוס'.

A nes is not just about a catastrophe avoided, but is also a mechayeiv:

כשעושים לאדם ישועה, כשעושים לצבור ישועה, רוצה הקב"ה שאותו אדם ואותו צבור ישפר את מעשיו, ויעבור למסלול חיים חדש, גבוה יותר, קדוש יותר