Friday, January 30, 2009

makkas arbeh: torah sheba'al peh

Anonymous commented on my near oversight of not posting a Sefas Emes on his yahrzeit, so let me try to correct that!

There are a number of interesting points in the opening to parshas Bo:
1) Hashem tells Moshe to go to Pharoah and warn him, but the text interestingly does not contain any reference to the makkah which will be brought (see Ramban).
2) Why does the text use the word "bo" instead of "leich"?
3) When Pharoah gives him he admits "chatasi la'Hashem v'lachem" -- this is the only occurance of an admission of sin not just against G-d but against the Jewish people as well.

R' Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (Kol Simcha) explains that in fact Moshe was not told in advance what the upcoming makkah would be. Therefore, the Torah does not say "leich", implying shlichus, but rather uses the term "bo". Moshe was given free reign to choose what makkah to inflict on the Egyptians and based on his understanding of midah k'neged midah arranged for the plague of arbeh. Hashem wished to show that the purpose of the makkos stemmed from his love for the Jewish people and his responsiveness to their needs and not just for the abstract goal of punishing the Egyptians. When Pharoah begs for mercy he must confess that it is not just G-d who he has wronged and is subservient to, but also the Jewish people, who have within their power to ellicit punishments from G-d upon those who wrong them.

The Imrei Emes quotes the Sefas Emes as explaining that this makkah represents the revelation of torah sheba'al peh in the process of the makkos. One means of Hashem communicating with the world is the direct revelation of His will that occurred at Har Sinai and to the Nevi'im. However, there is another means of Hashem's will becoming known, and that is the process of torah sheba'al peh -- what the chachamei hador intuit and infer to be the ratzon Hashem, what the chachamei hador declare to be the ratzon Hashem, is the ratzon Hashem. Moshe did not need a revelation of the details of the makkah of arbeh in advance; it was his intuition of the ratzon Hashem that lef him to understand that this is the ratzon Hashem.

It is no coincidence that this process is revealed during arbeh, the eighth makkah in the series of makkos. In the list of sefiros and midos the lower seven midos all represent action, while the upper three represent knowledge -- chochma, binah, da'at. Each of the makkos was a revelation of some new aspect of Hashem's relationship and control over the world. This eighth makkah of arbeh is the start of the revelation of chochmas haTorah, and therefore it contains the germ of torah sheba'al peh, the ability to use chochma to reveal the ratzon Hashem.

The Maharal frequently writes that the number seven represents the order of the natural world, e.g. seven days in a week, but the number eight represents transcendence beyond those boundaries. The midos beyond seven are the vehicles that allow us to transcend our own physical limitations, as the mind has no boundaries as to what is can conceive of or imagine.

The Sefas Emes explains that this is why the Torah here stresses not just the goal of "v'yedatem ki ani Hashem" as a reason for the makkos, but also stresses the need "lma'an saper b'oznei bincha", the transmission of the story from generation to generation. Torah sheba'al peh is the mesorah of klal yisrael, the blueprint of Judaism that is not reducable to a chiddush or shita that can be formulated in a book or in an explicit command, but must be given over as a way thinking and living that allows us to see the ratzon Hashem using our chochma so that generations after Sinai we still feel Hashem speaking to us and making his will known.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

leil shimurim and the mitzvah of bitachon

The Torah describes the first night of Pesach as "leil shimurim" (12:42) which Rashi explains to mean that Hashem was watching and waiting for this night (like the expression "v'aviv shamar es hadavar") to fulfill the promise he made to Avraham to redeem his children from slavery. Much has been written on the topic of why it is significant to mention that G-d fulfills his promise when we would expect no less of our fellow man. R' Yerucham Lebovitz in Da'as Torah goes a step further. R' Yerucham asks why it was necessary for G-d to make that promise in the first place. G-d might simply have enslaved the Jewish people and when the proper time came redeemed them. What is the point of making a promise, waiting expectantly to fulfill that promise, and only then acting?

R' Yerucham answers that the purpose of the promise is not for G-d's sake, but for our sake. Through our waiting and hoping with G-d for the promise's fulfillment we generate the merit which leads to that promise coming to fruition.

There is no mitzvah of bitachon (according to most Rishonim) mentioned in the Torah -- where do we derive this midah from? I think the answer is in this vort from R' Yerucham. The midah of bitachon stems from the obligation of v'halachta b'derachav, to imitate G-d's midos, mah hu... af atah... G-d in this parsha demonstrates that he waits expectantly for the fulfillment of his promise; therefore it behooves us to imitate that behavior and also wait expectantly for G-d's promises to come to fruition.

emunas chachamim and pilpul talmidim

A few thoughts on the R' Ahron Shechter video discussing whether it is appropriate to inquire into ma'aseh braishis. As by BIL pointed out elsewhere, the comments made by R" Shechter echo the Maharal in his intro to Gevuros Hashem where he writes that the it is not for us to inquire into the process of creation. The fact a contemporary Rosh Yeshiva espouses such a position should at least give someone pause before taking the opposing view, kal v'chomer if that R"Y is echoing Maharal. Sadly, from what I read of these issues elsewhere, the speeding train that rushes to dismiss Chazal in light of science does not pause for anyone.

The Seridei Eish, a posek who may have been more open to embracing modernity, has an interesting tshuvah (I:113) where he points out that two of the necessary ingredients for kinyan Torah seem contradictory. These two traits are emunas chachamim and pilpul chaveirim. The Seridei Eish writes that only by trusting in the correctness of Chazal, emunas chachamim, will one be motivated to struggle to uncover the meaning in Chazal even where their teachings appear to contradict other disciplines or one's own strongly held opinion. On the other hand, blind trust and obedience without thought and investigation, without pilpul, leaves one with superficial understanding that does not reflect or capture the deep truths of Torah. A balance is needed. Many of those who champion scientific truth as superior to the knowledge of Chazal in my opinion err by giving far too much weight to pilpul and far too little weight to emunas chachamim.

The greatest error of many who seek to resolve contradictions between science or history and Torah is misframing of the question. The question to be asked is NOT whether espousing a certain belief or interpretation makes on a heretic or contradicts whatever list of ikkarim one subscribes to (belief in 13 ikkarim can no longer to be taken for granted, as some people feel that they can say kim li like some other list in Rishonim). One can concoct many wonderful versions of Judaism that keep to 613 mitzvos and are a hodge-podge of ideas and hashkafos that are built on a diyuk in a Rishon here and a shita of an Acharon there, etc. but which bear no resemblance to the dogma and practice of Jews in any community in our history. It's not the negation of cardinal belief which is the test of Torah true hashkafa. The real test is whether the conclusions confirm with the pattern of belief which our mesorah and people have held dear for generations. So what if there is an odd R' Avraham ben haRambam or a Pachad Yitzchak out there in our literature if there is a strong mesorah that runs contrary to these views?

But who is to judge what mesorah consists of? I honestly don't see what the confusion is in this regard. R' Akiva Eiger is an acharon; were I to fomulate an opinion on an issue, I too would be an "acharon" -- does anyone in their right mind think my opinion is worth 2 cents compared with R' Akiva Eiger's shikul hada'as, no matter how many ra'ayos I have or proofs to my position? Anyone who has sat in a beis medrash knows that even to have such a hava amina is ridiculous. When R' Baruch Ber would say shiur and answer up a R' Akiva Eiger he would say that his shiur is just a hava amina of R' Akiva Eiger but should not be taken as an absolute conclusion because R' Akiva Eiger said otherwise. Rav Solovetichik (Shiurim l'Zecher Aba Mori, Two Types of Mesorah) taught that there are certain great chachami hador who are ba'alei mesorah. They are not just poskim who decide what is permitted or prohibited, but they are responsible for setting the tone and tenor of Judaism and passing it to the next generation of leaders. R' Akiva Eiger, the Ktzos, R' Chaim Brisker -- these are ba'alei mesorah not just because of an insightful particular tshuvah or chiddush, but because they established what Jewish tradition in all its flavor means and represents. That line of ba'alei mesorah continues to our own day. Whether it is R' Elyashiv, R' Chaim Kanievsky, etc., there are people who klal yisrael look to as the flagbearers of tradition.

What troubles me is that many many of the comments on this issue are not along the lines of Moshe emes and Chazal are emes but in this one detail we have a kashe and need to rely on a da'as yachid or miyut opinion. Rather, many of those who comment asssume 1) a free-for-all attitude is acceptable in areas of hashkafa where psak in not binding; 2) if it doesn't violate an ikkar emunah, then anything goes; 3) scientific evidence always trumps belief. At least these folks are honest. They don't need a Pachad Yitzchak or a R' Avraham ben haRambam. They don't need any achronim or Rishonim. The hold that mesorah is simply not a bar plugta with modern science.

If I were to insist on washing netilas yadayim before kiddush on Friday night because I insist that the Rama is right no matter what anyone else tells me and despite centuries on minhag to the contrary in most Jewish families (Yekkes excluded), kulei alma lo pligi that I have crossed a line in psak halacha and am being poreitz geder on minhagim. But if I go ahead an insist on uprooting a tenet of mesorah that contradicts what I take to be empirical evidence, right down to the assumption that the text of Torah was given to Moshe on Sinai, then that is "just" hashkafa there is no problem. Olam hafuch ra'isi when a detail in netilas yadayim carries more weight than fundemental beliefs.

I am fully aware of the point Michael Collins makes in his book The Language of G-d that by denying scientific fact we place greater obstacles in the way of faith and reduce belief to superstition. But I am also aware of the fact that Collins as a non-Jew has no mesorah or concept of emunas chachamim with which to contend. He may spin his Bible any way he pleases; we do not have the same flexibility.

So what do I propose to do with scientific or historical evidence that overturns mesorah or belief? Answer: I don't have answers for everything, but I can live with those kashes. Read up on Keats' negative capability. There are mysteries and unexplained phenomena in science and history, yet a scientist will stick with a theory that has most of the evidence in its favor and live with those questions until further discovery resolves them or the theory is changed. The mesorah is the best theory we have to explain reality.

Bottom line: instead of sweeping statements that reject ikkarei emunah and posit new ideas about mesorah that are quite simply wrong, I would rather keep the "old" system and use a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer to address these issues. Admittedly the former approach in one fell swoop resolves all problems in these areas, but ironically that one feel swoop destroys the very fabric of mesorah which it purports to defend.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

the ra'avad's approach to yediya and bechira

We read in last week's parsha that Moshe Rabeinu received a less than enthusiastic response from Bnei Yisrael to his message (to say the least). The Sefas Emes asks: Hashem surely knew with Divine foresight that Moshe would be ignored; what then was the point of sending him? G-d does not interfere with human choice to engage in futile acts, but that should not preclude G-d himself not ordering a human, in this case Moshe, to do something that He knows will be futile.

Yesterday we discussed the Rambam's approach (Hil Tshuvah end of ch 5) to reconciling free will with Divine foreknowledge. The Ra'avad dismisses the Rambam and offers his own solution. Ra'avad compares G-d's knowledge to the knowledge of the future someone who reads horoscopes might have. Let's say I know what you will have for breakfast tomorrow morning. That knowledge in no way interferes with your going through the process of looking in your pantry, selecting one particular cereal among the many on the shelf, etc. irrespective of that fact that I know in advance what your decision will be. Another example: as I watch from my living room window I see a car driving quickly down the block headed directly for a deep pothole. My knowledge that the driver will hit the pothole in no way interferes with the driver having free choice as to how to proceed. Ra'avad writes that there is similarly no contradiction between Divine foreknowledge and free choice.

R' Y. Bloch in Shiurei Da'as (vol 1 p. 123) raises a question similar to that of the Sefas Emes against the Ra'avad. While G-d's foreknowledge has no effect on our choice, it should make a difference k'lapei shemaya to how G-d himself acts. Why should G-d have sent prophets to admonish the Jewish people when, as we read so many times in Nach, their words were ignored? G-d surely knew the outcome in advance, so why would he instruct a Navi to undertake a futile mission?

I wonder if I am missing something here. Although the Shiurei Da'as leaves this question unresolved, the solution seems not the difficult. If you have kids that you have taught to ride a bike or remember when you learned yourself, think back to the process. You know when you sat your kid on the bike for the first time without training wheels that he/she was going to fall, yet you did it anyway. What kind of cruel parent are you!? If you knew your child would fall, if you had foreknowledge of what would happen, why did you put him/her on that bike? And not only did you do it once, but you did it again and again! Didn't you know that he/she can't ride yet and letting your kid go is futile? The answer is that you did know, but unless you put the child on the bike and let the child fall a few times, he/she was never going to learn to ride. Falling is not failure; falling in this context is part of the process that leads to success.

The Sefas Emes writes that although Moshe's message was overtly dismissed, it left a roshem on the hearts of the listeners which they were not even aware of. In other words, Moshe's message was like letting the child fall off the bike -- it was a futile failure, but it is many futile failures that ultimately produce success. The answer to the question of the Shiurei Da'as is that G-d certainly does know that the Navi will be ignored, but G-d also knows that hearing the message again and again ultimately causes that message to seep in and produce an effect. When the Jewish people finally respond it is not because that final effort was successful where all others failed, but rather it was the small the final success.

Monday, January 26, 2009

yediya, bechira, and prophecy: why did the Egyptians deserve to be punished?

The Rambam (Hil Tshuvah, end of ch 6) asks why the Egyptians deserved punishment for their enslavement of the Jewish people when Hashem had already decreed and told Avraham that the Jewish people were to be oppressed and enslaved in exile. Rather than receive punishment, the Egyptians can claim reward for fulfilling G-d's wishes! The Rambam answers that while the Jewish people were fated to be slaves of the Egyptian nation, each individual Egyptian had the moral choice to make whether to enslave or oppress his/her Jewish neighbor. The Rambam offers an analogy: G-d declares that there will be good people and wicked people, yet surely a wicked person cannot exempt himself from punishment by claiming that G-d has fated his wickedness! There will always be good and evil, but each individual retains the moral choice as to how to act.

Both the Ra'avad and the Rambam (Braishis ch 15) disagree with the Rambam's approach, but I want to focus here on the Lechem Mishne's claim that the Rambam himself already answered in a previous halacha the question he now raises. The L.M. is referring to the Rambam's discussion (Hil Tshuvah end of ch 5 ) of how humans can have free choice when G-d is omniscient and already knows all the choices we are destined to make. If G-d has foreseen that we will choose to sin, then if we act otherwise, doesn't that indicate a lacking in G-d's omniscience? But if we are predestined to a certain fate, why do we have moral culpability for our actions when free choice does not exist? The Rambam answers that the relationship between G-d and his knowledge is incomprehensible from our human perspective -- "lo machshivosai machshivoseichem" -- the coexistence of free choice with G-d's foreknowledge is a mystery. The Lechem Mishne writes that squaring G-d's revelation of the future enslavement of the Jewish people with the Egyptians having free choice and being punished for that enslavement falls under this same rubric of Divine mystery.

The Ohr Sameiach is blunt in his reaction to this Lechem Mishne: "kol hadibur ta'us" -- "the entire comment is mistaken." While it is true that G-d's internal knowledge does not hinder our free will, prophecy is categorically different and does lead to an inescapably predetermined outcome. Since G-d revealed to Avraham that his children would be enslaved, the Egyptians were fated to be oppressors. Therefore, Rambam needed to call on the distinction between individual choice and global destiny to resolve the issue of Egyptian punishment.

Yeshayahu haNavi tells us that G-d words, "lo yashuv elay reikam ki im asah eis asher chafatzti" -- G-d's words do not return empty; they accomplish their task. The Bnei Yisaschar in a number of places cites the Alshich's interpretation of this pasuk as teaching that while G-d's knowledge allows for free choice by man, once uttered, once converted to the spoken word, that knowledge predetermines an outcome. Hashem tells his father-in-law Yisro to remain with the Jewish people and not return home "ki dibeir Hashem tov al Yisrael" -- the goodness promised to the Jewish people cannot be undone by their mistakes or their wrong choices because that goodness was spoken by G-d and G-d's speech creates an irrevocable fate.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Brisker Rav on the dual purpose of the makkos

Rashi explains the pasuk "Re'eh nesaticha Elokim l'Pharoah" (7:1) to mean that Moshe was appointed as a dayan, a judge, over Pharoah. The Brisker Rav explains that the makkos were not just a means to force the Egyptians to free the Jewish people, but were necessary to fulfill the promise to Avraham of "V'gam es hagoy asher ya'avodu dan anochi", the promise to judge the nation who would enslave the Jewish people. Therefore, Moshe had to act as a judge to impose the necessary punishment on Pharoah, on his servants, and on the Egyptian nation, each according to what was deserved.

I do not understand this insight of the Brisker Rav. The implication is that the judgment on Pharoah and Mitzrayim is a "chiddush din" which warranted the makkos even if the Jewish people could be freed in some other way. But what kind of new din is this? We know that there is a principle of schar v'onesh, reward and punishment, which means good people eventually reap their just rewards and evildoers get punished. If the punishment of the Egyptians was warranted under the principle of schar v'onesh, then why do we need a new pasuk of "v'gam es hagoy...dan anochi" to tell us that G-d will judge and punish them? And if the punishment of the Egyptians was not warranted under the normal rules of schar v'onesh, why did they deserve makkos at all? (See Ramban to Braishis 15:14 who explains why the Egyptians deserved to be punished despite the fact that G-d had predestined the Jewish people for enslavement. Perhaps that is the chiddush here, but I am still not satisfied -- why would that necessitate the appointment of a judge as part of the process, a concept not implicitly part of the usual schar v'onesh pattern?)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

milah: zman gerama

Tosfos (Kiddushin 29) asks why a special limud is needed to exempt women from the mitzvah of milah. Why are women not exempt based on the blanket rule that women are exempt from any time bound mitzvah, any mitzvas aseh she'hazman gerama?

The Mahara"Ch Ohr Zarua answers Tosfos' question by suggesting that the exemption from zman gerama mitzvos applies where the mitzvah demands a specific act. The mitzvah of milah is not the act of cutting, but rather is the ongoing state of being nimol which is produced. The act of milah is just a means to an end, but not itself the essence of the mitzvah.

As we discussed last post, this question of whether the mitzvah of milah is the act of cutting or the effect produced of being in a state of being nimol may explain the dispute between the Rambam and Ra'avad as to whether one who is not nimol is chayav kareis every second until getting a milah, or chayav kareis only upon death. If the mitzvah is to be nimol, then every second of not being nimol is a new chiyuv kareis; if the mitzvah is the act of cutting, then until the moment of death when that act can no longer be performed there is no chiyuv.

YD commented that there may be a different way to learn this Rambam/Ra'avad. Perhaps the focus of their dispute is not the definition of the mitzvah of milah, but rather the definition of what a bitul mitzvah is -- is a deliberate delay considered a bitul mitzvah (in other words, bitul=lack of kiyum), or can we only say there is a bitul mitzvah when there is no longer a possibility of fulfilling the mitzvah? (See Chazon Ish to Kiddushin 29 who suggests a similar approach).

Just to clarify what I left out of the original post, RY Engel and others avoid this explanation because, for example, choosing to perform milah next week as opposed to today certainly displays a lack of zerizus and attention to the mitzvah, but it is, in their view, hard to classify that as a bitul of the mitzvah in an absolute sense.

Monday, January 19, 2009

milah -- is the mitzvah the act of cutting or the effect of being nimol?

The gemara (Avodah Zara 27) asks according to the opinion that women are excluded from the mitzvah of milah how is it that Tziporah performed a milah on her child en route back to Egypt? The gemara offers two answers: 1) she appointed a shliach to do the milah but did not do it herself; 2) she merely started the milah but Moshe finished it.

Anonymous in a comment elsewhere contrasts milah with shechita. Why is it that if a non-Jew begins the shechita process, even if a Jew finishes, the shechita is invalid (assuming yeshna l'shechita m'techila v'ad sof), but with respect to milah if a woman begins the process of milah it does not invalidate the mitzvah so long as finished properly by a man?

The Kli Chemdah (Shmos 2) raises this same question and answers with a pilpul based on the Rambam's view that all descendants of Keturah, Avraham's wife, are obligated in the mitzvah of milah as non-Jews. Tziporah was one of these descendents and therefore she was obligated to see that milah was done on her son -- the exclusion of women applies only to the obligation of milah that is incumbent upon the Jewish people. However, the Jewish people were given an added obligation of periya in addition to milah. This Tziporah could not fulfill and the job had to be completed by Moshe (this is a very rough summary of a complex series of l'shitasam arguments).

A more lomdish answer is that one can distinguish between the mitzvah of milah and the mitzvah of shechita. The mitzvah of shechita is defined by the act and process of cutting the animal's neck in a certain way, and therefore every step of that process must be done by someone who is obligated in the mitzvah. The mitzvah of milah, however, is not defined by the act of cutting of the orlah but rather is defined by the effect produced, the state of being nimol. So long as the completion of that effect involves someone obligated in the mitzvah there is no problem of other people taking part in the process along the way.

My son pointed out that one of his favorite achronim, R' Yosef Engel (in Shu"t Ben Poras Yosef), debates whether this point regarding milah is correct and suggests that it hinges on a dispute between the Rambam and Ra'avad. The Rambam (Hil Milah 1:2) writes that someone who has no milah is not obligated in the punishment of kareis until the moment of death when it is no longer possible to perform the mitzvah. The Ra'avad disagrees and says that every single moment the milah is delayed results in another chiyuv kareis. R' Yosef Engel suggests that the Ra'avad viewed the mitzvah of milah as being nimol, the effect of not having an orlah. Every moment that the person remains with an orlah is a violation of being in a state of not being nimol. The Rambam, however, viewed the mitzvah of milah as the process and act of cutting. Until the moment of death when that task can no longer be accomplished there is still the opportunity to avoid the penalty of kareis.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

lev melachim b'yad Hashem

Last night when I read of Israel's unilateral cease fire I could not help but think (as I have written here before) that undoubtedly "lev melachim b'yad Hashem". Time after time the government of Israel does things that no rational government on Earth would consider doing. In the face of an enemy which openly declares their refusal to cease hostility, an enemy which has openly declared the destruction of Israel as one of its aims, an enemy which even as Israel handed it a cease fire continued to lob mortar shells and rockets at Israeli cities, our government decided to give up the fight with the enemy on the ropes and give them a chance to take a breath and catch a second wind. Insanity! The only possible explanation is that "Kach alah b'machashava lefanei", this is G-d's inscrutable will, and "lev melachim b'yad Hashem", this is Hashgacha pratis in action.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Divrei Torah Parshas Shmos: illusions and reality

At what point in Sefer Shmos would you say that the geulah of Bnei Yisrael began? Did it start with the plagues? With Moshe's return? With Hashem's appearance to Moshe in the burning bush? Maybe even earlier with Moshe's awakening to the plight of his people? The Sefas Emes in the name of the Ch haRI"M places the start of geulah all the way back at of the second chapter of the Sefer where we read that the old Pharoah died and the Jewish people suddenly bewailed their fate, "VaYei'anchu Bnei Yisrael min ha'avodah". The S.E. explains that until there was a realization that life was intolerable, that things cannot go on under these circumstances, then there was no real sense of galus and therefore no real longing for geulah without which change would never happen. The BeSH"T interprets the double language of "haster astir" used to describe hester panim to mean that G-d will be hidden and, sadly, we will not even realize that he is hiding from us. The first step to getting out of galus is realizing that we are in one. As winter vacation approaches and the advertisements appear for kosher cruises with all the glatt kosher food and sushi you can eat and daf yomi to boot, it makes one wonder. If this is galus, that (chas v'shalom) who needs a geulah?

At his meeting with G-d at the burning bush Moshe challenges G-d and says that the Jewish people will not believe him, an argument that seems unbefitting to the character of a tzadik and defender of the Jewish people, and which therefore has been reinterpreted in various ways. The Ishbitza (among others) as always is worth looking at, but I am going to risk suggesting an approach that is almost the opposite of his reading but follows along the lines of the Ohr haChaim. The Noam Elimelech in a different context in this week's parsha (d"h vayomer Hashem) writes that when a tzadik speaks words of Hashem it is impossible for these words not to penetrate and break into the hearts of the listeners. This was undoubtedly true in Moshe's case, for Hashem had specifically promised, "V'sham'u l'kolecha" (3:18). Therefore, there was no doubt in Moshe's mind that his words uttered in G-d's name would be heard and would uplift the Jewish people. But is that called "emunah", belief? One may have no choice but to listen and obey when the tzadik is speaking, but what about the doubts that may linger when the speech is over? We can all ask the same question about ourselves. A person hears a great mussar speech or derasha and feels uplifted and elevated and motivated in avodas Hashem, and then days, hours, or sometimes even minutes later it wears off. Who is the "real" me? Is the "real" me the person on a high of avodah who then unfortunately slips and falls and needs a little spiritual help to keep reaching for those heights, or is the "real" me the person sinking into the avodas parech of the mundane and those moments of spiritual seeking were the aberration?

Hashem answers Moshe through the signs, first transforming Moshe's staff into a snake. The Tiferes Shlomo (Radomsker) writes that this was the special staff with the name of Hashem engraved upon it later user to perform the plagues; it was an article invested with kedusha. Yet, when tossed to the ground, it appeared as the most lowly of animals. Hashem was telling Moshe that Bnei Yisrael in reality are the most exalted people, but when tossed to the ground, when submerged in the decadence of Egypt, there is no wonder that they appear lacking. The same is true of water which was taken from one of the four rivers of Eden (I do not know the T.S.'s source of this) but when poured to the ground looked like blood.

Moshe is told to grab hold to the tail of that snake and lift it and it will turn back to the holy staff -- grab hold of the tail end of the lowliest member of Bnei Yisrael and lift that Jew up and you will discover his true character. The "real" Jew is not the snake slithering on the ground, but is the holy staff of Hashem -- he/she just needs someone to grab and lift.

The Rambam (Hil Geirushin ch 2) writes that a Jew who is coerced by Beis Din to perform a mitzvah is not acting against his will even if he screams in protest, because innate to every member of the Jewish people is a desire to obey G-d. Belief is the reality of a Jew by definition; everything else is pretense and pretend.

Similarly, the question of how the Torah can command love of G-d when love is an emotional response -- you can't force a person to love what he is repelled from -- is not a question. A Jew has an innate love of G-d by his/her very nature and it is only external forces which cover up that love and even go so far as to make us thingkwe don't have it.

And so we come back to the Sefas Emes. Our psyche has been warped by 2000 years of exile into thinking galus is a natural state for the Jew and geulah is some miraculous occurrence outside the bounds of nature. We have been trained to think of the snake as real and the staff as an aberration, a miracle that is imposed upon the true nature of things. The key yo geulah is reversing that thinking. The staff is real and the snake is the illusion. 2000 years of existence in exile is the unexpected miracle; living in Eretz Yisrael with toras Eretz Yisrael and a Beis haMikdash in all its glory is reality. We all believe it deep down inside because a Jew by definition believes; all the rest is just pretend. When we are sick of pretending, when we get to the point of "VaYe'anchu", becoming sick of galus, sensing the hester panim that exists even if you can learn daf yomi on a kosher cruise, then undoubtedly geulah will be hastened.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov (II)

Continuing from yesterday's post, we asked why one may not interrupt tefilah if a snake wraps itself around one's foot -- even though most snakes don't bite, ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov, halacha is suspended for even the slightest chance of mortal danger. How is this case different than a case of a person trapped under an avalanche on Shabbos where we are permitted to dig the body out even if there is only a slight chance the person is alive or Jewish.

R' Elchanan answers this question using the principle we mentioned on Monday of shomeir mitzvah lo yeidah davar ra, one who is engaged in the performance of a mitzvah is protected from harm. Really, be it snakes which don't often bite, or be it scorpions which do bite and kill, a person should not interrupt tefilah because the act of being engaged in a mitzvah is the best protection from harm. However, the gemara tells us that this protection is not absolute. Where shchi'ach hezeika, where danger is prevalent and common, the elevated level of danger overrides the protection afforded by the mitzvah. Therefore, we rely on the protection of tefilah with respect to snakes because they are not usually dangerous, but would be permitted to interrupt tefilah to brush off a scorpion.

A more "lomdish" answer to this question is perhaps possible. In the case of an avalanche, the situation that presents itself is one that is clearly life threatening -- the only question is whose life (Jew or non-Jew) is in jeapordy or whether the victim has already perished. However, in the situation of the snake, based on a consideration of most snake's behavior there is no clear and present danger. As an analogy, consider the ruling of the Rambam (Shvisas Asor 2:8) that where a there is a conflict of opinion between doctors over whether fasting on Yom Kippur would endanger a person's health we follow the opinion of the majority. Why in this case do we not utilize the principle of ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov? R' Scheinberg (Mishmeres Chaim III:Y"K 2) answers by also distinguishing between whether the issue is determining whether danger is present, in which case we follow rov, and whether the danger exists and we just need to determine details, in which case we ignore rov.

The logic behind this distinction can be explained using R' Shimon Shkop's reasoning in Sha'rei Yosher 4:13. The reason pikuach nefesh overrides rov is because the principle of following rov is itself just a din like any other -- pikuach nefesh overrides all halachos, including the halacha of rov. However, where it remains to be determined if danger exists, then we cannot yet call upon the rule of pikuach nefesh to push away the principle of rov because the existance of pikuach nefesh is itself what is at question.

A final solution to this question which may work is to distinguish between types of rov. The rov that presents itself in trying to determine who is buried under an avalanche is based on a statistical evaluation of the residents of the city -- a ruba d'isa kaman, a rov build around observation or counting. The rov that tells us that snakes don't bite is not determined based on observing all snakes in the world, but is rather based on inductive reasoning -- a ruba d'leisa kaman. Perhaps ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov would apply to a ruba d'isa kaman where a safeik still exists, but not to a ruba d'leisa kaman which essentially resolves a safeik entirely and renders all doubt non-existant (see Shev Shmaytza 2:15)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov (I)

The Mishna in Brachos (30b) says that one may not interrupt tefilah (i.e. shmoneh esrei) even if a snake winds itself around one's foot. The Bartenua explains (based on the gemara 33a) that the law in the Mishna applies specifically to snakes because most of the time (rov) snakes do not bite. However, if a scorpion were to attack one can interrupt tefilah because scorpions usually do bite with fatal consequences.

Question: There is a principle in halacha of ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov, meaning that when it comes to questions of life and death we do not play odds but consider even the smallest chance of saving life worthy of effort. For example, if an avalanche buries someone on Shabbos, even if the odds are that the person in dead or not even Jewish, we must desecrate Shabbos to dig the person out based on the small chance that a Jewish person may be buried under the rubble and still alive. If so, why do we rely on the fact that most (rov) snakes do not bite and prohibit an interruption of tefilah -- if even only a small percentage of snakes do pose a danger, shouldn't we invoke this principle of ain holchin b'pikuach nefesh achar harov???

This question is tangentially related to the topic of yesterday's post -- it is discussed by R' Elchanan in his essay about secular studies in the context of the protection afforded by mitzvos, but multiple answers (I think) are possible. I'll give time to think it over and comment before posting answers.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Moving yeshivos out of danger zones: doesn't Torah protect?

Question raised on many other blogs: Isn't it hypocritical for yeshivos and talmidei chachamim to move out of towns within range of the Hamas rockets when these same students and talmidei chachamim use the fact that "Torah protects" (Sotah 21a) as a reason for army service exemption?

Firstly, the question makes the assumption that the primary reason for draft exemption is because Torah itself affords protection. Whether or not that is the only source for exempting talmidei chachamim from army service is debatable. The Rambam (end of Hil Shmitah) famously writes that anyone who devotes his life to avodas Hashem can take on the spiritual role filled by Sheivet Levi and be exempt from fighting wars just like the Leviim were. Conspicuously absent from the Rambam is any mention of Torah itself affording protection from danger as a reason for the exemption. At least on a theoretical level (and practical halacha is a separate discussion), the idea of exemption from army duty for the sake of Torah learning rests on more than the idea that "Torah protects".

But even without the charge of hypocrisy, the question still stands: why flee danger when Torah protects?

I don't understand why this question is raised now as if no historical precedent for the issue exists. The story of the Mir yeshiva's escape from Europe to Shaghai during WWII is well known. That escape included saving the likes of R' Chaim Shmuelevitz, R' Yerucham Lebovitz, etc. Question: if Torah protects, why not just leave the yeshiva intact in Europe? Surely the yeshiva itself, if not the surrounding area as well, would come to no harm because "Torah protects". Would those who question moving yeshivos out of the danger zone in Southern Israel similarly think that the Mir should have stayed put? If not, what's the difference between that situation and this one?

But more to the point, the idea that "Torah protects" being an immunity from all danger is simply a straw-man. Halacha itself tells us that we cannot ignore danger because of the promise of Divine protection. Why did the bris milah I was supposed to attend yesterday morning get postponed because the baby was in the hospital with an infection? The same gemara which tells us that Torah protects tells us that no harm can come from the performance of a mitzvah. In fact, the Chasam Sofer goes so far as to say (Shu"t Y.D. 245) that every milah is inherently a dangerous procedure and is permitted only because of this protection that stems from the mitzvah's performance. So why postponse any bris? Why not mal a hemophiliac baby and trust that no harm can come from the performance of a mitzvah?

The answer is that halacha makes distinctions between degrees of danger. For example, even though shluchei mitzvah are promised protection from harm, where bari hezeika, where there is a clear and evident danger, one must take precautions. Poskim also further differentiate between danger that can be avoided e.g. by moving and danger that cannot be avoided - see Sdei Chemed vol 9 #82.

There is no contradiction between claiming Torah protects those who engage in its study and at the same time recognizing that there are limits to that protection. Whether the protection which would be sufficient during times of relative peace is sufficient given 1) the increased danger of war and 2) the possibility of avoiding the danger by moving is not a simple issue.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Divrei Torah P' VaYechi: Yehudah - hero or villian? Din vs. "omek ha'emes"

The Yalkut Shimoni (159) records that after hearing the sharp criticism which Ya'akov Avinu delivered to Reuvain, Shimon, and Levi, Yehudah was terrified and thought Ya'akov would chastise him as well for his relationship with Tamar. Instead, Ya'akov comforted Yehudah by saying, "Yehudah, atah yoducha achecha", your brothers will praise you because through your admission of guilt Tamar and her children were saved. The Midrash continues and credits Yehudah for saving Yosef as well, for it was Yehudah who said to the brothers, "Mah betza ki na'harog es achinu", what gain will there be to us by killing our brother?

R' Yehudah Leib Chasman points out that we find in Chazal a diametrically opposite view of Yehudah based on this same pasuk of "mah betza..." The gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) connects the pasuk in Tehillim (10:3 based on Radak) "...U'botze'a beireiach ni'etz Hashem", "One who blesses the thief has blasphemized G-d", which uses the same root "betza", to the pasuk of "mah betza" and writes that one who blesses Yehudah has insulted G-d. Rashi explains: had Yehudah insisted on returning Yosef home instead of selling him the brothers would have followed his lead. Since instead Yehudah suggested that Yosef be sold he is culpable for the events which followed.

So which is it? Is Yehudah to be praised for saying "mah betza" and saving Yosef from death, or is Yehudah to be criticized and condemned for not doing more to bring Yosef home?

R' Leib Chasam answers that we need not view these two opinions as contradictory. Given that Yosef faced the danger of being killed, Yehudah certainly deserves credit for coming to Yosef's defense. However, measured against the ideal of what Yehudah could have accomplished, he is found wanting.

Chazal (Chagiga 9) famously interpret the difference between "oveid Elokim" and "asher lo avado" as the difference between one who learns a topic 100 times and one who learns the same topic 101 times. One who reviews a topic 100 times is obviously worthy of tremendous praise. Nonetheless, relative to what the same person might have accomplished, there is something lacking.

I would like to suggest another possible way to reconcile these Midrashim. We each ultimately will be called to upon to provide an accounting, a din v'cheshbon, for our actions. The Brisker Rav (which we discussed here) explains that there is a difference between "din" and "cheshbon". Din is an accounting of whether our actions were appropriate to the situation; cheshbon is an accounting of our role in creating the situation itself. For example, a person who misses shacharis may be obligated to make up that tefilah through a tefilas tashlumin at mincha time. Given the situation, davening that teflias tashlumin is the halachically appropriate course of action -- it satisfies an accounting of din. What is cheshbon? Cheshbon asks the question of why the person missed shacharis in the first place -- Could he have set an alarm clock? Did he stay up to late? What created the situation that din must deal with?

Given the circumstance of the brothers plotting to kill Yosef, Yehudah's best option was the suggestion to spare his life and instead sell him and for that he deserves praise. But that is not a complete accounting, for it looks only at din and not at cheshbon. How is it possible that the situation of Yosef's life being judged came to be? What led to these circumstances arising? Had Yehudah intervened and taken a stronger hand in quelling the animosity toward Yosef would the deliberations of killing vs. selling have been needed? Perhaps it is this larger picture of cheshbon which Chazal wish to convey in their criticism of Yehudah.

On a deeper level, I think perhaps we can reconcile these two views in light of a torah of the Ishbitza (I can't do justice to this in a few sentences-- see it in P' vaYeishev in the Mei haShiloach, and see my article "What's Bred in the Bone" in the kallahmagazine archives). In a nutshell the Ishbitza tells us that there is a truth based on din, which is based on what we see before us, but there is also an "omek ha'emes", a truth which transcends the facts. We are all familiar with this -- we have all heard of cases where it is obvious to all that Ploni is guilty of some crime but then he hires a "dream team" of lawyers who know what to say in court and the person is out free the next day, and sometime someone who is innocent is caught is a Kafka-esque horror of unjust prosecution. The din may say one thing, but the "omek ha'emes" is otherwise. How do we reconcile these two forces? The answer is that we can't -- there is a constant tug of war inside each of us, and that tug of war is the root of the difference between the leadership of Yosef and Yehudah.

At the end of Parshas VaYigash when the cup is found in Binyamin's bag Yehudah seems to accept guilt and resign himself to the fate of slavery without excuses. "Mah nomar l'adoni, mah n'daber, mah nitztadak..." (44:16) -- there is nothing that can be said, no justification, no excuses -- "hi'nenu avadim l'adoni", we will become slaves. Yet, the very next parsha begins "VaYigash eilav Yehudah", Yehudah came to Yosef and pleaded his case to allow for the brothers release! What changed?

The Sefas Emes quotes a teaching of the AR"I that sheds light on Yehudah's change of heart. Yehudah begins his soliloquay, "Bi adoni..." The word adoni is the same spelling as G-d's name. The ARI taught that Yehudah remembered that "bi", within himself and within each Jew, is the spark of Hashem (see below).

In other words, Yehudah at the end of P' MiKeitz was speaking on the level of din and acknowledging guilt. However, looking at the "omek ha'emes", looking at the world through the perspective of "bi Adoni", the truth of the ratzon Hashem could not allow the seperation of Ya'akov from the brothers and their enslavement.

The Ishbitza on our parsha writes that Ya'akov criticized each of the first three sons he addressed, but when he got to Yehudah he was guided by Hashem to show mercy. Yehudah's name itself is the same as the letters of the Yud-Key-Vav-Key with the addition of the letter daled. Yehudah's was an instrument of Hashem's plan expressing itself in this world while he personally was not even a metziyus -- he was a daled, a dal, a poor nothing, subsumed in the larger picture of ratzon Hashem. In other words, Yehudah only deserves to be criticized if we look externally at "his" choices and actions. But if we look at the "omek ha'emes", if we midah k'neged midah follow the trait which Yehudah himself embodied, "his" choices are really nothing other than a means of Hashem carrying out his plan in this world and Yehudah deserves the hoda'ah which his name also expresses.

There is no real contradiction between Midrashim. If we judge Yehudah based on the actions which we might perceive as onlookers, Yehudah is wanting. But justice and truth are not synonomous. The "omek ha'emes" is that Yehudah deserves the praise of his brothers.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

bein hashemashos and chezkas yom (II)

Yesterday we raised the question of why there is no concept of chezkas yom, a status quo of it being day, which would resolve the safeik status of bein hashemashos. I think at least three answers are possible:

1) As discussed yesterday, there cannot be a chazakah of it being day and not night because by definition that situation will change, and a chazakah cannot be established based on an unstable situation (chazakah he'asuya l'hishtanos - see Tos Gittin 2b).

2) The Brisker answer which was very popular in the comments is that bein hashemashos is not a safeik in the same sense that a piece of meat which may be cheilev or may be shuman is a safeik. In the latter case, the meat is either cheilev or shuman, but we cannot determine which. In the case of bein hashemashos, the period of twilight is by definition a mixture of both day and night, an indeterminate combination of both.

3) One can also answer with a Rogatchover-ish sevara. Bein hashemashos is not a single block of time, but is really an infinite number of constantly divisible smaller units of time. Chazakah works when we speak of maintaining the status quo of an object, but the status quo on one object is not transferable to another. Since each moment of bein hashemashos is an independent unit / object, chazakah cannot resolve a safeik in units of time (compare with this post).

So much for R' Scheinberg's question -- now for my question (I think this one is a little more challenging). If someone mistakingly followes an errant ruling of Beis Din, he/she is not liable for his/her own korban. The gemara in Horiyos discusses a case where Beis Din made an incorrect ruling but then retracted. What if someone followed the original ruling in error -- is that person liable for his/her own korban or not? Was the person aware of the retraction and acting of his/her own volition, or can they pass of their mistake as stemming from Beis Din's error?

Sumchus opines that the person is exempt from korban and he offers an analogy (see Horiyos 4a; I am going to simplify the case a bit for clarity): someone offered a korban bein hashemashos creating a safeik whether the korban was brought during the day and is kosher or whether it was offered at night and is pasul -- we assume the korban was brought by day and is kosher. So too, had a person acted before Beis Din retracted he/she would be exempt from korban; therefore, we assume the person's error was caused by Beis Din's ruling and he/she remains exempt until proven otherwise.

The Tosfos Rosh on the page explains the analogy a little better -- just like in the bein hashemashos case where we are unsure if the korban was offered at day or night we assume the korban was offered by day because "mukminan hayom b'chezkaso", there is a chazakah / status-quo of day which exists until proven otherwise, so too in the case of the potential exemption based on the ruling of Beis Din we assume there is a chazakah status-quo of the person being exempt until proven otherwise.

Question: we gave three beautiful sevaros to explain why there is no such thing as a chazakas yom that can resolve the status of bein hashemashos. Yet, here the Tosfos Rosh tells us that "mukminan hayom b'chezkaso", there is a concept of chezkas yom which we can use to certify as valid a korban offered bein hashemashos. (And note that the Tos Rosh specifically writes "chezkas hayom" as opposed to the next sentence discussing the Horiyos case where he refers to the "chezkas hagavra".) How can that be??? What is the difference between our original qustion and this case of Sumchus?

Hint: the only answer I can think of so far involves using R' Shimon Shkop-ish reasoning. Waiting to see if someone has a nice Brisker answer for this one!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

bein hashemashos - why not use chazakah to resolve the safeik?

I'm going to break this idea up into the easy part and the hard part. The easy part I call easy because I have answers; the hard part is where I'm stumped.

Last Shabbos I discussed with my son the following question quoted by R' Scheinberg in his Mishmeres Chaim (a sefer which, along with the Mefa'aneyach Tzefunos, is a staple of oneg Shabbos): A basic principle in halacha is the idea of chazakah -- the assumption that a status quo is maintained until proven otherwise. For example, a kohen who sees a nega on the walls of a house may close the door and declare the house tamei without having to worry that the size or shape of the nega changed between the time of his observation and the time of his declaration. If so, why do we treat bein hashemashos as a period of safeik yom safeik layla -- why not say that since it had been day until the moment of twilight, the chazakah of it being day continues until proven otherwise at which point it become definitely night? Why is there a twilight period of halachic doubt if it is day/night when we can resolve that doubt using the rule of chazakah?

I have at least three good answers to this question -- one suggested by my wife, one by my son, and one by myself, roughly corresponding to a sevara, to a Rogatchover-ish idea, and a Brisker-type solution. I don't want to make it too easy, so I'm going to give away the sevara solution and you can work on the others. Tosfos (Gitin 2b) writes that chazakah cannot be applied to a situation which by definition is subject to change, e.g. a nidah is not considered to have a chezkas issur because we know at some point that she will stop seeing blood. Here too, we know that it will not remain day forever and the sun will eventually set; therefore, the status of day cannot be defined as something which is called a chazakah.

Feel free to comment away if you can think of a Rogatchover-ish or Brisker answer or even better, a pilpul answer, and then fasten your seat belts for part II.

Monday, January 05, 2009

yosef yashis yado al einecha -- comprehending hashgacha

Undoubtedly, when Ya'akov faced the challenge of descending to Egypt knowing that this was the start of an exile that he and his children would not live to see the end of (in fact, the full oppression of slavery only began once the Shevatim died), he must have wondered how unfolding events fit into the Divine plan and for what reason his children must suffer the oppression of exile. The Meshech Chochma finds Hashem's answer in the pasuk "Anochi eired imcha Mitzrayma... v'Yosef yashis yado al einecha" (46:4). Who could have predicted that the pain of thinking Yosef lost would turn into joy as Ya'akov and his sons discovered that Yosef was a leader in Egypt providing moral backbone to a society that had been steeped in sin (recall Avraham's fear for Sarah when he had to descend to Egypt) and that he would happily reunite with them? Who could have anticipated that the dreams of Yosef were reality and the reality of Yosef's loss was just a dream? This is the answer to the human desire to set eyes on the workings of the Divine plan. "Yosef will cover your eyes" -- the lesson derived from Yosef's story is that the Divine plan exceeds the limits of human comprehension; this knowledge alone at times must be our comfort and "cover our eyes" longing for deeper insight than we can attain.

toch k'dei dibur: a din in the poel or the nifal?

Last week we learned the machlokes between Ran and Rabeinu Tam whether toch k'dei dibur is a din d'oraysa or a din derabannan to allow a buyer to say hello to his rebbe and resume negotiations in a business deal. The Rishonim and Achronim note that a number of gemaras do not seem to fit Rabeinu Tam's theory:

1. The gemara (Nazir 20) notes that if someone accepts a vow of nezirus and a friend declares tok"d the words "v'ani", "I too", even though these words alone would not consititute a valid kabbalas nezirus, in the context of tok"d their meaning is clear and the nezirus is binding. The Chasam Sofer (Shu"T E"Z #97) asks: if tok"d is just a takanah derabbanan, wouldn't the korbanos brought by this second nazir be chulin b'azarah on a d'oraysa level?

2. The gemara (Nedarim 87) implies that if a man does hafarah on his wife's neder but then discovers tok"d that it was really his daughter who took the neder, the hafarah is valid and does not need to be repeated. Ran (Nedarim 87) asks: if tok"d is a takanah, how on a d'oraysa level has the neder of the daughter been absolved?

3. The same sugya records that a person who tears kriya upon hearing of the death of a parent and then discovers tok"d that it was his child, and not his parent, who passed away, need not tear kriya again. How does a takanah derabbanan designed to protect a buyer/seller in business dealings relate to this scenario? Rabeinu Tam's position seems to relate only to verbal transactions, not to an activity like kriya.

4. Testimony requires two witnesses to appear together. The Mishna tells us that two individuals who testify within a span of tok"d of each other are considered one witness-group. If tok"d is only a takanah derabbanan, how m'doraysa can two individuals ever joined to form a witness pair?

The Divrei Yechezkel (#27) suggests that there are two seperate dinim which are derived from the principle of tok"d: 1) a delay of tok"d does not consititute a hefsek between two statements; 2) a statement may be retracted tok"d of being said. Rabeinu Tam agrees with the Ran that the principle of tok"d not constituting a hefsek is a din d'oraysa, which explains all the cases cited above. The diagreement between Rabeinu Tam and the Ran is with regards to the second aspect of tok"d. The Ran saw both of these rules as stemming from the same don d'oraysa, while Rabeinu Tam opined that the possibility of complete retraction tok"d was a takanah.

What the Divrei Yechezek does not explain (l'fi aniyus da'ati) very clearly is the basis for the Ran and R"T's disagreement over this point. The Rogatchover writes that dinim can be broken down into the poel, the peulah, and the nifal -- roughly meaning there is an actor, an event or occurance, and an effect that is produced. I believe the issue of tok"d can best be explained using this chakira. Does tok"d teach that a speaker is still engaged in talking until a break of greater than tok"d has occurred, or is the speaker considered done after a pause, but the effect of his words is delayed by the span of tok"d? If the speaker is still considered engaged in speaking so long as tok"d has not passed, then the Ran would seem to be correct in allowing for retraction. So long as a person has not finished a deal, then changes may be made. However, if the speaker is considered to have finished but the nifal effect is incomplete until tok"d passes, then Rabeinu Tam has a basis for his sevara. Considering whether events are simultaneous, e.g. was kriya simultaneous with news of death, was the father aware of his daughter's neder when his hafarah took place, etc. is a measure of the timing of the nifal effect (kriya, hafarah) relative to its cause. Rescinding an agreement involves more than that. Even if the nifal effect of an agreement is not considered set until three seconds after the speaker has concluded, what right does a speaker have (once his original activity of speech has ended) to rescind that agreement or block that effect from occurring? That necessitates a new takanah.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Divrei Torah P' VaYigash: Yehudah's mission

I started working on something on the parsha but only got through a chatzi shiur. On the Midrash Tanchuma below there is a comment of the Ishbitza in Mei HaShiloach that I am trying to unravel and make intelligible, but so far no luck. See it inside and make of it what you will -- I need Shabbos to think about it.

The Midrash Tanchuma on the pasuk "V'es Yehudah shalacha lefanav l'horos lefanav Goshna" poses a halachic query as an introduction to the parsha: When is one permitted to say a bracha on the havdalah candle Motzei Shabbos? The Midrash answers that one can only say the bracha if one derives benefit from the flame, as we see from Hashem's example. We read in Parshas Braishis that Hashem first saw that light was good and afterwards, "VaYavdel...", Hashem made a seperation.

The Midrash begs for explanation. What does the halacha of reciting havdalah on a candle have to do with Yehudah’s mission?

The Imrei Emes explains that when Adam haRishon sinned just before the start of the first Shabbos of creation the world fell into a state of both spiritual and physical darkness. As a result of man’s sin. G-d’s presence, which had been felt during the process of creation, became obscured and hidden. Motzei Shabbos of creation was the first time that man had to face this darkness of existence alone outside the Garden of Eden. Rather than succumb to despair and fear, Chazal describe how Adam took two stones and rubbed them together to produce a spark. Explains the Imrei Emes: When G-d’s presence is hidden, when the world looks dark and desolate, we should not give up hope, but rather we need to exert ourselves and make an effort to recapture that light and produce a new spark.

Ya’akov needed to prepare his children for the darkness of exile that would befall the Jewish people in Egypt. By sending Yehudah ahead to establish a yeshiva he impressed upon that that although G-d’s presence may he hidden, through toil in Torah and their efforts the light of goodness can be recaptured and once again illuminate the world.