Friday, July 31, 2009
The Nesivos in his commentary on Eichah explains the first pasuk, "Eichah yashva badad ha'ir rabasi am" as a double source of distress. Being isolated without friend is objectively painful; being isolated when there once was an "ir rabasi am" is even more painful because of the relative distance from the glory that once was. Similarly, while any transgression is bad, doubly-bad is the transgression of a people who were singled out to be G-d's chosen nation (see the Maharal we discussed here). And perhaps it is these two dimensions which call for a double nechama.
The Shem m'Shmuel has a beautiful insight on the continuation of the haftarah, "Dabru el lev Yerushalayim v'kir'u eileha," where the Navi is told to call to speak to Yerushalayim and call to her. What is the meaning of "calling" to Yerushalayim? Why not just speak the words of nechama? The Avnei Nezer explained the difference between the word "vayikra" used when G-d spoke to Moshe and the word "vayikar" when G-d spoke to Bilam is that vayikra, calling, demands that the listener draw closer to the speaker, while vayikar means that the speaker simply encountered the listener and began his address. Anyone who has done public speaking knows that the first thing you need to do before launching into your message is call for your audience's attention -- issue a keri'ah to them. Speakers like to open with a story, a joke, a question. No matter what promise you deliver and no matter how beneficial what you are selling is to your audience, 'V'lo shamu el Moshe m'kotzer ruach..." unless people are prepared to listen, you can't communicate. The Jewish people in galus have their ears turned off to the positive message of Torah. They need to be called to, they need to be drawn out of their preconceived ideas and notions, and only then will words of nechama and words of Torah make a difference.
The Midrash opens P' VaEschanan: Aba Shaul says, "This is the siman of tefilah -- if a person's heart is attuned to his prayer (kavanas halev), then that prayer will undoubtedly be answered." The Midrash then continues that in Tanach there are ten different expressions which are used for prayer, and the Midrash lists them and offers examples from various pesukim. On the one hand the Midrash depicts prayer as kavanas halev, as rooted in a person's thoughts or heart; on the other hand, there are no less than 10 different ways to describe the external expression which constitutes the act of prayer. Based on the Shem m'Shmuel, there is no contradiction (see also Sefas Emes in the first piece on the parsha): these 10 expressions are the keri'ah to prayer, but are not prayer itself. The words of the siddur are meant to grab our attention, to arouse our feelings, to set the mood for prayer, but prayer itself is not the words uttered, but the feeling of the heart and thoughts of the mind which those words engender.
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
R' Akiva, torah sheba'al peh, galus and geulah
Why was R' Akiva able to see the silver lining in tragedy where no others could? R' Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik, Devarim) cites the gemara "chacham adif m'navi" (Baba Basra 12) -- wisdom can discern what even prophecy cannot reveal. R' Akiva is portrayed in many places as the exemplar of the ability to derive secrets and halachos of Torah through learning, as opposed to Moshe Rabeinu who received halacha strictly through Divine revelation (Menachos 29).
I would suggest that part of the answer lies also in R' Akiva's background. R' Nissim Gaon (Brachos 28) writes that R' Akiva was a descended of Sisra, the great enemy of the Jewish people defeated by Devorah. The footnotes to the new edition of the Minchas Chinuch, mitzvah #425, cites a variant reading of Gittin 57 from manuscript which identifies one of "the grandchildren of Haman who learned Torah in Bnei Brak" as R' Akiva. Not only did the Jewish people succeed in escaping the danger posed by Sisra and Haman, but these very people who were bent on our destruction gave rise to the personality which led a renewed flourishing of Jewish learning. R' Akiva's very existence is a testimony to the great good that can come out of what appears to be a world of darkness.
In truth, these are not really two seperate answers. A little Shem m'Shmuel: The original plan was for the Jewish people to receive a Torah on 17 Tamuz with everything contained within it. Just as when we read "lo tignovu" we understand the words to mean "Thou shalt not steal" (or kidnap, if you know Rashi), had we received Torah on 17 Tamuz we would have understood from those words every sugya in Bava Kamma right down to every machlokes Ketzos and Nesivos. There would be no intermediary of "interpretation", Torah sheba'al peh, required to tease out extra details -- it would all be clear from the text itself. But because we failed that test, we need a Torah sheb'al peh.
In other words, the original luchos and Torah were for a world where the relationship between G-d's will and our reality is obvious for all to behold. But the sin of the eigel proved that that world does not yet exist. Evil distorts our ability to perceive G-d's plan and his goodness in the world, hiding the Divine intention. Our job is to restore it -- our job is to interpret, to engage in a Torah sheba'al Peh, to dig below the surface of tragedy and heartbreak we see in the world and recognize that there is a Divine guiding hand.
"B'machshakim hoshivani" (Eichah 3) -- zu Talmuda shel Bavel (San 24a). On the one hand, Talmud Bavli, with its intricate sugyos and hairsplitting interpretation, is a result of the darkness of exile which muddled the clarity of Torah. But at the same time, it is that power of interpretation of the Bavli, the ability to see beyond surface meaning and discover greater depths, which can reveal plan, purpose, and goodness where none are superficially apparent.
R' Akiva was the champion of Torah sheba'al Peh because only a soul which was trapped in the darkness of Sisra or Haman and then revealed itself has the power to release the meaning of Torah hidden behind the veil of the smallest tag on top of the smallest letter.
Only a soul like R' Akiva's could teach how to interpret reality correctly so that in what appears superficially to be the bleakest moments we also see through torah sheba'al peh that there is a Divine plan behind everything.
Only a soul like R' Akiva's could look at the ruins of Mikdash and unlock the meaning of destruction as a prelude to a greater geulah.
Monday, July 27, 2009
meshech chochma on the lesson of the ayal
The Meshech Chochma (P' Devarim) adds an additional insight to this analogy. Tochacha need not come from Rabbis and leaders -- it can come from observing a simple fellow Jew. When you see the poor person who is scrupulously honest in his business dealings even at the cost of financial gain, or the shadchan who is meticulous not to speak lashon hara, or the person burdened with personal responsibility who still takes time to learn -- these are opportunities to learn from the example shown and should inspire a person to improve his/her own behavior.
However, when your "head faces the tail of the ayal" in front of you, if all you see is the negative and poor behavior of others, the bottom rung of their actions instead of what is great and inspirational, then there is very little reason to try to improve.
Unfortunately, we are surrounded with tales of the "tails" of Jewish behavior. It's up to us to not be like the ayal and to look for role models of greatness.
Friday, July 24, 2009
missing the point of what's wrong with the protests
A spokesman for a major Orthodox organization begins an op-ed with the following observation:
Yes, yes, there is a media double standard when it comes to haredi Jews. That’s nothing new.
And so, when thousands of Iranians poured into Tehran’s streets in protest of what they saw as a fraudulent presidential election, the press emphasis was not on the protesters who threw rocks, set trash bins aflame and vandalized public property. The focus, rightly, was on the bulk of the crowd, peaceful protesters of what they believed to be a fraudulent election.
When tens of thousands of haredim, though, demonstrated in reaction to a decision by the Jerusalem municipality to open a public parking lot on the Jewish Sabbath, increasing traffic in the heart of the Holy City and disturbing the peacefulness of the day of rest, the main coverage was not of the overwhelming mass of the crowd, peacefully standing up for the sanctity of the Sabbath – but rather of the tiny fraction of the crowd that… threw rocks, set trash bins aflame and vandalized public property.
Drawing a comparison between the Iranian protesters and the chareidi protesters blatantly misses the entire point of why the chareidim are criticized. Chareidim define themselves as adherents to the highest standards of religious observance. Destruction of property and vandalism are wrong, but that alone is not what irks the public about the behavior of the chareidi protesters. What is irksome is the hypocrisy of wrapping oneself in the mantle of religious piety while at the same time performing acts which any decent person recognizes as wrong. That element of hypocrisy is what separates the chareidim from the Iranians. Indeed, we should hold ourselves to a higher religious standard -- both bein adam l'chaveiro, in terms of respecting others rights and property, and not just bein adam laMakom.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
tears of galus, tears of geulah
Chazal tell us that the seeds of exile were planted when the Jewish people cried upon hearing the report of the spies. Because we cried needlessly, for a lack of bitachon that we could conquer Eretz Yisrael, we were punished and given a reason to cry.
Perhaps galus and geulah are all about why we cry and what we cry for. I would like to suggest that the tears of our matriarch Rachel (also in Yir. 31) which we mentioned yesterday are not simply an expression of grief, but as tears shed for the right reason, tears shed for love of Eretz Yisrael and for love of the Jewish people who are suffering, they serve as an instrument to bringing is closer to geulah.
The gemara (Brachos 32b) relates that after the destruction of the Beis haMikdash all the gates of prayer to Heaven have been closed with the exception of one -- the gate of tears.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
the tefilos of our matriarch Rachel
R' Wachtfogel adds that we see another remarkable insight from this episode. Leah suffered perhaps a few years of crying in her lifetime, but Rachel has been crying for generations for the return of all her children from galus! We learn from here the tremendous power of tears and tefilah while one is alive and grappling with the challenges of this world.
During the three weeks there is a special emphasis on reciting tikun chatzos, esp. the section for tikun Rachel, as we hope for the geulah which will bring Rachel's crying to a close.
hasra'ah and ain onshin min hadin
1) An oath on something which occurred in the past, e.g. I swear I ate that piece of bread. Swearing this type of oath falsely is a violation of shavu'as shav.
2) An oath to do something in the future, e.g. I swear I will eat that piece of bread for lunch. Swearing this type of oath falsely is a shavua's sheker.
3) Taking a neder and violating it, e.g. This piece of bread is forbidden to me like a korban. Violating a neder is an issur of bal yacheil. (Tosfos adds that bal yacheil applies to the previous cases as well in addition to the particular issurim of shavu'ah.)
Rashi writes a chiddush that gives the gemara more meaning than just creating categories. A person must receive hasra'ah, a warning not to do what he is doing, before receiving punishment for violating an issur. It's not enough (says Rashi) to tell a person in general that what he is doing in wrong, but rather hasra'ah must mention the specific prohibition being violated. If a person is violating shavu'as shav, it does not good to warn him that he is violating a shavua'as sheker, or vica versa.
The Rambam makes no mention of the requirement to mention the specific lav being violated as part of the warning of hasra'ah. I asked my son what he thought the logic behind Rashi's opinion is, but the truth is I don't fully grasp it myself. Clearly hasra'ah must be more than a warning that something wrong is being done, or a simple "That is prohibited" would suffice. But why require mentioning the specific issur being violated?
On the same topic, my son quoted what sounds to me like a very strange sevara that his Rebbe heard from R' Zelig Epstein. Why is it that ain mazhirin min hadin, that the Torah warning not to do an issur must be spelled out in a pasuk and not derived from a kal v'chomer? R' Z.E. explained that were the issur derived from a kal v'chomer, there would be no way to formulate a proper hasra'ah on a specific lav. It sounds to me like R' Z.E. understood b'pashtus that hasra'ah is not a general statement, but must point to a specific lav -- I don't know why you would take that as a given when it is a chiddush of Rashi that needs explanation. Secondly, I think a simpler reason why ain mazhirin min hadin (assuming you even need to say a sevara instead of just accepting it as a gezeiras hakasuv, see Yevamos 24) is because there is always the chance that the kal v'chomer you use to derive a new issur is incorrect. I'm a bit baffled by the question and answer.
Monday, July 20, 2009
the limits of freedom of thought... for agnostics
The dilemma remained: what if all the science and fantasy and comparative metaphysics fail to do the trick, and Christian literalism, despite my efforts, works its magic on my children's minds? Call me intolerant, but I'll admit it: I don't want to tell my children what to believe or not to believe, but I would be displeased and disappointed if they were to embrace conventional religious views. I just would be. Isn't there a more direct way, I thought, to militate against that outcome?Heavens to Betsy! (though "heaven" is maybe the wrong word in the context of an agnostic's surprise) -- a child may actually take advantage of "freedom" of thought and turn towards religion, much to the chagrin of his parent(s), and we would not want to let that happen. In fact, we must take steps to ensure that it does not happen.
So who is the overprotective parent: the religious father or mother who does not want a child reading certain books or watching certain programs because of their negative influence, or the agnostic father or mother who fears his child actually believing in old time religion and therefore does their utmost to prevent that from happening? Narrowmindedness is really all in the eyes of the beholder, is it not?
cities for the Levi'im
In last week's parsha we read the mitzvah to set aside 48 cities as homes for the Levi'im. The Minchas Chinuch (mitzvah #408) questions whether there be a mitzvah to set aside additional cities if more land outside Eretz Yisrael is captured. The question raises two issues: 1) Is 48 the minimum number of cities which must be designated, but the total number may increase depending on population and availability of land, or is 48 the total number of cities required? 2) If more cities may (or should) be added as the amount of land governed grows, does this mitzvah to set aside cities apply even to territory in which, according to the Rambam, the Levi'im already receive a portion?
The Sefer haChinuch writes that the cities given to the Levi'im are a substitute for their not receiving their own section of land in Eretz Yisrael, implying that if they did receive an allocation of land, there would be no mitzvah to set aside designated cities. However, according to the Rambam, just like there is still a mitzvah to give Kohanim and Levi'im terumos and ma'asros even though they receive a portion in the expanded territory , so too, perhaps there is also a mitzvah to set aside cities as well.
Friday, July 17, 2009
run or fight: dealing with the challenges of a secular world
כך שנו רבותינו: מי שהיה נרדף מן הגויים או מן הליסטים מחלל את השבת, בשביל למלט את נפשו. וכך אנו מוצאין בדוד כשביקש שאול להרגו ברח ממנו ונמלט. אמרו רבותינו: מעשה שבאו לגדולי ציפורי כתבים רעים מן המלכות. הלכו ואמרו לר' אלעזר בן פרטא: רבי! כתבים רעים באו לנו מן המלכות, מה אתה אומר, נברח? והיה מתיירא לומר להם ברחו ואמר להם ברמז ולי אתם שואלים, לכו ושאלו את יעקב ואת משה ואת דוד. מה כתיב ביעקב? (הושע יב) ויברח יעקב וכן במשה: (שמות ב) ויברח משה. וכן בדוד: (ש"א י"ט) ודוד ברח וימלט. וכן הוא אומר: (ישעיה כו) לך עמי בא בחדריך.
אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא: וכאלו כל גדולי עולם יראו וברחו מן שונאיהם, כל אותן מ' שנה שעשיתם במדבר לא הנחתי אתכם לברוח אלא הייתי מפיל שונאיכם לפניכם, במה שהייתי עמכם. ולא עוד, אלא כמה נחשים וכמה שרפים וכמה עקרבים היו שם, שנאמר: (דברים ח) נחש שרף ועקרבולא הנחתי אותם להזיק אתכם, לכך אמר הקב"ה למשה: כתוב את המסעות שנסעו ישראל במדבר, כדי שיהיו יודעים מה נסים שעשיתי להם.
Sorry for the poor formatting. The Midrash on Masei starts with a halachic question: can one violate Shabbos to escape from bandits or an enemy? The Midrash then launches into an aggadic description of various leaders (e.g. David haMelech) who were forced to flee from their enemies. However, concludes the Midrash, during the 40 years of travel in the desert not only were the Jewish people never forced to flee from an enemy, but to the contrary, their enemies were crushed before them.
The Shem m'Shmuel asks: during the 40 years in the desert, what enemies did the Jewish people encounter? The only wars which we read about in the Torah are the battle with Amalek immediatly after leaving Egypt and the battles with Sichon and Og at the conclusion of the 40 years, but nothing in between.
The answer is that during those 40 years the Jewish people were fighting the toughest enemy of them all: themselves.
The Sefas Emes explains that the 42 stops in the desert + the 7 extra stops caused when they people retraced their steps after the death of Ahron = 49 stops. These 49 stops correspond to the 49 levels of tumah which the Jewish people fell to during their stay in Egypt which they had to work their way out of during their travels. Through special siyata d'shemaya the Jewish people were able to complete that task and merit entering Eretz Yisrael.
Speaking more practically, this Midrash is very relevant to questions that parents, educators, and every one of us must deal with. Internet, cell phones, certain types of books and literature -- should we run and flee from the encounter with these "enemies", or do we sit tight and trust that we can deal with the temptations and intellectual challenges thrown at us without coming to harm? Do we really need to create a tumult over these things and disturb our sense that all is well, our "shabbos", or should we start running and not look back before it is too late?
Two insights I take away from the Midrash: Firstly, even great people ran when they had to. Not every intellectual challenge or moral temptation needs a response or an answer -- sometimes the best approach is to simply avoid the encounter, even if it means abandoning the battle and appearing to lose the fight. Many sense a danger in not responding to the challenges posed to Judaism by outside society, but we also need to be sensitive to the danger of entering an intellectual tit-for-tat battle, especially when the fight is not necessarily waged on the fairest terms.
Secondly, these challenges and difficulties are surmountable when living in a "midbar", when there is a degree of isolation that allows for development, introspection, and growth. The reality of our world is such that we cannot close ourselves behind ghetto walls and practice a self-enforced isolationism, nor are these ideals to be aspired to. Even for the generation which left Egypt, the miraculous life of the desert was temporary, not meant to be an ideal. However, that temporary travel through the desert was necessary to develop into the nation which could then conquer Eretz Yisrael. Do we afford our youth a similar training ground in a "midbar", a place separated from the challenges the world will eventually throw their way, a place where we can help them deal with and successfully learn to overcome the pitfalls of secular society? Or as soon as they can, are kids parked in front of a TV, a PC, given a cell phone? We can't live in a midbar for our entire lives, but we need the "midbar" experience of yeshiva, seminary, etc. as a source of inspiration to look back on years later.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
michlal lav atah shome'a hein
All the seforim of the Roshei Yeshiva ask the same basic question on this gemara. If a person stipulates "If X is true you get Y", obviously his meaning is that "If X is not true then you don't get Y." The only reason Rabbi Meir holds that the converse must be spelled out when making a tnei is because tnei must conform to the exact specifications set down in our parsha. The meaning may be clear without the extra verbiage, but according to R' Meir tnei must follow a specific technical formula. But what does that formula derived from the parsha of tnei have to do with the topic of nedarim? Just because there is a formula the Torah sets down for tnei (even when meaning is otherwise clear) does not mean that formula must be adhered to with respect to nedarim or other areas of halacha!
The answer in a nutshell is that the common denominator between tnei and nedarim is that both require explicit speech. "Ish ki yafli lindor neder" -- hafla'ah means to articulate, to express in a clear form. It's not enough for the words of a neder to imply a certain meaning -- they must clearly express what is intended. The reason tnei requires such an elaborate formula according to R' Meir is that although the meaning is otherwise understood, the words must still explicitly and clearly state what is intended. Michlal lav atah shomea hein is not a halacha in da'as, but it is a halacha in dibur.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
making a tnei on nedarim
Tosfos answers that nezirus can in fact be fulfilled through shlichus as a nazir can appoint an agent to bring his korbanos to the Mikdash.
R' Akiva Eiger (Shu"T, Mh"K 48) points out that Tosofos' answer works only in the particular case of nezirus, but will not explain many similar cases, e.g. a person can take a neder that he will not bathe ever if (conditionally) he does not bathe today -- there are no korbanos involved in this case, no possibility of fulfilling the neder through an agent, yet a tnai can be made.
R' Akiva Eiger therefore offers a different answer to Tosfos' question. Every tnai in effect undoes an action; if some condition is not met, then action X becomes nullified and negated. Even without the chiddush of a parsha in the Torah to teach us the laws of tnei, we would assume that a verbal condition can negate a verbal declaration -- words can undo words. Obviously a tnai can negate the acceptance of nezirus or the acceptance of a neder. The parsha of tnei in the Torah which includes the criteria of shlichus applies only to actions -- without a parhsa to teach me the chiddush of tnei we would assume words cannot undo deeds. Therefore, only when we speak of making conditions on actions which is a special chiddush of our parsha are we required to meet the criteria of tnei set out in the parsha, including the criteria of being able to fulfill the action through a shlich.
(For a similar approach see this point from the past, and maybe we will also get to the R' Chaim quoted by the Brisker Rav in the beginning of Hil Nezirus, but if not, kareh makom hu lach.)
Monday, July 13, 2009
bal yachel for a ben noach
What exactly is the positive commandment obligating the ben noach to bring a kosher korban? The Mishna laMelech (Hil Melachim 10:7) concludes from here that a ben noach is included in the commandment of bal yacheil... kol hayotzei m'piv ya'aseh, the command to fulfill one's pledges. The Yerushalmi (Nazir 9:1) debates whether a ben noach can have a vow absolved by a chacham, also implying as well that a ben noach's vows and pledges are binding. The Ml"M is incomfortable with his these, as the parsha of vows and pledges seems to have been given only to the Jewish people, but he does not offer an alternate answer.
The Avnei Miluim (1:2) suggests another way out. The halacha is "amiraso l'gavoha k'mesiraso l'hedyot", a pledge to the mikdash is like a finalized sale. Failing to deliver a korban is like failing to deliver goods after selling them to a vendor -- it is no different than theft, one of the seven ben noach laws.
The Ml"M makes another an interesting point. Even if keeping nedarim are not obligatory for a ben noach, it does seem from simply reading chumash that a ben noach must keep a shevu'ah. We find numerous examples in Sefer Braishis of shevous being made: Avraham asks Eliezer to take a shevu'ah, Avraham swears to Avimelech, etc. One could argue that the Avos kept the Torah and went above and beyond the requirement of other bnei noach, but that theory does not resolve every example he gives.
Friday, July 10, 2009
olas shabbos b'shabbato: each Shabbos is special
Sifsei Chachamim answers that it is obvious that the korban of Pesach is out of place on Shavuous, and the korban of Shavuos is out of place on Sukkos. Each Yom Tov has its own identity and needs to be celebrated in its own time, therefore there can be no make-ups. However, I might have thought that Shabbos is Shabbos -- there is no harm in offering the korban meant for this Shabbos a week later. Therefore, the pasuk tells us "olas Shabbos b'Shabbato" but not the next week.
The lesson in conclusion may simply be that although all Shabbosos are alike, we must respect the time boundary of korbanos. However, I think the conclusion is meant to tell us that in fact just like every Yom Tov is distinct, so too, every Shabbos is distinct. Shabbos Parshas Pinchas has a unique character that Shabbos Parshas Chukas-Balak or Shabbos Matos-Masei do not have. "Olas Shabbos b'Shabbato" -- you can't miss a Shabbos and make it up next week because the lessons and torah of that particular Shabbos are unique and special and belong only to that point in time.
a rant on tzedaka
But who am I to dictate how tzedaka should be spend -- who indeed can set such terms? The answer is the Torah can. Is there not a halacha of "aniyei ircha kodmin", that the poor of your city take precedence? Is there not a halacha that when hundreds of boxes are being packed on Thursday night for Tomchei Shabbos because people in the community literally need help putting food on their table and there is a shortage of funds and manpower to make that happen that fixing that need should be a priority vastly more important than insuring that a Rebbe from some other community can keep his yeshiva running? I guess you need to be a semi-anonymous blogger to get away with saying these things.
In my not-humble opinion the primary tzedaka directive of any community should be to make sure people have food and shelter. The second most important tzedaka is to make sure there is a place to daven, a mikvah, and schools. Only when those needs are met should members of the community be pouring funds into outside charities, which I have no doubt are worthy and important, but must take a back seat to the community's own needs.
And when I say needs I mean needs. A shul can get by without stained glass windows and a high school can exist without offering 10 AP courses and having a full gym program. A school cannot function without paying teachers and a shul cannot get by without paying its electric bill.
Just like the meaning of "needs" has been forgotten the meaning of the word "community" has been lost. It would perhaps require a miracle for the directors of a shul to say to a person giving a check for those beautiful stained glass windows, "Thank you, but that yeshiva really needs to make its payroll more than we need that window, so maybe you would like to give your check over there..." It is very hard to do that even if that school is just blocks away from the shul... after all, how many of our mispallelim really send to that school? And doesn't that school have its own supporters? And who is managing the money there? etc. etc. And let's face reality: your name looks really nice in stained glass, but no one really knows who helped the yeshiva make payroll.
Even if the community pooled its resources effectively, institutions need to become leaner and better run. The tuition at one local high school is posted at $24,000. Question: when the average wage in the United States is about $42,000, how does it make sense to expect a parent who may have 2 kids in high school to have $48,000 in excess income just to cover both tuitions? It's just not possible. A more affordable program may require sacrifices in terms of courses offered and extra-curricular programming, but it must be done or that school deserves to fail.
The first steps to remediating issues like these are obvious. How about audits by a community va'ad of rabbanim and professionals, much like annual reports issued by public companies? How about schools sharing resources to garner the savings of economies of scale? How about handling tzedaka through a pool which then is distributed to local institutions based on proven need rather than the whim of individuals? How about reconsidering whether a new shul or new kollel is really needed and can be sustained or whether it amounts to being poreish min hatzibur from existing institutions and robbing them of funding? There are many other good ideas out there which need to be explored.
I'm too cynical to hope discussions about these issues will do much good because the people with deep pockets who have political and financial power will determine their own course of action. We are communally headed off a cliff -- that's the real crisis.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
what makes a great Jewish leader: the transition from Moshe to Yehoshua
יפקד ה' מה ראה לבקש הדבר הזה אחר סדר נחלות? אלא, כיון שירשו בנות צלפחד אביהן, אמר משה: הרי השעה שאתבע בה צרכי, אם הבנות יורשות, בדין הוא שירשו בני את כבודי. אמר לו הקב"ה (משלי כז): נוצר תאנה יאכל פריה, בניך ישבו להם ולא עסקו בתורה, יהושע הרבה שרתך והרבה חלק לך כבוד, והוא היה משכים ומעריב בבית הועד שלך, הוא היה מסדר את הספסלים והוא פורס את המחצלאות, הואיל והוא שרתך בכל כחו, כדאי הוא שישמש את ישראל, שאינו מאבד שכרו. קח לך את יהושע בן נון, לקיים מה שנאמר: נוצר תאנה יאכל פריה:
Then Midrash explains the relationship between the adjacent parshiyos of Bnos Tzlafchad and the appointment of Yehoshua. When the parsha of inheritance was taught Moshe thought that it would apply to his position as well and his own children would inherit his role. Hashem responded that Moshe's role would pass to Yehoshua who toiled in learning and shimush for years to deserve it, but not his children. A Rabbinic position belongs to the most worthy candidate, not to the offspring of the previous occupant of the position (other Achronim take issue with the Chasam Sofer's conclusion).
The Chasam Sofer's interpretation sheds light on Moshe's hava amina. It was not nepotism that motivated Moshe; it was a halachic concern based on the laws of inheritance.
I would like to suggest another possible approach. Moshe Rabeinu must have known that Yehoshua was the only true possible successor to his position of Rabban of Klal Yisrael. However, Moshe also knew that after his death the people would need to wage a war of conquest. What they needed in a leader, he assumed, was not a Rosh Yehsiva, but rather a general -- a charismatic commander who appreciated the real art of war, not just milchamta shel Torah. Moshe perhaps felt that that role could be filled by his own children.
If I am right about the hava amina, what is the maskana? One can read the conclusion simply as revealing that Moshe's assumption about the changed role of leadership was wrong; a Rosh Yeshiva and not a general as the primary leader was still necessary. Yet, one can also read the conclusion as accepting Moshe's premise that the nature of leadership would change; a general, not a Rosh Yeshiva, would lead the people. However, the Midrash teaches that a general of the army of the Jewish people should be no less steeped in the values of Torah than a Rosh Yeshiva.
Reading the debates in responsa literature regarding whether a Rabbinic position is like the title of king and may be inherited strikes me as odd and naive given the way modern shuls are run. If anything, it is the shul president and board of directors who wear the crowns -- maybe things were different in the old days. Given the reality of our circumstance, I think the lesson of our Midrash is even more compelling. As Moshe anticipated, our organizational leadership is concerned with practical details: who is getting food for the kiddush? Do we have enough in the bank for the air conditioning bill and if not, how can we raise it? What kind of youth program can we run? etc. Even though these roles do not demand the genius of a talmid chacham to fill, I think there is a danger in turning them over to people who are not of the world of the beis medrash and do not necessarily share its values. Dollars certainly are needed to run any organization, but too often they become the raison d'etra instead of just a means to an end. The Midrash highlights not just Yehoshua's learning, but notes that he straightened the chairs and made sure the beis medrash was in order; he was concerned with the practical as well as the other-worldly. Organizational leadership demands the vision to meet the necessities of this world while never losing sight of more spiritual goals.
Tosfos asks why the Mishna and Torah need to explicitly tell us that brothers inherit. Once we know that a father inherits his son and sons inherit their father and we understand the process of mishmush, we can deduce that brothers inherit as well -- a brother inheriting amounts to a son collecting through mishmush the inheritance of his father received from his other brother.
R' Akiva Eiger (Shu"T Mh"K 138) reads Tosfos' answer as concluding that since the Torah and Mishna do spell out that a brother inherits a brother it implies there is a direct brother-to-brother relationship between them, not just mishmush of son to father and then father to his other son. Other Rishonim disagree and do see brother-to-brother and nothing more than mishmush in action.
A practical difference between these views may be a case where a person stipulates that if his children die before him some other party should inherit (see Kesubos 69b). No stipulation can override the right of children to inherit, and in turn their relatives and descendents can claim that right in their place. However, the Beis Yosef C.M. 243"33 writes that the children's uncle would not have a claim if the children are dead. An uncle does not directly inherit his nephew directly, but only has a claim through mishmush by virtue of being the brother of their father. Since the father stipulated that he wishes the money to be transferred to another party, mishmush would not work and the money would go to that party. The Rama in Darkei Moshe disagrees, implying that there is a direct relationship between a nephew and uncle and we do not invoke mishmush.
17 tamuz - bein hametzarim
1) Maharal writes (beg. of Netzach Yisrael) that galus is an unnatural state; it's like a rubber band stretched to its limits waiting to spring back to its normal shape. The Jewish people were meant to live in Eretz Yisrael according to Torah law -- not in Boro Park, not in the 5 Towns, not in Baltimore, Los Angeles, or Melbourne either. It's wonderful to live in a neighborhood with seven kosher pizza stores (I wish I were exaggerating) and other kosher amenities, but those niceties tend to make us forget that this is just our temporary home until we merit to make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.
2) The list of 5 things which occurred on 17 Tamuz listed in the Mishna in Ta'anis are not recorded for historical trivia. On a public ta'anis one should focus on identifying with the historical plight of the Jewish people and the tragedies suffered. Simply skipping a few meals without an awareness of why one is fasting is a lack in the kiyum mitzvah.
3) Zecharya haNavi tells us that in the future the fasts will be transformed into days of Yom Tov. The Shem m'Shmuel connects this idea to the Maharal's explanation of why chol hamoed is a partial Yom Tov: since the days of chol hamoed are sandwiched between days of kedusha, they take on the characteristics of kedusha. So too in the future, these days of mourning will be sandwiched historically between our election as Hashem's people and our complete redemption and at that point they will become holidays. The lesson here is that history read forward is incomplete. Sometimes it is only in retrospect that we appreciate events or change our interpretation of them. With the coming of mashiach will we have the perspective necessary to see how even these days of tragedy contain simcha, but until then we must patiently wait with bitachon.
Monday, July 06, 2009
what happened to Bilam's horse
What kind of silly excuse is it to say the horse is in the pasture -- so go get it!
I heard in the name of the Pnei Menachem of Ger a bekiyus fact that answers this question. Chazal (Sota 11) tell us that Iyov, Bilam, and Yisro were all advisers to Pharoah. After Moshe warned of the plague of barad, the Torah relates that the servants of Pharoah who feared Hashem took their animals in, while those who did not pay heed and ignored Moshe left their animals out to be killed. Targum Yonasan explains that "HaYarei es dvar Hashem" who took his animals in refers specifically to Iyov, while "Asher lo sam libo el dvar Hashem" who left his animals out refers specifically to Bilam.
That's what Bilam meant when he said he left his horse out in the pasture -- he left it out in makkas barad and it got killed, while the donkey which he kept inside with him was spared.
Friday, July 03, 2009
zechor-na: the mitzvah to remember balak and bilam
Whether this chiddush of the Pnei Yehoshua is correct is debated by later achronim. Some note that though we do not read the entire Parshas Balak, we do hint to this episode by our recitation of the pasuk "Mah tovu..."
Why does the prophet Michah ask us to remember this parsha in particular? The explanation I once heard from R' Aharon Kahn is that unlike other episodes where the Jewish people knew that they faced grave danger and witnessed G-d's miraculous salvation, in this case the Jewish people would have not known at all that Bilam stood somewhere in the distance plotting their downfall until thwarted by Hashem. This parsha in particular teaches us that there is hashgacha operating behind the scenes saving us from dangers that we may not know about or anticipate.
Thursday, July 02, 2009
the difference between Yeshiva University and the chareidi world is...
A question was raised about whether I would stick to the views of "chareidi gedolim" if there was compelling evidence before my eyes that they were wrong. The problem with these type questions is that they can be asked without the word "chareidi" and the same answer would apply. In this case, let me cite the words of the great "chareidi" gadol Dr. Moshe Bernstein, a professor of Bible at that "chareidi" institution known as Yeshiva University -
"When we confront the problems raised by modern scholarship (and I do not deny that such problems ought to be confronted), we answer those that we can, and allow the rest to remain with tzarikh iyyun gadol, hoping that in the long run, with continued study, investigation and analysis, more and more answers, solutions and resolutions will be found."
There is no substantive difference between YU's approach and that of the "chareidi" world or yeshiva world. Both accept as a matter of course that no matter how compelling the evidence lined up against fundamental beliefs, our commitment to those beliefs remains intact and unwavering. Emunah trumps evidence. The only difference between the YU and chareidi world may be which beliefs are labelled fundamental and which allow for more "wiggle" room -- an important point, but nonetheless a detail against the broader background.
A similar hypothetical -- "If the "Divine truth" is in the pocket of the Charedi, why are they so afraid to teach their students Biblical criticism, the results of archaeological research, and to teach them whether their faith passes the test of reasonable critique?"
Once again, the word "chareidi" is a red herring. R' Aharon Soloveitchik spoke to a packed audience in Lamport auditorium (I was there) on the application of Torah u'Mada (the address is reprinted in "Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind") and categorically prohibited studying Biblical criticism. Is YU afraid that the faith of its secularly educated and intellectually sophisticated students will not stand the test of reasonable critique? Apparently intellectual freedom has its limits even in the ivory tower of Yeshiva University, as well it should, given the prohibition to study minus.
Why is there such a penchant to label ideas and opinions "chareidi" as a means to marginalize their significance? "Chareidi" has come to mean something like country-bumpkin, as opposed to we "serious" intellectuals who have the "advantage" of having been exposed to more of the "modern" secular world. The Chazon Ish, the Brisker Rav, R' Ahron Kotler -- are these role models, poskim, gedolim only for the "chareidi" community, or do their words deserve attention by all of klal yisrael, whether you agree with them or not, whether you pasken like them or have your own rav to heed? Of course, other communities who marginalize people like R' Soloveitchik, R' Kook, etc. deserve to be criticized for their small-minded attitude as well, but dwelling on other's wrongs is not an excuse for our own.
rambam's view of ma'aseh braishis and ma'aseh merkava
והרמב"ם (פרק ג' וד' מהלכות יסודי התורה) שפירש ענין מעשה בראשית הוא חכמת טבעי הנבראים, מצא בו מבוא תועלת לעבודת השם יתברך לאהבתו ויראתו. ואמנם אם היה זה אמת אצלו אינו אמת לרוב המתעסקים בחכמות אלו, ולא היה ראוי לו לקבוע ידיעת ענינים כאלה בהלכות יסודי התורה שלו כלל, [שהם] דברים שאינם צריכים למאמיני התורה לידיעתם, וכל שכן שהרבה מדבריו אינם אמת כפי דעת חכמיהם היום: והכלל, מה לדברי חכמי אומות העולם עם דברי התורה שמן השמים לעשות דבריהם יסודות לתורה, וכל מה שאסף שם הם מדברי חכמי אומות העולם וראויה להם, שכל חכמתם בחכמה השייכת בעולם הזה וידיעת נבראי העולם הזה מצד טבעם, שהוא כידיעת כל מיני אומניות שאין בזה שייכות לתורה. אבל חכמת מעשה בראשית שזכרו רבותינו ז"ל, שהשיגוה מתוך ספור התורה במעשה בראשית, הוא ידיעת חכמתו יתברך בבריאה זו:
R' Tzadok explains that 1) The Rambam's view that ma'aseh braishis means science is rejected by most of those who study these areas of Torah thought; 2) Knowledge of the type the Rambam provides in Hil Yesodei haTorah regarding the universe has no relevance to those who believe in Torah and should not have been included in his Yad; 3) Much of the knowledge the Rambam records has been proven false by secular scholars. In short: the world of science and philosophy, like all secular disciplines, tells us only about the physical world but not about the theological and mystical secrets which only Torah contains.
R' Tzadok writes earlier in the same chapter regarding ma'aseh merkava:
וכבר מפורסם אצל כל ישראל דברי חז"ל וכל קדושים מחכמי האמת, עניני מעשה מרכבה מה הם. [ואין צורך להשיב כאן על דברי המתפלספים הקדמונים, בפירוש מעשה מרכבה (גם כן) שהוא בהשגת חקירות הפילוסופים בחכמת הטבע ושלאחר הטבע, שכבר תמהו עליהם חכמי הדורות דאם כן כבר נגלו לקטני אומות העולם המסתכלים בספרי חכמיהם, יותר ממה שנתגלה לגדולי הנביאים ברמזים וחידות: ואין צורך להאריך מזה לכשרי ישראל עתה שנתפרסמה חכמת האמת בעולם, מוסכם בפי כל חכמי ישראל האמיתים. וכל הכופר בה הוא מכלל האפיקורסים, וכמו שיתבאר במצות לא תסור, וכמו שכתב בתשובות הב"ח הישנות (סימן ה') דהמלעיג על דברי חכמים ומדבר דופי על חכמת הקבלה, שהיא מקור התורה ועיקרה וכולה יראת שמים, פשיטא דאין לך מזלזל בדברי חכמים גדול מזה שחייב נידוי, עיין שם]:
The Rambam was challenged by earlier authorities, but R' Tzadok adds that with the spread of the study of "chochmas ha'emes" (i.e. mysticism) a consensus has formed among chachmei Yisrael that the Rambam is certainly wrong. Just as in halacha there can arise a consensus of opinion as to what views of Rishonim and Achronim are accepted, so too in the area of hilchos deyos and machshava there can arise a similar consensus. One who denies the truth of mystical teachings is simply mocking the words of Chazal, denigrating fundamental truths of Torah.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Ramban on how Chazal knew so much about the world
A certain philosopher wished to know how long the gestation period of a snake was. When he saw two snakes having intercourse he trapped them in a vat and would feed them, watching to see when they would give birth. When the Zekeinim came to Rome, [the Romans] asked Rabban Gamliel how long the gestation period was and he could not answer them. When Rabbi Yehoshua met Rabban Gamliel he saw that his face was sickly looking [because he was unable to answer]... "The answer is seven years," said Rabbi Yehoshua... " A dog is a chaya temeiya and gives birth after 50 days, a beheima temieya gives birth after 12 months, and the snake is described in the pasuk as "more cursed than all animals and chayos of the field." Just as the beheima's gestation period is 7 times longer than the chaya's, so too the snake's gestation is 7 times longer than the beheima's, hence seven years... When the philosopher heard this he began to bang his head against the wall. He said, "All I have labored to discover in seven years this Chacham was able to give me with the flick of a reed."
The message of the Midrash lies not in the particulars of the case, but in the contrast between the methodology of the "philosopher" or scientist and the methodology of Chazal. Ramban in his essay "Torah Hashem Temima" (p. 158-159 in the Chavel edition) writes that the meaning of the story of "ma'aseh braishis" is hidden and he does not understand it. However, Chachamim did understand the parsha. They were able to intuit from it the order of creation, the measure of the world and knowledge of astronomy and the universe, the calculation of the molad and tekufos, and all sorts of other knowledge which is hinted at in the count of letters, gematriyos, and their secrets. R' Yehoshua's knowledge of a snake's gestation did not require seven years of laborious scientific experimentation to discover but was obtained from Torah alone, based on his interpretation of the pasuk "arur atah...".
Clearly not even every Tanna possessed such knowledge -- Rabban Gamliel did not know the answer to the philosopher's question and admitted as such. And we know that Tanaim and Amoraim tell us that they went to doctors, consulted gentile experts about farming, etc. But that does not mean that such knowledge is not inherent in the Torah and accessible to those who can decode its secrets.
hafrashas terumos and ma'asros and nesina l'kohein: seperate mitzvos or not
Achronim (see Shu"T Shiurei Sheivet haLevi, and apologies because I do not have the sefer at home and I did not jot down the siman) suggest that this chiddush of the Noda b'Yehudah may depend on a machlokes between the Rambam and Ramban. The Rambam counts hafrasha and nesina together as one mitzvah (aseh 133). However, Ramban, disagrees and writes that they should be counted as two distinct mitzvos (see shoresh 12 of Sefer haMitzvos). One of Ramban's many proofs is the fact that we recite a bracha on hafrasha, not on nesina -- if nesina is the culmination of the mitzvah, why would we not recite the bracha at that point?
The Parashas Derachim's reading of the Ra'avad fits nicely with the Ramban's approach -- since kohanim and levi'im can receive a portion of conquered lands, it removes the requirement to give them terumos and ma'asros but does not excuse the mitzvah of hafrasha. At the same time, perhaps the Rambam fits l'shitaso as well. Since hafrasha and nesina go hand in hand, one cannot dismiss one without dismissing the other (though by the same token, since they go hand in hand if hafrasha cannot be dismissed perhaps neither should nesina be, which may be what Ra'avad is driving at).