Friday, January 29, 2010

war with Mitzrayim and war with Amalek

Little time to write today, so just a quick thought from the Ishbitza: there are two different wars mentioned in this week’s parsha of Beshalach and they are fought in two different ways. When the Egyptian army was in hot pursuit at Yam Suf, Moshe was told “Hashem yilachem lachem,” G-d will do the fighting. Yet, later in the parsha, when Bnei Yisrael were forced to fight Amalek, Moshe instructed Yehoshua to choose men for an army and to go and wage war. Why the difference?

The Ishbitza explains that the Egyptians and Amalek posed very different dangers. The Egyptians denied the power of Hashem, the truth of Judaism. Pharaoh challenged Moshe, “Mi Hashem asheh eshma b’kolo?” – “Who is G-d that I should listen to Him?” The nation of Amalek did not deny G-d, but instead claimed that they, and not Bnei Yisrael, were G-d’s people and their ideology was the truth. The very existence of Amalek was taken as proof of G-d’s acquiescence to their “mission.” The defeat of these enemies required not just a physical armed response, but also, and more importantly, it required an ideological response to their wrong philosophy. (Compare this Ishbitza with the vort of the Brisker Rav we discussed here.)

In response to the Egyptian denial of G-d, Hashem told the Jewish people to stand aside and allow him battle for them, demonstrating that human effort is inconsequential in the face of G-d’s will. In response to the Amalekite usurpation of the truth, G-d instructed Moshe to raise an army and fight, demonstrating that G-d’s will is manifest only through human agency, and that human agency can either further or distort G-d’s message.

The battles against Egypt and Amalek, like all parshiyos, teach us a limud l’doros. These two enemies are archetypes of the challenges we face to this very day, and you can just browse the internet to find the battlefields of Yam Suf or Refidim. On the one hand, there are the skeptics who relish denial, “proving” religion to be a sham, lining up their memorized clichés from Dennet, Hitchens, Dawkins, documentary hypothesis, or whatever else is out there. On the other hand, there are those who do not deny Torah, but have usurped its authentic message and replaced it with a substitute more palatable to their lifestyle, intelligence, or desires, dismissing all who disagree as either irrational fanatics or ignorant fools. It's up to us to craft the proper ideological response to both of these challenges.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

a model for debate and discussion

Its probably not new, but I first noticed it recently on jrants -- there is a blog for Reform judaism. Of course I don't suggest giving up reading me for the divrei torah over there : ) -- The reason I bring it up is because I found what I think is wonderful feature on the Union for Reform Judaim website called "Eilu v'Eilu" that I wish we could borrow and make part of some sort of Orthodox forum. The goal of "Eilu v'Eilu" is to raise an issue and have two differing views presented, followed by a chance for rebuttal by both sides, some responses to questions, and a concluding summary -- about four posts/responses in total on each issue. The responses are brief; there are no multi-page essays, but simply short position papers outlining the gist of an argument followed by a short response to the other side. From looking over their archives it seems to me that while the idea is good, the implementation suffers from a major weakness in that most of the respondants take positions that are none too far apart. For example, two Reform rabbis reflect on the benefits of intermarriage and the responses are then contrasted. I guess perhaps perhaps no one is left in the reform movement willing to object to intermarriage and defend that position, which would make for more interesting/entertaining reading. (If you are interested in that sort of thing, there is always the book One People, Two Worlds.)

I think it would be wonderful if we in the Orthodox world would borrow this same idea and, whether done through a blog or some other medium, have representitives of different POV presenting and discussing their opinions. Of course, there are some hurdles. This idea would require some moderator to choose respondants capable of addressing the issues and not stack the desk with a world-class expert on one side and some yokel on the other. The second problem is that some will oppose such a forum on the grounds that responding to the other side itself is a concession -- it grants the other side legitimacy as a bar plugta that demands or is worthy of response. (Ironically, whether this argument amounts to nothing more than political posturing or has merit on principle in an issue itself worth discussing.) Thirdly, and it pains me to write this, I find that especially on the right there is a lack of ability to communicate ideas effectively in a way that speaks to the concerns of others. One of the sacrifices made in avoiding a liberal arts education is the ability to write a decent essay. So there are obstacles, and these obstacles would likely prove difficult for the major organizations to overlook, but that is no reason for others to not want to participate. My personal opinion is that organizations like Agudah would be better served by inviting those outside their community (e.g. the bloggers that serve as their current whipping horse) to their convention just as YU would be better served by inviting outside right-wing Roshei Yeshiva an opportunity to weigh in on debates central to modern orthodoxy. Much of what passes for "debate" by major organizations is really analysis of various narrow shades of the same argument bouncing around an echo chamber instead of real discussion.

So much for my pipe dream...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

moral order and natural order: the condition for the Yam to split

The Midrash comments that Hashem created Yam Suf on condition that it would split when called upon to do so by the Jewish people. Why was this condition necessary? G-d controls nature and could easily have forced the Yam to split even if this behavior was not built into its nature from creation.

G-d created the world with both a moral order and a natural order. I heard in the name of R' Chait (of Yeshiva Bnei Torah in Far Rockaway) that yesh lachkor whether these are two seperate "agendas" (if you will) or not, i.e. does the natural order function in harmony and concert with Hashem's plan for moral order in the world, or is moral order imposed on creation from without, and nature is at best a passive canvas? It seems to me (I did not hear this point b'shem R' Chait) that this Midrash speaks directly to this point. The splitting of the sea did not place the moral order in conflict with the natural order of the sea and force one to bend before the other, but rather nature was created with moral order woven into its fabric so that these forces never come in conflict.

With this in mind we can better understand the strange reaction of Hashem to Moshe's tefilos. Moshe faced the sea before him and the Egyptians in hot pursuit and so he began to daven. Hashem ordered Moshe, “Mah titzak alei, debeir el Bnei Yisrael v’yisau”, to cease tefilah. Why? Isn't tefilah our instinctive and appropriate response to danger? The answer is that tefilah by its very definition is a cry that emerges from our perception of a disconnect, a chasm that lies between what we see in the natural world and our expectations and dreams based on the moral order of things. We ask Hashem to interfere and dispel sickness, death, tragedy, all the calamties of the natural world, in response to moral zechuyos. The splitting of Yam Suf as per the condition of its creation was a purposeful statement that despite our faulty perception, there is no real disconnect between the moral world and the natural world (see the Shiurei Da'as of R' Bloch on Shirah and see my article "Split the Difference" on the Kallah Magazine website for more on this idea.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

lo te'hey shemiya gedolah m're'iya and kiddush hachodesh

Last week we touched on the concept of lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya (Rosh HaShana 25b). If beis din sees the new moon, they can declare rosh chodesh without witnesses coming forward – hearing about an event from a witness cannot be greater proof than personal observation. Yesh lachkor: does this mean that observation substitutes for testimony, i.e. it is as if those dayanim who saw the new moon have testified, or does this mean that when the moon is directly observed by dayanim no testimony is needed? Rashi seems to take the latter view, as he writes that lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya works because witnesses are not required for beis din to declare rosh chodesh -- Hashem told Moshe to declare Rosh Chodesh based on his personal observation, ka'zeh re'eh v'kadesh, without witnesses. The implication of Rashi is that if we were dealing with an area of halacha that required proof in the form of witnesses, lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya would not apply. Tosfos disagrees, as we find the concept of lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya applied even where beis din sees someone commit murder. How can Rashi cite the special din of ka’zeh re’eh v’kadesh told to Moshe in the context of Kiddush hachodesh as the source for lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya when the concept appears in other places as well?

The process of kiddush hachodesh as described in the Torah involves beis din declaring rosh chodesh based on witnesses’ testimony or beis din’s own observation of the new moon’s appearance. Our present calendar, however, is based on calculations of when the moon will appear -- we have no beis din which declares rosh chodesh and no witnesses coming forward to testify. What gives our calendar validity? Ramban in his comments to Sefer haMitzvos (153) explains that when Hillel II formalized the cheshbon/calculations that would predict all future roshei chodesh, his beis din in effect did a kiddush hachodesh for all those future events. Rambam disagrees and writes that it is the observance of rosh chodesh by the Jewish community, meaning the community in Eretz Yisrael (an important aside: the Rambam tells us that there will always be a remnant of the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael), which effectively makes it rosh chodesh. According to the Rambam, if rosh chodesh is a function of observance by the people, what are we to make of all the halachos describing beis din’s role in vetting witnesses and declaring rosh chodesh?

R’ Soloveitchik in an essay in Koveitz Ch. Torah distinguished between two roles of beis din. We are familiar with the role of beis din acting as a judicial body, but beis din also serves a secondary role as the representatives of klal yisrael. Where halachos call for a consensus of the people, this consensus is not measured by popular vote, but is reflected in the action of beis din (sanhedin in particular). The halachos of rosh chodesh that speak of a declaration by beis din in concert with the nasi being present reflects this role. Rosh chodesh is established by the people; beis din is simply their representative.

Based on this analysis of the Rambam, I think we can perhaps suggest an explanation of why Rashi cites a pasuk to justify lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya in the context of kiddush hachodesh. True, lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya applies in other contexts, even in capital cases, but in those other areas the substitution of beis din’s own observation for witnesses’ testimony is part and parcel of the judicial process of establishing the facts of the case and deciding on a verdict. Rashi felt compelled to cite a pasuk to justify lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’reiya, allowing private observation in place of public testimony, even in the context of kiddush hachodesh, where beis din serves not as judges, but as representatives.
(See Moadim u'Zmanim vol 1 for a different explanation of Rashi).

Friday, January 22, 2010

the size of the moon for kiddush hachodesh

Rashi explains that Hashem showed Moshe an image of exactly how the moon should appear -- "hachodesh hazeh" -- to declare Rosh Chodesh. The Brisker Rav (stencil al haTorah) questions why Moshe needed a visual image of the moon to understand this halacha, as there is no shiur to the size of the new moon's appearance required to declare Rosh Chodesh.

If last week's post on Yerushalmi didn't whet your appetite for it enough, let me try to add some fuel to the fire. The Mishna in Rosh HaShana tells us that Rabban Gamliel would show images of the moon to witnesses to test if they were telling the truth. The Yerushalmi (13a in the Vilna ed., perek 3 halacha 4) on that Mishna has the following line:

כמה היה רחב כשעורה ויותר מכשעורה

The Pnei Moshe comments that the gemara is explaining Rabban Gamliel's test. Rabban Gamliel would ask the witnesses whether the width of the moon visible to them matched the image he showed them, whether it was the same shiur, or whether it was wider, in which case he knew they were lying.

The first thing that should grab your attention is simple spelling. The word "shiur" in Aramaic is שיעורא , the word that appears in the text of the Yerushalmi is שעורה . Maybe you can chalk that up to textual corruption and girsa, which is always problematic in the Yerushalmi, but there are logical problems with this pshat as well. The nature of Rabban Gamliel's test is a bit puzzling -- why was he concerned about the width of the moon more than its elevation or any other feature? And what does this gemara add to the Mishna, which already tells us that Rabban Gamliel had the witnesses compare their observations with images?

The Tziyun Yerushalayim therefore learns a different pshat here. The text means what it says -- שעורה is a piece of barley. The gemara is telling us information not found in the Mishna: even a sliver of a moon that appears no wider than a piece of barely is sufficient to declare kiddush hachodesh.

Now we can answer the question of the Brisker Rav: Moshe had to be shown the moon because there is a shiur for kiddush hachodesh! -- the moon must be at least the width of a barley grain.

I admit I did not remember this Yerushalmi off the top of my head before seeing it quoted, but I also know I would have ignored the mareh makom completely had I not been at least partially tuned into the idea that the Yerushalmi is understandable and not a resource to be overlooked. I wonder how the Brisker Rav learned this Yerushalmi, or did it just not enter the equation because the Rambam does not quote it.

geulah because of merit or because of Hashem's promise?

Rashi (12:6) explains that G-d ordered the Jewish people to take the korban Pesach four days before its shechita so they would have a mitzvah to engage in and garner merit to earn geulah. (The Netziv notes that in this case the preparation for the mitzvah, the hechsher mitzvah, is itself counted as a mitzvah). “The time to fulfill the promise I made to Avraham has arrived,” declared G-d, and therefore the Jewish people must do something to earn the promised redemption.

Rav Shteinman asks: since redemption was promised by G-d, whether the Jewish people earned it or not, redemption was inevitable. Why was this act of mitzvah performance to accrue merit necessary?

He answers that there are levels of geulah. Perhaps without the merit of mitzvos fewer people would have deserved redemption, or perhaps the geulah would not have included the experience of Yam Suf. Now that the Jewish people proved their obedience, they deserved a greater geulah.

I think it’s worth noting that R’ Shteinman’s question is almost the flipside of R’ Yerucham’s question (which we discussed last year) of why a promise of geulah was necessary -- Hashem could simply deliver geulah whenever we deserve it (or some other cheshbon) without advanced promises or notice. Perhaps the different questions indicate different perspectives: do we place our emphasis on G-d’s promise as the driving force for geulah and our merit is just added icing on the cake, or is geulah a result of our merit, and G-d’s promise is the added icing that requires explanation?

Perhaps one can answer R’ Shteinman’s question simply by saying that redemption was bound to occur, but a geulah which is “nahama d’kisufa” is far less meaningful than a geulah which one feels one has earned.

These overlapping reasons for redemption, the promise to Avraham and the merit of mitzvos, may also relate to two different aspects of gaulus. The Shem m’Shmuel (in one of the latter parshiyos in Braishis; sorry, I forgot where exactly) points out that there seems to be more than one explanation for galus Mitzrayim. On the one hand, Avraham was told that his children will be strangers in a foreign land for four hundred years. On the other hand, Chazal tell us that it was the conflict between Yosef and his brothers that caused the descent into galus. Which one was it?

The Shem m’Shmuel answers that there are two aspects to galus: there is the physical exile into a strange land, living at times under harsh rule and persecution, and then there is the spiritual element of galus, the loss of our ability to study torah and perform mitzvos properly. Avraham was told his children would suffer physical dispersal from the land, but it was the conflict between Yosef and his brothers that tore apart the achdus that is the foundation from which the spirituality of am Yisrael springs.

Hashem told Moshe, “Daber na b’oznei ha’am v’yishalu ish m’eis rey’eyhu v’isha m’eis re’usa klei kesef…” (11:2) It seems odd that the pasuk should call our Egyptian oppressors “rey’eyhu”, and tell us to speak to them so politely, saying “na”/please. The GR”A explains that the pasuk is not speaking about Egyptians, but about the Jewish people. Each person was told to go to his/her neighbor and ask to please borrow some item. At this crucial moment before geulah, all of Klal Yisrael would be engaged in performing an act of chessed, lending some item to his or her fellow Jew! (Might it be that the lending of garments by one girl to another described in the Mishna at the end of Ta'anis was the merit which caused so many shidduchim to occur on Tu b'Av?) By performing chessed one merits chessed in return, and the next pasuk continues that because of their chessed to each other the Jewish people would merit finding “chein” in the eyes of the Egyptians who would give them their wealth.

I would go a step further. It is not only the wealth of Egypt which was earned through this act of chessed, but it was an element of geulah itself. The physical release from Egypt was going to happen no matter what, but the release from spiritual captivity, the rebuilding of the spiritual foundations of our nation, was in our hands. The small act of chessed every Jew performed for his neighbor was the undoing of the animosity between Yosef and his brothers than landed us in spiritual exile.

To return to Rav Shteinman’s question, undoubtedly Hashem would fulfill his promise to release us physically from Egypt no matter what. But release from physical bondage while remaining in spiritual captivity is an incomplete geulah. It was through mitzvos, especially the mitzvah of korban Pesach which was shared among multiple families, eaten together at one table under one roof, that we earned our spiritual redemption.

One final thought: the power of little things! The neighbors borrowing from each other didn't really have a need, but were simply following Moshe's instructions to ask so as to create an opportunity for chessed. Yet, this small act of chessed transformed the Jewish people from humiliated slaves into people who found chein in the eyes of the Egyptians. It doesn't require running to Haiti on Shabbos to generate chein b'einei hagoyim -- we all have the opportunity to do so right at home, by applying ourselves to even small acts of chessed that can be done on a daily basis. These little acts of chessed can combine to create a tidal wave of chessed that will in turn release chasdei Hashem upon us all.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

a child's impressions

From "Witness" by Whittaker Chambers, pp. 116-117:

…In summer, my mother was a great pie maker and she had a way of holding up a pie on the fingertips of one hand while she trimmed the loose edges of crust with the other. She was doing this one day, when, in some rambling child’s conversation, I said something about “when G-d made the world.” I think I was trying it out on her. If so, the result was much better than I could have expected.

She froze with the pie in one hand and the trimming knife suspended in the other. “Somebody told you that,” she said with a severity she seldom used to me. “You picked that up somewhere. You must learn to think for yourself. You must keep an open mind and not accept other people’s opinions. The world as formed by gasses cooling in space.”

I thought about this many times. But it was not the gaseous theory of creation that impressed me, though I did not reject it. What impressed me was this it was an opinion, too, since other people believed something else. Then why had my mother told me what to think? Clearly, if the open mind was open (as I would say to myself later on, still turning over this conversation in my mind years afterwards), truth was simply a question of which opening you preferred. In effect, the open mind was always closed at one end.

The other experience also occurred in my early childhood…I stood up, on the other side, in a field covered from end to end, as high as my head, with thistles in full bloom. Clinging to the purple flowers, hovering over them, or twittering and dipping in flight, were dozens of goldfinches – little golden yellow birds with black, contrasting wings and caps. They did not pay the slightest attention to me, as if they had never seen a boy before.

The sight was so unexpected, the beauty so absolute, that I thought I could not stand it and held to the hedge for support. Out loud I said, “G-d.” It was a simple statement, not an exclamation, of which I would then have been incapable. At that moment, which I remembered through all the years of my life as one of its highest moments, I was closer than I would be again for almost forty years to the intuition that alone could give meaning to my life – the intuition that G-d and beauty are one.

lo te'hey shemiya gedolah m'reiya

The Mishna (R”H 25) tells us that beis din which sees the new moon is allowed to declare Rosh Chodesh without witnesses testifying before them. “Lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’re’iya” – hearing testimony cannot be greater proof than seeing the event itself.

Yesh lachkor: does this mean that beis din’s first hand observation is itself a substitute for eidus, a form of eidus without the formal process of testimony, or does this mean that where beis din is a first hand observer no testimony is necessary?

The Rambam holds that a single expert mumche judge is allowed to decide cases (i.e. a beis din of three is not required), yet he also holds (Sanhedrin 5:18) that an admission, a hoda’ah, in front of such a judge is not binding. The Tur disagrees. The Rambam is problematic: if a single judge is authorized to decide cases, why can he not pasken based on a hoda’ah made in his presence?

Rav Amiel (Darkei Moshe 1:1) suggests that the single judge in this case is both the witness to the hoda’ah as well as the judge empowered to decide the case, no different than the idea of lo tehey shemia hedolah m’reiya when three judges witness the sight of the new moon and act as the court declaring rosh chodesh.

The machlokes between Rambam and Tur hinges on our chakirah. The Rambam holds lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’re’iya is a form of eidus. Testimony requires two witnesses, not one, and therefore a single judge cannot rule based on what he sees. The Tur, however, understands lo te’hey shemiya gedolah m’re’iya to mean that no testimony is needed. Therefore, even the single judge may rule based on a hoda’ah done in his presence.

Yet some more explanation is needed. True, eidus requires the presence of two witnesses, but monetary cases can be decided based on all manner of proof, including umdena, what seems reasonable. Even if the hoda’ah in front of a single judge cannot serve as eidus, why can it not serve as at least the equal of an umdena so that he can decide the case? Rav Amiel answers this question in his Midos l’Cheker HaHalacha (11:27) based on a chiddush of the Ch. haRI”M, but bl”n I want to share with you an idea of R’ Shimon Shkop in a future post.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

torah sheba'al peh before matan Torah?

Thinking about the question of whether there was a mitzvah for Pharoah to listen to Moshe triggered my wondering about a somewhat related question. Rashi cites derasha after derasha in explaining the halachos of korban pesach defined by the pesukim in our parsha, Shmos ch. 12. The Netziv takes note of the Torah’s language in emphasizing (12:28) that Bnei Yisrael did “ka’asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe” – the term “tzivah” as opposed to “ka’asher diber” is inclusive of Rabbinic explication in addition to the words G-d spoke. Yet, if the basis for Rabbinic authority is the mitzvah of “lo tasur” (as the Rambam writes), there seems to be no compelling reason for Bnei Yisrael to have accepted Moshe’s interpretation and derush of these pesukim, as the mitzvah of “lo tasur” was yet to be given. Why then did they listen?

We already discussed a similar question in the past. The gemara (Shabbos 87) tells us that as a result of Moshe’s interpretation of Hashem’s command, he added an extra day into the calculation of when the Torah would be given. R’ Elchanan asks: Granted that this interpretation was done through Moshe’s use of the 13 midos of torah sheba’al peh, but what authority or basis did those midos have prior to the commandment of “lo tasur’ being given? I don’t understand – why is R’ Elchanan bothered by this gemara and not bothered by the derashos galore on our parsha? I think I must be missing something but can’t figure out what.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

rescue efforts even on Shabbos

My BIL posted an article from the Jewish Post describing the relief efforts of Israeli doctors and other personnel in Haiti. The article mentions that, “Among the staff are Orthodox Jews who went to Haiti even though it was Shabbat. Reiss said they avoided performing unnecessarily tasks like shaving, but did everything needed to save lives.”

This makes for wonderful public relations, but I have no doubt that these individuals did not go to Haiti with the intent of scoring a public relations coup – they went because a Jew cannot help but react with compassion when he/she sees a fellow human being in distress. It is our instinctive nature to be rachmanim and gomlei chassadim, to act selflessly to help others.

This response resonates with our emotional and moral sensibilities, and yet I wonder if it is the correct response. Once a situation of ones has arisen all issurim are suspended. However, the Ba’al haMaor writes that a person cannot place him/herself in a situation of inevitable ones by choice. A person may not embark on a ship immediately before Shabbos because he/she will have to violate Shabbos if anything goes wrong onboard –once the ones is there one can do what is necessary to save the ship, Shabbos notwithstanding, but one may not intentionally enter into that situation by choosing to embark before Shabbos instead of at some other time.

Given the choice of volunteering to be among the first rescuers and doing melacha d’oraysa (which it would be very hard to avoid given the situation) for the sake of an aku”m (which there does not seem to be any clear cut heter for) on Shabbos or keeping Shabbos and waiting until the next day to mobilize the relief efforts, is the choice to render aid even on Shabbos so clear cut? Again, instinctively one feels that expedience is paramount when it comes to questions of human life, and I don’t think this instinctive reaction is due to a lack of appreciation of Shabbos on our part. Perhaps it is even correct to follow that instinctive reaction to save life and worry about sorting out technical legal details later. Perhaps it is not proper to raise even after the fact the sort of question I am posing when human life hangs in the balance. Is it? If it is, if we should concern ourself with the technical halachic issue either before or after the fact, how do we halachically justify the response? And finally, if in hindsight we conclude that technically one should not volunteer in cases like this, how do we square that with our moral instinct?

It goes without saying that this theoretical discussion is only with respect to the question of Shabbos, but certainly our compassion extends to those in Haiti desperately in need of the bracha of tov Hashem la'kol v'rachamav al kol ma'asav.

Monday, January 18, 2010

why Pharoh should have listened to Moshe

In the previous post I mentioned R' Shteinman's question as to why Pharoah should have been obligated to listen to Moshe -- the commandment to listen to a Navi is among the 613 mitzvos we are bound by, but not one of the 7 mitzvos bnei noach. R' Shteinman suggested that since it was obvious that Moshe was acting as the messenger of Hashem, Pharoah should have listened. In other words, as a comment put it, this is an extension of the basic mitzvah of emunah.

It occurred to me that one could answer the question based on an idea R' Elchanan elaborates on in Kuntres Divrei Sofrim which we discussed a few times in the past (see here). R' Elchanan suggested that the ratzon Hashem is its own mechayeiv -- that is, knowing what G-d wants, even if one is not explicitly commanded to act on that knowledge, demands a response. Bilam was punished for following the messenger's of Balak because he knew that G-d did not want him to curse the Jewish people, regardless of whether there was a formal command for him to desist from going. The Ramban maintains that we are bound to follow dinim derabbanan not because (as the Rambam writes) there is a command of "lo tasur", but simply because a din derabbanan is an expression of G-d's will. Here too in our case, it is not because a formal mitzvah to listen to a navi which obligated Pharoah to obey Moshe, but rather because Pharoah should have understood that Moshe's direction was the ratzon Hashem.

Friday, January 15, 2010

some thoughts of R' Shteinman on Parshas Va'Eira

A few quick thoughts on the parsha:

1) Rashi interprets the pesukim at the beginning of the parsha as an admonishment to Moshe for complaining about the suffering of Bnei Yisrael. Hashem contrasts Moshe with the Avos, none of whom bemoaned their suffering, e.g. Avraham did not complain at having to pay top dollar for Me’aras haMachpeilah. Rav Shteinman in his Ayeles haShachar questions this comparison – surely the added affliction of the Jewish people is far more disturbing than extra cost for a piece of property! He does not offer an answer.

2) Rashi (7:3) indicates that the punishment of the Egyptians was supposed to ellicit a response of tshuvah from Bnei Yisrael. Obviously the Egyptians deserved punishment for their wrongdoing irrespective of whether Bnei Yisrael learned any lesson from their fate -- Bnei Yisrael being moved to tshuvah is a consequence, not a reason for the Egyptians’ suffering.

R’ Shteinman quotes R’ Simcha Zisel of Kelm as explaining that the descendents of Haman merited to learn Torah in Bnei Brak because Haman served as the instrument which led BN”Y to tshuvah. R’ Shteinman questions this idea. Can a rasha accrue merit for a wicked deed just because some unintended good emerges as a consequence? Does it make sense to say that Nimrod deserves credit for tossing Avraham into the kivshan because as a result Avraham’s fame spread far and wide?

3) On the topic of the hardening of Pharoah’s heart, R’ Shteinman notes that at first glance the ability of Pharaoh to resist is a great chilul Hashem. Pharoah undoubtedly thought he was going to come out the winner in this contest against Moshe and G-d and rallied his people around that idea. It’s only in retrospect, after all the makkos are over, that we appreciate that Pharoah was only being given those kochos of resistance to setup a bigger knockout punch at the end. “Kol po’al Hashem l’ma’anei’hu” means that all that occurs, even that which superficially appears to be a chilul Hashem, in the end fits into the larger plan of kiddush Hashem.

4) Pharoah is chastised for not listening to Moshe, “V’hinei lo shamata ad koh” (7:16). Obedience to a Navi's message is one of the 613 mitzvos, not one of the 7 mitzvos bnei Noach, so why should Pharoah have listened? R’ Shteinman explains that the truth of Moshe’s shlichus was a matter of inescapable and irrefutable logic; Pharoah should have obeyed because Moshe was obviously an agent of Hashem. "Nikarim divrei emes" is a mechayeiv in this context.

R’ Shteinman’s question made me think of Bilam, prophet to the nations of the world. There clearly is a chalos of nevuah, a position and status of navi, that exists globally, yet I am not sure what meaning such a position would have if there is no mitzvah on a ben Noach to listen to the navi.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

latest issue of Kallah Magazine

My wife just received from the printer her latest issue of Kallah Magazine and is now in the process of distributing in in the usual places. Look for it in the 5 Towns, parts of Brooklyn (Flatbush should get it today), Baltimore, Queens (prob. next week), etc. My two cents are in there in an article about Tu B'Shevat.

ta'amah ki tov sachara

Daughter #2 actually wanted to give a dvar torah at our little siyum (as opposed to myself and my son who do not look forward to speaking publicly even in front of extended family), so since she is dabbling in learning Mishlei in addition to her schoolwork she spoke about the pasuk of “ta’amah ki tov sachara lo yichbeh balayla neirah.” Meforshim read eishes chayil as a mashal for Torah, and explain this pasuk to mean that when the eishes chayil sees that business is good = when you recognize the beauty of Torah, you burn the midnight oil to try to accomplish more.

My daughter explained the pasuk (OK, she had a little help) as applicable to a siyum. Where does a person get the energy to keep learning day in and day out as part of a daf yomi or some other cycle? The gemara (Shabbos 118) tells us that Abayei would make a Yom Tov when a masechta was completed by the talmidim. In that light perhaps the pasuk can perhaps be read as follows: “Ta’ama ki tov sachara” – when a person has experiences the tov = the Yom tov celebrating the making of a siyum, then “lo yichbeh ba’layla neira,” then he/she is inspired to continue from one project to the next. Indeed, so many people got chizuk and were inspired to start their own sedorim from events like the siyum hashas of daf yomi that it makes one think that if only MSG was reserved for siyumim on Mishnayos, halacha, Nach, Yerushalmi, etc. how much more would be accomplished : )

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

toras eretz yisrael vs. toras galus

There is an amazing Zohar on Parshas Shmos which darshens as follows:

Vayemareru es chayeihem b’avodah kasha
B’chomer – zu kal v’chomer
U’belveinim – zu libun halacha
U’b’chol avodas ha’sadeh – zu braysa.

R’ Nevenzal in his sichos on the parsha asks the obvious question: were the Egyptians throwing difficult gemaras and Rambam’s at the Jewish people? Is this the meaning of galus Mitzrayim?

In making the siyum on Yerushalmi I discussed some of the differences between the Bavli and Yerushalmi: 1) Differences in language: the Bavli refers to the language of the Yerushalmi as “lishna kelila” (B”K 6); 2) Corruption of the text: Rashba attributes the lack of study of Yerushalmi to the corrupt girsa and nusach; 3) Most importantly, there are differences in logic and methodology. The gemara (Sanhedrin 22) darshens “B’machshakim hoshivani” to refer to the Bavli; the gemara refers to the style of learning is Bavel as “makas chovlim” as opposed to the peaceful ways of the Yerushalmi. Many sugyos in the Yerushalmi leave off with unresolved questions; the gemara sometimes lets an Amora get off without explaining how his chidush fits with a Mishna or Braysa -- there is not the same sense of intellectual warfare in the Yerushalmi as there is in the Bavli. My brother-in-law commented in the same vein that we see the “darchei noam” of the Yerushalmi in one of the last halachos in the Yerushalmi, the case of a corpse which is rotten yet is still metamei (on a d’oraysa level!) because, explains the Yerushalmi, of kavod ha’adam. The entirety of the three Bava’s in Yerushalmi is barely equal in quantity of material to perek Chezkas haBatim in Baba Basra. The Bavli is concerned with sevara, intellectual debate and development of the halacha, while the Yerushalmi is far more concerned with derashos and mesorah, kabbalah of Torah in the sense of received knowledge. In contrast to Nezikin, Masechet Nazir with all its complex derashos and halachos that are not "sichli" is even longer in the Yerushalmi than it is in the Bavli.

Rav Kook in his Orot haTorah writes that the Yerushalmi is related more in its methodology to toras hanistar than the Bavli; he sees its roots in tefilah, direct engagement with G-d, rather than intellectual speculation. The Yerushalmi could develop only in Eretz Yisrael where the soil is blessed with the possibility of ruach ha’kodesh and nevuah. The Bavli, writes Rav Kook, is “torah hamishtameres”, which keeps us hanging in there in galus, but the Yerushalmi is “torah hamisbareches”.

Perhaps it is this distinction between the derech of learning unique to Eretz Yisrael and the derech of learning which developed as a result of our galus which the Zohar is trying to convey. The shakla v’terya, the layer upon layer of hava amina and maskana, the intellectual battles (and it’s interesting that the Zohar mentions kal v’chomer specifically, as this is the only one of the 13 midos that can be darshened based on logic alone without a mesorah) of the Bavli are all a result of the ohr of Torah being masked because of galus. Of course shibud Mitzrayim was all about physical hard work, but part of galus is also this intellectual shift, the demand for mental ameilus of a different kind to simply understand Torah.

The gemara relates that R’ Zeira fasted 100 fasts to forget what he learned in Bavel when he made aliya. (My son pointed out R' Zeira is highlighted in the last sugya in Horiyos as the exemplar of exceptional ability to be maksheh u'mefareik, so his transformation from a Bavli-Amora to a Yerushalmi thinker must have been a dramatic change.) The Talmud Yerushalmi is not simply another layer of learning, like starting to learn Tosfos on top of Rashi, or the Ran or Rashba in addition to Tosfos, otherwise why struggle to forget everything else? Talmud Yerushalmi in its ideal sense demands a different mindset, one that is fundamentally at odds with the galus-mentality thinking in learning that we are so familiar with.

v'Zhav ha’aretz ha’hi tov – zu toras Eretz Yisrael. Tzion b’misphat tipadeh = Talmud Yerushalmi in gematriya. The renewal of interest in the study of Yerushalmi, the Talmud of Eretz Yisrael, is a harbinger of geulah, as our intellectual kelim shift gears to once again absorb “torah hamisbareches” in a manner and form that can only be appreciated in Eretz Yisrael.

My brother-in-law noted that the first letter of the gemara and last letter in Yerushalmi (aleph and daled) spell aidv’aid ya’aleh min ha’aretz. We know that Eretz Yisrael is blessed first with the rains that then nourish the entire world, and so too, the bracha in learning comes first through Yerushalmi, the first layer of explication ever done on Mishnayos.

Nu, so today is the start of a new cycle, Brachos daf aleph (first thing to forget from the Bavli: all those vortlach you’ve heard about why the Talmud begins with daf beis) – dig in!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

self fulfilling prophecy

When Hashem charged Moshe with the mission of redeeming of the Jewish people, he told him, “V’sham’u l’kolecha…”(3:18), guaranteeing that the people would listen to and believe in Moshe. Yet, Moshe was not satisfied and he insisted that he would not be listened to or believed (4:1):

וַיַּעַן מֹשֶׁה, וַיֹּאמֶר, וְהֵן לֹא-יַאֲמִינוּ לִי, וְלֹא יִשְׁמְעוּ בְּקֹלִי:

In response, Hashem taught Moshe the signs of the staff turning into a snake, water changing to blood, and his hand becoming leprous and then changing back.

Question: once Hashem had guaranteed that the people would listen to and believe Moshe, why did Hashem need to teach Moshe these signs as proof? Hashem could have simply reiterated in response to Moshe that the people would indeed believe.

R’ Tzadok (Pri Tzadik) answers that it was Moshe’s question which introduced the possibility of doubt into the equation. We live up to expectations. Because Moshe did not believe that the people would accept him, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy which undid Hashem’s guarantee, and now he had a need for proof. (See R’ Tzadok for an explanation of why Moshe did not accept Hashem’s guarantee – can G-d guarantee belief, or is it a matter of our collective free choice?)

While on the topic of the parsha, let me just tack on here that there is a Rabeinu Bachye on the pasuk “Va’ta’al shav’asam es haElokim” which mentions a halacha in his parshanut which is quoted by poskim. R’ Bachye says that the word “yisbarach” should not be separated from the precedeing sentence of “yehei she’mei rabbah… l’olam u’lulmei ulmaya”. Of course, there are those who disagree.

shibuda d'oraysa and korban shevua

It seems like only yesterday I posted a nice kashe my son had on the last Mishna in Horiyos when he made a siyum on Mishnayos Nezikin, and now he is just about finished with the entire seder of gemara. In his siyum on Shavuos he chose a particularly complex sugya to speak about, so apologies if I don't capture this idea very well.

R’ Yochanan (Shavuos 37) holds that if Reuvain swears falsely that he doesn’t owe money to Shimon and two witnesses contradict him he is chayav a korban. However, if Shimon produces a shtar that says Reuvain owes the money, Reuvain does not have to bring a korban. The reason for the distinction: a shtar creates a lien on property and there is no penalty of a korban for swearing falsely with respec to property.

Tosfos (Shavuos 37b, B.M. 4b) asks: R’ Yochanan holds “shibuda d’oraysa” – every loan automatically creates a lien on property -- so how can anyone ever be chayav a korban shevua? Any dispute about a loan is essentially a dispute about property!

Tosfos answers that the case of korban must be where the person who made the loan forgives and is mochel this shibud.

Tosfos now goes a step further: the Chachamim made a takanah that says if Levi buys Reuvain's property unaware that Shimon already has a lien on it, if the agreement between Reuvain and Shimon was only an oral contract (milveh al peh), Shimon cannot collect the land bought by Levi; there is an automatic mechila of the lien on the property. This protects Levi (lekuchos) from having his land snatched because of circumstances he has unaware of. However, if a shtar was written, Shimon can take the land from Levi because Levi should be aware of a documented loan and lien against Reuvain's property that he purchased.

Based on this takanah, Tosfos works out that the case R’ Yochanan must be speaking of is where Reuvain sold land which had a lien on to Levi, and Reuvain has no other personal property left. Thus, R' Yochanan said: If there are witnesses but no shtar to the agreement between Reuvain and Shimon (i.e. it's a milveh al peh), Shimon can only collect directly from Reuvain (because the takanah does not allow him to collect from Levi), and Reuvain has no land in his possession. Since there is no property under dispute, Reuvain is chayav a korban if he lies under oath. However, if there is a shtar, Shimon can now try to collect the land which Levi bought from Reuvain. Since this dispute now involves property, Reuvain is not chayan a korban for lying under oath.

The Ran goes through the same basic question and answer as Tosfos, but omits the detail that Reuvain personally has no land. My son suggested that this omission is significant and reflects a fundamental disagreement between Tosfos and the Ran as to how this takanah which prevents Shimon from collecting from Levi in a case of milveh al peh works. R' Shach in hi Avi Ezri Ezri is choker whether the takanah means: 1) The Chachamim said a milveh al peh cannot create a lien or shibud; or 2) A milveh al peh creates a shibud, but the Chachamim negated the power to collect on it.

If the Chachamim said that milveh al peh cannot create a lien, then even if Reuvain himself owned land, Shimon could not collect it. However, if milveh al peh does create a lien, just the Chachamim blocked the ability to collect on that lien in order to protect lekuchos, that would not protect Reuvain himself. My son suggested that Tosfos takes the latter position and therefore writes that we are speaking of a case where Reuvain has no land; the Ran takes the former position and therefore has no need to include this detail.

There is a part II and even a part III to this that my son did not say over, but ad kan hakafah aleph.

Monday, January 11, 2010

daf yomi on yerushalmi -- siyum and new cycle

Last night we had what I guess I could describe as a family simcha as we hosted a little celebration for multiple siyumim. Firstly, my son has done all of Seder Nezikin except for a few blatt in the first perek of Bava Kama (so he has something to do in shiur for the rest of the year), and he made a siyum on Shavuos (he wanted to review Horiyos one more time before making a siyum on it). Secondly, I made a siyum on Talmud Yerushalmi for the first time. Thirdly, and having alomost a chazakah in doing so already, my brother-in-law, R’ Yosef Bechhofer, made a siyum on his complete second cycle through Yerushalmi. My wife deserves enormous thanks for putting together the whole siyum with lots of delicious homemade food, including homemade yerushalmi kugel (what else do you serve for a siyum on yerushalmi?), and more important than just being there at the finish line, she was and continues to be there every step of the way to make my learning possible. My brother-in-law deserves the credit for being mezakeh me and getting me to undertake learning the Yerushalmi, so hats off to him. Hinei mah tov u'mah na'im sheves achim gam yachad, and I will take achim to include brothers-in-law as well. It is special to be able to come together for no other reason other than to celebrate torah.

For those of you who have not attempted the Yerushalmi, this is your chance – the next cycle (a daf yomi cycle on Yerushalmi was instituted by the Gerrer Rebbe, the Lev Simcha, in 1980) begins this Thursday I”YH and takes only 4 1/3 years to finish, just a bit longer than half the time it would take to finish the Bavli at the same daf yomi pace. As I said at the siyum, had my brother-in-law known how gullible I was when he told me how easy learning Yerushalmi would be I would probably have in my hand the deed to one of the city’s bridges right now signed by him. I won’t kid you: the language is hard, the nusach/girsa a challenge, and the sugyos themselves have little in the way of Rishonim to help. The dapim generally are shorter than those in the Bavli, but often take longer to puzzle through (but no one says you have to feel bound to do a daf a day). One thing you absolutely gain from learning Yerushalmi: you will discover just what a remarkable work Rashi is as you struggle to do without it! But be that as it may, the Yerushalmi is torah too, and you only live once (that is, unless you are here on a gilgul return trip), so why not try? I noticed that Artscroll now has a bunch of volumes out, my BIL has taped shiurim on just about every daf that you can download for free (see here), and there are other resources out there which do make it easier. There is still a lot to struggle through, but think of it as getting shares of Apple computer when Steve Jobs was still tinkering in his garage – you will be in on the ground floor of a Torah venture that can only bring unlimited rewards. By the time they get around to a siyum at Madison Square Garden you will be a baki already.

But why aspire to the next siyum being held in the Garden? If IY”H enough people join in, maybe we will be zocheh to hold the next siyum together in Yerushalayim, b’zechus learning the Yerushalmi. After all, as R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld poinedt out, the gematriya of “Tziyon b’mishpat tipadeh” is Talmud Yerushalmi.

Bl”n I hope to share some of the divrei torah and derush that were said.

Friday, January 08, 2010

"mei'Az basi" to "Az Yashir": emunah and shirah

The Midrash tells us that Moshe sinned with the word “az” when he complained “U’mei’Az basi el Phraoh l’dabeir b’shemecha he’ra l’am hazeh,” and he corrected his sin with the use of the same word “az” when he sang “Az yashir Moshe.” It's not the coincidence of a common word which the Midrash is emphasizing, but rather the thematic relationship between these pesukim and events.

The Beis HaLevi’s explanation of the Midrash is one of the more famous/popular ones: At the time of redemption we will be privileged to look back and understand how all that we thought was bad and to our determent was really a bracha in disguise. Moshe sang “Az yashir” with the realization that the suffering he complained of and questioned, “m’az basi el Pharoah,” was really all for the good.

Shifting from Brisk to Telz, R’ Bloch offers a different explanation which I found amazingly deep and insightful, but at the same time I am troubled by the message. The Midrash elsewhere tells us that despite the many miracles G-d performed before the redemption from Egypt, no one ever sang shirah until Yam Suf. Why not? Why did Avraham not sing shira when he escaped from the kivshan ha’aish? Why did Yitzchak not sing shirah when spared from akeidah? Why didn’t Ya’akov sing shirah when he escaped Lavan’s home?

R’ Bloch explains that this lack of shirah is not due to some failing on the part of those tzadikim, but aderaba, precisely because of their greatness. Emunah means accepting with complete equanimity that all that occurs in the world is ultimately, whether we see it as such or not, a means to greater kvod shamayim and an expression of Hashem's perfect plan. Avraham accepted that whether he personally lived through the kivshan or not, the result will ultimately be greater kvod shamayim, so why sing shirah at being spared? Why sing shirah or be surprised at salvation when one knows that Hashem runs the world according to a plan which guarantees good for the righteous and evil for wrongdoers?

Moshe Rabeinu, however, did not accept with equanimity the suffering and pain of the Jewish people. He questioned and cried out with “az” because he could not see how kvod shamayim was enhanced by the prolonging of galus. And precisely because Moshe had the capacity to be moved and pained by Jewish suffering that gave him the capacity to be moved and rejoice in shirah when seeing the redemption of the Jewish people.

R’ Bloch contrasts Moshe’s shirah with the shirah of David haMelech. Chazal tell us a harp was suspended above David’s bed which played when the North wind blew. Unlike Moshe’s shirah which was inspired by the shift in circumstance from the “az” of galus to the “az” of geulah, David’s harp played in shirah even while he was still asleep and not conscious or aware of the comings and goings in the world; David’s shirah played as the North wind, the wind that always exists in nature, blew. David haMelech’s shirah was not inspired by the miraculous, but was a shirah that celebrated the day to day presence of Hashem in the world. This is the shirah which we will sing with the coming of Moshiach.

The interpretation is brilliant, but am uncomfortable with the upshot of the message. Who is superior – those tzadikim who accept with equanimity Hashem’s hashgacha, those tzadikim who do not suffer at the experience of pain or rejoice in redemption because it is so clear to them that all is in Hashem’s hands and the proper outcome is inevitable, or those tzadikim whose souls cry out at tragedy and soar in joy? R’ Bloch sees the former as having a superior level of emunah, while describing the latter having a emunah which is contingent (to some degree) on circumstance. Emunah which accepts all with equinimaity is superior to emunah which is diminished and challenged by the perception of evil, but which is elevated when salvation arrives.

I am uncomfortable with this idea of placing emunah is conflict with what I can only decribe as one's humanity. Need empathizing with suffering and tragedy, even questioning suffering and tragedy, be seen as indicative of a shortcoming of belief? Or might one not argue that it is precisely a deep-seated belief in hashgacha that leads one to protest suffering and question what appears to be injustice? Without belief, there is no room for questions, as an uncaring mechanistic universe does not promise either justice or sympathy.

Chazal tell us that Chizkiyahu would have been Moshiach had he only sung shirah when Sancheirev was defeated. The Ch. haRI”M explains (akin to R' Bloch) that it was the tzidkus of Chizkiyahu that led him to not sing shirah -- so confident was Chizkiyahu in his emunah that he too, like other tzadikim, accepted with equanimity the defeat of Sancheirev without shock or surprise. Yet, it seems to me that the punchline of the gemara is that singing shirah is the higher madreiga, as that would have led to the complete tikun of the world and the arrival of Moshiach. Yes, perhaps the ability to experience the joy of singing shirah comes at the price of feeling the challenge to emunah of pain and suffering, but sometimes the price is one worth paying.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

shlichus l'dvar aveira (II)

Following up on the previous post: the Ketzos brought a proof from the fact that a shliach appointed to slaughter an animal for a ganav does not negate his shlichus if he does the shechita on Shabbos that if a shliach to bring a get coerces the woman to accept the get in violation of cheirem d’Rabeinu Gershom, his shlichus is also not negated. The Noda b’Yehudah, however, holds in this later case the shlichus is negated because ain shliach l’dvar aveira. We left standing the question of how the Noda b’Yehudah would distinguish between the case of get and the case the Ketzos uses as his proof.

Lots of nice comments on this one. Let’s start with a pragmatic chiluk: The shliach can certainly fulfill his task of shechita on a weekday as well as he could on Shabbos – the choice to commit chilul Shabbos, the act of chilul Shabbos, is completely independent of the job of tevicha. However, if the woman the shliach is assigned to deliver a get to refuses to accept it, there is no way for him to complete his shlichus except by coercing her to accept the get. The act of coerced nesina is inseparable from the act of nesina itself.

A more conceptual (this is suggested by Rav Amiel in his Midos l’Cheiker Halacha) answer hinges on a chiluk we discussed once before: there is a difference between the concept of shlichus and the concept of shlucho shel adam k’moso. A shliach sometimes is just a means to an end: the ganav wants meat, so he asks a friend who knows shechita to help him. Who does the shechita does not matter to the ganav or anyone else – all we care about is "where’s the beef". However, when it comes to delivery of a get, the shliach functions as more than just a messenger – the shliach must serve as a representative of the husband, because without the husband’s participation there can be no get! Delivery of a get requires shlucho shel adam k’moso – a representative form of shlichus. If the shliach serving as the husband’s representative does an aveira in the process of delivering the get, there is more of a reason to ascribe that aveira to the meshaleyach and invalidate the shlichus.

Just parenthetically, I enjoy R' Scheinberg's sefer "Mishmeres Chaim" because it is a treasure trove of these type questions. I began going through it many months ago on Friday nights/Shabbos with my son and have noticed that his ability to solve questions like this has increased dramatically -- I think it's not just that he knows more in general, but I think exposure to conceptual chilukim helps hone one's own ability to think along the same lines. One advantage to Rav Amiel's sefer over the Mishmeres Chaim is that it is organized around conceptual principles -- he sets out a type a chiluk or chakira and then illustrates it with example after example. The Mishmeres Chaim just groups questions according to the area of halacha they address, e.g. hil. eidus, hil. purim, hil. kidushin, etc. and you have to figure out chakiros and chilukim to apply at random. Perhaps a worthwhile project for someone with spare time and energy might be to re-organize the Mishmeres Chaim by principle, so you have the advantage of his wonderful questions along with a more organized presentation of the various types of logic used to derive the answers. Just an idea.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

shlichus l'dvar aveira

Tosfos (B.M. 10 acc. to one answer) writes that if someone appoints a shliach to do an aveira on his behalf, since ain shliach l'dvar aveira, the shlichus is nullified. The Noda b'Yehudah paskens on this basis that if a husband appoints a shliach to deliver a get and divorce his wife and the shliach violates the chareim d'Rabeinu Gershom by forcing the wife to accept the get against her will, the shlichus is nullified and the get is invalid.

The Ketzos (siman 182) disagrees. The Ketzos argues that the nullification of shlichus based on ain shliach l'dvar aveira applies only where the meshaleyach tells the shliach to perform an aveira on his behalf. However, if the meshaleyach appoints the shliach to act as his agent and the shliach of his own volition performs some aveira along the way, that does not cause the shlichus to be nullified.

The Ketzos proves his point by comparing the Noda b'Yehudah's scenario to a case discussed by the Mishne l'Melech (Hil. Geneiva ch 3). One of the exceptions to the rule of ain shliach l'dvar aveira is the case of slaughtering a stolen animal, e.g. if a thief asks a shochet to slaughter an animal he stole, the thief, not the shochet, is liable to pay the extra fine for tevicha/slaughtering the animal. What happens if the shochet slaughters the animal on Shabbos? Interestingly, so long as the meshaleyach did not explicitely tell the shochet to work on Shabbos, the meshaleyach (the thief) is chayav to pay the added penalty for the slaughtering of the animal and the shochet is chayav for breaking Shabbos. The fact that the shochet happened to do an aveira of chilul Shabbos while fulfilling the task the meshaleyach assigned to him does not constitute a shlichus l'dvar aveira and nullify his appointment.

So too, writes the Ketzos, the fact that the husband's agent happened to violate cheirem d'Rabeinu Gershom while fulfilling the task of delivering the get assigned to him does not constitute shlichus l'dvar aveira and nullify his appointment. So long as the husband did not order the shliach to act improperly, the shlichus is valid and the wrongdoing of the shliach is his own business.

What do you make of the Ketzos' proof? Can you draw a distinction between the case discussed by the Noda b'Yehudah and the scenario of the Mishne l'Melech?

Monday, January 04, 2010

hamalach hagoel: davening to angels

All of our tefilos are directed to Hashem, not to any intermediary. To avoid any confusion, many strike from tefilah any references that would give the impression that we are addressing angels, e.g. as my son put it, “Machnisei rachamim [at the conclusion of slichos] is a nice tune, just leave out the words.” R’ Chaim Volozhiner even avoided saying “Barchuni l’Shalom” in Shalom Aleichem as it implies that we are asking angels for a blessing. Yet, in last week’s parsha we have a famous pasuk where Ya’akov Avinu does seem to call on an angel to bless his grandchildren -- “HaMalach hagoel osi ‘mol ra yevareich es ha’nearim…”

Rishonim (e.g. Seforno) explain that Ya’akov is not calling on an angel. The pasuk of “HaMalach hagoel…” is a continuation of the previous pasuk where Ya’akov calls on Hashem to bless Epraim and Menashe; he continues that call to Hashem and requests that Hashem send a “Malach hagoel” should his grandchildren not be worthy of Hashem’s direct intervention. The Ohr HaChaim alternatively suggests that Ya’akov simply refers to Hashem’s intervention in the world as a “malach” (see HaKsav v’Hakabalah on this point).

The first answer makes sense in context, but that intended of calling on Hashem to send a malach is surely distorted when we quote the bracha of “HaMalach hagoel…” independently of the previous pasuk as we do in Shema al ha’mita, when given as a bracha to kids getting aliyos on Simchas Torah, or when sung to a baby before a bris. Is the contextual meaning really implicit or intended in our quote (as R’ Shteinman suggests)? Or are we really just relying on the other explanation of the term “malach”? R’ Shteinman suggests another novel idea (based on Rishonim elsewhere): the term “malach” by definition means “messenger of Hashem.” Therefore, implicit in the term "malach" is the idea that Hashem is ultimately doing the blessing. This would seem to solve the issue with “Barchuni l’Shalom malachai hashalom” as well.

Friday, January 01, 2010

placing Ephraim before Menashe

Ya'akov tells his grandchildren that future generations will be given the bracha, "Yesimcha Elokim k'Ephraim v'kMenashe," and in case we failed to notice, the pasuk tells us, "Vayasem es Ephraim lifnei Menashe," that Ya'akov placed Ephraim before Menashe (48:30).

Why does the pasuk state the obvious? Furthermore, the Ksav Sofer further asks: if Ephraim was the greater of the two, why not just give a bracha to be like Ephraim and bichlal masayim manah, the lesser bracha of Mensashe would be automatically included in the greater bracha of being like Ephraim?

Ephraim and Menashe each had unique qualities. Ephraim shone in his dedication to learning at the side of Ya'akov; Menashe shone at handling practical affairs of state. Yesh bichlal masayim manah applies when measuring quantities, but does not apply to qualitative differences. Ya'akov felt that the value of learning which Ephraim represented was superior in importance to the practical knowledge of Menashe, but one cannot exist without the other. The Torah stresses that Ya'akov placed Ephraim first, but the qualities of both children have to be transmitted to give complete bracha.

But this begs the question: So what if Menashe and Ephraim had different natures and Ephraim showed talent in those areas Ya'akov felt had more importance -- why didn't Ya'akov just give Menashe, the older brother, a bracha that he should embody those same important traits rather than reverse the order?

R' Chatzkel Levenstein explains with respect to the brachos of the Shevatim that a bracha can enhance a latest talent, it can help a trait flourish and grow, but it cannot make something from nothing. The isha haShunamis had to have a jug and a drop of oil for the bracha of more oil to be given to her, but without that no miracle could take place. Hashem gives each of us unique talents because those are the tools and keys to our individual shleimus and achievement of our individual mission. Menashe cannot be made into an Ephraim, but he can be given a bracha to achieve his potential in avodas Hashem using his own individual gifts.