Thursday, February 25, 2010
You can please some of the people...: Rav Kasher on why some opposed Mordechai
כִּי מָרְדֳּכַי הַיְּהוּדִי, מִשְׁנֶה לַמֶּלֶךְ אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ, וְגָדוֹל לַיְּהוּדִים, וְרָצוּי לְרֹב אֶחָיו--דֹּרֵשׁ טוֹב לְעַמּוֹ, וְדֹבֵר שָׁלוֹם לְכָל-זַרְעוֹ
Despite all that Mordechai had done, he was beloved by most, but not all of his brethren (10:3). What was the ta’anah that these holdouts had? The megillah doesn’t say. Does there even have to be a ta’anah, or is it perhaps built into some people’s nature to not appreciate and love?
But Rashi tells us that there was a ta’anah. The minority who did not view Mordechai favorably were members of the Sanhedrin who felt that Mordechai’s involvement in the affairs of state disrupted his Torah learning. What could be more important that devotion to Torah?
Where did Rashi get this idea from? Rav Kasher (Divrei Menachem IV:47) points to the following gemara:
אמר רבי יוחנן דברי הצומות ומאמר אסתר קיים דברי הפורים האלה כי מרדכי היהודי משנה למלך אחשורוש וגדול ליהודים ורצוי לרוב אחיו לרוב אחיו ולא לכל אחיו מלמד שפירשו ממנו מקצת סנהדרין
אמר רב יוסף גדול ת"ת יותר מהצלת נפשות
It’s not by accident, explains Rav Kasher, that Rav Yosef’s teaching is juxtaposed with that of R’ Yochanan. The point raised by Rav Yosef was the very issue that split the Sanhedrin. The minority held that Mordechai should have devoted himself exclusively to Torah study – G-d certainly has at his disposal the means necessary to save klal yisrael without our bitul Torah! The majority, however, lauded Mordechai’s taking an active role in bringing about redemption rather than passively waiting for it to occur, even at the cost of bitul Torah.
History has placed this sugya in our lap once again. Dare we close our gemaras to participate in the defense and building of a State, or does Talmud Torah demand our undivided attention? Rav Kasher unhesitatingly infers from the psak of “rov echav” that it is our obligation to actively participate in a geulah which unfolds through natural means and not wait for open miracles.
In this vein we can perhaps make sense of the enigmatic Midrash quoted l’halacha by the Rambam that of all the sifrei nevi’im and kesuvim, only megilas Esther will remain with us for perpetuity, even after Moshiach comes. Rav Kasher suggests that the reason sifrei nevi’im will be bateil is because the nevi’im speak largely of open miracles. What if redemption comes not through open miracles, but through derech hateva? What if instead of “achishena” we have a geulah of “b’ita”, of “ani rochev al hachamor” (Sanhedrin 98)? The only text that can guide us how to proceed is the story of megilas Esther. It is the story of the megillah which sheds light on how Hashem brings deliverance even through what appears to be the course of history, and is the story of the megilah which sheds light for us on what role we should take in recognizing and participating in that geulah.
Rav Kasher has a number of other interesting points in this essay. Here’s the link to the sefer so you can peruse it.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
hachana - Purim on Motzei Shabbos
the takanah derabbaban to listen to parshas zachor
I have not looked into this at all, but off the cuff I was wondering whether this rule should apply to parshas zachor as well. M'doraysa there is no requirement to read parshas zachor this particular shabbos. According to many, if not most Rishonim, there is no need to ever do a formal krias hatorah to fulfill zachor -- one can simply "remember" Amalek through some verbal declaration (Minchas Chinuch discusses whether one can fulfill the mitzvah through hirhur). However, the Chachamim instituted that our fulfillment of the mitzvah of zachor be done by reading a parsha this Shabbos. Does that mean, based on the Pri Megadim, that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah d'oraysa in some other way, e.g. by hearing the parsha when Ki Teitzei is read in the summer? Or would you say that the Chachamim did not alter the kiyum d'oraysa of zachor, but simply added an additional kiyum mitzvah to listen to the reading of zachor before Purim?
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
krias hatorah - chovas hayachid or chovas hatzibur
The first Mishna in Megillah tells us that villagers may read the megillah early on the 11th, 12th, or 13th of Adar which fall on Monday or Thurs., the days when the villagers traditionally gathered together in the cities. What were these villagers gathering for? Rashi writes that Monday and Thursday were the days when court was in session; the villagers came to the city to do their legal business. The Ran, however, writes that the villagers gathered in the city on those days because those are the days in which krias haTorah is done. Apparently the villagers did not have a minyan (or perhaps did not have a sefer Torah) where they lived and needed to travel to a central meeting point to fulfill the mitzvah of kriah. R’ Shternbruch in a number of his seforim points out that perhaps the point of disagreement between Rashi and the Ran (whose explanation is echoed by most Rishonim) revolves around how to understand the takanah of kriah. If kriah is a chiyuv on the tzibur as a whole, then where no tzibur exists, such as a village, there is no chiyuv. But if there is a chiyuv on the individual to hear kriah, then we understand why villagers which otherwise did not have a tzibur would nonetheless gather to create one to fulfill their chiyuv.
I should point out that the Ramban in Milchamos (first perek of Megillah) seems to indicate that krias hatorah is a chovas hatzibur; read more about it on Chaim Markowitz’s blog here.
And while on the topic, just to mention it again (previous post here), if krias hatorah is a chovas hatzibur, then it is hard to understand how a second leining of parshas zachor can be done just for women. Women cannot form a tzibur, so how can the chiyuv of kriah be fulfilled for them in the absence of a minyan of men?
Monday, February 22, 2010
na'aseh v'nishma and the construction of the Mishkan
The gemara (cited by Rashi) tells us that Moshe first gave Bnei Yisrael the instructions of how to make the kelim for the Mishkan, but Betzalel figured out that this order cannot be correct – what good are kelim with no place to put them? First the building itself must be constructed, and afterwards the kelim that belong inside made and put in their proper place. Moshe responded that Betzalel had it right, and he must have been hiding in the shadows when Hashem gave the command (a play on the name Betzlalel, tzeil=shadow).
Why did Moshe himself did not give the command in the right order, first to build the building and then the kelim? Chasam Sofer explains that this was a test of Bnei Yisrael. Would they contribute for an aron which seems to have no place to be put? Would they contribute to make a menorah without knowing more about what it would be used for or where it would be placed? This was a test of “na’aseh v’nishma.”
The words “na’aseh v’nishma” don’t appear in the Torah before the aseres hadobros in Parshas Yisro; they appear at the very end of Parshas Mishpatim – right before Parshas Terumah. Might the command to build a Mishkan, the test of "na'aseh v'nishma," be deliberately placed here to juxtopose it to these words? I wouldn’t say that this alone justifies the order of the parshiyos according to Rashi, but it's something to think about.
On a different note, the issue of what comes first -- kelim or building -- I think speaks to a question of chinuch priorities. The sum total of what a ben Torah is more than the individual parts of learning, avodah, mussar, derech eretz. There is a "building" which contains all of those elements and gives them their proper place and balance. The catch-22 is that building has significance only because of the elements it contains. Without the persona of a ben Torah, learning is merely an intellectual exercise; yet without learning, how does one develop such a persona?
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Basing himself on this Midrash, R' Chaim Volozhiner (Nefesh haChaim 4:10) explains that it makes no sense to speak of dveykus as a goal of the process of Torah learning or an ingredient necessary for its fulfullment. Dveykus is inherent in learning. Since G-d is one with the Torah, one cannot learn a page of gemara or a Tosfos without in some way connecting with Hashem. Torah lishma means there is no higher goal which is the purpose or aim or Torah study; Torah is synonomous with Hashem and is therefore the supreme religious value which justifies all else.
The Ba'al Shem and chassidus take a different view of things. Torah lishma in the Besht"s thinking means Torah study for the sake of dveykus; Torah is itself a mean to religious attachment to G-d, which is the supreme value (see Tzava'as haRiv"ash #30, esp. the shinuy nuschaus, which indicates that were it possible to achieve complete dveykus learning might no longer even be necessary!) Since it is hard to focus on contemplation of G-d while studying a Tosfos, one should take periodoc breaks while learning to refocus on the ultimate goal of dveykus.
The Midrash on our parsha which R' Chaim Volozhiner used as his prooftext has an interesting ending. The Midrash concludes with an exhortation by Hashem to build a Mishkan for his presence, which comes to us with the Torah. R' Tzadok (Pri Tzadik, Terumah 1) notes the seeming contradiction: on the one hand, Hashem is immanent in the Torah; on the other hand, Hashem asks us to build a Mishkan for his presence, implying that he resides outside the bounds of the Torah itself. It seems to me that the ambiguity of the Midrash captures the tension between the divergent views of R' Chaim and the Besh"T. The relationship between Mishkan, the symbol of dveykus, and Torah, intellectual study, is not clearly spelled out by the Midrash, and is left for us to puzzle over.
benefit of a large family: "we had our own culture"
...Recalling the turbulent 1970s, Scalia said of his children, "They were being raised in a culture that wasn't supportive of our values, that was certainly true. But we were helped by the fact that we were such a large family. We had our own culture... The first thing you've got to teach your kids is what my parents used to tell me all the time, 'You're not like everybody else... We have our own standards and they aren't the standards of the world in all aspects, and the sooner you learn that the better.'"
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
the holy goats of R' Chanina ben Dosa
Goats spearing wolves is nothing short of miraculous. I think we can agree that it was not the tzidkus of the little goats that caused this miracle, but rather it was the tzidkus of R’ Chanina ben Dosa. Taking a step further back, it was not the tzidkus of the goats that gave R’ Chanina the confidence to say that they were not the cause of any property damage; rather, it was R’ Chanina’s own tzidkus.
The Ishbitza uses this gemara as the key to unlock the lesson of Parshas Mishpatim. The owner of the wild ox which gores, the person who fails to cover his pit, the person who does not control the fire he lights, is not only morally and legally responsible for damage done, but he is spiritually responsible to make amends as well. R’ Chanina was a tzadik; therefore, R’ Chanina’s goats were not destructive. QED that someone who does own goats which cause damage or an ox which gores is lacking in some measure of tzidkus. The concept of “ba’alus” is not just a legal construct, but has spiritual meaning as well, as all that comes into a person’s possession in some way connected to the root of their neshoma and will reflect the neshoma’s perfection or lack thereof.
how to fulfill mechiyas Amalek
ודבר זה גלתה לנ תורה בהכתוב וילחם עם ישראל ברפידים ופירשו רז״ל שנרמז לנו בזה מפני מהי׳ כח עמלק להלחם עם ישראל
שרפו ידיהם מדרי תורה ולמדנו מזה כי סיבת כחו ועיזוזו של עמלק הוא ברפיוננו בלימוד תורה. ואם כן כל מה שמתגבר אצלנו הרפיון בד״ת מתגבר כחו של עמלק. ולהפך אם נתחזק בלמוד התורה יחלש כחו של עמלק
The ability of our enemies to pose a threat is directly related to our spiritual imperfection. Chazal teach us that Amalek was able to attack because of a lack of intensity in our Torah learning. Seems to me that remembering what happened and fulfilling zecher with a public Torah reading is more than a simple commemoration -- it is a corrective action which undoes that spiritual flaw. We failed in our Torah study efforts, and so we fulfill zecher by studying and reading Torah. R' Elchanan goes a step further:
וכל אדם משראל הלומד תורה או מחזיקה מחליש במדה ידועה כחו של עמלק ויש לו איזה חלק במצות מחיית עמלק
Since Amalek was empowered by our lack of Torah learning, the mitzvah of obliterating Amalek can be fulfilled by learning Torah! Now, you might think this is a nice derasha, but not meant to be taken literally. R' Elchahan adds in the very next line:
ואין אלו דברי דרוש כי צריכין אנו להאמין בפירושי רז״ל למקראות שהן דברים כהווייתן ממש
Just because something appears in a Midrash is not license to ignore it -- Chazal meant their explication to be taken seriously. In this case it establishes a new geder for the kiyum mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek, one which is very much in our power to fulfill.
Friday, February 12, 2010
Parshas Shekalim: Torah and economics
Rav Tzadok haKohen has an in-depth discussion of this issue, but I want to make some simple points. Firstly, the donation of shekalim was instituted in part as a kaparah for the cheit ha’eigel. How does that work? How would people who just gathered gold for an idol, who are now charged with the task of gathering gold for a Mishkan and its korbanos, distinguish between the two? How do we balance the ideal of eschewing materialism and the god of mammon while collecting for the business needs of our institutions and organizations? The answer is that the takanah of collecting funds must be placed in the context of Torah. The reading of Parshas Shekalim was not just a means to remind people to get their donations in, but it set the framework necessary to give that act of donating proper meaning.
I read on some other blogs all kinds of ideas about what to do about the financial crisis in our community. Among the suggestions were ideas like closing yeshivos in favor of charter schools, not having as many kids, waiting a few years into marriage before having kids, etc. Suffice it to say that at least some of these ideas (and I don’t want to debate them here) involve questions of halacha, questions of chinuch, etc. I understand the well meaning intention to manage money better, but the mashmi’im, our takanah of when to collect and how to collect and what to use communal funds for, needs to be preceded by a kri’as haTorah, a consideration of what halacha and Torah require.
Would the administrator who presses the kollel guy to pay his “fair” share similarly press the businessman to spend an extra hour or two in the beis medrash to put in his “fair” share of talmud Torah? We all understand that bills need to be paid and not everyone who is sitting and learning all day should be, but an approach to solving the problem needs to be done with seichel and understanding, not by throwing everyone in the same bucket with the same expectations and responsibilities. Again, a sense of Torah value needs to guide solutions.
We also need a kri’as haTorah to remind us what we are collecting for. The Beis haMikdash was a beautiful building, korbanos were the select most choice animals, but beautiful buildings are a means, not an end. My chavrusa calls this the “edifice” complex. The greater purpose cannot be lost or trampled in the shuffle.
Lastly, we need a kri’as haTorah to provide the sense of unity to help forge one machatzis hashekel with another machatzis and create wholeness. I live near a multi million dollar shul building that sits empty all day while a yeshiva in the next town tries to raise its own capital for a new building. The idea that this is “my” building and not “theirs”, that it’s “my” cause in competition with “theirs,” has no place in a Torah community. We are all (supposedly? ideally?) on the same team, working for the same goals. If all kinds of other factors creep into the agenda, the result is divisiveness and disunity, competition in place of cooperation. If harbatzas haTorah is the only item on the agenda, then k’ish echad b’lev echad, we can all work together to do what’s best for our communities.
ee avid lo mehanei -- mechira, shechita on Shabbos
PC already suggested a sevara in a comment, and while I don’t think it was the Magid Mishne’s intent (see yesterday’s post), the sevara is nonetheless a good one. Let me introduce it with a different question (raised in Shu”T R’ Akiva Eiger): why is meat shechted on Shabbos (first offense of the shochet) kosher? Since the Torah prohibits shechita on Shabbos, why not say ee avid lo mehanei?
The answer to the question becomes clear if we reframe it in a different context. If you build a house on Shabbos, would you say ee avid lo mehanei because you violated the melacha of boneh? That makes no sense – the house is standing, it is a metziyus; ee avifd lo mehanei cannot deny or undo reality. Similarly, shechita is nothing more than a metziyus, a reality, of meat which has been slaughtered properly. No amount of legal grandstanding can undo reality. (I'm just using this case to make a point, so let’s save for another time the discussion of whether this answer is true, i.e. whether shechita is in fact simply a metziyus or whether it is a din, a heter achila, that results from a metziyus.)
We once discussed why the rule of aseh doche lo ta’aseh doesn’t apply to dinei mamonos (link) and we raised the following question: is ownership a result of the fact that there is an issur of gezel on anyone else taking an object, or is the issur of gezel a result of the existance of ownership? R' Shimon Shkop opts for the latter definition. First clarify the rules of the marketplace, what ownership means, how property is acquired, etc. and then we can apply the rules of issur v'heter and discuss whether gezel applies.
Ee avid lo mehanei can undo a halachic construct, but it cannot undo reality. Commercial law creates its own reality – a sale is a sale by virtue of the rules of the marketplace. Whether a sale violates lo tahcmod, or mechira latzmisus, in either case the sale stands and cannot be undone.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
thoughts on the Rav, Rav Kook
My first reaction was that addresses like "Kol Dodi Dofeik" do speak to the larger import of historical events and their impact the community. Yet, the more I thought about the quote, the more my mind kept coming back to the fact that the Rav's philosophical magnum opus is "Halakhic Man" -- not halakhic community. And it's not just "Halakhic Man", but in other essays the Rav uses typologies like "Ish Rosh Chodesh," the singular individual and his/her experience as a paradigm. Might the "Lonely Man of Faith" find comfort if he recognized a "community of faith?"
Isn't it odd that Rabbis Saul Berman and Avi Weiss have written essays in which they try to set out clear "gedarim" of what modern orthodoxy is, yet the Rav, from whom they drew their inspiration, never made an attempt to articulate a similar vision? How much clearer many of the issues under debate in the MO world would be had he done so! I think it's this lack of a larger all-incompasing statement which motivated Rav Aviner's comment. I am reminded of the Rav's hesped for his uncle, the Brisker Rav, in which he explains the B.R.'s approach to Zionism. The Rav explained that his uncle was not anti-Zionist -- he simply had no opinion. Eretz Yisrael is to be discussed in context of a sugya in Hil. Terumos, a Rambam about kedushas ha'aretz, but there is no "din" of nationalism and therefore it simply did not exist on his map of reality. For "Halakhic Man" there is no larger philosophical framework (e.g. a philosophy of modern orthodoxy) in which halacha exists -- to the contrary, halacha is the framework into which all else must fit or be discarded. Secular studies, Zionism, etc. stand out as appendages stuck onto Halakhic Man, but not part of his essence, his core. But for many of us these are core issues, and we struggle integrating these ideas into the larger whole.
I am only an amateur dabbler in Rav Kook's writings, but from what I have read he stands at the opposite extreme -- his writings flow in a stream-of-consciousness type way, speaking in universal ideals, philosophical broad strokes, and vision. I have never found in Rav Kook the precise gedaim which I so enjoy in Brisker lomdus and the Rav's typologies. As opposed to the Brisker tendency to split what appears to be one into tzvey dinim, Rav Kook takes the alma d'piruda and shows how on a higher level kodesh and chol, chiloni and dati, it all comes from one holy source and all is united. There are no appendages -- everything ultimately is one, oraysa, Kudsha Brich Hu, Am Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael. I think talmidei talmidim like Rav Aviner and other dati-leumi Roshei Yeshiva share a common perspective to a larger degree than the many talmidim of the Rav do precisely because Rav Kook articulated a more powerful complete vision, a vision that exceeds the confines of 4 amos of halacha and took in the universe as a whole.
It tool me two days to figure out how to put these thoughts into words and I don't think I did such a good job of capturing what I wanted to say, but this is only a blog and I feel free to take the liberty of playing around without crafting a polished essay. This is a topic worth spending more time on and revisiting at a later date.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
ee avid lo mehanei
M.M. answers by comparing this case to that of a thief who steals wool and makes it into a garment. Despite the issur of gezel, the halacha is that the thief is koneh the wool and pays the owner back only the value of what was stolen, not the garment. Here too, despite the issur involved in the transaction, the buyer is koneh the item. I am not clear on what the M.M. means. In the case of the stolen wool, the object has been transformed from what it once was. The same does not apply in our case.
Perhaps we can answer the M.M.’s question using the sevara of the Steipler discussed in yesterday’s post. The Steipler explained that lo tachmod is defined as a lav she'ain bo ma'aseh because what is prohibited is coveting a neighbor’s property; the act of buying or seizing that property just serves as a means through which halacha measures or recognizes that existance of desire (coveting). EE avid lo mehanei applies on ly where the act being done is the focus of the issur; in our case, the sale is just a siman, an indicator as to what lies in a person's heart.
Let's make things a little more challenging: the Torah prohibits selling land “latzmisus” – permanently. Rambam (Hil. Shemita ch 11) writes that property must be restored to its original owner during the Yovel, even if sold for perpetuity. Yet, the implication of the Rambam is that such a sale is valid – just the yovel law overrides the terms and conditions. Why is the sale valid? Here the language of the issur – “lo timacheir latzmisus” – clearly suggests that the sale itself is what is prohibited, so why not apply the rule of ee avid lo mehanei?
Can you come up with a chiluk between the din of latzmisus and lo tachmod? Can you come up with another way to answer this question of the M.M.? It's a snowy day in NY, so you may be home in your armchair (I had to trudge into work) -- now you have something to ponder while sipping the hot chocolate.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Rav Kook vs. R' Soloveitchik: toras hatzibur vs. toras hayachid
Despite this idea, the authorities mention the issue of deciding based on "the majority of wisdom" (i.e. greater knowledge and expertise in a particular area of Halachah), and there are even those who say that we follow a "majority of wisdom" over a "majority of number" (Likutei Ha-Ramban, Sanhedrin chap. 4 in the name of the Rahag). One must distinguish between "the majority of wisdom" for each authority based on his area of expertise: there are Rabbis whose expertise is monetary laws, and there are Rabbis whose expertise is in Kashrut, etc... Maran Ha-Rav Avraham Yitzhak Ha-Cohain Kook's expertise was in the area of the workings of Klal Yisrael relating the rebuilding of our Nation and our Land, the beginning of the Redemption and in understanding the Master of the Universe’s direction of our history. He investigated, clarified, arranged, and constructed a complete method of understanding, whose scope and depth is far above all of the Sages of the generation of Acharonim (later authorities).
For example, Ha-Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, with all of his brilliance, did not construct an all-compassing method of understanding, and all of his teachings were, in essence, about the phenomenon of the religious individual. He did not present a philosophy of communal faith: The Rav only discussed the religious experience of the individual as opposed to the communal religious experience which includes understanding Hashem's role is guiding the history of the Nation of Israel.
rambam/ra'avad on lo tachmod
Rambam writes further that there are no malkos for violating lo tachmod because it is a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh. Ra’avad disagrees and opines that the reason for the lack of malkos is because lo tachmod is nitan l’tashlumin, the object taken must be returned.
The Magid Mishne suggests that these are not two separate issues, but one point is contingent upon the other, l’shitasam. The Rambam holds that lo tachmod is violated even if a valid sale is done and there is no obligation of tashlumin; the reason for the lack of malkos must be because there is no ma’aseh involved in violating the lav. The Ra’avad who understands lo tachmod to be seizure by force, an active ma'aseh, is forced to invoke the idea of nitan l’tashlumin for the dispensation from malkos.
But why according to the Rambam are we so convinced that this lav lacks a ma’aseh? True, talking a neighbor into selling something does not involve physical action, but coercive tactics are not limited to verbal pressure alone. One can easily imagine a scenario where all kinds of action are involved in pressuring someone into a sale.
The Steipler (Birchas Peretz, P' Yisro) answers that the issur of lo tachmod is not the effort to obtain a neighbor’s property – the issur is coveting a neighbor’s property, the emotion and desire. However, that desire must make itself manifest before halacha recognizes it. Lo tachmod is defined as a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh because the deed or talk involved in obtaining what belongs to someone else is just an indicator of the desire of the heart, but it is that desire which is the actual subject of the issur.
Another example of the same idea: Tosfos (Shavuos 4a) writes that if someone took an oath to eat a specific loaf of bread and then threw that loaf into the sea, he would not get malkos because the violation of the shevu’a, not eating the bread, is a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh. Question: in this case the person did a ma’aseh by tossing the loaf into the sea, so why is there no malkos? The answer again is that tossing the bread in the sea is just a demonstration that the person does not want to eat it, but it is the lack of eating which is the actual violation of the lav.
the wisdom of Chazal -- an unlikely source
I believe these tales balance our lack of worldly power in this world with the abundance drawn from the Divine world. Whether it is the Bat Kol revealing secret knowledge or the superior knowledge gained through Torah, the message is that the Jews hold a higher truth that cannot be gained through worldly power. Not only do we answer to a Higher authority [like Hebrew National], but that same authority provides us with insight.
What is amazing is not that even a Rabbi whose first name is Amy sees these ideas in her study of Talmud -- what is amazing is that people who profess fidelity to halacha do not.
Monday, February 08, 2010
R' Soloveitchik on "Anochi Hashem Elokecha"
1) A person might c”v find it hard to accept that the G-d who fought against the Egyptians is the same G-d who now patiently acts as a teacher to give his people Torah. Therefore, explains Rashi, the Aseres Hadobros begin, “Anochi… asher hotzeysicha”-- I, Hashem the lawgiver, am the same Hashem who tool you out of Egypt.
We have an obligation to imitate Hashem’s ways. The Torah is hinting that at times we must act like a warrior, at times like a patient scholar. We must respond as the situation requires and not be rigid and inflexible in our nature.
2) The echo of Hashem’s voice reverberated throughout the world and seemed to come from every direction. Rashi explains that “Anochi” reinforced the idea that there is only one Hashem that is the source of all of those voices, not multiple beings c”v.
Why create the potential for error by producing a voice that echoed from every corner of the world? Because the voice of Torah does and can echo in every corner of the globe. Whether a Jew is in NY, or Jerusalem, or China, there is no corner of the world in which Torah cannot be learned and taught.
Friday, February 05, 2010
preparations for kabbalas haTorah
וַיִּסְעוּ מֵרְפִידִים, וַיָּבֹאוּ מִדְבַּר סִינַי, וַיַּחֲנוּ, בַּמִּדְבָּר; וַיִּחַן-שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל, נֶגֶד הָהָר.
These two pesukim (19:1-2) seem to be filled with repetition and a lack of order. Why put "ba'u midbar Sinai" (the end of pasuk 1) before the description of leaving Refidim? Why repeat that the camp was set up "bamidbar" (pasuk 2) -- obviously so, when we were just told "vayavo'u midbar Sinai"?
The Ibn Ezra is probably closest to pshuto shel mikra here in explaining that the second pasuk is simply an elaboration on the statement "ba'u midbar Sinai" at the end of the first, but that doesn't really explain all the instances of repetition. Ramban adds that the clause "va'yavo'u midbar Sinai" in the second pasuk emphasizes that they camped immediately upon reaching the Sinai desert so that they could begin preparing for mattan Torah; there was no time lost scouting out the best campground. Ohr haChaim covers even more bases derech derush. The second pasuk is not a description of travel -- the first pasuk already told us they arrived at Sinai -- but is rather a description of the preparation required for mattan Torah. There are three key ingredients necessary for kabbalas haTorah: 1) "Vayis'u m'Refidim" -- Chazal tell us that the name Refidim is a hint to "rafu y'deyhem", a lack of zeal and intensity in learning. The people had to re-energize themselves to receive the Torah. (Netziv writes that kedusha is absorbed in proportion to the effort and preparation made to receive it; therefore even the journey toward Sinai had to be made with alacrity and zeal). 2) "Vayavo'u midbar Sinai, vayachanu bamidbar" -- Torah can only be absorbed with a sense of humility; the people had to become low, like the desert. 3) "Vayichan sham yisrael..." -- as Rashi explains, "vayichan" in the singular reflects a sense of unity, the third necessary ingredient for kabbalas haTorah.
It is easy to speak of re-energizing, of approaching Torah and even preparation for Torah with zeal, but where is that energy and inspiration supposed to come from? The Shem m'Shmuel has a nice thought based on these pesukim. The Besh"t taught that a person is where his/her machshava is. (I think one of my kids spends most of her days not in school based on this principle!) The road to kabbalas haTorah is very difficult if you think of taking step after step after step through the hot desert sun until you get there. But if you think that you are already there, you are mentally ready and waiting for kabbalas haTorah, it's just a few steps to the desert until it happens, then the journey is much easier. "Va'yavo'u midbar Sinai" -- the people mentally arrived at Sinai, and only then, "Va'yisu m'Refidim..." they began the actual physical journey, inspired and energized.
Maybe it would be a good idea (I can dream, right?) to give away free tickets to the next siyum hashas immediately after the next masechta or cycle finishes. "Va'yavo'u midbar Sinai" -- you have the tickets, your seat is reserved, you're already there at the Garden! Even better than Superbowl tickets (OK, maybe that's pushing it : ) You already start thinking about yourself as a Jew who has finishes shas at least once in his life -- tremendous! The next couple of hundred daf are going to go a lot easier. How many bnei Torah are sitting b'guf in yeshiva with their machshava some place else because they don't believe this idea and we do such a poor job communicating it?
noble ideals no matter what the title is
“I’m pretty traditional,” Hurwitz admitted drolly with a faint South African
accent. “I know halacha. I keep halacha very carefully. I have tremendous
emunah. I can’t convince somebody else that I really am Orthodox and that Rabbi
Weiss is really Orthodox. The only way is for somebody to realize it themselves.
And they’ll realize it.”
“All I’m doing is teaching Torah. Learning Torah. Helping people in their difficult times and their happiest times; and through Yeshiva Maharat I’m helping others learn to do the same.”
Just wanted to point it out in case you missed it amidst all the mud-slinging over what her title should be. If you take the issue of what to call her off the table, there is nothing not to applaud here (and yes, I realize that the "what to call her" is a big issue placed on the table by her and Rabbi Weiss' deliberate choice).
Having had to decide on a H.S. for my eldest daughter recently, I can tell you one of the issues that my wife and I repeatedly have discussed is the neither-here-nor-there attitude towards girls' education. On the one hand, schools have to go through the motions of really teaching something; on the other hand, no school (neither on the right or left) really aims to produce a girl who will spend her free time immersed in a sefer. People live up to the exectations set. Women will by and large spend their leisure time (which modern society allows for more of than any other point in history) immersed in the latest sheitel ads rather than immersed in Rashi, halacha, or other limudim. Is that better than doing what Maharat/Rabbah Hurwitz does with her time?
Thursday, February 04, 2010
the wisdom of Chazal (II)
Rav Ashi knew that, and he knew that the evidence of Hashem's taking over (so to speak) is in the crust of the bread that forms because of the baking process. So why didn't he point to that spot as the focus of his bracha, the point over which the "hamotzi" is recited? Why did he not answer King Menashe's question? Here Rav Tzadok says something incredible:
והיה אפשר לרב אשי לסבור סברא זו מהיכן דקדים בישולא מעצמו גם כן דזה שכל פשוט דמהיכן שמקדים לאפות כבר קדם להיות מוכן למאכל אדם. רק כל הלכות של חכמי התלמוד לא היה אלא מדברים המושגים בהתגלות לבם ולא מן השכל לבד שזה אין נקרא חכמה כלל באמת. וכל זמן שלא היה בהתגלות לבבו הכרה זו שהיכי דקדים בישולא השם יתברך מקדים להכין לו המזון אז לא היה יכול להורות דמברך המוציא שם דאין דברי חז"ל והלכות שלהם כמנהגים הקבועים באיזה ספר מוסר מצד השערת שכל. דאם כן מה היה ההבדל בין התלמוד המקודש לספרים אחרים מחכמי ישראל. אבל כל הלכות שלהם הוא רק מהתגלות הלב עד שנפתח הפה בהכרח לומר הלכה זו שאי אפשר כלל בענין אחר. והיינו על ידי הרגשת הנוכח דהשם יתברך בפרט כל דבר עד שירגיש באמת בלבבו איך השם יתברך ברגע זו שליט בכל והוא אופה פיתו ומכין מזונו ולולי הוא לא היה לו לאכול עד שממילא נפתח פיו לברך המוציא בדוכתי דקדים בישולא על ידי הרגשה ברורה ומפורשת בלב כזו אפשר לחדש אותה הלכה להיות הלכה קבועה אחר כך בתלמוד. כידוע דכל דבר שכבר היה אחד שהרגיש בירור אור זה על בוריו כבר נפתח שער אותו האור בעולם. והוא פתוח אחר כך לכל דזה כל ענין עסק הדורות שקבע השם יתברך אף על פי שהם מתקטנים והולכים. לפי שכל האורות שנפתחים בכל דור ודור על ידי אנשי סגולה מחכמי ישראל אין נסתמים עוד והם פתוחים לעולם ונעשים הלכות קבועות לכל ישראל:
Because knowing the answer is not enough! So long as Rav Ashi did not feel in the depths of his soul that this was the truth, the fact that he mentally understood it was insufficient. R' Tzadok talks epistomology: Torah is not what Chazal understood, not some body of facts or knowledge which Chazal figured out or derived. Were that the case, the Torah of Chazal would be no different than any other collection of wisdom or body of knowledge. Torah requires "hisgalus halev" -- a revelation that springs not from the mind, but from the depths of the neshoma.
Rav Tzadok speaks in so many places of the gemara in Baba Basra (12, Ch. Ramban there) which tells us that although open prophecy has been lost, there is still an echo of nevuah which remains to the Chachamim. "Ari yish'ag mi lo yinabei" -- when prophecy overwhelmes a person with its roar, it is an inescapable message that must be delivered and spoken. When a talmid chacham is inspired by this "hidden" level of prophecy, he cannot but help teach the Torah revealed to him to others, who in turn are inspired and drawn to the message, their hearts opened. Knowledge, facts, wisdom, lack this quality, and are not Torah.
Chazal were not greater than us just in degree; it's not that their IQ was higher, they did better on their SAT, that they were all Mensa members. Chazal's understanding was different in kind. The wisdom of Chazal, the wisdom that comes from the clarity of "hisgalus halev", is a different type of intelligence than even the smartest of us have. That type of knowledge is not acquired by doing lateral thinking problems or brain exercises -- it's acquired by tzidkus and yiras shamayim and learning lots of Torah.
ולפיכך אף על פי שדורות אחרונים קטנים מכל מקום יש להם מעלה זו דננס על גבי ענק. כי כבר פתוחים לפניהם כל שערים שפתחו קדמונים והם מחדשים והולכים לפתוח שערים אחרים. אף על פי שהם קטנים מאד מכל מקום הם במעמקים יותר. כי הם כבר עברו שער בנפשם שנפתח לראשונים:
What does it mean that our generation "stands on the shoulders of giants"? If Einstein was a genius and I lived after Einstein, am I any smarter? Makes no sense. But again, we are not speaking of the mind, we are speaking of the neshoma. When Chazal revealed a Torah teaching, it was not just another fact to pass on to the next generation, but it was a transformation of the neshomos of klal yisrael. Chazal did not just make the unknown known, they made the unfelt into a hisgalus halev.
Rav Ashi knew the right answer, but he recognized that in his mind it was just wisdom, it was not Torah, and his teaching it in shiur would not open the hearts and neshomos of his listeners. That revelation could only come from Menashe, who not only understood the right answer, he felt it.
Given this framework, does it make any sense in the world for a person to sit back in his armchair and think that since Chazal lived in a patriarchical society, therefore they instituted patriarchical system of law, a system which we need to do our best to circumvent now that we are more enlightened? Does it make any sense to say that since Chazal lived in a society that had certain pagan ritual practices, they therefore adopted certain rules regarding nidah or other laws? Is "hidden" nevuah that comes from hisgalus halev subject to bias, subjectivity, a product only of the spirit of its time, or is it an eternal truth?
There is so much more to this particular R' Tzadok. See it inside (Resisei Layla #13) if you can!
the wisdom of Chazal (I)
The gemara continues with Rav Ashi asking Menashe why he worshipped avodah zarah if he was such a talmid chacham and Menashe replying, but we'll leave that for another time. What's going on in this section of the story? If Menashe wanted to show up Rav Ashi, teaching him that he was not as smart as he thought he was, you would expect him to stump him with some difficult sugya in taharos, maybe a shverr Rambam ; ) -- why ask him davka this halacha of where to slice the bread for hamotzi? Even more perplexing: I can't imagine that Rav Ashi had not said "hamotzi" hundreds of times before -- how did he not know this halacha?
ואמרו בסנהדרין (קב ב) חברא קרית לי מהיכי קשרו המוציא וכו' פירוש כי הברכה שתיקנו חכמים הוא הכרת הנוכח שהשם יתברך זן ומפרנס ונותן דבר מאכל והנאה זו ועל זה מברכין ברוך אתה ה' בנוכח אלא דמכל מקום הסיום בלשון נסתר המוציא וכו' וכן כל הברכות כי הכרת הנוכח הוא בדרך כלל מה שהוא מורשה מאבות. אבל בדרך פרט שיכיר בכל ענין הנוכח מהשם יתברך המורה לו באצבע לומר זה הדרך לכו וגו' כענין שהיה בימות הנביאים זה נסתלק. וזהו ששאל מהיכי קשרו וכו' פירוש אם אתה מכיר בפרט נתינת השם יתברך לחם לכל בשר ולדעת מהיכן הוא ההתחלה שהתחיל השם יתברך להכין לך לחם ומזון שעל זה תברך לו בפרט:
I once wrote an article for my wife's magazine contrasting the mitzvah of challah with the mitzvah of bikurim. All a farmer has to do for bikurim is to go out to his tree and grab one of the fruits that Hashem made the tree produce. However, to fulfill the mitzvah of challah involves harvesting wheat, going through the whole process of turning it into flour, mixing that flour into dough to make bread, and finally seperating off a portion. After all that human effort involved in making the bread, the mitzvah of challah reminds us that it's still food which Hashem provides and not our own handiwork alone.
We all know in a general sense that Hashem provides our sustenance, our parnasa, whatever we need, but it is very hard for to identify with that when it comes down to the specifics, e.g. to feel that Hashem provided me with this computer, this desk, today's job, this minute's task. We start our brachos speaking directly to Hashem -- "Baruch atah..." -- but we end the bracha in a third person generality, "HaMotzi..." When we look at the loaf before us, we recognize in some vague way that Hashem had something to do with it, but we can't really put our finger on and we don't sense Hashem's direct involvement in this specific loaf.
This was Menashe's challenge to Rav Ashi. A bracha is a recognition of Hashem; "Tell me, Rav Ashi, what specific spot in this loaf can you identify as Hashem's gift to you? What specific step in the process of producing this edible loaf causes you to say, "'Aha! That's Hashem's gift?'" The Nevi'im who lived in the generation of Menashe were privy to recognition of Hashem in that way, but Rav Ashi was no Navi.
This was very long, so I decided to treat Rav Ashi's response as a new post
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
"belief" in kabbalah
two functions of eidus
The Rashba (B"K 90) writes that although a single judge who is a mumche (expert) is allowed to pasken alone, the principle of "lo te'hey shemiya gedolah m'reiya" does not apply to him. Question: if the observation of a dayan serves as its own evidence and proof, why can one judge not pasken on that basis but three can?
The Ketzos (7:5) explains that a single judge who observes an event is not more authoritative than any other single witness. Since a ba'al din can contradict an eid echad and get off by just taking a shevua, the ba'al din can also contradict the judge serving as his own eid echad and is therefore never bound by the final psak.
R' Shimon Shkop (Sha’arei Yosher 7:1) explains the Rashba differently. He writes that witnesses serve a dual function: 1) they clarify the facts of the case before the court; 2) their testimony empowers the court to act. While a single judge’s observation is sufficient to allow him to decide who is chayav and who is patur, it is only “al pi shenayim eidim yakim davar,” only two witnesses which can empower the court with the authority to mete our punishment or to compel one of the parties to pay.
A final question for thought: the halacha is that "ain eid na'asah dayan," i.e. a witness can not serve as a judge on the same case he is testifying in. How then does "lo te'hey shemiya gedolah m'reiya" work? How can people who observe an event simultaneously serve as judges and witnesses? Is this a klutz kashe or something to think about?
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
"our" poskim vs. "their" poskim?
I am troubled by this type of dialogue that emphasizes separateness -- our poskim vs. their poskim, our mesorah vs. their mesorah -- instead of the commonality of torah study. It’s one thing to dismiss it in the blogsphere, it’s another thing when even Rabbanim start speaking in those terms and accepting this imaginary dichotomy as real. Rav Moshe (for example) was not the posek of a particular community -- he was the posek of klal yisrael, just like R' Akiva Eiger, the Noda b'Yehudah, etc. The legacy of these poskim does not belong to a particular niche group or faction, but rather to every person who identifies as a ben torah, whether he be chassidic, litvish, modern orthodox, or religious zionist. That is not to say that one must follow every psak of R’ Moshe -- one does not follow every hora’ah of the Noda B’Yehudah. It means respecting the psak and ideas of gedolei hora’ah as relevant to one’s life, as worthy of study and consideration.
Monday, February 01, 2010
Cheapness doesn’t necessarily require abstinence and austerity – simply a thoughtfulness and care about how we live, and a skepticism toward the messages peddled by the retail-industrial complex. It means seeing oneself as an outsider in a world that values instant gratification and promotes the idea that we can understand and express our identities through the products we consume. It means embracing and even cultivating an adversarial relationship with consumer culture. It means rejecting the belief that spending money is the route to feeling good about ourselves or feeling better than, or the same as, or different from other people, that it can help us fulfill our longings or soothe our hearts.Sounds like an attitude towards materialism that we should embrace. Maybe a good book to pack and read while tanning on the beach in Cancun for Pesach.
a feminist model of leadership
Is there perhaps a unique feminist concept of leadership, less concerned with central authoritarian figureheads, which has its own dynamic? Are their advantages to this type of collaborative model?
Interestingly, the haftarah seems to reverse things. It is Devorah who tells Barak to lead the fight alone, yet Barak insists that Devorah participate as well, thereby sharing his authority (and the responsibility for the war).