Monday, March 29, 2010

the power to influence others

The Shulchan Aruch (432:2) writes that the ba'al habayis can recite the bracha on bedikas chameitz with the whole family listening and then everyone can go off and check a different part of the house. This din is true with respect to other mitzvos as well, e.g. the ba'al habayis can say kiddush or hamotzi for his family and be motzi them in the bracha; why mention it here specifically in the context of bedikas chameitz?

The Maggid of Koznitz (Avodas Yisrael) explains derech derush that the halacha is teaching that when it comes to ridding ourselves of spiritual chameitz, the harmful aveiros and character traits the prevent our spiritual growth, a person has the power to not only influence his own behavior, but has the power to inspire his entire family to do a bedika and rid themselves of chameitz. The Koznitzer Maggid continues that there are great tzadikim who can even influence an entire city to remove their chameitz; there are still greater tzadikim who can influence the whole world to eliminate their chameitz.

“VaYikra Moshe l’kol ziknei Yisrael,” Moshe called together the leaders of Klal Yisrael and instructed them in the laws of korban pesach.” Rav Amiel in his Dersahos El Ami (vol 3 p. 250) asks why Moshe gathered only the leaders to teach the halachos of korban pesach when the chiyuv to bring the korban was incumbent upon the entire nation? Perhaps the answer is that Moshe wanted to convey to the zekeinim that is within their power and it is their obligation, not his alone, to lead, to transmit Torah, to influence the people. (Rav Amiel gives a different answer).

A slave takes orders, he doesn't give orders. A slave is beholden to the influence and whims of his master; he has no ability to impact the course of his own life, much less the life of others. It is this power to be a mashpi'a and not just a mekabeil that marks the difference between a ben chorin and an eved. This idea lies at the heart of the difference between the mitzvah of zechiras yetziyas mitzrayim and sippur. While the former can be fulfilled by internal thought, the latter involves articulating an idea to others. "V'she'aino yodeya loshol -- at pesach lo!"

Have a Chag Kasher v'Sameiach!

Friday, March 26, 2010

lishma: chatas vs. korban pesach

In his Derashos El Ami, Rav Amiel notes an interesting distinction between the korban pesach and all other korbanos. With respect to a korban chatas, for example, which must be offered lishma, the halacha is that only shechting the chatas with the intent of offering it as different korban disqualifies it, but shechting it with the intent that it is chulin does not. With respect to the korban pesach, however, based on the words “zevach pesach hu la’Hashem” (see Rambam Hil Psulei haMukdashin ch. 15), the halacha is that even offering a korban pesach having in mind that it is chulin disqualifies the korban.

Both a chatas and the korban pesach must be offered “lishma”. Why is it that a chatas can be disqualified only by the lo lishma of having a different korban in mind, but the pesach is disqualified even by a lo lishma of having chulin in mind?

Rav Amiel explains (link) that after we already have achieved geulah, the thought of chulin while offering a korban does not diminish from the inherent sanctity of the offering. But while we are still erev pesach awaiting our geulah and preparing our korban pesach, while our redemption is still in its formative stages, the lack of lishma can corrupt, diminish, and pasul the entire enterprise.

I would add that perhaps this is why we celebrate the taking of the korban pesach on Shabbos and not on 10 Nissan. Shabbos is what defines the purpose of the rest of our workweek; it is the lishma of our existence.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

the gift that Moshe could not give

יש זהב ורב פנינים וכלי יקר שפתי דעת.
יש זהב, הכל הביאו נדבתן למשכן זהב, הה"ד: (שמות כה) וזאת התרומה וגו
. ורב פנינים, זו נדבתן של נשיאים, דכתיב: (שם לה) והנשיאים הביאו וגו'.
וכלי יקר שפתי דעת, לפי שהיתה נפשו של משה עגומה עליו ואמר: הכל הביאו נדבתן למשכן ואני לא הבאתי!
א"ל הקב"ה: חייך, שדיבורך חביב עלי יותר מן הכל, שמכולן לא קרא הדיבור, אלא למשה, ויקרא אל משה

The Midrash opens VaYikra by highlighting the generosity of the people and the princes in their giving of gold and precious gifts to the Mishkan. Yet, Moshe was sad, as he had not given any gift. Hashem responded by telling Moshe that convsering with him is more valuable than all the gifts in the world, as no one else was called to speak with Hashem – “VaYikra el Moshe…”

The obvious question: why should Moshe have been sad? No one stopped him from giving a gift – if he wanted to, he could have given something just like everyone else!

Excuse me for explaining the Shem m’Shmuel here the way I did to my kids. My daughter really wants a certain watch and a specific pair of sneakers; to her these are very significant items (unfortunately). If my daughter wanted to show how much she loved the Mishkan, there is no question in my mind what she would donate to it -- she would give up that watch or sneakers (if she had them). That would be a real sacrifice, a real show of commitment.

Sounds like a silly example, but the grown-up world is much the same. Wow! – Ploni gave his preferred stock to the shul; Ploni did even better and plunked down a quarter of a million dollars of his hard earned money to dedicate a classroom; Plonis gave that expensive diamond necklace to auction and dedicated the proceeds to the yeshiva. What dedication! What we hold dear and significant may change as we get older, but the feeling of sacrifice that makes a gift of those items into a show of commitment remains the same.

But along comes the poor kollel guy and he wonders how he fits into this. He has no preferred stock, he has no windfall, his wife doesn’t have a diamond necklace, and here’s the most important point – he doesn’t want any of those things! All he wants is to sit and learn. B’shlama if you devote yourself to accumulating cute little watches, or preferred stock, or whatever your heart desires in the world, then you can give yourself a big well deserved pat on the back for giving up that object of desire for the sake of a higher purpose. There is a real kvishas ha’yetzer here, and I don’t mean to belittle it! But if all you do is sit in the Beis Medrash and you don’t know from preferred stock of diamonds or watches, and all that is valuable to you is how R’ Chaim’s chiddush answers a kasha of the Ketzos, what’s your gift? What are you going to give up to show your dedication and commitment?

Just to be clear: I’m not speaking about the guy who has nothing to give up but wishes he was a millionaire who did – the point here is more subtle than that. I am speaking about the guy who even if he had a million dollars would feel just the same as if he had an overdrawn checkbook because it just doesn't matter to him (or her). Tosfos (Avodah Zarah 11a) asks how the gemara on the one hand can tell us that Rebbi had vegetables on his table all year, a sign of luxury when produce could not be flown in from all over the world, yet on the other hand Chazal tell us that on his deathbed Rebbi held up his fingers and said that he had taken no benefit from this world. What about the spread on his table?! R’ Tzadok answers that there is no contradiction. Rebbi had the required trappings of the Nasi, including wealth, but it had no impact on his personality or value system. Sneakers or preferred stock, diamonds or watches, to the likes of Rabbi Yehudah haNasi, to Moshe Rabeinu, having these valuable commodities gave them no added pleasure, and parting with them would be no challenge.

This is what bothered Moshe. It's not that Moshe lacked gold and silver to donate as a gift -- it's that his gift, davka because all that is material meant so little to him, could not be given with the same feeling of sacrifice l'shem shamayim that others achieved through their gifts. And ultimately, it's that spirit of sacrifice, not the glitter of the gold, which Hashem cherished.

The ohr which came from the transformation of the choshech of material desire into a spirit of giving was, to Moshe’s eyes, brighter even than the light of untainted goodness which shone in his heart.

I should explain the conclusion of the Midrash, but I think this is enough for now. We are not Moshe Rabeinu or Rabbi Yehudah haNasi. I assume most of us work for a living, and especially in tight economic times, we value our dollars and worry about finances. So when a simple ba'al habayis gives kimcha d’pischa, helps pack boxes for a Tomchei Shabbos or some other organization, helps others with their needs, and sacrifices a little bit of what he/she values for the sake of a fellow Jew, he or she should know that they have performed an act that even Moshe Rabeinu would envy.

she'hechiyanu on bedikah (III)

One final idea on the topic of she’hechiyanu on bedikas chameitz (part 1 here, part 2 here), and this one is admittedly a bit flimsy: perhaps the bracha of she’hechiyanu applies only to a chovas hagavra which applies infrequently, such as lulav, shofar, etc. The chiyuv of bedikas chameitz is not a chovas hagavra, but is rather a chiyuv on the house to be baduk. Since there is no chiyuv on the person, there is no bracha of she’hechiyanu.

A talmid chacham I told this to was willing to accept that bedika is a chiyuv on the home rather than the person, but remained ambivalent about whether this would impact the bracha of she’hechiyanu. My son is a contrarian and automatically rejects my Brisker chilukim, but he changed his mind a bit when he saw that R’ Baruch Ber also said that the chiyuv bedika is a din in the cheftza of the house. I haven’t seen the shiur (it is in one of the new compilations of R’ B.B.’s shiurim), but my son reports that the argument goes something like this: in order for person A to fulfill a mitzvah on behalf of person B, person A must be a bar chiyuva. For this reason a cheiresh, shoteh, or katan cannot recite birkas hamazon or blow shofar for an adult. R’ Baruch Ber quotes in the name of R’ Chaim that Reuvain also cannot put up a mezuzah on Shimon’s door for him. Since mezuzah is a chovas hadar, an obligation which rests on the resident of a home, and Reuvain is not a resident in Shimon’s house, Reuvain is just like the cheiresh, shoteh, or katan viz. a viz. the Shimon’s obligation to affix a mezuzah. However, Reuvain can do a bedikas chameitz for Shimon. Why the difference? After all, Shimon doesn’t have to search out an destroy all chamietz, only chameitz which he owns – the obligation is limited to Shimon’s property. If Reuvain is precluded from affixing a mezuzah for Shimon because residency in Shimon's home is a precondition to being mechuyav, Reuvain should be precluded from doing bedikah for Shimon because owning the chameitz in question is a necessary precondition to being required to do bedikah!

The distinction between the two cases is that mezuzah is a chovas hagavra, an obligation that rests personally on the resident of the home, while bedikas chameitz is not an obligation on the individual – rather, it is an obligation that rests on the home to be baduk. The requirement that a mitzvah being done by a bar chiyuva applies only when the focus of the mitzvah is the performance of the act; where the focus is the end result, the effect produced on the object, it matters not by whom or how that effect is achieved.

I thought my idea would answer a different question as well. Why is there no she'hechiyanu on the mitzvah of seforas ha'omer? Anon1 has been arguing in the comments that she'hechiyanu is only recited on mitzvos that bring about simcha (Tos Sukkah 46, echoed by the Ba'al haMaor with respect to sefirah done zecher l'mikdash), but the Rambam never mentions such a rule. Perhaps the answer with respect to sefirah is that again, there is no chovas hagavra to count; the chiyuv is on the days to be counted. This sevara would help us deal with the case of a katan who matures and becomes bar mitzvah in the middle of sefirah. Even though part of the count was done while he was a minor, since the focus of the mitzvah is days being counted, not who does the counting, the point is irrelevant. The (perhaps fatal) flaw in my reasoning is that based on my approach there seems to be no reason that a minor could not be motzi a gadol in sefirah. At least give me points for trying : )

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

she'hechiyanu on bedikas chameitz (II)

Continuing the discussion of she’hechiyanu on bedikas chameitz (link), I was also wondering about the point Anon1 raised about the mitzvah not being one of simcha and therefore exempt from she’hechiyanu. Apparently the rule of reciting she’hechiyanu over a mitzvah which occurs infrequently is a separate mechayeiv, irrespective of whether the mitzvah is one of simcha. For example, Tosfos (Brachos 37b) writes that a kohein would recite she’hechiyanu when he did avodah with his mishmar, which occurred only twice a year. I don’t know if there is a particular simcha associated with avodah; the she’hechiyanu seems based entirely on the infrequency of the mitzvah’s performance.

In terms of the disagreement between the Tur and Ba'al haIttur, I think Chaim Markowitz hit the nail on the head in distinguishing between the ma’aseh mitzvah and the mechayeiv. The Tur argued that bedikas chameitz can be performed just about any day of the year given the right conditions, e.g. a person leaving home who plans to return mid-chag and needs to make sure the house is chameitz free. Therefore, the mitzvah is not characterized as asi m’zman l’zman, something that comes at some infrequent time interval. The Ittur would argue that no matter when you do the actual ma’aseh mitzvah of bedikah, the kiyum mitzvah accomplished by its performance only takes effect on the night of erev Pesach. Or, to put it in Telzer terminology, the sibas hachiyuv is ohr l’arba asar, regardless of when the actual act of searching is done. The debate between Tur and Ittur boils down to the question of what gives rise to the need for she’hechiyanu – is it the fact that the ma’aseh mitzvah comes along rarely, or the fact that the kiyum mitzvah comes along rarely, even if the ma’aseh can be done at any time?

Anon1 raised another good point with respect to the definition of asi m’zman l’zman. Even if, as the Tur writes, the mitzvah of bedikah can theoretically be done on any day, there is still only one day in the year when it need be done. Here too, I think we get involved in chiyuv vs. kiyum. Practically the ma’aseh mitzvah is done only once annually, but the fact that there is no fixed date shows that the chiyuv is one which applies year-round. To add some fuel to the question, as I mentioned above, Tosfos holds that a kohein would recite she’hechiyanu when doing avodah twice a year with his mishmar. Yet, in theory a kohein has the option of doing avodah on any day – he could bring his own korban. That theoretical possibility of a kiyum on any given day does not preclude reciting she’hechiyanu on the twice a year days the kohein would minimally do avodah. It’s worth noting that Rashi and the Rambam offer completely different interpretations of that sugya, but even without that, I'm not sure that I'm not comparing apples and oranges -- bedikas chameitz is a chiyuv on each person; I don’t know if there is a chiyuv on every individual kohein to do avodah.

Maybe some more to come on this…

Monday, March 22, 2010

she'hechiyanu on bedikas chameitz

The korban Pesach was taken on the 10th of Nissan, but the command to take it was given immediately after Moshe was told “hachodesh ha’zeh lachem”, on Rosh Chodesh. The Shem m’Shmuel explains that this 10 day delay between the tzivuy and its performance corresponds to the aseres y’mei tshuvah of Tishrei. Just as the days between Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur are days of intense spiritual preparation, so too are these days of Chodesh Nissan. We’re more than half way through!

Some food for thought to start the week: The Tur quotes the opinion of the Ba’al haIttur that a bracha of she’hechiyanu should be recited on bedikas chameitz just like it is recited over any mitzvah that comes at some infrequent time interval, e.g. ner Chanukah, megilas esther, lulav, shofar, etc. The Tur disagrees, though he writes that if one wants to recite the bracha one may do so b’toras reshus.

Why does the Tur take issue with the Ba’al haIttur? Some poskim write that we are yotzei our requirement to recite she’hechiyanu on matzah, marror, and the other mitzvos of leil haseder with the one she’hechiyanu we recite over the Yom Tov. Similarly, on Purim we recite one she’hechiyanu at the time of krias ha’megillah and have in mind that it applies to mishloach manos, seudah, and matanos la’evyonim. Perhaps that one she’hechiyanu of leil haseder applies as well to the mitzvah of eliminating the chameitz for the sake of the chag.

The Tur, however, offers another explanation for why the Ittur is wrong. The Ba’al haIttur assumes that bedikas chameitz is not the sort of mitzvah that comes along every day – it has one designated time, once a year, when it can be fulfilled. But this is not the case. If someone was planning to leave today to their hotel in the Cancun, they would have had to have done bedikas chameitz last night. If someone is leaving tomorrow, their bedikas chameitz has to be done tonight. In theory, according to some Rishonim, you could have to do bedikas chameitz Chanukah time, or even at Rosh haShana, depending on your travel itinerary (those of us staying home have no such headaches : ) So in reality bedikas chameitz is not at all like lulav or shofar or ner chanukah, mitzvos d’asi m’zman l’zman, mitzvos that come along once a year – it is a mitzvah that can be done just about any day you like.

What is the point of disagreement between the Tur and the Ba’al haIttur? Aside from the Tur, is there any other reason you can think of for not saying a she’hechiyanu on bedikas chameitz?

Friday, March 19, 2010

a calling that transcends words

I feel bad for Parshas VaYikra, which has the double portion of bad luck of falling just before Pesach when our attention is focused more on the upcoming chag than on the parsha, and being filled with technical details that would be hard to follow on any week. A few simple points...

The parsha and the sefer opens with a calling, “VaYikra el Moshe m’Ohel Moed,” the word “vayikra” noticeable being spelled with a small letter aleph, opening the door to derush galore. Rashi explains the call consisted of a voice which emanated from the Ohel Moed and was heard by Moshe alone, signaling to him that it was time to approach and immerse in learning a new sugya.

What was this little voice heard only by Moshe? I don’t think that Rashi means to say that Moshe had extra sensitive hearing. If there was a voice, why could it not be heard by all, and if there wasn’t a voice, than what is Rashi referring to?

The Ma’or vaShemesh explains that language suffers limitations. Words are great for describing the concrete, physical world, but as we get into the abstract, words fail us. Sometimes a single glance by a husband to a wife or vice versa can communicate what a thousand words cannot. Communication from Hashem required a mind like only Moshe had in order to absorb ideas directly, without the medium of language as a barrier. Moshe “heard” what no words could make clear to other listeners. The small “aleph” of VaYikra hints to the insignificance of language when communicating on this level.

What does this mean for us? I believe the Piecezna says that the mystical concept of Moshe’s neshoma being found in each dor applies not only to the tzadikim, but to each of us – there is a little bit of Moshe Rabeinu within you and me. Whatever we understand our calling to be, there is no denying that it first expresses itself as a feeling, an intuition, and only then (and only sometimes) can it be converted into words and language that can be made sense of by others. Even those Rishonim who see positive value in the philosophical justification of belief do not mean that reason is the basis for belief; they simply mean that there is a kiyum mitzvah in being able to translate what we know to be true into language that can be appreciated by others. Certainly there are truths that we each hold dear that cannot be encapsulated in words without great difficulty.

The calling that each of us hears is unique; it is heard by no one else. What springs to mind is the gemara’s story (Ta’anis 21) of Ilfa and R’ Yochanan, who were both desperately poor and finally decided together that they needed to leave yeshiva. They packed their bag and set out on their way. Eventually they paused to rest under a bridge. While resting R’ Yochanan heard the voices of angels plotting to kill himself and Ilfa for having abandoned yeshiva. Turning to Ilfa, his comrade, R’ Yochanan asked if too heard the voices. Ilfa replied that he did not. Realizing that the message was meant for him alone, R’ Yochanan returned to the yeshiva and eventually became the great R’ Yochanan, Rosh haYeshiva, while Ilfa went on his way to engage in business while still maintaining his devotion to learning. Ilfa was not deaf, and was no less capable a talmid chacham than R’ Yochanan, but he did not hear the same voices that R’ Yochanan did; his calling was of a different nature. In his introduction, the Margoliyas haYam proves that Ilfa was indeed a giant in Torah learning, albeit not a Rosh Yeshiva. The decisions and choices that lead a person to be either a R’ Yochanan or an Ilfa are worth discussing with others, but at the end of the day every decision is personal, as our ears are often privy to a message and calling that we alone hear and which is meant for no other.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the shiur for bal yera'eh and the definition of ba'alus (III)

We are now up to round three in our discussion of why there is bal year’ah on chameitz worth less than a perutah according to Rashi’s view (Sukkah 27b) that a partnership share worth less than a pertuah does not make one a shutaf (links to: part 1, part 2). If there is no concept of ownership on anything valued at less than a perutah, how can there be bal yera'eh - the chameitz is not yours? My son protested against the sevara I am about to post, but I like it, so I’m going to say it anyway, and if you want to protest too, go ahead : ) I don’t think Rashi means to say that the concept of ownership does not apply to less than a perutah in value. Remember the question of the Minchas Chinuch mentioned last week: there is an issur gezel on less than a perutah, so how can you say an item worth less than a perutah has no owner? To get around that question I think we have to distinguish between two types of value: relative value and absolute value. Yes, an item worth less than a perutah has value and has an owner and therefore there is an issur to steal it. Yes, one is considered the owner of chameitz, no matter how insignificant in value it may be, because ownership and bal yera'eh are measured by an item's absolute value. However, when we talk about a partnership, which is what Rashi is discussing, we have to address not only the question of whether a share has some absolute value, but also what that share is worth relative to all the other shares. For example, if I own one share of Microsoft stock, am I a “partner” with Bill Gates? Maybe according to some technical legal definition I am, but I think on common sense terms we can all appreciate that the word “partnership” in that context has little meaning. Rashi is not denying that there exists a concept of ownership on items worth a trifle, but Rashi is saying that owning a share worth a trifle is not a significant enough stake to be called a partner. Maybe I like this answer because it is closest to Brisker thinking in that it draws a distinction between two layers of ownership, one that applies to the object depending on absolute value, one that relates to the title granted to the gavra, depending on relative value.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

the shiur of bal yera'eh (II)

We left off earlier this week with the question of why the shiur for bal yera’eh is a k’zayis. Rashi (Sukkah 27b) writes that there cannot be a partnership created with shares worth less than a perutah in value, implying that there is no concept of ownership on such a small stake. If so, even if a piece of chameitz is larger than a k’zayis, so long as its value is less than a perutah, one is not considered its owner and should not be in violation of bal yera’eh.

Anonymous was mechavein to R’ Scheinberg’s first answer, namely that at least some Rishonim see bal yera’eh as a safeguard against eating chameitz. Therefore, the shiur for bal yera’eh is k’zayis, the same as the shiur of the issur of achilas chameitz, not the shiur of perutah used to define ownership.

A second answer given by Rav Scheinberg makes use of a chiddush the gemara says with regard to chameitz and bor b’reshus harabim. The gemara writes that in reality one does not own a bor b’reshus harabim or chameitz on Pesach (what can you do with issurei hana’ah?); nonetheless, the Torah makes one liable for digging the bor in the public domain and for chameitz in one’s home. The fact that chameitz has no value because it is worth less than a pertuah has no more effect than the more general statement that chameitz lacks value on Pesach because one cannot eat it or possess it – nonetheless, one violates bal yera’eh for having it around.

I am not sure I fully grasp this answer. Even granted that chameitz potentially worth $100 and chameitz worth less than a penny is all the same once Pesach arrives, why does that mean we should evaluate bal yera’eh using a shiur of k’zayis? Why not just treat the chameitz as if ownership did theoretically exist and use the standard of perutah?

My son and I both thought that there is another way to resolve this question. Who says bal yera’eh has anything to do with ownership? I can violate bal yera’eh even for keeping the chameitz of a non-Jew in my home, so long as I am responsible if it is lost or stolen (there are technical details here that I am not getting involved in now.) Once we are dealing with an issue that does not depend directly on ownership, but on responsibility, the chiddush of Rashi in Sukkah does not apply.

Further thoughts on this question to come bl"n… stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Kallah Magazine Pesach edition.

My wife has done a special Pesach edition of Kallah Magazine which is available online in a nice little viewer. Hope you like the format (I do). For those who get this via e-mail, here's a link to open in your browser (link). Much appreciated if you take a moment to click through and have a look (an article by me is included).

a month of no tachanun -- why?

Those like myself in a perpetual rush to get out the door to work in the morning will enjoy a few moments saved by not having to say tachanun the entire month of Nissan. Why is it that tachanun, tzikascha tzedek, ta’anisim are all cancelled for the entire month? Some poskim make the following calculation: close to two weeks of the month would be exempt from tachanun because of Yom Tov, Chol haMoed, Isru Chag, Shabbos; the inauguration of the Mishkan took place at the beginning of Nissan, so those are days of celebration as well; since the majority of the month is exempt from tachanun, we just knock off tachanun from the end of the month as well.

The Aruch haShulchan, however, offers a different rationale. He writes that the zodiac sign for the month is Aries, the ram, which was worshipped by the Egyptians as a diety. The act of offering a korban Pesach from the very animal worshipped by the Egyptians demonstrated the falseness of their entire belief system. The entire month was thereby transformed from a celebration of idolatry to a celebration of Hashem’s dominion and geulah.

The nafka minah between these two approaches would be whether to skip tachanun during the last days of Tishrei, post- Sukkos. If the reason for skipping tachanun for the entire month is because we already omit tachanun for most of the month anyway, the same logic should apply in Tishrei, with its many Yamim Tovim. But if the reason for skipping tachanun depends on the unique character of Nissan, the same would not apply to any other time period.

As an aside, I’m just wondering about the association of Aries with Egyptian worship. The zodiac signs are based on ancient Greek tradition. Maybe someone with more knowledge of ancient Egypt than I have can shed light on whether these same signs carried significance in ancient Egyptian culture as well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

the shiur of bal yera'eh (I)

Last week we mentioned the chiddush of Rashi (Sukkah 27b) that to be considered a part owner of a sukkah necessitates having a share worth at least a perutah. R’ Scheinberg in his Mishmeres Chaim (vol 1 in inyanei pesach) quotes the following question from the Imrei Binah (I could not find it, but I did not have the patience to wade through all his pilpul and really look): why do we assume the shiur to violate bal yera’eh is a k’zayis? Since the definition of ownership according to Rashi is controlling a perutah or more in value, even if a piece of chameitz is a k’zayis in size, so long as it is worth less than a perutah in value one should not be considered its true owner.

Rav Scheinberg gives two answers and my son and I (joint effort) think there is a third. More to come bl”n.

Friday, March 12, 2010

what does kiddush hachodesh have to do with pesach?

Given that we ostensibly read Parshas haChodesh at this time of year because it contains the laws of the chag, one would expect, writes R’ Tzadok haKohen, the parsha to be called “Parshas haPesach,” just as Shekalim, Parah, Zachor are all named in such a way that reflects their content. True, there is a mention of the mitzvah of kiddush hachodesh at the opening of the parsha, but the fact that the parsha is read specifically at this time of year rather than before every Rosh Chodesh indicates that the focus is Pesach, the chodesh.

But we might ask more generally: why is it that rosh chodesh gets any mention here at all? We understand that the celebration of yetziyas Mitzrayim had to be preceded by korban pesach and the laws of the chag, but why did Hashem introduce the laws of kiddush hachodesh here and not at some later opportunity?

The answer must be that just as the laws of korban pesach, the laws of chameitz and matzah, are integral to the celebration and experience of Pesach, the idea of kiddush hachodesh is integral to that celebration as well. Our preparation for the chag requires not only a review not only of the parsha and halachos of pesach, but also a review of the parsha of kiddush hachodesh, or our experience of pesach is lacking.

Why is that so? Rav Tzadok suggests that kiddush hachodesh introduces us to the power and ability of klal yisrael to create kiddusha, to sanctify the material world. More specifically, parshas hachodesh introduces us to the idea that the rosh beis din declares mekudash mekudash and the people follow – kedusha can be developed and channeled only through the leadership of chachmei hador.

I am not sure why this idea of introducing kedusah to the world could not be conveyed through the parsha of korban pesach itself, with its demand to be mekadesh an animal for the sake of a korban. Therefore, I would like to suggest a slightly different avenue of thought. The halacha is that a girl over three who is niveles is no longer considered a besulah; under three we assume the besulim grow back. The Yerushalmi (Kesubos 1:2) has the following case: a girl’s birthday is 10 Adar; she becomes niveles on the 15th. QED that she is no longer a besulah. However, before the end of the month goes by beis din declares a leap year; there is now another Adar in the calendar. Poof! – the girl’s birthday is now really 10 Adar II (see previous post here regarding bar mitzvah in leap years) , not Adar I, and the be’ila does not affect her status – she is still considered a besulah. How can this be? Being a besulah depends on empirical fact – changing the calendar can’t change what happens to the girl’s body? But we see from this Yerushalmi that indeed it can. As the Pnei Moshe explains, even nature agrees with the psak of beis din.

The parsha of kiddush hachodesh teaches that not only can the chachamei hador introduce kedushah into a seemingly independent state of nature/teva, but more than that – the chachmei hador, the Torah, is what defines and controls teva itself. [Update: see the Bnei Yisaschar who makes a similar point in his derasha on P' haChodesh and alludes to this Yerushalmi as well.]

All the many questions of Pesach night really boil down to one mystery: How does a people enslaved for hundreds of years suddenly become a nation of free souls? And when we speak of the freedom of Pesach we are not just speaking about legal definitions; were that the case it would make no sense for someone imprisoned in some dungeon because he is Jewish to celebrate Pesach – where is his freedom? What happened at Pesach was not an emancipation proclamation, but a fundamental change in the character of the Jewish people that could never be erased, a quality that remains with us even in the darkest dungeons and at the bleakest moments. Pesach was a change in the metziyus of klal yisrael.

It is this power of the Torah to change metziyus, to alter very fabric of reality, which is the necessary prelude to chag haPesach, which marks our change in metziyus from an enslaved and downtrodden people into the am hanivchar.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

minuy for korban pesach and the the concept of joint ownership (II)

Yesterday we asked: why does the gemara reject the possibility of all of klal yisrael jointly owning one sukkah because, as Rashi (Sukkah 27b) explains, there is no concept of ownership or partnership when each person’s share is worth less than a pertuah, but the gemara (Kid. 42a) accepts the possibility all of klal yisrael owning a single korban pesach?

The question opens the door to making a nice chiluk (as Yosef and PC commented) between the concept of shutfus and the concept of tzibur. Whether a sukkah is owned by 2 people or 2 million people, the legal structure we are speaking of is a partnership. Here, Rashi introduces the requirement of shares having a certain minimal value for the concept of partnership to be make sense. The ownership of the korban pesach, however, like other communal korbanos, is defined by a different legal structure. Communal ownership is more than the sum of its individual parts. It is more like a corporation; ownership is retained by a global entity distinct from the individual members who make up its parts. When we speak of ownership by the tzibur, there is no requirement for each individual member to have a share of any specific value.

There is another, less intuitive answer to this question offered by Rav Noson Gestetner in Shu”T L’Horos Noson (vol 1 #24). He argues that Rashi does not mean that the concept of ownership does not apply to less than a perutah in value; as the Minchas Chinuch asks, this is obviously wrong, as the issur of theft applies to less than a perutah. Rather, what Rashi means is that one cannot acquire an item that is worth less than a perutah. But while I may not be able to buy one little square of chocolate worth less than a penny, if I buy a chocolate bar worth $100, I am the owner of every little square’s worth, even a little nibble worth next to nothing. Furthermore, if I buy a hundred chocolate bars at one time, even if each chocolate bar itself is worth next to nothing, even Rashi would agree that the sale works because the aggregate value of the goods acquired is worth more than a perutah. Hashta d’asis l’hachi, the difference between sukkah and korban pesach is that one sukkah is purchased at a time, and the value being acquired by each individual contributor is minimal; animals are purchased in groups, as a flock or herd, and the total cost to each individual for a large scale purchase may indeed exceed a perutah.

This distinction helps resolve another difficulty raised by the Minchas Chinuch (325). If one assumes that ownership of the matzah used to fulfill the mitzvah of achilas matzah is required, there is a potential problem if the value of an individual matzah is less than a perutah (obviously the Minchas Chinuch got better prices on his hand shemurah than I do in my local supermarket, or he was speaking on a purely theoretical level.) The L’Horos Noson answers that instead of looking at the value of individual matzos we should be looking at the value of the sale as a whole. Since matzah is purchased by the pound, in multiple units, the value of the sale as a whole does exceed a perutah and works even according to Rashi. Once the sale take effect, ownership by definition extends to every individual unit of matzah, meeting the requirement of “lachem.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

minuy for korban pesach and the the concept of joint ownership

The gemara (Sukkah 27b) darshens the pasuk “kol ha’ezrach b’Yisrael yeishvu ba’sukkos” to mean that a single sukkah owned by one person may be used by even all the Jewish people so long as they take turns. The gemara concludes from here that there is no requirement to own one’s own sukkah. Rashi is troubled by the logic of this derasha. Maybe ownership of a sukkah is required; the pasuk allows even the entire nation to use a single sukkah because it is speaking of a sukkah jointly owned by everyone. Rashi answers that such a case is impossible. If the entire nation owned a single sukkah, the worth of each person’s share would be less than a perutah. Such a minute stake does not count as a partnership. (See Minchas Chinuch 325 for more on this Rashi.)

Yet, the gemara (Kiddushin 41) accepts the possibility of a korban Pesach jointly owned by all of klal yisrael. The gemara rejects “v’shachatu oso kol kahal adas yisrael” as a source for shlichus, even though one person does shechita on behalf of the entire community, because that may be a unique case where everyone whom the shliach is acting for has a share in the korban. Why in this case do we not apply Rashi’s rule? If all of klal yisrael were to share in one korban, the stake of each person would certainly amount to less than a perutah; it should be so negligible as to be meaningless?

Let me take one possible answer to this problem off the table right away. You could reject the premise of the question and argue that the korban pesach necessitates minuy – being counted as a participant – but minuy does not require ownership. My son’s birthday was last week and his present was an Imrei Binah, which raises this issue (Hil Pesach end of siman 2). The I.B. opines that a kinyan is required for minuy. Granted you could debate his proof and argue otherwise, but for now let's avoid that debate. How else might you answer this question?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

why is this night filled with so many questions?

The focus of the Pesach seder is questions. The child asks, “Mah nishtana;” Rabban Gamliel’s explanation of the mitzvos of the night begins with the question of “…Al shum mah?,” why do we eat matzah, maror, Pesach; the dunking of karpes was instituted to elicit curiosity. I don’t know if it is paradoxical to raise a question about all these questions, but I’ll do so anyway -- why not just review the history of yetziyas Mitzrayim and narrate explanations for the mitzvos without first questioning and only then coming to an explanation?

R’ Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik Pesach 2) explains that it is not knowledge alone, not the reasons for the mitzvos or the history of yetziyas Mitzrayim, not saying over all the Vilna Gaons or Abarbanels, which we are trying to give over to our children (and ourselves) on the night of Pesach. What we are trying to engender is a feeling, an emotional experience, a sense of wonder. Imagine if you got woken up in the middle of the night by the phone ringing and some anonymous voice told you a million dollars had been deposited in your bank account. Before the call disconnects, wouldn’t you be shouting questions into the phone: Who is this? Why did I get the money? How did this happen? Pesach night is that wake up call, when we suddenly find our spiritual bank account infused with wealth beyond what we deserve. Our reaction should be one of contagious curiosity, awe, amazement -- this is not a time for dry discourse. “Afilu kulanu Chachamim… mitzvah l’sapeir.” R’ Tzadok writes that the mitzvah of sippur is incumbent even upon the wise not just because there is always more to learn, but because there is this additional layer to the kiyum of sippur that goes beyond the mere absorption of knowledge.

The lomdishe selections of the seforim stores have plenty on the chag, and everyone has a Brisker Haggadah these days, but we should be wary of missing the forest for the trees. Depending on the age of your kids you may be better off with the Artscroll Youth Haggadah than saying over R’ Chaim’s chiluk between zechirah and sippur. Then again, depending on your kids, they may already know the chiluk between zechira and sippur and expect even more! Whatever the case may be, it’s not just what you say over that is important, but it’s the hislahavus and excitement for learning that conveys the true meaning of cheirus and which is part and parcel of the mitzvah of sippur.

malkos for bal yera'ah (II)

Returning to yesterday’s question: Why is it that even though bal yera’eh is a lav she'ain bo ma'aseh, there would be malkos if one violates the lav through an action, e.g. buying chameitz, but there is no malkos for lo tachmod even if one takes action to pressure or coerce someone to sell their property?

Based on our previous discussion of lo tachmod, we can distinguish between these cases. The action of pressuring or coercing someone to sell their property demonstrates the degree of chimud that exists, but it is the chimud, not the action, which is the aveirah. The action is a siman of what lies in a person's heart, but is not the sibas ha'issur. However, it is the act of purchasing chameitz which is itself the ma’aseh issur.

On a side note, the amazing thing about Hil. Pesach is that it is all encompassing – every area of halacha seems to creep in. You have classic Orach Chaim sugyos about chamietz, matzah, leil haseder, etc. You have Choshen Mishpat sugyos about loans, achrayos, mechiras chameitz, etc. that come into play. You have Yoreh De’ah thrown in terms of koshering and ta’aroves. The only thing missing is Even haEzer, but even that gets touched on in the sugya of being mekadesh with chameitz. Thirty days before the chag are just not enough time to even scrape the surface!

Monday, March 08, 2010

malkos for bal yera'eh

By now everyone has started thinking about Pesach, so maybe it’s time to focus on it here.
The Rambam paskens (Ch”uM perek 1) that someone who buys chameitz on Pesach gets malkos for bal yera’eh. Even though bal yera’ah is a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh, i.e. there is no action necessary to violate the lav; it can be violated by just passively failing to dispose of chameitz, nonetheless, if someone does take action, e.g. he/she goes to a store to buy chameitz, he/she would get malkos.

The Rambam paskens (Hil Gezeilah ch 1) that someone who pressures a neighbor into selling goods violates lo tachmod but does receive malkos because it is a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh, i.e. the desire which causes the violation of lo tachmod is a mental state, not a physical action.

Rav Scheinberg in his Mismeres Chaim (vol 1) asks: Why is it that even though bal yera’eh is a lav she'ain bo ma'aseh, there would be malkos if one takes action to violate the lav, yet even if one takes action to pressure or coerce someone to sell his property, there is no malkos for lo tachmod? What is the difference between these cases?

This is an easy one to answer if you read the post on lo tachmod a few weeks ago. Here’s the link if you missed it.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

the beauty of the luchos and the cheit ha'eigel

The Netzi”v is troubled by the order of the pesukim in our parsha.

Vayitein el Moshe k’kaloso l’dabeir ito b’Har Sinai shnei luchos ha’eidos… (31:18)

This pasuk at the end of chapter 31 seems to bring to completion (k’kaloso…) the description of the giving of the luchos. It is followed in the next chapter by the topic of the cheit ha’eigeil, a full description of which takes us through 14 pesukim. The Torah then continues, opening a new parsha:

Vayifen vayeired Moshe min ha’har u’shnei luchos ha’eidus b’yado, luchos kesuvim m’shnei evreihem, m’zeh u’mzeh heim kesuvim. V’haluchos ma’aseh Elokim heimah, v’michtav michtav Elokim hu charus al haluchos. (32:15-16)

Again, we have a description of Moshe descending from the mountain, and this time the Torah goes into far more detail in its description of the luchos, mentioning the details of the engraving, the stonework, the writing, all of which reinforced the idea that these tablets were fashioned and given by G-d. The Torah then returns to the topic of the eigel and relates Moshe’s discovery of what happened and his response, including the smashing of the luchos which he just received.

Why interrupt the narrative of the cheit with the description of the glory of the luchos? Wouldn’t this description be more apropos at the end of chapter 31 in the context of the pasuk which seems to serve as a culmination of mattan Torah?

The Netzi”v answers that the Torah deliberately withheld the description of the majesty of the luchos until just before Moshe smashed them. Moshe descended from Har Sinai to find a people in chaos, a religious rebellion at hand, an explosive situation that was quickly unraveling before his eyes. There was a need to immediately grab the people’s attention and refocus the agenda. It was at this moment that Moshe revealed the luchos for all to see in their glory. The sight of the awe-inspiring luchos captured the attention of the people, and the shock of seeing these majestic stones smashed to pieces send shock waves through the nation. The shock stilled the riot, and in that moment of pause Moshe was able to assert control over the situation and take charge.

[This approach may resolve a question raised by the Ohr haChaim: Why smash the luchos? Couldn’t they have simply not been delivered by Moshe, perhaps locked away until the people were ready? The answer perhaps is that the destruction of the luchos was a pragmatic necessity to break the momentum of sin.]

I would like to extend this idea of the Netzi”v further; I think his observation about the order of the pesukim tells us something important about how we respond to eigels. Unfortunately, cheit ha’eigel was not a one time event -- there are lots of eigels being built out there that entice and attract lots of folks, particularly kids. What is the usual response (and by no means am I suggesting that this is true in all cases)? The Rabbi, parent, educator will deliver the predictable sermon about throwing away the beauty of Shabbos, the beauty of Torah, and how wonderful it is to be a ben or bas Yisrael. Suddenly we want to draw attention and focus to the majesty of the luchos, the majesty of a Torah lifestyle! But, nebach, in many cases it’s too late – the luchos are already in hand to be smashed with nothing left but a memory.

The order of the parsha teaches us that the enticement and attraction of the eigel goes hand in hand with a blindness to the beauty of the luchos. If only that beauty had been noticed earlier -- if only we (on a communal as well as an individual level) displayed it earlier and more prominently! Why do we wait until the luchos are about to be smashed in frustration by a parent, teacher, or friend trying to deal with an eigel situation to begin speaking of all that is beautiful and pure and holy about Torah? This too is part of the tragedy of the eigel highlighted by the parsha. The message of the beauty of the luchos has to be delivered every single day again and again and again before the eigels get built; it has to be delivered by parents, by teachers, by communities, not in sermons or lectures, but in how we act and what we aspire to.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

rov and the source for "kol kavua"

I like the way Rav Amiel sets up this question in his Midos l'Cheiker Halacha: The famous sugya of tukfo kohen (B"M 6) speaks about an animal counted for ma'aser beheima which then jumps back into the pen of uncounted animals. This ruins the entire rest of the count, because from that point onward every 10 animals counted might have in the mix the one animal which jumped back in.

Tosfos and other Rishonim ask why this should be -- why not say that the one animal already counted is bateil to the rest of the herd which still needs to be counted?

The Rishonim answer that this is a special din based on a gezeiras hakasuv of "asiri" - vaday v'lo safeik. The designation of the 10th animal as ma'aser must be done with certainty; since any 10 animals taken at random from the herd might contain the one animal that shouldn't be there, there is no longer any certainty to the count. This is one of the popular sources that indicate that rov does not resolve uncertainty / safeik -- it merely allows us (in usual circumstances) to act or draw conclusions despite the latent uncertainty which remains. IOW, in yeshiva jarogon, rov is just a hanhaga, but not a birur.

Now for the fun. The gemara (Kesubos 15) presents the din of kol kavu'a k'machtza al machtza using the following case: let's say you have nine frogs and one sheretz in a mix and you stick your hand in and grab one. Even though the odds are that you touched a frog, the Torah has a chiddush that where you jump into the ta'aroves mixture (as opposed to, for example, one of the creatures jumping out at you) we treat the safeik as a 50/50 chance. The special din of kol kavua essentially eliminates the din of rov and levels the playing field of probability.

Here's the catch: the laws of how to treat safeik tumah differ from other areas of halacha. So long as the safeik arises in a private domain, no matter how many sefeikos are involved, the halacha is that safeik tumah b'reshus hayachid is tamei. So why do we need this special din of kol kavua? Since rov does not eliminate doubt --the safeik still remains, just the odds are tilted to one side over the other -- every case of safeik tumah b'reshus hayachid should be de facto tamei even without the rule of kol kavua! The very case of the mixture of frogs with a sheretz which is the paradigm of kol kavua seems to be a case where the chiddush is unnecessary to arrive at the conclusion.

Rov, kol kavua, tukfo kohen -- it doesn't get better than this : ) I won't spoil it by posting an answer just yet.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Amalek's power to transform into animals

Last post I mentioned that Rashi in Sefer Shmuel explains that the reason the animals of Amalek had to be killed is because the people of Amalek had the ability through kishuf to make themselves look like animals. The question was raised [offline] what this means. Now, I don’t have a problem with the idea that Amalek may have had access to certain magical powers that we lack understanding of (also strange to be discussing this on the heels of my mention of fantasy literature -- shapeshifting is a favorite device), but assuming you want to either make Rashi fit into a rationalist framework or interpret his answer in a way that speaks to a modern reader, you have some explaining to do. Besides which, as far as answers go, kishuf amounts to a deus ex machina solution. (The better question to ask is why Rashi resorted to kishuf as an answer instead of using the answer given by other meforshim: the animals had to be destroyed so that people should not say, “That’s the sheep/ox/cow of Amalek,” and perpetuate Amalek’s memory.)

Here is my speculative non-literal interpretation of Rashi: Wars are fought between equal or near equal combatants. Imagine leading an American expedition into the bush or jungle somewhere and coming upon some primitive caveman-like tribe. The tribe identifies you as an enemy, girds their loincloths (literally), and the 20 or so warriors sharpen their toothpicks and prepare to attack. Would it make sense to call in some supersonic jets to thwart their attack? Or to maybe stage an aircraft carrier off the coast of the jungle and call in a battalion of marines? It would be silly. You probably would just pack your gear, deflect a few spears, and head home – it’s just now worth the fight. It would be like stepping on ants or swatting flies -- leave the poor cavepeople alone.

Maybe this is the idea Amalek becoming like animals intends to convey. Amalek’s could appear so barbaric that instead of a dangerous foe, they looked like a bunch of primitive cavemen, like animals more than people. It’s dangerous to go hunting wild animals, but that danger is in no way comparable to fighting a sophisticated human enemy who can fight back with cunning and strategy. Amalek’s lulled others into dismissing them as savages not worth the effort to destroy, but this was just a mask of their true nature.

Monday, March 01, 2010

is there a mitzvah to kill the animals of Amalek

My son’s Rebbe once asked the following question: Rashi on chumash (Devarim 25:19) explains that the mitzvah of destroying Amalek applies to every man, woman, and child, and even the animals which belonged to Amalek, so that Amalek should not be remembered by people saying “This is the ox of Amalek.” Yet, in Sefer Shmuel in the haftarah which describes the command to Shaul to eradicate Amalek, Rashi explains that the animals had to be destroyed because Amalek were experts at witchcraft and could make themselves appear to look like animals. The implication of this Rashi is that killing the animals to eradicate the memory of Amalek is not inherently part of the mitzvah, except for the fact that an animal may be a person in disguise. Aren’t these two statements of Rashi contradictory?

As we know, Shaul spared the life of Agag and the animals, failing to fulfill G-d’s command. Whatever the fault and sin involved in this act, it is hard to understand the audacious response of Shaul when confronted by Shmuel. He tells the Navi, “Kiyamti es dvar Hashem” – I fulfilled G-d’s command! Could Shaul have been so brazen or so self-deluded to think this statement would go unchallenged?

The Oneg Yom Tov offers a brilliant explanation of Shaul’s logic. Surely if someone purchased an animal from Amalek a month, a week, or even a day before the war started, that animal would not have to be killed. That animal would not longer be the property of Amalek – it would be the property of its new owner, completely divorced from Amalek. Using this legal loophole, Shaul realized there was a way to spare the life of all the sheep and oxen of Amalek. So long as someone from Amalek could relinquish ownership of their animals, those animals would not have to be killed. Therefore, Shaul deliberately left Agag, not to spare his life, but simply to pressure him to first declare hefker the animals of Amalek so they could be acquired by new owners before the battle was over. Shaul figured he could use this loophole both fulfill the technical obligation of waging war and at the same time salvage the animals for better use.

Why did the Navi object? Not because of any fault in the logic of the legal loophole, but because of the use of the loophole itself. G-d does not want us to try to “outsmart” his mitzvos with cheshbonos that depend on the use of every technicality in our legal arsenal to circumvent the plain meaning of his directive. We are responsible for fidelity to the spirit of the law as well as its technical details.

Aside from being a powerful mussar, I think the Oneg Y”T can help answer the contradiction in Rashi. Rashi in chumash teaches that an animal found in Amalek’s possession must be destroyed to obliterate their memory. Rashi in Sefer Shmuel is explaining why even an animal which Amalek declares hefker on the cusp of battle should still be killed lest that declaration of hefker to spare the animal actually serve to spare the life of a disguised Amaleiki.

the BA era -- Before Artscroll

Two little book notes this morning:
One of my kids was rummaging around for a megillah to take to shul and pulled out an Artscroll copy buried on a long forgotten shelf. I recall exactly how I obtained that copy: it was a prize for wining some contest in eighth grade, and if I am not mistaken, it was one of the first books published by Artscroll. At the time, there were only a handful of other Artscroll titles available; I recall winning the Artscroll Haggadah before Pesach that year as well. It dawned on me that I, unlike my kids, was born in the BA-era: Before Artscroll. This was the era where difficult words had to be looked up in Jastrow, where Soncino and Steinsaltz ruled the world of gemara translation, where Birnbaum siddurim and Hertz chumashim were still found on the shelves of Orthodox shules, where there was no “elucidation” of the text into plain English telling us exactly what the “traditional” meaning is. One of my kids recently took from her grandparent one of those old blue-covered chumashim with the Rashi translated line by line that I remember from grade school and which seem to have vanished completely from stores' bookshelves. I must be getting old : )

There is no question in my mind that for all of Artscroll’s flaws, the world is a better place for them. They have certainly inspired many to crack open a gemara with confidence that the text can be conquered, at least on a rudimentary level. On the other hand, I can't recall actually purchasing anything from Artscroll; I discourage my kids from using their gemaras or Tanach seforim. Yes, life is easier with Artscroll, but who says life has to be easy? I don't force my kids to look up information in a hard copy encyclopedia instead of google, but I don't think the situations are analogous. Whatever tools and methods the editors of Artscroll use to decipher difficult text can be / should be part of the tools and methods my kids can learn to master in their study of a text.

On a completely different note, I like the title of this article in the Jewish Review of Books: "Why There is No Jewish Narnia." Michael Weingrad does a nice job exploring the question; my only quibble is that I think the last reason he mentions I think is actually the most significant. The Jewish people are just theologically-averse to magical wardrobes, rings that grant power, bad guys who speak to snakes, and forces of evil that seem to have independent power on par with that of the good guys. Looking for Jewish fantasy literature is like looking for the Jewish art at the Met – even the Chagall paintings they have on display are centered around Xstian themes (brings to mind My Name is Asher Lev). For better or worse, certain artistic avenues just are not “Jewish” roads to follow. That being said, I have never met anyone who became a kofer from reading Narnia, and if you think you are on a ring quest or have plans to teach at Hogwarts after you graduate, I would suggest that you speak with a good shrink, not a Rabbi.
Update: more on this topic here.