Friday, October 29, 2010

accepting the paradoxical

A small point that I wrote in a comment to an earlier post, but I want to highlight it because I think it's important: the challenge that faced Avraham in dealing with the akeidah, at least according to some Rishonim and meforshim, was not dealing with contradictory messages from G-d, i.e. the seeming contradiction between G-d's promise to continue Avraham's legacy through Yitzchak and G-d's command to sacrifice Yitzchak. Avraham could have resolved that issue in a number of ways, the most obvious being that Hashem never commanded that Yitzchak be killed -- "kach na..." is a request, not a command. Others write (based on the Zohar) that the command to do akeidah was seen by Avraham through ispaklarya she'eina m'eira -- it was an unclear prophecy -- and therefore might have been dismissed as erroneous when weighed against the clear prohibition of murder. If I wanted to sum up the main idea of half the Tosfos in shas it would be "Im tomar...Sugya A contradicts Sugya B..., v'yesh lomar we can resolve the apparent contradiction." Avraham Avinu was probably at least as good a lamdan as Tosfos and could think of teirutzim. The greatness of Avraham is that he chose to accept the paradox rather than resolve it.

It takes a certain degree of heroism to face up to a tzarich iyun gadol, an unresolvable problem, and move on, but it takes even greater heroism to face a problem where there are pat, easy answers that suggest themselves and to choose to remain with the question rather than take those easy outs. I don't mean, of course, that one must deliberately remain in a state of stupidity and not accept any answers to questions. I mean that deep, demanding questions require deep, thoughtful answers, and to dismiss them lightly and latch onto any solution to avoid problems and contradictions is not a good strategy. If you need a concrete example, contradictions between science and Torah are resolved very easily in one of two ways: 1)dismissing scientific data as erroneous; 2) dismissing Torah as allegorical, figurative, historically conditioned, but not literally (or scientifically) accurate or eternal truth. I am not happy with either solution; I prefer the paradox to the answers.

There are shiurim and books out there that purport to provide answers to every problem, from the mysteries of creation to why good people suffer and bad people prosper. We've lost the art of living with paradoxes, and instead prefer instant solutions, nicely packaged into a 45 minute lecture with a take home handout sheet and a DVD you can buy afterwards for review. The akeidah teaches us that accepting paradox and its consequences is sometimes better than easy solutions.

Eliezer - shliach for kiddushin, birchas eirusin

Avraham administered an oath to Eliezer to ensure that he look for a bride for Yitzchak only from Avraham’s own family and not from the neighboring tribes. The Brisker Rav asks why an oath was necessary in this case. Tosfos (Kesubos 7b d”h she’ne’emar) writes that Eliezer served as a shliach, an agent, to effect the kiddushin of Yitzchak (see Maharil Diskin who discusses exactly how this shlichus worked, as under normal circumstances an eved may not serve as a shliach). If Reuvain appoints Shimon to serve as his agent to buy a red Toyota, but instead Shimon buys a green Ford, Reuvain doesn’t have to accept that green Ford – since Shimon violated the terms of his appointment, Shimon’s actions on Reuvain’s behalf are worthless. Since Eliezer was appointed only to take a bride from Avraham’s own family, kiddushin made with any other family should be automatically null and void even without an oath.

The Brisker Rav leaves this one unanswered, but I am wondering if there is a solution. The pesukim seem to suggest that Avraham was open to the possibility of marrying Yitzchak to someone else should Eliezer not find a willing bride from his own family. Perhaps Eliezer was appointed as an agent with a blank check – find a bride, ideally from family, but if not, another suitable candidate. If Reuvain appoints Shimon to buy a car and expresses a preference for a red Toyota, but is willing to accept a green Ford if there are no good deals on that red Toyota, Shimon has a lot more leeway. Perhaps an oath was necessary to cut down on Eliezer's leeway and guarantee he will make every effort to find a bride from Avraham's own family.

[Update: I should have thought about this more. The Brisker Rav probably also had in mind that Eliezer had a blank check shlichus. The question the Brisker Rav is driving at I think is why do things in that way -- why not appoint Eliezer a shliach to find a bride only from Avraham's family, which would eliminate the need for an oath.]

Tosfos writes that we learn from this incident that birchas eirusin may be recited when kiddushin are done by a shliach. Why would one think not? My first reaction is that Tosfos is getting involved in the classical question of who and whether a birchas hamitzvah can be recited where the ma’aseh mitzvah is done by one party but the kiyum mitzvah belongs to a different party. If birchas eirusin is a birchas ha’shevach and not a birchas hamitzvah, as some Rishonim indicate, then perhaps one might have thought there is no place for a birchas hashevach when the groom is not present to appreciate the new status of eirusin being created – again, this is basically the same idea of this case being special because the action is performed by one party but the kiyum, chalos, enjoyment, etc. coming to another.

My son did not like any of these type approaches. He reads Tosfos as telling us a chiddush in birchas eirusin in particular, not as a general rule that applies to all brachos or all other mitzvos. If that is the case, the question remains (which he does not yet have an answer for) as to why one might have thought birchas eirusin is unique.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

get some rest

“Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part” – unless the “your” happens to be a boss who promised his boss a deliverable on a certain date in complete ignorance of what might be entailed in bringing that about. (“Time machine that can take us into the future and bring back a cure for cancer? - No problem! My team will have it ready by next week…”) When he discovers that the seven dwarves have not shown up, the magic wand he thinks causes things to happen is broken, reality sets in. At that point the management reflexes kick in – all problems can be solved by screaming and stomping on the peons to work harder and deliver. And so you understand why posting has been light…

Because a problem had to be solved by a development team in Europe, I was told to keep my phone handy in case they want to do a call at 4:00AM our time. I discovered something interesting. I don’t think I would be so tired if I went to sleep and set the alarm for 4:00AM -- that would at least give me a few hours of decent rest. What is worse is trying to sleep with the uncertainty of whether to wake up at 4:00 or later and whether someone will call or not. That gives no hours of decent rest.

And so we finally get to some Torah content in this post. “Vayashkem Avraham baboker…," Avraham woke up early to saddle his donkey and get underway to do the akeidah. The Brisker Rav explained that the greatness of Avraham was not that he jumped up out bed, eager to get under way to do Hashem’s command. If you would jump out of bed to go on an anticipated vacation, kal v’chomer (at least if you are the Brisker Rav) you jump out of bed for a mitzvah, no matter how difficult that mitzvah might be. The greatness of Avraham wasn't what time he woke up -- the greatness was that he went to sleep! Avraham’s mind wasn’t filled with turmoil and uncertainty; he wasn’t on pins and needles, tossing and turning through the night without any rest, thinking about the challenge of the akeidah. He got his usual eight hours, just like any other day, akeidah or no akeidah.

I need another cup of coffee.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

true sacrifice

Avraham might have psychologically softened the blow of dealing with the akeidah by telling himself that even if he sacrifices Yitzchak, all is not lost. If he could miraculously have a son at 99, why not at 136, or even older? However, the Sefas Emes explains that Hashem told Avraham up front that that’s not how it’s going to work. Kach na es bincha es yechidcha… Yitzchak is the only one – there is never going to be a replacement.

An increasing number of Judaica books are devoted to “hashgacha pratis” stories, stories of people who sacrifice for the sake of Torah and mitzvos and are rewarded with things working out better than they could ever have expected. I have no problem with these books so long as they are shelved properly in the fiction section. I say that not because the stories are false, but because the idea that Hashem will necessarily reward sacrifice and commitment and make things work out is false. The akeidah is the paradigm of sacrifice. It was done with the understanding that there will be no happy ending if Yitzchak is sacrificed, no way to reconcile his loss with the promise of lineage that will carry on Avraham’s tradition.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

two journeys

Too much work, not enough time for this. Enough said – so I’m behind.

Commenting on the spelling of “ohalo” with an added hey, as if it should be read “ohala,” her tent, Rashi writes at the beginning of Lech Lecha (12:8) that Avraham pitched Sarah’s tent before his own. It is certainly possible that Rashi simply means that Avraham was a gentleman – we can imagine that he held the door open and let Sarah enter first, he pushed her chair close to the table, he pitched her tent first. However, it just seems odd to me that the Torah should go out of its way to tell us this detail. Even if the point is that Avraham was a gentleman, why illustrate the fact by focusing on the act of pitching a tent?

Let’s take a step back. At the beginning of Lech Lecha Avraham is commanded to take a journey. What exactly is this charge supposed to motivate Avraham to do? If we look at the end of Parshas Noach, we find that Avraham and his family (including Terach, at least in the initial stage) have already left home on a journey and are en route to Eretz Yisrael. Isn’t it redundant to tell someone who has already embarked upon a journey to go and embark upon a journey?

I think a clue to the answer can be found in the well-known Midrash at the beginning of Parshas Lech Lecha which speaks of Avraham’s discovery of G-d:

Listen my daughter and see, bend your ear, forget your nation and father’s house (Tehilim 45). Rav Yitzchak said: This may be compared to the story of a wanderer who was traveling from place to place and saw a burning tower. He exclaimed, “Can it be that this tower has no owner?!” The owner of the tower appeared and declared, “I am the owner of this tower.” Avraham Avinu could not believe that the world had no master. Hashem appeared and declared, “I am the master of the world.”

What does this explanation of Avraham’s search for and discovery of G-d have to do with “lech lecha,” Avraham’s journey? The answer is that the Midrash is not teaching us about Avraham’s search for G-d – it is teaching us about G-d’s answer to Avraham’s search. That answer is the command to take a journey -- not a journey to a place, but a journey to a different way of thinking.

It is clear from the Midrash that the wanderer cannot find the owner of the tower. The wanderer searches, but he is left perplexed and mystified. It is only the revelation of his presence by the owner of the tower that brings clarity. Avraham had begun a journey to discover G-d, spirituality, but that journey was by definition limited by Avraham’s power of intuition. Avraham was on a philosophical search for truth, but a philosophical search can travel no further than the limits of human reason. What Avraham needed, what Parshas Lech Lecha provided, was a Revelation.

The Sefas Emes and others explain that the pasuk in Tehillim referenced by the Midrash was chosen not only because of its concluding allusion to Avraham leaving home, but also because of the double exhortation to “Listen… bend your ear.” The double language indicates a double mission. Man may start the journey to G-d with his reason, his intellect, his mind, but that must be followed by a willingness to take the next step and abandon those comforting and secure limitations.

When Avraham enters Eretz Yisrael he builds two altars. The first (12:7) is dedicated, “L’hashem ha’nireh eilav,” to G-d who appeared to him. The second (12:8) is described simply as an altar to G-d, followed by Avraham's, “VaYikra b’shem Hashem,” his davening alongside that altar. The Zohar (see also R’ Tzadok haKohen in Pri Tzadik at length) takes note of these discrepancies and explains that the two altars represent two different faces of G-d. One altar represents G-d as we apprehend him, G-d channeled through our perception and understanding, “G-d who appeared.” The other altar represents Avraham’s commitment to the transcendent, what cannot be understood, which is why it is followed by prayer, the heart’s effort to reach out and grasp what the mind cannot. These in turn, I think, correspond to the two stages of Avraham's journeys.

It is just before the construction of this second altar that the Torah uses the term ohel spelled in the feminine form. The Maharal and other seforim that lean towards the mystical distinguish between masculine and feminine attributes or behaviors. The masculine is associated with giving, with outward expression, with impacting others. The feminine is associated with receiving, inwardness, restraint. Perhaps I am reading too much into things, but I would suggest that by spelling the tent in the feminine form the Torah is alluding to Avraham beginning to build that feminine aspect of his soul. Avraham departed from the search for Hashem “hanir’eh eilav,” using his own powers of discovery, thinking that he could discover the “ba’al ha’birah” on his own, and instead began a different journey, one that involved preparation to receive the revelation of the “ba’al ha’birah” rather than to discover it.

Rav Tzadok ties this duality – the process of discovering wisdom vs. the process of receiving wisdom – to our activities of Torah and tefilah. We too are charged with the command to journey down both roads of discovery in emulation of our forefather Avraham.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

win a cookbook!

Unfortunately I haven't had much time to write, but I do want to mention that for less than 5 minutes of your time you can enter a contest to win a free copy of the new Kosher by Design cookbook. See my wife's blog, facebook page, or click here: Win a Kosher by Design Cookbook!

Friday, October 15, 2010

the rewards of the journey

Too pressed for time this week to post, but I want to get something in about the parsha. Avraham is told to leave his land, his place of birth, his father’s home, and to travel to some unspecified location. Hashem sweetens the pot – Avraham is promised that this journey will bring him wealth, progeny, and bracha galore. Did Avraham need this promise of reward to motivate him to leave home? I would hope such a reading is at best a hava amina. A spiritually immature Avraham being coaxed by G-d to get moving is a makes for a tempting reading of the parsha from a literary perspective, but is hard to square with our traditional conception of the Avos as spiritual giants. Midrashim portray Avraham as having discovered G-d already at age three and as willing from an early age to sacrifice his life for his faith when tested by Nimrod. Is this the type person who needs the motivation of material reward? Looking at the text, the words, “Vayelech Avram ka’asher dibeir eilav Hashem…” imply that Avraham left his homeland solely because Hashem had spoken, without ulterior motive.

So why then the promise of reward? Taking a mussar oriented approach, one might suggest that the reward was part of the test being given to Avraham. Not only must Avraham abandon his home, but he must do so without regard to the promise of reward that is part of the deal. The fringe benefits make the test harder, not easier.

But there is another possible approach as well. Books have been written about the phenomenon of boys and girls who mere weeks before seemed not so different from their non-yeshiva teen counterparts, but after entering the Beis Medrash in Eretz Yisrael, entering Seminary, a short while later become changed people. Gone are the plans for medical school or law school, white shirts and dress pants replace the torn jeans and sneakers, Saturday becomes Motzei Shabbos – va’ya’hapoch Hashem es Sdom, to preview next week’s parsha. Along with a new found dedication to learning comes a new found sense of prishus. If the transformation of these young men and women is so jarring, can we even imagine the transformation an Avraham Avinu underwent when he experienced Hashem’s calling?

The promise of children, wealth, bracha, given to Avraham was not a temptation to be avoided – it was a mechayeiv. Hashem was telling Avraham that his calling to avodas Hashem need not and should not come at the price of prishus from the world, of leaving behind everything, but to the contrary, his life should demonstrate how to have wealth, children, bracha, and utilize them properly for the same of avodas Hashem and kiddush Hashem. There are some things that one must abandon -- lech lecha -- but there are things one must take along for the journey and elevate to a higher purpose.

Knowing when materialism is to be eschewed and rightfully recognized as a distracting test and temptation and when it can be used and enjoyed in the service of Hashem can be a challenge. I recently received a postcard of programs from an institution I am an alumnus of. The top line mentioned shiurim being offered on Sunday; two lines below that was advertised, “A Night of Fashion and Glamour featuring Teri Jon Fashion and Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry.” I really don’t think Sarah Imeinu attended a Sunday shiur and then went to check out the Ivanka Trump jewelry of her day – that’s not the lesson to draw from our parsha. There has to be a l’shem shamayim in how we use the world, and only on those terms do we have a right and a chiyuv to do so.

Friday, October 08, 2010

wild animals vs. wild people: what did Noach have to fear more?

Rashi (6:18) writes that Hashem made a special covenant with Noach to ensure that the animal fodder on the ark did not spoil and to ensure that Noach came to no harm from the wicked people around him. The Brisker Rav notes that no special protection from the wild animals aboard the ark was afforded to Noach – indeed, the Midrash tells us that a lion took a nip at Noach when he delayed his food. The implication is that Noach had more to fear from the wild people around him than from the wild animals he faced in the ark.

I would like to suggest a different way to make sense of the diyuk that avoids the Brisker Rav’s conclusion. In Parshas VaYeishev we read that instead of killing Yosef outright, the brothers decided to drop him into a pit. The Torah writes that the pit was empty of water, from which Chazal deduce that it was filled with other things – snakes and scorpions. Why was lowering Yosef into a snake filled pit better than killing him directly? The Ohr haChaim (which we discussed here) famously explains that snakes and scorpions have no free will – their behavior is mechanistic, controlled by Hashem alone. If Yosef was truly innocent and deserved Hashem’s grace, the snakes and scorpions would not harm him. If he was guilty, he would die. There could be no surer test of Yosef’s standing in G-d’s eyes. Ahuman being, however, has free choice that Hashem does not interfere with. The fact that the brothers or anyone else might be able to harm Yosef would not establish his guilt or innocence.

Based on this I think it makes perfect sense for Noach to need special protection from the people who surrounded him but not from the wild animals. The lions, tigers, and bears would only harm Noach if Hashem allowed; wild people have no such constraints on what they could do and the damage they could cause.

My son argued that if anything, Rashi proves the exact opposite of the case I am trying to make. If humans have free choice, how could Hashem promise to protect Noach? My counter-argument is that the pasuk is speaking of a bris, a special covenant that goes above and beyond the normal bounds of hashgacha. Even the Ohr haChaim would admit that Hashem has the power to interfere with free will. Hashem normally does not do so because the relative cost of abrogating such a fundamental principle overrides any benefit gained by doing so. However, in exceptional circumstances, all bets are off.

Two final notes: 1) I have heard that the Brisker Rav did not hold like this Ohr haChaim; 2) If someone has time it would pay to dig around and see if there are other Rashi’s that either agree or disagree with the Ohr haChaim.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

eiver min hachai -- we are all limbs of one body

Rashi cites Chazal as teaching that the conflict between Yosef and his brothers was exacerbated by his accusing them of eating eiver min hachai, limbs torn from a live animal Maharal explains beautifully that this was not some random sin the brothers were being accused of, but was symbolic of the differences between them. Yosef was telling his brothers that they were all limbs of the same body. No sheivet can sever itself from others; no one sheivet can exist as a limb apart from the body of Klal Yisrael. Yosef wanted his brothers to accept that Hashem chose to channel bracha to the klal through him; getting that bracha independently was just not possible.

The parsha of Braishis, “Eileh toldos ha’shamayim v’ha’aretz…,” came to a close with the flood. The parsha of Noach begins a new story of creation, “Eileh toldos Noach…” This second story of (re)creation differs from the first in that this second time around shamayim and aretz are not independent limbs – they are attached to the personality of Noach. The story of the world is the story of man, in particular man the story of the tzadik in whose power lies the potential to redeem the world when all other reasons for its existence have been lost (see Sefas Emes).

The Shem m’Shmuel writes that in light of the Maharal we understand why Noach in particular was given the command to avoid eating eiver min hachai. Noach was being told that all the world now exists as limbs connected to his fate.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

interesting mashiv ha'ruach question (III)

We’ve been dealing with the following question: my daughter entered shul just before the gabai announced before musaf to start saying mashiv ha’ruach u’mordi hageshem. She was still up to tefilas shacharis. Does she have to say mashiv ha’ruach in her tefilas shacharis?

Yesterday I went over possibly solutions, (and if you did not see the comment, Tamir points out that the Sefer Minhagei Chabad cites a psak of the Rebbe that one should say mashiv ha’ruach in the scenario given); today I want to just frame the issue in two different ways:

A) First Approach -- The Yerushalmi writes that in truth we should start saying mashiv ha’ruach by ma’ariv on Shmini Atzeres. We don’t, because many people don’t come to shul at ma’ariv (those Amoraim were such realists, weren’t they?) and making a change that only some of the people know about would lead to confusion. Why not then make the change in shacharis? The Yerushalmi offers two answers: 1) people would think the change was made the night before, leading us back to the same confusion; 2) it is impossible to interrupt and announce a change before the amidah in shacharis. (These two answers may reflect a difference of opinion as to whether smichas geulah l’tefilah is required on Yom Tov or not, but that’s a discussion for another time.) What we are left with is making the announcement to start saying mashiv ha’ruach before musaf.

Is that conclusion a din or simply a metziyus? Meaning, at the end of the day, is pushing off mashiv ha’ruach until musaf just a practical consideration, but from a legal perspective it belongs in shacharis or even ma’ariv, or does halacha dictate that reciting mashiv ha’ruach belongs only to musaf for the reasons outlined?

If mashiv ha’ruach really belongs to shacharis or ma’ariv if only the practical hurdles could be overcome, then in a case where those hurdles don’t exist, e.g. you are davening shacharis but hear an announcement to say mashiv ha’ruach, then it makes sense to say it. But if the Yerushalmi is telling us a din, i.e. the recitation of mashiv ha’ruach starts only from musaf, then all bets are off.

B) Second Approach -- It seems that two ingredients are necessary to initiate the obligation to say mashiv ha’ruach: 1) an announcement of the switch; 2) before or during tefilas musaf. What is the interplay between these ingredients? Is it the tefilah of musaf which generates the chiyuv to start saying mashiv ha’ruach, but only on the condition that some announcement is made? Or is it the announcement which triggers the obligation, but the announcement cannot be made before musaf? Which is the mechayeiv and which is the tnai? Or (for you R’ Shimon Shkop fans), maybe it is the hitztarfus of the announcement and the tefilah together which are necessary?

If the announcement is its own mechayeiv, then even if you are in the middle of shacharis, once you hear mashiv ha’ruach, you should start saying it. However, if the chiyuv begins only at musaf, provided an announcement is made, all bets are off if you are davening shacharis.

Two mareh mekomos that are interesting and/or important to the discussion:
1) The Pri Megadim we discussed yesterday writes that even if someone calls out mashiv ha’ruach before shacharis, one should not start the recitation until tefilas musaf. Sounds to me like the tefila, not the announcement, is the key ingredient. But again, perhaps it is the announcement which is the crucial factor, but an announcement that is not made at the appropriate time carries no weight.
2) The Chochmas Shlomo draws an interesting conclusion from a diyuk. The Shulchan Aruch says someone who is sick at home must until the time that the tzibur davens musaf to daven their own tefilah. In this way, the announcement to say mashiv ha’ruach done in the tzibur allows them to add those words as well. R’ Shlomo Kluger asks: why wait? If you are at home and haven’t heard any announcement to change, just daven without saying mashiv ha’ruach!? Apparently mashiv ha’ruach must be said in tefilas musaf, and as part of the fulfilling that chiyuv a person must ensure that his/her tefilah is one that is preceded by an announcement which allows the appropriate change to be made.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

interesting mashiv ha'ruach question (II)

Yesterday I posed the following question: my daughter entered shul just before the gabai announced to start saying mashiv ha’ruach u’mordi hageshem in musaf. She was still up to tefilas shacharis. Does she have to say mashiv ha’ruach in her tefilas shacharis?

I'll try to formulate the issue and do some analysis next post bl"n, but first here's my off-the cuff answer in the few moments I had to think of something: I advised her to say morid ha’tal (and hats off to those in the comments who agree). Nothing is lost by adding morid ha’tal in the summer months, but at the same time, saying morid ha’tal in the rainy season is sufficient without mashiv ha’ruach. No matter what, her tefilah would be OK. One nitpick that occurred to me later: the halacha is that b’dieved on Shmini Atzeres if you said mashiv ha’ruach even in shacharis or ma’ariv you are yotzei. Is it still better to say morid ha’tal, or would it have been better to say mashiv ha'ruach given that b'dieved it would have been OK anyway?

A talmid chacham I asked suggested, as some others have commented, that my daughter should have stood outside the shul and not listened to the announcement. I don’t think that works. If someone is at home davening alone, even though he/she hears no announcement, he/she is still obligated to add mashiv ha’ruach in musaf. Apparently actually hearing the announcement is not necessary to create the obligation to start saying mashiv ha’ruach – all that matters is that you are part of a tzibur where such an announcement has been made. If someone at home counts as part of the tzibur, certainly someone standing in the lobby counts as well (though you could counterargue that standing outside with explicit intent to divorce oneself from the tzibur carries more weight than stam being at home...)

Ad kan my hava amina. After the fact I found a Pri Megadim that I thought may answer the question. The Pri Megadim writes that if for some reason someone announced at shacharis to start saying mashiv ha’ruach, the tzibur should still not add it to their tefilah at that point. An announcement heard during shacharis does not matter one iota. Doesn’t this prove that in my daughter’s situation, where she heard the announcement before her tefilas shacharis, that she should just ignore it?

Not so fast. Perhaps the Pri Megadim does not mean that an announcement should be discounted simply because you are still davening shacharis. What he means is that an announcement made too early, during shacharis, is not considered an announcement! In my daughter's situation where the announcement was made in its proper time, to the tzibur davening musaf, perhaps it would be considered a valid cause for her to say mashiv ha’ruach even though she personally was only up to tefilas shacharis.

Monday, October 04, 2010

interesting mashiv ha'ruach question

On Shmini Atzeres I went out to the lobby when yizkor was being said and I noticed that one of my daughters was still saying pesukei d’zimra because she came late (my daughters unfortunately think Shabbos and Sunday are sleep-in days). I realized that when we re-enter shul the gabai will announce that we should start saying mashiv ha’ruach u’morid hageshem in our tefilas musaf, but my daughter would hear that announcement before her tefilas shacharis. Question: having heard mashiv ha'ruach announced, must she now add mashiv ha’ruach in her tefilas shacharis?

I had somewhere in the neighborhood of five minutes at best to figure out what to tell her to do, and the Mishna Berura does not discuss this case. So all you Rabbi-wanna-be’s – what would you say? I’ll give you a chance to comment before I give away what I told her on the spot, how I would formulate the issue or question, and what I think in hindsight the right answer is. The best solution is, of course, to get to davening on time and not have such problems, but such would make life too easy.

Ehr Kumt -- must read sermon

Hopefully you will excuse the somewhat political message -- I have seen this sermon by (Conservative) Rabbi Shalom Lewis of Georgia linked to in a few places and it is well worth 5 minutes of your time if you have not seen it yet. Rabbi Lewis gets it. Sadly, many in our community still do not and probably will not until it's too late. LINK
(Thank you to Joel for a URL that works.)

Torah as a blueprint

A human king, according to the normal manner of the world, does not build a palace based on his own ideas. Instead, he consults an architect. The architect does not build based on his own ideas, but instead draws blueprints and drafts to calculate where to place rooms and doors. So too, when G-d made the world he looked into the Torah [the blueprint] and only then created the world. (Midrash Rabbah 1:1)

The expression, “The Torah is the blueprint for the world,” based on this Midrash, has become somewhat of a trite aphorism whose meaning is taken to be so obvious as to require little explanation. Yet, if we pause to reflect on the analogy drawn by the Midrash, it seems to make little sense. A human king does not have the specialized skills or knowledge necessary to design a palace, and therefore is forced to call upon an engineer or architect. The professional in turn does not simply provide advice off the cuff, but must take time to plan, to draft, to analyze. G-d is not bound by any of these restrictions – he is all knowing, he does not need time to plan, he does not need drafts, he does not need blueprints. He can simply create! Why then does the Midrash speak of a blueprint?

Sefas Emes explains that the Midrash is not trying to teach us about the Creator or about the creation process -- it is trying to teach us something about the world. The world is not an environment of chaos, a moral wilderness which we must forcibly tame and bend to the yoke of Torah. Quite the contrary. The world was created with an intrinsic sense of order; it is completely in harmony with Torah. There is a plan which governs reality. Our inability to see that plan is due to our own corruption of the environment and our own nature, but rest assured, the plan remains in place.

There are those who ascribe truth only to empirical findings, but dismiss Torah law as a “legal fiction” that has no correlation with reality. And there are those who think truth can be found only in theoretical constructs of lomdus, completely divorced from the messy data of the senses. Neither of these approaches is satisfactory. Blueprint and reality correspond. The world has as much to teach us about G-d as the Torah blueprint used in its design. Empirical reality can only be interpreted and understood in light of the equally valid truth of its Torah plan.

The world may be likened to a pool which was filled with water underneath which was submerged beautiful images. So long as the pool was filled with water, the images could not be seen. One the water was stopped and drained, the artistry of the images was apparent. So too, so long as the world was filled with chaos and void, tohu va’vohu, sky and earth were not apparent. Once the chaos and void were removed, they were seen. (Midrash Rabbah 9:2)

Our task as partners in creation is to remove the void and chaos from the world to reveal its inherent order and beauty.