Tuesday, September 27, 2011

a clean slate

Last week I mentioned R' Leibele Eiger's explanation of there being no kiddush hachodesh for Tishrei because, unlike all other months, Tishrei was not preceded by a kedushas Shabbos -- Shabbos only came into existance after Rosh HaShana/Rosh Chodesh Tisrei. I should have given that idea more thought and explained it better. Putting aside the mysticism, what R' Leibele Eiger means (and it's also in the Shem m'Shmuel) is that what makes, for example, Kislev into Kislev is that fact that it comes after Cheshvan (or to be technical, after the last Shabbos in Cheshvan); what makes Teves into Teves is that it comes after Kislev. The flavor of each month comes from the accumulation of the past that preceded it. Stores can have a Chanukah sale in August (you know what I mean), but we can't really experience Chanukah in August or Kislev in August because the accumulated experiences of the preceding days and weeks that lead up to those dates haven't happened yet.

But what happens if there is no past experience to draw upon, or what happes if the past that is there is something a person would rather leave behind and discard rather than carry with him/her as a defining part of their future? That's the chiddush of Tishrei. There is no Shabbos mevorchim, there is no past that needs to get carried into Tishrei -- everyone has the opportunity to create a kedushas hachodesh, a kedushas ha'shana, from scratch -- all are welcome to apply, literally no prior experience necessary.

This idea lies at the heart of what teshuvah is all about. The Rambam writes (Teshuvah 2:2) that the ideal of teshuvah is to reach that point that Hashem himself testifies about the person that, "She'lo yashuv l'zeh hacheit l'olam," the sinner will not return to this aveirah ever again. Lechem Mishna asks how such a thing is possible -- a person has bechira! He/she always has the choice to repeat the same offense or to not do so.

Both the Steipler (in Karayna D'Igresa vol 2) and the Kozhiglover (Eretz Tzvi p.19) give similar answers. If even a small stain of an aveira remains behind, that aveira has the power to cause other aveiros -- aveirah gorreres aveirah. It's like weed in your garden -- if you cut off the top but don't dig down after the roots, the same weed will sprout all over again. What the Rambam means is if that if the original aveira is truly fixed, if the weed is uprooted completely, it's gone -- the same aveira, "ZEH hacheit," will never return. Sure, the garden may grow other weeds in the future -- a person still has bechira -- but these are new problems; they are not part of the aveirah gorreres aveirah cycle of the original flaw.

New beginnings with a clean slate -- that's Tisrei and Rosh haShana in a nutshell.
Kesiva v'chasima tova.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

the response of hester panim

1. Every Shabbos brings into the world the potential for all that will unfold in the upcoming week. R' Leibele Eiger writes that this Shabbos is therefore the last real day of the year, as all that will happen during the upcoming week until Rosh haShana will be set on this day.

(Similarly, the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh is when we usually recite birchas hachodesh as the potential for the upcoming month comes into the world on that Shabbos. The exception is te Shabbos before chodesh Tisrei where we do not bentch rosh chodesh because bri'as ha'olam was not preceded by a Shabbos.)

2. The meforshim struggle to make sense of the rasha's response to the tochacha: "Shalom yi'hiye li ki b'sherirus libi eiliech..." M'mah nafshach -- if the tochacha means something to the rasha, then why will he think he will have shalom? And if the tochacha had no effect, then what good will the threats in the rest of the parsha do?

The sefer l'Horos Noson explains the pasuk in light of Chazal's teaching that "Gadol hashalom," as Hashem promises to go easy even on idolators so long as there is peace among them. The rasha who hears the tochacha is scared, but he thinks he has an out: "Shalom yi'hiye li," I'll play nice with others and foster shalom and achdus, but I'll do it for the purpose of, "Ki b'sherirus libi eiliech," because I want to continue to be a rasha and not be punished.

Hashem is willing to ignore everything else when shalom is truly valued; however, if making peace is just being used as a "matir" to try to get Hashem to overlook other problems, then no dice.

3. The Torah in VaYeilech descibes how the idolator will finally come to recognize, "Al ki ain Elokai b'kirbi metza'uni kol ha'ra'os ha'eileh." Sounds like we are dealing with someone who is engaged in teshuvah or at least on the road to teshuvah, someone who realizes that Hashem does not approve of what he is doing. Yet, Hashem's response (31:17) seems far from welcoming: "V'anochi haster astir panei... al kol ha'ra'ah asher asah." Why is this ba'al teshuvah or potential ba'al teshuvah met with even more punishment, with Hashem hiding? Why slam the door in his face?

Ramban answers that the teshuvah here is incomplete -- it's a teshuvah b'lev, an introspective realization, but not a teshuvah that is accompanied by any verbal commitment, viduy, or action. That teshuvah is enough to stop the harsh punishments of the tochacha, but not enough to cause Hashem to come out of hiding (kavyachol) and reveal the light of geulah.

Yet the question is still troubling. The gemara (Kid 49) says that if a rasha is mekadesh a woman on the condition that he is a tzadik, the kiddushin is chal (m'safeik) because perhaps a thought of teshvah passed through the rasha's mind and that is enough to change his staus to tzadik. Why not apply the same standard here?

R' Tzadok says a pshat that you have to be R' Tzadok to say, and it all hinges on the one little word "al" in the pasuk. R' Tzadok says the pasuk does not mean that Hashem will hids his face because of the evil done by this rasha. Aderaba -- the pasuk means that Hashem will hide his face from the evil done by the rasha and refuse to look at it! Despite the rasha having only a hirhur teshuvah b'lev, Hashem is willing to overlook and hide himself from seeing the misdeeds.

I would answer for the Ramban that perhaps once a person has come to the point that they recognize that they had been on the wrong path, they already have a hirhur teshuvah, continuing to remain in that state of hirhur teshuvah without translating it into some concrete action or change is indeed a further indictment. The gemara in Kiddushin is speaking only about the immediate effect this first step of hirhur has on the individual's status. The Ramban is speaking about what happens when this first step is never more than a first step.

4. One final halachic point. The Rambam has an interesting din describing hakhel (Hil Chagiga 3):
אפילו חכמים גדולים שיודעים כל התורה כולה, חייבין לשמוע בכוונה גדולה יתרה.
Super-kavanah (kavanah gedolah y'seira)! Do you find such a din anywhere else? And where did the Rambam get this from?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

the transition to Yehoshua's leadership

In P' VaYelech Moshe charges Yehoshua with the mission of conquering Eretz Yisrael, but then the Torah switches gears and discusses Moshe's nevuah that Bnei Yisrael will end up serving idolatry, will ultimately do teshuvah, and then discusses Moshe's writing sifrei Torah. Finally, Moshe again (31: 23) speaks to Yehoshua, charging him, "Chazak v'amatz..." Why interrupt the narrative concerning the appointment of Yehoshua with these other topics?

The Oznayim laTorah offers two answers. Firstly, Moshe was telling Yehoshua not to think his job was only to be a great general, a great administrator, a great political leader. The Torah reiterates the bris of teshuvah and the kesivas sefer Torah to demonstrate the responsibility of leadership to promote Torah -- that was Yehoshua's primary mission. Secondly, Moshe was preparing the nation to accept Yehoshua. As much as we respect and admire giants like R' Akiva Eiger, the Chasam Sofer, etc. it pays to remember that there are enough stories of gedolim who, in their own time, were literally run out of their towns by elements of the populace. Yiftach b'doro k'Shmuel b'doro -- the respect accorded to the greatest giants in Torah in our time is sadly not universal. Moshe had to ensure that Yehoshu'a "ba'alei batim" would be committed to the same ideals as he was, and therefore before charging Yehoshua with the task of leadership, he reminded the people of the commitment that was necessary on their part.

ahavas chessed and hatzneya leches

One of my daughters called home from her school the night before last with an interesting shayla. Her school (I should say in advance that I do think she gets a pretty good education there, despite my little criticism here) was running a program billed as a "chessed dinner," consisting of a banquet and auction where girls got to bid on prizes, ostensibly for the purpose of raising funds for various causes. My daughter planned to use ma'aser from money she earned as a camp counselor and babysitter to participate in the auction bidding, but when she got there and saw the prizes and what the money was going for, she had a change of heart. She realized that most of the money was not going to charity or chessed, but was being used simply to cover the cost of the prizes or to go back to her own school. What types of prizes are we talking about? Example: A Shopping trip to Woodbury Common (for those not from NY, it's a collection of stores which bill themselves as outlets about an hour outside the city -- think of an entire village that is one big shopping mall). Another example: A manicure. Enough said.

I don't want to discuss hilchos nedarim and whether her intent to pledge meant anything. The far more important point is that even a thirteen year old (one who happens to love shopping herself) can recognize the difference between true chessed and using chessed as an excuse to throw away hundreds of dollars on indulgences and materialistic pursuits. My daughter made me realize that when the pasuk speaks of "...Ahavas chessed v'hatzenya leches im Elokecha," it's perhaps not two different values the Navi is addressing, but one -- the way we do chessed ideally has to be b'tzeniyus.

I've rewritten this post from what I originally had in mind but still am wondering if it is too harsh -- it's not meant to be. It is just frustrating as a parent to realize just how much you are up against if you want to battle the commercialism and materialism that poisons our culture.
I'll try to end on a positive note. Nechemya tells the Jews of his time to celebrate Rosh haShana by giving food and gifts to those who don't have anything -- chessed is a kiyum of the mitzvas hayom of R"H. Why? Because, "Olam chessed yibaneh." The creation of the world is the first and ultimate act of chessed, and so we celebrate the anniversary of the br'iah by participating in acts of chessed ourselves (see Pachad Yitzchok for a little deeper thought on this).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

bikkurim, kiddush levana -- zman gerama?

1. What does R' Chaim Kanievski mean in his Ta'ama d'Kra when he writes that since the Torah uses the term "pri ha'adamah" to describe fruits of bikkurim, it proves that you are yotzei saying a borei pri ha'adamah on fruit? If this proof was so clear cut, how could there be a machlokes Tana'im in Brachos on this very point?! Perhaps R' Chaim simply means the pashtus of the pasuk is like one tzad (I haven't learned enough of Ta'ama d'Kra to know if this is his style of thing to do.) The Chasam Sofer already asks in the name of the Hafla'ah how to deal with this proof and says a pilpul to answer it.

2. A few years ago we mentioned (I, II) R' Akiva Eiger and the Turei Even's sevara that although bikkuim are brought only between Shavuos and Chanukah, the mitzvah is not classified as an aseh she'ha'zman gerama because that's simply the time period when the cheftza shel mitzvah of fruit is available -- it's not a limitation on the duration of the chiyuv. (This is similar to R' Chaim Brisker's explanation as to why milah is not categorized as zman gerama [see Tos. Kid 29a] -- the baby is simply not a proper cheftza shel mitzvah until day 8, but there is no time limitations on the chovas hagavra.)

It seems that the MG"A takes a different view, as he (O.C. 424) quotes the SHL"H that women are exempt from kiddush levana because it is a zman gerama mitzvah. R' Shlomo Kluger asks: Why is kiddush levana any different than bikkurim? There is no limitation on the chiyuv -- it's just that the cheftza shel mitzvah, the new moon, is available only certain times during the month. It's a metziyus, not a din.

I know it's a dochak, but this is only a blog, so I'll try out a chiluk. R' Elchanan in the Koveitz Shiurim at the beginning of Pesachim has a chakirah whether the emergence of three stars is a siman that it is night, or the emergence of stars is the sibah of it being halachic night. I want to go a step further and say that when the Torah tells us that the passage of the sun and moon and stars are "l'yamim v'shanim," it means not only are they the means of marking time, but they are the sibah for time changing. Bikkurim are a phenomenon that takes place within the envelope of time; the passage of the moon is the phenomenon of time, and is therefore directly related to zman.

Parenthetically, the Halichos Beisa quotes a beautiful kashe in the same of R' Isser Zalman Meltzer -- whether it's zman gerama or not, why are we referring to kiddush levana as a "mitzvah"? There is no mitzvah to go out and find the moon -- there is just a din that if you see the new moon, you are obligated to say a birchas ha'shevach. See his answer (end of ch 16) in the name of the Chazon Ish.

don't count your bikkurim before they hatch

1. Ki Savo opens with the parsha of bikkurim, the mitzvah to bring the first fruits to the beis hamikdash, followed by the parsha of viduy ma'asros, the mitzvah to declare after a a three year cycle that all terumos and ma'asros have been properly distributed and disposed of (see Seforno who explains why this declaration is called viduy). The parsha then continues, "Hayom hazeh Hashem metzavecha la'asos es hachukim ha'eileh v'es hamishpatim..." (26:16). Rashi comments that this pasuk is a bracha: just like on this day -- hayom hazeh -- you have fulfilled the mitzvah of bikkurim, so too next year you should be zocheh to fulfill the mitzvah again. If that's what the pasuk means, then shouldn't it appear immediately after the parsha of bikkuim, not here, after the parsha of viduy ma'asros?

In a biographical sketch of Rashi I was reading the author noted that while there seems to be a consensus as to the date of Rashi's death, there is some ambiguity as to when he was born. The reason why is simple -- news of the great Rashi's death reverberated around the Jewish world and made headlines; news of his birth was of interest only to family and friends, as at that point in time he was not yet the great Rashi! The Torah here is giving us a similar message. The bikkurim are not just the "reishis," the first of fruits to be harvested, but they are the first steps of a process of treating one's crops, one's income, as something that is a gift from Hashem, not the natural result of "kochi v'otzem yadi." It's only after the farmer finishes the cycle and has distributed terumos and ma'asros properly that "igla'i milsa l'mafre'a" that the gift of bikkurim was one of significance that merits bracha.

2. The parsha of bikkum contains a mitzvah for the farmer of, "V'samachta b'chol hatov asher nasan lecha Hashem Elokecha u'beisecha.." (26:11) I am willing to assume that the farmer this mitzvah is directed to is not a total Litvak -- mistama he is overjoyed at seeing his crops finally bear fruit; he doesn't need a pasuk in chumash to tell him to be happy. Why does the Torah need to command the farmer to be happy?

A few possibilities:
1. The Torah commands a specific type of simcha, one that comes along with a recognition that the crops are, "...Nasan lecha HASHEM ELOKECHA," gifts from Hashem, not merely the product of the farmer's own hard work.
2. The mitzvah comes to teach us the midah of histapkus (see Tiferes Shlomo). There will always be another farmer that has nicer fruit, that has a nicer basket, etc. Nonetheless, be happy with what is given to you, "Asher nasan... LECHA."
3. Along similar lines, it's possible that the farmer has a great crop of olives, but the grapes that year were not so good, or vica versa -- seldom does everything go right in sync. The Torah is telling us to look at the bigger picture and be happy, 'B"CHOL hatov" -- don't nitpick on the details and use them as an excuse to complain.
4. Finally, as the end of the pasuk indicates, don't be selfish with simcha. Spread it to "Beisecha.. halevi.. v'ha'ger..."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

where your charity dollars go

Thanks to the charitynavigator and the like you can check up and see whether the organization you plan to donate to uses your dollars wisely. It goes without saying that people who spend their day running a charity as a full time job need to be compensated for their work. However, it's also fair to say that in an age of declining wages and massive unemployment, that salary should be commensurate with the going rate in other industries. When I see that the administrator of a charity makes upwards of two hundred and even upwards of three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, how can I feel motivated to write out a check to that tzedaka? When I receive a phone call from that organization describing their difficult financial plight, do I have a right to perhaps question whether that plight is one of their own making?

Maybe these are bad questions to ask during Elul, or maybe davka during this time of year when every organization is asking for your support it pays to make sure you are getting the most bang for your charity buck.

Rav Gifter's letters

I don't know why, but I have no cheishek to write. General malaise.
Hebrewbooks.org has a collection of Rav Gifter's letters here. Three quick points:

1. For those of you learning the daf, he has a kashe on the Mishna in Chulin 81 here.

2. All the gedolim yell about the slow pace of learning that has taken root in yeshivos -- you can find this in R' Shach's letters, in the Steipler's letter, and in many other places going back even earlier, and I see R' Gifter echoes the same (a sharp example on p. 35). There is a point he mentions that I have not seen elsewhere. He writes (p. 84) that many gedolim had a seder learning just gemara & Rashi, without the Tosfos. This is why many times R' Akiva Eiger hints to a kashe in the gilyon ha'shas that Tos. right on the page already asks -- R' Akiva Eiger was learning gemara / Rashi and noted the kashe, but he did not want to slow down to dig through the Tosfos at that point. Interesting.

3. Rav Gifter quotes (p. 80-81) the AB"D of Telz (I am assuming he means R' Leizer Gordon here, unless it's R' Bloch?) as saying that if in Telz they don't eat butter made of cholov aku"m, in Paris they will be careful and not eat pig meat, but if in Telz they are meikil on butter, in Paris they will eat tarfus. I have seen the same idea quoted in the name of R' Yisrael Salanter, and I had assumed it reflected the notion that Klal Yisrael is a unified entity, and where the head goes, the tail will follow, albeit a few steps behind. However, R' Gifter quotes R' Daniel Movshovitz of Kelm (R' Simcha Zisel's SIL?) who understood the idea far more broadly. He says that GR"A's delving into the deepest truths of Torah in his little hidden kloiz in Vilna caused the light of truth to shine more brighly into the world, and because of that Immanuel Kant sitting a world away in Berlin was able to formulate his categorical imperative. (I don't know yiddish -- hope I'm right in assuming based on the context that it's the categorical imperative he is referring to. And just agav urcha, maybe I'm too cynical, but are the days when a gadol might refer to an insight of Kant as a "he'ora nifla'ah amukah" gone forvever? Just asking.)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

v'nishmarta m'kol davar ra and wikileaks

1. The pasuk, "Ki teitzei machaneh al oyvecha v'nishmarta mkol davar ra," (23"10), which appears at the beginning of the parsha which tells us the halachos of keeping a battle camp sanitary and tahor, is used by the Yerushalmi (Pe'ah 4b) as one of two sources for the issur of lashon ha'ra, the other being the pasuk, "Lo teilech rachil..." (VaYikra 19). The Yerushalmi is a play on the word association of "davar" with "dibbur." What is the azhara for lashon ha'ra doing here in the middle of a parsha about war? The Meshech Chochma explains that the Torah is warning against the lashon ha'ra of revealing state secrets, battle plans, and the like to the enemy -- the Torah has an issur directed specifically at the pentagon papers and wikileaks!

This chiddush resolves R' Yosef Shaul Nathanson's question in his Divrei Shaul as to why the command of "V'nishmarta m'kol davar ra" appears in the context of war when it applies equally at all times and places. According to the Meshech Chochma, the pasuk's message is in fact one that applies specifically to battle.

Meshech Chochma adds that the Yerushalmi needs two pesukim for the issur of lashon ha'ra because the issur has two forms: There is the lashon ha'ra spoken amongst ourselves, "Lo teilech rachil," which is bad enough, but then there is the even worse lashon ha'ra of speaking about fellow Jews to others, the enemy or other outsiders, and creating a chilul Hashem. Airing Klal Yisrael's dirty laundry in public provides ammunition for our worst enemies.

I don't know why the M.C. doesn't quote it, but in light of this Yerushalmi I think we have a much better understanding of the Bavli's reading of the pasuk (Kesubos 5) in the same parsha, "V'yated ti'hiye lecha al azeynecha
," as a hint that one's fingers should be placed in one's ears (a play on azeynecha / ozen) to avoid hearing gossip. The Bavli read the continuation of the parsha in a way that perfectly fits the theme of lashom ha'ra introduced earlier.

2. The Torah warns against having "eiphah v'eiphah," two different weights or scales. R' Shternbruch in his Ta'am VaDa'as homiletically interprets the pasuk as a warning against having two standards of behavior, one for the beis medrash, one for the outside. Perhaps the pasuk also means to tells us that we must use the same scale to weigh other's actions as we use to weigh our own. It's human nature to give oneself the benefit of the doubt, to take credit for success, to blame failure on other's lapses that got in the way, and of course to do just the opposite when evaluating the deeds of others. The Torah demands that we try to overcome that and evaluate others' deeds as we would our own.

3. Should we make anything of the fact that our parsha closes with a reminder never to forget Amalek just as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11? Who knows. In any case, aside from not forgetting that there is true evil out there out to destroy us, we should also remember the heroism of the NYPD and NYFD who are out there working to keep all us NYers safe.

4. Lastly, a bit of chizuk: The ben sorer u'moreh is nidon al shem sofo, he is punished severely because his gluttonous lifestyle will inevitably lead him to become a criminal. Rather than wait for the inevitable to unfold, the Torah assigns to him at the outset the punishment for the evil deeds that will follow. The Kozhiglover writes that midah tovah is greater than midah ra'ah. If a criminal can be punished for potential future acts because he already exhibits the desires that will lead him to that future life of crime, a person who exhibits the desire for kedusha and ruchniyus will be rewarded for attaining those values even if he has just begun to embark on the path to get there.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

can everyone be a member of the "reading class"

I am in the middle of reading a delightful little book called "The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction" by Alan Jacobs and I want to share what the author calls "one of the most important arguments" (p. 106) he makes. The pleasure / skill / ability (I'm not sure which is the best word to use) of becoming immersed in a book and thinking deeply about it has been lost (assuming it ever existed, as we shall soon discuss) in our age of information overload -- the patience to digest a great novel of many hundreds of pages and to reflect on its message has little place in an age of "tweets". Jacobs suggests that our expectation that things should be different is perhaps unrealistic. Jacobs writes, "...It has to be admitted that much of the anxiety about American reading habits, and those in other developed nations to a lesser degree, arises from the frustration at not being able to sustain a permanent expansion of the "reading class" beyond what may be its natural limits." (p.107) "Rarely have young people been expected to have truly deeep knowledge of particualt texts. Instead, education, especially in its "liberal arts" embodiments, has been devoted to providing students with navigational tools -- with enough knowledge to find their way through situations that they might confront later in life." (112)

In other words, reading deeply, thinking about great literature, has never been a skill that belonged to the masses. Just as it would be ludicrous to expect everyone to be able to paint fine art or to play a musical instrument, it is ludicrous to expect everyone to read with attention and insight. Most reading is nothing more than an instrumental act, a means to collect data, best accomplished at the fastest pace in the least challenging format.

So how can we possibly expect bachurim to sit for 10 to 12 hours a day immersed in "reading" a sugya?

The simple answer is, "We can't." Just as the post-WWII boom brought with it a never before seen increase in university attendance, so that many more non-readers are now burdened with a task they are unprepared for and incapable of performing (with the result that university classes must be watered down, or with the equally unpleasant result of students cutting corners and feeling frustrated as they attempt to tackle the "great" books), so too we have created our own post-WWII kollel / yeshiva boom, with many more people sitting in yeshiva than historically ever was the case, but with no more people than existed in the past who truly can excel in such a system. We have created an expectation that everyone belongs to the "reading class" rather than accept that this designation belongs to precious few. Isn't that what Chazal themselves tell us when they speak of eleph nichnasim l'mikra but only one being yotzei l'talmud?

That being said, I feel I have to qualify things a bit, because I don't think the simple answer gives us the full picture. There is a difference between reading, which is primarily an activity done independently, privately, in quiet, and learning, which takes places in a social context, be it with a chavrusa, be it with in a shiur with a rebbe. Does that difference mean we can expect the masses to become accomplished talmidei chachamim and appreciate torah on a deep level even if they cannot lose themselves in a book in quite the same way? I wouldn't go that far. Tweedledee who has no attention span and no idea how to delve into the nuances of a text will not become that much better a learner if we sit him across from Tweedledum (who has a similar skill set) for 12 hours a day. I do think, however, that the process of discussion helps keep focus on the text for far longer periods than could be achived through isolated reading alone.

Does that mean learning cannot be loved by all? Of course not. Jacobs is speaking about reading in deeply reflective way; of learning on the highest levels. Even if one cannot read / learn on this level, all is not lost. If someone learns the daf and knows shas gemera & rashi well,that's still quite an accomplishment. So what if one cannot delve into every machlokes and understand the lomdus behind it? A person who knows where to find any din he needs in a Mishna Berura has still achieved much, even if he does not know the gemara, Rishonim, and Beis Yosef behind every din (is that not what the M.B. writes in his introduction as the raison d'etra of his work?) I have seen people waste precious time knocking themselves out trying to force questions and come up with something to say on a text rather than simply move on and cover ground, which would be a far better use of their time. Instrumental reading, collecting information and knowing it well, has an important place in talmud torah, and I think is far more accessible and realistic a goal for the masses. Perhaps we need to rethink our chinuch system so that instead of expecting every bachur to be able to formulate a new and insightful answer to a kashe of R' Akiva Eiger in the first few daf of Bava Kama we instead train them to master the skill of instrumental reading and apply it for all its worth.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

can a din derabbanan be more chamur than a din d'oraysa?

The Minchas Chinuch has a paradoxical chiddush: Since every violation of a din derabbanan is a violation of both lo tasur and v'asisa al pi hadavar asher yorucha, it comes out that a din derabbanan is more chamur than a violation of a single lav d'oraysa (2 issurim vs. 1). Nafka minah: Where there is a choice between two prohibited foods, a choleh should always be given the less severe issur to eat -- ma'achilin lo ha'kal ha'kal techila. Given a choice between eating a food that is assur m'derabbanan and a food that is assur mdoraysa, the Minchas Chinuch suggests better choice would be to eat the food assur m'doraysa, as that would violate only a single lav instead of two.

The footnotes of the new Minchas Chinuch point you to a few places where R' Elchanan proves that the din d'oraysa is in fact more chamur. R' Noson Gestetner in his L'Horos Noson (the perusal of which makes for oneg Shabbos and which is available online here) explains why. The Rishonim discuss whether it would be better to shecht an animal on Shabbos to obtain kosher food or whether it would be better to feed a choleh neveilah. The Rosh writes that it is better to break Shabbos. Even though the punishment for breaking Shabbos is far more severe (misah) than the punishment for eating neveilah, the issur of Shabbos is extrinsic to the food itself - it's like a lion that blocks the way to a good meal. Neveilah, however, is like inedible, not merely inaccessible, food. Here too, issurei derabbanan are issurei gavra (see R' Yosef Engel in Esvan D'Oraysa who discusses this at length) that prevent access to the food. The issur Torah on the food taints the cheftza of the meal itself.

While the lomdus sounds nice, I don't understand what he means. The point of ma'achilin lo ha'kal ha'kal techila seems to me to be to minimize the issurim being done -- it's not a specific din in issurei achila, but is a more general concept: Don't be a big rasha when you can be a smaller one. What difference does it make if issurei derabbanan are issurei gavra or issurei cheftza -- bottom line remains that eating food assur mderabbanan entails violating two issurim while eating neveilah or some other food that is asur m'doraysa entails violating only one issur.

As for why violating Shabbos to obtain kosher food is less severe than eating neveilah, I seem to recall a Netziv which explains that issurei achilah have the added downside of corrupting the neshoma in a way other issurim (even with more severe punishments) do not. Those learning daf yomi may recall from early in Chulin that Hashem does not allow tzadikim to even inadvertently violate issurim. Tosfos holds that this special promise applies only to issureiachila, not to all cases. This underscores the special danger posed by foodstuff.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

the "eyes" have it

When a body is found and the murderer is unknown, our parsha tells us that an eglah arufah ceremony takes place and the elders of the nearest town declare, "Yadeinu lo shafchu es ha'dam ha'zeh v'eineynu lo ra'u." Why do the zekeinim need to declare their innocence -- as Rashi, citing Chazal asks, "Do we really think the zekeinim could possibly be murderers?" Rashi and Chazal offer an answer, but the Ibn Ezra suggests an answer of his own that is a tremendous mussar.

When a body is found close to a city, mistama if the murderer was a member of the nearest city, he would be discovered by the police and apprehended. The eglah arufah scenario is a crime from out of the blue, with no clue as to who the culprit is. The zekeinin declare, "Yadeinu lo shafchu es ha'dam ha'zeh," -- "We know none of the people in our town did this -- so why is this on our doorstep?" Things don't just "happen" for no reason -- there must be something wrong that would ellicit Hashem sending such a tremendously disturbing wake up call. The pasuk is not a declaration of innocence, but rather of guilt.

Chasam Sofer adds an explanation of the end of the pasuk, "V'eineynu lo ra'u
." The zekeinim are responsible for the oversight of their town. When inexplicable tragedy occurs, it means they have been remiss in their job, they have failed to see wrongdoing that they should have been aware of, and therefore, their failure to act has led to tragedy.

When terrible things happen, we hope and pray that they murderer is not from our community, our town (and as we know from the tragedy that happened in the summer, we can't even be sure these days that the murderer is in fact not living right under our noses). But that doesn't mean we aren't guilty. To ever hear of such tragedies, to have them happen in our own backyard, is a sign that something is rotten in Denmark.

I want to add two points. Most of us will hopefully never have to be part of an eglah arufah investigation -- we won't find a body lying on the doorstep -- but that doesn't mean the parsha doesn't apply to us. Ani chashuv k'meis -- Chazal tell us that a poor person is considered like someone who is dead. Thanks to the times we live in there is not one, but dozens of meisim out there that can be found and "no noda mi hikahu," no one knows what happened to cause such a situation. We need to ask why did this happen in our community, on our watch? What is the wake up call telling us? What did we fail to see that needs correcting?

And lastly, I would like to suggest derech derush a slightly different reading of the end of the pasuk, which, even if you don't like it, at least give me originality points. B'pashtus, "Yadeinu lo shafchu..." is a protestation of innocence. "We didn't spill innocent blood." I read "V'eineynu lo ra'u" the same way, with a little twist -- not, "We did not see anything wrong," but rather, "Our seeing did not cause anything wrong." What do I mean? Think of how cheap life must become for a murder to occur. How can such a thing happen? Easy. Think of how many murders and killings occur in a month of TV programs that you can just sit back and watch as if it is sport. Think of how many times you can shoot and kill the other guy in some online game. Newspapers every day now have full color pages so you can actually see the rishus described, not just be satisfied with a word filled description. When all this is in front of your eyes day in and day out, is it any wonder that an eglah arufah can happen?! The Torah is telling us that you can't feign shock and declare innocence unless you can honestly say, "eineynu lo ra'u," we have not created an environment when such things are absorbed by our eyes. If our eyes take in everything out there, then eventually it doesn't just penetrate our eyes, but it penetrates our minds and from there it penetrates our actions and attitudes.