Thursday, October 27, 2011

a bite from the lion

There are different views in Chazal as to how to understand the pasuk of "VaYisha'er ach Noach," that Noach alone was left -- what does the extra word "ach," which is usually a miyut, add to the pasuk? Rashi explains that tending to the animals took a lot out of Noach -- "ach" is a miyut of Noach's energy. The Midrash Tanchuma, however, writes on this pasuk that Noach suffered not from the animals, but rather from the cold. Some ask: Would it have been too hard for Hashem to add a space heater into the teivah? Couldn't Hashem have found a way for Noach to be warm as well as dry? I don't like the question -- hakol b'yedei shamayim chutz m'tzinim u'pachim, so in this area Noach did have to fend for himself -- but perhaps the Midrash is teaching us a moral lesson as well. The story is told that when there was once a fire in Brisk that burned down many homes, R' Chaim refused to sleep in his bed. Even though R' Chaim's own house was not damaged, he would not rest in comfort while others did not have a place to go. Noach was insulated from the dangers outside the teivah -- he had a dry bed, he had food, he had a means of escape. Chazal are telling us enjoy the food, enjoy the bed, but when the world is being destroyed, at least skip the extra blanket -- be mishtatef in the tzarah of the tzibur; feel the pain the community is going through even if it doesn't directly affect you.

All the little kids are taught the Rashi that "ach" tells us that Noach was injured when the lion took a swipe at him for one time bringing his food late. Did Noach deserve to be punished just because he was late once -- did the 364 other days of the year he served the lion's food on time count for nothing? Again, lots of people talk about this, but I don't like the question. The lion cannot change its spots, or its roar and bite. Let your guard down for one day, one instant, and the 364 days go out the window pretty fast. Perhaps lion is a metaphor for the yetzer ha'ra, which needs constant minding, as in a second it can undo hours of mussar.

But why specifically do Chazal attribute Noach's injuries to the lion and not any other wild animal? The Ostrovze has a remarkable insight. Chazal (Yoma 21) tell us that during Bayis Rishon the fire on the mizbei'ach crouched like a lion; during Bayis Sheni it crouched like a dog. The AR"I explains that the smoke and fire of the mizbeiach served as a protection against aveioros. What's the difference between a watch-lion and a watchdog? If a lion is protecting you, it takes care of everything -- you can go to sleep and it will eat or scare off whatever is coming. A watchdog, however, will just bark it if sees an intruder -- you to wake up and take action. During Bayis Rishon, Hashem took care of everything; we could sit back and watch. During Bayis Sheni, the smoke and fire was there to wake us up, but it was up to us to do teshuvah and ellicit rachmei shamayim and yeshuah.

The Zohar is critical of Noach for failing to at least daven for those around him. If someone happened to see him building the teivah and took note, great -- if not, Noach didn't go out of his way to knock on the doors of his neighbors or knock on the gates of Heaven on their behalf. Noach emulated the dog; he barked a little, but he didn't bite. He lacked the quality of the lion, the courage to protect others from harm even if they themselves failed to act.

This is the lion which Chazal tell us overcame Noach.

The gemara (Meg 15) tells us that when Esther was about to take the fateful step of going to see Achashveirosh without being called for, she suddenly sensed her ru'ach hakodesh had vanished. "Perhaps it is because I called Achashveirosh a dog -- 'Hatzilah...m'yad kelev...'," Esher said to herself. She therefore changed her tefilah and called him a lion instead -- "Hoshi'aynu m'pi aryeh." What difference does it make if Esther called Achashveirosh a dog or a lion? Chazal tell us that Achashveirosh's threat to Klal Yisrael was a greater motivator to teshuvah than all the words of the Nevi'im. Esther wasn't happy about that -- Klal Yisrael should sink to such depths to need waking up by an Achashveirosh?! She therefore davened that Hashem should intervene, that the yeshu'ah should come from Him and not through the kelev-barking hisore'rus of Achashveirosh. Esther's ruach hakodesh vanished; her tefilah was too optimistic. Klal Yisrael indeed were unworthy at that moment -- they needed that outside wake up call of Achashveirosh. So Esther tried again. She asked, "If the hisorerus must come from Achashveirosh, at least Hashem save me from the lion," i.e. let Achashveirosh not be like the lion that gets all the credit for doing the job; let the yeshuvah of Klal Yisrael come at least partially through Hashem's hisoreus and intervention as well.

Why do we say Hallel on Pesach? Because the yeshuah came from Hashem alone, not through our acting or re-acting to a wake up call -- during the geulah from Egypt, "Lo yecheratz kelev l'shono." On Purim there is no hallel, as "Akatei Achashveirosh anan," we owe a measure of our redemption to Achashveirosh's wake up call as well.

(If you are not blown away by the torah of the Ostrovze after this piece, maybe you need to check your pulse.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

what is the ma'aseh merkava doing in mes. chagiga?

It is said in the name of the GR"A (R' Tzadok also has it in many places) that every aggadita in sha"s fits exactly to the masechta it is placed in. The description of the churban habayis appears in Mes. Gittin, because at the time of churban we became k'almanah, waiting for Hashem to take us back. The aggadita that speaks of mattan Torah appears in Mes. Shabbos because according to all opinions the Torah was given on Shabbos and relates to the day of Shabbos. Why does the topic of ma'aseh merkava, the mystical vision of the Heavens as shown to Yechezkel haNavi, which is incomprehensible except for those on a very high spiritual level, appear in Mes. Chagigah, which deals with aliya la'regel and Tom Tov?

I heard from R' Naftali Jeger, R"Y of Sho'r Yoshuv, in the name of Rav Hutner, that on Yov Tov a person can receive amazing aliyah in Torah and ruchniyus. When a person finds himself in such a position, why think small? You have to seize the opportunity -- reach for the stars and aspire for the most lofty ideals and ideas, as represented by the ma'aseh merkava. Don't let the Yom Tov go to waste!

Koznitzer Maggid on Shmini Atzeres

Hashem tells us in P' Ha'azinu, "Ya'arof ka'matar likchi," that his words of Torah should flow down to us like dew. The gemara (Ta'anis 7) based on this pasuk writes that a rainy day ("yom ha'geshamim") is as great as mattan Torah, or perhaps even greater, as the lesser event, in this case mattan Torah, is always compared to the greater event, the rain. What's the common denominator between these ideas? When Hashem opens the skies and bestows his gifts on the world, those gifts can in the form of material blessing, geshem = gashmiyus; those same gifts can come as spiritual blessing, mattan Torah.

The Koznitzer Maggid teaches that this "yom ha'geshamim," the day of rain the gemara refers to, is a hint to the day of Shmini Atzeres when we start saying mashiv ha'ruach u'morid ha'geshem. Our focus on this day is not only on the spiritual rain that we want to fall, but also on the "spiritual rain" we want to fall as well.

In reality Shmini Atzeres should be 50 days after Sukkos just as Atzeres (Shavuos) occurs 50 days after Pesach. But, says the Midrash Tanchuma, Hashem does not want us to leave our homes in the winter to make aliya la'regel, so he tacked on Shmini Atzeres right after the seven days of Sukkos. The association between Shmini Atzeres / Simchas Torah (in chutz la'aretz we seperate off Simchas Torah as an added day; in Eretz Yisrael there is only one day of Yom Yov) and Shavuos underscores the connection between this Yom Tov and the idea of mattan Torah. Hashem gave us Pesach even though we were bereft of mitzvos and zechuyos; it therefore took 7 weeks for us to earn the right to stand at Har Sinai. After a holiday of Sukkos replete with the mitzvos of sukkah, of lulav and esrog, we earn the right to Atezres in only 7 days. Sefas Emes writes that Shavuos is the holiday of Torah sheb'Ksav; Shmini Atezers is the Torah we have earned of our own accord, the holiday of Torah sheBa'al Peh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

the bracha of Moshe Rabeinu

Before Zos HaBracha gets into the meat and potatoes of Moshe Rabeinu's bracha to the shevatim, it opens with praise of Hashem (Rashi 33:2) -- "Hashem m'Sinai ba... Mimino aish das lamo..." etc. as lawgiver and as having a special bond with Bnei Yisrael. As much as this introduction is about Hashem, it is also about us. Commenting on the pasuk, "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe...," Ramban explains that it is the acceptance of the Torah on our part which makes us worthy of receiving a bracha. In other words, you can't just walk up even to a Moshe Rabeinu with no desire to change, to grow, to come closer to Hashem, no commitment, and expect him to drop a bracha in your lap and give you whatever your heart desires. A bracha has to be earned. A bracha requires a kabbalas haTorah as a pre-requisite.

The parsha presents the brachos of Moshe one by one to each sheivet -- "Yechi Reuvain...," "V'Zos l'Yehudah...," etc. Yet when it comes to sheivet Yisachar, rather than start a new pasuk with his bracha, instead the Torah tacks it on to the bracha of Zevulun, almost as an afterthought: "Smach Zevulun b'tzesecha v'Yisacha b'ohalaecha." The parsha then goes right back to Zevulun, "Amim har yikra'u..." Why doesn't Yisachar get his own spot in the sun, his own individual moment of attention? Furthermore, Chazal tell us that Zevulun and Yisachar made a partnership: Zevulun was a merchant who used his wealth to help support Yisachar, who dedicated himself to talmud Torah; together they shared the reward of talmud Torah. Shouldn't the focus be on Yisachar, who was doing the actual learning, and not on Zevulun, who just enabled Yisachar's talmud Torah? Why is the bracha directed at Zevulun as the primary recipient with Yisachar tacked on secondarily?

R' Chaim Kanievski in his Ta'ama d'Kra writes that the reason Zevulun is the focus of attention for this bracha and Yisachar is tacked on secondarily is precisely because Yisachar was the one who was totally immersed in talmud Torah. When one's life is Torah, one doesn't need an added bracha -- Torah itself is the biggest source of bracha a person can have.

Maybe that's what we are supposed to get out of Simchas Torah. The lulav is put away, we don't have to eat in the sukkah anymore, there is no particular mitzvas ha'yom -- so why do we have a Yom Tov? Perhaps the idea is that those items are just props, accoutrements, albeit very important and meaningful ones, but if one has Torah, then one can have simcha and bracha even if one has nothing else at all.

Monday, October 17, 2011

when to do shenayim mikra on braishis

I had this same question in other years but don't remember if I posted it. In theory you have until Shmini Atzeres / Simchas Torah to finish shenayim mikra on Zos HaBracha. Does that mean you can't start shenayim mikra on Braishis until after that? Usually you can start the upcoming week's parsha from after mincha on Shabbos the week before but not earlier -- but is this week's parsha Zos HaBracha, or Braishis?

Obviously, if you can only start Braishis on Simchas Torah, that doesn't give you a lot of time...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

who's on first?

The Midrash Rabbah writes that in the merit of our fulfilling, "U'lekachtem lachem bayom harishon..." we can merit that Hashem appears to us "rishon", makes the "rishon", the first born Eisav, pay his dues, builds the Beis haMikdash, which is called "rishon", and brings Moshiach, who is also in Tanach called "rishon."

Just because the word "rishon" appears in the context of lulav does not mean there is a connection with every other place the word "rishon" appears -- it's not a word game that the Midrash is playing. What Chazal are telling us is that the geulah, i.e. the defeat of Eisav, the building of Mikdash, the coming of Moshiach, all hinted at by that word "rishon," is already latent and part and parcel of the mitzvah of 4 minim on Sukkos. You want to taste the geulah and know what it is all about? Pick up a lulav and esrog.

Perhaps this is why Chazal tell us (Avodah Zarah 3) that when the geulah comes and the nations will complain that they want another chance to earn redemption as well, Hashem will challenge them to fulfill the mitzvah of sukkah. Why this mitzvah and no other? Because if you can celebrate Sukkos properly, if you can experience the mini-geulah of this chag, then you have proven yourself worthy of geulah on a greater scale. But if you kick the sukkah and are disgusted by it, as the nations reacted, then certainly you don't deserve geulah on a greater scale.

What does it mean that Hashem appears to us "rishon?" The Shem m'Shmuel explains that Chazal discuss a "machlokes" between Bnei Yisrael and Hashem: Hashem asks of us, "Shuvu alai v'ashuva aleichem...," that we take the first step towards teshuvah and he will respond; we ask of Hashem, "Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha v'nashuva...," that Hashem take the first step to bring us closer to him and then we will respond. On Sukkos Hashem breaks the standoff. All we need to do is take a lulav and esrog and Hashem says, "I'll be the rishon -- I'll make the first move and help you come back."

But the mitzvah is not really only about taking a lulav and esrog. "U'lekachtem lachem..." explains the Chiddushei HaR"IM means you have to take "lachem", take yourselves, i.e. pick yourselves up from where you were and be willing to move. We move into the sukkah, we move around the lulav and esrog, and hopefully we will be moved a little bit as well.

sukkah-ing in the rain

Rain is in the forecast in NY, so you may want to take a look at this old post on the topic.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

when an issur derabbanan negates a kiyum d'oraysa

We once discussed (link) the chiddush of the Pri Megadim that when Chazal qualify how a mitzvah d'oraysa should be performed, the failure to meet the derabbanan criteria negates even the kiyum d'oraysa of that mitzvah. For example, there is a din derabbanan that one cannot sit in a sukkah and eat off a table that remains inside one's house. Even though this qualification was instituted by the derabbanan and has nothing to do with the din d'orasya of sukkah, Tos (Sukkah 3) holds that failing to fulfill the din derabbanan negates the kiyum d'oraysa of yeshivas sukkah.

At first glance this chiddush seems to be a machlokes Tana'im later in the masechta. R' Meir allows a sukkah to be made on top of an animal; R' Yehudah does not. The gemara (23a) explains that we learn from the pasuk, "Ba'sukkos teishvu shivas yamim," that a sukkah must be usable for the entire seven day duration of the chag. R' Yehudah holds that since one is not allowed to climb on an animal on Shabbos and Yom Tov, a sukkah built on top of an animal is not usable for seven days. R' Meir counters that the prohibition of climbing on an animal is only a din derabbanan; you can't say a sukkah does not meet the d'oraysa criteria of being usable for seven days just because of a derabbanan disqualification. Apparently, R' Yehudah holds othewise -- the din derabbanan that prevents one from using a sukkah built on an animal does in fact negate the d'oraysa kiyum of sukkah, exactly like the chiddush of the Pri Megadim.

Yet maybe things are not so simple and one can be mechaleik. The requirement of having a table within the sukkah is a din in hilchos sukkah. Perhaps in principle even R' Meir agrees that failing to meet a derabbanan criteria of hilchos sukkah can negate the kiyum d'oraysa of sukkah. However, the prohibition of climbing on an animal is a general din in hilchos Yom Tov. R' Meir perhaps holds that a din derabbanan of hilchos Yom Tov cannot negate a kiyum d'oraysa of sukkah.

R' Akiva Eiger writes that even though Chazal disallowed blowing shofar on Shabbos lest one come to carry the shofar, if one went ahead and blew, one fulfills the mitzvah d'oraysa of shofar, albeit at the expense of an issur derabbanan. Against the Pri Megadim? Again, maybe not. The issur of carrying is a general din in hilchos Yom Tov, not a din in hilchos shofar. A violation of a din in hilchos Yom Tov does not have the power to negate a kiyum d'oraysa of shofar or sukkah.

Monday, October 10, 2011

hana'as garon and chatzi shiur -- a clever l'shitaso

It's only a little after Yom Kippur, so I can still post this. The gemara at the end of Yoma
quotes a machlokes R' Yochanan and Reish Lakish whether chatzi shiur is an issur d'oraysa or derabbanan. By coincidence, the daf yomi recently discussed the machlokes R' Yochanan and Reish Lakish whether achilah means hana'as garon or hana'as mei'ayim -- is eating all about the mouth or the stomach? Nafka minah: what if a person swallows a chatzi shiur, regurgitates it, and then eats the same chatzi shiur? The mouth has chewed threw a full shiur, but the stomach only got half.

R' Tzvi Pesach Frank (Shu"T Har Tzvi) quotes someone who suggested that these two arguments work l'shitasam. The gemara in Yoma explains that according to R' Yochanan chatzi shiur is assur because it is chazi l'itztarufei, the half shiur has the potential to combine with another half to make a whole issur. R' Yochanan is l'shitaso that when a half shiur is swallowed, regurgitated, and then re-eaten, the second eating combines with the first because hana'as garon is what counts. Reish Lakish looks at hana'as mei'ayim and therefore a half shiur can never recombine with itself to add up to a whole, which is why he holds chatzi shiur is permitted.

The weakness with all this (as R' Tzvi Pesach Frank explains) is that chazi l'itztarufei means a half shiur can be combined with other pieces, not necessarily that it can combine with itself. Nonetheless, it's clever and inyana d'yoma. (I always like hearing l'shitaso arguments because I find it really hard to think of them myself and usually there is some clever twist involved.)

when a derabbanan is not a derabbanan

When I was learning Rosh HaShana with my son over Rosh HaShana, he noticed that Rashi (22a) seems to say that asmachta lo kanya (e.g. gambling is a form of theft) is a din derabbanan, contrary to the position of many Achronim. My son is in good company, because the Rashash noticed the same thing. Rashash tries to read Rashi as consistent with the other views -- when Rashi says, "Amur Rabbanan asmachta lo kanya..." Rashi doesn't mean that the Rabbis instituted the din of asmachta lo kanya; what Rashi means is that the Rabbis publicized and taught the din d'oraysa of asmachta lo kanya.

It seems strange that the statement, "The Rabbis said..." refers to a din d'oraysa -- where do you ever have such a thing? Actually, in a few places. The Mishna in Sukkah (41b) tells us that, "Amru Chachamim ain adam yotzei y'dei chovaso b'lulavo shel chaveiro b'Yom Tov rishon," that the Rabbis taught that a person does not fulfill his mitzvah on the first day of Yom Tov using someone else's lulav. The Mishna uses the term "amru Chachamim" for what is a din d'oraysa; the Mishna simply means that the Chachamim publicized the din. Rashash gives a few other examples to make the point.

Although it is not the exact same expression, a similar idea is found in another Mishna in R"H and Sukkah. The Mishna (R"H 30, Sukkah 41) says that R' Yochanan ben Zakai "hiskin" that new wheat could not be eaten on 16 Nisan. The gemara explains that hiskin here does not mean that R' Yochanan made a takanah derabbanan, but rather "darash v'hiskin," he publicized and taught what he held to be a din d'oraysa.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

hevel pi'hem untainted by sin

Chazal tell us (Shabbos 119b) that the world exists for the sake of "Hevel shel tinokos shel beis rabban," the Torah study of the young. Rav Pappa asked Abaye, "But what about our learning?" Abaye answered that words from the mouths of those untainted by sin [i.e. children] is superior to words from the mouths of those tainted by sin.

The Kozhiglover Rav, Rosh Yeshiva of Chachmei Lublin before WWII, writes that the Torah learned in these few days between Yom Kippur and Sukkos is even more precious than the Torah learned at any other time during the year. The Midrash writes that Sukkos is, "Rishon l'cheshbon avonos," the beginning of a new count of aveiros for the new year (see his hesber of what this means). Until then, we have a completely clean slate. The merit of our learning is more than equivalent to the untainted hevel pihem of tinokos shel beis rabban because not only are we also untainted by cheit, but we have the additional zechus of being metzuveh v'oseh.

There is a lot to do this week: a sukkah to build, lulav and esrog to buy, helping the wife with the shopping and cleaning. Still, it's critical to try if at all possible to squeeze in some extra learning to make these days count.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

mitzvos b'teilos l'asid lavo

I cannot recall in which parsha it appeared, but somwhere in Rav Copperman's notes to the Meshech Chochma he has a nice hesber of the machlokes whether mitzvos beteilos l'asid lavo or not (will mitzvos apply after techiyas ha'meisim?) He boils the issue down to a philosophical question: Are mitzvos a means to overcome the inherent frailty / imperfection of the physical, material body, or do mitzvos have inherent value as an end in their own right? If mitzvos are just a means to help the neshoma cope with its physical partner (the body), then in the spiritually refined era of techiyas ha'meisim, mitzvos will no longer be necessary. However, if mitzvos serve a valuable end in their own right, they will still apply in the future. (R' Elchanan in Koveitz Shiurim II:29 has a different approach.)

Even the view that holds mitzvos b'teilos l'asid la'vo makes an exception for Yom Kippur, which will be celebrated for eternity (Midrash Mishlei). Why? Using Rav Kooperman's dichotomy, I think the answer is obvious. On Yom Kippur we don't eat, we don't drink, we avoid other pleasures -- the day has nothing to do with the body; it is devoted even now to the completely spiritual. The mitzvah of Yom Kippur is the one time a year when we enter the kodesh kodashim within ourselves and transcend the constraints of the guf. (See Shem m'Shmuel who quotes a different explanation from his father).

Wishing you all an easy fast and a true gmar chasima tova for the upcoming year.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

shuva yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha -- ad v'ad b'chlal or not?

1. Chazal debate (Yoma 86) whether "Shuva yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha," means ad v'ad b'chlal or ad v'lo ad b'chlal. What does the machlokes mean?

A few days ago I was driving along a quiet street when a police car pulled out from the curb and came up behind me. I pulled to the side to let him pass, but then realized it was me he wanted to pull over. I hadn't run a light, I wasn't on my phone, I had bucked my seat belt, so I had no idea why he was pulling me over. It turns out my rear brake light was out (something you can't see while you are driving). The police officer wrote up a summons, but explained that as long as I get the light fixed within the next 24 hours, I wouldn't need to pay anything -- I could just mail in a note from a mechanic and would be off the hook.

My wife, who was in the car with me, took this in stride (she also got the car fixed the next day) and suggested it is a good mashal for teshuvah: Hashem writes up a summons, but as long as we fix the problem in the Aseres Y'mei Teshuvah, we are off the hook.

I thought the mashal doesn't quite fit: The dispensation based on getting the brake light repaired is a tnai built into the ticket that automatically voids the offense. Teshuvah, however, doesn't work that way -- there is no automatic out. Teshuvah is like an extra-judicial dispensation above and beyond what the law allows, akin to appearing in court and being let off due to the mercy of the judge.

My wife's mashal is the ad v'ad b'chlal model: Teshuvah means we have complete control over whether that ticket gets cancelled or not -- it's built into the system. My approach is the ad v'lo ad b'chlal model: Teshuvah can take you most of the way there, but you still need the judge's intervention and mercy to get off.

2. While on the topic of teshuvah, one other point. Chazal say teshuvah is so great that it brings refuah to the entire world. The Shem m'Shmuel asks: So how is it that the churban havayis happened right under the nose of Yirmiyahu haNavi, with Yechezkel haNavi around as well? Surely these giants did teshuvah -- where was the effect on the world?

The answer is that teshuvah did effect the world of Yirmiyahu haNavi, of Yechezkel haNavi -- but we chose to live in our own world instead of theirs.

Everybody talks about "the yeshivishe velt" and this velt and that velt. There is a facebook velt and now a google+ velt. Teshuvah does bring refuah l'olam -- it's just a matter of whether you want to be part of that world or not.

Have an easy Tzom Gedalya today.