Tuesday, November 29, 2011

ain m'arvin simcha b'simcha and sheva brachos

The Yerushalmi derives from Lavan's instruction to Ya'akov Avinu, "Malei shavua zos," to wait until sheva brachos with Leah are over before he marries Rachel, that one cannot mix two simchos together -- ain m'arvin simcha b'simcha.  Even though the Yerushalmi holds that one cannot learn halachos from events pre-mattan Torah, the pasuk establishes that one cannot emotionally dance at two weddings, i.e. it gives us an insight into the facts on the ground from which the halacha then follows (for more on this issue, see this post at Havolim). 

Based on this din, the Rambam paskens that one cannot get married on Yom Tov since ain m'arvin simcha b'simcha.  Yet, the Rambam also paskens that one is permitted to marry multiple wives at one time, so long as the sheva bracha of each is celebrated independently.  In other words, after one big wedding ceremony the chosson will in week 1 celebrate sheva brachos with wife#1, in week 2 he will celebrate sheva brachos with wife#2, and so on.  Why then can one not get married on Yom Tov and simply celebrate sheva brachos a week later after Yom Tov?  Just like one can get marry two wives simultaneously and celebrate the sheva brachos of wife #2 a week after the fact, why can't a person get married on Y"T and celebrate sheva brachos a week later? 

The Brisker Rav answers that there are two dinim in sheva brachos: 1) The person getting married has a special status as chosson; 2) A din in the simcha being celebrated not being interrupted.   

A person who marries multiple wives has a chalos shem chosson multiple times over.  The only concern is that the simcha of each wedding not interfere with any other wedding.  That can be accomplished by breaking up the sheva brachos into multiple weeks. 

However, if a person gets married on Yom Tov, the celebration of Yom Tov prevents the shem chosson from being chal.  It's not enough to put the sheva brachos after Yom Tov, because at the critical moment of chassuna the shem chosson will not fully take effect. 

I seem to recall once hearing (and I haven't seen it inside) this logic to explain why if a sheva brachos meal on the last day spills over into nightfall, sheva brachos should no longer be recited.  Even though when it comes to additions into bentching, e.g. ya'aleh v'yavo, al hanissim, we usually look at when the mean started, sheva brachos is an exception.  Since it is not the meal which obligates the recitation of sheva brachos, but rather it is the presence of the chosson and kallah, once the seventh day ends and the chosson no longer has that special status and chalos shem, the brachos cannot be said.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

keep digging

The Torah recounts how multiple times Yitzchak dug wells only to be met with hostility from the Plishtim which prevented him from enjoying the water.  Finally, after multiple tries, he managed to dig a well and was able to use the water with no machlokes.   

What is the Torah trying to teach us in this story of the wells?  The Chofetz Chaim explains that we think the spiritual achievements of the Yitzchak Avinu's of the world come easily, but this is because we only look at the end of the story.  We don't see the trial and error, the false starts and failed attempts; we don't see all the wells that were dug that did not produce water or had to be discarded.  The Torah wants us to know that even the greatest giants had wells that could not be used. 

Ain mayin elah Torah.  It takes a lot of digging to finally get that well that produces a spiritual bounty.  The difference between gadlus and failure is not giving up along the way.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the test of tefilah

The parsha tells us that Rivka reacted to the strange kicking in her womb by, "Vateliech li'drosh es Hashem."  Rashi explains that she went to Shem, who was a navi, to ask what was going on (I guess this was the equivalent of a Biblical ultrasound).  Ramban argues and notes that the term "derishas Hashem" usually means tefilah.  Here too, the pasuk means that Rivka davened.    

What was the response?  "Va'yomer Hashe lah...." Rashi interprets to mean that Hashem sent a message to Rivka through Shem explaining that she is going to have twins.  According to Ramban, however, how was Rivka answered?  Was this a nevuah?  

Another Ksav Sofer: The Midrash (cited by Rashi) writes that when Rivka passed a house of idolatry, she felt kicking.  When she passed a beis medrash, she felt kicking again.  Rivka was therefore confused and worried.  If these are two different babies, then it makes sense -- the two have very different inclinations.  However, thought Rivka, what if there is only one baby?  It's wonderful to have a baby that kicks to get out into the beis medrash to learn Torah, but if that same baby also kicks to get out and party when it passes other places, then the Torah is for naught -- it's just an intellectual exercise, a show of brilliance, but there is no real spirituality attached to it.

How could Rivka tell which theory -- two babies or one -- was correct?

The test was to go and daven.  If there was only one baby and that baby's kicking was to get out and enjoy life -- whether it be the enjoyment of intellectual gymnastics that takes place in the beis medrash or the enjoyment of other things in other places -- then that baby would not want to kick to get out for tefilah.  What's the fun in davening?  But if there were two babies, and one wanted to get out not for the enjoyment of olam ha'zeh, but rather because it craved the spirituality of the beis medrash, and the other kicked and wanted  to get out when Rivka passed all those other places, then that first baby would kick even when Rivka went to daven.

And so, through her davening, Rivka knew the answer.

One thought somewhat related to inyana d'yoma that I've blogged about before.  I know from personal experience that to make time for a real tefilah (you know what I mean -- kavanah, putting the time in to think about the words, etc.) on a work day is very, very hard.  There is the train or bus to catch, work that is waiting, there's always traffic, there is the last minute morning disaster that needs attention.  So we all do the best we can.  The real test of whether davening means something is how a person behaves on Sunday, on Thanksgiving or other legal holidays, when there is no work.  That's the test of "Va'teilech lidrosh es Hashem."  The yeshiva minyan does take an extra 15 or 20 minutes, mincha with a full chazaraas hashatz does take an extra five minutes, but today you can spare it.  The yotzei min ha'klal days prove that those other days with the less than ideal tefilah really are the result of dochak and ones.  But if even today you blow through the shacharis in 25 minutes...?  The challenge is to not be taken in by routine, not letting the 25 minute shacharis becomes the norm.  V'nahapoch hu, the 25 minute shacharis is the deviation from what should be.  Speaking for myself, that's a very difficult thing to do, so this is a little reminder.

bad influence

A few posts ago (link) I asked why, according to the Midrash, Avraham sent Yitzchak to learn in Yeshivas Shem v'Eiver after the akeidah -- couldn't he learn as much Torah at home with his father?   The same question could be asked in this week's parsha of Toldos.  Ya'akov was an "Ish tam yosheiv ohalim."  Rashi explains that the ohel Ya'akov sat in was the beis medrash of Yeshivas Shem v'Eiver.  Again, why go off to learn when you have the gadol hador, Yitzchak Avinu, right at home?

Ksav Sofer answers that if was the potential influence of Eisav that caused Ya'akov to leave home and go somewhere else to learn.  The potential gain from learning with Yitzchak was far outweighed by the potential danger of being influenced by Eisav and losing everything.

He adds that the danger was especially acute because Eisav presented a facade of tzidkus.  There was no chance of Ya'akov being influenced by someone who was an out-and-out rasha.  But with Eisav there was always the danger that one could be fooled -- maybe he's not really that bad, maybe we misjudge him -- and then start using him as a role model.  

On a completely different note, while I am sitting here by the computer my wife just showed me this article in the Economist worth a peek in case you are wondering what eruvin and thanksgiving have to do with each other.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

safeik peter chamor

In the case of a safeik peter chamor, the halacha is that the owner must set aside a seh which he is allowed to keep for himself -- hamotzi m'chaveiro alav ha'ra'aya, the burden of proof is on the kohen to establish that it really is a peter chamor and the sheep is his.  What if the kohen has multiple safeik pitrei chamorim?  Rashi holds that multiple sheep need to be set aside, one for each safeik.  Tosfos however disagrees and writes that one seh suffices for all the sfeikos together. 

The Shach adds an additional chiddush -- not only is that single seh good for multiple safeik pitrei chamorim, but it is even good to be re-used for a vaday peter chamor.  In other words, if a sheep is set aside for the safeik peter chamor, the farmer can then give the same sheep to a kohein to redeem a vaday peter chamor. 

The Minchas Chinuch (22:15) is not convinced, though he writes that to fully examine this issue would involve a  tour through all of sha"s.  What that means is that this is complicated, but worth the effort: 

The conclusion of the famous sugya of tukfo kohen (B"M 7) is that a kohein has no right to seize a safeik bechor away from its owner and if he does, we take the animal back.  The Rambam, however, paskens that if the kohein seizes the bechor, he has a right to keep it.  Rishonim and Achronim galore try to justify the Rambam with the gemara.

The proof of the gemara is from a braysa that says if a farmer has 10 safeik animals, which the gemara reads to mean safeik bechoros, the farmer must take ma'aser from those animals because they belong to him and a kohen has no right to take them. 

Rashba suggests that the Rambam (based on other sugyos) read that braysa as referring not to safeik bechoros, but rather to the sheep used to redeeem safeik pitrei chamorim.  In the case of safeik bechor, the kohen does have a right to keep the animal he seizes; in the case of a sheep used to redeem a safeik peter chamor, he does not. 

[What's the difference?  The "classical" understanding of the Rashba is that the bechor is born into a state of safeik; the claims of the owner and claims of the kohen cancel each other out.  However, the seh used to redeem the peter chamor definitely belonged to the farmer at one point in time.  The kohen's safeik claim is not enough to disrupt the prior claim of chezkas marei kammah  of the farmer.  Figuring out whether or not this is actually what the Rashba meant is part of the fun of the tukfo kohen sugya.]

So a kohen can't seize this sheep used to redeeem a safeik peter chamor, but like every rule, there is an exception.  The Rosh (and many other Rishonim) hold that tefisa, seizing something, means taking it without the owner's OK.  If the owner willingly gave the sheep to the kohen for whatever reason, even if he then comes to the kohen and asks for it back, the kohen can keep it -- that's not called tefisa

Getting back to the case of the Shach -- if a farmer has a safeik peter chamor and a vaday peter chamor, even if he gives his sheep to the kohen to redeem the vaday, what's to stop the kohen from saying, once he has that sheep in hand willingly given to him, that he is holding it as the pidyon for the safeik peter chamor and the farmer still owes him another sheep?  And even if the kohen is not smart enough to make this argument himself, perhaps the fact that he could make such an argument is sufficient?  

Monday, November 21, 2011

chayei sarah -- where avraham was coming from

Commenting on the pasuk, "VaYavo Avraham lispod l'Sarah v'livkosa," the Midrash asks where Avraham was coming from.  The Midrash offers two answers: 1) The well known answer cited by Rashi that he was coming from the akeidah; 2) He was coming from the burial of Terach.  Ramban writes that in his opinion there is no basis for this question.  The word "vayavo" need not mean literally moving from one place to another, but may simply indicate taking the initiative to start a new project.  Ramban cites a number of examples to prove the point.  Aside from this linguistic criticism of the Midrash, Ramban takes issue with the Midrash for another reason as well.    Surely Avraham and Sarah were not living in seperate places -- why did Avraham need to travel from some other location back home to mourn for Sarah? 

The Sochatchover tries to reconcile the Midrash with the Ramban.  He suggests that the Midrash does not mean Avraham physically journeyed from the akeidah or from burying Terach to mourn for Sarah.  Rather, what the Midrash means is that Avraham psychologically moved / travelled from a midas hadin mindset back to a chessed mindset.  The potential offering up of Yitzchak as a korban is the antithesis of mercy; the act of burying Terach, kibud av, stems from the midas hadin that obligates hakaras hatov to parents (see Maharal, Tif Yisrael 42).  This psychological reorientation necessary to begin the new task of burying Sarah is the same sense of "vayavo" which the Ramban understood al pi peshuto shel mikra. 

I like the idea of reading the Midrash as a psychological journey rather than a physical one, but would like to suggest a slightly different approach that also explains the two views -- was Avraham travelling from the akeidah or the burial of Terach -- in the Midrash.  The common denominator between these experiences is that they both were encounters with death. Terach had his shortcomings, but ultimately he came to do teshuvah after living a long and full life.  In the end, I imagine Terach left the world somewhat fulfilled -- he recognized the truth and value of his son's mission, he lived to see his son's success, and he achieved personal redemption of sorts in teshuvah.  The akeidah brought Avraham face to face with an entirely different type of death experience, namely the threat of losing Yitzchak.  Imagine the hesped that would have been! -- Yitzchak cut down in his prime, so much potential that could yet have been realized, so much more that could have been achivieved had he been given the time to do so. 

Which encounter with death did Avraham have in mind as he tried to relate to the loss of Sarah?   On the one hand, Sarah had lived a long life, a fulfilled life.  Perhaps, like with the death of Terach, Avraham could take consolation in that fact as he came to mourn her.  On the other hard, who knows how much more Sarah could have achieved had she lived even longer?  As old as Sarah was, as much as she had achieved, perhaps Avraham approached her mourning with the same sense of loss as he would have approached the loss of Yitzchak -- as much as was achieved, Avraham may have yet viewed Sarah as still in her spiritual prime with so much more to offer the world had she only had more time to do so.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Reb Kanievsky

Last night our community was privilidged to be addressed by R' Yitzchok Koleditsky, son-in-law of R' Chaim Kanievsky.  Most of the talk was divrei hisore'rus, dealing with ideals that he felt Rebbetzen Kanievsky a"h embodied and which we should try to implement.  Some take away points: 
1. He opened by recounting Reb Kanievsky tremendous mesirus nefesh for Torah; she never disturbed her husband's learning or sedorim for any reason - be it erev pesach, be it a sick child, be it any other need.  We are not on the level of R' Chaim or his Rebbetzin, but on our own level we need to treat sedorim as a committment not easily broken -- we need to have mesirus nefesh for our Torah.
2. Rav Koleditsky stressed (and how many times I have gone over this with my daughters!) the need for women to daven at least shacharis and mincha (Reb. Kanievsky davened ma'ariv as well) b'zman, with a full shmoneh esrei.  We demonstrate the importance of tefilah by coming on time, by dressing properly.  Reb Kanievsky would daven b'tzibur except on Fri afternoon, when she was busy preparing for Shabbos, but even then she would change her clothes and put on shoes to daven (which she did at the same time as the early mincha minyan, so as to have at least a partial kiyum of tefilah b'tzibur).  
3.  Tzniyus is the vehicle to bring kedusha and hashra'as haShechina to Klal Yisrael.  M'ikar hadin he said that sleeves need to reach only to the elbow (meaning so that the elbow is covered at all times, even if the arms are lifted or extended), but as a geder of kedusha one should try to cover to the wrist.  He mentioned that when R' Zilberstein would come to speak in learning with R' Chaim on Friday afternoon and Reb Kanievsky was preparing Shabbos food with her sleeves a little rolled up, she would roll them down when she came into their room to serve coffee.  Tzeniyus is not just about sleeve length, however -- it also means avoiding the sheitel or dress that attracts attention.  Don't be a slave to society's ideas of fashion.
A nice vort: We read in Megilas Rus that Boaz when Boaz saw Rus he asked, "Who is that girl?"  Chazal are bothered -- why was Boaz looking at and asking about unmarried girls?  The gemara answers that it was the midah of tzeniyus that he saw in Rus that made Boaz ask who she was.  But still, the question remains -- why was Boaz even looking at Rus?  R' Koleditsky answered (and I did not catch who he quoted for this) that it was not Rus the person which caught Boaz's eye, but rather it was the hashra'as haShechina that was caused by an isha tzenu'a being present that he detected.   (He told a story of the Chid"a stopping in the middle of a derasha to exclaim that he felt the Shechina enter when a women who was dressed tzanu'a came into the room.)
4. M'inyana d'yoma, prepare for Shabbos early so as to avoid the yetzer ha'ra that creeps into every home on Friday afternoon as everyone gets all worked up and rushed trying to get ready.   Reb. Kanievsky used to stress the importance of the mitzvah of baking challah and peforming the mitzvah of hafrashas challah.  R' Koldidesky suggested that learning a halacha in hilchos shabbos by each seduah can help foster a better appreciation of shabbos. 
Of course there was much more about Reb Kanievsky's midos tovos and chessed and the power of those traits to bring bracha -- this is just a taste for those who missed it.

the cheftza shel mitzvah of milah

Rashi explains that Avraham had Eliezer take hold his milah when he took his oath to go only to Avraham's family to find a wife for Sarah because a shevua requires taking a cheftza shel mitzvah in hand.  Why is the makom milah considered a cheftza shel mitzvah?  The milah was done already -- how is it different than holding a person's arm after he has removed his tefillin? 

R' Noson Gestetner in his l'Horos Noson suggests that this Rashi supports the view of the Or Zaru'a who understands that the mitzvah of milah is not the act of cutting, but rather the mitzvah is being in the state of not having orlah (the result).  The Ohr Zaru'a brings three other examples of this phenomenon, each of which is interesting in their own right (and which I wish I had more time to discuss): 

1) Talmud torah -- the mitzvah is not the act of teaching, but rather the mitzvah is to see that your kids become educated.  If that means paying tuition, that's your kiyum mitzvah. 

2) Building a sukkah -- interesting that he counts this as a mitzvah, but he defines it as having a sukkah, the result, rather than the act of actually building one.   Rashi (Makos 8) also seems to hold building a sukkah is a mitzvah, but Rashi refers to even chopping wood as part of the mitzvah, proving that the act of building is the key.

3) Wearing tefillin -- this one was the biggest surpirse to me, but then I remembered that we discussed this idea in the past (see here).    Rav Soloveitchik reads the Rambam as holding that there is an additional kiyum in having tefillin on, aside from the mitzvah one gets for the act of donning them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

the success of the Mir (and other thoughts)

Hope no one minds a bit of a jumble of ideas and a little venting:

1. I don't know about where you live, but in my neck of the woods the local yeshivos are not exactly awash in cash.  The last tuition bill from one of my kid's yeshivos came with a note asking for the funds to be remitted ASAP because they need the funds immediately to meet their obligations (this was a form note, not that I am personally behind).  There are families even in the wealthiest neighborhoods who are struggling to make ends meet.  A local newspaper recently ran a piece on one of the food distribution tzedakos being short because so many people need their assistance.  I heard on the radio that the Hebrew Free Burial Society has had an uptick in people who need assistance because people have no means to afford burial.  There are many, many similar stories and examples.   

If reports are true, the Mir yeshiva has run up debts in excess of 10 million dollars and has now embarked on an emergency campaign to remain solvent.  I just can't imagine in difficult times like these where they intend to raise those funds from.  What community can afford to underwrite debt on such a large scale when local charities and institutions are so desperate for funds?  And even if they succeed in keeping the yeshiva afloat for now, what of the future?  What is the fiscal plan, other than to keep fundraising from the same sources everyone else is trying to fundraise from and bleeding them dry? 

It's a sad situation, and my blogging about it won't make a dent in the problem, so ad kan.  I'm just venting.

2. While on the topic, did you ever wonder why the Mir is so successful at attracting and producing so many bnei Torah?  Let me quote a R' Aviner's answer (link) because it is so simple, yet like other simple things, it is easily overlooked (see hakdama to the Mesilas Yesharim):  "There is therefore only one explanation for its success: They learned Torah. What is the big innovation there? The innovation is that it is possible to be involved with many different things in life and therefore not learn Torah. There are many important things to be involved with, but these are for before one learns in Yeshiva or after one leaves. When one is in Yeshiva, he should learn day and night."  

I recently read that Rav Shach was once asked about a statement the Steipler purportedly made that anyone who learns regular sedorim every day (I seem to recall the number of six hours a day, but I may be wrong.  In most yeshivos sedorim in total add up to more than 6 hours a day) would become a talmid chacham.  I guess those who asked had their doubts.  Rav Shach explained that of course the statement is true, provided you indeed learn full sedorim every day -- that includes Shabbos, weekends, Yom Tov, Fridays, bein ha'zemanin, etc.  (See Tos. Kesubos 63a d"h adayta).  Simple and obvious, yet that doesn't stop most of us (myself included) from looking for shortcuts.  Again, Rav Aviner put it perfectly: "A person can have all the right conditions, but he will not become a Torah scholar if he does not learn. In contrast, a person can have difficult conditions – no livelihood, no food, no Chevruta, etc. – but if he learns, he can become a Torah scholar."

3. Another downer: A Long Island yeshiva made the news for having students implicated in an SAT cheating scandal.  The principal is quoted in one article as saying, "The problem is the kids can go to any test center... The solution is simple -- take the SAT in your own school."  On a practical level I guess what the principal said makes sense, but the advice places all the emphasis on the symptoms, not the disease.  The problem is that some students have a warped sense of values.  The solution is not simple -- it doesn't fit into a sound bite.  It involves constant reinforcement of proper values in the school and (perhaps even more importantly) in the home.  It's a hilchos deyos issue, not just a crime prevention problem. 

4. Sometimes you learn a sefer and it's like looking at the grand canyon or a work or art -- you have to stand back and appreciate it as a whole even before getting into the nitty gritty of whether there is a sevara you don't like or some approach that you don't quite grasp.  There can be an aesthetic appreciation for Torah too.  Let me give you an example: In R' Chaim Kanievski's Ta'ama d'Kra at the end of P' Noach he quotes a teshuvas Mabi"t that says one should avoid giving eponymous names based those listed in the Torah before Avraham.  R' Chaim lists 32 places where he found names that are exceptions to the rule (e.g. Akavya ben Mahallalel).  He quotes gemaras, Midrashim, Geonic literature, references in Rishonim -- in short, it is a  dazzling display of bekiyus from all over.  You can argue with a sevara, but you can't argue with mareh mekomos.  Whatever you think of an individual piece in the sefer here or there, the man obviously has kol haTorah kulah on his fingertips -- it's  Rogatchover-like.

5. Let me end with some Torah: Last week I mentioned that the Torah emphasizes, "Vayikach es ha'ma'acheles," that Avraham forced his hand to grab the knife for the akeidah because Avraham's limbs automatically responded to the ratzon Hashem; since the ratzon Hashem was to not do the akeidah, Avraham had to coerce his hands into action. 

At the beginning of Parshas vaYeira the Torah relates how Avraham lavished attention on his guests, serving them the best food, personally waiting on them, etc.  The only shortcoming Avraham was in serving them water, where the Torah relates that Avraham said, "Yukach na me'ay mayim," to take only a little water, and he served them that water through an emissary.  Why was Avraham so stingy with the water?  Rashi explains that the water was brought so the visitors could wash their feet, as Avraham was under the impression that these were idolators who worshipped dust.  The Pardes Yosef comments that since Avraham was mistaken -- these were really angels -- and there was no mitzvah need for the water, Avraham's limbs did not react when he tried to move to draw the water, hence he had to skimp a bit. 

With this background perhaps we can understand why Sarah remained in the dark about the akeidah episode even though she was actually superior to Avraham in nevuah.  Had the ratzon Hashem been to offer Yitzchak as a korban, Sarah indeed would have known about it.  Her ignorance was precisely due to her higher level of perception of the true ratzon Hashem -- there was no real mitzvah to sacrifice Yitzchok.  When she heard what Avraham set out to do she could only assume that he was acting of his own accord to attempt to achieve a higher level of kedushas Hashem, even sans tzivuy, and it was that thought that caused her to pass away (Sifsei Tzadik). 

These three pieces fit together, but in terms of explaining why the akeidah was hidden from Sarah, I much prefer the romantic (if I may call it that) approach of the Ksav Sofer.  He writes that had Sarah been told of Avraham's mission, she undoubtedly would have encouraged him and given him the chizuk he and Yitzchak needed to do the job.  It would have been a far lesser test for Avraham and Yitchak under those circumstances.  The message is obvious -- where would we be if we had to face our own nisyonos without our spouse to lean on?  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

the kos shel bracha sent to Sarah

Why did the malachim sent to rescue Lot and destroy Sdom stop off at Avraham's home first?  The malach sent to destroy Sedom played no role in the story until later -- why did he come along for the visit?

The Midrash comments, "Matzasi David avdi," that David haMelech was found / discovered by Hashem in Sedom.  It was through the illicit relationship of Lot and his daughters that Amon and Moav were born, which led to Rus, which led to David haMelech.  Thus the genes of David haMelech, the genes of the lineage of Moshiach, have their roots in Lot, mayor, and, in the merit of those genes, sole survivor of the city of Sdom.

The gemara (Yevamos 77) tells us that not everyone accepted David.  Doeg ha'Edomi taught that the din of, "Lo yavi Amoni u'Moavi b'kahal Hashem," (Devarim 23) means that the Torah permanently excludes descendants of Amon and Moav from Klal Yisrael.  Avner ben Ner, however, argued that the pasuk can be darshened, "Moavi" -- v'lo Moavis"; only male Moavites are barred, but females converts are accepted.  Doeg challenged: If so, why not similarly darshen, "Mitzri -- v'lo Mitzris," that only male Mitzri'im are barred from marrying into Klal Yisrael, but not females?  Just as this derasha is wrong, so too, the derasha "Moavi v'lo Moavis" is wrong.  Avner answered that the case of Amon and Moav is different.  Here the Torah tells us exactly why they are excluded -- "Al asher lo kidmu eschem b'lechem ub'mayim" -- because they did not show any hospitality to Klal Yisrael when they needed food and drink.  Who normally comes out to serve food and drink to strangers?  Men, not women.  Therefore, said Avner, the prohibition against marrying Moavite converts applies only to men, not to women.

The malach sent to destroy Sdom and the malach sent to rescue Lot had to come to Avraham's home to hear his answer to one question -- "Ayeh Sarah ishtecha?"  Where is Sarah your wife?  Why is she not out serving us as well?  Avraham responded that she is in the tent; as Rashi explains, Avraham told them that the trait of modesty dictated that only he, not his wife, come out to serve the strange guests.  A psak din: Tzniyus trumps hachnasas orchim!  Without this psak of Avraham, the malachim could not do their job.  It was this psak that justified the Moavi women not coming out to serve Klal Yisrael, which in turn justified David haMelech's lineage, which in turn is why Lot deserved to be saved.

According to another opinion in Chazal the angels asked Avraham where Sarah was because they wanted to give her a taste from the kos she bracha.  There was no bread served at this meal -- as Rashi explains, the bread became tamei because Sarah became a nidah -- so what kos shel bracha are Chaza; talking about?  The Lev Simcha explains that the kos shel bracha is the kos from bentching over the future seudas Livyasam.  Chazal (Pesacim 119b) tell us that the kos shel bracha will be passed from tzadik to tzadik, from Avraham to Yitzchak to Ya'akov etc. and each one will have a reason why he should not lead bentching.  Avraham will decline because he had Yishmael; Yitzchak will decline because he had Eisav, etc.  Finally, the kos will get to David haMelech and he will accept it.  The tzenius of Sarah which provided the justification for the derasha of "Moavi v'lo Moavis," paving the way for the acceptance of David haMelech, is rewarded with a taste of the future kos shel bracha that only David haMelech can accept at that seudah of Livyasan in the time of future geulah.

Friday, November 11, 2011

you've done the akeidah -- now what?

וישב אברהם אל נעריו ויצחק היכן הוא רבי ברכיה בשם רבנן דתמן שלחו אצל שם ללמוד ממנו תורה משל לאשה שנתעשרה מפלכה אמרה הואיל ומן הפלך הזה התעשרתי עוד אינו זז מתחת ידי לעולם כך אמר אברהם כל שבא לידי אינו אלא בשביל שעסקתי בתורה ובמצות לפיכך אינו רוצה שתזוז 
מזרעי לעולם 

After the akeidah the Torah tells us that Avraham returned to Eliezer and Yishmael, but no mention is made of what happened toYitzchak.  The Midrash fills in the gap: Yitzchak did not return with Avraham, but rather was sent way to yeshiva to Shem to learn Torah.  Avraham said, “All I have accomplished has been achieved only through Torah; therefore, I do not want my offspring to ever be separated from Torah.” 

There's a lot I don't understand here.  You mean Yitzchak did not learn Torah until this point?  And would he really learn more in the yeshiva of Shem than home with his father?  Furthermore, what does the mashal add to the point?  (Parenthetically, the Tanchuma mentions that Avraham needed to tell Sarah something -- he needed some excuse to leave on his journey -- so he told her he was taking Yitzchak to yeshiva.  True to his word, he did so.)

On a simple level I think the Midrash is telling is that the response to a remarkable event like the akeidah is not to step away, breathe a sigh of relief that it's all over, and then go to Disneyworld.   Rather, those newly found kochos have to become the impetus to build on.  In particular, the spiritual high of avodah needs to be brought into the limud haTorah of the day to day and not remain an isolated experience.  For example, there are lots of programs that will take kids to a retreat and run a kumsitz and everyone will feel all holy and good, but there has to be a next step of then learning a Ktzos and showing up for a regular seder day in and day out.

Perhaps the Midrash also means that Yitzchak acquired an additional impetus in learning davka through the akeidah.  Make no mistake about it, the akeidah was unique; it defies all comparison.  That being said, the midah of mesirus nefesh which became ingrained in Jewish genes through the akeidah is part and parcel of the commitment to Torah.  "Pas b'melach tochal" means a life of sacrifice.  "Adam ki yamus b'ohel" -- a person has to kill himself in learning to succeed.  

And after all is said and done, I don't think I've even scratched the surface of what Chazal mean here.  Ideas?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

a sight to behold

Sight seems to play an awfully large role in our parsha: 

1) The parsha opens with Avraham seeing guests arriving -- this one counts as a double: "Vayar... Vayar vayaratz likrasam." 

2) "Erdah na v'ereh" -- Hashem goes down and see what is going on in Sdom. 

3) The people of Sdom are struck blind, they lose their ability to see, when they attempt to break into Lot's house. 

4) Lot's wife looks back to see the destruction of Sdom and gets turned into a pillar of salt. 

5) Avimelech's gift to Sarah is described as a "ksus eynaim," a covering for her eyes. 

6) Hagar does not see the well she needs to get water for Yishmael till a Malach points it out to her (21:19)  She names the place "Be'er Lachai Ro'i." 

7) "Vayar es hamakom mei'rachok," we are told that Avraham sees Har HaMoriah, the spot of the akeidah, from a distance. 

8) Avraham sees a ram which he had not noticed before and uses it as a korban in place of his son. 

9) Avraham names the place "Hashem Yireh," the place where Hashem is seen. 

Anything I miss?  What is especially interesting is the multiple examples of people not seeing things that are there in front of them.  The gemara says that Avraham sent Eliezer out to look for orchim, but Eliezer didn't see any; Avraham then went out himself and saw the three guests.  The well Hagar found was there all along, yet until the malach pointed it out she was unaware of it.  The ram which took Yitzchak's place must have been there, yet it seems from the language of "vayisa es einav," that Avraham at first did not notice it.  The Sefas Emes and others play up this theme and write that everything we need in life is here for us, all the opportunities, all the kochos to take advantage of them, but we walk around blind to what is in front of our eyes.  Commenting on the question of how the sons-in-law of Lot could mock the angels' threat of destroying Sdom when they had already seen the power of the angels to strike blind the unruly mob who came to assault Lot, the Shem m'Shmuel writes that there is a blindness of the soul as well as physical blindness.  The sons-in-law of Lot could physically see, but like the other inhabitants of Sdom, they could not process the fact that there is a din v'dayan in the world; they lacked inner vision.   (Adam and Chavahs eye-opening experience of eating from the eitz ha'da'as ["Vatipakachna einei she'neihem"] midah k'negged midah blinded their spiritual eyes.)  I'm not sure else to make of all these examples or even whether there is anything else to make of it -- something to think about. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

it's the thought that counts

Rav Zevin points out an interesting parallel between the opening of Parshas VaYeira and its closing.  The parsha opens with the story of Avraham's hachnasas orchim.  No detail is spared in trying to convey to us the zerizus and exemplary manner in which Avraham performed and personified the trait of chessed.  Except for one small problem: None of the guests Avraham entertained needed his chessed at all.  The angels who came to visit were not in need of food; they needed no tree to sit under to hide from the sun; they needed no water to wash.  Apparently that is all irrelevant -- it is the burning desire of Avraham to do chessed which the parsha wants to highlight, irrespective of whether the need was real or not. 

Turning to the end of the parsha, k'lapei shemaya the plan was never for Avraham to actually sacrifice Yitzchak during the akeidah, but Avraham did not know that.  "Vayikach es ha'ma'acheles..."  The Kotzker explains that when it came to doing mitzvos, Avraham's limbs acted of their own accord (the Midrash elsewhere tells us that David haMelech's feet carried him to the Beis Medrsah each morning even if he thought to go elsewhere).  When it came time for the akeidah, since there really was no mitzvah to be done, Avraham's limbs did not react -- he had to push them to respond.  And he did so -- because in his mind he was carrying out the ratzon Hashem and nothing would stop him.  Again, the reality of whether Yitzchak was to be a korban is irrelevant, as the test Avraham faced was a measure of his ratzon and desire. 

Whether our best intentions actually get translated into action and reality is more often than not not in our hands (if I recall correctly, R' Tzadok suggests that bechira is limited to the act of deciding; whether something gets accomplished is b'ydei shamayim).  Nonetheless, the thought and desire to do good is perhaps even more important. 

do ethics and law always coincide?

You and a friend are trapped in the desert and you only with one jug of water between you.  Do you split the water, in which case neither one of you will have enough to make it out of the desert, or do you keep the jug for yourself and leave your friend to perish?  The gemara (B"M 62) has a machlokes: Ben Petura holds that loving your neighbor as yourself means splitting the water.  R' Akiva, however, holds that "chayecha kodmin", a person's own life takes precedence.   

Superficially understood, the central point under dispute is what the ethical solution to this dilemma is.  However, and I'm not sure who he is quoting, Rav Moshe Kasher in his Perakim b'Toras haChassidus (p. 5-6) learns otherwise.  In his interpretation, everyone agrees that the ethical ideal is to split the water -- the sevara of ben Petura is accepted as valid.  R' Akiva's argument is that in spite of the ethical ideal, there is a gezeiras hakasuv of chayecha kodmin that determines how to act.   

I thought this was a fascinating approach to the sugya in that it puts the din, the legal solution, at odds with (and in fact superior to) the moral ideal.  I'm not sure what to make of seperating the two -- food for thought. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

flesh and soul

1. Rav Amiel has an interesting insight in his Higyonot El Ami.  Pre-Parshas Lech Lecha, human beings were called "basar," flesh, as in "Keitz kol basar ba lifanei...," or "Lo yadon ruchi b'adam b'shagam hu basar."  Things change in Parshas Lech Lecha.  In referring to the people Avraham converted to his cause, the Torah uses the expression, "Es hanefesh asher asu," the souls which Avraham made.  Avraham taught that a human being is not just an animated slab of meat, but is a spiritual creature.  Not only did Avraham's attitude impact those close to him, but it even had an effect on the King of Sdom, who begs Avraham after the war against the four kings, "Tein li ha'nefesh," let me keep the souls that live in my city even if you choose to take all the property.  

2. Avraham refused to take anything from the spoils of war lest that give the King of Sdom the opportunity to say, "Ani he'esharti es Avraham," I made Avraham rich.  What kind of crazy hava amina claim is that to be worried about?  Surely everybody knew that Sdom and his compatriots had lost the original war, and if not for Avraham's intercession, they would have been wiped out.  The King of Sdom himself was almost killed in the battle and escaped only by virtue of a miracle.  He admitted that he deserved nothing and would have been happy to get back his people alone.  

It could be that the lesson here is that kiddush Hashem in the fullest sense is only when something cannot be questioned even by the most biased observer.  A kiddush Hashem in the fullest sense is not when it's lauded in the Wall Street Journal; it's when it's lauded in the NY Times.  Avraham wanted to pass the sniff test of even those with the most warped sense of justice (see R' Y. L. Chasman in Ohr Yahel).

It could also be that the word, "he'esharti" has nothing to do with the money.  Avraham was not afraid of being accused of growing rich off Sdom; he was afraid of being accused of being enriched by Sdom.  Avraham was the paragon of chessed, yet he found himself enmeshed in war.  He could hear the voice of Sdom whispering in his ear that chessed may be nice, but sometimes you need to compromise a little -- war means fighting, looting, pillaging, not playing nice.  Of course, Avraham would always be Avraham, but maybe there was just a little truth to that voice in his ear?  Avraham said no -- he would fight, but he would not benefit from battle; he would not even in war become to the slightest degree influenced by the thinking and methods of Sdom (Shem m'Shmuel).

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Nimrod the villain or Nimrod the hero?

1) It's getting late in the week, so I'm going to not be fair -- I'm going to give you the question of R' Leibele Eiger, because it's a great kashe, but I'm not going to give you his answer because I can't find a way to do justice to it. You'll can look it up here -- it's the shalosh seudos torah). Rashi in P' VaYeira (18:32) writes that Avraham did not daven to spare Sdom for less than 10 tzadikim because Noach had 8 tzadikim in his family, plus Hashem, and that wasn't enough. R' Leibele Eiger asks: But Noach did not daven! Perhaps if he had davened (and the Zohar criticizes him for not doing so), Hashem would have spared the world for even less than 10 tzadikim. How was Avraham's conclusion justified?

2) I asked one of my kids whether Nimrod was a bad guy or a good guy, and the answer was pshita he was a bad guy, why would I ask such an easy one. I don't ask easy ones unless there is a catch. The catch here is that I noticed a Targum Yonasan that had never before caught my attention. The Torah tells us that Nimrod had a four-land kingdom of Bavel, Erech, Akad, and Kalney (10:10). Then the Torah tells us that from his land Ashur went out, and he built Ninveh, Rechovot Ir, Kalach, and Resen. Who does the pronoun "he" in the previous sentence refer to? Rashi fills in the gaps: It refers to Ashur, who left Nimrod's kingdom because he wanted no part in the tower of Bavel plot, which was instigated by Nimrod. Seforno adds that the Torah tells us of the cities Ashur built because the Torah wants us to know the reward Ashur got for not going along with the plan. Ramban interprets the pasuk differently: The "he" is Nimrod, who spread out over the land of Ashur and built these four additional cities -- no rebellion by Ashur, no reward. The subject of both pesukim is one person only: Nimrod. Targum Yonasan bridges both interpretations with a twist: Like Ramban, he reads the pesukim as referring to Nimrod alone, but like Rashi/Seforno, he adds a moral dimension -- it was Nimrod who fled the dor haflagah plot, and as a reward, Nimrod got to built four new cities to replace the four he had previously ruled over. Nimrod the hero instead of Nimrod the villain! Before you give him too much credit, the Targum Yonasan later in the parsha does quote the Midrash about Nimrod throwing Avraham into the furnace. Why would Nimrod refuse to join the dor haflagah's plot but rebel against Avraham's monotheistic teaching? I guess evildoers have to draw the line somewhere ; )