Wednesday, March 21, 2012

hakri'ah v'hakedusha

The list of gedolim in the hospital grows longer each day. The Vizhnitzer is gone. Now R' Scheinberg is gone. What happened in France is just the latest indication of the return of European anti-semitism in its most vile form. Is there any good news to talk about?  Our community leaders should be screaming day and night for people to wake up, yet everyone continues somnambulating through the day as usual.  Ho hum.

In the "it boggles my mind" category we also have this story: A Jew is refusing to testify against a fellow Jew because he does not want to violate the issur of mesira, so the court is going to hold a hearing to decide whether to hold him in contempt and jail him for as long as 18 months. This is not the place to debate the parameters of mesira -- suffice it to say he certainly has a halachic leg to stand on; he asked a shayla to whomever he asked and got a psak not to testify. What's not to laud about sticking to your "steadfast beliefs" (as the newspaper described it)?  It sounds so noble.  It must take real mesirus nefesh to risk jail time, to go to court and say to the judge (as quoted in the story), "Because the transgression of mesira is so dire, my mind won’t change until I die.” One small problem: The same guy already served an earlier prison sentence for tax-evasion! Apparently this Yid's "steadfast beliefs" include mesira but not theft.  Maybe tax evasion does not rank up there in the "dire" transgression category.  I know what some of you are thinking -- there's honor among thieves after all, as the guy won't rat out his friend!  Is this the nobility that the Torah has in mind when it says that the nations will say, "Rak am chacham v'navom hhagoy hagadol hazeh"? The ba'alei mussar speak of the ohr and choshech that exist at the same time, mixed up in the same person, b'irbuvya. Exhibit A right here.

Somehow we have to get into a better frame of mind for Shabbos and to welcome chodesh Nisan. Why were the halachos of korban pesach given on rosh chodesh even though the korban was only taken on the tenth of the month? The Shem m'Shmuel writes that these 10 days parallel the aseres ymei teshuvah. One doesn't just walk into pesach -- it requires tremendous preparation, cleaning and scrubbing the neshoma as well as the home. Maybe all these tzaros are there to push us to really focus on what is significant during these ten important days.

The Midrash contrasts the first pasuk of our parsha, "Vayikra el Moshe," with "Vayikra eilav malach," by Avraham after the akeidah.  The former calling was done by Hashem himself; the latter by an angel.  What difference does it make who did the calling, the kri'ah?  In both cases the dibur that followed, the subsequent words and message, was spoken by Hashem. Does it matter if the invitation to a meeting with the King comes by messenger, by fedex, by e-mail, or by telegram? Shem m'Shmuel answers that kri'ah is not just an invitation -- it's the inspiration that readies a person to receive the king's message. One cannot compare the inspiration and preparation to receive the dvar Hashem that comes through a malach, as great a level as that may be, with the inspiration that comes from Hashem himself.

Why do we say "tzeischem l'shalom" to the malachim on Friday night? Because when Shabbos comes the kri'ah to us, the inspiration and readiness to receive the dvar Hashem that will follow, is higher even than what the malachim can help us reach. "Tzeischem l'shalom," thank you malachim for your help this past week, but now it's Shabbos, we can take it ourselves. Kal v'chomer Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan.

Even though it's usually not my cup of tea (my math phobia doesn't mix with fancy gematriyos), this week I just feel we should learn some torah from Vizhnitz (a non-gematriya piece : ). We are IY"H going to say in hallel, "Ana Hashem ki ani avdecha, ani avdicha ben amasecha pitachta l'moseiray" -- Please Hashem, I am your servant, I am your servant the son of your maidservant, you released the bonds that held me. The repetition is obvious: First we say "Ani avdecha," and then we repeat again, "Ani avdicha ben amasecha." What is the meaning behind our repetition of these nearly-identical phrases?

The Imrei Baruch of Vizhnitz writes that when he stood before the amud to say hallel the first time after the passing of his father, he realized his own inadequacy to fill the void left by his father's passing. Here, in the spot his saintly father stood, before the amud at which his saintly father davened, he dared stand as a m'maleh makom to serve in his place -- how could he?!

He answers by quoting a mashal: One day a king was walking outside his castle and happened upon a poor nobody sitting there in the squalor. The king doesn't pay attention to such things and was about to pass by, but that nobody suddenly began to call out to him. "Do you know who I am?" asked the voice. "I'm Ploni, the son of your trusted advisor!" The King was shocked. It would be an embarrassment not only for the advisor, but for it would be a personal embarrassment for the king himself if the son of such a close confidant were left in such a state. The king ordered that Ploni be taken and cleaned up, fed, dressed, and given a place of honor in his court.

"Ana Hashem," we say, "Please Hashem forgive our absolute chutzpa in daring to utter the words 'Ki ani avdecha.'" Who are we kidding -- it doesn't really fit us, we don't really measure up. We are nothing compared with those who came before us.  But before you get angry at us, before you walk away, can we bother you for a minute and remind you of who we are? "Ani avdicha ben amasecha," we are the children of those who have earned a place of honor in your court and who do deserve to be listened to.

Not in our own merit, but in theirs, lift us up, untie our bonds.


  1. Anonymous1:34 PM

    I want to say one comment about tax evasion and the frum community.I work in a non-Jewish accounting firm that services the elite of general society.(i.e.) The entire clientele is post college educated and extremely successful suburbanites.This is not the only firm I've worked for.In all I did tax returns for about 1000 people in secular society.I also do about thirty returns on the side in Lakewood. The only people I've ever met in real life who absolutely would not be willing to to do anything with the slightest hint of dishonesty,(e.g.) would knowingly overpay "just to be sure" rather then take a chance of underpaying ETC. were ALL Frum Lakewood people.I don't think any secular person would even understand the concept of a "Brisker Chumroh" when tax filing. In Lakewood I've seen people live by them .(Yes I realize that these people aren't typical but at least they exist. In the secular world I'm still waiting to meet them.

  2. Anonymous3:08 PM

    what if the "trusted advisor" of the mashal had himself behaved
    scandalously? would the son require clean-up to disembarrass such a father? would the king, already embarrassed by the advisor, yet be subject to the indignity of the son?
    a case in point: would the children of Noach, though their father was a "close confidant" of Hashem,
    be treated to reflective honor after squalor, once Noach had become drunken & earthy?
    ...if an idolater renders himself a "nobody" from false worship, did Avraham pull himself up by his own bootstraps? was the tower of bavel an attempt by idolaters to pull themselves up from unconscious* self-disenfranchisement by their own collective bootstraps?

    *this perhaps assumes that man (all people) bears within himself an indelible impression of ha'elohim, of emes

  3. chaim b.6:37 PM

    Anonymous #1:
    So we are schizophrenic on a societal level, with an irbuvya of great ohr with great choshech as a group, not just on an individual level. Why exactly am I supposed to feel better because of this?

  4. Anonymous8:48 AM

    I think the legal authorities now have an image of various Jewish groups as lawbreakers, so they act accordingly, as if dealing with crime syndicates. This does a disservice to Jews in general, including innocent members of these groups, but does point to the age-old problem that misbehavior by any Jew causes major problems for the rest of us.

  5. Bob Miller8:51 AM

    "...yet everyone continues somnambulating through the day as usual. Ho hum."

    Do you know this? To me, it seems that a lot of us are deeply disturbed by current events and apparent trends, and sincerely want to improve.

  6. Eliezer2:04 PM

    First of all, tax evasion is not even in the same league as mesira or theft. In my opinion, tax evasion is on the level of speeding on the highway, or not paying your domestic help on the books, along with the additional twenty five percent it would cost you for employee costs like workman's comp, sosec, and so forth, thirty five if she charged you for making her pay her own taxes.

    It's not that big a deal. The onerous punishments are only to make sure people pay, not because it's such a terrible crime.

    It's not even as bad as smuggling, which messes up markets and can cause all sorts of problems. But that's not such a big deal either.

    You're influenced by the antisemites who point to tax evaders and say "See? The Jews are a bunch of crooks!" No, they're not, but some of them do try to evade taxes. Big deal. You ever pay cash for a fedora?

    The real problem is the signature on the bottom that alleges honesty and thoroughness in preparing the tax document. That is indeed an issue of gneivas da'as, but I'm not certain that would really pertain where there is no individual ba'al din.

    So relax, would you?

  7. chaim b.10:54 PM

    >>>Big deal. You ever pay cash for a fedora?

    You are equating paying cash for a fedora and stealing (actually, the shopkeeper is doing the stealing) less than $20 in taxes with laundering 8.5 million dollars?

    Second of all, you are right, it plays into anti-semitic stereotypes, which means the issur is one of chilul Hashem - not gezel, not geneivas da'as. I don't think you can get worse than that.

    Third of all, the issue is hypocrisy. Eating neveilah may "only" be a lav compared to the more chamur issur of shabbos, but I would probably have a hard time explaining to my employer why I need to leave at 2:30 on Friday in the winter if he say me eating a McDonalds hamburger. Lomdus of what issur is more chamur doesn't fly when dealing with public perception.

  8. Eliezer6:45 PM

    I don't hear that the quant equals a qual argument, but I certainly agree with two and three. The raya is from Haman's derisive ואת דתי המלך אינם עושים. With that in mind, the first argument acquires significance. Petty trickery is universal, and to be makpid on that is elevating dina d'malchusa to status equal do dinei Torah. But for a obviously religious figure to do it wholesale is gasoline on the fire of antisemitism.

  9. R JB Soloveitchik speculated that if the esrog salesperson insists on cash, you can't be yotzei with such an esrog. And that's not saying that tax evasion is an aveirah that reduces the esrog to mitzva habaah ba'aveirah. It's saying that your being mesayeia is sufficient!

    (If you recall my suggesting this as a pesaq I would make if I were a poseiq, you are correct. I said that once to someone who then responded that RYBS indeed had speculated that way.)

  10. RCB,

    Feel free to reject this comment, but I cannot seem to find your email address.

    Blogger no longer has a "subscribe by email" option on this version of their comment system. I rely heavily on this feature, and I'm sure I am not alone. I can't keep a browser tab open for every comment chain I want to follow.

    The embedded comment version still has the option. It means, though, that comments will appear at the bottom of the post on the single-post page.

  11. Micha - I switched it (I hope). is it working now? Thanks

  12. I believe that DDD means that actions by governments and governmental agents are recognized by the halacha as being fully legal. It does not compel obedience to secular law. What RJDS held I don't know, and I can't know until I see it explained in writing, not anecdotally. The sugya is too complex and sensitive to rely on "he said."

  13. chaim b.6:55 PM

    Even if you accept that DDD applies here, I don't see how mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira does. The obligation upon the shopkeeper to pay taxes is not a psul in the kinyan, it's a side obligation. So what it you are mesayei'a on some side issur -- no worse than carrying matzah in a reshus harabim, which the Yerushalmi says mefurash is nt a MhB"B.

  14. Kilurim l'eynayim. YK.
    I agree it's ugly, it's like cheating at a game, even a game that's not being played for money. Megunah. Small amounts, I think, is not megunah. But in the bigger numbers, it's simply ugly.

    Funny thing, though- when a partner of mine was going through a divorce, and his spouse's attorney wanted to pressure him to show more assets, the attorney sent word that "I know how you property owners cheat on taxes, and I'm going to audit you and reveal that you aren't reporting the income from your laundry rooms. and you'll be sorry you tried to hide things from me." Ha. We report every single quarter they put into those machines. He was projecting, and assuming that everyone is a lowlife like him, and thought he could scare us. I wanted to put my head into the mikva after talking to him.