Thursday, July 26, 2012

aveilus -- kiyum b'lev?

I did not want to interrupt the flow of the previous post with this point, so I decided to add it here.  Those of you who (like myself) are from the YU world are probably perplexed by that Rashi in Sukkah 25a that says there is no chiyuv for a mourner to be sad. The Rav (see Shiurim l'Zecher Aba Mari vol 2 - B'Inyanei Aveilus) saw aveilus as consisting of two parts: 1) the ma'aseh mitzvah, the to-do behavioral component of not washing, not wearing shoes, etc., and 2) the kiyum mitzvah, which is a chovas he'lev to feel that sense of loss and mourning. If anything, the Rav placed more stress on the kiyum mitzvah as the driver of aveilus. The reason simchas haregel pushes off aveilus is not because not wearing shoes or taking a shower is inherently antithetical to the observance of the regel, but because the feeling of simchas yom tov is antithetical to the kiyum mitzvah of grieving.  (The Rav had many proofs to this idea of a kiyum she-b'lev.)   So what do you do with the Rashi that says "aino chayav l'hitzta'er"? Doesn't that imply (as R' Shlomo Fischer suggests) that there is no mitzvah per se to be sad -- that there is no kiyum she-b'lev component to aveilus?

I think the answer is that Rashi needs to be taken in the specific context of explaining oseik b'mitzvah patur min hamitzvah. Of course there is a *kiyum* mitzvah in a mourner grieving, but there is no *chiyuv* to be sad in the same way that there is a chiyuv to take action and do some other mitzvah.  By definition, a kiyum is a result, an effect -- not a cause.  Oseik b'miztvah deals with causes, i.e. can a new mitzvah serve as a cause to change behavior when there already exists a cause that forces one to engage in some other action.  

Of course, if I am correct that undermines R' Shlomo Fischer's point to some degree, but I'm just trying to defend the Rav's torah. (After writing this I see R' Reichman asks the same question in his Reshimos Shiurim on Sukkah, but b'mechilas kvodo I like my answer better than his, ayen sham : )

sham yashavnu v'gam bachinu -- aveilus of the heart

Rav Shlomo Fischer (Derashos Beis Yishai 13) contrasts aveilus for the loss of a relative with the aveilus of 9 Av and churban habayis. Rashi (Sukkah 25a d"h tirda d'reshus) writes that the practice of aveilus for a relative expresses itself in certain behaviors: an aveil cannot wear shoes, cannot wash, etc.  However, writes Rashi, an aveil is not obligated to be sad.  R' Shlomo Fischer explains that aveilus is about exhibiting respect for the dead (kavod hameis), not about coming to grips with personal feelings of sadness or loss. 

Another proof to this idea: The halacha is that if there are no mourners, the community should have a minyan of people sit shiva (Shabbos 152). Even though these designated mourners have no relationship with the departed and feel no sense of loss or sorrow, the halachos of aveilus are still practiced.

Aveilus for the churban, however, is primarily about our feelings of loss and sorrow; it is about what goes on in the heart more than about external behavior. In contrast to the laws of mourning for a relative which lessen in intensity as time passes (aninus is most severe, follows by shiva, followed by shloshim, followed by shana rishona for a parent), the mourning for churban habayis increases in intensity as we progress through the period of beis hametzarim, the three weeks to shevu'a she'chal bo and finally the day of 9 Av itself. When it comes to mourning the churban we need to allow time for our feelings of loss to build, as those feelings are the primary driver of our aveilus.

The halacha is that a mourner counts Shabbos as one of his days of shiva, but according to most Rishonim there is no halacha of shav'ua she'chal bo when 9 Av falls on Shabbos, even though in both cases (according to the Rama) mourning halachos done privately, b'tzina, apply even on Shabbos. If Shabbos is to some degree treated like a day of mourning, why does the week before and afterwards not have the status of shavu'a she'chal bo, while the week of shiva continues despite the break of Shabbos? R' Shlomo Fischer answers that Shabbos is a day of simcha; the joy of Shabbos stands in direct contradiction to the sadness of mourning. When it comes to the aveilus of 9 Av, since that mourning is rooted in the emotional experience of feeling loss, the aveilus is negated by the spirit of Shabbos that sweeps away depression and sorrow, even if behaviorally there is still some vestige of mourning practices. However, when it comes to aveilus for a relative, since that mourning centers around the behavior of aveilus, not the emotional experience of loss, the change in emotional state that comes with Shabbos does not disrupt the aveilus. 

Why is there such a distinction? Why is it that when morning for a close relative, "aino chayav l'hitzta'er," one is not obligated to be sad and it is enough to exhibit mourning behavior, while when it comes to mourning the churban, the behavioral aspects of morning are treated more lightly by halacha ("shani ... d'kal hu) while we do our utmost to focus on and feel the sadness and sorrow of the loss of Beis haMikdash?

I am going to depart from Rav Fischer's approach here and encourage you to read this post by Rabbi Joshua Maroof because I think he hits the nail right on the head. The generation that experienced the churban (certainly during the Second Temple period) were not lax in observance -- they were punctilious in their study of Torah and observance of mitzvos. The problem was that they were halachic "technocrats" who kept to the letter of the law but skirted it's spirit. Loopholes and legal subterfuge can be used to justify almost any behavior. Therefore, I think that when it came to enacting halachos that define how to mourn the loss of the Beis haMikdash, Chazal departed from the behavioral framework that runs through the usual laws of aveilus and instead placed special emphasis on capturing the feeling of loss, on the spirit of mourning, because it was precisely the mistaken emphasis on behavior to the exclusion of the law's spirit and emotional content that led to the churban itself. 

Make no mistake about it -- mourning the churban is hard. We, thank G-d, live in a land where we enjoy freedom of religion and where we have managed to build Torah centers and flourishing communities. In a few days tens of thousands of people will gather in a sports stadium to celebrate limud haTorah and kavod haTorah in a land that was was once known as a "treife medina" where many thought Torah would never flourish. We even have kosher sushi! It's hard to feel a sense of loss when we have it so good.

"Al naharos Bavel, sham yashavnu, gam bachinu b'zacreinu es Tzion." The Chasam Sofer explains: "Sham yashavnu" -- the term "yeshiva" means settling down, enjoying peace and prosperity (Vayeishev Ya'akov = bikesh Ya'akov lasheves b'shalvah). Yirmiyahu haNavi even encouraged those who went into exile to build homes and communities there, and they did -- they became successful and comfortable, so much so that Ezra could not get most of the people to budge when it was time to return. Maybe the kosher sushi of Bavel was made right there on the banks of the river (can't get fresher than that) where this mizmor was composed. And yet, despite all they had in Bavel, despite "sham yashavnu," the mizmor tells us that "gam bachinu," those who were in exile there still cried, they remembered Tzion and mourned its loss.

Davka where our right to externally behave as Jews is not challenged, we have a greater onus to mourn the churban and show that looking like a Jew and acting like a Jew are not enough -- we mourn because we remain spiritually incomplete on the inside, where it counts the most, so long as we remain separated from our true home in Tzion.   

Monday, July 23, 2012

emphasizing the miraculous

The Rambam (and Ralbag and a few other Rishonim that we generally lump together in the "rationalist" camp) generally try to minimize the extent of the miraculous in the Torah.  It is surprising therefore that the Rambam of all people explains that the reason the Torah lists the places Bnei Yisrael traveled in the midbar at the beginning of Parshas Masei is in order to demonstrate that Bnei Yisrael did not stick close to centers of civilization and oases, but rather wandered deep into the desert (as we see from the names of their rest stops) where they had no access to provisions other than the mon and water from the well of Miriam. This explanation (as opposed to some of the others) heightens the nature of our miraculous survival in the midbar.

even if we disagree

Must we first define (or re-define) a gadol as being as part of "our" camp (whichever camp that may be) before we can acknowledge and appreciate his greatness?  Last week I saw articles portraying R' Elyashiv as close to Rav Kook (and hence, by association, Mizrachi), as not being critical of Lubavitch (in our current climate of anti-chabad sentiment that itself is a mouthful), and as a leader of all of world Jewry, including modern orthodoxy.  
Without question, if you admire Rav Kook or Lubavitch or identify as modern orthodox, it's nice to know that one of the gedolei hador was sympathetic to (or tolerant of) your ideology.  However, even were that not the case, why should a difference of opinion in halacha or hashkafa preclude acknowledging the gadlus of someone like Rav Elyashiv?  Even if he were not one of "us," can we not show admiration?  

Thursday, July 19, 2012

speech! speech!

The leaders of sheivet Menashe were concerned lest Bnos Tzelafchad marry men from other shevatim and their property pass through inheritance by their husbands or children to other tribes.  The Torah's solution (al pi peshuto shel mikra -- see below) was that Bnos Tzelafchad must marry only within their own sheivet.   The Torah prefaces this ruling by saying, "Latov b'eineihen t'hiyena l'nashim," that the Bnos Tzelafchad may marry whomever they desire -- and then adds the stipulation so long as whomever they desire is from their own sheivet. Wouldn't it have been more to the point to just tell the Bnos Tzefchad who they **can't** marry -- which is the whole point here -- without these introductory words?

According to one opinion in Chazal (B"B 120), the prohibition against marrying members of other shevatim applied to everyone **except** the Bnos Tzelafchad. The order of the pasuk according to this view makes perfect sense. The Torah first sets out the law: Bnos Tzelafchad were legally entitled to marry whomever they desired. The Torah then follows up with a bit of advice: Even the Bnos Tzelafchad should stick to their own sheivet. (The Netziv writes that the reasoning behind this advice is not just a matter of keeping property within the sheivet, but is a far broader directive -- don't flaunt being different. Just because you can take advantage of a special privilege that sets you apart doesn't mean doing so is a good idea.)

The Ksav Sofer offers a different answer (in keeping with the pshuto shel mikra that Bnos Tzelafchad could not marry outsiders) based on a a chiddush he quotes from the Panim Yafos. Although both husbands and children could inherit, the real issue sheivet Menashe had was specifically with husbands inheriting.  Although children of the Bnos Tzelafchad would count as members of their father's sheivet, the Panim Yafos writes that ultimately, since children have only a kinyan peiros(see Gittin 48a-b), the property of the children remained owned by their tribe of Menashe. Given this premis, Bnos Tzelafchad had a way to avoid the problem raised by the leaders of their sheivet. All they had to do was find husbands who would forgo their right to inherit, i.e. husbands who would agree to marry with a tnai that they are mochel on any potential yerusha.

What kind of husband, says the Ksav Sofer, would agree to such a deal? Obviously, one who is desperate to get married, even at the cost of sacrificing any chance to reap potential inheritance. (I guess the Ksav Sofer did not go for Hollywood-like romantic notions of a group of prince charmings gladly sacrificing their right of yerusha for the sake of their beloved Bnos Tzelafchad.  All I can say is that the value of land meant much more back then...). If this was the only way out for the Bnos Tzelafchad, they would be forced to shoot very low in their shidduch expecations! Therefore, the Torah here prefaces it's solution, namely that Bnos Tzelafchad marry only within their sheivet and therefore not have to force their husbands to forgo the right to inherit, with the positive message that the Bnos Tzefchad would now be free to marry whomever they desire, even from the cream of the crop of Menashe.

Before seeing the Ksav Sofer I understood the pasuk almost the reverse of the way he did. Rather than take it as good news, I understood the message that Bnos Tzefchad may only marry other members of their same sheivet to be pretty bad news. Their shidduch pool just shrank to 1/12 of what it was beforehand! (Imagine the shidduch crisis editorials of that time.) Rather than overwhelm the Bnos Tzefchad with this announcement, the Torah first puts a positive spin on things -- don't worry, you still can marry whomever you desire. Only after first stressing the silver lining does the Torah reveal that they"whomever you desire" has a caveat thrown in: provided the person is a member of your own sheivet.

The mussar haskel of either reading of the pasuk is to be sensitive about how bad news is delivered. Don't just deliver the facts without also addressing the emotional content (speaking personally I know this is easy to write but hard to practice.)  The Torah goes out of its way to stress the positive side of the solution being offered to Bnos Tzelafchad not just as a matter of spin, but out of sincere concern that they realize the good that can come out of the situation.

The Ksav Sofer earlier in Matos demonstrates again how by placing a secondary detail first the Torah subtly communicates an important message. Moshe tells the Bnei Reuvain and Gad, "Bnu lachem arim l'tapchem... v'hayotzei m'pichem ta'asu." (32:24) The building of cities in Eiver haYarden was not a point under debate -- the only issue was whether Bnei Reuvain and Gad would keep their and assist the rest of Bnei Yisrael to fight. Why did Moshe even bother to mention cities and homes for the children who would remain behind?

Recall that when Reuvain and Gad spoke to Moshe they first emphasized their desire for pasture land and only secondarily mentioned their children and families. In speaking to them Moshe reversed the order. Rashi explains that Moshe wanted to set their priorities straight: First comes children, and everything else is secondary.

The promises of a person with misplaced priorities -- someone who puts his $ even before his own children -- are not worth much. If one's own children take a backseat to money, surely a promise would take a backseat as well. Therefore, Moshe tells Bnei Reuvain and Gad to build cities and homes for their children. First get straight what is important in life. Once you have that down, "Hayotzei m'pichem ta'asu," you can be trusted to fulfill your promise, because you will then realize that ethics and responsibility, like children, are far more important than dollars and cents.

So in this post we've spoken a lot about speech -- how Moshe spoke to the Bnos Tzelafchad, how Moshe spoke to the Bnei Reuvain and Gad.  I think this is the theme of the closing of BaMidbar.  I haven't had a chance to fully formulate my thoughts on this yet, so I'm just going to throw our my jumbled stream of consciousness since I'm out of time.  Hope something here makes sense.  Sefer Devarim is Misheh Torah, it's the review session, so in a certain sense Matos-Masei is the conclusion of the Torah as a whole.  We started this four book journey with the creation of man, a "ruach m'malela," a speaking creature, as the Targum translates, and we end by coming back to the theme of speech, particularly as highlighted in the subject of nedarim.  The chassidishe seforim explain:  "Lo yachel devaro," do not make one's speech chulin, mundane and profane; "K'chol ha'yotzei m'piv ya'aseh," and if so, G-d will carry out what you ask and speak of before Him. 

"Vayavei Yosef es dibasam ra'ah el avihem," Yosef's evil speech about his brothers brought us through Braishis into the galus of Sefer Shmos.  The Bnos Tzelofchad describe their father as "meis bamidbar," which the midrash explains as a reference to dibur, speech -- he may have been one of the misonenim or mislonenim (see Ksav v'Kabbalah).  And to some degree it was speech, the words of the Mergalim, that did in the entire dor hamidbar, the generation of (corrupt) speech.  Now we have his descendents, the generation who was redeemed and now stands to inherit Eretz Yisrael, being described as, "Kein Bnos Tzelofchad dovros...," Kein mateh Bnei Yosef dovrim..." (36:5 - see Tiferes Shlomo).  The speech of Yosef that led Klal Yisrael into galus is now validated by Moshe and G-d.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

cantonists?! -- reality check needed

The headline on Arutz-7 yesterday had a slogan taken from the chareidi protest against the implementation of a draft on yeshiva students: "We will not be cantonists of the 'shilton ha'rasha'."

This is beyond absurd. Cantonists were Jewish boys conscripted by the Czar against their will in their early teens and forced to serve in the army for as long as 25 years. They were not afforded an opportunity to have a Jewish education and army life broke their will and robbed them of the ability to properly observe Torah and mitzvos.  This is what the chareidim are comparing Tzahal to?  The country that provides them with the freedom and protection (and financial subsidy) to open yeshivos and learn Torah is a 'shilton ha'rasah'?

Some folks need a reality check. 

a rising tide lifts all boats

1. Ralbag and Abarbanel offer an alternate explanation to that of Rashi (that we discussed Friday) as to why the parshiyos of korbanos musafim are juxtaposed with Moshe's impending death and his request to appoint a new leader. Moshe made nevuah look easy, so to speak. Not only was he personally always prepared to receive nevuah, but like a great sports player, he elevated the game of those around him. Once Moshe passed on, Klal Yisrael needed a replacement for his presence to aid them in attaining prophecy. Korbanos served as that aid.  

On Friday I wrote that the single word that sums up the the lesson of korbanos is sacrifice. My wife said the single word should be kurvah - closeness to Hashem. Her suggestion fits nicely with this approach of Ralbag/Abarbanel.

I would like to borrow this idea of korbanos serving as a substitute for Moshe and formulate it a little differently. Sometimes when a great leader passes on there is a transference of veneration from the leader's personality to an object associated with him or a place associated with him. For example, the followers of R' Nachman have attached themselves to a place, Uman, since their Rebbe is no more.    The Torah in Parshas Pinchas is setting up a transference of this sort. Klal Yisrael's 's attention is being shifted from Moshe. the person. to Mikdash. the place. While Moshe was alive the address to turn to for all spiritual needs was Moshe Rabeinu's door. The Torah is giving Klal Yisrael a new address to turn to -- the Mikdash.

2. On Friday I mentioned that the Shem m'Shmuel understood the parsha of korbanos as a means of fostering unity among Klal Yisrael -- before you can have one leader you first need to have one people.  Perhaps this message was especially necessary given the surrounding context.  Parshas Pinchas opens with a recounting of all the families in Klal Yisrael. We then read about the distribution of nachalah in Eretz Yisrael, also done by family and sheiveit (see Rashi, Ramban).  Given the stress on allegiance to family and sheivet, the Torah had to reiterate that there is a higher level of allegiance to the nation as a whole.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

korbanos - prelude to leadership

Once again I am short of time, but I hate to leave a parsha with nothing said beforehand, so here's something quick and maybe more next week.  Why does the Torah juxtapose Moshe's request of Hashem to appoint a new leader with the parshiyos of the korbanos?  Rashi quotes from Chazal that the parshiyos of korbanos were part of Hashem's response.  "Before commanding me about my children," said Hashem to Moshe, "Command my children to obey me."

Why korbanos?  If the idea was simply to remind Bnei Yisrael of their obligation to Hashem, wouldn't any parsha or mitzvah do?

When Hashem answered Moshe, He was not trying to change the subject -- i.e. let's talk about korbanos, what you owe Me, before we talk about leadership and what I can do for you -- but rather Hashem was in fact directly responding to Moshe's request to appoint a leader.  Hashem was telling Moshe that before He can fulfill Moshe's request to appoint a new leader who is palatable to *all* the people, Moshe must first reinforce the idea of the parshas hakorbanos.  The theme of all korbanos in a single word is (k'shemo kein hu) "sacrifice." 600,000 people will by definition have 600,000 different ideas of what the perfect leader should be like.  If every single person felt that "it's my way or no way," there is no one person who could possibly take charge. There had to be sacrifice.  Everyone had to give a little bit.

The weakness with this idea of mine is that from reading Rashi you get the impression that Yehoshua was somehow able to meet everyone's expectations in the fullest sense, without anyone having to budge from their conception of the ideal.  The Shem m'Shmuel takes a slightly different approach that avoids this problem.  He focuses on the daily korban tamid which consisted of sheep.  Why are sheep the staple, the bedrock korban upon which all others are added?  Chazal say that just as sheep have one voice, so too Klal Yisrael act as one unit.  In other words, when sheep are out in the pasture, you never find that one sheep heads in one direction and another sheep wanders off in the other direction.  There is no concept of "Im ha'smol v'aymina, v'im ha'ymin v'asmi'ila," among sheep.  One sheep never says to his fellow sheep, "You head right and I'll head left so we don't cross paths."  No -- the whole chevrah moves together.  All the sheep head to the right, and then all the sheep in the flock head to the left.  That's how Klal Yisrael is supposed to act -- we are one unit.  And we get a reminder twice a day, once in the morning, once in the afternoon, when those sheep are offered in the Mikdash. Hashem was telling Moshe Rabeinu that the only way you can have one leader is if you first have one people.  Reinforce the idea of korbanos, reinforce the idea of unity among Klal Yisrael, create a shared purpose and shared mission, and then I, Hashem, can provide someone who will help bring that purpose and mission to fruition through his leadership.

We can now understand, writes the Shem m'Shmuel in the name of his father, the Sochotchover, what we read a few weeks ago in Parshas Korach, when Moshe Rabeinu, in response to Korach's rebellion, asked that Hashem disregard and reject the rebel's portion in the daily korban tamid (see the post on that topic here).  Machlokes is by definition antithetical to the spirit of unity which the korban tamid represented --there can be no notion of a korban tzibur, no communal korban, if there exists no shared sense of community.

R' Tzadok and others note that the reading of the parsha of korbanos always coincides with this period when we mourn the loss of the Beis haMikdash.  Perhaps the reading of korbanos is not simply a reminder of the service that took place in the Mikdash, but is a reminder of the spirit of achdus that is necessary if we are to be zoche to once again see a Mikdash rebuilt.

Monday, July 09, 2012

the gate of tears is never closed

1. The Torah tells us that the end of Parshas Balak that those leaders who had been involved in the znus at Shitim were killed and hung, "V'hoka osam l'Hashem neged hashemesh." (25:4) The Targum Yonasan explains the words "neged hashemesh," opposite the sun, mean that the bodies were left up only until the end of the day and then buried. The Torah alludes here to the prohibition of halanas ha'meis, delaying burial, given in detail later in Sefer Devarim (Devaim 21:23): "Lo talin nivlaso al ha'eitz ki kavor tikbirenu ba'yom ha'hu," those who are hung after death by skilah must be taken down at nightfall and buried.

I think the plainer sense of "neged ha'shemesh" is that the hanging should be done in public -- it is a spectacle. The Seforno sees a moral lesson here.

שֶׁיִּרְאוּ הָעָם אֶת הֲרִיגַת עובְדֵי עֲבודָה זָרָה וְלא יִמְחוּ, וּבָזֶה יְכֻפַּר לָהֶם עַל שֶׁלּא מִיחוּ בַּפּושְׁעִים.

Bnei Yisrael were guilty of failing to protest the public desecration of G-d's name by their leaders, who took Midyanaite women in full view of everyone. By Bnei Yisrael stifling any public outcry against the hanging of those same leaders, done in full view of everyone, they corrected their prior misdeed.

The Seforno is interesting because we usually think of the tikun of a cheit as coming about through the *opposite* behavior as the original wrong. For example, a thief who takes that which is not his can correct the cheit by returning the object to its rightful owner. I would have thought that the tikun of the cheit of failing to speak out when circumstances demanded it could come about only by *speaking out* when similar circumstances arose. We see from the Seforno a different type of tikun: The same midah of silence that had contributed to the crime now was being used in a positive way, as the people suffered silently as punishment was meted out.

2. When Zimri ben Salu, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, took Kozbi, the princess of Midyan, in public, right in front of Moshe, the people, including Moshe, were paralyzed. "Heima bochim pesach Ohel Moed," (25:6); the Torah tells us that the people stood weeping at the entrance to the Ohel Moed. The focus of the story then shifts, as we read of Pinchas' dramatic act of vigilante justice. It seems that Moshe and Bnei Yisrael were written out of the story, and if not for Pinchas, all was lost.

That's not what happened at all, says the Beis Yisrael of Ger. Chazal tell us that even when all the gates of prayer are closed, the sha'arei dema'os, the gate of tears, remains open. "Heima bochim," the tears of Bnei Yisrael, is the prelude and in fact the catalyst for what happens next. It was those tears that caused Pinchas to remember the halacha that everyone else forgot and to take action. "Vayakam m'toch ha'eidah," Pinchas sprang into action not *from* the eidah, but *because* of the eidah -- because of their tears of tefilah.

the conclusion of the bracha of aneinu on fast days

The Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 566) writes that the bracha of aneinu added on fast days concludes with the words, "Ki atah Hashem ha'oneh b'eis tzarah l'amo Yisrael." The Vilna Gaon on the spot comments that in our gemara and in the Rambam the text of the bracha is missing the final two words and concludes, "...Ha'oneh b'eis tzarah." This is the nusach found in our siddurim as well. (It would be interesting to research early siddurim and gemaras and see if historically the two nuscha'os are both represented.)

The Aruch haShulchan is convinced that the nusach found in the SA is correct and goes so far as to say that the siddurim should be amended to match. His reasoning is as follows: If you look at the conclusion of other brachos that surround aneinu, they all mention Yisrael in their conclusion -- "Rofei cholei amo yisrael," "Go'el yisrael." Why should aneinu be any different?
I'm a little confused. While it's true that the two brachos he uses as examples end with references toYisrael, many of the other brachos nearby don't, e.g. "Chonein hada'as," "Harotzeh b'teshuvah," Chanun hamarbeh lisloa'ach." We don't say, "Harotzeh b'teshuvas Amo Yisrael," or "Chanun ha'marbeh lisloach l'Am Yisrael." Perhaps aneinu was written to match the pattern of these brachos.

This of course begs the question of why some brachos like refa'einu end with a reference to Klal Yisrael and other brachos do not. I don't have a good answer -- maybe one of you has an idea?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

you can't put the genie back in the bottle or the talking donkey back in the barn

Yesh lachkor: Is a talking donkey like Bilam had still a donkey, just one with special talents, or is it a different animal entirely -- maybe we shouldn't even call it an animal at all?

The Midrash tells us that after letting it have its say Hashem killed Bilam's donkey.  There are two reasons given: 1) So that people would not start worshiping this "magical" donkey; 2) For kavod habriyos of Bilam, so that people should not say this is the donkey that bested him.  The Midrash compares this to the din that requires killing an animal used for znus, because so long as the animal is alive people will continue to speak of the perverted act done by Ploni with it.

The Be'er Yosef questions the comparison drawn by the Medrash.  In the case of the animal used for znus, there was an aveira the animal and its master are associated with.  What aveira did the donkey of Bilam do? It was doing the mitzvah of acting as Hashem's agent to speak to Bilam!

He suggests that the lesson taken from the case of znus is that the criminal suffers enough by being killed; additional embarrassment suffered after death by having the stain of the crime perpetuated by the animal remaining alive is excessive punishment.  So too, as wicked as Bilam was, he suffered enough by being publicly humiliated that one time by his donkey.  or the donkey to remain alive and serve as a reminder to all of what occurred is beyond the degree of punishment he deserved.  Hashem metes out punishment precisely -- not one jot beyond what is deserved is given.

(According to Chazal, Bilam was actually guilty of bestiality.  According to that view, the comparison to the case of znus perhaps fits in a literal sense.)

The Be'er Yosef goes on to suggest his own answer as to why the donkey had to die.  Once the donkey was given the ability to speak, it simply could not go back to being a donkey.  A creature that can communicate with words and express ideas doesn't belong in a barn or pulling a wagon.  Better a quick death than a life like that.

Does this mean that a donkey that can speak is no longer a donkey?  It is transformed into a different being and can therefore not revert to its old self?

Perhaps the Be'er Yosef does not mean the metziyus of what the donkey was changed, but rather the point is psychological.  Even if the reality is that the donkey remains a donkey, psychologically such an animal will no longer be capable of simply following orders and carrying burdens like before.  Once a higher dimension of reality is experienced, it becomes impossible to simply sink back to the same drudgery as before.

Perhaps this is the meaning behind the famous gemara (Nida 31) that a baby is taught the entire Torah in the womb and is then made to forget it before birth.  What's the point of learning Torah only to be forced to forget it?  The answer is that even if the Torah is removed, the impression of being capable of mastering Torah, the roshem of being a ben Torah, remains.  Just like a donkey that experienced speech cannot simply go back to being an ordinary donkey, a neshoma that has tasted such lofty heights of Torah must inevitably be a different person out of the womb that a neshoma that has never tasted such delights. 

For centuries and centuries during the upcoming weeks we have mourned the destruction of the Beis haMikdash.  How and why do we keep it up?  Why can't we just forget the past and move on?  The answer is that once tasted, the memory of the Mikdash lingers.  Just as Bilam's donkey could not simply go back to being a donkey after, once we as a a nation experienced life with a Beis haMikdash we can never forget and never go back to life without one. 

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

nothing to fear -- not even Og

Before the battle against Og, Moshe Rabeinu was given an unprecedented pep talk by Hashem and was told not to fear Og. While the size and strength of Og certainly (as described later in Devarim) might have given Moshe cause for concern, the success of the campaign waged against the equally mighty Sichon begs the question of why Moshe thought he had more to fear this time around.  

Abarbanel suggests that given the defeat of Sichon, Og's perception of the threat Bnei Yisrael posed was that much more real, hence he was apt to fight that much harder. In the battle with Sichon, the Torah writes, "vaye'esof.. ya'yezitzi," that Sichon first had to rally the people together and prime them for battle before heading out to war. However, when it was Og's turn, the Torah just says "vayeizei" -- the people were already primed for war (Netziv).  

Rashi citing Midrash takes a different approach. It was not Og's physical might which Moshe feared, but rather it was his spiritual merit. Rashi identifies Og as the "palit," the refugee from the battle of the five kings against four who came to report to Avraham that Lot had been captured (Braishis 14:13). Since Og went out of his way for Avraham, he was deserving of reward for his effort. Many meforshim point out that Rashi in Braishis writes that Og had ulterior motives for his actions. Og hoped that Avraham would be killed in battle and he would then be able to marry Sarah. Isn't that a contradiction -- what kind of reward does pushing someone into war to die deserve?!  

One could argue that indeed, Og did not deserve any reward.  Moshe did not have a window into Og's inner thought and motivation and therefore mistakingly thought that Og had been sincere in his actions.  G-d, who knew Og's true motivation in coming to Avraham, revealed to Moshe that in truth Og had no merit to rely on and there was nothing to fear.  The Tzeidah laDerech acknowledges that this reading of Rashi is a "chochma gedolah," it's pretty sharp, but it ultimately it's not fulfilling.  We see that Og must have had some special merit given that he lived for centuries, from the time of Avraham until Moshe (according to other views he actually survived the Mabul - see Nidah 61). Og's long life was the schar pesiyos, the reward for his footsteps in running to Avraham when Lot was taken.  Even if his intentions were impure, Hashem still rewarded Og for the positive that came out of his deeds.  With this background we can understand what the gemara (Brachos) means when it tells us that Moshe chopped at Og's ankle with an ax.  Why the ankle?  Because the foot represents these schar pesiyos Og had earned.

What is amazing is that the reward for those footsteps, no matter how evil the intent behind them, was enough to worry Moshe even given the tremendous zechuyos of his own and of Klal Yisrael which stood on the other side of the scale.  How to understand that is beyond me.  My only thought is that perhaps the lesson Moshe took away from Og's life is that G-d uses even the sinister intentions of evildoers to accomplish his plans.  Whatever the selfish reason Og had for arousing Avraham to go to war, ultimately the result was the rescue of Lot and a kiddush Hashem.   Perhaps Moshe began to question the need to wage war against Og, or even against any nation.  True, these evildoers may intend harm against Klal Yisrael, but just as he did before to Og, can G-d not somehow turn around even the most evil plots and intentions so that good emerges from them?  If bnei banav of the wicked can end of learning Torah in yeshiva somewhere, how can we justufy destroying them?  G-d's message to Moshe was that these cheshbonos are his alone, but our mission is to eradicate evil when we see it.

The Zohar interestingly gives Og a bit more credit and writes that Og accepted the mitzvah of bris milah along with Avraham.  Based on this, pshat in the following pasuk is a little different than we are used to:
 וַיָּבֹא, הַפָּלִיט, וַיַּגֵּד, לְאַבְרָם הָעִבְרִי; וְהוּא שֹׁכֵן בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא הָאֱמֹרִי, אֲחִי אֶשְׁכֹּל וַאֲחִי עָנֵר, וְהֵם, בַּעֲלֵי בְרִית-אַבְרָם
It was not Avraham, but it was Og who was "shochein b'Alonei Mamrei," and it as Og as well who was one of the "ba'alei bris Avraham."  

The upshot of this whole discussion is that there are strengths and weaknesses to both the pshat approach of the Abarbanel and the Midrashic approach of Rashi.  According to Abarbanel we need not resort to extra-textual explanations of Moshe's fear, but it is harder to explain what made Og different than Sichon.  According to Rashi, Og had merits that Sichon lacked, but it's hard to understand why those merits would cause Moshe such fear.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Ralbag on what Miriam's death meant

The episode of Mei Meriva appears in the Torah immediately after the death of Miriam.   Rashi quotes from Chazal that these two episodes are related.  There was a well which traveled through the desert with Bnei Yisrael and provided them with water in Miriam's merit.  When she died, the well vanished. This led to Bnei Yisrael's demanding water, which Moshe made some error in fulfilling Hashem's plan to deliver, and hence he lost the right to enter Eretz Yisrael.  Ralbag writes that even if we put aside the Midrashic explanation that Miriam was responsible for the well, there is still a relationship between the parshiyos, one that I think runs even deeper than the one Rashi suggests.  Ralbag explains that had Miriam been alive, her leadership would have helped temper the riotous uprising of the people -- the demand for water would have never reached the feverish pitch that it did.  Miriam's death meant not simply the loss of a well, but it meant the loss of someone who could provide direction to Klal Yisrael.  (I don't think there is anything wrong with suggesting that there may have been some special quality that her specifically feminine leadership provided which was now lacking.)  He then goes on to suggest an even bigger chiddush, that had Miriam been alive, as a prophetess and older sister of both Moshe and Aharon, she would have undoubtedly been consulted by them before they took action to fulfill Hashem's command to speak to (or hit, as they misunderstood) the rock and provide water.  Had Moshe and Ahaon had had the advantage of her counsel, they would not have erred and been punished had we would have been led into Eretz Yisrael by these three giants.  Quite a mouthful -- Moshe Rabeinu, the greatest of prophets, still benefited from the advice of Miriam!  Looking back a few parshiyos, I think we can now even better appreciate the spirit in which Miriam spoke out against Moshe's separation from Tziporah.  She was fulfilling the all important role of providing counsel to her brother Moshe, counsel which he could benefit from even if he was a greater prophet than her.