Thursday, August 30, 2012

lashon ha'ra - a breach of tzeniyus

The gemara (Kesubos 5) darshens the pasuk in Ki Keitzi, "V'yated t'hiye lecha al azeinecha," as a hint that one should use one's fingers to plug up one's ears (azeinecha is read as if it said oznecha) to avoid hearing lashon ha'ra. The gemara writes as well that Hashem gave us soft earlobes so we can plug up our ears. The Chofetz Chaim (Klal 6) derives a chiddush from this gemara: Just hearing lashon hara, even without giving  credence to what is said, is assur. That's why the only way to avoid the issur is to stop up one's ears -- just not believing or not paying attention is not enough. The Chofest Chaim goes so far as to raise the possibility of this even being an issur d'oraysa -- pretty scary.

Both the Maharal and the Ben Yehoyada raise the question of why two blocks -- the fingers and the earlobe -- are needed. See Gilyon haSha"s of R' Yosef Engel to Shabbos 108 who points out that before netilas yadayim there is a problem of sticking fingers in the ear or other body orifices, but perhaps there is no problem of blocking the ear with the earlobe. The Ben Yehoyada writes simply that perhaps the double protection is meant to teach us the severity of the issur of listening to inappropriate words. Without going into what he says, I just want to point out that the Maharal puts his discussion of the sugya in Nesiv haTzeniyus (ch 2) of all places. Why would you put a lashon ha'ra discussion in Nesiv haTzeniyus? Why not put it in Nesiv haLashon?

Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I think we see from the Maharal that tzeniyus means more than how you dress -- it means being a private person. Someone who is obsessed with hearing about the comings and goings and doings of others, someone who orients himself/herself by what he/she hears going on outside, lacks that inward focus that defines the trait of modesty.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

elul - a time of joy

According to one interpretation the "yarei v'rach ha'leivav" mentioned in Parshas Shoftim who may return from the front lines of battle refers to someone who is "yarei m'aveiros b'yado," someone who is afraid of the many aveiros he might have done.

Even someone who violated a "minor" aveira like speaking between putting on his tefilin shel yad and shel rosh was excused from battle. The soldiers the Torah envisions are tzadikim (ironic that today it's a mark of tzidkus to avoid fighting for our country). Why then is the "yarei m'aveiros" excused -- surely this attitude represents an ideal of yiras shamayim we should seek to emulate?

To answer this question we need to do a little chazarah of a vort of the Sefas Emes from 2 years ago (
link). When Sarah heard the visitor to her home say that she would have a child, Sarah laughed. Yet, when challenged by Hashem, Sarah replied that she in fact did not laugh. How could Sarah deny reality when speaking directly to Hashem?

The Sefas Emes answers that Sarah realized that her laughing was wrong and she immediately did teshuvah. Such is the power of teshuvah that the past is totally wiped clean -- a person can start with a totally new slate. Sarah could legitimately say that she did not laugh -- the past was as if it never happened.

The fact that a person continues to be "yarei m'aveiros b'yado" shows that either a person has not done teshuvah properly or does not fully believe in or appreciate the power of teshuvah. Yiras shamayim - yes. Yirah from aveiros -- wrong attitude.

Elul should be the happiest month of the year. It certainly is a solemn month, a month where we have a serious responsibility to do teshuvah. Yet, fulfillment of that responsibility can lead to complete renewal, all past deeds forgiven and forgotten, and what could be better than that? R' Chaim Volozhiner records in Keser Rosh (#104) that the GR"A was filled with simcha during tekiyas shofar. All those stories and sichos of the ba'alei mussar about the importance of Elul are there to get us to focus on what we have to do and to take it seriously -- not to depress us.

One of the more well known stories In Halakhic Man (p. 60-61) is the episode of the ba'al toke'a (a Chabad chossid) who began to cry just as he was prepared to blow shofar. R' Moshe Soloveitchik turned to the ba'al toke'a and asked him whether he cried when he took his lulav as well. If both are mitzvos of Hashem, shouldn't we respond the same to both? The Rav goes on to explain that the chossid was responding to the mystical meaning behind the mitzvah of shofar, which, according to the Alter Rebbe, represents a wail of longing to reunite with the Shechina, to transcend the unbridgable gap between material reality and higher spiritual realms. His father's attitude, the attitude of halachic man, is that there is no need to cry over that gap, as G-d's presence can be found in the objective reality of this world as reflected in halacha; there is no need to seek an escape to higher realms. R' Aharon Soloveitchik interpreted the same story a bit differently (
link). The reason his father frowned on the tears of the ba'al toke'a was because "chedvas Hashem hi ma'uzchem" -- Rosh haShana is not a day meant for tears; it's a day meant for joy. Given the mesorah R' Chaim Volozhiner quotes regarding the GR"A, R' Ahron's interpretation of his father's response makes perfect sense.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

ir ha'nidachas - a unique punishment

Rambam (Hil Avodah Zarah ch 4):

והיאך דין עיר הנידחת, בזמן שתהא ראויה ליעשות עיר הנידחת--בית דין הגדול שולחין ודורשין וחוקרין, עד שיידעו בראיה ברורה, שהודחה כל העיר או רובה, וחזרו לעבודה זרה.

אחר כך שולחין להן שני תלמידי חכמים, להזהיר אותן ולהחזירן. אם חזרו ועשו תשובה, מוטב; ואם עמדו באיוולתם, בית דין מצווין לכל ישראל לעלות עליהן לצבא, והן צרין עליהן ועורכין עימהן מלחמה, עד שתיבקע העיר.

The Rambam has a tremendous chiddush that if the residents of an ir hanidachas do teshuvah, the city is exempted from the law of ir hanidachas and is not destroyed. Ra'avad objects and asks how it is possible after hasra'ah has been given and the residents of this city still persisted in doing avodah zarah that teshuvah should still help. If someone, for example, is mechalel Shabbos and is supposed to get a punishment of skilah, beis din does not let the person off the hook just because he professes to have done teshuvah!

The Rogatchover tries to salvage the Rambam by tempering the chiddush. He writes that the Rambam does not mean that through teshuvah the idolators are let off the hook. Rather, all the Rambam means is that the idolators are judged as individuals and are given skilah instead of the city as a whole being treated as an ir hanidachas.

The Kesef Mishna, however, tries to answer the Ra'avad's objection and explain that teshuvah really does work here. He writes that according to the Rambam there was in fact never any formal hasra'ah given. When beis din sends the two messengers the Rambam describes, that is more in the way of a public service announcement, not a warning that meets the technical requirement of hasra'ah given before punishment.

I can't make sense of the Kesef Mishna.  When the Ra'avad refers to hasra'ah, he wasn't (b'pashtus) talking about the hasra'ah given by the two talmidei chachamim sent by beis din hagadol, but rather about the earlier hasra'ah given to the ovdei avodah zarah to establish that they were idolators, as the Rambam himself writes:
אין עושין עיר הנידחת, עד שידיחוה מדיחיה בלשון רבים ויאמרו להן נלך ונעבוד, או נלך ונזבח, או נלך ונקטר, או נלך וננסך, או נלך ונשתחווה, או נלך ונקבל באלוה; והן שומעין, ועבדו אותה דרך עבודתה, או באחת מארבע עבודות, או שקיבלו אותה באלוה.

עיר הנידחת שלא נתקיימו בה ובמדיחיה כל התנאים האלו, היאך עושין להן--מתרין ומעידין בכל אחד ואחד שעבד מהן עבודה זרה, וסוקלין אותן כיחידין; וממונם ליורשיהן.

The creation of an ir hanidachas only happens after a majority of the citizens of the city have been given hasra'ah and found to be ovdei avodah zarah. One past the tipping point, there is no turning back.

Be that as it may, it comes out from the Rambam and the Kesef Mishne that there are two major chiddushim here:

1) It is possible for an ir hanidachas to be excused from punishment through teshuvah, unlike all other chayvei misah.

2) According to Ks"M there is no formal hasra'ah needed before the punishment of ir hanidachas is administered unlike other chayvei misah.

The question is why this should be true -- why is the parsha of ir hanidachas different than all other punishments?

Rambam the halachist does not answer the question of "why" in Mishna Torah, but I think he does answer it as a philosopher in Moreh Nevuchim (III:41). The Rambam writes that the the punishment given to the meisit and the ir hanidachas is in a fundamentally different category than all other chayvei misah. These sins are not crimes done in response to temptation or want, but are acts of rebellion against religion itself. The Rambam distinguishes between misah and/or malkos for all other transgressions, which are punishments for the specific act of sin, and misah given to the meisit and the ir hanidachas which is a response to the attitude of defiance and rebellion that motivated the crime.

Returning to the chiddushim of the Rambam here, true, there is no getting out of any punishment of beis din through teshuvah, but the punishment of ir hanidachas is not among the 4 misos of beis din -- it is a unique category of punishment with its own rules. The punishment of ir hanidachas therefore also does not conform to the "usual" requirements of hasra'ah of the other 4 misos beis din.

I thought this was such a nice chiluk that I got greedy and go a step further. The gemara in the beginning of Makkos (2a) writes that the punishment of ka'asher zamam cannot be carried out on witnesses who testify that a kohen married a gerusha because their testimony would make not only the defendent, but also his children, into chalalim. Since the punishment of ka'asher zamam can only be used to disqualify the witnesses, not their children -- "lo, v'lo l'zar'o" -- there can be no ka'asher zamam here and the witnesses get malkos instead.

In order for any testimony to be accepted, it has to be ra'uy l'hazima, possible for the witnesses to be disqualified and punished with hazamah.  In the case of testimony about a gerusha, the gemara has a chiddush that malkos can substitute for ka'asher zamam. But, says the Minchas Chinuch, what about witnesses that testify against citizens in an ir hanidachas? Through their testimony, not only is the immediate defendant liable for punishment, but his wife and children would be killed as well as well. Based on the rule of "lo v'lo l'zar'o" we cannot similarly punish children of the witnesses. How then is their testimony ra'uy l'hazamah? (Where witnesses are testifying in a capital case malkos cannot be given as a substitute -- see Tos Makos 2a).

I wanted to use the Rambam's distinction to answer this question. You only need testimony that is ra'uy for hazamah when you are dealing with one of the classical punishments give by beis din -- it's a rule in the function of beis din in kabbalas eidus.  But when you are dealing with the punishment of ir hanidachas, a punishment which is categorically different than all other ma'aseh beis din punishments, a sui generis unique type of justice, perhaps the critieria of ra'uy l'hazamah is lifted as well.   

My son shot this idea full of holes, starting with the question of why we would need derisha v'chakira at all for witnesses in an ir hanidachas case if my logic is correct. (The whole point of derisha v'chakira b'pashtus is to force the witnesses to specify a date, time, place etc. where the event occurred so their testimony can be impeached by hazamah.)  I squirmed and made all kinds of chilukim, but the questions against me stack up higher than my answers. So why did I bother to write this? Because I'm emotially attached to the sevara even if my brain tells me it would be hard to work it out.  Maybe someone else can help salvage it.  

So how else can you answer the Minchas Chinuch's question? Let's take another case as an example: If witnesses testify that a father and his son violated Shabbos, there is no out because of "lo v'lo l'zar'o." It's only in the kohen case, where the father is the cause (sibah) of the child's punishment, that the din of "lo l'zar'o" comes into play -- not where there are multiple defendants who happen by coincidence to be related and witnesses are testifying against all of them.

By ir hanidachas, it's not the avodah zarah of the father which is the sibah, the cause, of his children being punished -- it's the fact that they live in an ir hanidachas. That is more similar to the shabbos case than the kohen and gerusha case. (See the Steipler in Makkos who says something similar to this, and then goes on to show that the Rishonim did not make this type of chiluk.)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

eglah arufah and the killing of amalek

The gemara in Yoma (22b) tells us that when Shaul received the command to wage war and destroy Amalek, he made a kal v'chomer: If for the death of one person the Torah commands that an eglah arufa be brought, kal vl'chomer we would need kaparah for the death of thousands, men women and children and even animals too. And so Shaul failed to properly carry out the dvar Hashem.

Iyun Ya'akon on the Ein Ya'akov asks: Why did Shaul draw a kal v'chomer from the special parsha of eglah arufa which deals with a situation where we don't know who the murderer is? In the case of war with Amalek, we know full well who would be doing the killing. The gemara should have made its kal v'chomer from a regular murder case: If for the murder of a single person an individual is chayav misa, kal v'chomer the seriousness of killing off an entire nation.

I think we can answer the Iyun Ya'akov's question by putting two other gemaras together. The gemara in Sota asks: Why is it that the ceremony of eglah arufa is performed by the elders of the city? Why are the elders asking for forgiveness -- do we suspect them of having killed the corpse found in their city? The gemara answers that the elders must ask forgiveness for not welcoming this stranger into their town. It's only because the victim had so place to go, no one welcomed him for a meal, no one offered a room for the night to a stranger, that this poor soul was left to wander the streets and ended up falling prey to some bandit or outlaw.

Amalek was the offspring of Timna and Eliphaz, the son of Eisav (Braishis 36:12). Chazal (Sanhedrin 99) tell us that Timna was a princess who came to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov and wanted to convert and join their family. They, however, refused to accept her. Rather than return home, Timna became Eliphaz's concubine, as it was better in her eyes to be a servant to a branch of the family of the Avos than to be a princess in her own home. As a result of Timna being sent away (and obviously the Avos must have had some reason for their actions that we are not privy to) and not being welcomed into Klal Yisrael, Amalek came into the world.

Putting the two together, perhaps the gemara davka focusses on the parsha of eglah arufah and not a regular parsha that deals with murder because the parsha of eglah arufa teaches us the importance of opening our communities to guests, to strangers, and to anyone who has no other place in the world. Given the Torah's emphasis on not closing the door to strangers, kal v'chomer, reasoned Shaul, that perhaps the command from Hashem to obliterare Amalek should be understood in a different light, as was it not our own community's cold reception of Timna and our slamming the door on her that brought Amalek into the world to begin with?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

women's share in the reward for talmud torah

1) In the daf hayomi for this past shabbos (Brachos 17) the gemara writes that women are promised more reward than men in olam ha'bah for their great bitachon. The gemara asks what is it that women do to earn such great reward, and the gemara answers that the reward is in the merit of their encouraging their husbands and children to learn Torah.

Obviously women earn reward for the mitzvos they keep. The gemara's question of what women do to earn such tremendous schar is raised only because the gemara assumed there must be some way that women have a share in the unique schar of talmud torah as well as their other merits (R' Yonasan Eibshitz).

Be that as it may, the gemara is still difficult. Even if women earn a share of schar talmud torah, asks the Maharal, how is it possible that their reward as enablers of talmud torah is greater than the reward of men, who are doing actual learning?

Let me try to explain the Maharal's answer with an analogy. Imagine two people who win a gift of dinner at an expensive French restaurant. One person is a conneissour of fine food; the other person would be just as happy with a hot dog and fries as a gourmet meal. The same reward is given to both, but the former will have far more appreciation for and enjoyment of the meal than the latter. The same holds true for olam ha'ba, says the Maharal. We men are by disposition "ba'alei tenu'a" -- we like action, not the passive life of olam ha'ba. We don't appreciate our reward to the same degree that women do.

I would like to suggest a different answer, one which my wife independently thought of when I told her the Maharal's question, so it has the stamp of approval from one of the women the gemara is speaking about. Seems to me that when we speak of talmud torah, women get the short end of the stick. They get all the tircha, but none of the reward. When a man goes to a shiur, he is able for a short time to trade the shackles of olam ha'zeh for a taste of the transcendent delight of torah study. What kind of transcendent delight does the guy's wife waiting up for him to come home from the beis medrash get? What kind of trancsendent delight is there in driving this kid to yeshiva at 7:00 and making another run for another carpool round later in the day? L'fum tza'ara agra -- the tircha is so great and there is no enjoyment, so the reward is that much greater in olam ha'ba.

2) Another Maharal on the same daf: The gemara here harshly criticizes someone who learns she'lo lishma, yet the gemara elsewhere tells us that a person should learn she'lo lishma because in that way he/she will eventually come to learn lishma. Tosfos explains that there is no contradiction -- it all depends on what the she'lo lishma motivation is. A person who learns with the she'lo lishma intent of picking fights with others deserves to be criticized; a person who learns with the she'lo lishma motivation of wanting to be called Rav (i.e. for the kavod) does not deserve any criticism. (Tosfos in various masechtos offers slightly different nuances of the same basic answer.)

Maharal rejects Tosfos and writes that the whole question doesn't even get off the ground. Someone who learns she'lo lishma (Maharal does not distinguish between various motivations) certainly deserves the harsh criticism of our sugya. But what's the alternative -- not learning? As bad as learning she'lo lishma is, as harsh as the criticism of she'lo lishma is, it still is better than not opening a gemara at all! Better to learn she'lo lishma in the hopes of ultimately reaching the level of lishma than to not learn at all.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Koznitzer Maggid on the hint to our avodah in Elul in the parsha of ma'aser

Our parsha contains the halacha of bringing ma'aser sheni to Yerushalayim, and what to do when you can't transport it there:

Aser te'aser es kol tevu'as zarecha... Ki yirchak mimcha hamakom... v'tzarta bakesef v'nasata hakesef b'yadcha v'halachta el hamakom asher yivchar Hashem Elokecha bo (Devarim 14:22-26).

The Koznitzer Magid in Avodas Yisrael (see the Maor v'Shemesh as well) explains these pesukim as hinting to our avodah during chodesh Elul.

Eser = 10, gematriya the letter yud, is a hint to yirah (we see from the halacha of ma'aser that 10 has special spiritual significance).

Aser te'aser es kol tevu'as zarecha -- A person should always strive to imbue all that he produces with yirah. 

Ha'yotzei ha'sadeh shanah shana -- Not only this year, but even reaching back to previous years, to correct the past and elevate it.

Ki yirchak mimcha haMakom -- But even though we all know we have to do teshuvah, we all want to do teshuvah, sometimes a person feels so distant from Hashem that he feels like he can't make it.

V'tzarta bakesef, v'nasata hakesef b'yadcha -- Even if you feel you are going to fall short, don't give up. Hold that desire for teshuvah (kesef = desire, kisufim, as in the pasuk "nichsof nichsafti" [Braishis 31]) in your hands and don't let it go.

V'halachta el haMakom -- You are on the road, headed in the right direction back to Hashem.

Asher yivchar Hashem Elokecha bo -- And at some point you will reach that level which Hashem desires of you.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

re'eh anochi nosein lifneichem -- the gift of "anochi"ous

Sometimes it takes a few hours for the light bulb in my brain to go on. Yesterday (link) I posted the vort of the Oheiv Yisrael on Rikvah's question, "Lamah zeh anochi?" In a nutshell: Rivka felt her baby kicking when she passed a beis avodah zarah; she felt the same baby kicking when she passed a beis medrash. A person is defined by the choices he/she makes -- it is what gives us a sense of self. Rivka wondered where that sense of self was, where was the "anochi," of a baby that cannot choose, a baby that is attracted equally to the beis avodah zarah as well as the beis medrash.

I should have realized immediately that this connects to the opening of our parsha which speaks about choosing between bracha and kelala. Hashem offers us the gift of bechira chofshis, free will (see Sefas Emes). In light of the vort of the Oheiv Yisrael you can read the opening pasulk as follows: "Re'eh anochi nosein lifneichem," See that I am giving you an "anochi" a sense of self, an ability to define your own identity through your choices.

v'limadten osam -- v'limadtem atem: a lesson from the kri u'kesiv

The word "osam" in "V'limadtem osam es bneichem l'daber bam" is written missing the middle "vav," so that if you didn't know better, you might read it as "atem." The Chofetz Chaim explains that (believe it or not) a person can get too caught up in the chinuch needs of his children, so while he sets aside time to go over aleph-beis with Yankel and learn parshas Noach with Rivka and doing some mishnayos with Shloymi, he forgets that he also has a mitzvah to learn. The Torah reminds us that talmud Torah is not just about "v'limadtem osam," teachimg them, but also "v'limadtem atem," teaching yourself.
Perhaps the kri u'kesiv also means to tell us that the only way to teach your children to become learners, "v'limadten osam," is by first "v'limdadem atem," being a learner yourself. Embody the practices and ideals you want them to absorb; don't just preach what should be done.

The Rambam writes in Hil Talmud Torah writes that a father is obligated to teach Torah to his child as soon as the child can read a simple pasuk. This is a much earlier age than what we consider the age of chinuch for other mitzvos, e.g. there is no mitzvah of chinuch to buy a two year old a lulav and esrog or have him hear shofar. Also, the halacha of chinuch for other mitzvos is derabbanan; the Rambam here presents the requirement to teach a katan as being a din d'oraysa. 

R' Aharon Soloveitchik in his sefer Perach Mateh Aharon explains that the mitzvah of teaching a child is not a function of the normal requirement of chinuch for mitzvos, but is inherent in the mitzvah of talmud torah.  In other words, when it comes to lulav or shofar or tefillin the Torqah requires you to do the mitzvah and m'derabbanan, there is an additional requirement to also train your child to do the mitzvah as well.  When it comes to talmud Torah, the mitzvah min haTorah is for you to teach your child.

[I don't fully understand the proof R' Aharon brings from the age at which the mitzvah starts. The age of chinuch is not some absolute standard, but depends on the mitzvah -- see Archin 3a. With respect to talmud Torah, even a very young child is already capable of learning something; therefore there the mitzvah starts when the child is very young.]

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

hakol b'ydei shamayim chutz m'yirah -- free choice

Chazal derive from the pasuk in parshas Eikev, "Mah Hashem... shoel m'imach ki im l'yirah," that everything is in the hands of heaven except yiras shamayim (Kesubos 30). This is the one area where we are free to exercise our bechira chofshis, our free will. By coincidence the daf hayomi for this past Shabbos touched on this topicas well. The gemara (Brachos 10a) relates that there were some evil troublemakers who lived in R' Meir's neighborhood so he davened that they should die. When Bruria, his wife, heard what he was doing, she stopped him. Instead of praying for their death, she said to her husband, he should daven that they do teshuvah. The Maharasha asks how R' Meir could ask Hashem to cause people to do teshuvah -- isn't the choice of whether to do teshuvah, whether to have yiras shamayim, the one area where Hashem does not interfere with people's free will? The simple answer (Maharasha just says "yesh l'yasheiv" but doesn't offer an answer) is that R' Meir meant that Hashem should put these bad guys in a situation where it would be easier for them to make the right choices. In other words, Bruria was making a typical liberal argument: If only these rebellious youths were given a support structure and the proper environment, they would not be such bad guys.  It's an easy answer, but I don't think it fits the language of the gemara very well. See Michtav m'Eliyahu vol 3 for another approach. 

There are a range of views as to the scope of what is included in, "hakol b'ydei shamayim," except yirah. The Rambam in Shmoneh Perakim takes an expansive view of free will and includes under the heading of yirah any decision that has moral or religious implications. Who you should marry, how you make your money, etc. all impact on mitzvos in some way (there is a mitzvah to get married, there is an issur of gezel) and therefore fall under the heading of yirah and are subject to free will. At the other extreme is the position of the Ishbitzer, who writes in a number of places that in truth even yirah itself is dictated by G-d and the gemara simply is telling us what we can tell is controlled by Hashem given our limited human frame of reference. Between these extremes are other positions, such as R' Dessler in Michtav who limits bechira to a single focal point that rises and falls with man's level of religious committment. 

The Rambam (Hil Teshuvah ch 5) asks how we can reconcile G-d's foreknowledge of future events with our free will. If G-d knows what is going to happen, doesn't that mean our choices are already determined? The Rambam answers by quoting the words of the Navi, "Lo machshivosei machshivoseichem," G-d's knowledge is not like human knowledge. The clash between foreknowledge and free will is only a problem within our limited human frame of reference, but not from G-d's transcendent perspective. 

Ra'avad sharply critiques both the Rambam's question and his answer. He charges that the Rambam's answer is no answer at all -- it just avoids the question by saying it is outside the boundaries of our comprehension. If the Rambam did not have an answer, says the Ra'avad, he should not have raised the issue in the first place. The Ra'avad then offers his own answer, that Hashem, "hei'sir zu ha'memshala m'yado u'mesarah b'yad ha'adam atzmo," He circumscribed his own power and turned this area of free will over to man.  Hashem's knowledge is no different than an astrologer who may know the future, but whose knowledge does not have an impact on events themselves. 

R' Ahron Soloveitchik (in Perach Mateh Aharon) teases an interesting lomdus out of the language of the Rambam and Ra'avad. The Ra'avad understands free will to be a function of, "hei'sir zu ha'memshala," of Hashem withdrawing his control. Not so the Rambam, who is unwilling to set any limits on Hashem's authority and is therefore forced into trying to come to grips with the head-on collision of free will vs. Hashem's knowledge. 

It's not relevant to Parshas Eikev, but while on this topic I can't resist posting an amazing vort of the Oheiv Yisrael, R' Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, on Parshas Toldos.  Rikva felt kicking in her womb when she passed houses of avodah zarah worship; she felt kicking in her womb when she passed the beis medrash. She says, "Lamah zeh anochi?" and goes to seek the advice of a Navi.  What troubled Rikva so much? The Oheiv Yisrael writes that Rikva thought she had one child in her womb.  Every person, even a child, has to make certain choices.  One person may choose to follow his heart to a house of avodah zarah; another person may choose to follow his heart into the beis medrash -- but we each must choose.  Bechira chofshis is not just about how we behave -- it's about how we define ourselves, our sense of identity, our sense of self.  Bechira is not about what you do -- it's about who you are.  When Rivka felt what she thought was the same child kicking for both the beis medrash and the beis avodah zarah, she thought this child could not choose a path; she though this baby had no identity, no sense of self.   "Lamah zeh Anochi?" -- "Where is the sense of 'I' that defines who this child is?"  

The gift of bechira means that we are afforded the opportunity to define just who the "I" inside each of us is. Let's hope we choose wisely. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Kozhiglover on Davening after the Zman

The minhag among some chassidim, including some very important Rebbes, is to daven very late, even past the zman tefilah. The Kozhiglover (Eretz Tzvi I:36) takes note of the criticism of the misnagdim and does his best to mount a defense. Let me just say that if you are a misnaged, I don't think you will be convinced, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the beautiful creative torah of the Kozhiglover. After working out that davening after the proper zman counts as a nedava and is not a bracha levatala, the Kozhiglover addresses himself to the question of how these tzadikim can put themselves in this situation where their tefilah counts only as a nedava instead of davening earlier when their tefilah would count as a fulfillment of the ikar chiyuv. Isn't this at best a b'dieved? One of the ideas he suggests is based on a Tosfos (Brachos 14) that discusses whether one should says a bracha on a minhag. Tosfos quotes that Rabeinu Tam distinguished between the minhag of tiltul aravah on hoshana rabbah, upon which no bracha is recited, and the minhag of reading hallel on rosh chodesh, upon which a bracha is recited. The former he calls, "tiltul b'almah," as opposed to the latter, which is a mitzvah, akin to all the mitzvos we recite a bracha over on Yom Tov sheni in galus, which is only a minhag. That's all Tosfos says as far as I can see, but the Kozhiglover "quotes" or explains the distinction as follows: we never recite a bracha over an aravah, but we already recite a bracha on the mitzvah of reading pesukim -- the bracha of talmud Torah. Given that a bracha can be recited over pesukim in another context, the bracha of hallel can also be recited. He then asks a question on this sevara (which again, does not seem to be a direct quote of Tosfos to begin with) -- how can Tosfos use apples to prove oranges? How does the fact that you can recite a birchas haTorah before reading pesukim of hallel prove anything with regards to reciting a completely different bracha of "likro hallel" over them?

Had you asked me, I would have explained the distinction as follows: the minhag of tiltul aravah is a fabrication from nothing; it is a new halachic entity which has no existance outside the context of the minhag which created it. Therefore, it does not warrant a bracha. Reading pesukim, however, has significance outside the context of hallel, just like the mitzvos done on Yom Tov sheni have significance outside the context of that particular day. The minhag of reading hallel or observing Yom Tov sheni took an already existing halachic construct -- reading pesukim, doing certain mitzvos -- and simply transferred it to a different time or a differnet context. Therefore, a bracha in these cases is warranted.

The Kozhiglover's explanation is structured not that different from mine, but it ventures off into what he admits is "derech aggadah." He explains that whenever a mitzvah is done, it flies up to heaven and transcends the boundaries of time and space that exist in this world. Tiltul aravah has no inherent mitzvah-meaning, and therefore it can never make it up to those transcedent heights. The words of hallel, however, are words of Torah -- we would recite birchas haTorah over them -- and therefore, they have the right "escape velocity" to break heavenward independent of the mitzvah of hallel. The Kozhiglover suggests a type of "migu" sevara: Since they have the necessary "escape velocity" to make it heavenward anyway, we can recite a bracha on hallel of rosh chodesh on these same words as well, because once upstairs, the limits of time and space no longer apply -- the distinction between days like rosh chodesh, ordinary weekdays, and Yamim Tovim has no meaning.

Based on this, the Kozhiglover answers his original question. Given that even a late tefilah can ascend heavenward based on its validity as a tefilas nedavah, and in heaven there are no boundaries of time and space, that tefilah has as much merit as a tefilah offered in the proper time period.

And for the icing on the cake, there is connection to daf yomi for you. The Mishna (Brachos 9b) writes that if one reads shema after the zman one has not lost anything; it counts as if the person was reading words of Torah. A footnote to the teshuvah of the Kozhiglover (not sure if it is his addition or someone else's) explains pshat in light of his chiddush: Since reading the parshiyos of shema count as talmud Torah, therefore the words constitute a cheftza shel mitzvah that can fly heavenward to a place where the boundaries of time and place no longer apply. In that special place outside the boundary of time, a shema recited before the zman and a shema recited after the zman count as one and the same.

tefilah: a response to existential angst or existential joy?

The Rambam paskens that there is a mitzvah d'orasya to daven once a day every day. Ramban disagrees and holds that md'oraysa one is only obligated to daven during a time of crisis and need, not every day.

Rav Soloveitchik explained that the Rambam does not disagree with the fundamental premis that tefilah is a response to crisis; what he disagreed with is the Ramban's conclusion that therefore tefilah need not be recited daily. According to the Rambam, man is situated in an existential state of crisis from which he turns to G-d to to seek relief from on a daily basis.

I have always liked this explanation of the Rav, but it occured to me that it does not take into account the Ramban's comment on "mikra'ei kodesh," where he says that tefilah b'tzibur is part of the d'orasya mitzvah of celebrating Yom Tov. Prayer can be a song of joy as well as a plea for relief from suffering. Perhaps the Rambam held of an even brighter picture of life and thought that the joy of prayer should be celebrated every day and not just on those few mikra'ei kodesh of the year. From the picture of the Rav's personality that I have formed in my mind from reading his writings I can easily see why he offered the explanation he did as opposed to the one I am suggesting here. (Does the fact that I thought of this idea now mean my personality is changing? I don't think so : )

Perhaps one can distinguish between the tefilah of the individual, which is a response to crisis, and the tefilah of Yamim Tovim, where the Ramban makes a point of saying that celebration is done through communal prayer. 

Sunday, August 05, 2012

ralbag on bal tosif

The Rambam famously asks (Mamrin ch 2) how Chazal could enact new laws when the Torah in P' VaEschanan prohibits adding to or detracting from mitzvos.  The Rambam answers that so long as Chazal make clear that their laws are only Rabbinic decrees and not mitzvos, i.e. they are no tin fact part of the Torah, there is no violation of bal tosif (see Ra'avad as well).  

The Ralbag offers a different answer that takes ta'amei hamitzvos, the philosophical justification for mitzvos, into account.  Bal tosif and bal tigra become a danger when they undermine the philosophical intent behind mitzvos.  For example, there is a specific significance to taking four species on Sukkos.  Were one to add or subtract one of the minim, the reason and symbolism of the mitzvah would be lost. However, there are additions that do not take away from the mitzvah's intent and purpose, but rather enhance and safeguard it.  For example, the issur of amira l'aku"m on Shabbos.  Rather than detract from the idea of not doing melacha, these laws protect and preserve the Torah law.  Chazal's legislation is justified because it falls into this latter category.

What is especially noteworthy is the second example Ralbag gives of an issur derabbanan that safeguards Torah law: not cooking for a non-Jew on Yom Tov.  Of all the derabbanan's the Ralbag could have chosen to offer as an example, he had to choose one that does not seem to be an issur derabbanan at all!  Given the derasha of "lachem -- v'lo l'aku"m," at first glance it would seem that cooking for an aku"m would be an issur d'oraysa, not derabbanan.  We once discussed this a bit in the comments to an earlier post - take a look

Thursday, August 02, 2012

ahavas Hashem

1. Ramban comments on the pasuk, "V'ahavta l're'acha kamocha," that the Torah uses the term "l're'acha" as opposed to "es re'eacha" because it is impossible to literally love someone as much as oneself, as use of the preposition "es" would connote. The best one can do is admire certain traits in another person, or, as Chazal reformulate the mitzvah, not do harm to another person.

When it comes to ahavas Hashem, the Torah does use the preposition "es" -- as we say every day, "V'ahavta es Hashem Elokecha..." One's love for Hashem must equal one's love for self and even exceed it, to the point that one would even give up one's own life.  (see Netziv).

2. "V'shinantam l'vanecha..." is not the mitzvah of talmud Torah -- we know there is a mitzvah of talmud Torah from other places. As the Ksva v'Kabbalah explains (he says this is pashut pshat in the parsha), the entire first perek of shema is one long elaboration of the mitzvah of ahavas Hashem. If you love something, you want to tell others about it. If you love Hashem, then you tell your children about it by teaching them Torah.

3. How can the Torah command having an emotion?  You can't force someone to love?  The Sefas Emes answers that love of G-d is innate.  L'mashal (my analogy, not his): You don't need to command or force a mother to love her child -- there is an innate maternal bond and only a psycopath or someone who willfully tries to undo that bond can break it.  (This is very similar to R' Elchanan's explanation of the mitzvah of emunah.  Belief comes naturally; it is only ta'avah that gets in the way). 

Am I wrong in reading the S.A. as finding an element of an issur aseh in the mitzvah of ahavah, i.e. don't undo the natual bond of love with G-d?  If that is true, the parallel to "v'ahavta l're'acha kamoch" as understood by Chazal (don't do unto others...) is clear (Rashi in Mes. Shabbos writes that "re'acha" actually refers to Hashem).

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

a simcha for klal yisrael

It's truly a monumental day as those who keep to the daf hayomi schedule have finished another cycle. Not much I can say that has not been said by others. The gemara says that Abayei would make a yom tov when a talmid would finish a masechta. R' Tzadok is medayek that it doesn't say he would make a party or a seudah -- it says he made a yom tov, meaning there was a certain "chalos" to the day. The Munkatcher goes so far as to say (and I have seen this elsewhere as well) that on a day when a siyum is made no tachanun is recited. So it is a special day today for Klal Yisrael, and considering how many days of sorrow we have, it's nice to have a day like today once in awhile. 

I have been meaning for months to write a post on the topic of learning for ba'ali batim but never seem to get to it. If you look through the letters and writings of gedolei yisrael of this generation (e.g. the letters of the Steipler, R' Shach, the Chazon Ish) and previous generations everyone has their 2 cents as to what the derech halimud should be, but it seems to me that most of the advice given is geared to bnei yeshiva. Let's be real -- anyone who is at work 8-10 hours a day + commuting time does not really have time for a bekiyus seder and an iyun seder and a halacha seder. That may work if you have two or three sedorim to spend in a beis medrash, but not when you only have b'koshi an hour or two. What should the program be for the rest of us not in yeshiva?  I have not seen any gedolim address that issue.  Daf yomi is an attempt to provide an answer. It is a limud for the "everyman," so that knowledge of kol hatorah is something possible even for a regular Jew to attain. True, it is very superficial knowledge, but is is valuable anyway and serves its purpose.   

Aside from knowledge for its own sake, a tremendous byproduct of the daf is the sense of chashivus hatorah it engenders. A shul or community that has a daf seder / shiur is making a statement: We hold Torah dear.  Is there any more important message than that?  When a family sees a father (and in some cases, a mother) who has dedicated himself to learn shas, you don't think that makes an impression?

Y'yasher kochacham to all the lomdei hadaf.