Thursday, December 27, 2012

don't forget Menashe

The fact that I want to say a pshat diametrically opposite that of the Ksav Sofer is probably not a good thing, but b'mechilas kvodo, in this case I think it's OK and he might even approve.  Ya'akov tells Yosef that in the future people will bless their children with the formula, "Yisimcha Elokim k'Ephraim u'Menashe."  The Targum Yonasam on that pasuk adds two words -- the bracha will be given at the time of **bris milah**.  The Ksav Sofer asks a simple question: Why does the Targum Yonasan emphasize that we are speaking specifically about the time of milah?  Why not learn that the pasuk is talking about any time a parent wants to bless his children? 

The Ksav Sofer explains that Ephraim and Menashe followed different paths in life -- one was devoted more to Torah study, one was more of a man of the world -- and we must give our children the choice and the opportunity to follow either one of these paths.  The fact of the matter is if a child spends his formative years in school and then at soccer practice and then at piano lessons and then at some other program and then watching the latest TV show that he really can't miss, etc. that choice is made before the child even realizes there are two paths to choose from.  If you push off fully immersing in talmud Torah until 15, 16, 17, or maybe until a year learning in Israel at 18, then in many, if not most cases, the die is already cast -- gadlus in Torah, true greatness, the likes of which was demonstrated by Ephraim, is already out of reach.  The Targum Yonasan therefore emphasizes that it's at the moment of milah, when the baby is still in diapers, that a commitment to at least aspire to and try to become an Ephraim must be made.  If those heights cannot be reached, there will always be time later to become a Menashe, a man of the world -- nothing will have been lost in the process.   

I don't think I'm being unfair to the Ksav Sofer to say his reading is polemical.  Remember that it was the Ksav Sofer's father, the Chasam Sofer, who waged ideological battle against the reform movement in Hungary; the stress on the importance of a pure talmud Torah chinuch is perhaps part of that battle against outside forces.  So I don't feel so bad reading the pasuk a little differently.  It seems to me that at least in certain segments of the Torah world behaving like a would-be Ephraim is taken for granted.  We have more people learning in yeshivos and kollelim today than at any point in history.  It is not a question in many circles of whether a boy will continue learning post high-school, past a year or two or three in Israel, past marriage -- it's simply a question of how many years or whether there is a limit at all.  I'm not going to talk about the merits of perpetuating such a system.  Despite the quantitative increase in talmidim, I think we can agree that there has not been a qualitative increase in Torah knowledge -- the system is not producing any more Chasam Sofers or Brisker Ravs than in the past.  What we have is many more average people of average ability devoting themselves to learning and having an average degree of success.  Whether the community has the resources to support such folks (the non-exceptional non-iluy masses) or whether they should be doing something else with their time is a different discussion.  I want to talk about those folks who really don't want to be part of this system and yet go along with the flow anyway because of sociological pressure, peer pressure, or some other factor.  I want to talk about the bachur who in his heart knows he would rather be studying law or medicine or fixing cars, and yet is trapped in front of a gemara for 12 hours a day because his family expects him to be an Ephraim, his peers are all doing the same thing and at least pretending to be Ephraims, his shidduch (and that of his siblings) depends on his being an Ephraim, his family's social standing depends on his being an Ephraim.  And so he sits and struggles to stay awake in front of a Tosfos and at least feign interest for hour after hour.  His chavrusa is probably no more inspired than he is, and so they discuss the Knicks, the Jets, they go out for a coffee and/or smoke, and so the days and weeks pass.  Rather than perpetuating the legacy of a Yosef hatzadik, this type of "Ephraim" is actually the reverse: While Yosef outwardly behaved like an Egyptian prince, inside he was filled with Torah and tzidkus; this "Ephraim" outside looks like a ben Torah, but inwardly is no different than any other guy on the street.  Even if this "Ephraim" bucks the system to do something else, his family and friends, his social circle, will always view him as a b'dieved -- so it's either don't risk it, or worse, drop out of the system completely so as to not face the stigma.   

It's the ""Ephraims" like these who are prime candidates to excel and become great Menashes.  Pursue that desire to practice medicine, study law, fix car, and also learn chumash for an hour a day, support Torah institutions, do chessed and be a paragon of midos and yiras shamayim.  That's not a "nebech" failure case -- that's a model of success, and it's not something anyone should be embarassed to aspire to or feel like a b'dieved having accomplished.  Of course, "Vayasem es Ephraim lifnei Menashe."  All things being equal, if a child has the apptitude and ability to become a great talmid chacham, it would be a crime to not encourage him to develop that ability and talent to become a real Ephraim.  But that does not take away from the measure of success that someone not cut out for that mold can achieve as well. The Ksav Sofer's generation needed reminding about the role of Ephraim, but I think in our generation, at least some segments of society, need reminding about the role of Menashe.   The Targum Yonasan is telling us not to raise our children on a one-track system of "Yisimcha Elokim k'Ephraim," and then years later, if that doesn't work out, begrudgingly accept that they will amount to "no more" than a Menashe.  By that point the sense of disappointment and the destruction of self-esteem is already done.  We need to learn to not just accept, but appreciate even from day one (or day eight, as the case may be) that being a Menashe is not a b'dieved -- it's part of Ya'akov's a bracha too, "VaYivarech Yisrael...," and something to be proud of.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

what finally forced Yosef's hand

Two other little insights into the parsha of Yosef and his brothers that caught my attention: 

1) What was it that finally caused Yosef to break down and reveal himself to his brothers?  Was it the pleading of Yehudah?  Was it the sight of his brother Binyamin?  The Sefas Emes reminds us of what Ya'akov had told his sons before sending them down to Mitzrayim again -- "V'K-l Sha'kai yiten lachem rachamim lifnei ha'ish..."  (43:14)   Ya'akov davened that the "ish" that his sons would be returning to should have mercy on them.  It was not Yehudah, it was not Binyamin, it was not the sight of his other brothers, but it was this tefilah of Ya'akov which melted the heart of the "ish," of Yosef.   

2) When the brothers left Yosef the first time, why did Yosef hold Shimon behind?  Surely the brothers would have been forced to return whether Shimon was held or not -- there was no other source of food other than from Mitzrayim!  And remember that Shimon, as Rashi says, was not actually held in prison.  Once the brothers were gone Yosef released him and fed him and treated him b'kavod,   So why hold him hostage?   The Radmosker answers that once Yosef was reunited with his brothers, he could not bear to see them go.  He wanted so much to give of himself to his brothers, to show them chessed, to act as Yosef the "mashbir," that he could not help himself from holding someone back just to be able to share with.

Not pshat, but insightful and creative.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sefas Emes on Yosef, galus, geulah - and a perspective on suffering

The essence of what galus means and what a difference a Yosef hatzadik brings to the table can be summed up in one pasuk: "Vayaker Yosef es echav v'heim lo hikiruhu."  I thought I posted this once, but now I can't find it and can't find the original source either (I thought it was the Igra d'Kallah, but can't find it there.)  In Parshas Beshalach when the mon starts to fall the Torah tells us that, "VaYiru Bnei Yisrael vayomru ish el achiv mon hu, ki lo yad'u mah hu..."  Why does the pasuk mention specifically that the people said to each other, "Vayomri ish el achiv...," "What is this mon?" -- wouldn't it just suffice to just tell us that they didn't know what the stuff  was?  The answer is that it was not the food that perplexed people, but it was each other. When you eat spiritual food and absorb spiritual energy, suddenly the world looks like a very different place.  When Bnei Yisrael ate the mon, "Vayiru Bnei Yisrael," they suddenly saw each other in a different light than before, "VaYomru ish el achiv," they said to each other, "Who are you?"  I thought you were my grumpy neighbor who leaves his garbage cans in the street, but now I see a shining neshoma in front of me!  Things work the opposite way as well unfortunately.  The darkness of galus and cheit can cover over the neshoma so that it is hidden away and unseen.  The brothers had seen Yosef in all his glory, but now that they came down to Mitzrayim, they could not recognize him -- the galus distorted and blocked their vision.  But not Yosef hatzadik -- Yosef can see just as clearly in the darkness of Mitzrayim as he could beforehand.  He recognized who his brothers were.  Yosef symbolizes the power to see the pnimiyus, the inner meaning of things, even in the bleakest of situations.

The Sefas Emes repeats this yesod again and again in his torah on the parsha.  When Pharoah has his dream of the fat cows and the skinny cows, the Torah tells us that the skinny cows ate the fat cows and leaves it at that.  However, when Pharoah tells Yosef of this same dream, he editorializes and adds that "lo noda ki ba'u el kirbena," the fat cows were invisible once eaten -- the skinny cows showed no weight gain, no mark that they now had those fat cows inside.  Rashbam writes that upon awakening and having a chance to reflect on what he saw, Pharoah added additional details that he did not take note of when he first had the dream.  Sefas Emes, however, explains that Pharoah's description, those added details, are revealing of his entire world view.  In Pharoah's mind the dark years completely swallow up the good and leave no trace behind.  Yosef, however, saw things in a different light.  Those fat years could be used as years of preparation -- their presence could and would be felt during the lean years.

"V'ha'ra'av haya al kol plei ha'aretz vayiftach Yosef as kol asher bahem vayshbor l'Mitzrayim..." (41:56)  The simple pshat in the pasuk is that Yosef opened the storehouses of grain, but do we really need to know the detail of opening stores?  Sefas Emes explains that the pasuk is telling us something more profound:  Yosef opened "bahem," that which was within them -- he was able to reach into each person and draw out that hidden spark even in the bleakest time of famine.  Yosef's message was that there is something deeper inside each person -- and he was able to draw it out.

When his brothers come down, Yosef wants them to eat with him.  Chazal darshen Yosef's instructions, "tvoach tevach v'hachein," as a reference to preparing a Shabbos meal.  In other words, Yosef's brothers came on erev Shabbos and were going to eat a seudas Shabbos with him.  Achronim (e.g. see Maharil Diskin) ask how this can be.  The pesukim tell us that the brothers left the next day to return home.  If they arrived on erev Shabbos while Yosef was preparing for Shabbos, that would mean they were going to leave on Shabbos.  What of the issur of techumin, of mechameir, of shevisas beheima?  The Sefas Emes cleverly answers that the Midrash is not speaking of erev Shabbos.  The gemara (Beitzah 16) tells us that Beis Shamai used to prepare for Shabbos every day by setting aside the best items he found that day for Shabbos.  Yosef followed this same practice.  When he went shopping on Sunday and found a nice roast, he set it aside and put it in the freezer for Shabbos.  If he went back to the store on Monday and found a better roast, he put that one in the freezer and designated it for Shabbos.  Yosef lived with Shabbos every day -- not just one day a week.  Shabbos may reveal itself on only one particular day, but b'pnimiyus, beneath the surface, Shabbos is with us all the time.

In his bracha to sheivet Yosef in Parshas Zos HaBracha Moshe Rabeinu refers to Hashem as "retzon shochni s'neh."  Why here, in connection with Yosef and no where else, does Moshe allude to the image of Hashem appearing in the burning bush?  What does Hashem's appearance in that form to Moshe have to do with sheivet Yosef?  R' Meir Goldvicht answered this question by referring to the Sefas Emes' explanation of the burning bush in Parshas Shemos.  Moshe sees a "sneh bo'er b'eish," a bush on fire, and then the Torah tells us that he turned to see, "Madu'a lo yivar ha'sneh," why the bush was not on fire.  The pasuk seems to be almost a contradiction in terms: On the one hand it tells us that Moshe saw the bush on fire, on the other hand it tells us that he turned to to see why the bush  was not burning.  We would have expected the pasuk to say, "madu'a lo u'kal ha'sneh," that Moshe turned to see why the bush was not consumed by the fire that was burning, not why "lo yiv'ar ha'sneh!"  The Sefas Emes explains that the fire Moshe saw symbolized the pnimiyus within each and every Jew.  What Moshe could not understand is if such a fire indeed burns, then where is it -- why does this bush look dry and covered with thorns on the outside as if nothing is going on?   Moshe had to understand what the Jew  in galus he was coming to redeem was all about.  What he needed was a little of Yosef's perspective -- the ability to see the fire that rages within, the potential, the spark, even while on the outside all remains invisible.  When it came time to give his bracha of sheivet Yosef, Moshe called upon that symbol of the burning bush, that perspective, that he himself inherited from Yosef.

It is this perspective that takes account of what is beneath the surface that unlocks the meaning of Yosef's words to his brothers at the moment he chooses to reveal himself.  At first, when Yosef tells the brothers that he is alive, they are dumbstruck and left speechless.  Imagine the grief, fear, shock, they must have felt.  So Yosef continues, "Ani Yosef achi'chem asher michartem osi Mitzrayma" -- "I'm Yosef whom you sold into slavery."  Talk about rubbing salt into their wounds!  From the continuation of their conversation it seems that Yosef wanted to comfort his brothers and re-establish a positive relationship with them.  So why did he need to remind them that they had sold him into slavery?  The Sefas Emes reminds of  the gemara in Shabbos which darshens
Hashem's response to Moshe's breaking the luchos.  "Asher shibarta," explain Chazal, means "y'yasher kochacha she'shibarta."  Here too, the word "asher" used by Yosef means "y'yasher kochachem."  Instead of berating his brothers for selling him into slavery Yosef was giving them a big "ya'asher koach!"  Yosef was telling his brothers that whatever they might have been thinking, b'pnimiyus it was Hashem's plan and not theirs that governed his life, and everything worked out for the best (see Maharal in Gur Aryeh on the 10 donkeys sent by Yosef.)

So I've beaten you over the head with torah of the Sefas Emes basically telling you not to look at things as they appear -- that there is a pnimiyus, a deeper meaning, a hidden plan and subtext, to everything that occursThe tzadik, the person who wants to rise above the bleakness of galus, needs to attain that perspective.   On the one hand, in the abstract, this is all intellectually quite enjoyable -- it's a wonder and a pleasure to see how the Sefas Emes weaves the theme through torah after torah, drawing his message from pesukim and Chazal, adding to and refining his message. On the other hand, I write this a few days after someone walked into a school and shot tens of innocent children.  My brain tells me that in light of this torah b'pnimiyus there must be some meaning to what happened -- that there is no such thing as "senseless" violence so long as there is hashgacha pratis in the world -- but to be honest, I have to wonder and doubt whether anyone in their heart can truly feel that way.  And even while I know the Sefas Emes also teaches that the greater the good, the greater the darkness that must exist to conceal it in galus, it is truly hard to think of what kind of goodness can come about only through the slaughter of innocent children.  And the fact that such an event serves some instrumental good, i.e. it can inspire others to act better in certain ways, cause others to think about life in a different way, is not really sufficient an answer, at least not to me.  As I understand the Sefas Emes (and torah of others who follow in the same derech), the good that exists b'pnimiyus is inherent in the thing itself; it is not just an outcome that is incidental.  So should we just forget the past few paragraphs?  I'm not willing to say that either.  Without the belief that there is a deeper meaning or value to all that happens one is left with a picture of reality worthy of Kafka or Camus, with little room for hope or optimism.  And yet, we dare not cheapen or wash away the suffering experienced by so many by passing off the optimistic belief in a deeper pnimiyus as easy to come by, as easily digested.  Saying b'pnimiyus all is good should not result in a solopcistic denial of the reality of suffering and evil.  Perhaps it is only an ultimate geulah that can help us reconcile the abstract torah with the reality of pain and evil.  Perhaps it requires a deep level of emunah.  For now, kashya.  Or perhaps teiku.       

Sunday, December 16, 2012

zichartani... v'hizkartani: proof that Yosef was a ba'al bitachon

The Midrash comments that the pasuk, "Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho," refers to Yosef, who exemplified the trait of bitachon.  Yet in the very next line the Midrash continues and comments on the continuation of the pasuk, "V'lo panah el rehavim,"
that this too refers to Yosef, as he was forced to stay in prison two extra years for saying "zichartani... v'hizkartani" to the Sar HaMashkim and relying on him to get him out of jail   A stira minei u'bei!  Yosef is praised for his trust in Hashem and then is sentenced to two extra years in prison for trusting in the Sar HaMashkim.  How are we to make sense of it?

The classic answer is that it was davka because Yosef was a model of bitachon that he was punished for relying on the Sar HaMaskim, as only someone on a high spiritual level would be punished for so slight a fault.  In past posts we covered a few other approaches (e.g. here and here).  I want to share with you an amazing pshat from the Rebbe Sar Shalom of Belz.  

What is the meaning of Yosef's double language in saying to the Sar HaMashkim, "Ki im zichartani itcha... v'hizkartani el Pharoah"?  The simple reading is that Yosef was pleading with the Sar HaMashkim to the point of repeating himself.  However, the two words, "zichartani" and "hizkartani" are grammatically different and have different meanings.  It's not mere repititon.  "Zichartani" means to remember - active voice; "hizkartani" is to be remembered -- passive voice.  R' Sar Shalom explains that Yosef was telling the Sar HaMashim as follows: I, Yosef, and a ba'al bitachon.  I trust in Hashem and know that he is going to deliver me from the prison.  So you have two choices: Either "zichartani," you choose of your own volition to speak to Pharoah on my behalf and willingly act as my saviour, or "hizkartani," Hashem will find a way to make you willy-nilly speak on my behalf so that I can escape.  Either way, I am sure that Hashem is going to get me out of here.

"Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho," it was precisely the double-use of language that proves that Yosef exemplified bitachon.

But why did Yosef need the Sar HaMashkim to serve as the agent of his deliverance at all?  Explains R' Sar Shalom, Yosef saw that the Sar HaMashkim was not a good guy; he was just another low-life bureaucrat in the Egyptian palace.  He was the type of guy that makes you wonder why Hashem even put him on planet earth to begin with.  Yosef wanted to capture the nitzotz tov, the spark of goodness that could be redeemed even from such a person.  Yosef understood what a kiddush Hashem it would be if even such a person could somehow become the channel for something positive to happen in the world.  

For that type of deliverance, Yosef, who exemplified bitachon by saying "zichartani... v'hizkartani," was willing to wait, even if it meant his sitting two extra years in prison.  Not as punishment, but through his own choice, did Yosef wait for the Sar HaMashkim serve as the means of his deliverance.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Yosef's reward of two extra years in prison

HaKsav v'HaKabbalah points out the grammatical difficulty in the language of "zichartani itcha" used by Yosef in last week's parsha in asking to be remembered by the Sar HaMashkim.  "Zichartani" is a statement of fact, a description; it is not a command, like "z'chor."  We also never find the word "itcha" used in connection with remembering.  It goes without saying that the person being remembered is with, or in the mind, of the one doing the remembering.  

HaKsav v'HaKabbalah creatively explains (al pi peshuto shel mikra) that these words of Yosef were a continuation of Yosef's interpretation of the Sar HaMashkim's dream.  Unlike the Sar HaOfim who saw completed baskets of bread in his dream, the Sar HaMashkim saw the growth and flourishing of the vine and grapes and the process of squeezing those grapes to produce wine.  Yosef told the Sar HaMashkim that the three days and his serving of the wine portended his being restored to his former position; however, there was more to the dream than that.  "Zichartani itcha" -- "I have been remembered with you" -- "My future," said Yosef, "Has been foretold in that same dream along with yours."  Yosef unders
tood that the vision of wine production was meant for him.  He was the vine that, despite the bleakness of the situation, would flourish; he was the grape that would be pressed by difficulty and hardship, and as a result, produce within the most wonderful wine.  Yosef was not asking; he was telling the Sar HaMashkim that since they were together in the same dream their fates were somehow bound, and through him Yosef would eventually escape from prison.

The Midrash comments that the pasuk, "Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho," refers to Yosef, who exemplified the trait of bitachon.  Yet in the very next line the Midrash continues and comments on the continuation of the pasuk, "V'lo panah el rehavim,"
that this too refers to Yosef, as he was punished for relying on help from the Sar HaMashkim rather than Hashem alone and was kept in prison by Hashem for an additional two years.  A stira minei u'bei!  How are we to make sense of it?

Let me introduce the Sefas Emes' explanation with an analogy.  Chazal tell us that Hashem does not let a tzadik unwittingly commit an aveira that he would otherwise avoid.  If, for example, there was some kashrus problem (according to Rishonim the rule applies particularly by ma'achalos asuros) on the food you were about to serve a tzadik you might end up dropping the plate, or something else would occur to prevent him from eating from that food.  An ordinary person who otherwise occasionally might fall victim to temptation does not merit such protection; he/she might be served the same meal and eat heartily without anything happening.  The tzadik's missing that meal is not a punishment; to the contrary, it's a sign of special Diving protection.

Yosef of course knew that his deliverance was in Hashem's hands alone, but he also understood that there was a message for him in the Sar HaMashkim's dream -- "zichartani itcha.[The Midrash, unlike HaKsav v'HaKabbalah, reads this as a command, but there is no reason to reject HaKsav v'HaKabbalah's suggestion that Yosef was motivated by his understanding of the Sar HaMashkim's dream rather than his own initiative.]  
Yosef mistakenly thought that that message to him was a call to action; he thought he was being told to ask the Sar HaMashkim to remember him and help engineer his freedom.  Is it not a hallmark of Yosef's character to act on what he believes to be prophetic revalation within dreams?

Yet Yosef was mistaken.  Deliverance through the Sar HaMashkim, through natural means, by Hashem acting through intermedaries to  bring about his plans in the world,
would have been a step down in level for Yosef, whose entire life, as that of Ya'akov, was directly guided by Hashem.  Rather than let Yosef fall victim to his own misinterpretation of the situation, Hashem stepped in to correct it.  Davka because Yosef otherwise exemplified the highest level of bitachon did he merit Hashem's protection from falling from that level.  Hashem had to extend Yosef's prison stay for two years not as a punishment, but as a means to ensuring that the Sar HaMashkim would indeed forget Yosef, not act on his behalf, and ensure that Yosef would merit redemption through Hashem's hashgacha alone.

"Ashrei ha'ish asher sam Hashem mivtacho" -- shouldn't the pasuk say "sam b'Hashem,"  trust *in* Hashem?   Based on the Sefas Emes the pasuk makes perfect sense.  It is not Yosef who trusted in Hashem that is the subject of the pasuk, but rather the subject is Hashem, who arranged things in such a way to ensure Yosef's bitachon was preserved.

What of Yosef's dreams about his brothers and father?  Are we to interpret Yosef's actions in relation to his brothers as an effort to engineer fulfillment of those dreams, even if his actions may have hurt them in the process and even if he might have alleviated his father's pain sooner by sending for him immediately?  Or is Yosef himself a passive actor in a drama engineered by Hashem to bring Ya'akov into galusPerhaps the two years in prison that Yosef spends that introduce our parsha are a warningOverzealousness in appealing to the Sar
HaMashkim based on his interpretation of his dreams cost Yosef two extra years in prison; who knows what the cost would be of being overzealous in trying to bring his brothers to bow before him?  Or perhaps, as the approach of the Sefas Emes suggests, those two years were a sign to Yosef that he should not and need not worry about acting in any way to bring his dreams to fruition.  Events were in Hashem's hands; all that was required of him was surrender and to let events run their course.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

geder of seudas mitzvah and chanukah

The Sochotchover (Ne'os Deshe) has an interesting definition/hagdarah of what constitutes a seudas mitzvah.  The Midrash (Shir haShirim) writes that there is an obligation to make a seudas mitzvah upon the completion of the Torah.  The gemara (Shabbos 119) tells us that Abayei would make a siyum = seudas mitzvah upon finishing a masechta.  We see that the idea of seudas mitzvah is related to the completion of a mitzvah.  The reason for a seudah to celebrate a wedding is because it marks the completion of the state of "zacher u'nekeivah bera'am," the unification of husband and wife that is the whole of "personhood." Shabbos obligates seudah because it is the completion of the cycle of creation.

So why is there no seudas mitzvah for Chanukah to celebrate the completion of the rededication of the Mikdash?  The Sochotchover answers that the completion of the Mikdash is not an end in itself, but is really a new beginning.  It is the mechayeiv of avodah, not the completion of an avodah.  

(OK, so you will ask me why we can't say the same about a wedding.  Point granted.)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

hadlakas menorah as a kiyum of building the mikdash

According to most Rishonim the menorah in the mikdash was lit once a day towards evening and burned all night.  According to these views, the Mishna's din (Menachos 49) that chinuch of the menorah, the first lighting that inaugurates the use of the menorah, must be done in the evening makes perfect sense -- this is the proper time at which the mitzvah of lighting the menorah is fulfilled.  

The Rambam, however, writes (Temidim 3:10-12) 

דישון המנורה, והטבת נרותיה בבוקר ובין הערביים--מצות עשה

 מה הוא דישון המנורה: כל נר שכבה--מסיר הפתילה וכל השמן שבנר, ומקנחו, ונותן בו פתילה אחרת ושמן אחר במידה, שהוא חצי לוג; וזה שהסיר, משליכו במקום הדשן אצל המזבח, עם דישון המזבח הפנימי והחיצון; ומדליק נר שכבה. והדלקת הנרות, היא הטבתם. 

According to the Rambam the mitzvah done with the menorah is called hatavah, preparing for lighting, and it must be fulfilled twice a day, both in the morning and in the evening, not just once.   "Hadlakas hemenorah hi hatavasm," lighting the menorah is not an independent mitzvah, but is part and parcel of this mitzvah of hatavah.  

Since according to the Rambam the mitzvah of hatavah (of which hadlakah is just one detail) must be performed in the morning as well as the evening, why can chinuch of the menorah not be done in the morning as well?

As we discussed once before, the Rambam does not count the construction of the klei hamikdash as separate mitzvos because he assumes they are all details of the larger mitzvah of building a mikdash.  Making a menorah is a kiyum of the mitzvah of making a mikdash.  How do you make a menorah?  The Kozhiglover suggests that a menorah that does not provide light is not a functional menorah.  It's only a lit menorah which fulfills this mitzvah of making a mikdash.  Hadlakas menorah thus accomplishes a dual purpose: 1) it is a kiyum of the mitzvah of hatavah; 2) it is a kiyum of the mitzvah of binyan mikdash.  

The Rambam agrees with the majority view of the Rishonim that lighting the menorah qua the mitzvah of hatavah can be fulfilled only toward evening.  Therefore the chinuch of the menorah can only be done at the this time.  The reason the Rambam writes that the menorah must be lit in the morning is to fulfill the miztvah of lighting qua binyan mikdash, because a menorah that does not illuminate is a lack in the mitzvah of binyan mikdash.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

be careful what you wish for

Rashi comments on the opening of our parsha: "Ya’akov desired to live in peace but the troubles of Yosef sprang up. The righteous desire tranquility, but G-d said, 'Is it not enough that they receive the world to come; they also desire this world?!'”

What’s wrong with wanting a little peace and quiet? Ya’akov certainly had his share of troubles throughout his life. Didn’t he deserve a break? The Ksav Sofer uses the following gemara to shed light on the issue:

The gemara (Ta’anis 25) relates that R’ Chanina ben Dosa was so poor that he had literally nothing. He decided to daven that Hashem grant him an advance on a small portion of his reward in olam ha’ba. His prayer was answered and he received a golden table leg from Heaven. Later, he dreamt that all the tzadikim were sitting in olam ha’ba around their tables and he and his wife were sitting at a wobbly table missing one leg. The potential future cost was too great to contemplate, and so R’ Chanina davened that Hashem withdraw his gift.

Surely R’ Chanina must have realized that you don’t get something for nothing – the receipt of a share of his portion in the world to come in advance obviously would mean he would lack that share in the future. Why did it come as surprise that the golden table leg he received in this world would mean he would have one less gold table leg in the next?

Every gift Hashem provides is meant to be used to better ourselves and the world. To some degree the poor person has it easy – he cannot be judged or challenged whether he gave enough to charity because he barely can make ends meet for himself. Not so the rich person who has the means to help others. R’ Chanina at first thought that the test of wealth would be easier to bear than the test of poverty. He asked for a share of his portion in the world to come in advance thinking that he would be able to increase, not diminish, his future reward by giving charitably with his fortune. Much like a businessman who takes a loan to finance the growth and expansion of his enterprise, R’ Chanina thought he could “invest” his future reward in expanding his opportunities to help others and increase his future “earnings.” The reality is that most plans to grow a new business do not succeed; the challenge of using opportunity wisely and to its fullest potential is not so easily passed. R’ Chanina ended up reconsidering his “loan” and asking that he be returned to poverty.

Ya’akov Avinu was not looking for peace and tranquility because he was ready for retirement. To the contrary, he thought that peace and tranquility would provide him with the opportunity to do even more good than he was able to when dealing with the challenges of Lavan and Eisav. However, the obligations that come with greater opportunity and means are far greater than a person realizes. Hashem therefore rejected his request.

The assumption of the Ksav Sofer, which is probably how we've all learned this Rashi since grade school, is that Hashem was not willing to grant Ya'akov's request. The Sefas Emes, however, suggests an innovative contrarian reading.  Hashem in fact did grant Ya'akov's request. You want peace and tranquility, I'll give you peace and tranquility -- but you have to pay the price.  "Shalvah" is achieved not by avoiding, but by overcoming the trials and tribulations that life deals out.  Only by proving himself capable of dealing with the challenge of the conflict between Yosef and his brothers could Ya'akov earn the ultimate reward of serenity even in olam ha'zeh. 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

more on tefilah and kol d'avid Rachamana l'tav avid

A few weeks ago we discussed R' Shlomo Kluger's explanation of Yitchak's davening "l'nochach ishto" -- for Rivka's benefit, not his own.  Yitzchak accepted that whatever Hashem decreed must be l'tov and therefore, if he had no children, so be it -- it must be for the best.  However, he knew that Rivka did not share that same perspective, and therefore he davened for a child on her behalf.  This highlights what I think is a paradox: our acceptance that "kol mah d'avid Rachmama l'tav avid," that all Hashem does is for the best, while at the same time davening and asking Hashem to change the circumstances we might find ourselves into what we think is something better.  

The Berdichiver explains the double-language, "V'atah amarta **heiteiv eitiv** eimach,"  used in last week's parsha by Ya'akov in his tefilah before his encounter with Eisav as meaning that Hashem did not just promise to do good/tov by Ya'akov, but he promised good that would also be perceived as good.  In other words, no matter what happened in that encounter, at the end of the day Ya'akov's response would be, "Kol d'avid Rachamana l'tav avid."  But Ya'akov wanted more than that -- he wanted it to be good in a way that was tangible and real to him without having to resort to rationalizations and justifications after the fact.

Maybe now we can understand just a little bit the seemingly callous behavior of Yosef who spent his time fixing his hair and making sure he looked his best (Rashi 39:6) while his father sat mourning for him at home.  This is the behavior of the tzadik yesod olam?!   How could Yosef feel in the mood to dress up and adorn himself at this time?   The Radomsker answers that if one truly feels that "kol d'avid Rachamana l'tav avid," then the question is moot. Aderaba, what are you wailing about -- whatever is happening can only be good!

This reminds me of the gemara in Chagiga 5 that teaches that even when there is sadness in the outer chambers, in the inner chambers closest to Hashem (whatever that means) there is always joy (there is another girsa there too, ayen sham).  I don't think we can really relate to such a madreiga, but Yosef haTzadik and Yitzchak Avinu lived their lives in "batei gavay," the innermost chamber where there is always joy; on that level and from that inner perspective no matter what happens, "Rachamana l'tav avid."  It's not a justification after the fact, but its how these tzadikim felt every moment.

So why is Yosef criticized?  We've explained the "hava amina" of Yosef's behavior, but at the end of the day it was not the right thing to do.  The Radomsker answers that even though the tzadik knows that all is good, he still must show empathy with the world that does not feel and see things that way; he must  daven on behalf of a world that needs the good of "heiteiv eitiv," that which we feel and experience as good, not just that we can rationalize as good after the fact.  The tzadik's job is to bring tov down from shamayim into the reality of life as we experience it, so that we can share in it to the fullest extent. 

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

odds and ends

1. One of my kids (6th grade) had a test in Shmuel I ch 6 that I helped her study for.  Whenever I help my kids study I can't help also thinking about what and how the teacher taught them (of course, my kids don't necessarily absorb what the teacher intended to impart, but even so, I assume that on average what they remember is a fair indicator of what the teacher stressed).  This inevitably increases my blood pressure.   Since this is elementary school Navi, the teacher gave a list of vocabulary words from the perek the kids need to know.  I always try try to do two things with new words: 1) Make sure they know the shoreh/root; 2) See if there are other contexts where the word apperars that they know or should know and I can now bring to their attention.  One of the words on the list was "alos" ("shtei paros olos" in pasuk 10).  The teacher translated the "alos" as female cow.  I am not sure why she did not use the word "nursing" -- I think a sixth grader would know what that means -- and use the opportunity to point out the same not-so-common word also appears in parshas hashavu'a.  Ya'akov Avinu tells Eisav he has to travel slowly because "hatzon v'habaker alos alay."  Female cows don't move more slowly than males -- it's because the cows are nursing calves that they move slowly.  Why not use the opportunity to reinforce the parsha while on the topic?

The kids were also given a map to learn in conjunction with the perek. The map had Be'er Sheva, the five Plishti cities mentioned in the perek, but also other places, e.g. the area of sheivet Dan, Yerushalayim, Ramatayim Tzofim.   I'm just not sure why these places had to be included here (not that there is anything wrong with knowing where they are).   Anyway, once you are talking about Plishti cities such as Azah and Ashdod and looking at them on a map, don't you think it might be a good opportunity to discuss why these cities have been in the news as of late? Not a word about it.  I understand the teacher wants to focus on Navi, but schooling should not come at the expense of education, as a greater mind than mine put it.

2. I've done a few posts in the past on the seeming contradiction between Ya'akov's fear of Eisav and the fact that he had a promise from Hashem that everything would work out OK.  Chazal address the issue and explain, "shema yigrom hacheit," Ya'akov was afraid that his sins would cause the promise to be negated (how this fits with Chazal's statement that Hashem's promises, even if conditional, always come to fruition is a major topic of discussion in the Rishonim).  I saw for the first time this year that the Oznayim laTorah quotes an interpretation from R' Leizer Gordon that was heard from R' Yisrael Salanter.  He draws an analogy: There was a worker hired to perform some task.  If that worker fails to complete the task, his boss certainly owes him nothing, but might choose to pay him anyway if he is feeling generous.  Another worker was hired to guard some valuable object.  If the worker not only fails to do the job, but worse than that -- he smashes the object himself -- the boss certainly owes him nothing and is not going to pay him.  If the boss is feeling generous he might choose to forgive the loss and call it equal.  If Ya'akov Avinu had merely failed to fulfill all that was expected of him, he would be like that first worker and might still get the benefit of receiving all Hashem promised.  However, Ya'akov was worried that he was more like that second worker.  Not only had did he worry whether he had perhaps failed to do that which was expected, but he worried that he may have been guilty of acting against Hashem's will (yigrom *hacheit*).  In that case the best that could be expected is that Hashem would do chessed by not exacting punishment -- there certainly would be no reasonable grounds to still hope to collect extra gifts.

3. This past Shabbos a local shul had an appeal to raise funds for the communal pool of $ that has been collected to provide relief to those hit hardest by the hurricase.  Pledges from other shuls and communities were read aloud and I could not believe the hundreds of thousands of dollars from all over the county that have been raised.  Until recently the gym in Shor Yoshuv yeshiva looked like a department store except for the lack of  cash registers -- there was an open door for anyone who needed clothes, bedding, etc.  For a few weeks after the storm various shuls provided catered meals for people whose kitchens (and whole homes) were wiped out or who had no power. There were loans given by Achiezer to families who needed cash in hand to get them at least started along the process of getting back on their feet.  I tend (especially lately) to take a pessimistic view of human nature, but even I cannot help but feel some of my belief in human goodness and generosity restored by what has been transpiring as these relief and rebuilding efforts continue.  This is not a political post, but I can't help but contrast the situation in our community with the poor woman from Staten Island who had her picture being hugged by Obama splashed all over the news as they looked at her flooded and destroyed home.  As reported recently on a follow up news story, she has yet to receive any real help.  The government with all its billions in promised aid is no where to be found for those who most need it, which is in my view symptomatic of the problem any time government controlled bureaucracy manages anything. Is there any comparison between the outpouring of compassion and help among Klal Yisrael to any other group of people?  I don't think so.  Too bad it all too often takes a crisis to unite us...