Thursday, February 28, 2013

sweet dreams

The Ksav Sofer in the previous post suggests that we have become so acclimated to our situation in galus that we no longer even hope and pray for change.  I did not want to mix my own thoughts into his beautiful derasha, so I will just tack them on here.  The gemara (Chagiga 5b) tells us:  

"V'Anochi haster astir panay ba'yom ha'hu" -- Rava said, "Hashem said, 'Even though my face is hidden from them, I still speak to them in dreams.'"  (Rashi: Only "bayom," during the day, am I hidden, but not at night, the time of dreams.  See Maharash"a for another explanation.)

What the gemara suggests to me is that even if the grim reality of day to day life obscures G-d, there always remains in our dreams the hope for a better and brighter future.  It is in those hopes and dreams that G-d's presence is felt and remains very much alive.

The sad thing about growing older is that our dreams and hopes become so small.  Ask a little kid what he wants to be when he grows up and he will tell you with a straight face that he wants to play shortstop for the New York Yankees (that is, until you start training him to say he wants to be a big tzadik.)  As that kid grows up, he becomes what we call "realistic," i.e. he turns off that dream.  Ask a middle age guy what he dreams of and he will tell you that he wants an easy day at work tomorrow and maybe a nicer car or a bigger house or something like that.  If he's really imaginative he will tell you he wants to stop working all together and do who knows what.  Doesn't even come close to dreaming about playing at the House that Ruth built.  That's what the Ksav Sofer was so worried about -- our dreams becoming smaller.  Our robbing ourselves of the one sliver of life where Hashem still openly reveals himself.  

Fortunately, at least as a nation, I don't think we've forgotten how to dream.  For 2000 years we faced the darkest reality of hester panim, but in our hearts we continued to yearn for and dream of a return to Eretz Yisrael.  "B'shuv Hashem es shivas Tzion, ha'yinu k'cholmim," the hester panim is finally lifting and what seemed like only a dream is becoming  reality.

the suffering that only Hashem sees

The Ksav Sofer quotes a Midrash (Devarim Rabbah 4) that teaches that Moshe asked Hashem that when He sees his children suffering, even if no one is crying out for His mercy, He should still respond.  There are two questions that beg asking: 1) Why the circumlocution of “when **you see** your children suffering” – why not say directly, “when the Jewish people **are** suffering?”  2) How could there be a situation of suffering with no one asking Hashem for mercy – is it conceivable that Klal Yisrael will be in trouble and no one will turn to Hashem in tefilah?!

No matter how bad things get, there is a process of accommodation and acculturation that occurs and people get used to it.  We say in Eicah and kinos, “Zechor Hashem meh haya lanu,” Hashem, remember what we had.  The Midrash comments that we ask Hashem to remember because we are prone to forget.  Can you imagine the river of tears that must have been spilled after the first Tisha b’Av?  No matter how much we try to absorb the meaning of what it means to live in galus, it’s just not the same feeling 2000 years later.  We've gotten used to the state of churban and we've forgotten.  But for Hashem, it’s like it just happened – he never forgets, he never gets used to it.  The pain is just as real for Him now as it was for us on that first day of exile.

Samcheinu k’ymos inisanu, k’shnos ra’inu ra’ah”(Tehillim (90:15) – we want to be gladdened one day just as we now experience days of suffering.  Certainly the plain meaning of the pasuk is that our joy of geulah should be proportional (either quantitatively or qualitatively) to the sadness which we experienc in galus.  But the Ksav Sofer adds another dimension: the pasuk means that our joy should not be the joy of overcoming galus as we see perceive it now, after we have gotten used to it.  What's the big simcha in that?  Our joy should be the joy of overcoming galus, “k’ymos inisanu,” when we still felt the pain and it bothered us.

This is what the Midrash means when it refers to the suffering “which Hashem sees.”  Our senses are dulled, our collective communal memory is hazy, and we no longer even feel the loss of the glory of Knesses Yisrael.   We have grown used to things as they are; we don't see the tragedy of our own plight.  Hashem, however,  still sees just how badly we have fallen.  Hashem will respond even if we are so blinded to our condition that we do not even know enough to daven for our own relief.  

The Midrash writes that when we return to Eretz Yisrael we will shed tears like on the day the brothers re-united with Yosef.  When the brothers first realized the full import of what they had done, they mourned.  Undoubtedly, they wanted their brother back and felt tortuous pain at his loss.  But after 22 years, was that pain still the same; was it even there at all?  It was only when Yosef revealed himself that suddenly those memories came flooding back and the brothers once again cried, reliving and realizing their sorrow even as they experienced its amelioration.  When we return to Eretz Yisrael it will be with similar tears, as our senses re-awaken to all the forgotten pains and sorrow of galus, even as those very pains are wiped away in the joy of geulah.

the drop of ink left in the quill

According to one view in Chazal the “karnei hod” which emanated from Moshe’s face came from the bit of ink left on the quill after he finished transcribing the Torah.  Ksav Sofer beautifully explains that what Chazal are telling us is that not everything in Torah is or can be contained in the text.  There are secrets that were never set down in writing – the leftover ink that never made it onto paper – that Moshe, who learned Toras Hashem directly, was privy too.  Moshe covered his shining face with a mask, meaning he hid these secrets behind a veil, so that only those who would put in the time and effort to dig deeper would discover them.

The point the Ksav Sofer is making applies not just to mysterious “sisrei Torah,” but to Torah law in general.  The thinking of a talmid chacham cannot always (can it ever?) be reduced to a series of logical steps or a precise formula that can be mapped out on paper – one does not take a corpus of texts, add deductive or inductive logic, and poof, generate an answer.  Feel for a text’s nuance, for whether an interpretation is too narrow or too broad, for how rules apply to a given situation etc. is something that a seasoned scholar feels in his kishkes, for lack of a better term.  What constitutes sound, informed judgment it is not something that can be transmitted through writing, but must come from the experience of a lifetime of immersion in Torah study.  That is the drop of ink left on the quill after all that can be written has been.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

why no bracha on the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek?

Why is there is no bracha on the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek?  Shu”T l’Horos Noson (5:47 suggests that the whole purpose of a bracha is to elicit the kavanah that the act being done is l’shem mitzvah.  For example, there is nothing inherent in a 4 cornered garment with fringes that suggests it is being worn for a religious purpose – maybe you like the style or that’s the only shirt you have.  Therefore, the mitzvah of tzitzis requires a bracha to remind you of its purpose.  The mitzvah of zechiras Amalek, however, is different.  The very nature of the mitzvah is to remember that there is a command of mechiyas Amalek.  You don’t need a bracha to remind you that the act you are about to do is a mitzvah – the very words that you are reading make that point clear.  The same logic explains why there is no bracha on the mitzvah of kri’as shema.  You say the words “v’dibarta bam” as part of the mitzvah – you don’t need an external reminder.  I was wondering if you could use the same to explain why there is no bracha over the mitzvah of haggadah, but  on second thought there is a difference – the haggadah does not explicitly mention the text to read.  If you never said the pasuk, “V’higadta l’bincha,” I don’t see why m’doraysa you might not be yotzei the mitzvah.  

(In addition to the reasoning advanced by the L'Horos Noson, one could argue that it is not proper to say a bracha on the downfall of one's enemies, an idea he discusses in the teshuvah.  One could perhaps also argue that the birchas haTorah of parshas zachor also serves as the bracha on the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek, as we fulfill the mitzvah by reading a parsha.   And I am sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.)

are kohanim commanded in mechiyas Amalek?

The Sefer haChinuch (603) opines that women are exempt from the mitzvah of zechiras Amalek because they are not participants in war and do not to go out to battle; since they would not wage war against Amalek, they are exempt from the mitzvah of zechira as well.  The assumption (which the Minchas Chinuch questions) of the Chinuch is that the mitzvah of zecher and the mitzvah of mechiyas Amalek go hand in hand.

R’ Wahrman in his Sheiris Yosef (vol 7) refers to a fascinating teshuvah of the Binyan Shlomo (#57) who suggests that kohanim did not go out to battle either, as they could not risk becoming tamei meis; therefore, they too were exempt from the mitzvah of waging war with Amalek.  The Binyan Shlomo writes that if this is true, kohanim should be exempt from ta’anis Esther, as according to Rabineu Tam the ta'anis is a commemoration of the fast undertaken  on 13Adar in preparation for the war against Amalek.  Since kohanim did not participate in battle, they would not have participated in the fast.  (I am not sure why this follows – perhaps there is a chiyuv to join with the tzibur in doing teshuvah and fasting to ensure success in battle even if one does not participate directly in the fighting.)  It follows as well that according to the logic of the Chinuch, kohanim should be exempt from the mitzvah of hearing parshas zachor.

The gemara's question of whether a kohein can take a yefas to’ar (Kiddushin 23) implies that kohanim did in fact go to battle, contrary to the Binyan Shlomo, but there does seem to be some basis in Rishonim for his view.  In the context of debating whether a kohein who gives a get al tnai may remain together with his wife, the Mordechai (Gittin 432) attempts to bring proof from the fact that all who went out to war with King David wrote gittin (al tnai, lest they be lost in war), presumably including kohanim, who returned afterwards to their wives.  The Mordechai is not convinced of the proof, as one could argue that kohanim never went out to war to begin with (he raises the sugya in Kid as an issue, but how he deals with it is unclear to me.)  Anyone in tune with the current debate over whether yeshiva students should server in Tzahal has probably heard the oft-cited Rambam (end of Hil Shemita) that anyone who wants can take on the role of a levi as teacher to Torah and become exempt from the burden of going out to war.  Whether the Rambam’s view can serve as a basis for yeshiva student levi-wanna-be’s being exempted may be debatable, but it seems clear that a true kohen or levi could indeed stay home.  Or maybe it’s not so clear: the Rambam himself (Hil Melachim ch 7) refers to a kohein married to a gerusha as being exempted from battle because of the aveira he has done, implying that a kohein otherwise would in fact have to join the fight.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

if you need writing/editing help

My wife's new site here.
If you are in the market for a writer or editing help (no, she does not edit my posts -- my bad writing is mine alone) please feel free to contact her.

the larger picture

V’asu li mikdash… k’chol asher ani mareh oscha... v’chain ta’asu (Shmos 25:8-9)

Rashi writes “v’chein ta’asu” is a mitzvah l’doros to make the klei hamikdash (when needed) exactly as made during the building of the Mishkan.  Ramban disagrees and proves that this is not a mitzvah l’doros from the fact that the mizbeiach built by Shlomo did not have the same dimensions as that built by Moshe.  The simple answer in defense of Rashi is that although the size of the mizbeiach may not have been the same, its essential features were.  Shiur is a measure of the amount of something that there is; it’s not the essence of what the thing is.  Maharal suggests that Rashi may have been referring to the kli hamikdash in particular, meaning those items that were portable.  The mizbeiach was connected to the ground, to the building of Mikdash/Mishkan, and was therefore different than a normal kli.

The Tiferes Shlomo has a beautiful answer.  The Radomsker writes that “v’chein ta’asu” is not talking about the physical making of the kelim, but rather is talking about the “k’chol asher ani mareh oscha.”  Moshe did not just make kelim the way he thought fit – he had a vision of what the Mikdash should look like and made kelim to fit that ideal.  The mitzvah l’doros is similarly to make kelim not according to one’s own standards or needs, but according to the vision that Hashem shows of what a Mishkan or Mikdash should be.  Every generation has its Moshe who is privy to that vision and can direct the work accordingly. 

I don’t think the Radomsker is telling us a din in the mitzvah of building Mikdash; I think he’s telling us a general din about life.  You can’t build unless you have vision.  The nitty-gritty of how-to can only be addressed if one starts with an image of the ideal one would like to achieve.  And it’s true that the end product many times will not match and it’s true that how to meet that ideal will not always be simple or clear.  “Nitkashe Moshe” is part of the process.  But without an overarching philosophy and dream to guide them, piecemeal solutions will ultimately never have any coherence or direction.

L’havdil, to take an example from the outside world, when JFK made his famous speech challenging the county to land a man on the moon within a decade, he didn’t specify whether to use rocket X or Y or how to build a lunar lander.  He pointed the space program in the direction he wanted it to go, gave his bracha and got funding, and left the details to the engineers.  He trusted that the how-to would eventually work itself out; his job was to get people dreaming and aspiring to achieve a goal. 

It seems to me that our leaders these days are experts in nitty-gritty detail, but short on vision.  We hear a lot these days about what not to read and what not to do and how not to dress and not act etc.  We hear about who to vote for to get the most benefit to yeshivos and avoid yeshiva bachurim from serving in Tzahal.  What we don't hear is an overarching vision of how to bring together the various factions in society in a way that balances the needs of a modern state with the religious needs of our community.  If you don't accept the philosophy of Rav Kook or Mizrachi, what is the answer -- how do you think we can achieve that goal?  I am more than willing to acknowledge that it may be my ignorance; maybe I am just not reading the right books so I'm not getting the message.  How we are going to have doctors, pay bills, keep our yeshivos running if the only path in life that is approved is klei kodesh?  I exaggerate, but you can think of your own examples so I won’t belabor the point.  I don't see the vision; I don't see how the particulars add up to make a strong Torah society of diverse personalities that fill different rolls and can contend with economic, political, ideological, and existential challenges in the modern world. 

We need to start with “k’chol asher ani mareh oscha,” with the larger vision.  We need Moshe's that see that vision and can guide us to make the kelim that match that ideal.

when kavanah alone is enough

Ramban comments based on Midrash that the reason the Torah uses the term “v’asu es ha’aron,” in the plural even though the rest of the commands to build the Mishkan (and the aron as well) are in the singular is because each and every member of Klal  Yisrael participated in the building of the aron.  The symbolic message is obvious: each and every member of Klal Yisrael has some portion in Torah. 

On a practical level, how exactly did everyone participate – what did they do?  Ramban gives three possibilities: 1) They donated gold that was designated specifically for use in the aron; 2) They helped in the physical crafting of the aron; 3) They had kavanah.

It’s the third option that caught my attention.  How exactly does kavanah count as participation?  It sounds just like what managers do where I work – You guys bring the gold, you guys do the work, and I’ll stand here and supervise by thinking deep thoughts of kavanah.  If the aron is the symbol of Torah, I’m even more perplexed.  There are people who contribute to Torah by learning – the parallel to fashioning the aron.  There are people who contribute to Torah by supporting Torah study – the parallel to donating gold for the aron.  But can someone participate in Torah study by watching someone else learn or contribute and just having kavanah?  How does that work?

I told my daughter (who I learned this Ramban with) that next time she forgets her homework she should tell the teacher that she had kavanah to do it and that's enough.  I figure if she quotes this Ramban the teacher should give partial credit.

Monday, February 18, 2013

a great memoir -- Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

I like reading biographies and memoirs and just finished one that I have to recommend.  You would think that as on orthodox Jew there is not much I could gain from reading something with the title Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith by Barbara Brown Taylor, but you would be dead wrong.  Taylor tells the story of her leaving the ministry after 20 years of service only to re-discover her humanity and inner spirit, something that the intense demands of her job, even a job in the service religion, had robbed her of.  That rediscovery reminds her of what drove her to the ministry in the first place and what the service of G-d is all about.  She has a beautiful writing style and the book is just the type of thoughtful and reflective memoir that I like.  And the message is one that is important to all people: We are in such a rush to achieve and do, even in service of G-d, that we lose sight of the inner essence that religion is all about.

There are two passages in particular that I found interesting as a Jew.  Taylor discusses how hard it is to hit pause in life when there is just so much to do.  She writes that her Christianity exacerbated the problem, as she felt that G-d's kingdom was out there, waiting to be sought out -- under those circumstances, who has time to slow down and stop?  She found the answer in the Biblical verses we are all familiar with.  "Remember the Sabbath day..."  She writes (p. 136-137):
Like every other clergyperson I knew, I believed I had no alternative.  Taking a full day off was so inconceivable that I made up reasons why it was not possible.  If I stopped for a whole day, there would be no more weekend weddings at Grace-Calvary [the church where she was pastor], or someone else would have to do them.  Sick people would languish in the hospital and begin to question their faith.  Parishioners would start a rumor that I was not a real shepherd but only a hired hand.  If I stopped for a whole day, my animals would starve [she lived on a farm], my house would grow mold, weeds would take over my garden, and my credit rating would collapse.  If I stopped for a whole day, G-d would be sorely disappointed in me.
While remembering the Sabbath does involve a radical shift of priorities, these were all lies.  Observant Jews have kept the Sabbath for millennia, even those caring for half a dozen children and elderly parents whose needs do not stop when the sun goes down.  Sabbath is written into the ancient covenant with G-d.  Remember the Sabbath, the rabbis say, and you fulfill all of Torah.  Stop for one whole day every week, and you will remember what it means to be created in the image of G-d, who rested on the seventh day not from weariness but from complete freedom.  The clear promise is that those who rest like G-d find themselves free like G-d, no longer slaves to the thousand compulsions that send others rushing toward their graves.
Wow.  What a derasha.  No wonder Taylor was once ranked as one of the most effective preachers in the English speaking world.

There is another passage I found interesting.  Taylor writes that many ministers developed "larger-than-life swaggers" as they felt they had achieved near perfection, while others suffered sleepless nights as they contemplated just how far from perfection they were.  She writes (p 150):
As Christians, we were especially vulnerable since our faith turned on the story of a divine human being.  Those who became ordained were not presented with Moses or Miriam as our models, so that we could imagine ourselves as flawed human beings still willing to lead people through the wilderness.
When I read that I appreciated anew why the Torah presents every character flaw in our Avos and Imahos and does not try to sweep the defects under the rag and awe us with their greatness.  The message of Torah is that imperfection is not an obstacle to greatness.  

There is a lot more of value in Taylor's book that I think anyone who is human, no matter what their faith, can  appreciate.   

ain ma’avirin al hamitzvos

There is a famous teshuvah of the Radba”z on the topic of a person in prison who can choose one day a year to go out – should be wait for Yom Kippur, the most chashuv day of the year, should he maybe wait for Purim where he gets pirsumei nisa as well as mikra megilah, or should he choose the very next day on the calendar and not wait at all?  Radba”z says “ain ma’avirin al hamitzvos” – take the very next day. 

The Chacham Tzvi argues that this is against a mefurash gemara.  There is a sugya (Menachos 49a) that debates what to do if you have only one animal left in storage to use for korbanos and it’s Shabbos afternoon – should you use it to be makriv the korban musaf of Shabbos, as Shabbos is mekudash, or should you hold it until tomorrow and be makriv Sunday morning’s tamid because of the importance of tamid.  Based on the logic of the Radbaz, just like you don’t wait for Yom Kippur or for Purim because “ain ma’avirin al hamitzvos,”  it should be pashut that you should offer the musaf that is obligatory today instead of waiting for the tamid of tomorrow.  What’s the gemara’s safeik?  QED that since there is a safeik, the Radbaz is wrong.

How could you be mechaleik between the cases?  I'll let you think before writing anything.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

mishkan as a b'dieved

The Midrash opens Parshas Terumah with a mashal: A king had an only daughter that was about to get married.  The king loved his daughter dearly and could not bear to part with her.  He begged her groom, “Please, make a small room in your home so that I can come and be with you.”  So too, Hashem could not separate himself from the Torah that he wanted to give to us.  Therefore, he requested that we build a Mishkan so that he could be with us.

R’ Chaim Ya’akov Goldvicht, the R”Y of Kerem b’Yavneh whose yahrzeit is today, pointed out that the mashal does not fit the nimshal.  In the mashal, the princess' marriage brings about her separation from her father, the king.  Hashem certainly did not give us the Torah so that we should separate from him!  Why should we need a mishkan to retain that closeness to Hashem after kabbalas haTorah?

The answer may be found in the brachos in Parshas BeChukosai.  “V’nasati mishkani b’sochichem, v’lo tigal nafshi eschem.  V’halachti b’sochichem v’hiyisem lachem l’Elokim.” (VaYikra 27).  At first glance these two pesukim seem to be just poetic repetition of the same idea.  The Seforno, however, reads them as two different concepts: When you have sinned, then my Mishkan will be there with you, "V'nasati mishkani b'sochichem," so that the Shechina will not be disgusted by you, "V'lo tigal nafshei eschem."   However, that is not the ideal.  “V’halachti b’sochichem,” the ideal is for Hashem to dwell amidst Bnei Yisrael without a Mishkan, “V’hiyisem lachem l’Elokim,”in full appreciation and acceptance. 

According to many Rishonim the construction of the Mishkan was a response  to  the cheit ha’eigel.  This is the idea our Midrash is reflecting.  Bnei Yisrael had moved away (so to speak) from Hashem through their sins and could not remain on the plateau attained at ma'amad Har Sinai.  Therefore, Hashem asked that we create a Mishkan so that he could still dwell among us. [see Pri Tzadik of R' Tzadok haKohen, first piece in the parsha for a similar idea.]

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chasam Sofer on the relationship between 7 Adar and Purim

Chasam Sofer (Derashos, 5699) writes that 7 Adar should be one of the happiest days of the year.  It was on this day that Moshe presented a completed a sefer Torah to sheivet Levi and the rest of Klal Yisrael came to him to complain: Why should Levi be privileged with a sefer Torah – is Torah not ours as well?  “Lo nasan Hashem lachem lev lada’as v’eynayim liros v’oznayim lishmo’a ad hayom ha’zeh” (Devarim 29:3) – this expression of love for Torah showed that Klal Yisrael finally had achieved the greatness that Moshe had been trying to inculcate in them for 40 years (see Rashi ibid.)  Moshe later says on this day of 7 Adar, “I am 120 years old today.” (Devarim 31:2)  Moshe is not telling us that it's his birthday so we know when to bake a cake and send presents.  Rashi comments, “Today my days and years have become complete,” meaning, explains the Chasam Sofer, that Moshe was saying that on this day his life's goal had finally come to fruition.  Mission accomplished!  7 Adar should have been consecrated for all future generation as a day of simchas Torah and kabbalas haTorah.

The only problem is that you can’t live on in this world once your mission is completed.  7 Adar therefore also had to be the day of Moshe’s passing.

What do you do when a chasunah and r”l a funeral coincide?  The gemara in Kesubos 4 (see the sugya for details) tells us that the aveilus takes precedence and only after the week of shiva is over is sheva brachos observed.  Klal Yisrael sat shiva for Moshe Rabeinu and the outpouring of love for Torah of 7 Adar had to take a back burner for a week -- until 14 Adar.  The keviyus of that day as a special holiday of kabbalas haTorah did indeed take place, albeit generations later.  “Hadar kiblu’hu b’ymei Achashveirosh” – in the time of Mordechai and Esther the Torah was re-accepted and the simcha of that original kabbalah of Torah that was the culmination of Moshe's life finally had its Yom Yov.  

On a different note: a post on megillah from my wife.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Haman's shekalim vs. ours

The gemara (Meg 13) writes that Haman’s payment to Achashveirosh to gain permission to destroy the Jewish  people was foiled because our payment of shekalim preceded his.  The coincidence of Haman using shekalim to enable his plot and our doing a mitzvah using shekalim seems to be just that – coincidence.  What’s  the connection between the ideas?

 “Vayivez b’einav lishloach yad b’Mordechai livado ki higidu lo es am Mordechai.”  It seems that there was some “hava amina” in Haman’s mind to strike at Mordechai alone, but then when he heard what people Mordechai came from, he decided to strike at them all.  What has the shakla v’terya behind his thinking?   Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel explains that Haman originally thought that attacking Mordechai would inevitably bring about the downfall of whatever nation he was part of, as the loss of his leadership would have a massive effect on the population.  However, when “higidu lo es am Mordechai,” when he heard that Mordechai was a member of the Jewish people, he realized that all bets were off.  The chalos shem “tzibur” that applies uniquely to Am Yisrael means that we are more than a collection of individual parts, each with its own identity.  We are not like a car that is made up of a part that is a door, a part that is a motor, a part that is a transmission.  Were that the case, then knocking out the most essential part (e.g. the motor) would cripple the entire vehicle.  The whole of the “tzibur” or “am” is a qualitatively more complex and complete unit than even the sum of its parts and can and will continue to exist absent any member, no matter how significant.  Haman saw that the only way he could win would be by eliminating all the parts completely – which we know to be impossible.

It is the collection of shekalim that reveals this to be true.  The Mishna in Shekalim tells us that the Kohanim thought that they should be exempt from contributing shekalim, as the korban of a kohein is completely burnt.  If the Kohanim own a portion of the korban tzibur by virtue of donating shekalim, they argued, it would mean the halachos of that korban would change to require complete burning of the entire korban.  The Chachamim disagreed.  A korban tzibur is not owned by the sum of the individuals who contribute to its being offered, but is owned by the collective entity called “tzibur” that is greater than the sum of its parts. 

The Midrash writes that Moshe complained to Hashem that once he is gone, there will be no memory left of him.  What will the car be without its engine?  Hashem responded that just as he collected shekalim in his lifetime, it will be as if he continues every year to collect shekalim through our reading of the parsha.  The “tzibur” remains a constant, always retaining the qualities of its members, past, present, and future.  And in turn, they continue to exist by virtue of our collective continuity as a "tzibur."

shekalim donated by a katan

The Mishna in Shekalim writes that although a katan is exempt from the mitzvah of giving machtzis hashekel, if he voluntarily gives, his money is accepted.  The Sha’ar haMelech asks: M’doraysa a katan has no power to be makneh anything to others.  Therefore, the machtzis hashekel money which he gives is owned by hekdesh only m’derabbanan.   Since korbanos tzibur must be bought from the public funds, funds that belong to the tzibur, how is the tzibur yotzei if they use this machtzis hashekel that (m’doraysa) still belongs to the katan?

The Sha’ar haMelech’s suggests that the katan’s machtzis hashekel is but a drop in the bucket compared with thousands of other shekalim donated and is therefore bateil b’rov.  

Many Achronim since have debated how to make sense of this chiddush.  The gemara in Beitzah (38) writes that if I contribute some ingredients to a Yom Tov dish you are cooking, you can’t move the dish outside the limits of my techum; my portion of the ingredients are not bateil.  Just because most of the dish belongs to you doesn’t mean the entire dish belongs to you.  So how is it that just because the majority of the shekalim funds used to buy korbanos belong to the tzibur, the percentage that may belong to a katan can be ignored?   Aside from the gemara, it’s hard to understand how logically the sevara works.  If I mix $10 of yours with a bunch of other bills in my wallet, does your $10 become mine because it is bateil b’rov?  Of course not.  Ownership cannot be bateil.  What does the Sha’ar haMelech mean?

(Aside from the dinei mamonos issue, there is an issue that impacts issur v’heter here as well. Oneg Yom Tov discusses whether bitul b’rov helps in a case where strings for tzitzis not made lishma become mixed into a rov of those that were made lishma – does bitul mean that the miyut takes on the properties of the rov, or does bitul simply render a miyut as if it did not exist?  It seems that the Sha’as haMelech comes down squarely on the side of saying that the miyut takes on the property of the rov, meaning the money of the katan is treated a tzibur money because that is the quality of the majority of funds.)

I think the easiest answer in a nutshell is that the difference between the gemara in Beitzah and this din in Shekalim is that the gemara is speaking about bitul b’rov – when a whole mixture is present, is a miyut counted apart from the whole?  The Sha’ar haMelech’s question is one of kol d’parish – when the gizbar pulls a bunch of coins from the lishka to buy new korbanos (terumas halishka), is there a potential “bad” shekel that belongs to a katan in the mix?  These are two different issues entirely.  To return to the analogy of a wallet, it’s true that if you take your friend’s $10 and mix it into your wallet, that $10 doesn’t become yours, but that doesn’t change the fact that if you pull put a $10 bill at random, odds are that it is one that truly is yours and not the bill you took from your friend.  But again, lots of bigger minds than mine have what to say on these issues (and yes, the Mishna at the end of Me'ila will pose a problem that I don't have time to work out right now.)

Of course, if you hold a kinyan derabbanan has a chalos on a d'oraysa level (see posts here and here), then the whole issue is moot.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

shabbos and shivti b'veis Hashem

I've done posts (link) before on linguistic insights found in the sefer HaKsav v'haKabbalah that shed new light on pesukim that we familiar with.  This past week's parsha had another great example.  The word "shabbos" is usually understood to mean a day of rest.  HaKsav V'haKabbalah suggests that the word "shabbos" has an additional connotation: "iyun v'chakirah," reflection and thought.  The root of the word "shabbos" is "shuv," to return.  When one reflects, one turns an idea over again and again in one's mind, constantly returning to it.  I think the English word that best captures the idea is to ruminate -- just like when an animal ruminates it constantly chews its food again and again, when one ruminates over an idea, one keeps bouncing it around in one's head.  The term "yishuv ha'da'as" does not mean having a settled mind, with "yishuv" related to the root y-sh-v, "to sit," but rather "yishuv ha'da'as" means having the ability to ruminate and reflect, from the same root as "shabbos," sh-vav-b, to return.  If you're like me, you probably always though Dovid haMelech's request of "Shivti b'veis Hashem kol ymei chayai" had something to do with his settling down in the beis Hashem, with the word "shivti," coming from the root y-sh-beis, to sit, and being a metaphor of sorts.  Now that we know the root sh-vav-beis relates to rumination and reflection, the pasuk takes on a whole new meaning.  The word "shivti" has nothing to do with sitting , but is rather related to the same root sh-vav-beis as shabbos, having to do with thinking.  Dovid HaMelech wanted to always have the "beis Hashem" on his mind, to always be reflecting on and ruminating about G-d.