Friday, May 31, 2013

an obligation to speak out

Va’yamusu ha’anashim motzi’eiy dibas ha’aretz ra’ah… v’Yehoshua bin Nun v’Kalev ben Yefuneh chayu min ha’anashim ha’heim h’holchim la’sur es ha’aretz.” (14:37-38)  This entire second pasuk seems redundant.  Once the Torah mentions the punishment given to the other meraglim, to the exclusion of Yehoshua and Kalev, isn’t it obvious that they went unpunished?  There are many answers – I just want to share two:

Some see a hint here to the idea in Chazal that a tzadik can receive the portion in olam ha’ba of a rasha, and vice versa, the rasha can receive the bad lot that might have been in store for the tzadik.  The pasuk is not just telling us that Yehoshua and Kalev went unpunished, but more than that – they received the reward that was in store for the other meraglim had they not gone astray.

How does this work -- how can I get someone else’s portion of olam ha’ba?  R’ Ahron Kotler (Mishnas R’ Ahron) explains that it’s always easier to do mitzvos and learn Torah when you see your neighbor doing the same, and vica versa.  The tzadik who overcomes the negative influence of his neighbor acting wrongly deserves double reward – the reward for the good itself, as well as the reward for not being pulled down by the influence of his neighbor.  The rasha deserves a double punishment – punishment for the wrong itself, and punishment for the influence it has on others.  (Let’s remind ourselves of his hesber in a few week’s when we get to Chazal’s derasha on “nachamu nachamu” that there was a double nechama for the double sin that caused galus and we ask ourselves what this idea of a double sin means.)

The Ohr haChaim writes that surely there were tzadikim other than Yehoshua and Kalev in Bnei Yisrael.  Yet, we don’t find that these other tzadikim were spared punishment – they too, like the rest of the dor hamidbar, died before reaching Eretz Yisrael.  The extra pasuk comes to tell us that it was only the fact that Yehoshua and Kalev were “min ha’anashim ha’heim” and could have been part of the cabal, but instead took an independent stand l’shem shamayim, going against the grain, that saved them. 

In other words, when there is a moment of crisis, you can be the biggest tzadik, but that’s not going to save you from punishment if all you do is sit on the sidelines and watch.  Sometimes there is an obligation to protest, and I would add, even if, as in the case of Kalev and Yehoshua, there are greater people (like Moshe and Aharon) in charge, and even if it comes to naught. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

40 years in the desert -- a reward, not a punishment

Yom la’shanah, yom la’shanah…  Why is it that Hashem punished Bnei Yisrael one year per day of the mergalim’s misadventures?  Usually there is a balanced proportion between the crime and the punishment, midah k’neged midah.  Here, the punishment is (in duration) far in excess of the time spent on the crime?  (See previous post on this.)

The Akeidah explains that Bnei Yisrael sent the meraglim with the best of intentions.  They probably spent 40 days davening on the spies behalf, eagerly awaiting their return with a report of how to best conquer Eretz Yisrael so they could finally be on their way.  Mashal l’mah ha’davar domeh: think of how the great ba’alei mussar spent the 40 days from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Yom Kippur davening and preparing themselves.  The 40 years in the desert was not a punishment – it was the schar for these 40 days!  By rights, Hashem could have wiped out the entire generation in one shot, but instead he extended their lifetimes for years and years.

The She’eiris Menachem adds that with this we can understand a seeming contradiction in Rashi’s comments.  Rashi explains “kulam anashim,” that all the people appointed as meraglim were all tzadikim.  Yet, later in the parsha Rashi tells us that the meraglim departed with bad intentions in mind just as their return report was delivered with bad intentions.  Which is it – were they tzadikim, or were they plotting something evil from the get-go?  (Maharal's answer posted here.) 

The answer is that both are true.  “Shlucho shel adam k’moso.” Klal Yisrael meant well when they sent the meraglim, and so the meraglim gained the benefit of being invested with the positive energy of that shlichus.  It is only when the spies returned with a bad report that Bnei Yisrael had a change of heart.  However, on a personal level, the mergalim were already plotting to spoil the mission from the get-go. 

(An amazing story brought by R’ Noson Gestetner in the name of the Tchebiner Rav:  One of R’ Akiva Eiger’s daughters became engaged to someone in another town.  RAK”E was already old and could not travel there, so he sent R’ Ephrayim Zalman Margolias in his place as his shliach to celebrate the engagement.  Unlike the Beis Ephraim’s usual practice of not lingering at a simcha, in this case he stayed and stayed for the whole party.  When asked about it afterwards, R’ E. Z. Margolias explained that shlucho shel adam k’moso, so he wanted to take advantage of every second he could be R’ Akiva Eiger!)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


The Wall Street Journal headline wonders, "Did the tax agency [the IRS] also target groups that support Israel?"  In one case:

Asked about the slow pace of approval, the IRS auditor on the case, Diane Gentry, said the application was taking so long because auditors were supposed to give special scrutiny to groups "connected with Israel." Ms. Marcus says Ms. Gentry further explained that many applications related to Israel had to be sent to "a special unit in D.C. to determine whether the organization's activities contradict the Administration's public policies."
Sadly, this will only be seen as a positive by the vast majority of our brothers and sisters who will continue to vote Democat and thank Washington for reining in the "extremists" among us.  I could write about this stuff day in and day out, but it's a bracha l'vatala. 

why didn't Hashem warn Moshe that sending spies was a bad idea?

Rambam, Hil Rotzei'ach 12:14
וכן כל המכשיל עור בדבר והשיאו עצה שאינה הוגנת או שחיזק ידי עוברי עבירה שהוא עור ואינו רואה דרך האמת מפני תאות לבו הרי זה עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר ולפני עור לא תתן מכשול הבא ליטול ממך עצה תן לו עצה ההוגנת לו:

Rambam, Hil Rotzei'ach 1:14
כל היכול להציל ולא הציל עובר על לא תעמוד על דם רעך. וכן הרואה את חבירו טובע בים. או ליסטים באים עליו. או חיה רעה באה עליו. ויכול להצילו הוא בעצמו. או ששכר אחרים להצילו ולא הציל. או ששמע עובדי כוכבים או מוסרים מחשבים עליו רעה או טומנין לו פח ולא גלה אוזן חבירו והודיעו. או שידע בעובד כוכבים או באונס שהוא בא על חבירו ויכול לפייסו בגלל חבירו להסיר מה שבלבו ולא פייסו וכל כיוצא בדברים אלו. העושה אותם עובר על לא תעמוד על דם רעך:

There is an issur of standing by idly and watching your friend come to harm.  There is an issur of providing bad advice and of abetting someone who is on the wrong path.  So how is it, asks R' Noson Gestetner (link), that Hashem allowed Moshe to send spies into Eretz Yisrael?  Hashem surely knew that no good would come from the mission, so shouldn't he have warned Moshe that it was a bad idea and would lead to harm?

I'm struggling to understand the question.  If Hashem were to intervene in that way, would it not rob us of our free will? 

Perhaps this case is different because Moshe directly asked Hashem whether he should send the spies; however, R' Gestetner does not mention that factor as being crucial in formulating the question, and if indeed there was a moral obligation to save Moshe from harm like the moral obligation to save a drowning person, what difference does it make if he asked or didn't ask?  Even if the person drowining doesn't cry out for help (or can't cry out for help), that doesn't absolve you of the obligation to save him. 

Perhaps you could argue that Hashem has already given us all the clues we need to make the right decisions; it's our own shortcoming if we can't follow directions.  However, Moshe had no way to determine whether sending spies was the correct course of action or not, so Hashem should have intervened.  I don't buy this distinction.  The fact that someone should have learned how to swim better doesn't absolve you of the obligation to jump in and save him if he is drowning.  Secondly, there are plenty of decisions where people are at a loss of what to do and they even daven for Hashem and ask for help -- according to R' Gestetner's reasoning, where are the answers? 

Friday, May 24, 2013

seeing in the dark

א"ר חנינא אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא עינים שיש בך יש בתוכן לבן ושחור ואין אתה רואה מתוך הלבן אלא מתוך השחור ומה אם עיניך שיש בתוכן שחור ולבן אין אתה רואה אלא מתוך השחור הקב"ה שכולו אורה הוא צריך לאורה שלכם

We expect that we will see Hashem from the lavan, the white and bright parts of life, the areas we put our kochos into, and I am speaking even of avodas Hashem.  However, writes the Sifsei Tzadik, the truth is that we see best from the shachor, from the amidst the darkness.  That's where we will experience growth and closeness to Hashem.  Hashem doesn't need our ohr; he can find us amidst the darkness as well.

A few weeks ago by Lag b'Omer I mentioned the yesod of the Ch. haRI"M that there is a nekudas chein that every Jew has in G-d's eyes.  Whatever you think that nekudah is, you are guaranteed to have it wrong, as "ha'adam yireh l'ynayim v'Hashem yireh l'leivav," so whatever we see, Hashem is looking at something even deeper. 

When Bnei Yisrael start complaining in our parsha, Moshe grows angry and then he turns to Hashem and asks, "Lamah lo matzasi chein b'einecha..." (11:11 - easy to remember).  What Moshe was asking was why it is that he not able to also see that nekudas chein which Hashem can see with his eyes. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

ger she'nisgayeir k'katan she'nolad

The gemara (Zevachim 101b) raises the question of who could examine Miriam’s tzara’as.  Moshe?  Can’t be, says the gemara, because Moshe was not a kohen.  Aharon?  Also can’t be, says the gemara, because Aharon is a relative and you can’t pasken on this issue for a relative.  The only choice left is Hashem.

Question: why did the gemara exclude Moshe because he is not a kohen, forcing the gemara to pose the question with respect to Aharon and then come up with a new answer – why not exclude Moshe on the basis of his being a relative, and m’meila we wouldn’t even have to raise the question about Aharon because the same reason obviously would apply?  Why not kill two birds with one stone if you can?

We once mentioned (link - see hesber there) the chiddush of the Maharal (quoted by the Shev Shmaytza in his intro) that the principle of ger she’nisgayeir k’katan she’nolad does not apply to a forced geirus, which includes the geirus of mattan Torah since kafah aleihem har k’gigis.  This is why in our parsha Bnei Yisrael were crying (as interpreted by Chazal) over the arayos that became prohibited.  Even though m’doraysa a ger  has fewer issurei arayos, as he is like a newborn severed from all his part familial relationships, this din did not apply to the geirus of mattan Torah.

Based on this, the Kotzker (see R’ Wahrman’s She’eiris Yosef here) suggests a brilliant explanation of the gemara in Zevachim.  Aharon had Sinai held over his head – he was part of the forced geirus of mattan Torah.  The rule of ger she'nisgayei k'katan she'nolad did not apply to him, and therefore his relationship with Miriam was not severed.  Moshe, however, was on the mountain – his geirus was not forced.  The din of l'katan she'nolad would apply in his case, and therefore the gemara needed to offer an alternate explanation as to why he could not treat Miriam’s tza’ra’as.
Two other points worth noting:

What’s the hesber for this chiddush of the Maharal?  The Kli Chemdah in Parshas VaYigash explains that the concept of geirus means divorcing oneself from one’s previous allegiance to nation and family and joining a new people. Conceptually, it makes no sense when applied to geirus en masse of the Jewish people.  We did not leave some other nation to become Klal Yisrael at mattan Torah; we were and always will be the Jewish nation.  We simply affirmed our identity and relationship to the Avos.  According to this approach, it is not the element of coercion which negated the din of ger she’nisgayeir k'katan she'nolad at mattan Torah; it’s the fact that the experience of mattan Torah was unique in occurring to the Jewish people.  This same logic would apply to Moshe Rabeinu as well.

Secondly, the Chasam Sofer in his chiddushim and al haTorah (in last week’s parsha) writes that his whole life he wondered what the makor for this din of ger she’nisgayei k’katan shenolad is.  The Meshech Chocha in Parshas VaEschanan has an answer.  Bnei Yisrael were told to separate from their wives in preparation for mattan Torah.  Immediately afterward, Hashem commanded, “Shuvo lachem l’ohaleichem,” allowing them to return to their previous marriages.  Says the Meshech Chochma: what would happen if someone was married to a woman who is an ervah by Torah law but  was permitted to a ben Noach?  How could this person return to his wife who is now an issur arayos to him?  It must be, says the Meshech Chochma, that the heter of “shuvo lachem l’ohaleichem” is mechadesh that ger she’nisgayeir k’katan shenolad and therefore issues of arayos are moot.

If the Maharal is right that the din of ger shenisgayeir k’katan she'nolad did not apply by mattan Torah, then the Meshech Chochma’s proof does not hold water.

a protest without a plan

Some people are good with just rolling with the punches; I prefer to at least have some idea of a plan before running with an idea.  You can read this post as a criticism if you like, but I prefer to say I simply don’t understand what the present chareidi leadership in Israel is thinking.  Let us imagine for a moment that the chilonim were all gone and out of the equation – that Israel was a theocracy, with the chareidi leadership in full control.  Could such a state succeed?  How would it defend itself when the entire population claims exemption from army duty?  How would the economy function when the vast majority of the population requires government assistance to survive?  How would there be doctors, accountants, engineers, etc. if all secular studies are off-limits?  In short, what’s the plan? 

Simply protesting any change to the status quo is not an answer.  The status quo is untenable and unsustainable.  If we are being called upon to listen to da'as Torah, then da'as Torah must articulate a vision of how a society can be built and function given the constraints chareidi leaders are imposing. 

R’ Moshe Shternbruch spoke recently (link) at a protest and posed the following question: “The authorities today are not threatening to draft the Arabs or scheming against them. What is the difference between the chareidim and the Arabs? Legally speaking, their status is identical: both groups are citizens who are not drafted.”  B’mechilas kvodo, the Rosh Yeshiva may be correct as far as the legal argument goes, but it is incredible to me that he does not see the moral distinction.  Our obligations to the State do not stem from legal status, but rather stem from the chiyuvim of yishuv ha’aretz, of ahavas yisrael and living in harmony with our brethren (secular and religious), of fighting milchemes mitzvah.  How can one dream of comparing the loyalty and love a Jew should feel toward the State to that which an Arab feels? 

I cringe when I see the word “shmad” applied to the Jewish state.  That word should have no place in our internal debates.  Disagree with everything the government does, but I don't see how you can compare asking for a few years of service in Tzahal with the forced conscriptions into Czarist armies that our people suffered a hundred years ago.  Yet, R’ Shternbruch goes even a step further and quotes the Brisker Rav as saying (and I even hate to write this!), “…the Zionists were worse than the SS.”  Yes, I have taken the words out of context, but b’mechilas kvodam, and afar anochi tachas raglam, but I simply cannot fathom any context in which those words can be justified. 
The whole situation is a sad mess.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

two quick points on the mitzvah of aliya la'regel and the mitzvah of viduy

Over Shavuos I dabbled a bit in the Sefer haMitzvot of the Rambam, which Rav Kook recommended learning on leil Shavuos.  Two quick observations:

1)  In mitzvas aseh 52, the Rambam writes that, “This commandment is that each man, together with each male child capable of walking on his own, must travel to the Temple…” (translation taken from the Chabad website).  The Rambam in S”hM usually seems to give just a bare bones formulation of each mitzvah.  Why then would he include here that “each male child” must be brought on aliya la’regel?  That's just a din in chinuch, not part of the mitzvah d’oraysa of aliya laregel (see Rashi Chagiga 2a d”h eizehu katan)?

2)  In mitzvas aseh 73, the mitzvah of viduy, which we read in last week’s parsha, after proving that viduy must be said even outside the context of bringing a korban, the Rambam quotes another derasha from Chazal: “We still only know of the obligation of vidui in Israel. How do we know it applies even in exile? This we learn from what Daniel said, 'They will then recite vidui for their sins and the sins of their fathers,' and from the verse, 'To You, G‑d, there is charity, and to us there is shame' "  (again, translationfrom Chabad).  This is a very interesting hava amina.  The mitzvah of viduy is a mitzvah sheb’gufo.  Why would we even entertain the thought that it applies only in Eretz Yisrael?  (Were the mitzvah to do teshuvah, I would say it by definition it entails coming closer to Hashem, and that can only fully be achieved in Eretz Yisrael.  But the Rambam formulates the mitzvah as viduy – not teshuvah – and so I think that argument is a little harder to make.)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

givers and takers

Rashi explains the smichus haparshiyos between the parsha of bringing matnos kahuna and the parsha of sota (Bamidbar 5) as a warning that if you withhold from the kohen his due, then you will end up having to come to the kohen to deal with the tragic circumstance of sota. 

If the idea is a midah k’neged midah, that failing to come to the kohen for the positive end of bringing matnos kahuna will lead to coming to the kohen for some negative consequence, then why illustrate the point specifically with the parsha of sota?  Why not the parsha of metzora, which was a severe punishment that required the intervention of the kohen?  The Shem m’Shmuel’s answer should be required reading for all married folks and those who plan to be married.

Life is filled with transactions between givers and takers, mashpi’a and mekabel, tzurah imposing itself on chomer.  It’s usually very easy to spot which side of the equation is which.  Not so when it comes to matnos kahuna.  Even though the farmer must surrender part of his crop to the kohen or levi, it is the kohen who is the mashpi’a, the tzurah.  The farmer receives far more from the relationship than what he gives up in material goods.

If someone doesn’t get the message and thinks that relationships are only measured by tangible net gain/ loss, if a person thinks he gets nothing in return for what he gives to the kohen and therefore keeps his matnos kehuna, then he will inevitably have a shalom bayis / sota problem to deal with.  A husband who, for example, brings home a bouquet of flowers, is not the mashpi’a – he is the mekabeil, because he will receive the benefit of an improved relationship with his spouse that will help be mashlim him as a person.  The return is far more valuable than the few dollars invested in the roses that are gone a week later. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

week of tashlumin for korbanos of Shavuos

The gemara (Rosh Hashana 6) records that Rav Papayus offered a cow as a korban shelamim on Pesach and then offered it’s calf as a shelamim on Sukkos.  The gemara wrestles with the question of why Rav Papayus delayed so long – why didn’t he bring the calf as a korban on Shavuos, the first opportunity for aliya l’aregel after Pesach?  Isn’t there a mitzvah to not delay bringing a korban?

The Turei Even wonders why the gemara did not entertain the possibility that Rav Papayus was talking about a year in which Shavuos fell on Shabbos.  Since the Yom Tov of Shavuos is only one day, and it would have been impossible to offer a voluntary korban offering on that one day if it fell on Shabbos, that would cancel any penalty for delaying.  You can’t be liable for bal t’acher if there is an issur of bringing the korban!

The Turei Even answers that since with respect to korbanos there is tashlumin for seven days, i.e. if someone did not bring their olas re’iya on Shavuos, they still get a week to make it up, viz a viz voluntary korbanos as well, the entire week, not just the first day, counts as being part of the regel. 

R’ Wahrman in his She’eris Yosef (vol 2) points out that the shakla v’terya of the Turei Even raises a fundamental question about the nature of tashlumin: is tashlumin an opportunity to bring korbanos ha’chag once the chag has passed, or is tashlumin an indication that to some degree the cheftza of Yom Tov, the kedushas ha’chag, lingers and has not passed, even though there is no issur melacha?

If the chag is over, then then bal t’acher should not apply to korbanos which could not be brought on the first day.  But if tashlumin is an extension of Yom Tov, then even if one could not bring korbanos nedava on the first day, one would be liable for bal t’acher for failing to do so on the remaining tashlumin days, as it still counts as if one had the opportunity to bring the korban on Y"T.

This question may be behind the different minhagin as to whether tachanun is said in the week after Shavuos.  If the chag is over and tashlumin is just a korbanos make-up opportunity, then tachanun should be said.  If tashlumin means the chag itself continues, then it would seem that there is more license to omit tachanun. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

what the nazir can teach us about celebrating isru chag

Why does the nazir bring a korban chatas when he completes his nezirus? 

Ramban answers that a korban chatas is required because the nazir’s return to everyday life is a step down from the spiritual heights he reached during his nezirus.  A return to the everyday world is a surrender to the drives and desires that the nazir avoided while in his higher spiritual state of nezirus.

Rabeinu Bachyei disagrees.  We never find, he writes, a korban chatas offered for future sins that have not yet been committed; a chatas is only brought after one has already sinned.  When the nazir steps back into the mundane everyday routine that may include drinking wine, taking a haircut, etc., he has not yet done anything wrong.   

The korbanos of the nazir, explains R’ Bachyei, are not brought because of any sin (he does not say it explicitly, but it seems that this chatas is an exception to the norm because it is brought together with the olah and shelamim).  The root of the word korban is k-r-v, to draw closer; the purpose of the nazir’s korbanos is to draw him closer to the source of his spiritual energy, to give him a final boost that he can carry into his regular day to day.  V’achar yishteh ha’nazir ya’yin” – the Torah ends the parsha by telling us that the nazir should return to his everyday life of the past.  The purpose of nezirus is not to escape from the mundane world, but to learn how to live in it properly.

Hopefully your Shavuos was celebrated with intense immersion in talmud torah and kabbalas haTorah, and so it’s only natural to feel a bit letdown on isru chag.  Rabeinu Bachyei’s perspective reminds us that islands of spirituality are not meant as an oasis of temporary escape from the day to day, a momentary high from which we must fall, but are meant to give us the spiritual vitamins we need so our day to day becomes infused with that spiritual intensity and energy as well.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

amoni v'lo amonis and the definition of modesty

The gemara (Chagiga 4b) writes that when Shmuel was raised from the grave by Shaul, he thought he was facing din in shamayim and so he brought Moshe Rabeinu wih him to testify on his behalf.  Moshe did not know every detail of Shmuel’s life, but, says Tosfos (d”h d’leika), Shmuel wanted was Moshe’s confirmation that his derasha from pesukim and his actions on that basis were justified. 

What derasha is Tosfos referring to?  The Sefas Emes explained that we see from the sugya in Yevamos 76-77 that there was tremendous debate whether David haMelech could be appointed king or whether the fact that he was a descendent of Rus, an Amonis, disqualified him.  It was testimony that the beis din of Shmuel had ruled that only Amoni, males of the nation of Amon, but not Amonis, females of that nation, were disqualified, that settled the issue.  As a result of that ruling Shaul eventually lost the kingship and David was appointed in his place.  Shmuel haNavi wanted confirmation that he was correct in making that derasha and acting to support David. 
(According to this interpretation, the halacha of “Amoni – v’lo Amonis” is based on a derasha.  The Brisker Rav reads the conclusion of the sugya that the din was a halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai.  Something to discuss another time maybe).

 If I were giving a women’s shiur this chag, this issue would be a tempting choice to speak about.  The nation of Amon is excluded from intermarrying with Bnei Yisrael for failing to extend food and drink to Bnei Yisrael when they passed through their territory.  Doeg ha’Adomi argued that this criticism applied equally to the men of Amon as well as the women and both should be barred.  The gemara (76b) asks: but women normally do not go out to greet strange men – tzniyus!?  The gemara answers that the Amonite men could have gone to greet the men of Bnei Yisrael and the Amonite women could have gone out to the women.  We could have put up a big mechitza!  If the women failed to go out, argued Doeg, they are equally to blame. 

This question was the show stopper that would have disqualified David haMelech if not for the fact that someone remembered that Shmuel’s beis din had already paskened the issue otherwise.  However you understand why Shmuel’s beis din was the final word in the matter (halacha l’Moshe m’Simai or an irrefutable derasha), the gemara grants the point.  But what of Doeg’s tremendous kashe – how do you respond to his argument?  The gemara answers: “Kol kvuda bas melech pnima.” 

One way to read the gemara’s conclusion is that mechitza or no mechitza, it’s still unreasonable to expect women to go out and greet strangers.  If this is correct, the whole shakla v'terya can be reduced to simply a matter of metziyus, a debate about the facts on the ground: is the expectation that the Amonite women should go out and bring food to their Israelite sisters reasonable or not?  Originally the gemara thought Doeg had a great kashe and the expectation was not unreasonable, kah mashma lan that it was.

I prefer to avoid making a debate about an issue of metziyus.  Instead, I think the gemara’s shakla v’terya gets to the root of what modesty is all about.  There are two elements to modesty: 1) avoiding promiscuous behavior, especially intermingling of the sexes; 2) behaving with restraint and reserve.   The Midrash (BaMidbar Rabbah 1:3) tells us that before there was an Ohel Moed, G-d spoke to Moshe from a burning bush in Midyan, G-d spoke to Moshe in Egypt, G-d spoke to Moshe from Har Sinai. However, now that there was an Ohel Moed G-d spoke only privately from that tent to fulfill the ideal of "hatzne’ah leches".  Obviously we are not speaking about the intermingling of the sexes here.  When the Midrash speaks of hatzne’ah leches, it means comportment, a certain type of behavior, a “madreiga pnimis,” as the Maharal describes it.  See this post for more.  So often we get caught up in issues of skirt and sleeve length that we forget all about this very important second element.

Doeg thought that given the need to do chessed, it is enough if the Amonite women were sensitive to that first element of modesty, avoiding intermingling of the sexes, but they should have put aside that second element in order to help Bnei Yisrael.  So long as that mechitza was in place, there was no excuse for their inaction.  The gemara in the end rebuts this argument.  “Kol kvudah bas melech pnima” means that this second aspect of modesty, modesty of character, is primary.  If the Amonite women chose to modestly stay indoors rather than go out and greet strangers, their behavior cannot be condemned, even if it meant the sacrifice of an opportunity to do chessed.

Perhaps this gemara alerts us to another possible reason for the reading of Megilas Rus on Shavuos.  Chazal (see Rashi Shmos 34:3) tell us the fanfare and public spectacle involved in the giving of the first luchos led to their being shattered, which teaches us “ain lecha yafah min ha’tzeniyus,” there is nothing nicer than modesty.  On the first day of Shavuos we relive the lightning and thunder of Sinai, the public display of awesomeness.  The second day of Shavuos reminds us that as great as that experience was, there is yet a greater value – the value of modesty. 

vayichan yisrael -- what's even better than finding chein in each other's eyes?

Rashi famously comments that the pasuk “VaYichan sham Yisrael neged ha’ar…” uses the singular tense because Klal Yisrael was united “k’ish echad b’lev echad,” like one person with one heart in preparation for kabbalas haTorah.  R’ Yitzchok of Vorke explained the word “vayichan” comes from the word “chein.”  If every person can see the chein in his or her neighbor, then we can be united as ish echad b’lev echad.

 Beautiful vort, right?  But the Shem m’Shmuel (5762) is not satisfied.  Sure, it’s easy to get along with your neighbor if you see their chein.  The trick, though, is to get along with your neighbor even when you don’t see that chein, even when you disagree and don’t see eye to eye.  This is the level that Bnei Yisrael rose to at mattan Torah.  The Shem m’Shmuel gets this from Chazal’s statement that “Moshe hosif yom echad m’da’ato,” Moshe used his “da’as” and added an extra day to the waiting period before mattan Torah.  Here’s how:

 The word “da’as” seems to have two opposite meanings.  On the one hand, da’as means to connect on the deepest level, like the connection between a husband and wife, “V’ha’adam yada es Chavah ishto…  On the other hand, da’as refers to the ability to discriminate and distinguish.  The Yerushalmi writes that we say havdalah in the bracha of “chonein hada’as” because without da’as there would be no havdalah, we could not draw distinctions. 
The truth is that there is no contradiction between the meanings; they supplement each other.  No matter who it is, if you look at every detail of a person, there is going to be something there you don’t like.  The person is great, but they like chocolate ice cream and everyone knows vanilla is better, or vica versa.  That person is a great ba’al chessed, but wears an ugly tie.  We can all come up with a million examples.  How can you ever have the da’as of connection and companionship if everyone is flawed in some way?  Answer: by having the da’as of distinction, knowing how to put to the side those nitpicky details and focus on the good that there is.

I put it in language that we can relate to; the Shem m’Shmuel says it a little deeper.  The bad taste in ice cream, the ugly ties, etc. – all these are superficial details.  If you dig into the core of a person, you are going to find a G-dly neshoma, and what’s not to like and be able to connect to about that?  If we want the da’as of connection, we need da’as to discriminate between the pnimiyus, the G-dly core, and all the other chitzoniyus that we see on the outside.

Moshe hosif yom echad m’da’ato” – Moshe introduced this factor of da’as into the process of mattan Torah.  K’ish echad b’lev echad means that Klal Yisrael dug into the pnimiyus of who they were and what their mission was, and through that, they realized that all the differences really don’t matter at the end of the day, they are just superficial distractions.

Anochi Hashem Elokecha -- even if only one individual gets the message

Rashi explains that the first of the Aseres Hadibros, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha…,” is written in the singular, as if Hashem was speaking only to Moshe, so that Moshe would have an argument in Bnei Yisrael’s defense when they sinned in the cheit ha’eigel and be able to claim the command was given only to him.

Of course the mitzvah of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha…” was given to all of Klal Yisrael.  What Rashi means, explains the Sefas Emes, is that the singular tense is used to show that even if an entire generation has sinned, so long as there is even one individual who does what’s right, Torah still has meaning.

Monday, May 13, 2013

kabbalas haTorah as a mechapeir

An amazing Yerushalmi (Rosh haShana 4:8): By all the korbanos of the chagim it says "se'ir izim echad l'chatas," except for Shavuos, where there is no mention of cheit -- it just says "se'ir izim echad l'chapeir aleichem."  (Bamidbar 28:30)  The Yerushalmi explains that as a result of kabbalas haTorah Hashem wipes away all previous sins, so it is as if there was no cheit to speak of.

ר' משרשיא בשם ר' אידי בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטא ובעצרת אין כתיב חטא אמר להן הקב"ה מכיון שקיבלתם עליכם עול תורה מעלה אני עליכם כאילו לא חטאתם מימיכם:

anticipation for kabbalas haTorah

The Zohar’s (VaYikra 97b) writes that one of the goals of Shavuos night is “l’natra dachya ila’ah d’mati aleh b’hahu ley’lya.”  The word “l’natra” is the equivalent of the Hebrew word “lishmor,” but, says the Shem m’Shmuel, don’t think it means “to guard” in a passive sense, like a shomer takes care of an item entrusted to his care.  Rather, it should be understood in the same sense the Torah uses the word when describing Ya’akov’s reaction to Yosef’s dreams: “v’Aviv shamar as ha’davar,” i.e. he waited with eager anticipation.  Contrary to popular behavior, Shavuos night is not about downing enough coffee and cake to be “yotzei” staying up all night so that one re-experiences mattan Torah with a full belly, albeit a somewhat fuzzy mind.  The korban Pesach is ne’echal al ha’sova, but I don’t think the same din applies to mattan Torah.  It's all about anticipation and enthusiasm.   

The Sm”S writes that this idea helps answer a question raised by his father, the Sochotchover.  The Sochotchover assumed that there is no din of simchas Yom Tov on the night a Yom Tov starts because simcha is elicited by the performance of the mitzvos of the chag.  It’s only after Pesach has started that we can eat matzah; it’s only after Sukkos has started that we can eat in the sukkah -- the simcha kicks in the next day, after we have had a chance to do the mitzvos.  But what about on Shavuos – there are no mitzvos to do; nothing is missing when Yom Tov starts, so why  does the din of simcha not apply immediately?  Shem m’Shmuel answers that there is something we need to do: “l’natra dachya ila’ah” is an active, eager waiting, not a passive lack of activity.   

If you want to see the difference then take note on your way to work as you pass by kids waiting at their bus stop for the schoolbus to arrive on a spring day.  The kids will be joking with each other, talking, eating, etc.; in short, they will be doing anything and everything short of looking down the road to see if the bus is close.  As far as they are concerned, the further away the bus is the better! Now take a look at adults waiting by the bus stop or subway stop on their way to work.  Their necks crane every 30 seconds as they peer anxiously down the road or down the track to see when the next bus or train is coming, they tap their feet and shuffle around anxiously, they listen to every traffic report or announcement with trepidation lest there be some unanticipated delay.  That’s the “natra” the Zohar is talking about. 

The Maharal writes on the pasuk “U’Moshe alah el ha’Elokim va’yikra eilav Hashem min ha’har leimor…” that Moshe had to make the first move and ascend the mountain before Hashem came down to speak with him.  Kabbalas haTorah starts by our demonstrating the desire to receive Torah; one cannot wait passively for it to drop in one’s lap. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Netziv on what we can learn from how the klei hamishkan were wrapped for travel

Ramban notes that Sefer BaMidbar does not contain many mitzvos; it’s mostly the story of Bnei Yisrael’s travels through the midbar.  Chasam Sofer writes that if there are few halachos l’doros in nigleh that we can take away from the sefer, it means there is a hidden nistar meaning that we are meant to take away.   I guess we could also say that we need to take away hashkafa, midos, mussar, deyos, etc.  Just as we darshen every detail in the text to extrapolate halacha, so too, we need to invest the same effort in attending to the details of the text to find the messages that are being taugh to us in those other areas as well.

Look at what the Netziv was able to find in the details of how the klei hamishkan were packed up for travel:
1)  All the kelim are described as being wrapped in techeiles and then covered with some other outer covering, with the exception of the aron, where techeiles was shown on the outside.  Techeiles reminds us of heaven; it represents G-d’s revealed hashgacha.  The klei hamishkan, the shulchan, the mizbeiach, etc. serve as symbols of malchus, wealth, kehunah, etc. (the details are not important).  In all of these areas G-d’s presence lurks beneath the surface.  The casual observer thinks a king holds real power; he does not realize that Hashem is the one who behind the scenes directs the affairs of state.  The casual observer sees wealth and thinks the rich man is lucky in business; he does not see that it’s all because of Hashem’s bracha.  The only exception in the aron.  When it comes to Torah, Hashem’s hashgacha and bracha are obvious in what makes a talmid chacham who he is.

2)  Usually the pesukim first refer to the kli being taken and then the techeiles covering, e.g. “V’al shulchan hapanim yifrisu begged techeiles…” (4:7), “V’al mizbach ha’zahav yifrisu begged techeiles…” (4:11)  The exception is the menorah, where the pasuk says “V’lakchu begged techeiles v’kisu es menoas ha’maor…” (4:9)  In most areas of life you have to work hard until you get somewhere and then Hashem will respond in kind with his extra hashgacha.  In talmud torah, which is what the light of the menorah represents, one needs that special siyata d’shemaya before becoming a gadol or a big talmid chacham.  Without it, one can never get there.

3)      The kelim of the mizbeiach were all wrapped separately from the mizbeiach itself, but not so the menorah, where everything was wrapped together in one bundle.  A leader must often stand alone, apart and above the crowd.  A rebbe, however, must be inseperable from his talmidim.    

Thursday, May 09, 2013

she'hechiyanu on Yom Tov candles

The majority of poskim frown on the practice of reciting she’hechiyanu when lighting Yom Tov candles despite the fact that (as far as I can tell) this is what most women do.  The problem is that it creates a hefsek.  The bracha of she’hechiyanu has nothing to do with the mitzvah of lighting candles (women do that every week for Shabbos, so no new she'hechiyanu is needed), but rather goes on the kedushas hayom of the Yom Tov (see Mikrai Kodesh, Pesach vol 2 #28).  Since the she’hechiyanu is not directly related to the hadlakah, it is an unnecessary interruption between the bracha and the act of lighting. 
The same is not true of the she’hechiyanu said between kiddush and drinking the kos.  Chazal instituted that the bracha of she’hechiyanu be recited over a kos, therefore, adding she’hechiyanu in that context does not constitute a hefesk.  No such takanah was ever made with respect to candlelighting.  (Rav Shternbruch says a huge chiddush.  Chazal instituted saying she’hechiyanu over a kos to add to the chashivhus of the bracha.  For women, lighting candles has the same chashivus as kiddush does for a man, and therefore, they are justified in saying the bracha then.)

R’ Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Da’as vol 3) adds that kiddush on the second night of Rosh hHShana, where we insert a she’hechiyanu on a new fruit into the nusach of kiddush, is also no proof to anything.  M’ikar hadin we pasken that even if someone did not have a new fruit, he would still recite a she’hechiyanu on the kedushas Yom Tov.  This kiddush is no different than any other.

The one source that I found that seems to open the door to the argument for there being no problem of hefsek is a Mishna Berura in Hil Yom HaKippurim 425:5.  Although the Beis Yosef holds that there never recites the bracha on besamim in havdalah on motzei Y.K., the majority of Achronim disagree.  The M.B. sides with their view and adds that there is no danger of bracha l’vatalah because the bracha is a birchas ha’nehenin and bottom line, one does enjoy the fragrance of the spices.  What the M.B. does not directly address is that fact that if the bracha is unnecessary, it should be a hefsek.  Does that mean hefsek is not an issue, so long as the bracha is not levatala?  Or maybe the M.B. is just not overly concerned here because he thinks the other Achronim are right and the Beis Yosef wrong anyway?

As a way to have her cake and eat it, to say the she’hechiyanu at the time of hadlakah but to also avoid any problem of hefsek, my wife was given an eitzah years ago by her great-uncle, R’ Yosef Holzberg.  Instead of saying the she’hechiyanu in between the bracha on hadlakas neiros and the lighting, she says the she’hechiyanu immediately after lighting.  I thought this was a brilliant idea, but had two cents to add: you can get even closer to keeping the minhag of saying she’hechiyanu before lighting by sandwiching the she’hechiyanu in between lighting the first and second candles.  Since m’ikar hadin you only need to light one candle, once you are past that point the issue of hefsek is gone, but at the same time, the she’hechiyanu is still on the act of candlelighting.  (I haven't asked anyone what they think of the idea.)

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

masah u'matan b'emunah?

I have no problem with anyone espousing a philosophy of pure Torah lishma, but if that's your agenda then come clean about it and don’t pretend you are about anything different just to get a buck, or in this case, 10.6 million bucks from the taxpayers of the State of NJ.
[Name omitted by me] vice president of administration at Beth Medrash Govoha, said although the college may be rooted in Talmudic and related studies, its students excel in many other areas.
"BMG graduates have a leading track record in establishing successful new businesses that create jobs and contribute to the economy of New Jersey," Gleiberman said, noting graduates have successful careers in food manufacturing, retailing, green technologies and other industries.
Gleiberman said there is no "religious test" for admission, but it does have rigid education standards.
BMG -- a model of higher education, encouraging its students to pursue careers and start businesses to benefit their home state of NJ.  Who ever knew?  I know someone out there is going to comment and darshen every kutzo shel yud in these quotes to prove they are technically accurate, so let me say in advance, if you need to parse quotes like a lawyer to make your case, you may win the battle, but you've lost the war.  The actions of bnei Torah have to not just be correct, they have to also be perceived as correct (see Yoma 86).  I don't think the public outcry in this case is rooted in antisemitism; it's rooted in a sense that fair play has not won out.  

(I felt I could post about this because it was in the newspaper already.  I have nothing against BMG; I'm not smiling or gloating over it.  I find the whole thing rather sad.  My wife thinks I shouldn't write about it and she's usually right.)

why don't our chutz la'aretz schools teach more about Zionism?

We do a horrible job we in chutz la’aretz of educating our children about the modern State of Israel.  My kids would not even know today is Yom Yerushalayim if I did not tell them.  We teach our children Tanach, Torah, gemara, all kinds of secular subjects, there are now required classes in “churban Europa,” as it is known, but I know of few yeshivos/yeshivot that require students to study the history of Zionism and the modern State of Israel, much less make an effort to explain the theological significance of Jewish sovereignty and the meaning of religious nationalism and the varying hashkafic attitudes toward the State.  I mean a serious discsussion of the issues and a study of history, not eating a blue and white cookie and having a chagiga.  Why is this so? 

1) Fear – we are afraid to teach subjects where there is a controversy or a diversity of legitimate views.  Issues always have to be boiled down to black vs. white and for all else, ask your Rav.  As a result, we produce students who see things in black and white, who are intolerant of other viewpoints other than the one they learn as "correct," who cannot weigh the pros and cons of issues without being spoonfed a "right" answer.  You can’t reduce any discussion of Eretz Yisrael to simple dichotomies.   

2) Ignorance – teachers know little more than their students about certain topics, this among them, in part because they came though the same broken system that they are now perpetuating.

3) It doesn’t matter enough – we equate love for Eretz Yisrael with love for Am Yisrael, in the sense of caring about Jewish life.  That is certainly important, but that should not eclipse a discussion of Jewish nationalism as an independent value (or whether you agree with such a thing or not and why).  When people talk about “existential issues” in the context of discussing Israel, they mean, for example, the threat Iranian missiles, not “existential” in the philosophical sense.  Questions like, for example, whether you view the State as aschalta d’geulah and what that term means, are great for armchair philosophizing, but are not pressing for a solution any time soon, so think this tzad is right or think that side is right, it can all be cavalierly dismissed as not really relevant. 

hallel as a reading of pesukim

In order to escape the dilemma of wanting to recite hallel to commemorate Yom ha’Atzmaut and/or Yom Yerushalayim but wanting to avoid the problem of there not being a takanah which would license it, some add the hallel without a bracha only at the conclusion davening after the last kaddish.  This way, the recitation of hallel is not formally part of tefillah, but counts only as reading pesukim.  If someone wants to say tehillim and just happens to read the perakim that we recite for hallel, there is no need for a takanah and no problem in doing so.

One thing that bothers me about this solution is that if one is just reading pesukim, then one would not add “hodu” responsively after “yomaru na …” and “yomar na…”  and one would not double pesukim like we do in the section before/after “ana Hashem…”   These are features particular to kri’as hallel (see Sukkah 38b).  From what I have seen done, no one changes how the hallel is read -- I'm not sure why.

na'aseh v'nishma - a statement of bitachon

Speaking of bitachon and since we are getting close to Shavuos, R’ Binyamin Finkel from the Mir in Yerushalayim spoke in my son’s yeshiva earlier this week on the relationship between bitachon and kabbalas haTorah.  At first glance, agreeing to a deal with the terms of “na’aseh v’nishma” makes no sense.  Imagine someone offered to sell you what they promise is outstanding merchandise at some incredibly discounted price, a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The only catch to the deal – you can’t see what you are buying before you agree to the terms.  Who in his right mind would fall for that?  You don’t need to have business sense to recognize a swindle like this. 

Now imagine the same deal, but instead of it being offered by a shady looking guy in a back room, it is offered to you by a parent or a rebbe.  Same terms, but this time, you would take it.  What’s the difference?  The difference is trust.  You know your parent or your rebbe would not offer you a losing proposition.  “Na’aseh v’nishma” demonstrated our trust that whatever was in Torah, it was for our best because it came from Hashem.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

recognizing our own limitations

The Torah writes that if a farmer will ask, “What will we eat if we can’t farm during shemita and yovel?” Hashem answers that he will command the fields to produce and abundant crop in advance.  Why does the Torah not say simply tell us Hashem promise – why does the Torah couch the bracha in the context of a question-and-answer shakla v’terya format?

I think the most popular answer is some variation on the one the Noam Elimelech writes in the name of his brother (posted about it here).  A true ba’al bitachon asks no questions.  He trusts that if Hashem says not to farm, he will survive in some way.  That’s exactly what will happen – someway, somehow, the food will last.  The teva cannot and will not contradict the belief of the ba’al bitachon.  What the Torah here is saying is that even if you do ask questions and therefore maybe you don’t deserve teva to be in harmony with your shmiras hamitzvos, you don’t deserve the food to last, still Hashem promises that so long as you are willing to do the mitzvah, he will force the food to be there by commanding his bracha to the fields.

I want to share with you the answer of the Maharasham (I saw this quoted by R’ Shmuel Ya’akov Rubenstein in his She’eiris Menachem, where he adds additional hesber that I am not going into, so here’s a link).  There is another place in the Torah where a promise appears in the context of a question and answer:  the Torah writes (Devarim 7:17) that if you should say when you enter Eretz Yisrael, “How can I conquer all these great nations?” don’t worry because Hashem promises that He will help get the job done.  Again, one can ask why the promise is couched in the context of shakla v’terya instead of being said straight out.  The Bina La’ittim answers (and I once quoted the same pshat from Sefas Emes) that the Torah is teaching that Hashem’s promise is conditional on our asking for it.  Meaning, we have to first recognize that we can’t do it ourselves; the job is too great and our ability is limited.  We have to say to Hashem that we need him.  If we do that, then Hashem promises to deliver the help we need.  If think we can do it ourselves, we fail to recognize our own limitations, then Hashem leaves it up to us, and of course, we can’t really succeed by ourselves.  The same is true of shemita.  The Torah prefaces the promise of Hashem's help with the farmer's question to teach us that Hashem will provide us with all the help we need to get through the years without farming – but we have to recognize that we need that help and ask for it. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

why halacha is like Beis Hillel

The gemara (Eiruvin 13) writes that the halacha follows Beis Hillel over Beis Shamai because Beis Hillel were “nochin v’aluvin,” they were humble and modest and therefore would first discuss Beis Shamai’s view and only then present their own opinion. 

It sounds at first glance like this is some kind of mystical segulah, that if you have good midos the schar is that you will hit the mark in psak halacha.  I saw R’ Zalman Nechemya Goldberg explains it differently. We know the general rule of thumb in psak is “hilchisa k’basra’ah,” the halacha usually follows a later authority over an earlier one.  This is because if you approach an issue after the fact, you have the advantage of hindsight and can better weigh the different options.  The halacha follows Beis Hillel because they reviewed Beis Shamai’s opinion first; they first considered the counter-argument carefully before arriving at their own view.  Therefore, their opinion was always the “basra’ah.” 

Friday, May 03, 2013

David haMelech - a model of mindfulness

We dealt with this Midrash before, but why not revisit it again: every single morning David haMelech would think about going to this place or that place, and lo and behold, his feet would carry him to the beis knesses or beis medrash.  This is what the Torah means when it says “Im b’chukosai teileichu…”
Let’s imagine… David haMelech gets up, plans to go somewhere, gets in his car and starts driving, but he is so absentminded that somehow he ends up in the beis medrash even though he intended to go elsewhere.  If it were me, I probably get back in the car and go to my intended destination, but not David haMelech -- once he got sidetracked and ended up in the beis medrash, there he remained, even though he never wanted to be there to begin with. And every morning this same mistake repeated itself. Could this possible be true?  Is it an ideal to emulate? 

Obviously, this is not what the Midrash means, explains the Sefas Emes.  David haMelech had many responsibilities as king, just as we have many responsibilities that require attending to.  A person can go through the day on autopilot, barely awake, and deal with most of the routine tasks in his job (trust me on this) and life.  We literally let so much of what happens in a day wash right by us without paying it any heed, all the while thinking that we will find deep meaning elsewhere in life, outside the daily routine.  David haMelech had a different attitude.  Instead of sleep-walking through the day, David haMelech practiced mindfulness – before acting, he took the time to think about where he wanted to go, what he wanted to do, what he could get out of the experience.  When a person has that attitude, he will find that he is always in the beis medrash, learning from every experience; he is always in the beis knesses, lit the “house of gathering,” as all of his energy is gathered and channeled toward a focused, deliberate goal, not mindlessly scattered.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Netziv on the ethical cost of assimilation

Before getting to an interesting paradox the Netziv points out in the parsha that deals with a Jewish slave sold to a ger, let me start out by spelling out an assumption he makes: wealth and success comes from being careful in interpersonal relations, mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro.  Chazal tell us (Shabbos 151b) that one who acts with mercy towards others will merit receiving mercy from Heaven.  Be nice to others, and G-d will be nice to you and keep you from becoming destitute.  We can debate whether that’s exactly what the gemara means (it sounds to me that the gemara doesn’t mean poverty is avoidable, but rather it means that if you show mercy toward the poor and treat them with dignity and respect, Hashem will see that even if you do become poor, you will still retain your dignity.)  We can debate whether other mitzvos, not just bein adam l’chaveito deeds, have the same effect.  But let’s put that aside for now, let’s grant the Netziv the point, and let’s see where he goes with it.

Rashi comments on “v’ki tasig yad ger v’toshav imach…” (25:47) that the reason this ger toshav has the wealth and ability to acquire slaves is because he is “imach,” – “dibuko imach” – he has decided to cast his lot in with you and connect with the Jewish people.   A ger toshav still eats cheeseburgers at McDonalds, but he is a humanitarian; he observes the mitzvos bnei noach, and, based on the yesod of the Netziv above, the ger toshav we are speaking about is very particular about observing mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro.  He is the nice non-Jewish neighbor that gave a nice donation when they collected for the hurricane rebuilding effort, he knows to turn the light on for you on Shabbos if you forgot to set the timer, he acts like a mentch.  Since he acts with care towards others, Heaven cares for him and blesses him with riches.

Yet, in the very same pasuk the Torah describes the Jewish slave being purchased as “u’mach achicha imo.”  Rashi again comments on the word “imo” that the reason this individual has become destitute and forced to resort to becoming a slave is “dibuko imo,” because he has thrown his lot in life in with the goy.  Once again, based on the yesod of the Netziv, we are not just speaking of a person who may eat at McDonald’s (maybe he orders the fish) or who goes shopping on Shabbos like his goyish neighbors.  That alone would not do it – poverty is a result specifically of becoming lax in mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro. We are speaking of a person who, as a result of assimilation, as a result of wanting to be like his goyish neighbor, ends up abandoning the traits of gemilus chassadim and rachmanus that characterize our people.  We are dealing with a selfish boor. 

But one second – who is the “imo,” the “him,” that this Jewish slave wants to emulate?  It’s the the same ger discussed earlier in the pasuk.  That ger toshav is not a selfish boor – he is a model of good midos, someone who so admires our traits of chessed and rachmanus that he practices them himself, and as a result has been blessed by Hashem!  So why is it that this Jewish slave who ends up assimilating because he wants to be like his ger toshav master ends up not only eating at McDonalds like that ger toshav, not only goes shopping on Shabbos like that ger toshav, but even worse than his ger toshav master, loses all semblance of humanity and becomes a degenerate?  Why doesn’t his master’s model of good midos have any effect?

If you have children or remember your own childhood, you might remember eating lunch or supper on some colorful plastic plate or bowl that costs next to nothing to buy in Ikea or someplace like that.  If you remember those days, then you know the answer to the Netziv’s question.  Why is it that the china dishes you use on Shabbos and paid a small fortune for break so easily if you drop them, but that plastic bowl that costs next to nothing can be thrown from a high chair across the room and not suffer a dent?  Kal v’chomer: if the cheap bowl doesn’t break, certainly you should get the same value from the china dishes!  But we know that’s not how it works.  The more precious something is, the easier it is to destroy and the uglier it becomes when ruined. 
The ger toshav shines as much as he can when he draws close to Klal Yisrael, but he is like a plastic bowl made to look like real china – the end result is a decent human being.  If it loses its shine, no great loss, it’s back to being just a plain bowl.  The Yisrael who becomes an eved and decides to assimilate is like fine china dropped to the floor – once it breaks, you have a thousand pieces of nothingness, total disintegration. 
It's a nice vort, but is it true?  The Netziv is basically saying that you cannot seperate a Jew's Jewishness from his humanity.  Slice off Shabbos, kashrus, etc., and inevitable you slice away morality and ethics as well.  The eved who tries to assimilate cannot give up one without also inevitably giving up the other.  We know in our society many people try to do just that -- they try to be good people, whatever that means -- without shmiras hamitzvos, and I am not sure we would call the effort a complete failure, at least in some cases.  Yesh l'chaleik, but it's something to think about.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

dan l'kaf zechus - "assume positive intent"

From Decisive: How to Make Better Choices at Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath (p 108-109):
As in the marriage situation, our relationships at work are sometimes corrupted by negative assumptions that snowball over time.  A colleague speaks out against our idea at a meeting, and we think, He's trying to show off in front of the boss.  If this happens another time or two, we might consider him a "brown-noser," that label that will become self-sustaining, as in the marriage situation.
To interrupt this cycle, some organization leaders urge their employees to "assume positive intent," that is, to imagine that the behavior or words of your colleagues are motivated by good intentions, even when their actions seem objectionable at first glance.  This "filter" can be extremely powerful.  Indra Nooyi, the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, cited it to Fortune as the best advice she even received.  (She learned it from her father.)
She said, "When you assume negative intent, you're angry.  if you take away that anger and assume positive intent you will be amazed...  You don't get defensive.  You don't scream.  You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, 'Maybe they are saying something to me that I'm not hearing.'"
A blogger names Rochelle Arnold-Simmons uses the "assume positive intent" with her husband: "When your husband does something and you immediately go to a negative place, ask yourself, 'What are other possibilities that may be more positive than what you are thinking?'  Assume he is trying to help, assume he does not need to be reminded, assume it is not his fault.  I try to ask the question, 'What's another possibility?'"
In case you were wondering, the book is great, as are their others, Switch and Made to Stick