Wednesday, July 31, 2013

clothes make the man -- shoes do not

Rashi comments on the pasuk, “Simlascha lo balsa alecha v’raglecha lo batzeika…” that the feet of Bnei Yisrael did not swell up like we would expect to happen to someone walking around barefoot.  The Mizrachi understands Rashi to mean that unlike the clothes of Bnei Yisrael, which grew with them and remained clean throughout the 40 years of travel in desert, the shoes of Bnei Yisrael wore out and they travelled barefoot.  Yet, asks the Mizrachi, we know this is not true, as we read in Ki Tavo that “Na’alcha lo balsa m’al raglecha…” 

Maharal in Gur Aryeh answers that of course Bnei Yisrael had shoes.  Rashi means exactly the opposite of how the Mizrachi understood him -- *because* Bnei Yisrael had shoes, their feet did not swell up like would happen to someone walking barefoot. 

So if they had clothes and they had shoes, why does the pasuk use two different clauses to tell us that?  Why not combine the two into one sentence, e.g. “simlascha v’na’alcha lo balsa…” or something similar?

Maharal says a yesod: the pasuk separates clothes from shoes because clothes are for polish, for kavod, for a person’s image; shoes are a necessity. 

When we wake up in the morning and get dressed we say the bracha of “malbish arumim.”  When we put on shoes, it’s a differnet bracha: “sh’asah li ko tzorchi.”  Shoes are a “tzorech,” a need – not a want. 

R’ Yochanan (Shabbos 113a) called his clothes “mechabdusi” – that which gives me kavod.  “Clothes make the man.”  There is no cliché that says “shoes make the man” because shoes serve a purely functional purpose.  Clothes express who you are and what you think of those around you; shoes are just there to protect your feet from blisters (your wife and daughter will undoubtedly argue - I’m just reporting what Maharal says.  He obviously never hear of Imelda Marcos.)   

This is why we find that when a person comes to a makom kadosh (Moshe by the sneh, entering the har ha’bayis) he must remove his shoes.  The need for shoes’ functionality is not something you want to boast about in these contexts.  You can’t even walk around on your own two feet without help and you want to come closer to Hashem? 

R’ Hartman in his footnotes calls our attention to the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 6:2) that writes that it is not usual for a person to have two pairs of shoes, one for during the week and one for Shabbos.  If a person is obligated to have a different suit and a different hat for kavod Shabbos, why should a person not have a second pair of shoes for Shabbos?  Based on what we have discussed, the difference is clear: what suit or hat you wear is depends very much of what you want to say about yourself and your social context.  Is this a formal occasion or a casual meeting?  Are you sitting around with friends or going to a job interview?  Wearing shoes is purely a functional matter - it’s not about getting or giving kavod.

My son pointed out to me that how to read this line in the Yerushalmi is actually a machlokes between the Pnei Moshe and Korban HaEidah – here’s a link.  R’ Hartman’s pshat fits according to the Korban haEidah, but the Pnei Moshe reads the Yerushalmi as a rhetorical question (b’tmiha) – “Does a person not have two pairs of shoes, one for weekdays and one for Shabbos?!”  Whether or not there an inyan of having special Shabbos shoes may depends on which of these two readings is correct.

Monday, July 29, 2013

100 brachos each day and shome'a k'oneh

Chazal darshen from the pasuk of “Mah Hashem Elokecha shoel…” that a person has to say100 brachos every day (mah = me’ah, 100.  Tosfos offers a few explanations as to why/how Chazal read the pasuk that way).  The gemara (Menachos 4b3) writes that on Shabbos and Yom Tov where the amidah has only 7 brachos, compared with 19 in the weekday davening, R’ Chiya would eat extra snacks to reach the total of 100. 

Some of the Rishonim (e.g. Shibolei haLeket) discuss whether there were other solutions R’ Chiya could have utilized to make up the bracha shortfall.  What about answering amein to the brachos of kri’as hTorah, the haftarah, etc.?  Would that count towards the total of 100?  Aside from the issue specific to these brachos of whether there is an obligation on the listener to recite them, which is then fulfilled through shome’a k’oneh, or whether the bracha belongs to the person getting the aliya (see R’ Yosef Engel in Tziunim laTorah), the more general question is whether one can fulfill the obligation to recite 100 brachos by listening and answering amein.  Some Achronim opine that since R’ Chiya chose to eat snacks rather than rely on this option proves that one must recite 100 brachos – shome’a k’oneh will not work.  Others suggest that R’ Chiya was in a situation where there may not have been a kri’as haTorah and he was therefore forced to avail himself of snacks, but had he been able to do so, he would have relied on shome’a k’oneh.

The Tur (O.C. 46) writes that even though the shaliach tzibur recites the birchos ha’shachar in shul, one should independently recite them as well.  The Tur then goes on to quote this din of reciting 100 brachos.  The Ba”CH suggests that the Tur quotes the din of 100 brachos here as the justification for each individual reciting the birchos ha’shachar.  Shome’a k’oneh, just hearing the brachos from the chazzan, is not enough to meet the quota of 100 – one must recite the brachos independently.  The Beis Yosef, however, learns that when the Tur writes that the brachos must be recited by the individual he simply means to tell us that they are not a chovas ha’tzibur, but must be said by each individual even where no tzibur and chazzan are present.   

What’s the lomdus behind whether shome’a k’oneh should or should not work here?  You could say that the question hinges on the general issue of how shome’a k’oneh works: is it as if the listener has really said words, or is it an alternative mechanism to being yotzei even without saying words?  The machlokes Rashi/Tosfos (Brachos 21) as to whether one can pause and listen to keduah in the middle of one’s own shomeh esrei is generally assumed to depend on this question.  Does listening to kedushah constitute a hefesk because it is as if one has interrupted one’s own davening with speech, or is shome'a k'oneh a mechanism to be yotzei even without speech and therefore is no hefsek?

Perhaps we don’t need to deal with the broader question of how shome’a k’oneh works and can limit our scope to the particular takanah of saying 100 brachos.  The gemara quotes the source for saying 100 brachos as a derasha/asmachta from the word “me’ah,” as we saw above, but there is a tradition quoted in the Geonim (quoted in Tur 46) that David haMelech instituted saying 100 brachos to avoid deaths from a plague.  If we look at the takanah as just some formal rule, then shome’a k’oneh may work just as well as actually saying a bracha.  But if the point is to ward off a plague, then it would seem likely that it is the closeness to Hashem that results from having made the effort to recite 100 brachos and not the formal recitation itself which is key.  It is the personal effort to actually recite the brachos, not merely to hear others engage in saying brachos, which is crucial, and therefore shome’a k’oneh would not suffice.

Friday, July 26, 2013

the connection between Eretz Yisrael and birchas hamazon

Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabeinu instituted the bracha of “hazan es ha’kol” in bentching and then when Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael Yehoshua added the second bracha of “al ha’aretz v’al ha’mazon.”  The Midrash adds that this second bracha is the most beloved of the brachos. 

The mitzvah of saying birchas hamazon has to do with thanking Hashem for our food.  What does entering Eretz Yisrael have to do with it?  We had to eat even before we got to Eretz Yisrael.  Why should the bracha have changed then and why davka is that part of the bentching the most beloved bracha?

The Sefas Emes explains:

As a result of the sin of Adam the earth was cursed, “arura ha’adamah…,” and man was told that he would have to eat food grown by the sweat of his brow.  B’itzavon tochalna” – eating was never the same again. 

We have a rule that “ain arur misdabek b’baruch,” something cursed and something blessed are like oil and water – they just don’t go together and can’t combine.  Hashem wants to bring bracha into the world, but a cursed earth needs to be redeemed first.

The first blessing of birchas ha’mazon was said over the man, food that fell from the sky, not food that was grown from the ground.  It’s no wonder that Moshe and Klal Yisrael were able to say brachos over it.

The far greater chiddush is that a bracha can be recited over plain old bread and fruit.  Eretz Yisrael is described in our parsha as “eretz tovah,” a good land.  It is a land where the curse of “arura ha’adamah” can be overcome, where food untainted by the cheit of adam ha’rishon and the punishment of “b’itzavon tochalna” can be grown.  Bnei Yisrael's conquest was not just a battle of physical might, but it was a spiritual transformation of the land known as Eretz Canaan, land which belonged to the grandson Canaan which Noach cursed, into Eretz Yisrael, a land which could attach itself to bracha. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

tefilah as a response to crisis vs. tefilah as a relationship

R’ Aharon Kotler in Mishnas R’ Aharon on Va’eschanan asks rhetorically why we need a mitzvah of tefilah – calling out to G-d is almost instinctive; it is built into our nature.

R’ Aharon’s point is very true if one adopts the view of the Ramban that tefilah, at least on a d’orasya level, is a response to tzarah.  “There are no atheists in a foxhole,” goes the saying.  According to Rav Soloveitchik, even the Rambam, who holds that m’doraysa tefilah is obligatory every day, agrees in principle, philosophically, with the Ramban.  Rambam differs only in that he holds that man is  existentially in a perpetual state of need and tzarah, and hence must daven every day.

There is another approach to tefilah that both the Sefas Emes and Shem m’Shmuel touch on and which is borne out by the following Midrash (Shmos 21:5):
אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי למה הדבר דומה למלך שהיה בא בדרך והיתה בת מלכים צועקת לו בבקשה ממך הצילני מיד הלסטים שמע המלך והצילה לאחר ימים ביקש לישא אותה לאשה היה מתאוה שתדבר עמו ולא היתה רוצה מה עשה המלך גירה בה הלסטים כדי שתצעוק וישמע המלך כיון שבאו עליה הלסטים התחילה צועקת למלך אמר לה המלך לכך הייתי מתאוה לשמוע קולך

The Midrash speaks of a princess who is ambushed by thieves and cries out for help in distress.  She is rescued by her prince charming, who then decides to marry her.  Much to the prince’s chagrin, the incident was soon forgotten and the princess no longer communicated with her savior.  What did the prince do?  He arranged for the thieves to come back so that he would once again hear the voice of his beloved princess.

It may sound like a fairy tale, but there is an important point here.  When we are ambushed by thieves, when we are in physical, spiritual, or even existential crisis, we cry out, just as the princess did in the story.  That is the tefilah of the Ramban, the tefilah that R’ Aharon thought was innate to man’s nature, the tefilah the Rav saw even in the Rambam.  However, the Midrash points us to another dimension of tefilah – the communication between the princess and her prince even not in times of crisis.  Tefilah in those times shows that the bond between parties goes beyond the needs of the moment.  It redefines the relationship between the prince and princess from savior and saved, master and servant, to that of partners in marriage, a relationship of sharing between equals. 

I haven’t looked at it in awhile, but if I am not mistaken this basic theme is developed by R’ David Hartman in his discussion of prayer in his Living Covenant.  (As problematic as much of his philosophy is, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.)  R’ Aharon’s point regarding prayer being innate seems less compelling if one understands prayer as part of a process of relationship building.  Indeed, we see from the Midrash that once rescued, the princess forgets all about her rescuer – communication is not second-nature when there are no pressing needs that elicit it.  I would argue that perhaps this is the model of prayer that the Rambam had in mind when he formulated the mitzvah of tefilah as one that must be undertaken daily.  A relationship requires constant care and maintenance, constant renewal and nourishment. 

What’s the difference between prayer as a response to distress and prayer as a means of deepening a relationship?  The former is marked by emotional outburst, a torrent of words and feelings that heighten in proportion to the degree of crisis.  The latter comes at moments of calm and is the result of reflection and appreciation.  The Shem m’Shmuel speaks of tefilah of the lev and tefilah of the moach, prayer of the heart and prayer of the intellect.  Perhaps these two models overlap with his categories.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

tremendous question of the Chasam Sofer on the mitzvah of kesivas sefer Torah

The Chasam Sofer (Shu”T Y.D. 254) writes that he asked many gedolim the following question and he never got an answer that satisfied him: the gemara (Gitin 60) has a machlokes whether Torah was given in one chunk or was given parsha by parsha.  Nafka minah: is whether one is permitted to write a single parsha of Torah or must Torah be written as one whole, in its entirety, all or nothing?

If, as we pasken, the Torah must be written as a whole and not in units of parshiyos, how can we possibly fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin or the mitzvah of mezuzah?  Don’t these mitzvos require writing specific parshiyos?

The obvious answer is that by definition the mitzvah of tefillin or mezuzah includes a matir to write individual parshiyos.

The Rambam (Hil Sefer Torah 7:1) formulates the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah as follows:
מצות עשה על כל איש ואיש מישראל, לכתוב ספר תורה לעצמו: שנאמר "ועתה, כתבו לכם את השירה הזאת" (דברים לא,יט), כלומר כתבו את התורה שיש בה שירה זו--לפי שאין כותבין את התורה, פרשייות פרשייות.

The word “shirah” used in the command “kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos” technically refers only to parshas ha’azinu.  However, explains the Rambam, since one is not permitted to write individual parshiyos, m’meila the command requires of us to write the entire Torah.

Why, asks the Chasam Sofer, is the mitzvah of “kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos” different than the mitzvah of tefillin or mezuzah?  Just like in the latter cases we understand that the mitzvah by definition allows the writing of individual parshiyos, so too, perhaps “kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos” allows by definition the writing of ha’azinu as an isolated parsha? 
(The Chasam Sofer gives an answer, but I don't want to spoil your enjoyment of puzzling over the question.)

Monday, July 22, 2013

the dual name "Hashem Elokim" in Moshe's tefilah

Rashi interprets the double shem Hashem that Moshe used in his tefilah at the beginning of VaEschanan, “Hashem Elokim,” to mean that G-d is rachum m’din, merciful in judgment.  It seems that Rashi understood the first shem as referring to the attribute of mercy, and the second shem of Elokim as referring to Divine justice (see the meforshei Rashi). 

Ramban disagrees and brings many proofs that the second shem, the Y-K-V-K, refers to Hashem’s attribute of mercy. 

Maybe the machlokes here is whether the shem should be interpreted based only on how it is read, i.e. Elokim=justice, or whether it should be interpreted in light of how it is written, i.e. Y-K-V-K = mercy.

This is reminiscent of (though not exactly parallel to) the machlokes between Mechaber and GR”A in O.C. siman 5 regarding kavanah when reading shem Hashem.  According to the Mechaber, when saying the shem Hashem one must have kavanah for the midah of the shem as written, not just as pronounced.  Even though the shem Y-K-V-K is read as the shem of Adnus, according to the Mechaber one must also have in mind the meaning of Y-K-V-K, that G-d is eternal and is in past, present and future.  According to GR”A, one need only have in mind the idea of Adnus, the name as pronounced, not the Y-K-V-K as written.

The chakira raised by both the Rav and the Brisker Rav regarding what the gemara means when it darshens that we are supposed to pronounce the shem Adnus when we see Y-K-V-K may hinge on this issue.  Does the gemara mean that since we can’t read Y-K-V-K, we ba’al peh substitute the shem Adnus when we see those letters, or does the gemara means the shem Adnus is the way to read/pronounce Y-K-V-K?  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

v'dibarta bam -- v'lo devarim beteilim

The gemara (Yoma 19) darshens from the words of shema, “v’dibarta bam – v’lo devarim b’teilim.”  Tucked away in his Mei Marom on Avos (5:22, link) R’ Ya’akov Moshe Charlap raises this safeik: what about a person who is not learning, but is not speaking devarim b’teilim either – is that a violation of this mitzvah d’oraysa? 

We could formulate the safeik as follows: is “v’dibarta bam” a positive aseh commanding limud haTorah, or is it an issur aseh that prohibits devarim b’teilim? 

R’ Charlap ends off by saying tzarich iyun l’halacha (this is not a derush question!)

one step at a time

Hopefully it’s not too late in the week to sneak in one more thought about Parshas Devarim and Tisha b'Av.  If you interpret the first pasuk in Devarim, as Rashi does, as a list of the places Bnei Yisrael rebelled, then things are completely out of order.  “Ba’aravah,” the second item on the list, is a hint to the sin of running after the idol Ba’al Pe’or, which took place in Arvos Moav.  That sin occurred chronologically long after the next item on the list, “Mul Suf,” the rebellion that took place at Yam Suf.  It certainly also took place (as did some of the other events mentioned) long after “Di Zahav,” which which refers to the cheit ha’eigel.  For some reason that is put off till the very end of the list even though it chronologically took place early in the journey through the midbar.  Why?

I can’t figure out how it works out for the entire order, but I like the Maor vaShemesh’s answer at least with respect to explaining why “Di Zahav,” the cheit ha’eigel, comes at the end.  I think there is a psychological truth to his answer, even though in pshat there may be better approaches.  He suggests that had Moshe focussed on the cheit ha’eigel first, the conversation with Bnei Yisrael would have ended pretty quickly.  The sin was so overwhelming that to even think about a tikun was outside the scope of what anyone could imagine.  Therefore, Moshe left it for last.  First, start by doing teshuvah for the “little” stuff –- “bamidbar, ba’aravah…” etc.  Bite off what you can manage.  Chew slowly and digest.  Eventually, when the time is right and enough positive momentum has built up, the really big problems, the “Di Zahav,” can be addressed. 

I was thinking of this idea on Tisha b’Av.  To approach Tisha b’Av with the idea that, “OK, now let’s do teshuvah and we can rebuild the Beis haMikdash,” is not going to go anywhere.  “Let’s abolish sinas chinam and lashin ha’ra” – it’s not going to work.  It’s too overwhelming a task and bound to lead to frustration and failure.  Moshe Rabeinu's tochacha teaches us that it's best to start small, with little things.  Do what you can one step at a time.  We'll get to the big things eventually, but it has to come as part of a gradual process.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

chush makchish

The Netziv in Matos-Masei writes that the greater the level of kedusha, the greater the yetzer ha’ra’s efforts to undermine it.  Why does the Torah warn so many times against worshipping idolatry in Eretz Yisrael?  Because Eretz Yisrael is the place of greatest holiness; therefore, it is subject to the greatest temptation to go the opposite way.

The development of Torah she’ba’al peh, says the Netziv, reached its peak during the time period of the Second Temple.  Therefore, the yetzer ha’ra made its presence known davka in evil speech, gossip, and slander which was spread by and effected even talmidei chachamim.  This is the sinas chinam that led to the churban.
I guess when you combine the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael with the kedusha of limud haTorah you get a double-whammy dose of yetzer ha’ra (is that maybe why it says "Nachamu, Nachamu..." 2x?), which may be why the discourse over the current issues in Eretz Yisrael has degenerated to the point of farce.

B’shlama the usual so called “frum” websites, which in my view are worse for your neshoma that even the NY Times because you know it is acheinu Bnei Yisrael writing every dig and every silly comment, neicha that there are those commentators who use the most warped sevaros and “thinking” to defend any statement, no matter how repulsive and outrageous, given that it came out of the mouth of someone that people identify as a gadol.  With enough “lomdus” you can justify any conclusion.  Everyone knows that most of the chatter is stam am ha’aratzus. 

But yesterday I was sitting at another Tisha b’Av kinus (not the one from the previous post) and I had to check with my wife (who was also there) afterwards to make sure I heard one of the speakers straight.  This chashuv Rosh Yeshiva quoted R’ Elchanan’s Ma’amarim as explaining that anyone who wages war against Torah, as is currently happening in Eretz Yisrael, is following Amalek, as that is Amalek's agenda.  Maybe he had something else entirely in mind (I am still trying to be dan l'kaf zechus), and I am obviously only paraphrasing here, but coming a few days after another Rav in Eretz Yisrael called anyone who wears a kipa seruga Amalek, one cannot help but draw the connection.  The original comment from earlier in the week has since been “clarified” – it’s not everyone who wears a kipa seruga, it’s just some of those folks – as if somehow that makes it better.  Is this what things have come to?!?!  We are not talking about a shverr Tosfos that you say a sevara from a Koveitz Shiurim to be meyasheiv – we are talking about using R’ Elchanan’s words (and hopefully I am not crossing a line myself in saying that there is no shortage of kanu’us in the Koveitz Ma’amarim) as a means of labeling members of Klal Yisrael as equal to our greatest enemies.  And so what (as some have suggested) if it is meant as a derasha and not as a provocation to commit genocide – do the words used derech derush have no meaning anymore?

Maybe I should say baruch Hashem?  Yes, baruch Hashem that we in the Five Towns, not always thought of as the most yeshivishe community, have now risen to a level of ruchniyus that allows us to call other Jews “Amalek.”  An achievement indeed. 

Again, hopefully this particular Rosh Yeshiva meant something else entirely.  At least let me pretend that he did.  But why play even close to the third rail?  Why are we speaking of Amalek when discussing these issues?  Why should we even have to debate who said what and what they meant?

In my not humble opinion, if you are reading R’ Elchanan’s Mamamarim for insight into current events, you miss the picture entirely.  Eretz Yisrael of 2013 is not the Eretz Yisrael of 80 or 90 years ago.  Religious Zionism is a reality that has proven itself.  It may have been possible to speculate back then that a synthesis of Zionism with a Torah outlook would fail, but today, chush makchish, anyone with eyes can see that it has not happened.  I remember once reading on R’ Aviner’s blog that a relative of his learning in a right-wing yeshiva came to Merkaz haRav for a visit and was shocked to see guys learning in the beis medrash at 1:00AM (and he would have seen the same in Gush, in KBY, and in so many other places.)  His whole life he had been told that the dati-leumi don’t have Torah, and here his eyes told him otherwise.  Chush makchish – it is very hard to maintain the illusion that religious Zionism is ma’aseh satan, that its adherents are Amalek, when the talmidei chachamim, the committed  bnei Torah produced by the system, prove otherwise.  Similarly, you can scream about breaches of tniyus all day long, but when you see a Youtube video of people throwing rocks are little girls who are wearing skirts and blouses that would pass muster in any of our Beis Ya’akovs in the US, then chush makchish.  Is a person supposed to ignore his eyes and mind and say “afilu omrim al yemin she’hu smol,” that it’s all a false illusion designed to mislead? 

I have no idea how things ultimately will play out in Eretz Yisrael.  The journey, however, is making for a very bumpy ride. 

temunas Hashem yabit

The local Young Israels joined forces yesterday to present a 9 Av afternoon program in which the Rabbis each took a turn to speak.  One thought from R’ Heshy Blumstein, Rabbi of the YI of Hewlett, still stands out in my mind:

Moshe Rabeinu is told in response to the nechashim ha’serafim, the plague of snakes that attacked Bnei Yisrael as a punishment for their complaints, to make a snake and place it on a staff and anyone who is bitten, “v’hibit el nechash hanechoshes v’chai,” should look at that snake and live (Bamidbar 21:9). 

The Torah has warning after warning about idolatry; we are prohibited from making graven images.  How can the Torah here command Moshe to make an image of a snake and davka have people look at that image to be healed?

R’ Blumstein quoted his rebbe, R’ Zweig from Miami, as suggesting an answer based on Rashi back in Parshas Lech Lecha (Braishis 15:5).  Avraham is lifted above the Heavens and is told to look down at the stars, “habet na ha’shamayma,” as his children will be as multitudinous as those innumerable constellations.  Rashi comments from the Midrash that Avraham was raised above the starts to show that Jewish destiny transcends mazal, it is above what astrology and natural forces dictate, and this is why the Torah there uses the term “habet,” as “lashon habara m’m’ma’alah l’matah,” Rashi explains that “habet” always means looking down from a higher perspective.

Returning to the parsha of the snakes, Moshe indeed made an image of a snake, but the whole point was to engender that response of “v’hibit el nechash ha’nechoshes,” the key word being "hibit," looking down at that snake, i.e. realizing that Klal Yisrael stood on a higher plane.  The whole point was that snakes, images, and other forces have no power.

So far so good, but here’s the part that R’ Blumstein said that if you only came to hear this, it was worth it, and I agree:

There is another place in the Torah where the same root as “hibit” is used and there this pshat doesn’t seem to fit at all.  When Miriam speaks against Moshe, Hashem comes and tells her and Aharon that Moshe is not like any other prophet.  Peh el peh adaber bo, b’mareh v’lo b’chidos, u’temunas Hashem yabit  (Bamidbar 12:8) If “yabit” means to look down on something else, like "hibit," then how does this pasuk make any sense?  How could Hashem defend Moshe by telling Aharon and Miriam that he chas v’shalom looks down on high on the “temunas Hashem?” 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explained that this pasuk is referring to a situation where Bnei Yisrael sin and fall to the lowest depths.  When a prophet then comes and stands over them, looking down at their errant behavior, what does that prophet see?  Undoubtedly, that prophet sees the worst in people and will come to give tochacha.  Not so Moshe Rabeinu, says Hashem.  Even though Moshe stood above the people, on a much higher spiritual plane, when he looked down on them, even when he saw all their foibles and misguided ways, for him it was still “temunas Hashem yabit,” he still saw the image of G-d in Klal Yisrael.  That’s what a true leader is.  That’s the perspective to take away from Tisha b’Av.

Monday, July 15, 2013

9 Av -- commemoration of the churban or of all tragedies?

I noticed that with respect to describing the fall of Betar, which took place on 9 Av, the Rambam (Ta'anis 5:3) writes:
ונלכדה עיר גדולה ובית תור היה שמה והיו בה אלפים ורבבות מישראל, והיה להם מלך גדול ודימו כל ישראל וגדולי החכמים שהוא המלך המשיח, ונפל ביד גויים ונהרגו כולם, והייתה צרה גדולה כמו חורבן המקדש
Why does the Rambam needs to add that the calamity was so great that it was like the churban?  Isn't that derash, not halacha?
I haven't looked around to check if anyone says this, but it sounds like the Rambam holds that the mourning of 9 Av was instituted specifically for churban-related events. The fall fall of Betar, as great a calamity as it was, is thrown into the mix only because it was an event that in the eyes of Chazal could be equated with the churban itself. Would the Rambam agree with Rashi (Divrei haYamim II 35:25) that ALL tragic events should be commemorated in the kinos of 9 Av?

learning on 9 Av

My son asked me about learning a certain sefer on 9 Av on hil aveilus given that this sefer might count as more of iyun.  I pointed him to the GR”A in siman 554 who is medayek that the shulchan aruch says that it is permissible “lilmod,” to learn -– not just to read -- things like eilu megalchim (hil aveilus) and midrash Eicha (see the Beis Yosef as well).  The proof comes from a Yerushalmi in Shabbos (kol kisvei) that tells us of two of the Amoraim who were learning midrash Eicha on erev 9 Av which fell on Shabbos.  They couldn’t finish that day so they said to each other, “Let’s pick up tomorrow.”  The implication is that the limud of Tisha b’Av in midrash Eicha would be the same as that of Shabbos erev 9 Av – no difference in depth or analysis. 

Of course, it goes without saying that the rest of the year we should be doing “limud” – not just reading and turning the pages – when we are engaged in talmud Torah (and I probably need to take this to heart more than anyone else reading this.)

R' Soloveitchik on tefillin of Tisha b'Av

Even though on Tisha b'Av we practice nihugei aveilus, e.g. sitting on the floor, and even nihugei aninus, like not learning Torah, one exception to the rule that stands out is the fact that we wear tefillin even though an aveil on yom rishon does not.  Why is this particular din the exception?

R’ Soloveitchik explained that there are 2 dinim in aveilus: there are nihugei aveilus, the do’s and don’ts, and there is the shem aveil on the gavra. 

Even though according to the Rambam m’doraysa there is only one day of aveilus, the Rambam brings l’halacha the din (M.K. 15) that an aveil may not send korbanos to the mikdash for all 7 days.  Even though m’doraysa the nihugei aveilus apply only on one day, the shem aveil is there for all seven.  (Rav Wahrman in his She’eris Yosef vol 2 gives a different teirutz: even if aveilus is derabbanan, the person is not thinking straight so there is a chisaron in da’as ba’alim of the korban.  However, see the Ritv”a who holds the whole din applies only to shelamim but not chatas – tzarich biur.)

When there are no kerovim the halacha is that you still have 10 people practice nihugei aveilus for the meis – there is obviously no shem aveil on the gavra, as the meis is not related to any one of the 10 and they don’t feel the same as real aveilim, but still, there is a din of nihugei aveilus.

R’ Akiva Eiger in Y.D. 388 has a safeik in the case of someone who became an aveil on Y”T, in which case the aveilus is pushed off until after the Y”T ends, whether the person wear tefillin on the first day he observes aveilus post-Y"T.  The way the Rav understood the safeik (though see R”AKE inside) is whether the issur of tefillin is a din in the shem aveil, which sets in immediately on Y”T, or whether it is a din in nihugei aveilus, in which case it would not apply until mourning is actually practices, the first day after Y"T. 

Assuming the ptur of tefillin only applies where there is a shem aveil, we understand why it does not come into play on Tisha b’Av.  We practice nihugei aveilus, but there is no shem aveil on aveilus yeshana – it simply does not have the same effect on us.  We mourn, but it is a mourning of a historical event, not a mourning of tragedy fresh before us. 
We still have a day before the dast, so let us hope that Tisha b'Av this year will become a day of sason v'simcha, and our kinos will be transformed into a true tikun (Likutei Moharan 247 -- can I quote that in the same breath as the Rav's torah?  : ) 

Friday, July 12, 2013

isho m'shum chitzo and the date of Tisha b'Av

R’ Yochanan said (Ta’anis 29) that had he been present when the date of the tzom commemorating the churban was fixed, he would have set it on 10 Av, when most of the burning of the Mikdash took place, rather than on 9 Av, when the fire was started. 
Achronim ask: There is a machlokes R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish (Baba Kamma 21) whether isho m’shum chitzav or isho m’shum mamono, whether an arsonist is liable because lighting a fire is like shooting an arrow at something, or whether he is liable because lighting a fire is like letting an ox destroy someone else’s property.  The Nimukei Yosef is mechadesh that according to R’ Yochanan, who holds isho m’shum chitzo, it is not at the moment the fire destroys (or the moment the arrow strikes its target) that the person becomes chayav, but rather it is from the moment the fire is lit (or the moment the arrow is released).  It is the setting in motion of the process which is key (we discussed this a few years ago).

If so, R’ Yochanan l’shitaso who holds isho m’shum chitzo should also hold that the 9th of Av, when the fire was lit, is the key moment from which all else follows.  Why did he think the fast should be on the 10th?

The Avnei Nezer answers that it is only with respect to the hischayvus of the individual that we look at the moment of the fire being lit; it is that moment which defines the individual as a poel, an actor, in the events that play out.  However, when looking at the consequences of the events themselves, of course what occurs later may be far more significant than the initial moment.

The She’eiris Menachem quotes another interesting answer (he does not attribute it, though he says he heard it from someone).  The Nimukei Yosef writes that just like you can’t pull an arrow back midflight, so too, what happens after a fire is lit is outside a person’s control -- liability occurs only for that first moment when a person has the ability to determine whether to strike the match or not or whether to release the arrow or not.
The gemara records that Hashem promised that just as He destroyed the Mikdash with fire, so too will He ultimately rebuild it with fire –- Hashem attributes the fire of destruction to himself, kavyachol. 
A human being may not be able to pull an arrow back midflight, or stop a fire once it has been lit, but nothing is outside Hashem’s power.  It is only when speaking of human action that we need to limit our focus to the first moment alone.  When speaking about G-d, the entire process can be taken into consideration.

erasing failure

The Sefas Emes in Parshas VaYechi writes that the fact that the parsha is stuma is not a symbolic reflection of the fact that Ya’akov’s attempt to foresee the geulah was blocked or that Klal Yisrael was being blocked in by the galus.  The parsha being stuma is the cause of that block.  Torah does not reflect what happens in reality; reality reflects things as they appear in Torah.

The first Rashi in Devarim tells us that Moshe Rabeinu only alluded to Klal Yisrael’s history of rebelliousness instead of openly giving them rebuke because he wanted to preserve their sense of dignity.  “Satam es ha’devarim,” Moshe sealed up his words and did not spell out the people’s shortcomings.  R’ Yechiel Michel Feinstein explains here as well that this is not just a rhetorical or literary device.  Words of Torah create reality.  By not speaking of the people’s failures, the effects to those failures is tempered; they are only b’derech remez part of our history, but otherwise no longer exist.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

coffee on 9 Av

Psak of R' Eliezer Melamed (link) for those of us who can't live without coffee:

שאלה: אני רגיל לשתות בכל יום כמה כוסות קפה, לכן בצומות כשאיני שותה קפה כואב לי הראש מאוד. האם יש פתרון לכך? ואולי אני נחשב כחולה שפטור מהצום?

תשובה: מכיוון שאתה זקוק לקפה כדי למנוע כאבי ראש, מותר לך לקחת קפה נמס או מגורען בכפית ולבלוע את הקפה בלא מים. וזאת משום שבאופן זה הקפה אינו ראוי לאכילה, שכן הוא מאוד לא טעים, ואף מעורר סלידה. ואמנם גם דברים שאינם ראויים לאכילה אסור לאכול בצומות, מפני שבזה שהאדם החליט לאוכלם, הרי שהוא החשיב אותם כמאכלים (רא"ש). אולם כאן, שהמטרה היא להסיר כאבי ראש, אין האדם שבולע את הקפה מחשיב אותו כאוכל אלא כתרופה. ומותר ליטול במשך היום מספר כפיות לפי הצורך.
עצה טובה: כדאי לצחצח אחר כך היטב את השיניים, כדי למנוע ריח רע מהפה.

ומי שיכול ישיג לעצמו כדורי אקמול עם קפאין, שנועדו למטרה זו, ויבלע אותם בצום בלי מים ובכך ימנע מעצמו כאבי ראש.

the nechama of "ki im ma'os m'astanu, katzafta aleinu ad me'od"

The connection between the last two pesukim of Eicha perplexes some of the meforshim:

Hashiveinu Hashem eilecha v’nashuva, chadeish yamainu k’kedem – Hashem, take us back and return things as they were in the good ol’ days. 

Ki im ma’os m’astanu, katzafta aleinu ad me’od – Because (?) you have made us repulsive to you, and been very angry at us. 

That word “ki,” which I translated as “because,” doesn’t quite fit, as Hashem’s anger would seem to be a very good reason for him NOT to take us back.  Does it mean that Hashem has expended his anger already, and therefore he should take us back?  Why should that be true if we haven’t done teshuvah yet?  Does it mean that our feeling Hashem’s anger is itself rehabilitative?  If so, the subject of the pasuk should be us, our feeling of suffering, not Hashem’s anger. 

We get very scared when we read that last pasuk of “ma’os m’astan, katazfta aleinu…,” so much so that we repeat the pasuk of “hashiveinu…” again right after it to end on a positive note.  But, explains the Berdichiver, this last pasuk is not a lament, it’s not there to make us scared -– it’s part of the nechama.  He gives a mashal from hilchos geirushin: if a man divorces his wife because of a problem of arayos, he is never allowed to remarry her – there is an issur on both the ba’al and the bo’el.  But if a man divorces his wife because she burnt his food and he got angry at her, he can always remarry her again.  After five perakim of Eicha a person might feel so crushed that they think any reconciliation with Hashem is impossible.  How can there be a “hashiveinu…” after all that?  Our running after strange gods is like a national issur arayos!  The answer is because “ma’os m’astanu, katzafta aleinu…”  It's not like arayos; it's not a permanent break.  Hashem is ineed very angry, but anger can pass; the door is open to reconciliation and is not glued shut.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

9 Av as a moed

Chasam Sofer asks: When 9 Av falls on Shabbos, why does 10 Av, the day of the fast, have dinim that relate to it being a “moed?”  Lichorah, it is just the fasting which is pushed off until Sunday because it is impossible to fast on Shabbos, but the din “moed” can be celebrated on Shabbos and therefore should not come into play on the 10th.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

chareidi autonomy from the state -- what agreement?

As reported here, R' Ahron Feldman, Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Yisrael, said the following in a recent speech about the situation in Israel:
Some Jews chose not to back the state. Our Gedolim felt that they could join with the state, on condition that they be granted autonomy. They would have their own education system, and other autonomous rights. This was the basis of the status quo agreement.
I'm curious: which gedolim is he is referring to when he says "our Gedolim" and what agreement (which apparently the state, at least in his view, was a willing party to) is he talking about?   Can someone point me to anything in writing from chareidi gedolim that would indicate an acceptance of zionism in exchange for a quid pro quo acceptance of charedi autonomy in certain areas?  Excuse my ignorance if this is something everyone knows about except me.

Simply as a matter of government/politics, for a democratic state to grant autonomous rights to a select group of citizens would be pretty remarkable.

As for the rest of the speech -- it's not worth dissecting.  I've abandoned all hope of understanding the arguments and rhetoric of the chareidi world.  I don't think anyone not already drinking the kool-aid is convinced by these speeches, and that's probably not the goal anyway -- it's probably just to rally those already on board.

Update: Daniel commented that R' Feldman was referring to Ben Gurion's letter of 1947.  Only problem is Ben Gurion's letter specifically says, "The state will naturally determine the minimum requirement of compulsory studies in Hebrew language, history, science, and so forth, and will supervise this minimum."  So I'm still confused as to why R' Feldman would start with this point, but what do I know.

Monday, July 08, 2013

R' Soloveitchik: "bnei beischa k'vatchila" on shalosh regalim = the tune of "Ali Tzion"

I found something I never heard before in the name of the Rav quoted by R’ Ya’akov Shapira in one of his ma’amarim on the parsha (link). 

הרב סולווצ'יק אמר פעם, תמיד בג' רגלים שמגיעים לבקשה על המקדש, בנה ביתך כבתחילה מי שהוא זוכר את המנגינה, של זה? אני לא שומע? זה בדיוק אותה מנגיה של עלי ציון ועליה, אין מציאות להזכיר את המקדש לבי לשתף את הצער על חרבן הבית אמת לאמיתה

The melody we use in musaf for shalosh regalim for the words "bnei beischa k'vatchila" matches the melody we use at the end of kinos for "Ali tzion."  (I'll leave it to your ear to make up its own mind.)  RYBS explained that it is impossible to mention the Mikdash without also giving expression to the sorrow and pain caused by its destruction. 

I have heard "lomdus" in RYBS's name on various points in the nusach hatefilah, but here he is saying "lomdus" even on the tune!

Parenthetically, if you have never read R' Ya'akov Shapira's stuff (the ma'amarim on the parshiyos go back about 3 years on the Merkaz haRav site), you are missing out on absolutely wonderful Torah that I don't think you can find the equal of in many other places. 

Update: I don't know if he also got it from the Rav, but Cantor Bernard Beer makes the same point here (at about the 2:20 mark).

Friday, July 05, 2013

targum even for Ataros and Divon

A few years ago we discussed the gemara (Brachos 8) that a person has to finish shenayim mikra v’echad targum with the tzibur, even the pasuk of Ataros v’Divon (32:3) mentioned in our parsha.  Why does the gemara single out this pasuk?  Rashi explains that these are just place names; the targum adds no interpretation.  The gemara therefore streeses that these pesukim must be read as well; one must read the mikra three times since there is no targum.

Tosfos asks: if Rashi is right, the gemara could have chosen any pasuk that simply lists names.  Why these in particular?  Tosfos therefore suggests that the pasuk of Ataros v’Divon was chosed because there is a Targum Yerushalmi on the pasuk.  Even though this targum is not the “standard” targum of Onkelus, it is still better than just reading the mikra three times.

I saw this year that Rabeinu Bachyei offers a different answer.  Rashi 32:38 writes with respect to the cities of Nevo and Ba’al Me’on that these names were associated with idolatry.  When the cities were conquered by Reuvain, they changed the names to something else. Rabeinu Bachyei extends this idea to the names of all nine cities mentioned, including Ataros and Divon.  One might have thought that since reading the targum here involves reciting names of avodah zarah it should be omitted; therefore, the gemara stresses that even here there is a chiyuv to read shenayim mikra v’echad targum.

gilu b're'ada

The gemara learns from “isha hafeiram v’Hashem yislach lah” that even though a woman’s husband was matir her neder before she violated it, so in truth she did nothing wrong because the neder she violated no longer exists, she still needs slicha and kaparah.  R’ Akiva moralized: if kapprah is needed even for someone who intended to do an issur but in fact did nothing wrong, think of how serious the consequences are for someone who intended to do wrong and carries out the deed!

The Mishna tells us that the two happiest days of the year were Yom Kippur and 15 Av.  Let’s put aside 15 Av for now and focus on Yom Kippur.  Why was it one of the happiest days?  The gemara explains because it is the day of slicha and kapprah.  Slicha and kapparah is a reason to rejoice; we should be dancing on Yom Kippur like on Simchas Torah!  Contrast that with R’ Akiva’s reaction to our pasuk of “v’Hashem yislach lah.”  You would think that this woman who narrowly escaped doing an aveira and is promised slicha v’kaprah should be rejoicing, yet R’ Akiva tosses cold water all over the celebration and tells us that she should be quaking in her boots, kal v’chomer someone who really sins.

Perhaps there is no contradiction here, but two sides of the same coin.  The celebration of slicha and kapprah stems davka from the appreciation of just how precarious the situation one who needs slicha is in.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

a question of priorities

There were three cities of refuge in Eiver haYarden alone and another three for all of Eretz Yisrael.  It seems that that Eiver haYarden had a disproportionate share of murderers compared with the rest of Eretz Yisrael.  I heard an interesting thought from R' Meir Goldvicht as to why this should have been the case.  Bnei Reuvain and Gad made a deal with Moshe.  They told Moshe that they will leave behind their cattle, their wives and children, and lead the rest of Bnei Yisrael in battle on the condition that they can have the land of Eiver haYarden.  When he accepted the deal, Moshe corrected one thing they said.  He told them to build cities for their wives and children and a place for their cattle -- a home for their children is the first priority, cattle second.  Although Bnei Reuvan and Gad got the message that their children's needs were paramount, the fact is that for the long campaign of the conquest of Eretz Yisrael their children grew up with no fathers.  Most of the male population served as soliders and there was no one home to help raise families.  As a result, the society of Eiver haYarden was tainted in a way that other communities were not.

Nedarim 22 records that Ula witnessed the murder of one of his travelling companions en route to Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara asks how this could be -- the pasuk of "v'nasan Hashem lecha shem lev ragaz" applies to Bavel, not Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara answers that the murder happened before they had crossed the Yarden.  It seems from this gemara that there is a segulah aspect to Eretz Yisrael not being a land in which murder occurs.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

the Cyrus Cylinder at the Met

On Sunday I took advantage of the opportunity to see the Cyrus Cylinder, which is on loan from the British Museum at the Met for a limited time.  The cylinder is a cuneiform inscription of an announcement made by Cyrus, i.e. Koresh, upon his conquest of Bavel allowing subjugated people to return to their homelands and resume their own form of worship.  Not mentioned explicitly, but thought to be part and parcel of this same policy, is Koresh’s granting of permission to the Jewish people to return to Eretz Yisrael and rebuild the Mikdash.  As the website devoted to the Cylinder puts it, “To Jewish people the story told by the Cyrus Cylinder is a magnificent one, as it corroborates the events in the Old Testament about King Cyrus allowing captive Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. In fact, in the book of Ezra, King Cyrus permits the Jewish exiled people to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.”  What better time than the Three Weeks to see an artifact like this.  

The Cylinder is on tour in the US and will be at other museums in other cities.  The website has more information here.  What surprised me is just how small the Cylinder is (I did not see the website in advance) -- it’s shape and size reminded me of the pressed-wood logs we use in the fireplace in the winter.  It makes the discovery even more impressive.

A few small tips for visiting the Met, which you may know already: Do not be put off by the suggested admission price.  If you can afford $25 a person, good for you.  If not, go anyway.  Plenty of people just give what they can and the admissions desk will give you no grief.  It’s worth the trip.  Also, try to get there early because especially on weekends, the museum gets plenty crowded.  Finally, do not attempt to bring a picnic lunch into the museum with you.  The guards are very strict about allowing food inside.  Your best bet is to check your bag when you enter and then go out to the park and eat there.