Friday, August 30, 2013

does the mitzvah of teshuvah turn every lav into a lav ha'nitak l'aseh?

Last year I mentioned R’ Baruch Ber’s question of why every lav in the Torah is not considered a lav ha'nitak l’aseh since anyone who violates a lav becomes obligated to do the mitzvas aseh of teshuvah.  R’ B”B cryptically distinguishes between being metakein the “aveira” vs. being metakein the “avon,” an idea I can best explain with an example.  If someone violates the issur of taking interest, the fix for the lav would be to return the extra money (let’s put aside the details of that din for now).  However, the Rambam writes (Eidus 12:5) that someone who charges interest may not serve as a witness until he voluntarily rips up all contracts that he has entered into that include interest charges, “v’yachziru bahem chazarah gemurah,” and he does a complete return.  Similarly, a gambler must destroy his instruments of gambling, not simply return money gotten illicitly.  A lav h'anitak l’aseh is where the aseh simply comes to make whole the loss caused by the lav.  We see from the Rambam that teshuvah goes far beyond that.

R’ Yechiel Michel Feinstein on this week’s parsha offers another answer (or maybe it is the same answer, but it is formulated far more sharply and clearly).  Lav ha'nitak l’aseh is about fixing the effects of the sin; teshuvah is about fixing the person.  If you steal $100, you can return the $100 and make whole the loss caused, but it takes much more than that to make yourself whole as a person afterwards. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

news flash: Rosh haShana involves hard work

While walking to shul one morning I saw my neighbor in front of his house doing what looked like pretty intense stretching exercises and I remembered that my wife had mentioned that he was planning to run the marathon in a few months, so I assume he was getting ready for his morning run.  I cannot imagine myself, considering that I spend most of my day sitting on an office chair, even doing the warm up exercises he was doing.  For me to even think of entering the marathon would be ridiculous!  Everyone knows that it takes weeks if not months of preparation and training to be ready.
So can someone please tell me why it is newsworthy (see here and here, for example) that Jews who show up to services a handful of times a year find Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur davening to be boring and uninspiring and can’t understand or appreciate what is going on?  Would it be newsworthy if I decided to go jogging one day a year and found that I could not do the marathon -- it was too hard? 

Then you have the attempts at “alternative” services.  Since davening is boring, why not mix in some jazz, some Buddhist meditation, etc.?  Since running all 26 miles of the marathon is hard, why not just run around the block instead?  Instead of putting in time and effort to do something hard, instead, substitute something easier and more palatable or something that you find personally meaningful.  Design your own marathon course and praise yourself for creativity, for responding to your authentic inner voice, without being chained to the course and regimen that others needlessly subject themselves to. 

Of course that doesn’t work.  It’s the fact that it is so very hard and requires so much training that gives meaning to the accomplishment.  The same in part can be said of the chagim.  Teshuvah is hard to do.  Tefilah requires intense concentration, work, and effort.  It requires preparation.  You can't walk into Rosh haShana and say "Give me something meaningful, inspiring, G-dly, and do it in 60 minutes or less so I can get home for dinner and catch the latest TV special."  If clergy were truly honest, instead of offering to their congregants meditation, poetry readings, internet services, and whatever other shtick they dream up, they would deliver that one message and send everyone home to think about it. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

r' chaim kanievsky on women saying slichos

There is no special reason for my posting this picture other than the fact that I think it is beautiful.  My wife took it using a very plain and simple digital camera, and I was surprised at just how clear the image came out.  The location is about 2 hours or so from NY.  My batcave is just behind the waterfall  : )

There is a parsha sheet called Divrei Si'ach with divrei torah and piskei halacha from R' Chaim Kanievsky that is available in a few places.  I tend to take what I read published in parsha sheets in the name of contemporary gedolim with a grain of salt because I have no way of ascertaining the reliability of what is quoted.  With that caveat in mind, here's what they cite in R' Chaim Kaneivsky's name regarding women saying slichos:

1) He recommended that women do try to say slichos;
2) He said women can say slichos even before chatzos (without the 13 midos) since they need their sleep to have the energy to care for the children;
3) He said that women should omit tachanum after slichos because it is not "derech kavod" for women to do nefilas apayim.

Taking them in order:

1) I checked the Halichos Beisa and he simply says women are exempt from slichos because it is only a minhag, not a real chiyuv.  I assume what he means is that women never accepted this custom.  My daughters go to a school that affiliates with Beis Ya'akov and there is no extra davening time alloted for them to say slichos (and there is no encouragement to say it the night before, so I don't think that's what they have in mind).  Is the same true in other Beis Ya'akovs?  Except for those who stay up the first night where shuls make a big thing of it, do most women say slichos during the week?  I think not, but would be thrilled to hear I'm wrong.

2) Why is this kula limited to women?  If m'ikar hadin you can say the slichos before chatzos, then the same should apply to men as well.  I need my sleep too (seriously - I have to be at work pretty early and am usually going on as little sleep as I can handle without getting up earlier for slichos.  Don't tell me I'm the only one?)  Is it specifically the 13 midos that are said with a minyan that necessitates waiting until after chatzos?  If so, why the need for women to omit the 13 midos -- since they have no minyan, it is simply reading pesukim? 

3) What's special about tachanun after slichos and what does he mean that it's not "derech kavod"?  Does R' Chaim Kanievsky hold that women should never do nefilas apayim? 

This was just one point on the sheet.  These type things are interesting, but I always walk away with more questions than answers.  If the summer coming to an end and talking about slichos makes you feel down, here's a butterfly picture (also taken by my wife with the same camera) to brighten your day:

you have to want it to get it

I'll make this the last word for now on “V’lo nasan Hashem lachem leiv la’da’as v’eynayim liros v’oznayim lishmo’a ad hayom ha’zeh.” (29:3)  The Shem m’Shmuel asks how this could be a criticism of Klal Yisrael -- if “lo nasan Hashem lachem...” if Hashem didn’t give Klal Yisrael the ability to see what they were lacking, why is it their fault? 

The Shem m’Shmuel answers that had Klal Yisrael wanted it enough, Hashem would have given them all the ability they needed.  It’s only “lo nasan Hashem lachem…” because Hashem does not give gifts to those who have no desire to receive them. 

(This reminds me of the Maharal in Gur Arye in Braishis on the pasuk that says Hashem did not give rain because “adam ayin la’avod es ha’adamah” that one is not allowed (!) to do a favor to those who will do not appreciate it.  This fits perfectly with the gemara’s (A.Z. 5a) description of Klal Yisrael’s sin here are being “kafuy tovah,” unappreciative of Hashem's gifts.  My rebbe, R' Blachman, said in the name of R' Hutner based on this Maharal that since the biggest tovah you can do for someone is to give over torah to them, you need to first arouse their interest in the kashe or issue so it bothers them; if they don't appreciate what you are giving over, then it's is assur to give.  R' Ya'akov Shapria quotes R' Kook as having a safeik whether there is lifnei iveir in causing someone to trip up in thier midos.  Giving to someone who you know will have no appreciation might fall into this category.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

moral intuition and personal responsibility

Last week we discussed Moshe’s admonition to Klal Yisrael that “V’lo nasan Hashem lachem leiv la’da’as v’eynayim liros v’oznayim lishmo’a ad hayom ha’zeh.” (29:3)  From here Chazal learn that a person does not really understand his rebbe until 40 years after the fact.

How exactly does the gemara get to this conclusion?  The gemara (A.Z. 5a) puts Moshe’s critique in the context of Hashem having said, “Mi yitein v’haya levavam zeh lahem l’yirah es Hashem…  Bnei Yisrael should have responded “Tein atah!” but they failed to seize the opportunity.  Rashi explains that Moshe only criticized Klal Yisrael in our parsha, 40 years after the fact because even Moshe Rabeinu didn’t realize Hashem’s intent and Klal Yisrael’s error until 40 years later.

Tosfos asks: so why was Moshe Rabeinu angry at this point?  If even he didn’t realize at the time that Klal Yisrael had done anything wrong, how could he in hindsight criticize them?

Tosfos answers that Moshe Rabeinu had not sinned and was not in need of extra rachamim, so he was not attuned to what was lacking.  However, since Klal Yisrael had sinned and did need Hashem's extra help, they should have been sensitive to their own spiritual deficits and responded to the opening Hashem offered.  The failure to do so is their burden alone.

My son wanted to bring proof from here to a yesod we once discussed from R’ Shach (I also found it in the Ohr Yahel and see here as well).  Chazal say that the Nevi’im and Chachaim did not know the answer to “Al mah avdah ha’arez?” why the churban happened.  If the people did not know what was wrong, asked R’ Shach, how could they be held accountable?

R’ Shach answered that even if the Chachamim and Nevi’im could not tell the people what was wrong, each person in his heart knew exactly what his/her own failings were. 

Here too, the fact that even Moshe Rabeinu himself did not see the problem until 40 years later is no excuse.  Our own moral intuition should impel us even when our leaders do not criticize our actions.

Friday, August 23, 2013

the 40 year transformation

At the end of our parsha Moshe tells Klal Yisrael that “V’lo nasan Hashem lachem leiv la’da’as v’eynayim liros v’oznayim lishmo’a ad hayom ha’zeh.” (29:3)  "It took 40 years for the message to penetrate," says Moshe, "But you finally got it."  From here Chazal learn that a person does not really understand his rebbe until 40 years later. 

R’ Avraham Yafen asks (in haMussar V’ha’Da’as) what kind of shiur this measure of 40 years is.  A really bright student might understand his rebbe’s torah faster; a slower student will have to review it more.  Someone who is learning every spare minute for years and years will be able to master that much more torah than someone who only learns sporadically.  Grasping what a rebbe gives over is a matter of intelligence, diligence, effort – the sheer passage of time, whether one year or 40, seems to have nothing to do with it?

There are two things that a rebbe gives over: 1) knowledge – data, information, facts; 2) behavior – midos, hanhagos, attitude, hashkafa.  Of course, says R’ Yafen, a bright student will grasp a shiur far quicker than a slow student and someone who puts in effort will walk away knowing more than a slacker.  But Chazal here are not speaking about picking up information from a rebbe, being able to say over a hesber of a Tosfos or a Rambam or having a mehaleich in approaching a sugya.  Chazal are speaking about a person’s behavior and conduct, a person’s attitude and outlook on life.  That’s not something that can be learned through reviewing a shiur an extra time and is not something that can be acquired with intelligence alone – it’s takes life’s experiences for the message to penetrate and resonate.  That’s what takes 40 years to seep in.

Had you told me this answer 20 years ago, I think I would have been skeptical.  Now, I think there is a good deal of truth to it.  If you ask me about it 20 years from now, I think I will be 100% convinced. 

The lesson here is for parents and teachers more than students.  Do you have the feeling that you are talking to the walls when you speak to your children?  Are they not listening to anything you say?  Maybe they are, but you won’t know it until 40 years later.  Don’t give up just because you don’t see immediate results, as frustrating as it is (and believe me, I feel the frustration).

Aside from the derash, the plain meaning of the pasuk is hard to comphrehend.  The generation who apparently didn’t get it, the generation that lived during the 40 years prior to Moshe’s words spoken here, was the dor de’ah, the dor that experienced yetzi’as Mitzrayim with all its miracles, the dor that stood at Har Sinai and personally witnessed kabalas haTorah.  With all its faults, with all the trials in the midbar, this is the dor that Moshe thinks didn’t got the message?  Isn’t the dor de’ah a generation that we hold up as exemplars of fidelity to Hashem? 

The Sefas Emes explains that the previous generation lived in a cocoon, surrounded by Hashem’s presence, divorced from the world.  Of course under those conditions they were close to Hashem.  Moshe was telling the new dor that they alone had the challenge of trying to transform a lev so it has da’as, eynayim liros, oznayim lishmoa. It was this new dor that was charged with using the physical world in their avodas Hashem rather than sealing themselves off from it.  That, the dor de'ah, for all its greatness, did not achieve.

is the glass half-empty or half-full? -- belief in "Torah m'Sinai"

One of the quotes below is from a leading Conservative rabbi, one from a Reform rabbi, one from a Reconstructionist rabbi, one from an Orthodox rabbi, and one from a professor who affiliates as Orthodox.  I have deliberately provided no links and no names.  My challenge: can you identify which quote goes with which speaker? 

Now, I admit that cherry picking quotes out of context is not the fairest way to do things.  If you want to argue that had I presented the full picture it would be far easier to sort things out, neicha, I'll grant the point.  Still, you would think that at least with respect to  Orthodox vs. Reform/Reconstructionist ideology, what I think is fair to call opposite ends of the spectrum, there could be no possible way to conflate the two -- or could there be? 

Is the glass is half-empty or half-full?  Should we be thrilled that even Reform and Reconstuctionist leaders  speak of Torah in ways that are not so different than their Orthodox counterparts -- perhaps there is far less that divides us theologically than some might assume -- or should we be distressed that even those who self-identify as Orthodox in fact subscribe to a theology that is for all intents and purposes indistinct from the other branches within Judaism? 

If most historians say that there is no evidence for Israel gathering at Mount Sinai in the 13th century B.C.E. or thereabouts (they do), and if they say that there is ample evidence that Israel did not even exist as a cultural or political entity at that time (they do), then how should we reconcile those observations with the teachings of the Torah? The answer for most --xxxx-- thinkers is that the revelation at Mount Sinai in Exodus is a story that teaches great truths about the way that God is revealed in our lives, not facts about an historical incident.

Given the data to which modern historians have access, it is impossible to regard the accounts of mass Exodus from Egypt, the wilderness experience or the coordinated, swift and complete conquest of the entire land of Canaan under Joshua as historical…

The stories of the Torah reflect the ways the prophets of old refracted their encounters with divine wisdom through the prism of mnemohistorical narrative. Adam is the story about why humans are here, and Noah is the story about the precariousness of our position and the existential need to be good people in order for our existence to have meaning. The stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are about who we (Israel/Jews) are as a people and how we found God/God found us; the Exodus and Conquest tell us about Israel’s mission as a nation and our covenantal relationship with God.

It is precisely the sacredness of these texts that requires of serious students to employ every piece of scholarly equipment to unpack their contents... Judaism does not seek to limit our thinking, only our actions.
This is not to say that earlier generations got it all wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. To witness their deep engagement with Torah and Talmud is to tap into inexhaustible wellsprings of mental acuity and spiritual power. It is to discover the multiple and ingenious ways-critical, midrashic, kabalistic and philosophical-in which they explicated these texts. Like them, --xxxx scholars-- take their place in an unbroken chain of exegetes, but with their own arsenal of questions, resources, and methodologies....

Our aim should be to embrace the truth instead of engaging in apologetics. There’s absolutely no doubt in the academic community that the Torah emerged over time. One should not think that scholars in biblical studies are out to destroy faith...

The Torah is not divine.... Is the Torah authoritative? Absolutely. But is it divine? No.

In the coming discussion of Torah I make no literalist assumptions about the historicity of the text or its revealed origins. I speak out of deep relationship with the Torah text as we have it, out of unceasing engagement (including moments of outrage and frustration), but not as a believer in it as resulting from divine dictation. The biblical scholar’s understanding of the text’s complex origins and editing are a level of truth that I recognize as valid. In my religious life, however, I continue to embrace the text as a whole, a sacred artifact rather than as historical document. I enter into the text as a participant in an unending conversation among generations of Jews, enriched but essentially unfazed by critical perspectives.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Rogatchover on the "tov" promised to Yisro

In Parshas Beha’alosecha Moshe asks his father-in-law Yisro to travel with Klal Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael and promises that, “V’haya hatov ha’hu asher yeitiv Hashem imanu v’heitavnu lach” (Bamidbar 10:32).  What is this “tov,” this good thing, that Moshe promised?  If you read yesterday’s post you probably have a good idea of the answer. 

The mitzvah of bikurim entails “v’smachta b’kol hatov” – bikurim are called “tov.”  The gemara (Archin 11a) even has a hava amina that the pasuk that refers to avodah “b’simcha u’vtuv leivav,” from where we learn shiras haLevi’im, is perhaps instead referring to bringing bikurim, since they are also called tov. 

What Moshe was promising Yisro, writes the Rogatchover, was the opportunity to bring bikurim.  The Yerushalmi (Bikurim 1:4, 3a in the Vilna ed) writes:

ובני קיני חותן משה מביאין וקורין דכתיב (במדבר י) לכה אתנו והטבנו לך.

When Rashi in Beha’alosecha writes that Yisro was given a portion of land near Yiricho for safekeeping, it doesn’t mean the land itself is the tov that Moshe promised.  In light of the Y-lmi what Rashi means is that since Yisro’s descendants were able to meet the necessary precondition of owning land, therefore they could fulfill the mitzvah of bikuim, "v'samachta b’kol hatov."

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

tochacha, simcha, and chag hasukkos

Rashi (BaMidbar 29:18) writes that the total of 98 lambs offered on Sukkos correspond to the 98 curses mentioned in the tochacha in Parshas Ki Tavo.  What is the connection between the two ideas? 

The Sochatchover explains (Shem m’Shmuel Sukkos 5573) that the tochacha comes “tachas asher lo avadta es Hashem Elokecha b’simcha uv’tuv leivav,” (Devarim 28:47) because of a lack of simcha in avodas Hashem.  Sukkos is called “zman simchaseinu,” a time of joy.  It’s the opportunity to become inspired with a simcha inoculation against those curses of the tochacha.   

But why davka is it the number of lambs that add up to 98 – why not count the cows or the rams as well?  Let me preface the Shem m’Shmuel’s answer with a vort from R’ Gifter also on our parsha.  In the parsha of bikurim the Torah commands, “V’smachta b’chol hatov,” (26:11) to rejoice over all the good that Hashem has given.  When the farmer goes out to field to collect his bikurim, he sees the first fruits (literally) of months of labor.  He can now feel confident that all the work and energy he put into his crops is going to pay off.  Even if the Torah didn’t say it, the farmer would be happy.  Why does the Torah need to command him to rejoice?  Is it just so he can get mitzvah reward for what comes naturally? 

R’ Gifter answers that there’s more to it than that.  Every moment of happiness has the potential to be tainted by the feeling that “if only there was more.”  I see this in my kids all the time.  You give a child X as a treat, she will complain why she didn’t get Y or why X was not better, etc.  (A real pleasure to deal with…)  There are adults who live their whole lives this way.  Chazal already tell us that if a person has manah, inevitably he/she wants masayim.  This is the meaning of the tochacha coming because of a lack of “simcha v’tuv leivav” – you can have simcha but at the same time not have “tuv leivav;” your heart is not filled with joy because deep down there is that nagging feeling that there is more out there that you still don’t have. 

The Torah therefore gives the farmer a mitzvah of simcha.  True, any farmer would be happy given the situation, but that's 90% happiness, or 95% – there would still be that nagging, “If only the crops were a little better…” Torah/mitzvah happiness is 100% because it comes from the sense that not only does Hashem give 100% of what a person needs and deserves, Hashem gives 110%.  The mitzvah of simcha is about absorbing that perspective.

Coming back to the korbanos of Sukkos, the Shem m’Shmuel reminds us that Avraham had a Yishmael; Yitzchak had an Eisav.  Their simcha could never be 100% because there was an inescapable missing something in their lineage.  Only Ya’akov was blessed with having every descendent for all eternity connected to the family of Klal Yisrael.  Only Ya’akov had the 100% wholeness, that allows for 100% simcha.  Therefore, it is on Sukkos, the chag connected specifically with Ya’akov, through the korbanos of lambs, offerings specifically connected with Ya’akov, that we can celebrate with complete 100% simcha divorced from any negative feeling, any lack of “simcha v’tuv leivav,” that would c”v bring us tochacha.

Monday, August 19, 2013

amalek and weights and measures

There is a lot of derush on the connection between the last two sections of the parsha (in general one can ask whether there is any order to the mitzvos in the parsha and what the order might be): the law of not keeping unfair weights and measures and the command to remember Amalek.  What does one thing have to do with the other?

I thought one could explain the relationship based on the Seforno, who comments that the Torah here not only prohibits using unfair weights and measures, which would amount to out-and-out theft, but prohibits even possessing such weights, as ownership of these items prevents the hashra’as haShechina.  In other words, our concern is not just justice – even in secular society, there has to be fair and standard weights and measures used in commerce or cheating would be rampant and business could not be transacted.  However, in secular law, if you keep a faulty weight locked in your cabinet and no one knows about it and you never use it, nothing happens.  In Torah, you cause the Shechina to not want to be near you.

The Torah gives us a reminder of what happens when there is no Shechina protecting us.  Amalek attacked those members of Klal Yisrael who for whatever reason found themselves outside the camp and without the protection of the ananei hakavod.  Had they been inside the camp, under the “iron dome” of the ananim and hashra'as haShechina, Amalek would have had no power. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

remembering Miriam -- using our talents wisely

The warning /command not to forget what happened to Miriam when she spoke out against Moshe, “Zachor eis asher asah Hashem l’Miriam b’derech b’tzeischem M’Mitzrayim,” (24:9) places the event as having occurred in the context of leaving Egypt.  Since everything in the midbar can be described as having happened on the road from Mitzrayim to Eretz Yisrael, it seems that the emphasis on “b’derech b’tzeischem m’Mitzrayim” has no unique significance here.  So why does the Torah mention it?

Perhaps the Torah is reminding us that Miriam slipped up despite seeing with her own eyes the role Moshe played in bringing about the redemption from Egypt.  If such an error could be made by Miriam, how much more so must we be on guard (see Ramban, R' Bachyei).

Rashbam explains that the Torah is not addressing what Miriam did, but rather is reminding us what Hashem did on her behalf.  Even though Bnei Yisrael was “b’derech b’tzeischem m’Mitzrayim” and anxious to keep moving on the road away from Egypt toward Eretz Yisrael, the entire camp waited on behalf of Miriam and did not travel until her leprosy was cured.  Chasam Sofer makes a similar point, contrasting the command with respect to Amalek, “Zachor eis asher asah lecha Amalek,” where we are told to remember their deeds, with the command here, “Zachor eis asher asah Hashem Elokecha,” where the focus is on G-d’s chessed and not Miriam’s wrongdoing.

The Midrash gives a beautiful explanation:

 רבנן אמרי:
למה הדבר דומה?
למלך שעלה מן המלחמה קילסה אותו מטרונה.
אמר המלך: תיקרי אומן של סנקליטור. לאחר ימים התחילה לערב אוננא של מלך.
אמר המלך: כך עשית?!
תיטרד למטלון!
כך, בשעה שעשה הקב"ה מלחמת הים אמרה מרים שירה ונקראת נביאה, שנאמר: (שמות טו) ותקח מרים הנביאה. כיון, שאמרה לשון הרע על אחיה, אמר הקב"ה תיטרד למטלון! שנאמר: (במדבר יב) ותסגר מרים:
According to the Midrash, “b’derech b’tzeischem m’Mitzrayim” is not speaking about the episode of Miriam’s lashon ha’ra.  It is speaking about Miriam singing shirah at Yam Suf.  The Midrash is telling us that when we remember what Miriam did wrong, it must be in context of what Miriam did right; only then do we have the complete picture.  Why was Miriam judged so harshly for just a few words that she said with the best of intentions in private to Aharon?  Because Miriam had the wonderful gift of being able to use words properly and sing to Hashem.  Someone who is given a special talent, someone who can sing shirah, is held to a different standard than those who do not have that special gift.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

why no eglah arufah after the murderer is caught?

The Rambam explains that the whole process of eglah arufah, which was a massive public spectacle involving leaders of the city and members of Sanhedrin, was designed to create publicity.  The more people hear about the discovery of a murder victim, the more likely someone who saw something or knows something will step forward and provide information that will help catch the murderer.

Chazal explain that the process of eglah arufah was an opportunity for the leaders of the city and judges to confess that they did no wrong.  Of course we do not suspect the leaders of actually having committed murder.  But who would likely fall prey to a murderer other than a lonely soul, perhaps someone passing through town, someone who had no friends or protectors close by?  The city leaders are responsible for seeing that wayfarers have food and lodging; they thereofre had to declare that their city was not hostile to strangers, that a guest would find a welcoming home to stay in and accompaniment on his journey when he chose to leave.

R’ Yehudah Leib Chasman asks: if this is the reason for the eglah arufah ceremony, wouldn’t it make at least as much sense to perform the ceremony after the murderer was found as beforehand?  Let’s say the victim was in fact a traveler killed by a bandit -- wouldn’t there be even more reason to offer an eglah arufah and confess that the traveler was not ignored, that he was made welcome, after knowing that these were the facts?  Yet, the halacha is that once the murderer is known (even if there is but one witness), the eglah arufah ceremony is not performed.  Why?

He answers with a yesod that the ba’alei mussar speak of in many places.  Once the facts of the case are known, it is obvious to all that amends need to be made.  The leaders don’t need an eglah arufah to point a finger at them and remind them that they are the parties responsible to see that strangers are made welcome in their town.  It’s only beforehand, when the facts are unclear, that there is the tendency to dismiss events as random occurrences rather than as symptomatic of any wrong.  Human nature is to sweep the problem under the rug so long as it is possible to do so.  Therefore, precisely in those circumstances, the Torah demands an eglah arufah as a reminder that an accounting is necessary.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Meshech Chochma on Lo Tasur

The Rambam holds that violating any din derabbanan constitutes a violation of the d’oraysa of lo tasur.  Ramban asks the obvious question: so why are there distinctions between dinim derabbanan and dinim d’oraysa, e.g. s’feika derabbanan l’kula, s’feika d’oraysa l’chumra?  Behind every derabbanan is the potential d’oraysa of lo tasur?

There are two basic approaches to answer this question:

1)    The answer the Ramban himself anticipates and which other Rishonim affirm: really there is no difference between d’oraysas and derabbanans -- they are categorically equivalent -- but the Chachamim built into their enactments loopholes like s’feika l’kula so that they should not be confused with real dinim d’oraysa.

2)    The answer of the Meshech Chochma (here) and others: lo tasur is a generic issur of rebelling against the authority of Chazal – it does not mean each individual Rabbinic law takes on the character of a din d’oraysa.

Thanks to B. for his mareh makom in the comments to yesterday’s post on asmachta to the PM”G in the pesicha ha’kolleles who explains that there are two types of asmachtos: an asmachta that is just a hint, and an asmachta that functions like a real din d’oraysa. Where did the PM”G get this idea from?  He adopts the first approach to answer the Rambam, that really every derabbanan should be a d’oraysa if not for self-imposed loopholes, and suggests that an asmachta is just a din derabbanan without the loopholes.  If we accept this idea that there are d’oraysa asmachtos, it’s not so puzzling if the gemara (as we saw yesterday from Sukkah 6) creates an asmachta for a halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai.

However, I don’t think that this answer helps answer for the Meshech Chochma, who did not accept the theory that dinim derabbanan and dinim d’oraysa are functionally equivalent.

Is there any proof from the Rambam which of these two theories he adopted?

R’ Chaim (quoted in R’ Elchanan’s Kuntres Divrei Sofrim) quotes the following proof from Hil Sotah ch 2:

 כל איש שבא ביאה אסורה, מימיו אחר שהגדיל--אין המים המאררים בודקין את אשתו; אפילו בא על ארוסתו בבית חמיו, שאסורה מדברי סופרים--אין המים בודקין את אשתו

Let’s say the ba’al did not wash netilas yadayim before lunch – he violated a derabbanan, but that has no effect on whether the sotah waters work or not.  It’s only because we treat an issur derabbanan of arayos not as some generic violation, like the Meshech Chochma learned, but rather as a particular arayos related crime that the sotah waters are prevented from working. 

 Similarly, the same appears to be true from the Rambam in Hil Na’ara Besula ch 1:

  הייתה אנוסה זו אסורה עליו--אפילו מחייבי עשה, ואפילו שנייה--הרי זה לא יישאנה
It's not just any generic derabbanan that prevents the anus from marrying his anusa – it has to be an arayos related issur.  We again see that dinim derabbanan are categorically equivalent to their d'oraysa counterparts and are not considered just some generic type issur.

Monday, August 12, 2013

meshech chochma's definition of an asmachta

Why do Chazal bring asmachtos, hints in a pasuk, to some dinim and not others?  How does having an extra hint in a pasuk add to a din's significance? (I believe the PM”G has a safeik in the pesicha ha’kolleles whether an asmachta is more chamur than a regular derabbaban [sorry, I didn’t double-check], but why should that be the case?) 

The Meshech Chochma in last week’s parsha (in his discussion of “lo tasur” here) explains that Hashem foresaw that due to historical or sociological circumstances, additional safeguards would be required for various mitzvos hamitzvos.  It was impossible to reveal the what and why of those safeguards in the Torah without also revealing something of those future circumstances, which was impossible, as revealing the future would impinge on our bechira.  Therefore, these safeguards were only hinted at but not spelled out.

When the circumstances were ripe for the creation of those safeguards and takanos, Chazal saw in hindsight that the laws they were enacting were already alluded to and present in the Torah itself.  These are the asmachtos given for dinim derabbanan.  An asmachta is a ratification of Chazal’s thinking as being consistent with the ratzon Hashem.

My son pointed out that this idea is already found in Rishonim (see Ritv”a Rosh Hashana 16), but we both had the same question: according to this approach, how do you read this gemara in Sukkah 6a – link?  The gemara there brings a pasuk as being an asmachta to a halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai.  A halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai is not a new law enacted at some future point in time that we need justify in hindsight as having always been inherent in the text -- we know halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai was there from day one given at mattan Torah and by definition exists without any basis in text?!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Prerequisite for being a gadol -- mastery of Rav Kook's torah

From Arutz 7 here -- R' Eliezer Melamed (I am bolding the first sentence for emphasis) writes:

מובן מאליו שמי שלא זכה להבין את תורתו של מרן הרב קוק זצ"ל, לא יכול להיחשב כאחד מגדולי התורה שבדור. הוא יכול להיות מומחה ובקיא בפרטים רבים, בצד הטכני של ההלכה והאגדה. אבל לא ייתכן שיהיה ממש גדול בתורה.
וגם בקרב אלה שהבינו את דברי הרב קוק יש שתי מדרגות עיקריות. יש שמקבלים את הוראותיו הכלליות ביחס למקומה של ארץ ישראל בזמן הזה, זמן של קיבוץ גלויות ואתחלתא דגאולה. וכן את הדרכותיו ביחס למדע ועבודה, וביחס העקרוני ליהודים שעזבו תורה אבל הם מקושרים לערכי העם והארץ או לערכים אוניברסאליים (ביחס לפורקי עול רגילים כבר נכתב בעבר רבות). ותלמידי חכמים אלו זוכים ומתחברים נפשית למדרגה השלישית על ידי ההזדהות עם תורתו ודמותו המאירה.

ויש יחידי סגולה שמעמיקים יותר בהבנת הרעיונות, שמאירים ממש את המציאות, וסוללים דרך לגאולה על ידי אור הדרכת התורה.

יש להעיר שבין זקני הרבנים מהדור הקודם, שגם הציבור החרדי מחשיבם כגדולי התורה, היו רבים שזכו לקבל השפעה חשובה ממרן הרב קוק זצ"ל. ואף שלא המשיכו את דרכו בהנהגת הציבור, הם קיבלו כמה מרעיונותיו ונותרו מעריציו ומכבדי דמותו עד יומם האחרון. וביניהם: הרב פרנק זצ"ל, הרב אויערבאך זצ"ל, הרב אלישיב זצ"ל, הרב ולדנברג זצ"ל. וכן יבדל"א הרב עובדיה יוסף שליט"א.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

lav she'ain bo ma'aseh

The Rambam writes with respect to the issur of returning to Mitzrayim (Hil Melachin ch 5):

ובשלושה מקומות, הזהירה תורה שלא לשוב למצריים--"לא תוסיפון לשוב בדרך הזה, עוד" (דברים יז,טז), "לא תוסיף עוד לראותה" (דברים כח,סח), "לא תוסיפו לראותם עוד, עד עולם" (שמות יד,יג). ואלכסנדרייה בכלל האיסור.
ט [ח] מותר לחזור לארץ מצריים לסחורה ולפרקמטיה, ולכבוש ארצות אחרות; ואין אסור אלא להשתקע שם. ואין לוקין על לאו זה--שבעת הכניסה, מותר הוא; ואם יחשב לישב ולהשתקע, אין בו מעשה.

A chiddush: even though it obviously takes action to go live in Mitzrayim, the Rambam considers it a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh and there would be no malkos.  Why?  Because the issur is in making Mitzrayim a permanent home.  If you just went to visit on business, entering Egypt would be OK.  Since it’s remaining there, not entering the country that is assur, no action is involved in violating the lav. 
A similar idea in the beginning of Hil Chagiga ch 1 (as noted by the Sha'agas Aryeh):
מי שבא לעזרה ביום ראשון, ולא הביא עולה--לא דייו שלא עשה מצות עשה, אלא שעבר על מצות לא תעשה:
שנאמר "לא ייראו פניי, ריקם" (שמות כג,טו; שמות לד,כ). ואינו לוקה על לאו זה, שהרי לא עשה מעשה
Even though it obviously takes action to enter the azarah, the Rambam says there is no malkos for the lav of “lo yer’a’u panay reikam.”  Here too, entering the azarah is not the problem – the problem is being there without a korban.
What makes life difficult is that there seem to be other Rambams that point in the other direction, i.e. so long as an action was involved in bringing about a lav, you get malkos, even if at the moment of the issur you are totally passive.  An example at the end of Hil Kilayim:

במה דברים אמורים שהוא חייב אחת על כל היום, בשהתרו בו התראה אחת; אבל אם התרו בו ואמרו לו, פשוט פשוט, והוא לבוש בו, ושהה כדי לפשוט וללבוש אחר שהתרו בו--הרי זה חייב על כל שהייה ושהייה שהתרו בו עליה,
ואף על פי שלא פשט
Even though the person is passively wearing clothes that contain kilayim and not doing any action, there is malkos because it took some action to get those clothes on in the first place. Similarly (and this may be a better example), the Rambam in Bi’as Mikdash ch 3 writes:

. ואם שהה, או שיצא בארוכה, אף על פי שלא שהה, או שהחזיר פניו להיכל והשתחווה, אף על פי שלא שהה--חייב
כרת; ואם היה שוגג, מביא קרבן.

Even though when the person entered the mikdash he was tahor and did no issur, if the person became tamei inside and just passively remained there without leaving, he gets malkos. Why is this different than the lav of returning to Mitzrayim? There too, entering Mitzrayim was done b’heter, and the lav is violated by remaining there (permanently) – and in that case there is no malkos because there is no action involved in remaining in a place. 
It's not so easy to come up with a rule here -- something to think about.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

seudas Rosh Chodesh

The Shem m’Shmuel makes the interesting observation that we never see in Tanach a portrayal of a Shabbos meal or a Yom Tov meal, but we do see a Rosh Chodesh meal (Shmuel I ch 20).  It’s not just coincidence.  He explains that each month corresponds to a particular sheivet [i.e. each sheivet embodied a particular type of avodah and that particular type of avodah is most easily achievable at a specific time of the year].  In truth, each Rosh Chodesh should be celebrated only by members of the sheivet that corresponds to the particular month.  If it’s not your month, you can’t relate to this type of avodah, so why are you celebrating?  However, Ya’akov Avinu, after blessing each sheivet individually, blessed them all together and gave them as a group the talents emphasized in each individual.  The achdus of Klal Yisrael brings to the tzibur as a whole the gifts of each individual member. 

There is nothing like a good meal to bring people together.  The seudah of Shabbos or of Yom Tov is a siman, something that makes us more aware of the intrinsic holiness of the day.  The seudah of Rosh Chodesh is a sibah, it is the active ingredient that creates the achdus that transforms the day from one of private celebration of a particular sheivet into a day of celebration for all of Klal Yisrael. 

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

the neshoma and the guf (II)

Yesterday we were discussing R’ Yosef Engel’s question on the Maharal.  The Maharal writes that the neshoma enters the body on day 40 after conception.  R’ Yosef Engel quotes from Sanhedrin 91b that this very issue was debated by Antoninus and Rebbi and Rebbi conceded to Antoninus that the neshoma enters the body on day 1, at conception, not at day 40.  We also had a diyuk in Rashi there who comments limdani Antoninus = m’devarav lamaditi, which seems to add little outside what the gemara itself says.

Fortunately, we have an advantage that R’ Yosef Engel did not.  In the early 1950’s the Maharal’s Chiddushei Agados was discovered (most of it, at least – some masechtos are still missing) and printed.  Now we can see what the Maharal himself had to say on that gemara.  Here’s a link.  The Maharal takes as a given that a neshoma needs a container.  The few cells that are there at conception cannot possibly hold a neshoma.  What is there at conception, says the Maharal, is the “koach” of the future neshoma.

In other words, according to Maharal the gemara does not conclude, as the simply reading would indicate, and as R’ Yosef Engel understood, that the neshoma enters the body at conception.  What the gemara means is that since the potential for the neshoma to enter the guf at day 40 exists at the moment of conception, that potential is enough to sustain the guf until the neshoma actually arrives.

Based on this reading, Rashi is beautifully meduyak.  Rebbi heard Antoninus’ argument and “m’devarav lamaditi,” concluded on his own, not that the neshoma is there at conception as Antoninus held, but rather that the koach of the future impact of the neshoma is sufficient to sustain the guf. 

Just as the future entrance of the neshoma 40 days later already has an effect on the guf from the moment of conception, the impact of Yom Kippur 40 days hence already impacts on our lives now, from Rosh Chodesh Elul, creating a climate of eis ratzon.

Monday, August 05, 2013

when the neshoma enters the guf (part I)

I heard a wonderful shiur from R’ Yehoshua Hartman on Shabbos, the highlight of which (at least for me) was a teirutz to a question of R’ Yosef Engel.

We once discussed the beautiful hesber of the Maharal as to why beis din gives 39 malkos when the Torah says to give 40, but I actually wrote it a little backwards back then in 2009, so a little chazarah: It takes 40 days from conception until a person counts as an existing fetus.  On day 40, after the body has been formed, the neshoma comes into the person.

When a person sins, it is as if they have corrupted the core of their existence.  We need to go back to the roots, to what happened in those first 40 days, and straighten things out. 

Each lash of malkos straightens out one day. Since the neshoma remains pure – it’s only because the guf shleps it along on its misdeeds that the neshoma ever gets into trouble – only 39 malkos are needed to fix the 39 days in which the guf was formed.  Day 40, the day the neshoma entered, needs no fixing.

The Torah uses the expression of 40 malkos because the unit of guf/neshoma as a whole sinned and needs fixing.  However, l’ma’aseh, to accomplish that goal, once we attack the component parts, only 39 lashes are needed. 

R’ Yosef Engel (Beis ha’Otzar here) points out that there seems to be an open gemara against this Maharal.  The gemara (Sanhedrin 91b) writes that Antoninus asked Rebbi when it is that the neshoma enters the body: at conception or after 40 days.  Rebbi answered that it happens on day 40.   Antoninus asked how this could be so – wouldn't the body, an inanimate piece of flesh, just rot if it had no neshoma in it for 40 days?  Rebbi was forced to change his mind and even quoted a pasuk that supported Antoninus' argument.  The gemara  concludes that Rebbi said that Antoninus taught him this idea.

According to the Maharal, the neshoma enters the body after the guf is ready on day 40; it’s the culmination of the process – exactly like the hava amina of Rebbi.  The gemara’s conclusion, however, is that this is wrong - the neshoma enters on day 1.  Even Rebbi admitted to this fact.  What did the Maharal do with this sugya?

Tremendous question and R’ Yosef Engel does not have an answer.

For some icing on the cake, take a look at the Rashi there in Sanhedrin d”h limadtani Antoninus = m’devarav lamaditi.  What is Rashi adding ?  Isn't that what the gemara says? 

R’ Shlomo Freifeld explained that Rashi’s point is that Rebbi was able to draw a conclusion from Antoninus’ argument ("m'devarav"), but there was no rebbe-talmid relationship between Rebbi and Antoninus the person even for this one item.  Such a thing cannot exist.  R’ Hartman said that R’ Hutner was so impressed with his vort that he said he would give R’ Freifeld smicha on that basis alone (guzma or not, I can’t tell you.)

Anyway, now you have what to think about.  I hope bl”n later to get to the teirutz for R’ Yosef Engel’s kasha, which will also give us an unbelievable insight into this Rashi, so come back later.

Friday, August 02, 2013

tzedaka by giving to the rich?

My son gets credit again for this diyuk (I must be slacking off).  The gemara (B.M. 71a) darshen that if you are going to give a loan to the needy and have to make a choice between recipients, the rule is that a Jew takes precedence over an aku”m, a poor person takes precedence over a rich person, and those in your city take precedence over outsiders.  Ostensibly the gemara is speaking about the mitzvah of charity – “Im kesef talveh es ami es he’ani imach…”  - and yet, the gemara implies that while the needs of the poor take precedence, there is a kiyum mitzvah in giving to the rich as well.  What kind of mitzvah is it to give charity to a rich person?

Maharal (end of Nesiv haTzedakah) explains that tzedakah is not just about providing the needs of the poor – it’s not about the recipient.  The purpose of the mitzvah of tzedakah is to engender a feeling of camaraderie within Klal Yisrael; we are all brothers and sisters.  The way to do that is by giving to each other.  If there are no poor to give to, then give to others who may not need it as much – just keep giving to each other.

There is another strange halacha in hil. tzedaka that we learn from our parsha.  Chazal (quoted in Rashi) tell us that if a person was rich and then is forced to accept charity, it’s not enough to give him what it takes for bare bones survival.  You need to give him what he was used to having.  The millionaire who loses it all in a stock market crash needs to be given a limo with a driver, a nice suit, etc., not be forced to take a bus and buy his clothes at Walmart.  How can it be that someone who is taking charity gets to live better than most of us who are working?

Rav Wolbe in his Alei Shor explains that this din reveals to us that true tzedakah is all about empathy.  Of course a person can survive taking the bus to the shopping center and wearing clothes from Walmart.  He doesn’t really suffer physical or material want.  But think about what that millionaire who used to have a limo and wear $2000 suits feels when he is forced to do that!  For you that pair of Walmart pants may be perfectly fine, but that millionaire feels completely crushed when he puts them on.  Tzedakah means being able to put yourself in that millionaire’s shoes and feel his pain.  It’s not just about physical want.  Even if you would not feel lacking were you in the same situation, since he feels lacking, since he feels crushed, you have a mitzvah to help him. 

The last point I want to touch on is the amazing din of “lo yeira levavcha b’titcha lo,” that you can’t give tzedakah begrudgingly, with a sour face.  R’ Shapira in his ma’amarim on the parsha points out that there is an idea of doing all mitzvos b’simcha.  Why do we need a special din here not to feel bad about giving?  Apparently here it’s just an added hidur on top of the mitzvah, but it is part and parcel of the tzurah of the mitzvah itself.  Here’s how R’ Simcha Bunim m’Peshicha fulfilled this din:

R' Simcha Bunim once told his chassidim that he wanted to spent Shabbos at a certain poor person’s home.  So the chassidim got to work and it was like an episode of Bob Villa’s “This Old House.”  They cleaned up that poor person’s house, they replaced his table with a table that a Rebbe could use for a tisch, they replaced his plates and utensils with plates and utensils fit for a Rebbe, they overturned his whole house until it became like palace.  After Shabbos, R’ Bunim came to this poor Jew and said he wanted to give him some money for the mitzvah of tzedakah.  The poor person was in shock.  He said, “Dear Rebbe, since you decided to spend Shabbos here my home has been turned into a new home, my table is a new table, my dishes, my furniture, my silverware are all new – everything is beautiful.  You now want to give me tzedakah on top of that?!” 

R’ Bunim told him yes.  He told this poor Jew that all that was done before was because every time he saw this person in poverty, he felt bad.  “None of that was for you,” said R’ Bunim.  “It was for me, so I wouldn’t feel troubled when I saw you.  But now that you have a proper home, a proper table and chairs, proper silverware and dishes, I no longer feel bad.  Now that I've fulfilled ‘lo yeira levavcha,’ now that it’s no longer about me and my feeling bad, I can fulfill the ‘b’titcha lo’ and give you real tzedakah.”

Thursday, August 01, 2013

R' Soloveitchik on kedusha of the klal vs. kedusha of the individual

I recently read what I think is the newest title in the “Meotzar HaRav” series, entitled Vision and Leadership: Reflections on Joseph andMoses.  Before getting to something about the parsha, two observations on the book.  Firstly, the book is based on tapes of lectures and some unedited manuscripts the Rav left behind.  While I understand that the editors may have wanted to preserve the Rav’s expressions and language as much as possible, I still cringe when I see words like “ontological” being thrown around in what seems like every other paragraph.  It’s not that I object to big words per se; I just object when they seem to add little to the ideas being conveyed.  Why the Rav spoke or wrote that way?  Beats me.  That's who he was and how he conveyed his ideas.  But the text of the Rav’s speeches is not halacha l’Moshe m’Sinai, and I don’t see why the editors don’t take a stronger hand in cutting and simplifying the language. 

Moving beyond how the ideas are transmitted to the content itself, boy, do I feel sorry for you uber-Litvaks.  For those who know the Rav's biography and other writings, the fact that he would use an idea he took from his Chabad melamed is already to be expected.  The Kotzker vort thrown in to make a point can be dismissed as a rhetorical aid; the R’ Nachman story about the heart and the river the Rav references is well known and I would not make too much of it.  Yet aside from these references, many of the ideas the Rav uses are already found in sifrei chassidus.  For example: his interpretation of the burning bush as the flame within can be found in Sefas Emes; the idea of “Vaeschanan” being a lonely prayer that might have been accepted had Klal Yisrael joined in is in the Ishbitzer; the idea of “boker” as signifying clarity and not just a time is in the Shem m’Shmuel.  Do I think the Rav borrowed the ideas from these sources?  No, not at all.  I would be shocked if someone told me the Rav read Ishbitzer torah.  I think the Rav independently arrived at the same ideas.  The point is that one cannot be dismissive of chassidus while at the same time accepting the same ideas just because they came out of the mouth of the Rav.  And instead of waiting for techiyas ha'meisim to hear similar ideas presented by the Rav in his own special style, if one wants more of the same (albeit in different language and style) one can broaden one's horizons and dive into the Sefas Emes, the Shem m'Shmuel, etc. in the here and now.  It won’t hurt – trust me.

Along the same lines, what does the modern Orthodox community make of the Rav's  assertion that the authority of Torah scholars is even greater than malchus?  Sounds like a position I would expect the staunchest adherents of da’as Torah to argue!

Getting to something from our parsha, the Rav suggests that there are two different aspects to kedushas yisrael: there is kedusha that is generic and covers equally everyone who associates with the Jewish nation, and there is a kedusha that is unique to each individual.  He reads the pasuk in our parsha, “Ki am kadosh atah… u’becha bachar Hashem l’heyos lo l’am segulah,” (14:2) as defining this multi-tiered kedusha: Bnei Yisrael is a holy nation, i.e. there is a kedusha to the collective group, but also, “becha,” you, the individual, has been chosen to make (l’heyos=create) the nation special by contributing your unique talents. 

The Rav connected this dual-kedusha to the two steps in the process of geirus, milah and tevilah.  Milah associates the individual with the nation; tevilah is a process of personal kabbalah.

The Rav saw Korach’s rebellion as a failure to realize these two levels.  Korach argued, “Ki kol ha’eidah kulam kedoshim,” everyone is holy, everyone is equal.  If one looks at the collective unit of the nation, than indeed, we all are equal members.  But what Korach did not realize is that in addition to the collective holiness of the group, each individual Jew has a personal level of kedusha that is unique.  Moshe Rabeinu does not in that regards share the same kedusha as Moshe the woodchopper.