Friday, May 30, 2014

the challenge of "chulsha d'urcha"

The gemara (Shabbos 86) says that Hashem did not issue any commands on the first day of Bnei Yisrael’s arrival in the desert of Sinai because of “chulsha d’orcha,” the people were weary from their journey.  Maharasha asks: we know from Rashi on chumash that Moshe always went up to Har Sinai in the morning, spoke with G-d, and then came down at night.  Since Bnei Yisrael spent part of the day travelling to reach camp around Har Sinai, Moshe could not have ascended the mountain in the morning and therefore could not have received any instructions on that day.  Why does the gemara need to invoke the reason of “chulsha?” 

It’s amazing that when the runners hit the last leg of the NYC Marathon, no matter how tired they are from running the previous 26 miles, rather than dragging their feet acorss the finish line, they always seem to break into a sprint.  No one has “chulsha d’orcha” once they reach the end of the journey.  Bnei Yisrael left Mitzrayim just weeks earlier knowing and anticipating that they were going to have this unbelievable experience of “mattan Torah.”  They finally get to the finish line, and now, “chulsha d’urcha?!” 

The Chiddushei haRI”M explains that “chulsha d’urcha” does not mean physical weariness from the journey; “chulsha d’urcha” means spiritual weariness.  On the journey to Sinai, Klal Yisrael crossed paths with Amalek, “asher karcha baderech,” (urcha = Aramaic word for derech) who cooled their enthusiasm.  How did Amalek do that?  Not, writes the Shem m’Shmuel (Parshas Bamidbar), by diminishing the importance of Torah or the significance of mattan Torah.  No one would be tricked by that message.  To the contrary, Amalek acknowledged that kabbalas haTorah was a lofty, monumental achievement – so great, in fact, that who could really say that he/she was up to the task?  A group of people who had been slaves less than two months ago, who less than two months ago had no zechuyos, had no mitzvos?  Amalek has the same gematriya as safeik, doubt.  It’s not G-d who Amalek caused Klal Yisrael to doubt – it was themselves, their own ability and worthiness. 

A guy walks into the beis medrash on Shavuos night and he hears a bachur arguing with his chavrusa over a R’ Chaim, he sees two kollel guys fighting over a Tosfos, and he thinks to himself, “What am I doing here – I barely understand pshat in the daf yomi and can barely stay awake for the shiur on a regular night!”  That’s “chulsha d’urcha.”  It’s not that the person doesn’t appreciate Torah and love Torah.  We’re frum folks, no one is going to convince us that learning is not important, that Shavuos is not special.  It’s just for someone else, someone on a higher level, someone who is up to the task.  Davka because it’s so great, it’s not for me.  That’s Amalek. 

The reason Moshe always went up the mountain in the morning, explains the Shem m’Shmuel, is because morning is a time of chessed and renewal.  Had Bnei Yisrael come that first day to camp at Sinai filled with the hislahavus and anticipation that they should have had, had they come sprinting to the finish line, then, then Moshe could have gone up the mountain right away. It’s only the “chulsha d’urcha,” the “karcha baderech” of Amalek, which dimmed their enthusiasm and caused Moshe to have to delay until the next morning.
Maybe something on the parsha a little later...

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ksav v'haKabbalah on mispar vs. pekod

As is the case so often, the Ksav v’haKabbalah has an original insight into the meaning of a word in our parsha that will cause you to see other pesukim in a completely new light. 

וַיִּהְיוּ בְנֵי-רְאוּבֵן בְּכֹר יִשְׂרָאֵל תּוֹלְדֹתָם לְמִשְׁפְּחֹתָם לְבֵית אֲבֹתָם בְּמִסְפַּר שֵׁמוֹת לְגֻלְגְּלֹתָם כָּל-זָכָר מִבֶּן עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וָמַעְלָה כֹּל יֹצֵא צָבָא:
פְּקֻדֵיהֶם לְמַטֵּה רְאוּבֵן שִׁשָּׁה וְאַרְבָּעִים אֶלֶף וַחֲמֵשׁ מֵאוֹת:

What’s the difference between the count of “kol sheimos l’gulgelosam” (1:20) and “pekudeihem” (1:21) of the same sheivet being counted?  If “kol sheimos l’gulgelosam” means a count of individuals, then why repeat the word “pekudeihem…,” which is also a tally of individuals?  And why switch roots from “mispar” to “pekod?” 

The GR”A explains that there were two elements to the count of Bnei Yisrael: 1) an accounting of yichus: what family you were from, what beis av, what sheivet (see also Rashi 1:18); 2) a simple numerical tally.  The pasuk that refers to counting “l’mishpichosam l’beis avosam b’mispar sheimos” is referring to the accounting of yichus; the pasuk that refers to “pekudeihem..” is talking about the simple numerical tally.  The word “mispar” in “b’mispar sheimos,” explains the Ksav v’haKabbalah, does not mean number!  It’s like the word “sipur” – to tell a story, a narrative.  Each person would come before Moshe and tell his story: I’m Ploni the son of Ploni from family Ploni from sheiveit Ploni.  When you look at another Jew, it’s not just Mr. 453,662, a number, but rather it’s an individual, someone with his/her own story to tell.

Now that you know this, you are not going to read them these pesukim in Tehillim (147:4-5) that we say every morning the same away again:
מוֹנֶה מִסְפָּר לַכּוֹכָבִים לְכֻלָּם שֵׁמוֹת יִקְרָא:
 גָּדוֹל אֲדוֹנֵינוּ וְרַב-כֹּחַ לִתְבוּנָתוֹ אֵין מִסְפָּר

What does it mean “l’tevunaso ain mispar?”  Does it mean that G-d’s IQ is so big that there is no number for it?  That pshat would never occur to anyone before the 20th century invention of the concept of IQ.  Anyone living earlier in history would tell you that intelligence is not a number or something that can be quantified.  The Metzudos draw the parallel to “moneh mispar lakochavim” and explain that “tevunaso” is not referring to G-d’s intelligence, but rather to the intelligent celestial beings that surround him, which are innumerable.  We’ve salvaged “mispar” as a number, but at the cost of stretching the meaning of “tevunah.”  The Ksav v’haKabbalah, however, gets out of the difficulty by explaining based on the yesod above that “mispar” here has nothing to do with number – it has to do with “sipur,” being able to tell a story or relate an idea.  What the pasuk is telling us is that G-d’s intelligence is so great that it defies “sipur,” i.e. we cannot describe it, we do not have words with which to talk about it. 

Let me end off with a question: if "mispar" connotes not just tallying, but relating something, telling a story, what is sefiras ha'omer all about?


Friday, May 23, 2014

a count of individuals - individuals count

1) Rashi explains that Hashem commanded to count Bnei Yisrael at the opening of Sefer baMidbar to show his love for them.  The word “se’u” does not just mean counting, but also connotes uplifting.  Ramban, however, disagrees, and cites Midrashim that read “se’u” as having a negative connotation, related to the idea of lifting the head off the body when a person is beheaded.  All those who were counted in the Midbar eventually died there as a result of the sin of the meraglim. 

Ksav Sofer writes that these two interpretations go hand in hand, ha b’ha talya.  Given the sin of cheit ha’eigel, the meraglim at first glance had good reason to think that Bnei Yisrael would not have the merit to be zocheh to conquer Eretz Yisrael.  Why bother trying?  Yet the count in our parsha undermined that argument.  Hashem showed that despite the eigel, he still had tremendous love for Bnei Yisrael.  Paradoxically, it was the “se’u” of love that led to the “se’u” of loss of life in punishment for the meraglim’s error. 

2) After the count of the shevatim, the Torah devotes itself (1:47-53) to telling us the responsibilities of sheivet Levi, who Moshe was commanded not to count.  The perek then ends with the statement that seems completely out of place: “ Bnei Yisrael did all that Hashem commanded to Moshe…” (1:54)  Shouldn’t this pasuk have come before the discussion of the role of the Levi’im, as a conclusion and coda to the count of the other shevatim?  What does what Bnei Yisrael did have to do with the mission of the Levi’im? 

The Midrash answers that what Bnei Yisrael did is vacate the space around the Mishkan so that the tribe of Levi could have their place and fulfill their role.

The Sefas Emes and Shem m’Shmuel highlight this Midrash as telling us something of crucial significance.  The Levi’im had the privilege of camping close to the Mishkan, of working in the Mishkan.  Surely these were not easy things for the rest of Bnei Yisrael to give up.  It must have been as hard as, l’mashal, a motivated, spiritual girl giving up the privilege of wearing tefillin.  Aren’t we supposed to want to be close to G-d?  But it doesn’t work that way.  Closeness to G-d is not about geographical space, e.g. being closer to the Mishkan, or doing what seems like a more spiritually uplifting job, but rather is about accepting G-d’s will, even if you perceive it as a regression and as a step away from Him. 
3) The Seforno notes that the count in our parsha was a count of individuals – “b’mispar sheimos.”  Each person came to Moshe and introduced himself.  Not so the count in Pinchas, which was a count of families.  The Shem m’Shmuel in a number of pieces contrasts kedusha klalis of the am, the sheiveit, the family, with the kedusha pratis of the individual.  The parsha opens with two phrases that define location: “b’midbar Sinai” and “b’ohel mo’ed.”  The Zohar sees this as s hint to a double counting, one for Torah (=Sinai), one for avodah (=Ohel Moed).  The Zohar doesn’t mean there were two events, but rather that the one count had a double-significance, a significance in terms of the klal as well as in terms of the prat.  When it comes to doing mitzvos, avodah, the same standard applies across the board to whoever is obligated in mitzvos.  One person doesn’t get a pass to keep only 38 of the 39 melachos just because he/she may have a problem with one of them.  When it comes to learning, however, each individual is responsible only to use the brains Hashem has given to the best of his/her ability.  For one person that may mean learning Bavli and Yerushalmi, while for another person learning the parsha with Rashi is enough. 
If in this count, as the Seforno writes, the focus was on the individual, why did that person have to identify (as Rashi explains) which family and which sheivet he came from?  R' Moshe Tzuriel explains that the Torah is teaching us the importance of roots.  There is a long chain of people standing behind each and every one of us, looking over our shoulders.   Don't let them down.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

when is a beis din not a beis din

The first Mishna in Sanhedrin lists all areas in halacha that require a beis din and discusses how may judges are needed in each type of case.  Among the halachos mentioned in the Mishna is the din that assessing the value of property requires a group of ten people.  This is based on the fact that the word “kohen” appears ten times in the context of the pidyon of property discussed in last week’s parsha. 

Tosfos (Megillah 23b) is bothered by this number, ten.  We have a rule that “ain beis din shakul,” that a court cannot have an even number of members.  How then can a beis din consist of ten people?

The Rashba answers that the case of assessment is different.  Here the Torah specifically designates ten people as the required number of participants in the process.  When it comes to monetary judgments or capital cases, there is no pasuk in the Torah that counts out exactly how many judges are needed.  (See Turei Even who already challenges this assertion based on other sugyos).  Therefore, in those cases we avoid having an even number.  However, here the Torah itself counts off exactly ten people, repeating the term "kohen" ten times, to indicate that is the exact number required.  

The Rashba then adds a “ta’ama l’milsa” that really can stand as its own answer and is a nice lomdus.  The rule of “ain beis din shakul” applies to only to courts.  When ten people gather to assess the value of property, they are not acting as a beis din – there is no judgment of right or wrong, chayav or patur being handed down.  They are not a court, but are just a group of people coming together to arrive at some consensus of value.    

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

three ingredients of education

I think we send children to school for three reasons: 1) to learn facts; 2) to learn skills; 3) to be inspired.  I’m willing to bet some people wouldn’t include that third item on the list, and truth be told, had you asked me a few years ago I would have downplayed it myself.  Maybe it’s helping my kids get ready for some of their finals that brought about my change of heart, as I see them cramming facts into their brains, but walking away with very little appreciation for or love of the topic they are studying.   Now, it doesn’t bother me so much when the topic is trigonometry, but it does bother me when the topic is Chumash or Navi. 

The reason why schools place such emphasis on facts, less so on skills, and don’t even mention “inspiring students” as a goal in the curriculum is probably due to the fact that it’s easy to measure whether students have absorbed a collection of facts, less so when it comes to skills, and nearly impossible to do (other than a rough subjective assessment) when it comes to gauging whether students are inspired.  It’s easy for a school to boast about how many perakim or dapim are included in the curriculum, or how many great books were supposedly read.  However, kamus, quantity,  is a poor substitute for eichus, quality, and no substitute at all for developing curiosity, a love of learning, and a hunger for knowledge.  What  in important in the long run is not how many Rashis you learn in 5th grade, but how many Rashis you learn over a lifetime. 

The simple translation of the famous pasuk (Mishlei 22), “Chanoch la’na’ar al pi darko gam ki yazkin lo yasur mimena,” is that a child should be educated so that even when he grows older, he remembers his lessons.  R’ Simcha Zisel, however, explained the pasuk as a charge to educate the child so that even when he grows old, he does not depart from that process of learning.  It’s not facts and figures that are important to retain, but rather it's the habits of mind and the love of scholarship that are most crucial.      

Monday, May 19, 2014

v'lo sigal nafshi eschem - integrating holiness

Among the brachos that start Parshas Bechukosai is the blessing of, “V’nasati mishkani b’socichem v’lo tigal nafshi eschem.” (26:11)  Rashi explains the latter half of the pasuk to mean that G-d will not be disgusted with the Jewish people.  Ramban asks:

ולא ידעתי מה הטעם בזה שיאמר הקב"ה כי בשמרנו כל המצוות ועשותנו רצונו לא ימאס אותנו בגעול נפשו
Here the Torah is talking about a time when we are doing everything right and G-d is promising peace, prosperity, a Beis haMikdash – doesn’t it go without saying that when that happens he won’t be disgusted by our behavior? 

The Ramban goes on to offer a mystical interpretation of the pasuk, but other meforshim stick with Rashi’s reading and offer various defenses against the Ramban’s question.  As I mentioned last post, the Netziv writes that even in the best of times there will always be wrongdoers.  G-d is promising that he will overlook those individuals and not be disgusted and repulsed by their behavior.  Others interpret the promise here as meaning that even when things turn bad, G-d will still not be disgusted.  Ralbag reads the promise of a Mikdash in the first half of the pasuk not as the trumpeting of a climactic achievement, but rather as a consolation: when you do wrong, you will have a Beis haMikdash to offer korbanos in and seek forgiveness.  The latter half of the pasuk promising that G-d will not grow disgusted despite our sins perfectly fits that context.

The Shem m’Shmuel makes an important psychological point.  He understands “v’nasati mishkani b’sochichem” as referring not to a physical building, but rather as a promise that G-d will dwell within each of us.  What happens all too often when people “get religion” is that they divorce themselves from life and from the world.  People have trouble integrating holiness with the mundane, and so it becomes an either/or choice, or a life filled with mood swings.  The Torah therefore adds, “v’lo tigal nafshi eschem.”  Becoming a “mihskan” doesn’t mean becoming disgusted with everything else in life.  It means integrating holiness into those other aspects so that the whole is greater for it. 

scandals, corruption, and crime

At what point do isolated events congeal into a pattern?  How many stories does it take of Rabbonim and/or “frum” Jews being indicted for financial crimes, for using physical abuse to coerce people to give gittin, for abusing children, of Rabbonim who sound like politicians as they struggle to walk back statements that never should have been made – and these examples are from LAST WEEK’s news alone – until we say that these are not isolated instances, but are indicative of broader and deeper problems?  Lest I be accused of unfairly attacking chareidim, the problems are by no means limited to their world alone.  We can just as easily talk about the allegations against YU that were dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed (that may absolve guilt in a court of law, but what about the moral stain?) or what Moody’s calls “poor financial oversight” that led to the University’s current fiscal crisis.  Sadly, there are enough stories to go around so that no one needs to feel left out.

What always comes to my mind when I think about these things is the quote of Abbie Hoffman, who during the Chicago Seven trial screamed at Judge Julius Hoffman that he was a “shande fur de goyim.”  For some reason this one quote even makes the Wikipedia entry about the trial.  Abbie Hoffman is certainly no one’s idea of a poster boy for Jewish ethics.  Abbie Hoffman in no way identified with Torah values.  Yet, nibei v’lo yada mah she’nibei.  Even Abbie Hoffman’s shmutzed up neshoma recognized that there is behavior that is a “shande fur de goyim.” 

How is it that in an age when people walk around knowing sophisticated Ketzos and R’ Chaim, people have forgotten something so basic as what a “shande fur de goyim” means? 

And that should be the least of the reasons to avoid behaviors that give rise to news stories.    What of the fact that it’s a shande for our neshomos?  What happened to having an innate sense of integrity and moral discretion?  Some things you shouldn’t need to look up in a Shulchan Aruch or ask a Rov about.

At our Shabbos table I mentioned the Netziv’s pshat in “lo tigal nasfshi eschem” (maybe more on that in another post) that even though there will always be wrongdoers, G-d does not let the  isolated behavior of individuals cloud kavyachol his positive view of the community.  So my wife asked why I don’t do the same, to which I responded that, “I’m not G-d.”  Her answer: “But you’re supposed to imitate him.”  Touche. 

So that’s the positive note I’m going to end on.  Hopefully the past week represented just a coincidental coming together of isolated strands of news.  The multitude of chessed done and Torah learned that will never be reported in any newspaper still outweighs the bad apples, and the moral compass of most people still points in the right direction.  Let’s keep it that way.

Friday, May 16, 2014

v'es ha'aretz ezkor - connection to the Land itself = teshuvah

When Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke this week in the Five Towns he pointed out that the source in Toras Kohanim for the concept of arvus is found in this week’s parsha.  The Tanaim darshened “v’kashlu ish b’achiv” to mean “ish b’avon achiv,” that each individual is held accountable for the sins of his fellow man. 

We know that the lives of the members of any community are to some degree intertwined.  “A rising tide lifts all boats,” as President Kennedy said.  When the economy is good, all benefit.  When a neighborhood is beset by crime and social problems, all members suffer.  This concept is not unique to the Jewish people.  The chiddush of arvus is that a Jew is responsible for his fellow Jew even when we do not live in the same neighborhood, the same economic conditions, the same cultural conditions.  It is davka in the context of tochacha, the description of running away into galus, each person going off to a different land, a different corner of the world, that the Torah comes and teaches that each Jew is dependent on the other and responsible for the other, no matter the differences in geography, culture, or language. 

Rabbi Sacks speech was sponsored by AIPAC.  One of the speakers who introduced him, a past president of AIPAC (their first frum president), mentioned that in travelling across the country he met Jews who had absolutely no connection with Torah, with a synagogue, with any other Jewish institution, and yet still identified strongly with and supported the State of Israel.  He didn’t quote this pasuk at end of the tochacha, but he could have: “V’zachari es brisi Ya’akov v’af es brisi Yitzchak v’af es brisi Avraham ezkor v’ ha’aretz ezkor.” (26:42)  Why are the Avos listed in reverse order?  R’ Ya’akov Moshe Charlap explained as follows:
V’zacharti es brisi Ya’akov” – if Klal Yisrael follows the model of Ya’akov Avinu, who embodied complete dedication to limud haTorah as well as the midos of the Avos who preceded him, then we will surely merit geulah;
V’af es brisi Yitzchak” – even if we do rise to the level of emulating Ya’akov, we can merit geulah because of our mesirus nefesh, the lives that have been sacrificed, following the model of Yitzchak who was willing to give his life;
 “V’af es brisi Avraham ezkor” – and even if we lack mesirus nefesh, what Jew is not willing to do chessed and give charitably, just as Avraham did? 
 V’ ha’aretz ezkor” – and even if there are Jews that have no connection at all to anything else, Jews who you would not recognize as bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, v’Ya’akov, they too can merit geulah simply because of their identification with and support of the Land of Israel.
I wrote last week about whether or not there is a need for teshuvah to bring about geulah.  Let me quote the Eim haBanim Smeiacha (II:8):
"Now, in our times, when even the lowest Jews have decided to return our homeland, giving their lives for it, refusing any other land, their actions are surely considered acts of teshuvah in G-d’s eyes.  They do not fulfill mitzvos because they were not brought up and not educated to be religious…  But the act of aliyah itself is certainly considered teshuvah, a fulfillment of the mitzvah of teshuvah.”
If Jews who have no connection to anything else appreciate Eretz Yisrael, is it not a kal v'chomer that those of us who pride ourselves on trying to emulate Avraham, Yitchak, and Ya'akov should have at least as strong a love of Eretz Yisrael and connection to Eretz Yisrael as others?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

community scandal

Yesterday for the second time in a few months I was sickened when I read the news.  It makes no sense, but somehow my brain always blocked out the scandals reported about various people in the Jewish community as being other people’s problem, as being an issue in other communities, but not something that our community need worry about.  I don’t want to provide links – go find the story yourself – but almost every newspaper in NY has the story of four school administrators / board members in the community I live in being hauled into court accused of stealing millions and millions of dollars from special needs students.  The evidence seems to point to a blatant and brazen misuse of funds.  I recognize at least one of the people involved as someone I have seen in the beis medrash learning, someone who often came to yeshiva to daven!  This is on top of the story that came out a few months ago (fortunately less widely reported) of a Rabbi of another local shul who was forced to resign amidst credible allegations of sexual impropriety. 

Do we view these crimes as the acts of isolated individuals?  Or do we view them as a communal problem, for it was we as a community who invested our trust in these individuals and granted them power and position?  What does that say about our communal judgment of character?  About our communal oversight of public funds and leadership? 

To turn to another hot issue in the news, fair or unfair, the battle over whether the East Ramapo school board, made up of a majority of frum Jews, is managing that district properly will not be won or lost in the local press or voting booths of that district.  No matter how many editorials Rabbi Avi Shafran writes arguing against any culpability on the part of that school board, when one reads and sees in the news that frum Jews, that someone with the title Rabbi, are crooks, then the shadow of suspicion inevitably is cast long and far over the behavior of others – who may be innocent -- as well. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

the visit of the Chief Rabbi and the Rishon l'Tzion

We have the good fortune in and around our neighborhood this week to have three distinguished visitors.  Sunday night the Rishon l’Tzion R’ Yitzchak Yosef spoke, last night R’ Dovid Lau was in town, and tonight R’ Jonathan Sacks will be speaking at an AIPAC event. 

The technical part of R’ Yosef’s shiur was devoted to answering a R’ Akiva Eiger.  If a person has a safeik whether or not he said a birchas hane’henin, the rule of thumb is safeik brachos l’hakeil.  Yet, the halacha is that someone who has hana’ah from this world without saying a bracha violates an issur me’ila.  Since a safeik bracha amounts to a safeik issur, so why not just skip eating the food and avoid the issur? 

R’ Yosef suggested that it’s not that there’s an issur me’ila that a bracha comes to remove, but rather it’s the failure to say a bracha which creates the issur.  Since the chachamim never obligated a person to say a bracha in a case of safeik, m’meila there is no issur.  He brought a number of proofs that I won’t go into, among them the fact that an onein can eat without a bracha even though an onein obviously cannot do issurim. 

The highlight for me was the tangents that he interspersed throughout the talk.  For example, on the topic of chumra, he mentioned a Shu”T Ginas Veradim (not the PM”G – not sure who it is) that holds that if all the poskim in Klal Yisrael are meikil on a certain issue, someone who chooses to be machmir is an apikores for disregarding the views of chachamei yisrael!  A person needs to have a Rav who is competent to advise on what chumros are proper chumros to take on and what chumros are unnecessary and strange.  He did offer some interesting examples of “good” chumros: 1) waiting for the Rabeinu Tam zman to end Shabbos, as Maran the beit Yosef paskens like R”T (even though m’ikar hadin the minhag is like the Geonim); 2) wearing Rabeinu Tam tefillin; 3) women should avoid wearing sheitels. 

I've only seen videos of R' Ovadya zt"l, but from the tinted glasses and turban to the ability to quote Maran in Shulchan Aruch all over without opening a sefer, his son is the spitting image of his father. 

R’ Dovid Lau said over a nice vort in the name of his grandfather, R’ Yedidya Frankel.  Rashi writes at the beginning of Netzavim that when Klal Yisrael heard 100 minus 2 kelalos in the tochacha of Ki Tavo, they were crestfallen.  Therefore, Moshe Rabeinu told them that despite all the threatened punishments, “Atem Nitzavim hayom kulchem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem,” they remain standing proudly before G-d and will always remain that way.  Three questions on the Rashi: 1) Why does Rashi say “100 minus 2” – is this a math test?  Why did Rashi not just say 98?  2) The tochacha in Ki Tavo includes the line that “kol choli v’kol makah asher lo kesuvim” will also be brought on them, so there are actually more potential punishments then the 98 that are spelled out; 3) Why were Klal Yisrael crestfallen after the tochacha in Ki Tavo but not after the tochacha in our parsha of Bechukosai?

R’ Lau answered that at the end of the tochacha in Bechokosai we have the pesukim of “Lo me’astim v’lo ge’altim…” and “v’Zachti lahem bris rishonim…”  After all the threats and punishments, there is a nechama.  When Rashi in Nitzavim says that Klal Yisrael were afraid because they had heard “100 minus 2” he doesn’t mean that they heard two kelalos short of 100 –- what Rashi means is that they heard kelalos short the two pesukim of nechama found in our parsha.  Tochacha without nechama is unbearable. 

I would like to suggest at least to answer question #3 that the difference between the two parshiyos is that the tochacha in Bechukosai was said by G-d; the tochacha in Ki Tavo was Moshe’s words.  Even if G-d himself is giving the tochacha, so long as Moshe Rabeinu and our others leaders are standing with us, then we are not that afraid.  But if Moshe Rabeinu, if our leaders, turn against us and they too beat us down with words of rebuke, then we know we are in trouble. 

Having seen the Rishon l’Tzion and R’ David Lau, I feel pretty confident that our leaders stand with us as our noble defenders should c”v there be tochachos against us.

Friday, May 09, 2014

R' Tzadok haKohen on "Mah inyan shemitah eitzel Har Sinai?"

VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe b’Har Sinai leimor…”  Rashi famously asks on the first pasuk in our parsha, “Mah inyan shemita eitzel Har Sinai?  Why does the Torah need to mention that this mitzvah was given at Har Sinai?  All mitzvos were given at Sinai!  Rashi quotes the Toras Kohanim’s answer: we learn from here that even the details of all mitzvos were given at Sinai.  Why single out shemitah as the mitzvah to use to convey that lesson?   Rashi explains that the halachos of shemitah were never repeated in Devarim, where other halachos were taught and reviewed.  The only source we have for shemitah is Sinai.  Shemitah serves as the exception that proves the rule, namely, that all mitzvos, even those reviewed in Devarim, were explicated fully at Sinai.

Other meforshim offer other explanations along these same lines of shemitah being an exception that proves some rule regarding mitzvos in general.  Chasam Sofer sees shemitah singled out demonstrating the Divine authorship of all mitzvos, as the promise of a bumper crop in the sixth year before shemitah can only come from G-d.  Ksav Sofer writes that observance of shemitah is possible only if one has faith that G-d will provide food for the seventh year and only if Klal Yisrael bands together to help those farmers who have no means of making a living that year.  Shemitah is the paradigm of emunah and ahavas yisrael, qualities that are basic to a fulfillment of the rest of Torah.

The assumption of all these approaches is that shemitah is no different than any other mitzvah; there should be no reason to suspect it should not have been given at Sinai, and no need for the pasuk to mention that fact.  R’ Tzadok haKohen with his unique perspective forces us to rethink those assumptions .  It’s clear from Rashi that there are two “sugyos” in Chumash where Torah was given to Klal Yisrael: 1) Sinai; 2) Arvos Moav, as recounted in Sefer Devarim.  It’s not just 40 years of time that separate these events, but rather the two parshiyos address different generations with different goals and different needs.  The generation that stood at Sinai looked forward to a life of consuming mon, of studying Torah at the feet of Moshe Rabeinu, a life surrounded by miracles, of living in Eretz Yisrael with the final geulah realized.  We know that was not to be.  The generation that stood at Arvos Moav forty years later looked to Yehoshua for leadership, looked toward dealing with the challenge of the physical conquest of Eretz Yisrael, of toil in the fields and hard work to simply have food to eat and secure homes. 

Who does the mitzvah of shemitah speak to?  It addresses itself to the farmer who works the soil year after year and now must stop to recharge and remember that his parnasa is really b’ydei shamayim.  The generation that stood at Sinai and anticipated a life living on mon didn’t need this mitzvah; it’s the generation that stood at Arvos Moav and would become farmers who needed this mitzvah.  Mah inyan shemitah eitzel Har Sinai?”  The mitzvah was given to the wrong generation! 

The lesson here, as R’ Tzadok sees it, is that even as Klal Yisrael was on the highest and most lofty levels, standing at Sinai, the Torah acknowledged human frailty and was addressing itself to the challenges of those farmers who would live 40 years later.  Even as a person grows and climbs to greater and greater heights, he must not lose sight of his own shortcomings, of the potential to fall and to fail.  Even while standing on Sinai, we need to have in mind mitzvos like shemitah.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Ramban on whether teshuvah is needed for geulah

Speaking about teshuvah as a prerequisite for geulah (see last post), there are two Rambans that seem to contradict each other.  The Ramban in next week's parsha (26:16) contrasts the tochacha in Bechukosai, which he says describes the churban Bayis Rishon, with the tochacha in Ki Tavo, which he says describes churban Bayis Sheni and the ultimate geulah. 

אבל הברית שבמשנה תורה ירמז לגלותנו זה ולגאולה שנגאל ממנו. כי הסתכלנו תחילה שלא נרמז שם קץ וקצב ולא הבטיח בגאולה, רק תלה אותה בתשובה

The galus of Bayis Rishon had a seventy year fixed end date, but the galus of Bayis Sheni has no end date -- it all depends on teshuvah. 

Yet, Ramban in Parshas Nitzavim (Devarim 32:40), writes that the Torah guarantees that geulah will happen without requiring teshuvah or avodah as a precondition:

והנה אין בשירה הזאת תנאי בתשובה ועבודה, רק היא שטר עדות שנעשה הרעות ונוכל, ושהוא יתברך יעשה בנו בתוכחות חימה, אבל לא ישבית זכרנו, וישוב ויתנחם ויפרע מן האויבים בחרבו הקשה והגדולה והחזקה, ויכפר על חטאתינו למען שמו.

Does geulah depends on teshuvah or does it not?

I saw Rav Drukman raises this question in his wonderful sefer "Kim'a Kim'a" and distinguishes between the start of the geulah process, which is an inevitable certainty at some point irrespective of Klal Yisrael doing teshuvah, and the completion of geulah, which will ultimately entail Klal Yisrael returning to Hashem.  Perhaps you can distinguish between different levels or stages of teshuvah as well. 

(Parenthetically, it's sad that books like R' Drukman's "Kim'a Kim'a" are not read and discussed in our yeshivos (I mean those, especially in the modern orthodox world, that claim to impart Zionism and/or a love of Eretz Yisrael to their students).  I think parents and educators assume certain values get transmitted by osmosis.  It's taken as a given that supporting Eretz Yisrael as our homeland is somehow tied into our identity as religious Jews, but why that should be the case and what that means philosophically and/or l'ma'aseh is never really articulated.  It seems like the more fundamental the topic, the less likely it is to be discussed inside a classroom, which is why there is no curriculum for ikkarei emunah and other hashkafic issues.  Is it because we don't want students to think too much or they might get confused or led astray?  Or maybe ask questions that we can't answer?)

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

a nudge in the right direction

I mentioned last post that the anti-semitism manifest throughout the world is reason enough for us to be thankful that we have Eretz Yisrael as a homeland.  To quote Commentary Magazine (link):
Those two stories, one about the concept of an aliyah of rescue [for the Jews of France] and the other about Israel dispatching trained security professionals to Jews in isolated communities [Ukraine], demonstrate a crucial point about Israel’s value to the Jewish world: not only do Jews feel safer in Israel than in most places in the world, but Jews feel safer all around the world simply because of Israel.
However, there is more to the story than that.  The gemara (Sanhedrin 97b) has a machlokes R' Eliezer and R' Yehoshua as to how we will get to the point of ultimate geulah:

ר' אליעזר אומר אם ישראל עושין תשובה נגאלין ואם לאו אין נגאלין אמר ליה רבי יהושע אם אין עושין תשובה אין נגאלין אלא הקב"ה מעמיד להן מלך שגזרותיו קשות כהמן וישראל עושין תשובה ומחזירן למוטב

R' Eliezer holds that geulah depends on teshuvah and teshuvah alone.  R' Yehoshua holds that even if Klal Yisrael fails to do teshuvah, Hashem will cause a king worse than Haman to be appointed and force us willy-nilly to come back.  (What exactly the hesber of the machlokes is is a discussion for another time.  Even according to R' Yehoshua it seems the driving force for geulah is teshuvah, just we can be pushed to get there.  See Maharasha.)

The gemara concludes with R' Eliezer being unable to respond to the arguments of R' Yehoshua, implying that he is modeh.  The gemara then adds another line (98a):

ואמר רבי אבא אין לך קץ מגולה מזה שנאמר ואתם הרי ישראל ענפכם תתנו ופריכם תשאו לעמי ישראל וגו

R' Abba says that the blossoming of the fruit trees of Eretz Yisrael is the most obvious indication that the geulah has started.

What does R' Abba's comment have to do with the previous discussion and debate (and note the language "v'amar..., " with a vav hachibur)?   How does it relate to the conclusion that R' Yehoshua is right?

Anti-semitism has been with us since the days of the Avos.  As Yitzi commented to the previous post, Chazal tell us that it's a law of nature that Eisav hates Ya'akov.  How are we supposed to recognize whether we are living through just another historical era of heightened anti-semitism, perhaps being punished by Hashem for some wrongdoing, or whether the suffering we are experiencing is really the start of the process of geulah, i.e. whether Hashem is using those anti-semites to push us to leave the Ukraine, to leave France, to leave even the US and to go to Eretz Yisrael?

R' Abba answers the question for us: look at the trees of Eretz Yisrael.  Land that was once desert is now producing fruit.  This is the sign that geulah has started, that the suffering we experience is Hashem nudging us in the right direction to move the process along. 
(I believe R' Tzvi Yehudah Kook learns the gemara this way.)

eved / ger toshav doing work on Shabbos

The Rambam writes at the end of ch 20 of Hil Shabbos:

כשם שאדם מצווה על שביתת בהמתו בשבת, כך הוא מצווה על שביתת עבדו ואמתו; ואף על פי שהן בני דעת, ולדעת עצמן עושין, מצוה עליו לשומרן ולמונען מעשיית מלאכה בשבת, שנאמר "למען ינוח, שורך וחמורך, ויינפש בן אמתך והגר

  עבד ואמה שאנו מצווין על שביתתן--הם עבדים שמלו וטבלו לשם עבדות, וקיבלו מצוות שהעבדים חייבין בהן. אבל עבדים שלא מלו ולא טבלו, אלא קיבלו שבע מצוות שנצטוו בני נוח בלבד--הרי הן כגר תושב; ומותרין לעשות מלאכה בשבת לעצמן בפרהסיה, כישראל בחול. ואין מקבלין גר תושב, אלא בזמן שהיובל נוהג.

The Rambam defines for us which eved is not allowed to do work on Shabos and which eved is allowed to.  Why does the Rambam add in the comparison to get toshav with respect to the latter case?  I think the simple answer is that he does it as a lead in to the next halacha:

הואיל וגר תושב עושה מלאכה לעצמו בשבת, וגר צדק הרי הוא כישראל לכל דבר, במי נאמר "ויינפש בן אמתך, והגר" (שמות כג,יב)--זה גר תושב שהוא לקיטו ושכירו של ישראל, כמו בן אמתו: שלא יעשה מלאכה לישראל רבו בשבת, אבל לעצמו עושה; ואפילו היה זה הגר עבדו, הרי זה עושה לעצמו.

What I don't understand (I haven't looked at the Frankel Rambam) is why when discussing the halachos of an eved the Rambam sticks in:
ואין מקבלין גר תושב, אלא בזמן שהיובל נוהג
What does that have to do with the topic at hand in hilchos Shabbos?  With respect to work on Shabbos, all we need to know is that anyone who does not fall into the category of eved, i.e. anyone who did not do milah and tevilah l'shem avdus, is allowed to do work.  Whether that person is technically defined as a ger toshav or not or whether you can have a ger toshav when there is no yoveil is irrelevant to the topic at hand, unless I'm missing something.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

no place else in the world

An eighth grade common core assignment question in California (link) asked students to consider whether the Holocaust was an actual event or "“propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”

A State Dept. official is quoted by the Times of Israel as saying, “I guess we
need another intifada to create the circumstances that would allow progress.”  I guess killing a few Jews is a small price to pay to get the ball rolling, but what can you expect when the Secretary of State labels Israel an “apartheid state” and the US former ambassador to the UN correctly notes (link) that, “The Obama administration has had the worst relationship, the most hostile relationship with Israel than any American presidency since the state of Israel was created.”

In Europe, the Jews of Odessa are getting ready for a mass evacuation (link).  In Brussels the government had to intervene to cancel an “anti-Semitic hatefest” rally that would have been attended by hundreds (link). 

I could go on and on and talk about the rampant anti-Semitism in France, what goes on in England, and we haven’t even touched on the Arab world. 

Do you need any other excuse to celebrate Yom ha’Atzmaut?  Look around the world – where can we be safe and secure except in our own homeland?  Where have we ever seen Torah flourish the way it has in our homeland?  Where can the character of Am Yisrael be free to express itself except in our own homeland?

Sure there are problems.  The Yerushalmi says that geulah is going to come “kim’a kim’a,” bit by bit, like the sun that rises slowly in the morning.  Geulah is a process, not an event.  But at least we are privileged to watch the first stages unfold before us.  How can you not give thanks?

Monday, May 05, 2014

Emor and the problem of evil - an Ishbitzer

The first piece in the Ishbitzer’s Mei haShiloach in this past week’s parsha (link) sounds like it takes aim at the Rambam’s (without mentioning him of course) solution to the problem of evil.  In a nutshell, the Rambam says that instead of blaming G-d for the evils of the world we should be blaming our fellow man.  If country X decides to go to war with country Y and as a result thousands of people die, that’s humankind’s bad decision making at work, not G-d wrecking havoc.  What about earthquakes, tornados, etc.?  Those are unfortunate side effects of having a world that operates with certain laws of nature.  For example, our world could not be exist without a force of gravity.  As a result of that force, a piano might fall out of a window and land on someone poor unsuspecting person’s head.  That chance occurrence is the price we must pay a functioning universe.      

The Ishbitzer’s view is radically different.  “Emor el hakohanim…”  The kohen, explains the Ishbitzer, represents the individual who refuses to dismiss anything in life as chance occurrence; G-d and only G-d runs everything.  You can’t blame “mikreh,” the forces of nature, one’s fellow man, simple chance, for what goes wrong in life because every detail of what happens is under G-d’s control.  Paradoxically, the heightened faith of the “kohen” in G-d’s all- encompassing power can lead to a diminishment of faith, as the “kohen” must accept incomprehensible evil as being the handiwork of G-d.  Therefore, the Torah warns, “L’nefesh lo yitamah b’amav” - don’t be pulled into the tumah of challenging G-d’s actions.  Inevitably there will be questions about the application of midas hadin, about death, suffering, pain, but those questions and objections must not lead to a loss of faith. 

The root of the word for speech used in the pasuk is A-M-R, which the Zohar interprets mean “a whisper” (see last week’s post).  Where is G-d’s mercy?  Where is the rachamim?  Sometimes ain hachi nami, it’s but a faint whisper in the background, softly echoing in the ear of the kohen, reminding him not to lose faith. 

Friday, May 02, 2014

in the palace of the King

The Midrash Tanchuma explains the prohibition of tumas kohanim with a mashal:

 אמרות ה' אמרות טהורות. דבר אחר, אמור אל הכהנים ואמרת אליהם, הרי אמירה שני פעמים. משל למה הדבר דומה, לטבח שהיה נכנס ויוצא לפני המלך. אמר המלך, גוזר אני עליך שלא תראה את המת כל ימיך, מפני שאתה נכנס ויוצא ורואה פני, שלא תטמא את פלטרין שלי. כך גזר הקדוש ברוך הוא על הכהנים הנכנסים לבית המקדש, שלא יטמאו למת. לפיכך הוא אומר, לנפש לא יטמא בעמיו:

The king’s executioner (I don’t think tabach here means butcher) had to constantly pass back in forth before the king.  After seeing this not-too-welcome sight too often, the king made a decree that the tabach should no longer come in contact with the dead and contaminate the palace.  So too, G-d decreed that the kohanim who enter the Beis haMikdash, his palace, should never come in contact with the dead.

The mashal of the Tanchuma does not seem to fit the facts.  The prohibition of a Kohen coming in contact with the dead applies even today, when we have no Beis haMikdash, even when the palace of the King is gone.  The Midrash Rabbah even comments that this mitzvah was given to Aharon for eternity as a special reward:

 יראת ה' טהורה עומדת לעד א"ר לוי מיראה שנתיירא אהרן מלפני הקדוש ברוך הוא זכה ונתנה לו הפרשה הזו שאינה זזה ממנו ולא מבניו ולא מבני בניו עד סוף כל הדורות ואיזו זו פרשת המת שנא' ויאמר ה' אל משה אמור אל הכהנים בני אהרן:
How then are we to understand the mashal of the Tanchuma? 

R’ Tzadok haKohen explains that the Midrash is teaching us that what was given to Aharon and his children as an eternal reward was not simply the prohibition of becoming tamei; what was given to Aharon and his children was the ability to always be in the palace of the King, no matter where or when one lives.  A palace of a human king may be a physical place with a moat and turrets, but G-d’s palace is a place of spiritual refuge that a person builds within himself.  Even when there is no longer a Beis haMidash, that palace continues to exist.

This also explains the double-use of the word “emor” in the opening of our parsha, “Emor el hakohanim… v’amarta aleihem.  The root a-m-r is soft speech, a whisper.  Tizal ka’tal imrasi” – G-d’s speech a-m-r is compared to dew.  When dew falls you don’t see darkening clouds or drops falling from the sky, but when you wake up early in the morning the grass and tress are covered with moisture.  There may no longer be visible walls of a Mikdash, but the relationship between G-d and the kohanim remains everpresent.    

Thursday, May 01, 2014

seh l'beis avos and the parameters of lo ta'achilum

The gemara (Pesachim 88) discusses a case where after the korban pesach is already offered, children choose to eat with their guardian.  The gemara wants to know how this works, as the korban pesach needs to be shechted “l’menuyav,” only for the sake of those who made reservations beforehand.  Does this case prove that breira works, i.e. that we can assume retroactively it is as the reservation was made?  The gemara gives a cryptic answer: “seh l’beis avos m’kol makom.”   

Rashi explains that in the case of minors there is an assumed reservation for the korban of their parents or guardian.  It’s not a retroactive reservation, but rather it’s as if the reservation was made before the shechita.

Tosfos, however, connects the sugya with R’ Zeira’s din (Nedarim 36) that “she l’bais avos lav d’oraysa,” that the din of minuy does not apply to ketanim.  There is no proof to the issue of breira because nothing happens retroactively here – a katan’s reservation does not count for anything.  (See R' Chaim in Hil Korban Pesach for a discussion of this point.)

That solves the issue of breira, but it does not explain how the katan can eat the korban. If he has no reservation, and a korban can only be eared “l’menuyav,” how is he allowed to eat?  How are we allowed to feed him the food?  Just as we learn in our parsha that there is a din “l’hazhir gedolim al haketanim” to cause a minor who is a Kohen to become tamei, there is an issur to feed ma’achalos assuros to a child as well.  If a katan cannot reserve a portion, how can we feed him the korban meat?

Ran (Nedarim 36) answers that since the whole concept of minuy does not apply to a katan, there is no issur of a katan eating without minuy.  Tosfos offers a different solution.  Even though a korban may only be eaten by those who have reserved in advance, when it comes to a katan we waive the requirement for the sake of the mitzvah of chinuch.

One might have argued that the whole issur of feeding ma’achalos assuros to a child does not apply here because it’s not that the korban is like treif food – there is simply a mitzvas aseh for the katan to make a reservation that has not been fulfilled.  You see a chiddush from Tosfos’ question that the issur of lo ta’achilum, of giving ma'achalos assuros to a child, is actually very broad in scope.

R’ Moshe Brown in his sefer Ma’adanei Moshe points out that the Ran in the end of Yoma also seems to understand the issur very broadly.  If the inuyim of Yom Kippur are d’orasya (as the Rambam paskens), asks the Ran, how can the gemara allow a child to be washed?  Here too, the inuyim of Yom Kippur are a fulfillment of a mitzvas aseh of “v’inisem es nafshoseichem,” not a lav.  Even if one assumes that an issur aseh should be treated like a lav, it could be that those who argue with the Ran hold that “v’inisem” is simply a mitzvah kiyumin like wearing tefillin or shaking lulav.  There is no problem in these cases of causing a katan to not fulfill the mitzvah.