Friday, January 30, 2015

shirah and Hashem's throne

The Midrash does a play on words and interprets the pasuk “nachon kisacha mei’AZ,” as an allusion to G-d’s throne, “kisacha,” being setup in the world (kavyachol) as a result of Bnei Yisrael singing shirah, “AZ yashir.” The Midrash offers an analogy to a king who as a result of victory in war moved up in rank and now, instead of standing in his place, is invited to sit on a throne. 

G-d of course has no literal throne and doesn’t need a place to sit.  What is the Midrash trying to tell us?  Imagine you come to a house, look inside, and you see the place is bereft of furniture.  Your first thought is that the place is abandoned.  The President or the Queen of England may have just left that house a moment before you peeked in the door, but as far as you are concerned, the house is just an empty shell.  Now imagine you come to a house and peek inside and there is a throne sitting right in the center of the room.  First thought: this is a palace of some kind.  A king must live here!  No matter that there is nobody home at that moment – as far as you are concerned, this must be a special place.
The Ne’os Desheh (Ishbitz) explains that the Avos taught the world about G-d, but the world forgot the lesson just as soon as the Avos were out of sight.  The Torah tells us that Yitzchak found that the Plishtim filled in and covered the wells which Avraham had dug just as soon as he was off the scene.  Pharaoh forgot about Ya’akov Avinu and Yosef and their G-d as soon as they were gone.  Out of sight, out of mind.  When the king has no throne, as soon as he is out of the room, people just see an empty building – they forget that there is someone in charge.    But when the king has a throne, even if the king is not present, that chair is a reminder of his presence.  Yetiz’as Mitzrayim and the splitting of Yam Suf made such an impression even on the nations of the world that they could no longer forget that there was a G-d – even if they couldn’t see him, the events that happened were like the throne that stands in the middle of the room reminding everyone that this is the palace of the king, not an abandoned building. 
With this idea in mind I think we can better understand the end of the parsha as well.  Chazal comment on the words “ki yad al keis K-h” that the missing letter aleph in kisei, chair, indicates that Hashem’s throne is not complete so long as Amalek is present in the world.  When Amalek runs wild, then people think the house is abandoned and they can do what they want.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

the relationship between shirah and yetzi'as Mitzrayim

Was the shirah a song of thanks for the particular miracle that occurred at Yam Suf, or was it a song of thanks for the culmination of the redemption from Egyptian bondage?

Or to put in another way, was the destruction of Egypt at Yam Suf the final chapter of the process of geulah, an 11th makkah, so to speak, and Bnei Yisrael now sang a shirah to celebrate the close of that book, or was it the first chapter in the history of the newly freed Am Yisrael?
The Meshech Chochma in last week’s parsha takes note of the fact that Bnei Yisrael were commanded to make the seventh day of Pesach a “mikra kodesh” even before the events of Yam Suf occurred.  He suggests that the Torah is teaching us a moral lesson: we don’t celebrate or commemorate the downfall of our enemies.  There would have been a seventh day of Pesach irrespective of the death of the Egyptians at Yam Suf – that was not the impetus for our making the day a holiday.  But aside from that moral lesson, perhaps the fact that the Torah commands us to make a seventh day of Pesach already on the 14th of Nissan points to the fact that the days have a shared theme.  We do not recite she’hechiyanu on the Yom Tov of shevi’I shel Pesach and the hallel is a half hallel, not a full hallel like on other Yamim Tovim.

The gemara (Meg 14) learns the chiyuv of reading megillah from a kal v’chomer: if Klal Yisrael sang shirah when they went from slavery to freedom, certainly they should recite shirah to commemorate being saved from death.  What shirah is the gemara talking about?  I think most of us would learn the gemara exactly as Rashi does: “b’yetzi’as Mitzrayim amru shirah al ha’yam.” The Turei Even, however, is not happy with that pshat.  Isn’t the shirah of Yam Suf itself a shirah about being saved from death, not a shirah about being freed from slavery? 
It sounds like the Turei Even’s question gets to the heart of the chakirah we raised.  It seems that Rashi must have learned that the shiras hayam is the culmination of the story of yetzi’as Mitzrayim, not a new chapter.  Perhaps should have sung shirah on 15 Nissan to celebrate our freedom, but the redemption at that point was still an unfolding process, and so we waited until its completion at Yam Suf. The fact that our lives may have been in danger at Yam Suf is a detail, but the larger picture is still one of deliverance from bondage and slavery. 

The Magen Avraham (O.C. 67) writes that one is yotzei the mitzvah of zechiras yetzi’as Mitzrayim by reciting shiras ha’yam but R’ Akiva Eiger and others disagree.  According to the MG”A , shiras ha’yam goes hand in hand with yetzi’as Mitzrayim and is not simply an expression of thanks for the particular miracle of Yam Suf.  It could be that R’ Akiva Eiger disagrees fundamentally with that point, or it could be that R’ Akiva Eiger holds that even if shirah is linked to the theme of freedom from Egypt, since there is no explicit mention of that redemption in the shirah, it is not a sufficient zecher for the sake of the mitzvah. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

why do the last three makkos get put in their own parsha?

1) The 10 makkos are split over two parshiyos: seven in Parshas Va'Eira, three in Parshas Bo.  Wouldn't it make more sense to read all 10 in one parsha?  Why do we split them?  

If you are a mystic, you will maybe answer that the makkos correspond to the sefiros, and the three sefiros of chabad that correspond to the final three makkos are qualitatively different than the other seven.  Kol ha'kavod if you understand what that means.  

The Ramban offers another answer.  He suggests that the function of the last three makkos differed from the function of the earlier seven. The purpose of the first seven makkos was punishment: to force Pharoah and the Egyptians to admit that they were in the wrong.  By the time makkas barad was over, that goal had been accomplished -- the Egyptians were ready to cry mercy.  But that was not enough.  The last three makkos were not a punishment, but were a demonstration of G-d's might, not only to prove G-d's power to the Egyptians, but also to stamp the memory of yetzi'at Mitzrayim on the psyche of Klal Yisrael for all generations.  It's a subtle distinction.  Why the first seven makkos were not enough to show G-d's might and give Klal Yisrael something to talk about and remember for generations to come is a question I can't answer.  

The Abarbanel has a great answer.  If you look at the reaction of Pharoah and the Egyptians to the earlier makkos, it's almost identical in every case.  Moshe brings the makkah, Pharoah asks for the makkah to be removed, Moshe davens to Hashem and takes it away, and then Pharoah goes back to business as usual.   If you look at the reaction to the threat of arbeh, something changes.  Pharoah's servants beg him to do something before Egypt is destroyed, so Pharoah calls Moshe, listens to his demands, and instead of throwing him out, he asks, "Mi va'mi ha'holchim?"  OK, who do you want to take with you?  Let's negotiate.  Maybe the men I can let go, but do you really need the women and children?  Pharoah is at the bargaining table.  Now, it's true that the negotiation fails and Pharoah doesn't give in, but the very fact that Pharaoh is at the table and talking is a dramatic change.  From arbeh on, the geulah is a done deal - the rest is haggeling over price, so to speak.  And so we read arbeh through the end as a separate parsha.

There is a mussar haskel here: once you are at the table to bargain, you've already lost the battle.  

2) Last week I did a post on the reward given to the dogs for not barking during makkas bechoros.  My wife pointed out that one can easily explain that the reward of "lakelev tashlichun oso" has nothing to do with whether animals deserve reward, but is an obligation upon us to show appreciation even to inanimate objects from which we have gotten benefit.  This may explain the Mechilta, but the Yalkut is still difficult. 

Why were the dogs given this reward of getting treifa meat?  Ksav Sofer suggests that the dogs not barking served to distinguish Bnei Yisrael from the Egyptians.  Not eating treifa is because "anshei kodesh tehiyun li," so that we may be distinguished by kedusha.

Friday, January 23, 2015

the "weight" of evil tips the scales in our favor

The Midrash connects the pasuk in Mishlei (27:3)

כֹּבֶד אֶבֶן וְנֵטֶל הַחוֹל וְכַעַס אֱוִיל כָּבֵד מִשְּׁנֵיהֶם:
The weight of a stone and burden of sand -- the anger of a fool is heaver than both.

With the "hichbadti es libo" of our parsha using an elaborate play on words. I’ll do my best to make the simple pshat here intelligible in English.

אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: כבדתי את ישראל בעולם, שנקראו אבן, כמה דתימא (בראשית מט, כד): משם רועה אבן ישראל.
ונטל החול, אלו ישראל, שנמשלו לחול, שנאמר (הושע ב, א): והיה מספר בני ישראל כחול הים, שנטלתי אותם בעולם ואמרתי (זכריה ב, יב): כל הנוגע בהם כנוגע בבבת עינו.
ועמדו והכעיסו לפני, ובקשתי לכלותן ולהשליכן מעל פני, ואמרתי בשביל פרעה הרשע, שלא יאמר לא היה יכול להצילן ועמד עליהן והרגן.
הוי, וכעס אויל כבד משניהם.
הוי, כי אני הכבדתי את לבו:

Bnei Yisrael are called “even,” a rock: “m’sham ro’eh even Yisrael.”  The Midrash reads k-v-d in the pasuk not as referring to the weight of a rock, but like the word kavod, honor -- Hashem has given us, his rock, a place of honor in the world.  We are compared to the sand of the sea; the “burden of sand”alludes to Hashem taking us under his protection.  However, the Jewish people angered G-d and caused him to want to lash out at them.  Were he to do so, Pharoah would claim that G-d does not have the power to protect and save them.  Therefore, G-d holds back his anger.  More than the love G-d has for Bnei Yisrael, what protects us is the foolishness of Pharoah, the “weight” of the chilul Hashem that would be caused by allowing him to make false claims.  In our parsha, Hashem tells Moshe to go to Pharoah, “ki ani hichbadti es libo.”  Again using a play on words, the Midrash associates the “hichbadti” of Pharoah’s heart with the weight of foolishness referred to in Mishlei.

What are Chazal trying to teach us? We wouldn’t know that Pharoah would attribute it to his own power if Bnei Yisrael did not go free, or that that would be a big chilul Hashem?
When life is smooth sailing, then people think that G-d is treating them nicely.  When the going gets tough, then people think that G-d abandoned them and doesn’t care .  The Midrash is telling us that’s not how it works.  Sometimes the biggest tovah Hashem can do is to put a person in hot water.  It’s not Hashem’s love, the kavod he gives us, his promise to protect us, that brought the geulah from Mitzrayim – rather, it’s the fact that Pharaoh at the end of the day can’t win, as that would be a bigger crime than any wrong we could do.  Ki ANI hichbadti es libo” – Hashem says just like I gave you kavod and protection which you know is l’tovah, I’m the one giving hardening Pharoah’s heart and in doing so am giving you an you an even bigger tovah, because it’s that hardened heart of Pharoah that is your ticket to geulah. 

Unlike the meforshim who learn that the word “kaveid” in the end of the Midrash refers to the “weight” of the chilul Hashem caused by the evildoer, I would suggest that the end of the Midrash is really the same play on words used in the beginning of the passage.  Just like “koved even” refers to something that honors Klal Yisrael, the “ka’as avil” of the evildoer which is “kaveid” means that what appears to be “ka’as avil,” evil, can itself be the vehicle that ultimately brings even greater honor and geulah to Klal Yisrael.    

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pope Francis, (l'havdil), the Rambam, and our parsha on whether pets go to heaven

The NY Times thought it worthy of front page headlines last month when it reported that Pope Francis said that even animals can make it to heaven.  What’s the big deal?  Because the "traditional" Aristotelian view, also adopted by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (III:17), is that there is no concept of reward and punishment for animals.  According to the Rambam, only humans merit hashgacha pratis and individual reward/punishment, but Fido and Rover are no different than rocks, plants, cars or robots. 

Animal rights activists’ celebration was short-lived, as the NY Times later rewrote and updated the story (see the editor’s note at the end of the article) with an admission that it basically reported a myth as news without bothering to fact-check first (I know – shocking.)  Reuters quoted Vatican’s deputy spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini as putting it this way: ““There is a fundamental rule in journalism. That is double-checking, and in this case it was not done.”
The Rambam writes that there is no source that would contradict his view, but the Torah Temimah, unlike the NY Times, did some fact checking and was not convinced.  The pasuk in our parsha (11:7) relates that on the night of Pesach no dogs barked in the neighborhood of Bnei Yisrael.  The Mechilta comments that the dogs received reward for their silence, as the Torah later writes that a person who has treifa meat should throw it to the dogs.  The Yalkut (187) writes that in the merit of their not barking the dogs were rewarded with the ability to singing shirah and their excrement is used to tan hides that are used for tefillin, mezuzos, and sifrei Torah. Don’t these sources indicate, asks theTorah Temimah, that G-d does reward (and potentially punishes) even animals?! 

The Torah Temimah answers that all we see from these Midrashim is that the dogs received some reward in this world for their good deeds.  That doesn’t mean that Fido would go to heaven, as the NY Times thought. 
Once you accept the underlying logic of the Rambam, I don’t see how that distinction works.  If animals are not subject to reward/punishment because they lack the ability to choose right from wrong, then what difference does it make whether the reward/punishment is given in this world or the next?  Furthermore, the Ramban in Parshas Noach (ch 9) takes the Rambam’s position a step further and writes that punishment is not given to animals even in this world:

תמה אני, אם הדרישה כמשמעה, מיד החיה כמו מיד האדם להיות עונש בדבר, ואין בחיה דעת שתיענש או שתקבל שכר. ואולי יהיה כן בעניין דם האדם לבדו, שכל החיה שתטרוף אותו תיטרף כי גזרת מלך היא, וזה טעם סקול יסקל השור ולא יאכל את בשרו

The Ramban has to explain that the punishment given to a shor haniskal is a “gezeiras melech,” but if not for that special gezeirah, a shor or any other animal would not be subject to punishment even in this world.
R’ Noson Gestetner gives a simpler answer to the T”T’s question. The Rambam himself writes that while Hashem does not have hashgacha pratis on individual animals, he does have hashgacha on the “min,” the species.  We say every day that G-d is “masbi’a l’kol chai ratzon.”  Hashgacha may not dictate that this particular lion will catch this particular gazelle for lunch today, but G-d does ensure that  lions in general have food to eat and what we call nature continues on its course.  In a similar vein, when the Midrash promises reward to the dogs for their silence, it does not mean this or that particular dog got a reward – it means the species of dog as a whole received a reward.  What’s the difference between rewarding the species and rewarding the individual creature?  R’ Gestetner suggests that the “min” of dog or other creature is governed by an angelic “sar” that can make choices and therefore can receive reward.

Perhaps there is another possible model we can use to explain how animals can receive reward/punishment.  Rav Dessler frequently speaks about accruing reward by serving as a “kli” for someone else’s advancement in avodah.  For example, when Reuvain prays for Shimon to recover from an illness, Shimon may not have made any choice that would warrant his earning a reprieve from punishment, but since Reuvain has made a positive choice to daven based on Shimon’s condition, Shimon’s spiritual stock goes up as well.  Dogs may not have the ability to choose right from wrong, but perhaps by virtue of the fact that they served to highlight G-d’s hashgacha over the houses of Bnei Yisrael and were a kli for kedushas Hashem, they therefore deserved to be rewarded.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

hil talmud torah

The main topic of chapter 4 of Hil Talmud Torah in the Rambam can be summed up in the first two words of halacha 2: "Keitzad melamdim?"  The Rambam discusses how a teacher should teach, questions he is responsible for answering, etc.  So it's interesting that he ends the perek with this halacha: 

 אין ישנים בבית המדרש.  וכל המתנמנם בבית המדרש, חכמתו נעשית קרעים קרעים

I would have put that halacha in the dinim of kedushas beis hamedrash/beis haknesses, but it seems from the Rambam that not sleeping in a beis medrash is not a din in the kedusha of the place, but is rather a din in talmud Torah.  You can't learn (to say the least!) if you are asleep!

There is another example of a chidush from the placement of a halacha in the next perek. Had you asked me, I would have placed the chiyuv to visit a rebbe on Yom Tov somewhere in hilchos Yom Tov.  Chapter 5 of Hil Talmud Torah deals with the chiyuv of showing respect to a rebbe, and there the Rambam writes:

 וחייב לעמוד מפני רבו, משיראנו מרחוק מלוא עיניו, עד שיתכסה ממנו ולא יראה קומתו; ואחר כך יישב.  וחייב אדם להקביל את פני רבו, ברגל.

The Rambam doesn't see it as a din in Yom Tov, but as a din in talmud Torah.

Friday, January 16, 2015

the strength to have hope

Right after Moshe told Hashem that even Bnei Yisrael were not listening to him, the Torah takes what seems like a detour from the story of yetzi’as Mitzrayim into a discussion of the yichus of the shevatim and their families (6:14-27).  What is this discussion of lineage doing here?  Rashi has an answer, but I wanted to share a classic Ishbitzer.

Sometimes we see people who are really suffering but somehow they never lose hope and never stop davening.  Where does that strength come from? The Beis Ya’akov writes that when Hashem wanadiants to help a person, Hashem gives them the strength not to despair; Hashem inspires a person to turn to Him.  I think I’ve posted the Mei HaShiloach before: “terem nikra’u ani e’eneh” means that even before we start davening, Hashem responds to us by giving us the desire and strength to daven.
Bnei Yisrael thought they were the lowest of the low.  There was no point to listen to Moshe because whatever he said, it wasn’t going to make a difference.  Hashem therefore taught Moshe this parsha about their yichus.  Hashem reminded Bnei Yisrael that slavery did not define who they were – what defined who they were was their yichus to the Shivtei K-h, the greatest of the great.  Hashem restored their belief in themselves, gave them hope, and as a result they were able to believe in the possibility of redemption and daven to make it happen.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Moshe's question and the law of noncontradiction

One of the three classic laws of logic is the law of noncontradiction: something cannot be A and not A at the same time.  I can’t be at work writing this and not be at work at the same time.  I don’t think we need to get into proofs – most everyone reading this will accept that this law is true and makes sense.

Does G-d obey the law of noncontradiction?  Can G-d make something that is A and not A at the same time? 
My goal is not to get into a debate about whether G-d can make a rock that he can’t lift or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.  My goal is to explain a parsha in chumash. 

Moshe Rabeinu at the end of last week’s parsha questioned why the shibud had grown more intense as a result of his coming to Pharoah to ask for Bnei Yisrael’s release.  M’mah nafshacha: if it was time for Bnei Yisrael to be let out, then why is the oppression increasing?  And if it’s not time for them to leave, why was he sent?
The opening of our parsha is presumably a response, but if it is, it’s an ambiguous one.  Moshe is told that G-d revealed himself to the Avos as K-l Shakai, but not with the shem Havaya.  What does that mean and how does it answer the question?

The Netziv explains that the K-l Shakai defines the purpose of creation: to reveal G-d’s glory.  Whenever G-d intervenes in the world to further our awareness of his greatness and his presence, that’s K-l Shakai.
The shem Havaya simply means that G-d is immanent and in control of everything.

The problem is these two names seem to contradict each other.
M'mah nafshach: If G-d interacts with the world as K-l Shakai, then things that happen that hide G-d’s presence cannot be attributed directly to Him.  Those are roadblocks to K-l Shakai’s revelation, obstacles to seeing his glory.  

But if G-d interacts with the world as Havaya and everything is governed by hashgacha, then hashgacha can’t have to do with G-d’s glory because it means he is behind things that disguise his glory and presence and even cause it to be diminished.

As the Netziv writes, “Im shemi ‘K-l Shakai,’ aino hakol b’hashgacha.  V’im hakol b’hashgacha, al korchach aino choshesh l’kvodo v’ain zeh ‘Shakai.’”
Does the law of noncontradiction hold true when we are talking about G-d?

What Hashem was telling Moshe is that even the Avos could not fathom how Hashem could be both “Shakai” and “Havaya” at the same time, but they knew not to ask.  We cannot imagine the law of noncontradiction not holding true, but G-d is an exception.  For Him, both “Shakai” and “Havaya” can both be true at the same time.  Hashem can b’hashgacha be behind the oppression of the shibud increasing, and at the same time, that very same event which seems to contradict everything we would associate with G-d’s glory, is itself a manifestation of K-l Shakai, the revelation of his glory.    

The Netziv writes that this parsha was not just an answer to Moshe, but is a “limud l’doros.”  We can’t understand it all, and will never have all the answers.

a glimpse into the future

The nice thing about Jimmy Carter still being around and voicing his idiotic ramblings is that it gives us a picture of what President Hussein will be like in 20 or 30 years, when he too will run around meeting terrorist dictators, blaming the world’s problems on the Jooooz, and trying to recreate his image after the full effect of his failed and destructive policies is felt.  Something to look forward to!  And no doubt, he will still have his self-hating Jewish defenders then as he does now.

We know how bad things are in France, but it’s not much better in Britain.  Reuters reports, “A quarter of Jews in Britain have considered leaving the country in the last two years and well over half feel they have no long term future in Europe, according to a survey published on Wednesday.”  And I am sure if we survey other countries in Europe the results will be similar.  But here – well, things are different in the US, aren’t they?  Things like that could never happen here, right?
The current situation reminds me of the gemara in Gittin in the sugya about the churban where the gemara describes how there was a huge city filled with Jews and they were having a big celebration.  The enemy attacked and started killing Jews on one end of the city while on the other end they were still partying, completely oblivious to what was going on.  How long do you think the party here in the US will keep going? 

I listen to talk radio when I drive and I read lots of conservative blogs and I have heard and read the same question time and again: why do Jews overwhelmingly support leftist politicians and their policies despite their obvious anti-Israeland anti-Jewish bias? 
The wish I knew the answer.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Chasam Sofer on the Ra'avad and corporeality of G-d

The Chasam Sofer in his commentary on last week’s parsha sneaks in an interesting pshat in the famous comment of the Ra’avad regarding hagshama, the corporeality of G-d.  Here’s a link because I don’t think my summary does justice to it.  The Rambam (Teshuvah 3:7) paskens that thinking that G-d has a body or a form is apikorsus, but the Ra’avad argues that “gedolim v’tovim chashvu kein.”  The Ra’avad understood the Rambam to be making a distinction between thinking of G-d as having a body, which is heresy, and thinking of G-d the way the philosophers do, as an abstract being. The Ra’avad’s argument, as the Chasam Sofer presents it, is that the Rambam’s distinction is semantic and not real.  Even if you think of G-d in the way the philosophers do, or even the way kabbalists do – applying any intellectual construct to the concept of G-d – is just as bad as thinking that G-d has a body.  Just because you box G-d into an abstract construct instead of a physical one doesn’t make things better.  When the Ra’avad writes “gedolim v’tovim chashvu kein,” he doesn’t mean that other Rishonim or philosophers thought G-d has a body.  What he means is that the abstract conception of G-d which they subscribe to, which the Rambam himself subscribes to as a defender of philosophy, is no less problematic than thinking G-d has a physical body. 

So how then can we ever think of G-d?  As Moshe Rabeinu asks, when Klal Yisrael asks what G-d’s name is, what can he tell them?  How do we worship a being without thinking of him?  For the Ra’avad, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh,” the philosophical or kabbalistic idea of G-d, is just a beginning.  The next pasuk continues, “Anochi Elokei avicha Elokei Avraham Elokei Yitzchak Elokei Ya’akov…” (3:6)  Even though the Avos themselves could not fathom G-d’s true essence (“u’shmi Hashem lo noda’ati lahem,” as we read in our parsha), the fact that G-d appeared to them and allowed their brain to have some conception of Him is a matir for us to think of G-d in the same way.  Of course we are not the Avos and we cannot even imagine what conception of G-d they might have had, but we don’t need to do that – all we need to do is say whatever the Avos thought of, we are worshipping the same being.  We don’t know what G-d is, but we know he is “Elokei Avraham…” and we can hang on his coattails.
I’m not sure what to make of the balancing act the Chasam Sofer is trying to oull off.  On the one hand, he finds justice in the Ra’avad’s critique – the very act of trying to apprehend G-d imposes limits on Him that are false.  G-d by definition is beyond anything we can conceive of.  Yet on the other hand the Chasam Sofer does not seem to accept that the need to worship, to relate to G-d, therefore must allow for us to draw a mental “picture” of Him (as the Piecezna seems to suggest in Bnei Machshava Tovah).  He draws back and says that a person should just resign himself to saying whatever the Avos thought of, ditto for him, and that’s it.   

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

the pie isn't getting bigger

I don’t know why I am surprised that our community is no less prone to making the same mistake as the rest of the world when it comes to thinking about allocating resources to new programs.  The President recently proposed a program that would provide free community college tuition to anyone who wanted.  How can you oppose that?  Who wouldn’t want people to have access to better education?  But then they do the next round of polls and ask whether people want their taxes raised to pay for new programs and of course, no one is in favor of that.  One cannot happen without the other.  The pie of government resources does not magically get bigger (despite what Democrats think – sorry, could not resist); money must come from somewhere (i.e. you and me) if it is to be allocated to somewhere else (e.g. a potential college student).

The same holds true in our community.  Who could be against opening another yeshiva, another kollel, another community institution?  Great idea!  There is no hasgas gevul on yeshivos.  But the pie is only so big.  If current institutions are in debt and are having trouble, where are the resources to open a new organization or institution supposed to come from?  I’m afraid I do not have much faith in Rabbinic knowledge of economics.  When Rabbi X or Y endorses a new project, I do not believe they think that that means they are taking $$$ from their own institution.  I am sure if you ask them, “So how much from your monthly budget are you giving up so that program X can start?” they would look at you like you are nuts.  The assumption is that no one has to give up anything – just find raise more, squeeze harder, knock on more doors, and the funds will be there.  No one ever has to give up anything because through magic, the pie always just gets bigger.  

Reality doesn’t work that way.

why Hashem chose Moshe

Two quick thoughts on last week’s parsha:

1) When Moshe saw the burning bush and turned to look at it, the Torah writes, “Va’yar Hashem ki sar liros,” Hashem saw that Moshe turned to look, and then Hashem started speaking to him. Hashem sees everything – why does the Torah need to add specifically here that Hashem saw that Moshe had turned to look?  And what was special about the fact that Moshe came over to see the burning bush?  It must have been an extraordinary sight – wouldn’t anyone have turned to take a look?
The Seforno answers that “va’yar Hashem ki sar liros” is not just telling us what Hashem saw; it’s revealing to us why Hashem spoke to Moshe.  He explains that “sar liros” means “l’hisbonen badavar.”  Anyone who saw a sight like the burning bush would pause to take a look.  I’m sure you’ve all been on the highway when traffic slows because everyone takes a moment to stare at a car that’s pulled over or someone that got in an accident.  We look – and then we move on.  Moshe Rabeinu, however, looked and thought about what he was seeing.  He didn’t move on – he reflected. 

The Midrash Rabbah has a striking comment.  “…Ki sar liros” is not referring to Moshe’s turning aside to see the burning bush, but rather to his turning to see the suffering of the Jewish people in Mitzrayim. 
 אמר רבי יצחק מהו כי סר לראות אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא כי סר וזעף הוא זה לראות בצערן של ישראל במצרים לפיכך ראוי הוא להיות רועה עליהן
Why was Moshe elected?  The Seforno highlights Moshe’s ability to reflect and think deeply about what he was witnessing; the Midrash highlights his ability to empathize.
2) Later in that conversation Moshe says to G-d that he is not the right man for the job.  Mi anochi ki eilech el Pharoah?”  The Midrash writes:

אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי משל למלך שהשיא את בתו ופסק ליתן לה מדינה ושפחה אחת מטרונית ונתן לה שפחה כושית אמר לו חתנו לא שפחה מטרונית פסקת ליתן לי כך אמר משה לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא רבון העולמים כשירד יעקב למצרים לא כך אמרת לו (שם מו, ד) אנכי ארד עמך מצרימה ואנכי אעלך גם עלה ועכשיו אתה אומר לי לכה ואשלחך אל פרעה לא אנכי הוא שאמרת לו ואנכי אעלך גם עלה

 According to the Midrash, “Anochi” should have a capital A/Aleph.  Moshe was reminding Hashem that he had promised that He would be with Klal Yisrael in galus and that He would take them out.  It was His job -- so why was he sending Moshe?
If that’s what Moshe’s argument was, then how does the next pasuk answer his complaint?  Mi sam peh l’adam…” – Who other than Hashem has given man the ability to speak, to hear, to walk, etc.?

I think the answer Hashem is giving is that his promise did not mean that Moshe and Bnei Yisrael were to sit and do nothing and wait for a miraculous redemption to take place.  Hashem was telling Moshe that He empowered Moshe to speak, to confront Pharoah, to listen to Bnei Yisrael.  The “Anochi” that will being the redemption is not out-there waiting to swoop in of its own accord, but rather it’s inside Moshe and the rest of Bnei Yisrael, it’s inherent in their actions and their efforts. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

a blueprint for geulah

Moshe asked Hashem what he is supposed to do if Bnei Yisrael don’t believe him when he comes to deliver the message of geulah.  Hashem gives him one sign, then another, and then says if they still don’t believe he should give them yet a third sign. Why did Moshe take such a dim view of the possibility of Bnei Yisrael believing him?  And what’s the “if…” in Hashem’s response?  Hashem knows if they will believe or not, and Hashem knows whether one, two, or three signs would convince them.  V’ki ika sfeika k’lapei shemaya?  In the end, Moshe was believed as soon as he came back and delivered the message, so this whole shakla v’terya seems like it is for naught?

The Sefas Emes writes that the geulah from Mitzrayim was not just a one-time historical event, but it was the blueprint for all future geulos.  “Ehyeh asher eheyeh,” the promise, as Rashi explains, that just as Hashem was with Bnei Yisrael through galus Mitzrayim and brought them to geulah so too in all future tzaros and galiyos will he do the same, means that this geulah from Mitzrayim is the paradigm that will shape and repeat itself in all future redemptions. Moshe Rabeinu’s question was not prompted only by concern lest his fellow Jews in Egypt not believe in the geulah – his particular circumstance -- but rather it was a question of meta-significance, a question about the blueprint that would be used for all those future generations.  Can redemption come to a people who are unsure and unsteady in their emunah?  Moshe wanted Hashem to affirm that such a thing was possible and would be built into the plan.  Whether his generation needed it or not, a future generation might.
This yesod helps explain another puzzling aspect of Moshe’s dialogue with Hashem.  After asking Hashem what he should tell Bnei Yisrael G-d’s name is and getting an answer and a reassurance that his message would be heard by Bnei Yisrael, Moshe then argued that he can’t speak clearly and therefore should not be the go’el.  Why did he ask Hashem to reveal his name and only then say that he is not prepared to go? It’s almost like Moshe wanted to take advantage of the situation and get to G-d reveal his name even though he didn’t want to take the mission anyway.

The Sefas Emes answers that the revelation of Hashem’s name as “Ehyeh asher ehyeh” was not just about what to call G-d, but rather was a revelation that this geulah from Mitzrayim was going to have meta-significance as the blueprint for all future geulos.  Once Moshe understood that key point, he used it as new ammunition to argue that he was not the right go’el.  Moshe already foresaw that he would not make it into Eretz Yisrael; a geulah through his hands was going to be an incomplete geulah.  What Moshe did not foresee is that his neshomah is the shoresh of all the future tzadikim who would help deliver all those future geulos, so what was incomplete in his lifetime would eventually come to fruition.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

a galus of names

The gemara (Pesachim 50a) tells us that we are not allowed to pronounce Hashem’s name as it is written, but in the future, “bayom ha’hu yehiyeh Hashem echad u’shemo echad.”  We don’t perceive G-d’s actions as being in concert with his essence, so we use a different name for both.  As the gemara explains, we say different brachos on besoros tovos than on bad tidings, but in the future, we will see that it’s all yad Hashem for good. At the time of geulah, G-d and his name will be one.

V’eileh shmos Bnei Yisrael ha’ba’im Mitzraymah…”  The start of Sefer Shmos describes the descent of the Jewish people into exile.  Just as the gemara describes with respect to G-d, when the Jewish people are in exile, how we are perceived / how we perceive ourselves is not in concert with our true essence.  The “names” of Bnei Yisrael, how we refer to ourselves and how we are referred to, went down to Mitzrayim and took on a different meaning, separated off from our true identity.  
(based on Sefas Emes)

another step closer to the end of the West

To anyone who has been paying attention to events of the past few years, the attack in Paris yesterday was no surprise.  In Europe, violence is rewarded by appeasement (e.g. the French voting in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state) which in turn breeds greater demands and threats of more violence.  When the President of the US, Hussein Obama, declares to the UN that, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam,” what message do you think the world gets?

The reaction by the left is mostly predictable:
2)      Redefine the perpetrators as just someextremists acting on their own beliefs rather than members of a specificcommunity or religion (kind of like saying the Nazis weren’t such bad guys –why judge the whole movement based on the bad apples who had a Jew hangup?)
3)      Justify the attacks based on the actions of thevictims, e.g. claiming depictions of the Prophet that are demeaning are hate speech, incitement, etc.
All that’s missing is step #4, which is blame the Jews/State of Israel, and that’s bound to follow. 
And so the world marches along toward another dark age…

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

the special connection between Rachel and Yosef

So as I mentioned at the end of last post, R’ Medan’s article on Rachel’s burial place got me thinking about the special connection Yosef and Rachel because in his article he mentions a Midrash (found only in Rishonim) that says that Yosef visited the grave of his mother Rachel en route to being taken as a slave down to Mitzrayim.  Of course, the Midrash is trying to echo those pesukim in Yirmiyahu of “Rachel mevakah al baneha” as they pass by her grave en route to galus, but it’s more poignant here because Yosef is her son.

The Yerushalmi writes that when Yosef was about to sin with Eishes Potiphar, it was his mother’s image that appeared to him (posted about this here).  Why his mother’s image in particular?  The Shem m’Shmuel writes that Eishes Potiphar’s intent was just as much l’shem shamayim as Tamar’s, about whom we read earlier in that same parsha.  In fact, astrological signs pointed to her being destined to be together with Yosef (and indeed, her daughter did marry Yosef.)  She thought that they were spiritual soulmates.  It dawned on me that there was a parallel to Rachel Imeinu here: remember that Leah was crying because she thought she was destined to marry Eisav while Rachel was supposed to be Ya’akov’s true wife.  Despite what was “supposed” to happen, Rachel saw her sister Leah being brought to the chupah and decided it was better to give over the simanim and delay being with Ya’akov than to embarrass her sister.  This was the dmus d’yukah that Yosef saw: even if Eishes Pothiphar’s insight as to their destiny was true, it did not mean he needed to act on it at that moment.  Like his mother did, Yosef was being called on to wait and not act, no matter what the future was predicted to hold.  Destiny would happen on its own schedule; the future need not be forced.   The great test of Yosef’s character was to see if he could rise to the same challenge that his mother had faced.
This same challenge follows Yosef.  “V’lo yachol Yosef l’hisapek…”  After revealing himself to his brothers, Yosef cries on Binyamin’s neck and Binyamin cries on his shoulders, an act which Rashi interprets as mourning for the churban habayis.  Sefas Emes (link) explains that because Yosef could not delay revealing himself any longer the tikun was incomplete and churban and galus were therefore  necessary.  Rachel suffered and held back walking to the chuppah for the sake of Leah.  Yosef tried, but in the end was not his mother’s equal. 

Maybe this is why when Yosef originally presented his dream to Ya’akov in which he saw the stars, the sun, and the moon bowing to him, Ya’akov knew it had to be false because the moon, Rachel, could not bow.  Of course the pshat is that Rachel couldn’t bow because she was dead, but maybe there is a remez here that although Yosef could rise above his brothers and even to some degree above his father, when it came to meeting the challenge his mother faced, he would remain a notch below.
Why is this midah the sticking point for Yosef?  Perhaps it is because although Rachel showed tremendous patience in stoically and silently waiting for his 7 years of labor to finish until she could marry Ya’akov, and then waiting again as she watched her sister Le’ah go to the chuppah in her place, when it came to having children, Rachel’s patience was at a limit.  Rachel came to Ya’akov and demanded, “Hava li banim v’im ayin meisah anochi.” (30:1).

None of this is muchrach – I’m just tossing my speculations out there.

where was Rachel buried?

Earlier this year my daughter in Israel told me that her seminary went on a trip to Kever Rachel.  I e-mailed her and asked her whether she was sure that’s where she went and told her to look at Shmuel I 10:2.  Even though our parsha says that Ya’akov buried Rachel “b’derech Ephras, hi Beis Lechem,” (48:7) the pasuk there identifies Rachel’s burial place as Tzeltach in the territory of Binyamin.  I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail back from her telling me that she remembered the Rashi on that pasuk that explains that the Shmuel was saying that the two people that Shaul would meet were now by Kever Rachel and he would catch up to them in Tzeltzach.  

But that’s not the only source we have that points to a location in Binyamin for Rachel’s grave.  A more famous pasuk is Yirmiyahu description, “Kol ba’Ramah nishma… Rachel mevakah al baneha.” (Yirmiyahu 31:15).  Where is Ramah?  It is listed in Sefer Yehoshua (18:25) among the cities of Binyamin. Again, the burial place is identified with some place in Binyamin, not Beis Lechem.  My wife immediately told me I got the pshat in that pasuk wrong.  Who says Ramah is a particular place?  All it means is that Rachel’s voice echoed on high.  Sure enough, Rashi quotes the Targum that it meams “b’rum alma.”
We can wiggle out of the textual proofs, but do the logic and geography make sense?  If Yirmiyahu is talking about the exile to Bavel, why would the captives travel south towards Beis Lechem instead of north, through the area of Binyamin, toward the actual place named Ramah, towards Bavel? 

This was just to whet your appetite.  If you want some answers, I recommend R’ Ya’akov Medan’s article located here.  (UPDATE: Someone was nice enough to point out another article on the topic by R' Etshalom here.)
Interestingly, the Ramban seemed to have had at least a hava amina that Rachel's grave was near a place called Ramah.  He writes in Braishis 35:16 that when he came to Eretz Yisrael he saw where the place identified as Kever Rachel was and discovered

וכן ראיתי שאין קבורה ברמה ולא קרוב לה
implying that before he got there, this was not out of the realm of possiblity.

I recently heard a lecture/shiur from someone who wanted to argue that we should take advantage of new discoveries in archeology, history, philology, etc. to shed light on Tanach, especially when it comes to understanding realia.  One of his proofs was from this Ramban.  Whatever pshat the Ramban may have thought was correct while writing in Spain went out the window when he saw the actual facts on the ground.  In that same way, if we can discover what object X actually was by digging one up, or where place Y was based on archeological evidence, or what word Z actually means based on comparisons to other languages, then that should trump even interpretations of Rishonim, as they were not privy to that evidence or to modern scholarship.  I think there is some validity to the point, but I found it ironic that the person giving the shiur in passing mentioned that he thought the view that Rachel was buried north in the portion of Binyamin, not in Beis Lechem, was correct – the view that the Ramban rejected, at least in part in light of what he saw when he got to Eretz Yisrael.  So the Ramban was actually (according to this person’s belief) led to the wrong conclusion by his perception of what the facts told him.  That lesson was not highlighted in the shiur, but is probably an important one to keep in mind.  Evidence is seldom black and white, and we should be wary of being quick to draw and accept conclusions just because modern scholarship would tell us that it's true. 

R’ Medan’s article triggered a thought about the connection between Yosef and Rachel that I intended to write about when I started this, but somehow the digression about where Rachel is buried took on a life of its own and this post is long enough already, so I’ll have to come back to what I originally wanted to write about bl”n in a separate post.   

last wishes

I recently finished reading Atul Gawande’s new book, BeingMortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, and I loved it, just like I loved all his other books.  He is a great writer with great insight.  In this book he explores ways of caring for the elderly without robbing them of their freedom and sense of purpose – something being shuttered in a typical nursing home all too often does.  He tackles hard questions like whether hospice care and palliative care is sometimes a better solution than a medical intervention.  When has medicine reached its limit, who decides, and how?  He forthrightly admits that as a doctor, he and most other doctors don’t like to have these type conversations, but having them can lead to better care for patients.  The book is not just discussion in the abstract, as he demonstrates by recounting how he and his father dealt with these very issues during his father’s final illness.

I was thinking about the book as I reviewed the beginning of Parshas VaYechi and a diyuk of the Netziv caught my eye.  “Vayikrevu y’mei Yisrael la’mus…” The name Yisrael is used usually in connection with the spiritual side of Ya’akov’s personality; the name Ya’akov is connected with the mundane.  When Ya’akov called Yosef to make arrangements for his death and burial, he was not yet sick or decrepit.  It was Yisrael, the soul of Ya’akov, that felt that his days were numbered, even though he was otherwise still in good health.  He sensed, perhaps in ruach hakodesh, perhaps knowing that he was close to reaching a milestone age relative to his parents and grandparents, that the end would not be that much further off.  So he dealt with it – while he was still “of sound mind and body,” to use a cliché.  He made his wishes known to his children and had what must have been a very difficult conversation with Yosef. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

rambam's estimate of the size of the moon

Rambam writes (Yesodei haTorah 3:8):

הארץ גדולה מן הירח כמו ארבעים פעמים

I am curious if anyone has an idea where the Rambam got this from.  The Rambam writes in Hil Kiddush haChodesh (ch 17) that the ancient Greeks figured out the math and astronomy needed to calculate our calendar.  It seems that the Greeks already knew that the moon was about ¼ the size of the earth, so where did the Rambam get the figure 1/40 from?  (I am not concerned with the number being off – I am just looking for a source.) 

I'm tempted to suggest that there is a printer’s error here and the Rambam should read "k'mo arba" instead of "k'mo arba'im"  (I haven’t checked the Frankel edition to see if there are other girsa’os).


"m'shum she'ne'emar" vs. "she'ne'emar"

It amazes me how R’ Ovadya can tease a general klal out of one line of gemara and a Rashi stuck in the middle of a sugya.

The Mishna (Gittin 26) says that R’ Eliezer does not allow gittin to be written in advance “she’ne’emar ‘v’kasav lah’ – lishma.” 
The gemara asks: the din of lishma applies m'doraysa only to writing the toref of the get, i.e. the names, the date, the place -- not the tofeis, the boilerplate language.  R’ Eliezer did not allow anything to be written in advance, including the tofeis.  How does the derasha explain why that’s not allowed? 

The gemara answers by amending the text of the Mishna to read “m’shum she’ne’emar” instead of just “she’ne’emar.” 
Explains Rashi: “she’ne’emar” implies that we are dealing with a din d’orasya – the derasha is the source for the halacha.  “M’shum she’ne’emar” means that the derasha is just the motivation behind a din derabbaban.  Since there is a derasha d’orasya that does not allow the toref to be written in advance, the Rabbanan extended that din and disallowed even the tofeis being written in advance.

If we can generalize this as a rule, then whenever the gemara or a Rishon quotes a din based on what sounds like a derasha, whether the source uses the term “she’ne’emar…” or “m’shum she’ne’emar” will clue you in as to whether it is a real din d’orasya or just an asmachta / din derabbanan.  The question, of course, is whether the generalization holds up in all places, and it helps to be a baki like R' Ovadya was to figure that out!

Monday, January 05, 2015

why reuvain lost the malchus

“Pachaz kamayim al tosar” – Reuvain is told by Ya’akov Avinu that as a result of his impetuousness he lost the rights to kehunah and malchus and those gifts would be given to Levi and Yehudah.  Even if it’s not 100% clear why Levi deserved kehunah, at least we can say no other candidate jumps out as being more worthy.  Not so when it comes to malchus.  Yosef served Pharoah as second in command; his dreams had mostly come to fruition and his brothers had bowed to him and were subservient to him.  Why not bestow the gift of malchus on Yosef?  Why Yehudah?  Rashi quotes from Chazal on “Vayeired Yehudah m’eis echav…” (38:1) that the brothers demoted Yehudah from his position of authority because he had instigated the sale of Yosef.  Yehudah had lost respect in his brother eyes, so why was he fit to lead?

R’ Tzadok haKohen has a tremendous answer to this question, but since R’ Reisman discussed that in his parsha shiur that people get via e-mail, I’ll give you something else.  In case you haven’t seen it, the R’ Tzadok is in Takanas haShavin on 52b and, in a nutshell, he explains that the malchus went to Yehudah davka because he had failed.  It’s the ability to climb back from the depths that is a mark of true leadership.
A few weeks ago we discussed how Yosef’s punishment for relying on the Sar haMashkim was fitting davka for someone like himself.  Yosef showed such great bitachon in trusting that his dreams would come true, to the point of making no attempt to contact Ya’akov all his years in Egypt lest Ya’akov hinder his efforts to bring those dreams to fulfillment.  Therefore, Yosef should have shown the same high level of faith and not relied on the Sar haMashkim.  You can’t have different standards in different areas of life.

Here we see the same idea, as Ya’akov hoists Reuvain by his own petard.  Chazal tell us that Yehudah had no rest after death; he was barred from olam ha'ba.  Moshe Rabeinu davened that Hashem should let him enter in the zechus of his having inspired Reuvain to say viduy.  When Reuvain heard Yehudah admit wrongdoing and take responsibility for acting wrongly toward Tamar, he confessed his own guilt as well.  (Parenthetically, as R’ Leib Chasman points out, we see that inspiring others is a much greater zechus than doing good oneself.  It was only the fact that Yehudah inspired Reuvain that earned him entrance to olam ha’ba; the fact that he personally confessed was not enough.) 
Reuvain was impetuous, headstrong, first to act.  He immediately took action and moved Ya’akov’s bed out of Bilhah’s tent and into his mother’s after Rachel’s death.  So where was that zealousness when it came to saying viduy?  True, Chazal tell us that Reuvain was the first to do teshuvah, but why did it take Yehudah’s saying viduy to inspire him to confess his own wrongdoing?  Why was he not first to act there, when it came to admitting his own faults, not correcting other’s?

That’s why, explains the Ohr haChaim, Reuvain lost the malchus, and Yehudah, who took the lead in admitting his own faults and thereby inspired Reuvain, took his place.

Friday, January 02, 2015

shleimus in chutz la'aretz: Ya'akov vs. the shevatim

1) The Shem m'Shmuel points out a seeming contradiction in Zohar: the Zohar writes that Ya'akov's final years spent in Egypt were the spiritual pinnacle of his life, a time when he reached ultimate fulfillment. Yet, the Zohar earlier writes that Ya'akov fled Lavan's house before Binyamin was born because had the 12 shevatim been born in chutz la'aretz it would have been an impediment to their achieving sheleimus. If the birth of the shevatim in chu"l would have impeded their sheleimus, how did Ya'akov achieve shleimus davka in chu"l, in the galus of Egypt?

The Shem m'Shmuel's answer is couched in mystical terms that have to do with the eitz hada'as vs. the eitz hachaim, but let me suggest something a little more down to earth. A person may go on vacation even for a long period of time, or go on a sabbatical, and have the time of their life, but in their heart they know it's just a vacation and not reality. Reality, meaning home, is somewhere else. Ya'akov Avinu experienced the best days of his life in those final 17 years in Mitzrayim, but his passport still showed that he belonged in Eretz Yisrael -- that was still home. That was where he came from, and at the close of his life, that is where he wanted his body returned. 

Had all the shevatim been born in chutz la'aretz, unlike Ya'akov Avinu, their childhood memories of home, of where they belonged, their country of origin, would have been chutz la'aretz. That would have been a major impedement to the sheleimus of Klal Yisrael, which ultimately depends on connecting to the Land of Israel as our homeland.

2) According to one view in Chazal, Ya'akov Avinu did not die. The gemara asks how this can be when the pesukim describe how he was embalmed in Egypt. The gemara cryptically answers, "Mikra ani doresh."  Sefas Emes explains that to a person steeped in limud haTorah, someone who is a "doresh" of Torah, Ya'akov Avinu continues to live.  I would say not only Ya'akov is still alive, but so is Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva, Abayei and Rava, Rashi and the Rambam. 

"I start shiur. I don’t know what the conclusion will be. Whenever I start the shi’ur the door opens another old man walks in and sits down. He is older than I am. He is...Rav Hayyim Brisker... The door opens quietly again and another old man walks in. He is older than Rav Hayyim. He lived in the 17 th century. What’s his name? Shabbesai Cohen, the famous Shakh who must be present when dinei mamonot are discussed… More visitors show up, some from 11th, 12th , 13th centuries, some from antiquity: Rabbi Akiva, Rashi, Rabbenu Tam, the Ra’avad, the Rashba, more and more come in. What do
I do? I introduce them to my pupils and the dialogue commences."

That's not the Sefas Emes -- that's the Rav speaking.  "I start shiur" -- "Mikra ani doresh" -- and the world of the mesorah is alive.

3) "Kol ha'omer Reuvaim chatah eino elah to'eh" -- despite Ya'akov's stinging criticism of Reuvain, Chazal dismiss the notion that Reuvain sinned in an issur arayos with Bilhah.  Why does the gemara use the longer expression "aino elah to'eh" instead of just saying "ha'omer Reuvain chatah to'eh?"   Rav Avigdor Neventzal suggests that Chazal mean to tell us that the person who would say such a thing is not just making a mistake in reading the episode of Reuvain's sin, but he is a "to'eh," an individual who is mistaken in general.  To think that Reuvain would be guilty of such a thing reveals that one's worldview about Torah is off.