Saturday, October 31, 2015

a mitzvah done without effort is not the same mitzvah as one done with effort

1) Rashi tells us that Hashem brought the sun out in full force so that Avraham would not be troubled with the burden of entertaining guests while recovering from his bris milah.  Avraham, however, would not be dissuaded from doing his usual hachnasas orchim and went out “’kchom hayom,” in the middle of the hot day, to look for guests.  Since Avraham would not give up, Hashem sent him the three angels as guests. 
The meforshei Rashi ask: why did Hashem have to summon angels to appear as guests?  Why didn’t he just remove the heat wave and then the usual parade of guests would have arrived on their own? 
I saw a great answer:once the sun was out in full force, the mitzvah that Avraham set out to do was the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim in the face of difficulty, with tremendous tircha and effort.  Had Hashem just lowered the temperature and taken away the heat wave, the mitzvah would have been easier, but an easier mitzvah is a different mitzvah entirely -- it would no longer be the same kiyum Avraham set out to accomplish.
2) Chazal learn from the fact Avraham and Sarah were blessed with the birth of Yitzchak right after they davened for Avimelech that a person in need who davens on behalf of someone else will have their own needs taken care of by Hashem. It seems from this Chazal that there is a cause/effect at work -- Avraham and Sarah’s tefilos for Avimlech caused Yitzchak (indirectly) to be born.  Yet we know from the opening of our parsha that Hashem had promised Avraham and Sarah that they would have a son and Hashem even specified the date on which he would be born.  Yitzchak's birth doesn't seem to have anything to do with the tefilos for Avimelech? 
The Ohr haChaim answers that even when Hashem makes a promise, it doesn’t mean the recipient is free to just sit back and relax and do nothing.  Rewards and zechuyos have to be earned.  What Hashem’s promise accomplished is that just at the right time for Yitzchak to be born, Avraham and Sarah were presented with the tremendous opportunity to daven on behalf of Avimelech and through that to be zocheh to the child that they wanted. 
There is no such thing as a free gift.  What Hashem gives for free is the opportunity to earn the rewards desired.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

not just a matter of perspective

The gemara (B.M. 86) writes that when Avraham saw that he had no guests, he sent Eliezer out to look for some, but Eliezer came back emptyhanded.  “There is no trust in slaves,” said Avraham, and he went and sat by the doorway to look for himself.  We know the rest of the story – Avraham sees the three angels approaching, etc. 

Did Avraham think Eliezer was not telling the truth, or was being lazy?  On Parshas Noach I quoted the Oheiv Yisrael who teaches that emunah transforms reality – if one believes things will work out, then they will.  Avraham was not saying that he did not trust Eliezer.  What he was saying is that Eliezer lacks the same level of trust, of bitachon, that he, Avraham, has.  Therefore, although Eliezer went looking for guests, he failed to find what he was looking for.  Avraham had greater faith in the mitzvah, and so when he went looking, he found what he wanted (Sifsei Tzadik). 
Two people can experience the same situation and one will be filled with hope while the other sees only gloom.  Eliezer saw an empty desert; Avraham saw angels walking by.  It's not just a psychological trick.  The reality changes according to the amount of bitachon invested.

Before we get to the arrival of the angels, Avraham was busy “entertaining” G-d himself – “Vayeira eilav Hashem...” Rashbam learns al pi peshuto that these are not two episodes, but one: the appearance of G-d to Avraham was manifest through the arrival of the angels.  Rashi, Ramban, Seforno, and Chazal interpret these as separate ideas.  Chazal learn that Avraham turned away from interacting with G-d and concerned himself with his guests, proving that the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim is even greater than interacting with the Shechina.  (How can that be?  R’ Naftali Ropshitz quoted in Imrei Shefer cleverly reads the letter “mem” in the statement “gedolah hachnasas orchim M’kabalas pnei haShechina” not as “greater than,” but as “from.”  From the experience of giluy Shechina Avraham grew in his hislahavus to do more mitzvos, to do more hachnasas orchim. See Netziv for a hesber with less twist.)  The Torah doesn’t tell us why Hashem appeared and doesn’t tell us anything that was said to Avraham during this encounter.  Rashi writes that nothing needed to be said; Hashem came to do bikur cholim and just being there was enough.  Seforno explains that Hashem appeared in response to Avraham’s having done bris milah.  Bris means covenant, and you can’t make a covenant without both parties being present.  Hashem therefore appeared to seal the agreement.  In Parshas Shmos where we read that Moshe arrived at an inn and, “vayifgasheihu Hashem,” it does not mean, as  Rashi there tells us, that an angel came to punish Moshe, but rather G-d was appearing to ratify the bris that would be made when Moshe circumcised his son.  This is why, adds Seforno, we set out an extra chair whenever a baby enters the covenant of bris milah – we are welcoming the presence of the Shechina as our partner in the bris.  A fantastic makor for the minhag of Klal Yisrael.

What perhaps motivated the Seforno’s comment, or at least implicit in his comment, is an answer to the Mizrachi’s question.  Why are Rashi and other mefoshim convinced that “Vayeira eilav Hashem…” should be connected with the previous parsha of milah?  Maybe, asks Mizrachi, it is connected with the upcoming parsha, where Hashem informs Avraham that he will be destroying Sdom?  Given Chazal’s interpretation that Avraham’s meeting with Hashem was interrupted by the arrival of the angelic guests, maybe what happened is that Hashem appeared and was about to start that conversation about Sdom, but Avraham broke off the engagement and began serving his guests.  Once he was done, Hashem picked up where they left off. 

The answer in one word, according to Seforno, is bris.  It takes two to tango.  Hashem’s appearance must be connected with milah because a bris demands that both parties be engaged.  Since there is no record on the previous parsha of Hashem doing anything in response to the bris, this must be it.

Ramban (and Gur Aryeh suggests this as well) suggests a different answer based on a simple rule of grammar: a pronoun always needs an antecedent.  You can’t say, “He went to the store” without first telling me who the “he” you are talking about is.  If the sentence, “Vayeira eilav Hashem,” is meant as the start of a new topic, then the antecedent for “eilav” is missing -- it should say, “Vayeira Hashem el Avraham.”  The sentence makes sense only because we know who “eilav” is because we read it as a continuation of the previous parsha.

All this is background/warmup to the Midrash’s take on the parsha that will tie everything together:

ואחר עורי נקפו זאת ומבשרי אחזה אלוה
אמר אברהם: אחר שמלתי עצמי, הרבה גרים באו להדבק בזאת הברית.
ומבשרי אחזה אלוה, אילולי שעשיתי כן, מהיכן היה הקדוש ברוך הוא נגלה עלי?!
וירא אליו ה'.

Avraham said, “If not for my bris milah, how would Hashem have appeared to me?”  Again, we see Chazal connecting “vayeira…” to the previous parsha by way of cause and effect: Avraham did a milah, therefore, G-d can now reveal himself.  If you remember the beginning of last week's parsha you will be scratching you head over this.  We read last week, “Vayeira Hashem el Avram…” (12:7).  Hashem did appear to Avra[ha]m long before he had a bris milah.  “Vayeira” is not a chiddush due to the bris, but is old news.   

The Sefas Emes answers that there is a big difference between “vayeira” before milah and the “vayeira” after milah. The “vayeira” before the milah is “vayeirah HASHEM el Avraham” – Hashem is the actor, the subject who is the focus of the sentence, the one who intercedes and appears in Avraham’s life.  Ramban gives a long list of similar places where Hashem appears on the scene to bless Bnei Yisrael (Vayikra 9:23) or to stop a rebellion (Bamidbar 14:10).  If we were staging these events as a play, the spotlight would shift to kavyachol a new character, G-d, stepping onto the stage.  The “vayeira” after the milah inverts things.  “Vayeirah EILAV Hashem” – the focus is Avraham himself, the same character we’ve been talking about until now.  The text focuses our attention on the point grammatically by using a pronoun whose antecedent is in last weeks’ parsha -- the spotlight doesn’t shift; no one new steps onto the stage; it’s the same cast as last week.  So what changes?  It’s Avraham’s perception that changes.  Hashem’s presence, which last week had been invisible to Avraham the not-yet-nimol, is suddenly visible to him everywhere. It is not G-d stepping onto the stage that is the chiddush here; it's Avraham perceiving G-d who was already there beforehand. 
So we've come full circle.  Just like Avraham can see angels where Eliezer sees an empty desert, Avraham after the bris can now see, “vayeira eilav,” and the world is very different than it looked before.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

burning buildings and Avraham's questions

My week was particularly hectic, but I feel bad leaving the blog with nothing on the parsha so I'm going to just post a question that I as of yet don't have a great answer to, and then after that, turn back to some things I wanted to post earlier on last week's parsha and never got around to doing:

The Midrash compares Avraham to someone who sees a building on fire and wonders whether the building has an owner, as no one seems to be responding to take care of things.  Avraham saw the world on fire –he saw chaos -- and he asked himself whether the world had an owner or not.  Hashem then revealed himself to Avraham and said, “I am the owner.”

The Shem m’Shmuel asks: Avraham had already recognized at age 3, or according to other views at age 48 – in either case, past history -- that Hashem is in control of the world  He had already been moseir nefesh in the furnace of Nimrod for the sake of his emunah.  Avraham is 75 years old when Parhas Lech Lecha opens.  Surely Avraham already knew and accepted that the world has an “owner,” that Hashem is in charge of everything that goes on.  How can the Midrash compare him to a person who wonders, present tense, whether that burning building has an owner or not?  
Turning back to last week... 
The Midrash contrasts Noach, who went from being called an “ish tzadik” to being an “ish adamah,” with Moshe, who went from being called an “ish Mitzri” in Parhas Shmos to being “ish ha’Elokim” in Zos haBracha.  Some people grow, others slide downward – that’s obvious.  What are Chazal trying to teach us? 
Last week we spoke about the idea of comparative, relative judgment.  A person who gets a 65 on a test is borderline failing, but if everyone else gets a 45, he/she looks like a genius.  The same is true in ruchniyus as well.  Noach was called an ish tzadik because he stood out relative to everyone else in his depraved society.  Once the mabul wiped away that society, says the Ksav Sofer, here was no one else to compare Noach to, and so he became just a plain vanilla ish adamah.   Moshe, on the other hand, started life raised as an Egyptian prince, an ish Mitzri, immersed in the culture of Egyptian society.  Once you took him out of that society, he grew into an ish Elokim. 
The Midrash really gives Noach a hard time.  It takes the word “v’Noach” from the pasuk of “v’Noach matzah chein” and tacks it to the end of the previous statement, “ki nichamti ki asisi.” 
כי נחמתי כי עשיתים ונח, אפילו נח שנשתייר מהן לא היה כדאי, אלא שמצא חן בעיני ה', שנאמר: ונח מצא חן בעיני ה':
How can the Midrash so harshly criticize Noach when our parsha opens by calling Noach a “tzadik tamim?”  Again, it’s all about relative judgment.  On an absolute scale, Noach was not “k’dai;” without Hashem’s special chein, he did not deserve to be spared.  However, when judged relative to those around, “tzadik tamim haya b’dorosav.”   
One final idea:
The Midrash quotes Noach as saying that he was undeserving, as he was guilty of the same crimes as those around him.   Noach may have known himself well enough to know he was not an Avraham Avinu, but it seems extreme to say he was guilty of the same crimes as the dor hamabul!  The Shem m’Shmuel explains that the dor hamabul’s fate was sealed because of the sin of chamas.  For the dor hamabul, that meant people were thieves, plain and simple.  Yet we find another use of chamas in Parshas VaYeira.  When Sarah is upset with Avraham for not speaking out and defending her honor against the insults of Hagar, she tells Avraham, “chamasi alecha.”  This is also a form of theft.  Sarah felt Avraham was robbing her of his voice, his influence, which she felt could have changed the situation.  When Noach claimed that he too was guilty of the same crime as the dor hamabul, it is this type of theft, this chamas, that he was referring to.  Noach recognized that had he perhaps been more forceful in his protests, in his outreach, even in davening for his generation, his voice may have made a difference.  Withholding one’s talents and not using them for avodas Hashem robs the community and leaves it poorer.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

ma'amin v'aino ma'amin -- emunah is not passive belief

Commenting on the fact that Noach only entered the ark once it started raining, Rashi writes that Noach was “m’ktanei emumah, ma’amin v’aino ma’amin.”  It sounds like Noach was straddling the fence, unsure of what would happen.  That’s a very difficult thing to say about someone who was a tzadik tamim!  So what does Rashi mean?  One of the standard answers is that Noach did not believe in himself – he trusted that G-d was going to bring the flood, but did not trust his own ability to do anything to stop it, whether through tefilah or some other means.  Some answer that Noach did not believe the midas hadin would actually overcome the midas harachamim and the punishment would come; others answers that Noach did not really believe the people in his generation would sink to such a low level as to deserve the punishment Hashem had promised (Shem m’Shmuel).  The Oheiv Yisrael has an approach that gives us a different perspective on the whole concept of emunah.  He writes that emunah does not just mean passive belief.  “Va’yehi omein es Hadassa” uses the same root as emunah, and anyone who has raised a child knows that it demands anything but passivity.  Emunah itself helps transform a belief into a reality -- to completely trust that something will happen is to help make it happen.  Therefore, Noach faced a dilemma.  On the one hand, G-d told him that there would be a flood, and that left no room in his mind for doubt that it would happen.  On the other hand, by believing that there would be a flood, Noach would in effect be having a hand in making it happen, something he wanted to avoid at all costs.  He wanted to have his cake and eat it too, “ma’amin v’aino ma’amin,” with no resolution, until the waters of the flood were upon him.
If believing in the flood would contribute to it becoming a reality, midah tovah merubah -- our belief in yeshuos v'nechamos can help make that a reality as well.

Monday, October 12, 2015

what did Hevel do wrong?

I have never found a good explanation as to what Hevel did wrong that elicited his being killed at the hands of Kayin.  It may be that the whole question is out of place, as a ba’al bechira has free reign to cause harm even without an overt decree against the victim (see here for a diyuk in next week's parsha to that effect and herehere, and here for more).  That answer, though, is far from satisfying. 

In the sefer “M’Shulchan R’ Eliyahu Baruch,” collected from the shiurim of R’ Eliyahu Baruch Finkel of the Mir, he notes that when Kayin was dejected and deflated by Hashem’s rejection of his korban, Hashem reacted by offering Kayin words of encouragement, demonstrating the midah of being nosei b’ol chaveiro, showing empathy for the plight of others.  This is one of the overlooked lessons of the parsha.  He then suggests an even bigger chiddush.  Hevel knew his brother was suffering, and yet Hevel said nothing and did nothing to alleviate Kayin’s pain.  Perhaps it was because of this indifference, this lack of empathy, that Hevel suffered death. 

(Of course I don't know where it says that lacking empathy means you are deserving of death.  Maybe it just means that Hevel didn't deserve any protection of hashgacha because of his moral failure.)

va'yar Elokim ki tov vs. tov l'ma'achal

1. When daughter #2 was preparing for seminary interviews last year (she is thank G-d learning in Israel this year) it was well known that a certain seminary liked to ask applicants the following question: if you could be a tree, what type of tree would you be?  I think questions like this are inane, but to play along I recommended that she answer the “eitz hada’as.”  My daughter did not have the gumption (i.e. chutzpa) to give that answer, and instead replied that she would choose any type of tree that grows.  (The interviewer still pressed her to pick a specific type of tree, which just reinforced my bad impression of the whole exercise.  Inane.)

2. The Shiurei Da’as has a chakirah (that we’ve discussed before) as to whether good and bad are inherent in nature and G-d is like a doctor who reveals what will lead to optimal health, or whether good and bad are functions of G-d’s will, and it is only his decree as king that makes it so.  (The question long predates the Shiurei Da’as, but R’ Bloch applies it nicely to explain a number of difficult Chazals.)   At the end of the day, it’s a combination and overlap of both.  The Shem m’Shmuel (Rosh haShana 5673) doesn’t formulate the chakirah so sharply, but he uses the idea to explain the root of Adam and Chavah’s sin.  He suggests that Chavah’s declaration that the fruit of the eitz ha’da’as was “tov l’ma’achal” itself was wrong because it bifurcated the command not to eat the fruit from the quality of the thing itself.  Chavah saw the tree as inherently good and desirable; it was off-limits s (in her view) only because of G-d’s seemingly arbitrary decree.  She failed to see G-d’s decree as a revelation that the something was inherently wrong with the tree no matter what her own feelings told her.  I would add that in the opening creation story of Braishis, it is G-d and G-d alone who decided and declared what is good: “Va’yar Elokim… ki tov.”  Chavah’s independent assessment and assertion that something was “tov” marks a radical change in attitude even before the fruit has been ingested.

Yet perhaps the word “tov” here is in reality a red herring.  R’ Ahron Lichtenstein distinguishes different uses of “tov” in his lecture "Being Frum and Being Good: On the Relationship Between Religion and Morality."  He uses Chavah’s declaration that the tree was “tov l’ma’achal” as an example of good in the pragmatic sense, with no moral value attached.  It’s like my saying it is “tov” for me to take my car to work instead of walking.  In contrast, when we speak of issurim or mitzvos, we are speaking of a moral assessment of what is good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, not just pragmatics.  If Chavah thought the fruit of the tree looked tasty and might have made a good snack were she hungry – no more than an aesthetic and/or pragmatic judgment call -- does that sense of  it being “tov” really diminish or contradict her appreciation of the moral “lo tov” of G-d’s command not to eat it?  Isn’t the Shem m’Shmuel conflating the two meanings of “tov?" 

On the other hand, lulei d’mistafina I wonder whether R’ Ahron’s reading of Chavah’s words is correct.  If Chavah truly believed the nachash‘s assertion that the eitz ha’da’as was the key to being like G-d, then might not her declaration that the tree was “tov l’ma’achal” in fact be a value statement?  Perhaps she not only thought it might be tasty, but thought the pursuit of knowledge was a moral obligation (see this Meshech Chochmah). 

3. Immediately after Adam’s cheit, the Torah writes (3:8) that Adam heard Hashem, “mis'haleich ba’gan l’ruach hayom,” and he hid.  Hashem then addressed Adam and ask why he was hiding.  The Seforno comments (d”h “l’ruach hayom”) that Hashem was going about doing the things that needed to be done on that day, just like he had done on the other days of creation and the day before the cheit.  Hashem did not come to visit the garden to confront Adam.  It was only after Adam became aware of Hashem and hid that Hashem addressed him and reacted to what had been done. 

Shem m’Shmuel explains that every punishment meted out by Hashem is an opportunity for rehabilitation.  Hashem did not originally address Adam because Adam had not earned the right to be rehabilitated.  It was only when Adam hid and showed an awareness that he had done wrong that Hashem addressed him and provide a punishment/tikun for his wrongdoing.  The first step to getting out of the pit of wrongdoing is to avoid remaining indifferent to the fact that wrongdoing has occurred.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

absolute vs relative judgment

Before Yom Kippur our community had the privilege of hearing words of chizuk from R' Eli Mansour.  The thesis of his talk (I found a similar shiur he gave posted here if you want to hear it) was that there are two types of judgment on the yom ha'din: 1) absolute, or objective judgment; 2) relative, or what he calls comparative judgment.  Objective judgment means G-d pulls out the scorecard and weighs our merits vs. our demerits and gives us a grade.  I don't know about you, but to me, that's a scary thought.  Can any of us really be confident that we have more good deeds than bad on the books?  Fortunately, there is another judgment -- comparative judgment.  Instead of looking at how we are doing on an absolute scale, G-d looks at how we are doing relative to the society and environment we find ourselves in.  The student who gets a 65 on a test on an absolute scale is barely passing, but if everyone else in the class got a 40, he looks like a genius.  We live in such a sick, perverted society that when G-d looks at us, warts and all, we sparkle like diamonds compared with the rest of the world.  Because of that, hopefully we merited a chasima tovah.

I was reminded of the shiur when I saw this Ohr haChaim on the murder of Hevel.  Kayin offered the first korban, and taken by itself, that's certainly a positive.  But when you compare his paltry korban with the offering of his brother Hevel, then not only is the import of his gift minimized and lessened, but it almost seems to be an affront to G-d.  On Yom Kippur, relative judgment works in our favor.  When it came to Kayin's korban, relative judgment -- the inescapable comparison to Hevel -- worked against him, at least in his mind.  Kayin was consumed with jealousy.  As a result, he killed his brother Hevel.  Kayin had a simple cheshbon: better to commit one murder and suffer the consequences than to live with the constant risk of being judged as faulty and not-up-to snuff compared with others.

The Netziv takes note of the double-language, "Vayichar l'Kayin" and "vayipol panav."  When G-d speaks to Kayin, again, we have the double-language of "Lamah charah lach" and "lamah naflu panecha."  The Netziv suggests that Kayin was doubly troubled.  He was troubled by his own failure to offer an acceptable korban, but more than that, he was troubled by the fact that Hevel had offered a better korban and had outshone him.  In other words, Kayin felt disappointment in his own accomplishment when judged on an absolute scale, but he also felt the pain of falling short relative to his brother.  I would say that failure perhaps hurt even more.  

I'm afraid I'm going to part ways with the Netziv's reading of the next pesukim (see Ramban as well) and would like to suggest a different punch line to the story.  In response to Kayin's anger and depression, Hashem tells him, "Ha'lo im tei'tiv se'eis v'im lo tei'tiv la'pesach chatas roveitz..." (4:5).  Do good and you can overcome the yetzer ha'ra; do bad, and it will catch up with you.  Didn't Kayin know that?  Don't we all know that?  Peshita, mai kah mashma lan?  Maybe what Hashem was telling Kayin is that if *you* do good, then *you* will overcome the yetzer and be successful.  Forget about Hevel and what he's doing -- focus on yourself, on the *you*, on what you need to improve on.  It's not because of Hevel alone that your korban was rejected -- it's because you could and should have done better.  This is the mirror image of Rabbi Mansour's message.  Hashem is generous and will use comparative judgment when it's in our favor, and kinas sofrim tarbeh chochma as a motivation tool, but when a person is consumed with thinking about keeping up with the Joneses, even in spiritual matters, it can have debilitating effects and do more harm than good.  Hashem was telling Kayin to focus only on the absolute scale, on what he felt he could and should accomplish relative to his own abilities, and forget about the rest.  Score a 95 on the test and it doesn't matter what the other person got -- your good grade stands on it's own merits. 

It's interesting that earlier in the week I was planning on posting something entirely different on Braishis and then I sat down by the computer and this just popped out onto the screen.  Bl"n I have to get to the other topic...

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Simchas Torah -- kiyum simcha of the tzibur vs kiyum of the yachid

Rama (O.C. 660) quotes that minhag Ashkenaz is that an aveil does not do the hakafos with his lulav during hosha'anos.  Beis Yosef disagrees and wonders why an aveil should be exempt.  After all, an aveil is obligated in all mitzvos, including simchas Yom Tov, which cancels aveilus, so why is hosha'anos any different?  Achronim try their best to justify the minhag, but the answers are not (as the Taz and others already say) are not completely satisfying.  The Bach suggests that the problem stems from the fact that an aveil cannot cut his hair, and the kohanim who did the hakafa of the mizbeiach that we are commemorating were not permitted to have long hair, peru'ei rosh.  The problem is that the shiur of hair that is called too long is a growth of more than 30 days, and except for aveilus on parents, an aveil can take a haircut at the end of 30 days.  Some see participating in hosha'anos as representing the tzibur, and just like an aveil cannot serve as the shat"z on days that tachanun is not recited, so too, he cannot participate here.  The GR"A (quoted in M"B as well) says the exemption is based on the fact that the hakafos of the mizbeiach are a kiyum of "u'smachtem lifnei Hashem Elokeichem shivas yamim" and an aveil lacks the ability to be b'simcha (begging the question of how this is different than the mitzvah of simchas Y"T).  In short: it's a difficult minhag to justify.  (The Gesher haChaim paskens that an aveil can do hakafos after the tzibur as finished, and he quotes the Ya'avetz as allowing the aveil to participate on Hosha'ana Rabbah.  I'm not sure how that would fit with the GR"A.)

Gesher haChaim (vol 2 ch 17) raises another fascinating question.  The Kaf haChaim and others writes that although an aveil cannot participate in dancing on Simchas Torah, he is allowed to have a hakafa with the sefer Torah.  If hakafos with the lulav, which are only a zeicher to the "u'smachtem" of the mikdash, are prohibited, how then are hakafos of Simchas Torah, which are part of the simchas ha'yom itself, permitted?!  (Note that the Chelkas Ya'akov here prohibits participating in hakafos for this very reason.)

One theory the Gesher haChaim offers is that there is a fundamental difference between the kiyum simcha that happens in the mikdash, commemorated by hosha'anos, and other kiyumim of simcha.  The simcha of the mikdash was a chovas hatzibur -- it was a communal celebration, a national rejoicing.  Simchas Yom Tov celebrated by having a meal with family, Smchas Torah celebrated by dancing in shul, is a simcha of the yachid, the individual.  We may come together as families to celebrate or as communities to celebrate, but the end goal in doing so is to enhance our personal kiyum of simcha.  It does not transform the kiyum into a communal one.  Therefore, the Rama prohibits only participating in hosha'anos but no other simcha as only hosha'anos contains a "zeicher l'mikdash" component that reminds us of this communal kiyum in the mikdash.

Even if one accepts the sevara as correct, perhaps there is room to argue.  Abarbanel in Parshas VaYeilech writes that our celebration of Simchas Torah is based on the hakhel ceremony.  Just like in hakhel the king would read Sefer Devarim before the assembled people, so too, on Simchas Torah we gather together and the leader of the community finishes the reading of Devarim (see Kli Chemdah in P' Zos haBracha who discusses the source for a talmid chacham being called for the final aliya without noting this Abarbanel and the parallel to melech.  I am sure many Rabbis are wondering about the validity of the comparison between themselves and a melech : )  Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the hakhel ceremony, done in the makom mikdash, is a communal obligation.  Everyone -- men, women, and even children -- must come and participate in hakhel.  If that's what our celebration on Simchas Torah is modeled after, then the same logic that precludes an aveil from hosha'anos should apply here.

One final note: Many shuls hold a big kiddush or lunch on Simchas Torah and I was wondering if one can participate during aveilus.  This post is pretty long already so I'll skip going through the shitos about whether and what simchos an aveils can/cannot participate in -- let's keep it simple: social occasions are out.  I view most kiddushes as social occasions.  However, it turns out that Simchas Torah lunch is an exception.  Even those who hold that an aveil cannot participate in a siyum would allow an aveil to make a siyum himself -- in that case, the aveil is not a guest; he is the host.  On Simchas Torah, each one of us is not a guest at the siyum haTorah -- each one of us is the host, the mesayeim.  Each one of us is celebrating our personal completion of another round of learning.

And one last final, final note: I don't know how you balance "v'samachta b'chagecha" with being aware of and feeling the pain of those killed al Kiddush haShem in Eretz Yisrael.  All I know is that we need lots of rachamei shamayim, lots of Torah, and we need lots of zechuyos.

Friday, October 02, 2015

V'osi yom yom yidroshun' -- zu tekiya v'aravah

The Mishna in R"H writes that unlike hallel which is said right after shacharis, tekiyas shofar is delayed until musaf.  The gemara explains that this is a takanah from times when there was a danger of the enemy misinterpreting the gathering of Jews as a rebellion and shofar blast as a call to arms.  Once shacharis passed and it was apparent that this was just a religious service, there was no danger anymore.  If so, asks the Yerushalmi (perek 4 halacha 8), why was their not the same concern with respect to hallel, i.e. that the noise of the singing of hallel would be misinterpreted as an uprising?  The gemara answers (compare with the Bavli) that not everyone is in shul that early (a makor for coming to shul late on Y"T : ) and a small minor gathering would not be misinterpreted as a rebellion.  However, says the Yerushalmi, everyone is in shul for tekiyas shofar (amazing -- it's still true to this very day.) The Yerushalmi ends off with a derasha: "Amar Rav Yonah, ksiv 'V'osi yom yom yidroshun' -- zu tekiya v'aravah."  Explains the Pnei Moshe, on the day of Rosh haShana by tekiyos and the day of Hoshana Rabbah by aravah everyone is in shul to daven together.

Why these two days in particular?  Why are davka tekiyas shofar and the mitzvah of aravah times of 'V'osi yom yom yidroshun?'

Achronim explain that aside from being a kiyum of mitzvas shofar, the tekiyos which we blow during shmoneh esrei of Rosh HaShana are also a kiyum of tefilah.  Sometimes a person cannot even get the words out to daven -- they can just sigh or cry and that's it.  That's the tefilah of tekiyas shofar -- a tefilah without words.  Rosh haShana is an opportunity for our prayers to be heard even if we can't articulate the words.

The four minim represent four types of Jews.  The esrog which has a nice taste and nice smell represents the tzadik who as Torah and mitzvos under his belt.  At the other extreme is the aravah, that has neither taste nor smell and is bereft of ruchniyus.  What zechus does the aravah-Jew have to call upon his his tefilos?  None.  The shape of the aravah resembles closed lips, says the Sefas Emes.  Yet on Hoshana Rabbah, even those closed lips that have no zechuyos to call on can have their prayers answered (see this post as well).

Rosh haShana starts the season of the y'mei ha'din; Hoshana Rabbah ends it.  The bookends are days of tefilah, days when Hashem is there to listen, whether you can get the words or not, whether you come with zechuyos or come with empty hands and just beg to be heard.

the dual nature of chag hasukkos

Chasam Sofer observes that in the leining for the first days of Y"T we have what sounds like two separate descriptions of Sukkos:

1) "Dabeir el Bnei Yisrael leimor bachamisha asar yom lachodesh ha'shevi'i ha'zeh chag hasukkot shivas yamim l'Hashem." (23:34)

2)  "Ach b'chamisha asar lachodesh ha'shevi'i b'aspichem es tevu'as ha'aretz tachogu es chag Hashem shivas yamim, bayom harishon shabason u'bayom ha'shemini shabason." (23:39)

From 23:34-38 the Torah only discusses the korbanos of the chag and there is no mention of the eighth day.  In the second section, 23:34-43, the mitzvos of lulav and sukkah are mentioned, and right in the introductory pasuk we are told that there is an extra day of "yom ha'shemini."

There is a dual identity to the chag of Sukkos.  On the one hand, it marks the culmination of the y'mei hadin of Rosh haShana-Yom Kippur-Sukkos, ending in Hosha'na Rabbah.  On the other hand,it is the final one of the shalosh regalim of Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos.

The y'mei ha'din are a spiritual cycle of time.  The shalosh regalim are essentially part of the agricultural cycle of planting (Pesach), ripening (Shavuos), and harvesting (Sukkos).

In the first section, the Torah deals only with the chag's spiritual dimension: korbanos.  There is no mention of it being the harvest season, unlike in the second section, which begins by mentioning that we celebrate "b'aspichem es tevu'as ha'aretz."  There, in the second section, the Torah discusses taking the lulav, celebrating nature, which has once again delivered it's bounty.  There we have the command to sit in sukkah to remind the farmer not to become spoiled and self-indulgent.  And there we have an added "yom shemini" tacked on to bring the farmer back to a focus on the spiritual, to have one final day devoted to ruchniyus, as a culmination of the chag.