Thursday, March 31, 2016

why Moshe could not serve as kohen gadol

Not a lot to say yet this week : (

1) The Ba’al haTurim at the opening of our parsha writes that because Moshe spent seven days by the burning bush arguing against accepting the mission of leading Klal Yisrael out of galus therefore he served as kohen gadol for only seven days.

The Midrash (also quoted in Rashi Shmos 4:10 and Ramban there explains similarly) writes that Moshe did not want to accept the job as go'el because he wanted his brother Aharon to have the kavod of being the leader. For this Moshe is punished?

The purpose of the Mishkan (at least according to some Rishonim) was to show that Hashem forgave the cheit ha’eigel. Aharon himself was directly involved in the cheit ha’eigel, and nonetheless, davka Aharon was chosen to be the kohen gadol and run the show. Moshe was denied the privilege perhaps not as a punishment, but simply because based on his reaction to Hashem’s charge at the burning bush, he disqualified himself. If Moshe couldn’t look beyond his perceived unworthiness and take the job then, how would he now be able to look beyond the past sin of cheit ha’eigel and accept the job of running the Mishkan?

The Ohr haChaim comments on “V’atah hakreiv eilecha es Aharon achicha” (why the extra “eilecha?”) that Moshe’s appointment of Aharon was itself a korban (“hakreiv”) of sorts to atone for his refusal to assume the mantle of leadership when Hashem offered it to him at the sneh.

2) Chazal ask why Klal Yisrael had to bring a sa’ir korban along with a par while Aharon did not.  The Toras Kohanim answers that Klal Yisrael was guilty of selling Yosef, for which they shechted a sa’ir and put the blood on the ksones pasim, and they were guilty of the cheit ha’eigel -- 2 sins, 2 korbanos.  Aharon, however, was guilty only of the cheit ha’eigel. Kli Yakar explains that even though Levi had also participated in the sale of Yosef, Aharon, the great oheiv shalom and rodef shalom, had already eradicated the animosity and jealously that was at the root of that sin.  Therefore, he was exempt from the need for kaparah for it.  

Why is the cheit of mechiras Yosef being brought up now?  Meshech Chochma explains that the brothers had a potential “out” for the sale of Yosef.  They could have argued that he should have given them tochacha directly rather than go to Ya’akov.  When Chur gave them tochacha directly to try to forestall the cheit ha’eigel and was killed as a result, it stripped the excuse for mechiras Yosef of whatever credibility it might have had.  

Why should the rejection of tochacha by Klal Yisrael at the cheit ha’eigel have any bearing on the culpability of their great… great grandparents for selling Yosef?  How does the rejection of tochacha by the eigel worshippers prove that the brothers would have also rejected direct tochacha from Yosef?   

I don’t think this is a question. We enjoy zechus Avos because we assume the traits of chessed, of mesirus nefesh, etc. that the Avos exhibited became part of our spiritual DNA. It is part of who we are, even if we don't always live up to our abilities.  If the assumption works in one direction, it has to work in the other direction as well. The rejection of tochacha in such a blatant and flagrant way, by killing Chur, didn’t come form nowhere – it must have become ingrained at some point in the past.  The seeds were planted already when the brothers rejected Yosef.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Keats' "negative capability" and parshas parah

There is an interesting point R’ Baruch Rosenberg, R”Y of Slabodka, makes in his sichos (Divrei Baruch) that I want to take in a completely different direction than he does.  He puts together two Midrashim that he puts together:

1) The Midrash tells us that the reason behind parah adumah was revealed only to Moshe. Shlomo tried to understand its secret, but even he was stymied.

2) There is another Midrash that lists four things that the yetzer ha’ra uses as ammunition to challenge us. One of the four is the law of parah adumah. How can it be, asks the yetzer, that the ashes of the parah are metaheir, but those who come in contact with the parah becomes tamei? How do you explain the self-contradiction?

It seems from the second Midrash that if not for the yetzer ha’ra, parshas parah would not present a challenge. Yet the first Midrash tells us that the law of parah adumah is incomprehensible -– it begs an inescapable and unanswerable question.

R’ Rosenberg concludes that although on the level of sod parshas parah will always remain incomprehensible, it is Torah to be learned and therefore must have some meaning for us.  The yetzer ha’ra tells us it is void of sense altogether, but that is not true.

Had R’ Rosenberg read Keats or been married to someone who read Keats : ) I think he perhaps might have offered a different answer.

Keats wrote in one of his letters, “Several things dovetailed in my mind, & at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature & which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason - Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge. This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.”

It’s Coleridge and the Enlightenment thinkers who are, for Keats, the yetzer ha’ra the Midrash speaks of. The obsession with arriving at philosophical answers, scientific answers, arriving at THE truth that resolves all doubts and questions, is something that Keats, a Romantic poet, rejected. Kears preferred savoring the beauty of the mystery itself, the beauty of multiple contradictory perspectives that the poet can slip in and out of.

It’s not the fact that we can understand the parsha of parah on at least some level that protects us from the challenges yetzer.  It's our acceptance of unfathomable mysteries and paradoxes which is the ultimate shield.     

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

chatzi shiur by kiyum mitzvah; the famous Taz about not legislating against en explicit pasuk; how long did Mordechai live?

1) The Minchas Chinuch in a few places raises the question of whether there is any value to a kiyum mitzvah done with a chatzi shiur. Do you, for example, get any credit for eating half a zayis of matzah, or is it all or nothing? He brings proof from the fact that when they gave out the lechem ha’panim each kohein only got a small piece less than a k’zayis. Even though there is a mitzvah of achilas kodshim, and achila by definition = a k’zayis, apparently eating even less than the shiur had some value. The Beis haLevi rejects this proof and distinguishes between achilas kodshim, where the mitzvah is that the cheftza be consumed, and achilas matzah, where there is a chovas hagavra to eat. However, the Netziv in last week’s parsha (6:22) is so emphatic about the fact that even the mitzvah of achilas kodshim requires eating a k’zayis that he suggests that eating less is close to being a violation of the issur of being ne’heneh from hekdesh. He is forced to concede (based on the proof from lechem ha’panim) that it’s not a real issur, but it’s certainly not something you want to avoid.

2) Chazal (Brachos 2) made a seyag that even where m’doraysa a mitzvah can be done all night, it should be completed before chatzos. The Rambam applies this din to all the cases mentioned in that Mishna, but Rashi writes that it applies only to kri’as shema but not the burning of the fats and meat of korbanos on the mizbeiach. My son alerted me to the Torah Temimah (6:2 comment #7) who explains Rashi based on the Taz’s famous principle (Y.D. 117) that the Chachamim can never uproot or change a din written explicitly in the Torah. Since our parsha says explicitly that korbanos can be burned “kol ha’layla ad ha’boker,” all night, the Chachamim could not limit the time in any way. (The L. Rebbe suggested that even the Rambam may accept the Taz’s principle, but only with respect to curtailing the performance of an actual mitzvah. In our case, there is no mitzvah to davka burn the fats at night – it is just permissible to do so if it was not done during the day.)

3) For those who are still holding by Purim, an interesting Rashi in Menachos 64b: the gemara there relates that during the Hasmonean wars, there was an attempt to disrupt the avodah.  All the wheat and barley around Yerushalayim was burnt so that the korban ha'omer and shtei halechem could not be brought (Maharasha).  There was a mute person who tried to signal where wheat could be found, and the gemara says it was Mordechai who understood the hint and figured out the name of the places based on the gestures.   Rashi there comments that this is the same Mordechai from the Purim story.  If so, it would mean Mordechai lived an amazingly long life!  Tosfos therefore rejects this view.  I don't know if anyone has a hesber for Rashi -- seems to be an argument about metziyus. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

it's not their problem -- it's our problem

Mordechai insisted that Esther go to plead her case to Achashveirosh, but she responds that she has not been called to the palace for some time.  Mordechai replied that if Esther thinks she can get off the hook with an excuse and not go, she is mistaken.  If that is her strategy, she will be lost, but there will be some other savior for the Jewish people. 

My wife has already written about this exchange on her blog, but I'll add my own two cents.  Mordechai came to Esther in Nisan, a full eleven months before Haman's decree was set to be acted on.  Maharal explains that Esther's argument was simple: why risk my life now?  Everyone knows you can't go to the king without being called for.  There is plenty of time to spare -- maybe he will call next week, next month, or at some point over the next eleven months.  At that point the issue of Haman's decree can be addressed.  What's the big rush?

Sounds reasonable, right?  But Mordechai interpreted it as a refusal to go because Mordechai knew something about psychology.  When it's your life on the line, reason goes out the window.  Let's take a non life-threatening example: two people share a car ride to the city, one to a job interview, one for a trip to a park.  They leave enough time for the trip , but there is always traffic in NY, v'kach hava.  The person with the interview looks at his watch every five minutes, cringes at every red light that holds up traffic, etc.  His neighbor, who is relaxing in the seat next to him, keeps reassuring him that he will make it in time, but the words fall on deaf ears.  What the neighbor is saying is entirely reasonable, and he's not nervous -- but he's not the one with the interview.  He has no pressure, so he can afford to talk reason.  Not so his friend.  What Mordechai was telling Esther is that if you really feel the pain and suffering, then you don't say, "Let's wait and see."  If you really feel your life is on the line, then any delay in resolving and defusing the situation feels like an eternity.  That pressure is unbearable!  You feel like you have to do something now, immediately -- no matter what the rational part of the brain may dictate.  If you don't feel that way, it means you think you have an out.  It means you look at the danger as something that applies to the other guy, but not to you.  If you have time to sit back and asses things "rationally," without any feeling of panic of sense that time is of the essence, it means you just don't get it.

Of course we should all be b'simcha on Purim, but we also need to understand that what happens in Brussels, what happens in France, what happens in Yerushalayim, is our problem, not the problem of the Jews of Brussels, France, or Eretz Yisrael.  If you read the news and your response is to do a derisha v'chakira and talk about weighing the facts and having a meeting or a conference to see how to respond, and kler over whether to hold a protest and where and who else is going, etc., and let's see after next election, etc. all of which are thoughtful, rational, responses, it means you just don't get it.  If it was G-d forbid your family member, your loved one, affected by one of the attacks, that's not how you would respond.  You would shrai chai v'kayam!

That's what our reaction needs to be.  Even if you are not crying out to politicians, to the press, to whoever else will listen (which needs to be done!), why not at least cry out to the Ribono shel Olam?


1) Yesterday when I saw the headline "ADL Condemns Cruz for 'Demonizing Muslims'" after the Brussels attack, I thought this must be an early Purim edition.  Sadly, it was not. Rather than focus on fighting the hatred directed against Jews and against Israel, particularly by the Islamic world, the ADL has to spend time looking for a kol she'hu of an  insinuation in what Cruz said so they can run and cry Islamophobia and defend the enemy.  Can you imagine what would organization like this what have done in the time of Mordechai and Esther?  Amalekphobia!  Just because Haman as a problem with Mordechai, who, after all, is a right wing extremist and therefore deserves to be scorned, does not mean all Amalekites are to be blamed.  Besides which, the Jews were building in Jerusalem, so in all fairness, you can't blame Haman for wanting to kill women and children.  And then imagine the reaction when the report of 75,000 Amalekim killed would reach their ears!  They would be apoplectic. 

This fifth column among us angers and saddens me more than the behavior of our enemy. 

2) Right after Haman made his decree, the megillah (ch 4) relates that Mordechai told Esther "es kol asher korahu."  Malbim explains that Mordechai told Esther that he was the cause of Haman's decree because he refused to bow.  The emphasis is  "korahu" = what happened to him, i.e. it was his personal standoff and fight that had now been escalated.  The Midrash reads the pasuk differently.  "Korahu" is a hint to "asher korcha ba'derech," the battle against Amalek, from whom Haman descended, that "happened" on the road out of Mitzrayim. 

I think the pshat and derash here teach us how a Jew is supposed to look at events.  The pshat is "korahu" -- it is my personal battle, unique to my time, my place, the events surrounding me.  The derash sees the same battle as part of a larger historical context.  It's not your battle -- it's a battle that has been going on for eons, fought over centuries in different times and different places by different people, and you are just a continuation and part of the larger picture.  What happens to us is part of the eternal history of Klal Yisrael.

3) "Chayav inish l'besumei b'Puria" -- I saw one of the chassidishe seforim explains it means that a person has to become intoxicated with the spirit of the chag, the meaning of the day. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

ish yemini -- never become acclimated to galus

The gemara (Meg 12) relates that R’ Shimon bar Yochai’s students asked him what Bnei Yisrael did wrong that caused the gezeirah of Haman – a question of theodicy. He put the ball back in their court and asked them what they thought, to which they replied that it was enjoying the seudah of Achashveirosh that was the problem. Rashbi countered that if that was the case, then only the people of Shushan were guilty. Why was everyone else included in the gezeirah? Rashbi then gave his own answer – it was bowing to the idol of Nevuchadnetzar years earlier that was the issue. The students countered that if Klal Yisrael was indeed guilty of avodah zarah, why did they merit the nes of being saved? Rashbi answered that it wasn’t really avodah zarah – they bowed to the idol only out of fear. It only superficially looked like avodah zarah. Therefore, they experienced the “superficial” threat of Haman’s gezeirah, but were sure to be zocheh to a nes and saved.

There’s a lot that is unclear here. What was the hava amina of the talmidim that everyone was at fault because the Jews of Shushan participated in Achashveirosh’s party? According to Rashbi, why should a cheit of avodah zarah done literally decades earlier rear its head now? And if it really wasn’t avodah zarah, then why should there have been any gezeirah? 

I happened to be recently reading R’ Sholom Gold’s autobiography,
Touching History: from Williamsburg to Jerusalem, in which he recounts that R’ Shneur Kotler was once the guest speaker at a dinner for Ner Yisrael Toronto (which R’ Gold help found) and he addressed himself to this gemara. I’ll try my best to summarize his thought, with apologies if I get anything wrong. Close to 70 years before the Purim story Klal Yisrael went into galus and cried, “Al naharos Bavel sham yashavnu gam bachinu b’zachreinu es Tzion.” What a difference 70 years made! The problem with the party of Shushan was not that the food wasn’t glatt or the wine not mevushal – it might very well have been. The problem was that participation in such an event meant that we had become acclimated to life in Bavel. We were, if not happy, certainly content. The tears that we cried as we were led into galus has long since dried up.   It may have been that only the Jews of Shushan partook of the meal, but their participation was a siman that something had changed in our  attitude toward galus.

Rashbi agreed in principle – it was acclimation and acculturation which were the causes of the gezeirah. What his disagreed with is the talmidim’s identification of Achashveirosh’s seudah as the catalyst. It was decades earlier, explained Rashbi, when Nevuchdnetzar setup his pseudo-avodah zarah and demanded that people bow, that the Rubicon was crossed. Had anyone asked a shayla whether it was really avodah zarah, the answer would have been a resounding “No” (see Maharasha). Nonetheless, even if bowing didn’t violate the letter of the law, to do so should have broken the hearts of the golim. How could someone who so recently cried “Aich nashir es shir Hashem al admas neichar?” bow even to a "kosher" idol? Yet they went ahead and did it. They already accepted such behavior as just an acceptable part and parcel of being a galus Jews . It was then that the seeds that led to  Achashveirosh’s party were planted. 

Rav Gold added to this thought a beautiful idea of his own. The gemara on the next amud (12b) has a discussion regarding the lineage of Mordechai. On the one hand, he is called “ish Yehudi,” implying that he came from the tribe of Yehudah; on the other hand, he is called, “Yemini,” implying that he came from the tribe of Binyamin. Rav Gold suggested that Mordechai was one of the few who never acclimated to Bavel; he lived with the memory of what life was life before galus and yearned to return to Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, he is the only one who could awaken the Jews to their error; he is the hero of the Purim story. "Ish Yemini" means that Mordechai remembered the vow, “Im eskacheich Yerushalayim tiskach yemini” – Mordechai never forgot Yerushalayim, never forgot Eretz Yisrael, never forgot where home really was.

Let's hope we get that lesson ourselves.

Monday, March 21, 2016

was Mrs. Rambam a better cook than Mrs. Ramban, "divrei kibusin," geder of hefker, and other assorted issues

1) Rashi comments at the beginning of the parsha (“leimor”) that Moshe was told to speak “divrei kibushin” to Bnei Yisrael. “Divrei kibushin” usually means words of mussar (e.g. see Mishna Ta’anis 2:1). Rashi continues that Moshe was told to say, “bishvilchem nidaber imi,” “Because of you Hashem is speaking to me.” What kind of mussar is this? Bnei Yisrael should be flattered, overjoyed, not contrite at hearing these words.

Last week we discussed the Ramban’s view that the purpose of korbanos is to come closer to Hashem. Adam, Kayin and Hevel, Noach, all brought korbanos, as did the Avos, without being given a mitzvah to do so. Even Yisro brough korbanos. Surely Moshe Rabeinu himself understood the meaning behind korbanos without instructions. So why do we need an entire Sefer VaYikra? That’s the “divrei kibushin” – we need it for us. “Bishvilchem nidaber imi” – Moshe told Bnei Yisrael, “I don’t need Hashem to command this to me – but you do.” We were unable to intuit the meaning of korbanos on our own, we lacked that inner drive to come closer to Hashem that naturally gives rise to an understanding of parshas hakorbanos, so it had to be given to us as a commandment.

2) Ramban (1:14) explains the reason korbanos are brought from pigeons and turtledoves by quoting a Midrash that says Hashem asked for korbanos from farm animals because these were readily available. The Torah made it easy – you don’t have to go on a safari to find a korban. Rambam gives a different reason: these birds are tasty. Ramban rejects the Rambam’s reason. Not only are they not tasty, says Ramban, but small turtledoves are almost inedible.

What’s the nekudas hamachlokes here? Was Mrs. Rambam and better cook than Mrs. Ramban and therefore the Rambam’s turtledoves tasted great? Was there a secret recipe the Rambam had that Ramban didn’t know about? 
3) Rashi tells us at the opening to VaYikra that there were times Hashem called to and spoke with Moshe and there were times that Moshe was given a break so that he could think and absorb what he had learned.

Instead of giving Moshe a break so he could mull over what he learned, why didn’t Hashem just give him more intelligence so that he could comprehend Torah faster or better and absorb it without the break? The Midrash tells us that at mattan Torah Hashem gave Moshe Torah as a gift because otherwise he could never have absorbed it. Why not do the same thing here? Taz in Divrei David answers that Hashem did not want someone to say that, “If Moshe can get it with no need for breaks, I can get it with no breaks.” It’s like a lo plug gezeirah. I would suggest that what happened at har Sinai was kabbalas haTorah; what Hashem was doing with Moshe now was limud haTorah. Study by definition includes taking breaks to think.   

4) Rashi comments on“Adam ki yakriv mikem…” that just as Adam haRishon did not offer korbanos from stolen property, as the whole world was his, so too, we are not allowed to offer korbanos from stolen goods. R’ Shteinman in his Ayeles haShachar asks what Rashi means by, “the whole world was his.” What kinyan had Adam made to acquire the entire world? He certainly could have acquired it, as there was no owner, but who says potential ownership is not the same as actual ownership?

He doesn’t use the word, but I think what R’ Shteinman is suggesting is that the most of the world in Adam’s time was hefker – absent any owner. Perhaps Rashi in principle agrees with that assessment, but Rashi understands that the definition of hefker is not that which is ownerless, but rather that which is owned by everybody (maybe this is the machlokes whether nichsei hefker konim shevisa.) If there happens to be only one person in the world, he owns everything.

5) In a few of his sichot R’ Nevenzahl quotes Chasam Sofer (end of P’ Titzaveh p165) who asks: why were Chazal metakein two separate days of celebration, 14 and 15 Adar, instead of having everyone celebrate on 13 Adar, the day of the battle  . We don’t celebrate the day after kriyas Yam Suf – we celebrate the day of kriyas Yam Suf, the day the Mitzrim met their end . So too here, we should all celebrate on the day of the 13th.

Chasam Sofer answers that were everyone to celebrate on the same day, everyone in Klal Yisrael would be in a state of ad d’lo yada at the same time. Who would be learning Torah then? Therefore, we need to celebrate in shifts.

See the Meshech Chochma in Parshas Bo who gives a different reason for our not celebrating on 13 Adar, but the Chasam Sofer is an unbelievable mussar haskel.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Ramban vs Rambam on the ta'am hamitzvah of korbanos; Chasam Sofer on what Shaul got wrong

What was the hava amina of Shaul in thinking that he did not have to finish the job with Amalek? Why did he think keeping the animals around for korbanos was a good enough excuse to ignore Shmuel's command to kill them? (There are a few posts from the previous years on this sugya as well.)  We're going to take a little detour to discuss the sugya of korbanos that our parsha of VaYikra is all about and then come back and see how the Chasam Sofer uses that as a springboard to understand Shaul's thinking and Shmuel's criticism of his actions.

There is a fundamental machlokes between Rambam and Ramban as to the ta’am hamitzvah of korbanos. Rambam writes that the dictionary definition of "worship" in the pagan world meant bringing an offering to the gods. The Jewish people did not live in a vacuum; they lived surrounded by these pagan societies from their first day as a nation.  It would have been impossible for them to give up that up form of worship cold turkey and do something else. Therefore, as a concession to circumstance, until they could be weaned off that behavior, G-d allowed Klal Yisrael serve him by bringing korbanos.  The korbanos served a utilitarian needed -- if not for korbanos,  there would have been too great a temptation to continue serving avodah zarah in order to worship just like everyone else.

Ramban disagrees and writes that the purpose of korbanos is to being a person closer to Hashem, not just as a bulwark against idolatry.  Adam haRishon brought a korban (according to Chazal), Kayin and Hevel brought korbanos, Noach brought a korban – there was no avodah zarah in their time. Why were they serving Hashem by bringing offerings? It must be, says Ramban, that korbanos have intrinsic value in their own right; they are a l’chatchila, not just a b’dieved concession.

(Meshech Chochma tries to answer this question and split the difference by distinguishing between korbanos brought on a bamah, that are just a concession to avodah zarah worship, and korbanos brought in the Mikdash, which were for the sake of coming closer to Hashem.   I don't understand how this sevara explains the Rambam, as the korbanos of Noach, Hevel, and the Avos were all bamah offerings, not offerings in the mikdash.)

Does the Mishkan exist for the sake of bringing korbanos, or are bringing korbanos part of what makes the Mishkan into a place of worship? Rambam opens Hil Beis HaBechira by telling us that the mitzvah to build a mikdash is to create a place “muchan l’hakriv bo korbanos,” i.e. the Mishkan is needed for korbanos, but Ramban writes that korbanos are needed as a means to kaparah so that the Shechinah can rest in the Mishkan, i.e. korbanos are needed for the Mishkan (
see post here). Perhaps this machlokes is l’shitasam. According to Rambam, korbanos are a bulwark against idolatry; they have nothing to do with hashra’as haShechina. According to Ramban, they share the same goal as Mishkan in enabling us to come closer to Hashem.

In light of this Rambam I think we can better understand a gemara in Megillah (12b).  The gemara reads the pasuk, “V’hakarov eilav Karshina Sheisar Admasa… sarei Paras u’Madai” (Esther 1:14) as referring to korbanos. Chazal darshen that “Karshina” is a reminder of the karim b’nei shanah, “Sheisar” is a reminder of the shtei torim, etc. The angels were asking Hashem to remember all those korbanos that Klal Yisrael used to bring. Why davka is it the zechus of korbanos that the angels evoked?  The gemara elsewhere criticizes Klal Yisrael for the mistake enjoying the lavish meal of Achashveirosh -- they got too caught up in the secular society around them (more on this sugya bl”n next week).  I think this is why the angels brought up the topic of korbanos.  According to the Rambam, the whole point of korbanos is to act as a bulwark against the temptation of avodah zarah. Who needs their offerings when we have our own?  Who needs to join in their culture when we have our own equivalent that is just as good?  The angels said to Hashem, “Don’t blame Klal Yisrael if they fell prey to outside culture. Remember when they used to have korbanos to protect them against that danger? Now they don’t have that protection, so what do you expect?” (See Maharal in Ohr Chadash for a different hesber.)

V’arvah laHashem minchas Yehudah v’Yerushalayim k’ymei olam ukshanim kadmaniyos.”  The gemara in Megillah says that the term "yehudi" is applied to anyone who rejects avodah zarah; there is no attraction to idolatry for a yehudi.  We pray, says the Chasam Sofer, that the korbanos of Yehudah (=yehudi) and the tzadikim of Yerushalayim should be like the korbanos of Adam, Noach, and the Avos, “k’shanim kadmaniyos,” like korbanos of old, offered purely l’shem shamayim to come close to Hashem, not just as a curb against idolatry, which they utterly reject.

Now we can come back to Shaul's error and Shmuel's response.  In classic Chasam Sofer fashion, he reads this whole machlokes Rambam/Ramban into the navi.  Shaul haMelech held like the Rambam. He thought the whole point of getting rid of Amalek was (as even Ramban writes with respect to the 7 Canaanite nations) to avoid the attraction of their culture. Therefore, Shaul reasoned that if he uses the animals as korbanos, which act as a bulwark against the temptation of avodah zarah, there is no longer a need to destroy them.

Shmuel responded, “Hachafeitz Hashem b’olos k’shmoa b’kol Hashem.” The purpose of korbanos is not just to avoid the temptation of avodah zarah – the purpose is to come closer to Hashem, to listen to the voice of Hashem, like the Rambam writes. “Ki chatas kesem – meri…” To think of the chatas just as a bulwark against avodah zarah (=kesem), that itself is an act of rebellion against Hashem. Therefore, since “ma’asta es dvar Hashem” by seeing the korbanos as just a means to an end and failing to recognize their intrinsic value, “va’yimascha m’melech,”  Hashem rejected the value of Shaul as king.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

krias hamegillah and krias haTorah on Purim -- one kiyum

1) The Rambam writes in Hil Tefilah 13:17

בחנוכה ביום ראשון קורין מברכת כהנים עד סוף קרבן המקריב ביום הראשון. וביום שני קורין קרבן נשיא שהקריב בשני. וכן עד יום השמיני. ביום שמיני קורין עד סוף הקרבנות עד סוף הסדר ומפטירין בשבת של חנוכה בנרות זכריה. ואם היו שתי שבתות בחנוכה מפטירין בשבת ראשונה בנרות זכריה. ובשנייה בנרות שלמה. והקורא בענין חנוכה הוא שמפטיר בנביא. בפורים קורין בשחרית ויבא עמלק:

Notice that when the Rambam speaks about the kriah on Purim he adds the word “b’shacharis,” but he omits this when he speaks about the kriah on Chanukah.

Similarly, in 12:16 the Rambam writes:
כמה הן הקוראין. בשבת בשחרית קוראין שבעה. וביוה"כ ששה. ובימים טובים חמשה. אין פוחתין מהן אבל מוסיפין עליהם. בראשי חדשים ובחולו של מועד קורין ארבעה. בשבת וביום הכפורים במנחה ובשני ובחמישי של כל השנה ובחנוכה ובפורים בשחרית ובימי התענית בשחרית ובמנחה קורין שלשה אין פוחתין ממנין זה ואין מוסיפין עליהן:

Here too, only with respect to Purim (excluding cases like Shabbos where there is a leining at mincha as well as shacharis and the Rambam needs to say which he is talking about) does the Rambam add the word "shacharis."

What is the Rambam driving at?

R’ Ya’akov Kaminetzki (in Emes l’Ya’akov on Megillah) suggests that the chiyuv krias haTorah on Purim perhaps is tied together with the chiyuv of krias hamegillah.  Therefore, one might have had a hava amina that krias haTorah can be done even at night when the megillah is read; kah mashma lan either that there is no link between the two, or, if you like the lomdus, the link is only to the primary krias hamegillah reading which is the one done during the day and not the reading at night.

In any case, it is an incredibly precise diyuk.

2) A few weeks ago I mentioned the expression found in a few places in Chazal that, "Event X was as tragic as the day the eigel was made," and I suggested a forced sevara to explain one such occurrence because I find the comparison difficult.  What could really be as bad as making an eigel?  I since found that R' Moshe Avigdor Amiel in a biographical essay on the Chasam Sofer offers an explanation.  When you see a calf, no one thinks of the proverbial "bull in a china factory."  It's just a cute little calf; it doesn't even have horns yet.  As I questioned, were any of the cases Chazal spoke about really be that bad?  The genius of Chazal is that they will able to see that the calf will grow into that bull; they were able to see how what appeared to be minor issues could grow to have major ramifications.  This was the genius, according to Rav Amiel, of the Chasam Sofer.  Each change the reformers of his time tried to implement was in truth a minor deviation, but the Chasam Sofer realized this was the eigel that would become a shor ha'hamazik.

Monday, March 14, 2016

lo tilbash and costumes; chazakah d'Rava and parshas zachor; ishto k'gufo by mishloach manos (take II)

1) The Rama at the end of the Hil Purim writes that there is no problem of lo tilbash gever simlas isha for a boy to dress up like a girl or vica versa because “ain m’chavnin elah l’simcha b’alma,” it’s just done in fun and jest. What kind of excuse is that to allow an issur d’oraysa?

This Rama seems to be proof to position of the Bach (see Shach sk 7 and Taz #4 in Y”D 188) that the issur of lo tilbash is violated only where the intent is to mimic the opposite gender.  Since in this case the clothing is being worn only for Purim fun, that intent is lacking and therefore there is no issur. The same idea might apply to clothing worn purely as a functional necessity, e.g. snowpants for skiing, sweatpants for exercise, a doctor wearing scrubs, etc. 

2) The gemara (Nidah 46) quotes in the name of Rava that once a girl has turned 12 we assume she has reached the age of maturity. The gemara then qualifies Rava’s din: this is true only for mi’un (i.e. once she   is 12 she can no longer do mi’un) but not for chalitzah (i.e. we do not assume at 12 that she is an adult and can do chalitzah).

Why should there be a difference between mi’un and chalitzah? True, mi’un is a din derabbaban and chalitzah is a din d’oraysa, but Rava is telling us that there is a chazakah, and we rely on chazakos when it comes to dinim d’oraysa.  Why not here?

There are three theories to explain the difference, with major nafka minos l’halacha.  The first two attempt to justify distinguishing between dinim d'oraysa and derabbanan; the third takes a different approach entirely:

A) When speaking about reaching physical maturity, there are a significant number of people who are exceptions to the norm, a miyut ha’matzuy, and therefore we do not assume Rava’s chazakah is strong enough proof with respect to dinim d’oraysa.

B) A chazakah should be relied upon only where facts cannot be discovered, but where it is efshar l’varer, one must check. Since in this case checking would be intrusive and embarrassing, when it comes to dinim derabbanan the consideration of kavod habriyos overrides the need to do an examination. 

C) The Noda b’Yehudah (II:1) and R’ Akiva Eiger (#13) both argue that the distinction here has nothing to do with d’oraysa vs. derabbanan. The difference between mi’un and chalitzah is this: in the case of mi’un, chazakah d’Rava, which precludes mi’un, reinforces the status quo chazakah of the girl being married. In the case of chalitzah, our baseline starting point is that the girl is too young to do chalitzah and therefore has a chezkas issur yevamah la'shuk.  Chazah d’rava challenges the status quo; it means the girl can undo her existing status. The gemara is telling us that chazakah d’Rava carries weight when it has another chazakah/status quo on its side; when it runs counter to another chazakah, it does have the strength to overturn it. 

Can a 13 year old boy write his own pair of tefillin? If theory #1 or #2 is right (assuming we cannot or do not want to do an examination), then the tefillin would be pasul. Since we are dealing with a din d’oraysa, chazaka d’Rava is not strong enough proof.  However, if theory #3 is correct, there is no chezkas issur in this case that we need to counteract, and therefore, chazakah d’Rava is proof enough that the 13 year old has reached maturity. (See R’ Akiva Eiger who rejects this argument for a different reason).

Can a 13 year old boy be motzi the tzibur in parshas zachor? Same issue. Based on theory #1 and theory #2, he is disqualified. Based on theory #3, his leining would be OK. 

3) It seems like every other post I write lately needs some correcting -- sorry about that.  I wrote two weeks ago that the Aruch haShulchan seems in one place to opine that a wife can be yotzei mishloach manos with her husband's gift, yet in another place he says women are independently chayavos to give their own gifts.  I think in all likelihood in the later statement the Ah"S is just echoing the Rama aliba d'dina; in the former statement he is speaking practically, echoing the MG"A who comments on that Rama that the minhag is for women to be included in their husband's gift.  When people give mishloach manos my impression is that most people write something like "From the Ploni family" on their gift; they don't designate a gift as being from Mr. Ploni and one from Mrs. Ploni.  This would follow the view of the MG"A.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

va'teichel -- the work finishes itself; va'teichel -- kalsa nafshi

“Va’teichel kol avodas mishkan ohel moed va’ya’asu Bnei Yisrael k’chol asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe…” (39:32). The pasuk switches from active voice, “va’ya’asu,” “they did,” when talking about Bnei Yisrael starting the work, to passive voice, “va’teichel,” “it was completed,” when talking about the work being finished. I know in my house when my kids switch to passive voice – “It broke” – it spells trouble because it means no one wants to take responsibility. Here, things went right – the work was finished. Why switch to the passive voice?   Similarly, when the navi speaks about the Beis haMikdash, it uses the term (Melachim I ch 6), “habayis b’hibanoso” in the passive voice, “the house that was built”, not “she’banu’hu,” the house that the people built. Why? The Zohar (222b) answers (see Ohr haChaim as well) that Bnei Yisrael started the job, “va’ya’asu,” but it was not their efforts and abilities alone that brought the work to completion. “Va’teichel” -- the work actually finished itself of its own accord.

R’ Ya’akov Ades writes that this Zohar is an important lesson for attaining one's goals in avodas Hashem. One should not be afraid of aspiring to achieve great things even if they seem far outside one’s abilities and grasp. Not to worry – “va’teichel,” the job will finish itself.  All a person has to do is to start and to make an effort.

The Midrash echoes this idea of the work completing itself, albeit in a different context with what seems like a different lesson. The Midrash writes: “Rabos banos asu chayil v’at alis al kulana”-- there were many chachamim (banos = binah, wisdom) who tried to put together the mishkan, but they were unable to get it to stand, so they brought the boards and beams to Moshe, and he was finally able to assemble it.  But don’t think, says the Midrash, that it was Moshe’s skill that enabled him to do it. “Hukam ha’mishkan,” (40:17) the pasuk says, in the passive voice.  The mishkan miraculously assembled itself (see Rashi); Moshe was simply the conduit for the miracle to occur.

A mussar-ish reading of the Midrash (see R’ Reuvain Katz in Dudai Reuvain) might derive from it that everyone wants to be a chief; no one wants to just be an Indian.  Everyone thinks that he is the chacham who can assemble the mishkan, but that didn’t work and it can’t work. It’s only Moshe Rabeinu, the person who never wanted to be the chief, who is able to do the job.

The Sefas Emes (5643), however, sees a more positive message here.  We need those “rabos banos asu chayil” – we need everyone to try to put up the mishkan, to want to be the one to get the job done. There has to be a hisorerus on our part, and only then, “v’at alis al kulana,” is Moshe Rabeinu enabled and capable of completing the job. We need leaders who lead, but we also need followers prepared to do everything they can to make their mission a success.

There is another connotation to “va’teichel” that the Ohr haChaim highlights. David haMelech tells us, “Nichsifa v’gam kalsa nafshi l’chatzros Hashem.” (Teh 84:3) “Vateichel” = kalsa nafshi, the people were filled with tremendous desire to make a mishkan -- it wasn’t a chore or a burden. We say every Shabbos, “Vayichulu ha’shamayim v’ha’aretz….” It’s this same idea as “kalsa nafshi…”  When Shabbos comes the world is filled with kisufim, with a desire, to come close to its Creator.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

who gave our kings their names? a chiddush of the Tiferes Yisrael

Last week I quoted the Seforno’s explanation of the double-language in language in the pasuk, “K’chu mei’itchem terumah la’Hashem kol nediv libo y’vi’eha es terumas Hashem…” (35:5) “Terumah la’Hashem,” explains the Seforno, was a voluntary donation; “terumas Hashem” was the required half shekel each individual had to bring.   The pasuk is telling us that both of these donations were brought together. Why should that be?

Rashi comments on “V’yikchu li terumah” that terumah has to be “li=lishmi,” given without ulterior motives, completely l’shem shamayim. R’ Shimon Sofer explains that this is why the two donations had to be given together. This can cut one of two ways: 1) When it comes to giving a voluntary amount, there is always the danger that someone is giving a lot just to show off. Therefore, the Torah says to bundle the voluntary donation with the required machtzis ha’shekel, where everyone gave the same amount, as a reminder to give for the right reason. 2) Since the machtzis ha’shekel was a requirement and not voluntary, there was the danger that people would be less motivated to give and not give with as full a heart. Therefore, the Torah says to bundle it with the voluntary donations.

2) Regarding the question I raised on the Netziv, pellehDin pointed out in the comments that the Netziv elsewhere identifies chochmah with yirah and inspiration, not just smarts. The Torah repeatedly refers in the parshiyos of the Mishkan to those who are “chachmei lev” – not chachmei mo’ach.  The artisans did not have a greater IQ or a bigger brain – what they had is a bigger heart. Or, as my son put it when I mentioned this topic to him, “Hein yiras Hashem hi chochmah.” The biggest chochma is to have yirah. That’s why the Netziv raised the question of how G-d can give such chochma/ inspiration when “
hakol b’ydei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim.”  Apologies for not noticing the other Netziv until it was too late to change the post.

3) Shabbos Shekalim was a chance to review shekalim, and a Tiferes Yisrael in ch 6 caught my eye.  He elaborates on a point not directly connected to the Mishna there because, he writes, it is a peleh, something amazing, i.e. something we should take note of.  The peleh is:  the name of each king in Nach corresponds to a central theme or central event of that individual’s life.  For example, to take an easy one, Shaul – Bnei Yisrael asked, were sho’el, a king in his lifetime. Also, the monarchy was borrowed, sha’ul, from Yehudah, during his reign. David comes from the same word as “ani l’dodi,” beloved. The Tif Yisrael goes right down the list of kings until Tzidkiyahu, who was a tzadik and was matzdik the din against him. Was this just a remarkable coincidence that the names matched the events?  He suggests that there must have been nevi’im present at the royal births who suggested the names that were given. This makes sense when speaking of later kings who were part of a royal dynasty, but I don’t see how it works when comes to Shaul or David. No one knew they would be king – even Shmuel haNavi didn't suspect it.  Is it just coincidence that their names fit? My wife suggested that perhaps it was not a navi who chose the names, but it was the parents who are blessed with the special gift of ruach hakodesh when it comes to choosing names for their children.

In the same perek the Mishna refers to two gates on the western side of the azarah “she’lo haya lahem shem,” which were unnamed. The Tosfos Yom Tov points out that in fact Josephus tells us that there were no gates in the west, and there is no mention of these gates in Yechezkel.  The Tos Y”T is troubled by the discrepancy, and concludes that we have to side with Chazal’s mesorah. The Tiferes Yisrael quotes his father who read the Mishna in a way that avoids the problem. It’s not that the gates had no name, “shem,” but rather “she’lo haya lahem sham,” they were not there. As opposed to bayis rishon, where such gates might have existed, they were not present in bayis sheni. (I checked Kahati and his nikud follows the standard reading.) 

Thursday, March 03, 2016

ability commensurate with desire

This article is a must read.

1) The Netziv on our parsha asks a question that I don’t completely understand. The builders of the mishkan were, “Kol ish chacham lev asher nasan Hashem chochma b’libo…,” (36:2) wise people that Hashem granted wisdom to and inspired. Netziv asks: how could Hashem grant “chochma b’libo” to certain people so that they could participate in building the Mishkan? “Hakol b’ydei shamayim chutz m’yiras shamayim” – Hashem can give a person a lot of things, but he cannot give a person yiras shamayim. That has to come through free choice. Now, I think I’m being charitable to the Netziv by using the word “inspire” for chochma, but in reality, I think the word I should have used is brains. That’s why I don’t quite get the question. G-d does not distribute smarts equally. Some people have it, some people don’t. G-d gives each of us different talents to use to the best of our ability, whether it’s the ability to build a mishkan or the ability to play violin, or the ability to think. What does that have to do with yiras shamayim?

Be that as it may, his answer is a great point. Netziv quotes the continuation of the pasuk: “…kol asher nisa’o libo l’karvah el ha’melacha.” The people who were given the talent to build were those who chose to step forward and wanted to help. Anyone could have stepped forward – but not everyone did. Those who did were rewarded with ability commensurate with their desire. 

2) “K’chu mei’itchem terumah la’Hashem kol nediv libo y’vi’eha es terumas Hashem…” (35:5) Seforno comments on the switch from "terumah la’Hashem” to“terumas Hashem” and explains that the pasuk is referring to two different gifts. The “terumah la’Hashem” was the voluntary donation; “terumas Hashem” was the required half shekel each individual had to bring.

Chasam Sofer answers that everything that we own is “terumas Hashem,” Hashem’s money -- if he didn’t give it to us, we wouldn’t have it in the first place. Any donation we give is like drawing a check against someone else’s account and then presenting it to them as a gift. So why not just cut out the middle man, i.e. us? The answer is that Hashem wants us to exercise our generosity; the money he gives us allows us the means to do so. Our job is to turn the “terumas Hashem” into “terumah la’Hashem,” a gift to G-d.     

The Sefas Emes brings out the same point using a different diyuk.  Why does the pasuk, “Kol nediv libo y’vi’eha eis terumas Hashem…” adds the word “y’vi’eha” when it could just as easily have said, “yavi eis terumas Hashem?” Sefas Emes answers that “y’vi’eha” is not talking about the terumah, the physical gold and silver that was brought, but rather is referring back to the previous clause, the nedivus lev, the spirit of generosity, of “kol nediv libo.” That’s what Hashem really wants from us. That’s the “chutz m’yiras Shamayim” that has to come from us. 

3) For something on P' Shekalim, see here from my wife.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

why is there a special limud to obligate geirim to observe Purim; ishto k'gufo by matanos l'evyonim

1) “Kiymu v’kiblu… v’al kol hanilvim aleihem” (9:27) Rashi explains “kol ha’nilvim aleihem” is a special ribuy to include geirim.

Geirim are obligated in all mitzvos. You don’t need, for example, a special din to tell you a ger is chayav to observe Chanukah. Why is a special ribuy needed to include geirim in the chiyuv of Purim?

The Brisker Rav (quoted in R’ Turtzin’s Kuntres Chanukah u’Megillah siman 9) explains that the mitzvah of Purim is different because it was only by virtue of a kabbalah – “kiymu v’kiblu” -- that Klal Yisrael accepted the mitzvah.  Since even we needed a special kabbalah to become obligated in the mitzvah, geirim also need their own kabbalah.

R’ Chaim Kanievsky in
Ta’ama d’Kra (p 220) compares the chiyuv to celebrate Purim to the din of birchas hoda’ah on a miracle. Not only can the individual who experienced the miracle recite birchas hoda’ah, but one’s descendants can recite the bracha as well (O.C. 218). Since future geirim are not descendants of those who experienced the miracle, a special din is needed to be mechayeiv them.

2) The Aruch haShulchan writes in 694:2 with respect to giving matanos l’evyonim:

ויראה לי דאיש ואשתו – שניהם יוצאים בשני מתנות, דכגוף אחד הם.

However you understand it, he applies an ishto k'gufu type sevara to say that a husband and wife can fulfill matanos l'evyonim with one joint gift.

Yet he writes in 695:18

וכל הנשים חייבות בשילוח מנות ובמתנות לאביונים, ואפילו יש לה בעל – אינה נפטרת בשל בעל, דזהו מצוה דרמי עליה

Here he says women must independently fulfill their obligation.

I don’t understand how to resolve the contradiction.