Thursday, June 30, 2016

Yehoshua and Kalev's irrational argument

1) Parshas Shelach opens with a "machlokes" between the majority of scouts and the minority of Kalev and Yehoshua. The majority delivered a report saying the land was unconquerable – the inhabitants were too mighty, the cities too fortified, there were giants living there. Kalev presented the dissenting view – “Aloh na’aleh v’yarashnu osah,” we can go up and conquer. We can imagine the same scene being played out in any number of other contexts: before battle, generals gather, plans are presented, risk are weighed. Do we invade? Can we succeed? It doesn’t matter if we are speaking about Canaan, D-Day, or Fallujah, it’s all the same story. 

The debate seems to end with the majority view winning the day, and the people reacting with tears and complaints to Moshe as to why they left Egypt. But the debate was apparently not over. A few pesukim later Yehoshua and Kalev speak up again, saying the land is good, and, “Im chafeitz banu Hashem v’havi osanu el ha’aretz ha’zos… eretz asher hi zavas chalav u’devash.” (15:8) If G-d desires, he can bring us to the land of milk and honey. The generals/scouts had already sat down at the table and debated, assessed, and came to a conclusion. The people had reacted and weighed in as well. What were Yehoshua and Kalev adding? Why did they think these words would carry any more weight than Kalev’s previous impassioned speech?

Shem m’Shmuel explains that they key to Yehoshua and Kalev’s argument is one word – “chafeitz,” desire. You can argue with me from today till tomorrow that vanilla ice cream is better than chocolate, that the Yankees are better than the Mets, that Picasso is better than Rembrandt, but it won’t make any difference. Reason is irrelevant when you are talking about a like, a desire, a cheifetz. This is what I like – I can’t explain why, I can’t justify why, and I don’t need to.

The generals sitting around the table before any battle in history can weigh the merits of “go” vs. “no go, ” but the fight for Eretz Yisrael is different. In this argument, the side arguing “go” always holds the winning trump card because in this argument, it’s not about risk/benefit analyses or tactics or strategy. B’derech ha’teva all those play a role, but only in so far as determining the “how” – not the “if.” At the end of the day, the conquest of Eretz Yisrael is about one thing: “im chafetz banu” – Hashem's desire. Yehosua and Kalev were telling the people that ain hachi nami, based on logic and reason and strategy their argument may appear to be weaker than that of the majority view – they can even concede that part of the debate -- but their point of view is still right, because logic and reason go out the window when the issue is “im chafetz banu Hashem,” what Hashem wants. Even the question of whether or not we deserve it goes out the window.

2) Many meforshim read the parshiyos of mitzvos that follow the cheit ha’meraglim as a response to their sin. Seforno explains that originally, no korbanos needed nesachim. After the cheit ha’eigel, Bnei Yisrael were given the mitzvah of bringing nesachim with korbanos tzibur to make these offerings acceptable. Now, after cheit ha’meraglim, nesachim were needed even with korbanos yachid to make then acceptable.

Shem m’Shmuel sees the nesachim not as a corrective measure for some deficiency or failure, but as an opportunity. Pre-mattan Torah, korbanos did not have the power to include the ingredients of nesachim in their tikun. After mattan-Torah, Hashem gave us a bonus and we were given the privilege of bringing nesachim. Because the tzibur was united, the nesachim of korbanos tzibur worked on behalf of everyone. The cheit ha’meraglim splintered the community and that unity was lost. Therefore, nesachim had to be brought by each individual on his own behalf.

He doesn't spell it out, but it seems that what broke the unity of the nation was the rejection of Eretz Yisrael.  One of the defining features of a nation is having a homeland.  Since Klal Yisrael rejected Eretz Yisrael, they were reduced to a collection of individuals, a bunch of tribes wandering around together.  Erertz Yisrael is the glue that binds us together as one.

Monday, June 27, 2016

B'ha'aloscha: why "nochal" in future tense; kri\kesiv of "anav;" the two meanings of "na"

1) “Zacharnu es ha’dagah asher NOCAL b’Mitzrayim chinam…” (11:5) I saw the following question quoted in R’ Shteinman’s name: why use the word “nochal,” future tense, e.g. “mah NOACHAL ba’shanah hashevi’is…?” (Vayikra 25:20), when we are talking about what was eaten in the past in Mitzrayim? Shouldn’t it be past tense?

I am surprised that none of the meforshim I took a look at dealt with this issue. My wife suggested that Bnei Yisrael here were planning to rebel and turn back to Mitzrayim. The people remembered the good stuff they saw in Egypt, but never could have.  Now, with the defeat of Egypt, they anticipated returning and being able to indulge. 

2) Moshe is described in our parsha as “ANAV me’od.” (12:3) The word “anav” is a kri/kesiv. The kesiv is without a yud; the kri is with a yud before the final vav. Can someone who knows more about grammar than I do please explain the difference? How is anav without a yud pronounced differently than anav without a yud? (See Minchas Shai)

R’ Bachyei explains that the missing yud is a punishment. When Moshe was about to draw water from the rock to give to Bnei Yisrael in response to their complaints, he said to BN”Y, “Ha’min ha’sela ha’zeh NOTZI lachem mayim?” (Bamidbar 20:12) He should have said “YOTZI,” referring to Hashem. Since Moshe left out the yud there, the yud is missing here – there is a little something missing from the anivus (we are talking about infinitesimal degrees here, not a noticeable chisaron). Apparently even though had not uttered those words yet, the minute pgam was part of his personality at this point (or you could say the Torah is speaking from the perspective of the omniscient reader, as discussed last week.)

3) There is an interesting machlokes between Targum Onkelus and Targum Yonasan as to how to translate Moshe’s tefilah of “K-l NA refa NA lah” (12:13) Targum Yonasan explains both words “na” the same way, as a supplication. Targum Onkelus explains the second “na” as “immediately.” We find this same use in a few other places (see the notes to R’ Cooperman’s edition of the Meshech Chochma). Ibn Ezra explains that the issur of eating the korban pesach “na” means undercooked – it was taken off the fire too quickly. When the malachim come to Sdom, Lot tells them “suru na” and enter his home. He’s not saying “please” to them – he is telling them to rush, because it was dangerous to welcome guests into your home in Sdom.   I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Artscroll translation of “Ana Hashem hoshi’a na” captures this meaning. We are not just saying, “Please Hashem help us” (as the Koran siddur explains it, but we are asking, as Artscroll translates, “Please Hashem help us NOW.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

why Moshe was more disturbed by kivros ha'ta'avah than cheit ha'eigel

Following Bnei Yisrael’s complaint about the man, the Torah tells us that, “V’ha’man k’zra gad hu, v’eino k’ein ha’bedolach.” (12:7) Rashi explains that the Torah is telling us how wonderful the man was, showing us just how silly and baseless the complaint of Bnei Yisrael was. In a similar vein the next pasuk tells us that the man could taste like whatever food a person desired. It was an incredible food – the people should have been gobbling it up. The Torah then adds an additional detail. “U’b’redes ha’tal al ha’machaneh layla yeired ha’man alav.” (12:9) The dew would fall at night, and next morning, on top of the dew, there was the man. Unlike the previous pesukim, this pasuk doesn’t seem to be telling us anything incredible about the taste or quality of the man. The dew fell and then man fell – so what? Why mention it here?

Moving on, the Torah tells us that Moshe heard the people crying, each by their own tent, and Hashem was angry, “u’b’eini Moshe ra,” it was bad in Moshe’s eyes. It sounds like until now everything was A-ok, but now Moshe got upset. Why didn’t he get upset right away, when the people started making their baseless complaints? What set him off only now?

Finally, we have Moshe’s incredible speech in which he asks Hashem how he is supposed to handle the burden of such rebellious people. This is the first time Moshe has had such a reaction. If Moshe was able to handle the cheit ha’eigel, why couldn’t he handle this challenge? (R’ Soloveitchik has a great shiur that addresses this question that you can find quoted many places.)

Chasam Sofer explains that it was probably only a people at first who started complaining -- rebellions start with a few vocal people, not a mass uprising. The rest of Bnei Yisrael stood on the sidelines, watching, waiting. What would the reaction to these rabble rousers be? What punishment would they invite? The people woke up the next morning, and incredibly, “u’b’redes ha’tal al ha’machaneh layla yeired ha’man alav,” the dew had fallen, the man had fallen on top of it, and nothing had changed from the day before. The miracle of the man did not cease, the food was not cut off, and life seemed to be the same as always!  At that point, things began to snowball. Since there were no consequences, the rebellion   expanded. There were now more people involved, “ha’am bocheh l’mishpichosav,” and Hashem was angry at the people as a whole.

What upset Moshe, “b’eini Moshe ra,” was not the rebellion per se – this wasn’t worse than cheit ha’eigel. What bothered Moshe was the fact that Hashem had done nothing to halt events before they snowballed. What bothered Moshe was, “u’b’redes ha’tal al ha’machaneh layla yeired ha’man alav,” the fact that the man had fallen as it always had.  Moshe understood that as the leader of Klal Yisrael, it was his job was to give tochacha, to deal with complaints, outbursts, problems, and guide the people to do good.  But he also assumed that it was not his job alone, it was not “masa ha’am ha’zeh alai,” just his burden.  He expected Hashem to also play a role in curbing the people's bad behaviors. 

A tactic all little kids try is when parent #1, father or mother, decides to punish them in some way, they go to parent #2 and try to get their way.  If the parents are not on the same page, it makes for problems.  Moshe was in effect telling Hashem that if he has to sometimes take a tough line and give tochacha to Klal Yisrael, Hashem can't still be dispensing goodies to them as if nothing was awry. 

But as the Chasam Sofer says succinctly, “Ze’hu darkei Elokeinu yisbarach.” Maybe there would be fewer people who went off the derech if the millionaire who was mechalel Shabbos lost his fortune, or if a lighting bolt immediately struck  down wrongdoers.  I imagine more people would listen to the Rabbi's speech Shabbos morning if they knew that if they stepped out of line, there would be real consequences. But that’s not how it works. Hashem gives us a long rope.  The Rabbi still has to give his speech and try to get us to do good, and hopefully he succeeds, but even if he fails, Hashem does not take away our lifeline.

See Sefas Emes 5644 who interprets the whole parsha here to the credit of Klal Yisrael.  The people had a ta'avah, and they started crying, saying that they remembered the food they ate for free in Egypt.  What they were crying about is not the fact that they didn't have food.  What they were crying about is the fact that they felt such a ta'avah!  They were crying that they had hirhurim about the past in Egypt.  Amazing.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

is Torah written from the perspective of the omniscient reader?

The Torah tells us in Parshas Naso that the Nes'im brought gifts to dedicate the Mishkan. Who were the Nesi'im? The Torah describes them as "heim nesi'ei ha'matos, heim ha'omdim al ha'pekudim." (7:2) Rashi explains that they were the leaders who assisted Moshe in the count of Bnei Yisrael that we read about in last week's parsha.

Many of the meforshei Rashi are bothered by the chronology here. The count in last week's parsha took place in Iyar. The chanukas haMishkan when the Nesi'im gave their gifts took place on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. It would have been impossible for Moshe or anyone else to know the Nesi'im at that time as the "omdim al ha'pekudim" as the count had not yet occurred.  So how could the Torah describe them as such?  (Abarbanel interestingly suggests that the parshiyos are in chronological order.  When the Torah speaks of the chanukas hamishkan, it does not mean "opening day," 1 Nisan.  It means the first day in which individuals offered their own korbanos, as opposed to korbanos tzibur.  The Nesi'im were given the honor to inaugurate this new type of avodah, and the date was sometime post 1 Iyar.)  

The answer Maharal proposes is that from our perspective – the perspective of the omniscient reader – we already know what happened in last week's parsha.  The Torah is speaking from our point of view, not from the point of view of a character in the storyline.

I don't know why this idea doesn't sit well with me and off the top of my head I don't have a source to challenge it, so it must just be me. 

Another example illustrating the same idea:

In Parshas BaMidbar Moshe is told to count every Levi from one month old and up. Rashi explains that the threshold of one month is the demarcation between a viable living child and a neifel. Rashi then continues and offers a Midrashic explanation of why Levi alone was counted from such an early age when all other shevatim were counted from age 20 and up. The Torah tells us that there were seventy members of Ya’akov’s family who came down to Egypt.  However, if you tally up all the people listed, the total comes to only 69. The missing person, says Rashi, is Yocheved, who was born just as they entered the city. We see from here that even a baby Levi is counted. Moshe’s count just continued the tradition.

Meforshei Rashi ask: isn’t Rashi self-contradictory? First Rashi tells us that you can only count a child older than 30 days old to ensure that the child is not a neifel. Then Rashi tells us that Yocheved was counted from the moment of birth – even younger than 30 days old. If she is the model, then why not count everyone from birth?

Again, Maharal explains that the Torah is speaking from the perspective of the omniscient reader. Had someone in Ya’akov’s family taken a count, he/she would have excluded Yocheved, as he/she would have no way of knowing until 30 days passed whether she was a neifel or not. When Moshe counted the members of the tribe of Levi, he had to exclude everyone younger than 30 days as there was no way he could tell whether that child was a neifel. However, we, the readers, know that Yocheved did live a long life. We, the readers, know that she was not a neifel. Therefore, from our perspective, she counts as the seventieth member of Ya’akov’s family entering Egypt.

The truth is that this issue comes up in the very first parsha in the Torah. The Torah (Braishis 2:14) describes the third river of Eden, Chidekel, as flowing “kidmas Ashur,” east toward Ashur. There obviously was no nation of Ashur yet – if you told someone standing in Eden to look for the river that flowed toward Ashur, he would have no idea what you are talking about. The gemara (Kesubos 10) explains that this proves “kasav k’ra l’asid,” the Torah was written in a way that anticipates what would happen in the future.  Is that the same thing as saying Torah is written from the perspective of the omniscient reader?  Or do you think it means something else?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

zemer vs shirah and the mistake of David

No time, but I did not want to skip a whole week from writing!

The gemara (Sotah 35) writes that Hashem was angry at David haMelech for saying, "Zmiros ha'yu li chukecha."   How can you call Torah a "zemer," a song?  If you stop thinking about Torah for a minute, it is gone -- Torah study demands constant diligence and concentration.  It's not like "Row row row your boat."   Hashem promised David that as a result of his words and the attitude they reflected, David would make an error in a pasuk that even children know.   Sure enough, when it came time to transport the aron kodesh, David used a wagon, misinterpreting the pasuk in our parsha that says the aron must be transported on the shoulders of the Bnei Kehas.

Netziv points out that it's not that David forgot the pasuk.  He knew that, "...Ki avodas ha'kodesh aleihem ba'kasef yisa'u." (7:9)  Those words, however, can be interpreted in two ways.  It might mean that when and if the Bnei Kehas carry the aron, they should do it on their shoulders, i.e. it's a din in the gavra.  If others carry it, then other means of transport are acceptable.  Or it might mean that when the aron is transported, the only way to do it is on the backs of Bnei Kehas, i.e. a din in the cheftza of the aron.  David misinterpreted the pasuk as meaning the former instead of the latter.

Be that as it may, what in fact is the big deal in calling Torah a "zemer?"  Isn't the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah derived from the words, "Kisvu lachem es ha'shirag hazos?"  G-d calls Torah a shirah -- so why can't it be called a zemer?  And don't we say pesukei d'zimra every morning? 

The word zemer shares the same root as the word zomer, pruning.  If you want a plant or tree to grow, you have to first clear away all the tangle and bad growth that is strangling and holding back the good growth from developing.  When we say pesukei d'zimra, what we are doing is clearing away all the negativity that is holding us back from connecting to Hashem.  That's a wonderful and necessary goal, but it's not what Torah is all about, explains R' Yosef Englel in the Gilyonei haSha"s.  Torah is not about just eliminating the pitfalls and restraints -- Torah is what brings the new growth and makes it happen.  It is positive energy that moves a person forward.  It is a shirah that uplifts, not just a zemer that cuts away the bad.   (See also Pachad Yitzchak, Shavuos, #18)

R' Yosef Engel explains that when Yehoshua asked the malach who visited him on the eve of battle, as the gemara (Meg 3) tells us, whether he was there to chastise him for having missed the daily korban tamid or for missing learning Torah, what Yehoshua was driving at was whether what mattered more was having missed clearing away the negative energy that might bring harm, which is the goal of korbanos, or having missing the injection of positive good that comes from learning.  The malacha answered, "Atah basi," alluding to the pasuk, "Atah kisvu lachem es ha'shirah hazos."  It's the positive energy of Torah that was lacking. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

life after death (II)

Part I was really a sidelight that spun out of control.  What I really wanted to talk about is the limud of the gemara. How did R’ Yehoshua ben Levi know that people died when they heard the dibros? The gemara quotes a pasuk in Shir haShirim 5:6, “Pasachti ani l’dodi v’dodi chamak avar NAFSHI YATZA’H B’DABRO…” The problem is that if you look at the pasuk in context, it seems to mean exactly the opposite of what the gemara takes it to mean. The way the gemara interprets it, the pasuk is an allusion to becoming so overwhelmed with Hashem’s presence and closeness that one’s life departs. However, in context, what the pasuk is speaking about is opening the door to Dodi, to Hashem, and finding that it’s too late – that he is no longer knocking and waiting, he’s not there, he’s gone into hiding. Rashi comments on “nafshi yatz’ah b’dabro” that the words Dodi is saying “b’dabro” are words of departure: “I am leaving because you failed to answer.” The pasuk continues that the beloved searches for her Dod but fails to find him; the beloved calls to him but he fails to answer. This is a description of a painful parting, not a description of mattan Torah, not a description of the moment of eirusin, not of closeness with Hashem. What’s going on here?

The Sefas Emes (5640) points out a glaring redundancy in the pasuk, "V'kol ha'am ro'im es hakolos... va'yar ha'am va'yanu'u va'ya'amdu mei'rachok."  The pasuk tells us up front that the people were "ro'im es ha'kolos;" why repeat again at the end "va'yar ha'am?"  Secondly, why in the beginning of the pasuk does the Torah change the tense from the usual "va'yar," which seems to fit, to "ro'im," present tense? 

Sefas Emes answers that the Torah is speaking about two different groups of people.  "Va'yar," past tense, refers to the people who stood at Har Sinai over 3000 years ago.  "Ro'im" present tense, refers to you and me.  Every Shavuos the Torah is given anew, and we have a chance to re-experience seeing it happen all over again.

The difference is, says the Sefas Emes, that we are so far from the closeness to Hashem that we had back then.  You can't just walk into a Shavuos, walk into a ma'amad Har Sinai, and expect Hashem to drop a Torah in your lap when you are on such a small level of ruchniyus.  "Va'yar ha'am," our great-great... grandparents saw us -- saw what we would be like -- and knew that we would never be able to come close to the mountain and receive the giluy of Hashem's presence in its full force.  Therefore, "Vayanu'u," they took a step back for our sake.  "Nafshi yatza'ah b'dabro" -- not then, but now.  We are the ones who failed to respond and are now staring at the empty doorway, looking for Hashem.  But out great-great... grandparents had our neshomos within them, and therefore, even then, even though they were so close to Hashem, their souls departed and they could not take the experience.  They could not bear the totality of the giluy of mattan Torah because we were there too, within them, and we are the ones who cannot bear the totality of that giluy.

But, says the Sefas Emes, we can fix it.  Every year we experience "ro'im" all over again, and ever year it's up to us -- is this the year of "nafshi yatz'ah..." or the year where we respond to the knock at the door?

life after death (I)

I am going to break this post into two parts, so if you don't like one, maybe you will liek the other, and if you like neither, I hope you at least like your cheesecake.

The gemara (Shabbos 88b) quotes two statements from R Yehoshua ben Levi as to the “shock and awe” effect hearing the dibros had on Bnei Yisrael: 1) Bnei Yisrael were blown back away from the mountain by the force of Hashem’s words and malachim had to come and help them return; 2) Bnei Yisrael died as a result of shock and Hashem had to rain down dew of techiyas ha’meisim to revive them. So which is it – were they just blown back in shock, or did they actually die from the experience? Maharasha answers that both are correct – it all depended on the level of the listener. 

There are Achronim who use this gemara as a proof text to address the following issue: the gemara in Megillah (7) tells us that Rabbah got so inebriated that he killed R’ Zeira in the middle of Purim seudah. He then davened and brought him back to life. Would R’ Zeira need to go home and do a new kiddushin on his wife?   Is he the same R’ Zeira as before, or is the old R’ Zeira gone, the kiddushin done by him terminated, and this is a new person? (If you could interpret the whole story metaphorically there is obviously noting to talk about.) We see from our gemara that even though according to R’ Yehoshua ben Levi hearing the dibros caused people to die , they were still permitted to return to their wives after mattan Torah. There was not a mass need for new kiddushin. 

I know this is a dochak way to address the proof, but let me have fun and write it anyway.  The Pnei Yehoshua (Kid 13) has a big chiddush that the din that the death  of a husband cancels ishus and is matir a wife to marry others does not apply to a ben noach. For them, marriage (absent divorce) is forever. Assuming the Pnei Yehoshua is correct (Minchas Chinuch 34:20 disagrees), perhaps it is only on day 40 when Moshe gave Klal Yisrael the entire Torah that their status switched to full fledged yisraelim, but until that point maybe they had the status of ben noach. Therefore, even if they died, their ishus was not terminated and they could return to their wives afterwards.

Obvious problem: we eat milchigs on Shavuos because right after mattan Torah Klal Yisrael could not use their treif pots and pans. Don’t we see that the din of being a yisrael kicked in right away? I could tell you that there are other reasons for eating milchigs (the Rama writes that the idea is to use 2 loaves as a remez to the shtei ha’lechem), but there are probably a host of other questions you can ask to shoot down my idea. 

Monday, June 06, 2016

v'zacharti es brisi: tochacha or blessing?

1) "V'zacharti es brisi Ya'akov v'af v'es brisi Yitzchak v'af es brisi Ya'akov ezkor v'ha'aretz ezkor." (26:42)  The Shl"H has a famous comment as to why this pasuk is considered part of the tochacha.  If a child is raised by bad parents and he/she doesn't have a role model or training as to how to behave, it would be no wonder if the child grows up to be a monster.  But if the child has wonderful parents who are excellent role models and the child still becomes a monster, then something is really wrong.  The Torah is telling us that had we lacked role models, then maybe our behavior could be excused and the tochacha would not be that harsh.  But we are bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.  We come from the best of the best; we have within us the genes of the best of the best.  Therefore, when we misbehave, its an even greater tragedy.  WHen the pasuk here talks about Hashem remembering the Avos, it places us in an even worse light and magnifies our sins.

R' Lopian Lev Eliyahu (in the essay 'Ha'kove'a Makom l'Tefilaso' in the Ma'areches HaTeshuvah section in the edition I have) quotes a tremendous question on this Shl"H.  In the 10 pesukim of zichronos that we say on Rosh haShana, which do not include zechirot that have negative associations , we mention this pasuk of "V'zacharti es brisi...."  Clearly we are quoting the pasuk to elicit rachamim.  How can the same pasuk be both a tochacha and a vehicle to bring about Hashem's mercy?   R' Lopian in that piece says the answer is a deep yesod that he will get back to some other time -- and then he leaves us with the question.  Nu, any answers?

2) "U'fanisi aleichem v'hirbeisi eschem..."  (26:9)  The parsha until this point contained other brachos as well, brachos about bountiful crops and sufficient rainfall.  Why does the Torah only now use this phrase of "u'fanisi aleichem?" 

Netziv answers that the Torah here is speaking about raising children, "v'hirbeisi eschem..."  When it comes to crops, to rain, etc., it's enough for Hashem to direct his hashgacha to those items at the appropriate time, the appropriate season.  When it comes to raising children, it takes constant hashgacha pratis for things to work out well. 

I would say that in this regard we have to take a lesson from Hashem.  It's enough to check the market once in awhile, but kids need constant hashgacha.

3) "V'im lo tishmi'u li..." (26:14)  In many places Rashi writes that "li" means lishma, e.g. Rashi comments on "V'asu li mikdash" that the mikdash must be built lishmi, i.e. lishma.  The Netziv similarly here writes that the pasuk is speaking about Klal Yisrael not doing things lishma, for the right intention.  This is the start of the tochacha, the first step on a downward spiral of misdeeds.   But, asks the Netziv, don't Chazal tell us that, "l'olam ya'asuk adam b'Torah u'mitzvos shel'lo lishma," that a person should do things even she'lo lishma, as that ultimately will bring a person to do things for the right reason, lishma?  Don't Chazal tell us that doing things she'lo lishma is the start of an upward spiral, not a downward spiral? 

My wife suggested that it all depends on your starting point.  If your starting point is she'lo lishma, then doing something is better than nothing and may lead upward.  If, however, you were doing things lishma and then regress to a she'lo lishma, that another story.

Netziv answers that there is a difference between the individual and the community. On an individual level, each one of us may do things for less than proper motivations, with the hope of one day doing better.  These shortcomings, however, cannot be institutionalized on a communal level.  The community needs to strive for the ideal, to strive to act for the right reasons and with the right motivations.  

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Chasam Sofer: kedushas Eretz Yisrael greater than Gan Eden

Chasam Sofer suggests that the wild animals referred to in the pasuk "V'hishbati chayah ra'ah min ha'aretz" symbolically represent apikorsim and evil doers.  Unlike Gan Eden, where G-d had to place a "cherev ha'mishapeches," a sword at the entrance to keep out Adam after he had sinned, the day will come when the kedushas ha'aretz will be so great that it will act as a barrier and prevent the wicked from entering the land even without the threat of a sword, "V'cherev lo ya'avor b'artzechem."

Happy Yom Yerushalayim!

Thursday, June 02, 2016

im bechukosai teilechu -- tikun of the eitz hada'as

Abarbanel opens the parsha with seven different answers (“b’shiv’ah derachim yanusu mipanecha…”) to the question of why the Torah promises material rewards for the observance of mitzvos and never makes any mention of the spiritual rewards. Rishonim do NOT answer that Biblical Judaism had no concept of reward in an afterlife and these ideas only developed afterwards (I hope you are not surprised). One answer they do give is that the pagan societies had no concept of reward in an afterlife.  Avodah zarah “deities” were viewed as being in control of nature.  Worshiping them was the means to ensure that one’s crops grew, enough rain fell, etc. Had the Torah only promised an olam ha'ba reward, a farmer might feel his commitment to Torah comes at the expense of the good material life that his oveid avodah zarah neighbor enjoys.  Therefore, the Torah promises the same material rewards as avodah zarah worship as well (we are talking gross gain of course, before the high cost of tuition and kosher food sends you into poverty : )  The Torah wants to make it less challenging to leave behind avodah zarah.  If you don’t like this approach, the Abarbanel has six others for you.

I think it's worth noting what Abarbanel doesn't ask in addition to what he does.  Again, his main problem is ikar chaseir min ha’sefer – why no mention of the "real" reward of olam ha’ba?  The Torah is telling us about the appetizer and ignoring the main dish.  Achronim go a step further and ask why the appetizer is even on the menu: “schar mitzvah b’hai alma leika” – the ONLY reward that there is for mitzvah performance is reward in olam ha’ba. It's not the absence of a mention of olam ha'ba that bothers them -- it's the mention of olam ha'zeh that is the problem. Why the Abarbanel does not see ask this and address it (though many of his answers cover this issue as well) may be something worth thinking about.

So why are we promised all these great material things if “schar mitzvah” is reserved only for olam ha’ba? Rashi comments that “im bechukosai teileichu…” refers to ameilus ba’Torah – not the learning itself, but the toil involved in the process. Reuvain and Shimon sit and learn the same sugya, but it might take Reuvain 3 days to master it while Shimon grasps it in 3 hours. The material covered is the same, but the measure of toil is very different. “Anu ameilim u’mekablim schar” – we get reward for the toil. Perhaps Rashi means that the rewards of the parsha are payment for ameilus alone, but the reward for the mitzvah itself, the learning itself, comes only in olam ha'ba.   

The Sefas Emes (5651) doesn’t so much answer the question as render it moot. Why shouldn’t we be blessed with abundant crops, with all the rain we need, with whatever material goods we need? Why is this considered something extraordinary, a special reward? The answer is simple: because we’ve become accustomed to a world that doesn’t run the way it should. The post-original cheit of Adam world is one that is tainted, one where things are out of kilter, where we suffer droughts and failed crops and all kinds of other tzaros.  What Parshas Bechukosai is describing to us is not so much as a reward as simply a return to the way things should be.

How do we get there? Adam’s sin was the desire for da’as, for knowledge. The way back to the perfect pre-sin world is “im bechukosai teileichu,” accepting the idea of chok, of the unknowable.  That is not to say that one should disdain intellectualism.  The Sefas Emes himself writes here that, “Tzarich adam l’chapeis b’da’ato k’fi hasagas yado.”  A person must exercise his mind to its fullest.  The point the Sefas Emes is making is that the intellect is just a tool to understand G-d's world, not to be G-d.  The sin of Adam was seeking da'as to be "v'heyisem k'Elokim" rather than to be an "oveid Elokim."  The hardest thing is to accept and obey even though one does not understand, or one feels things should be different.  That's ameilus ba'Torah says the Sefas Emes.

(See Sefas Emes end of 5649 d”h teilechu for another beautiful hesber of this issue).