Monday, October 31, 2016

tohu va'vohu is part of the process of creation

1. The opening of Braishis is the story of creation. Why then are we treated to the introduction of  “v’ha’aretz haysa tohu va’vohu,” a description of the pre-creation void?   B'shlama if you interpret the pesukim like Ramban, namely, that tohu va’vohu is some kind of building block matter necessary for all else to be created, then I guess it makes sense. But according to Rashi, who understands tohu va’vohu to simply be a void and chaos, why mention it? If you were to describe an artist at work, you would talk about the brushstrokes on the canvas, not the blank canvas that was there before he started to paint.  Why talk about what was there before G-d started making our world and the universe?

Sefas Emes explains that the Torah / G-d is teaching us about how to create, what creativity means.  The artist doesn't just sit down and produce a great work of art, a great piece of literature.  There are dozens of prior sketches that are first tested and discarded, dozens of drafts that don't make it further than the trash bin.  Hashem was "birei olamos u'machrivan."  At first there was tohu va'vohu.  This is not pre-creation -- this gufa is part of the process of creation.  Every act of creation, growth, advancement, always first starts with chaos and void.  

It's difficult as a parent when your kids are growing up and sometimes it seems like they have no idea what direction that are going in or what direction they want to go in and you wonder why they just can't get on with it and mature.  I was just telling my wife yesterday that this is the Sefas Emes -- you can't the "ye'hi ohr" without first having a little "tohu va'vohu."  And it doesn't just apply to kids either : )

2. The parsha tells us that Kayin named his son Chanoch and "va'yehi boneh ir vayikra shem ha'ir k'shem b'no Chanoch."  Kayin was a builder -- boneh=present tense -- of a city, and he named this city Chanoch, the same name as his son.  Kli Yakar reads this in a negative light.  Sometimes you have people who once they get a starter house are already planning on how to move up to a bigger house, and then once they get the bigger house they want an even bigger one.  Kayin kept building that city -- he couldn't stop.   He was never done; it was never past tense for him.  He was so captured and engrossed in physical land and space, in the size of his house, his city, that it became his life's sole focus. 

I prefer to put a more positive spin on it.  HaKsav vHaKabbalah notes that the name Chanoch comes from the word "chinuch" = education.  It's not by chance that Kayin took this name for his son and his city.  Kayin knew he was a sinner and knew he had weak points.  He needed to constantly remind himself, to educate himself, as to what the correct approach to life should be.  What better way to have a constant reminder of that than to name his son and his hometown Chanoch?  Maybe that's why Kayin is described as a builder, "boneh," in the present tense.  He was always building -- building himself.  Were he to stop, were he to not have that reminder, the building, himself, might collapse. 

We say in Neilah and in our slichos that we are saddened when we see, "b're'osi kol ir al tilah benuyah," every city built up, "v'ir Elokim mushpeles...," but the city of G-d so downtrodden.  The Shem m'Shmuel suggests that the word "ir" can be interpreted to mean hisorerus.  When it comes to outside pursuits, we are awake and eager, but when it comes to zeal and enthusiasm for Hashem, suddenly the air is out of the balloon.  I want to piggyback on his derush and apply it to Kayin.   "Va'yehi boneh ir"-- Kayim was constantly involved in building his hisore'rus.  He knew that he was living life on a slippery downward slope, and the only way not to fall back was to keep climbing.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

division of labor

Which is better – to do a mitzvah with zerizus, or to do it in a more mehudar fashion?  If you have a choice of doing netilas lulav with a kosher esrog first thing in the morning or doing it later in the day with a more mehudar esrog, which is better?  

Kayin brought his korban first, but Hevel brought the nicer offering, and we know which one G-d favored, right?

“Va’tosef la’ledes ES ACHIV es Hevel…” (4:2) Considering that we were just told that Adam and Chavah, the only people in the world, gave birth to a son named Kayin, isn’t it obvious that Hevel, born next, was his brother? Why does the Torah spell out “ES ACHIV?” 

I would guess the Torah is doing a little foreshadowing. The emphasis on “ACHIV” sets us up for the famous question, “Ha’shomer ACHI anochi?” - “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The Netziv, however, has a little deeper pshat, but before we get to what he says about Hevel, we first need to revisit the birth of Kayin.

There is a marked difference between the description of Kayin’s birth, “Va’tahar va’teiled es Kayin,” (4:1) and the description of Sheis’ birth, “Va’teiled ben va’tikra es shmo Sheis.” In the latter case, the Torah tells us that there was a baby born, and then tells us that the baby was given a name. We find the same thing by Noach’s birth.   Not so when it comes to Kayin. Here, the Torah tells us that Kayin – not a baby -- was born, period. It is as if from the moment of birth, this was Kayin.  No other name was possible; that’s who he was.

The name Kayin comes from the same root as “kinyan,” something acquired. A kinyan has a purpose, a use and benefit for its owner. Adam had been given the punishment of having to work and toil in the field, and at first there was no one else in the world for him to share that burden with. When Adam and Chavah had a child, they saw it as a gift from Hashem to help them in their toil. Kayin was their kinyan. 

When the next child was born, he too might have been destined for the field, but mankind came up with a fantastic idea. Kayin would devote himself to taking care of the crops, and the extra set of hands of Hevel would be free to accomplish other things. After all, who is satisfied with just having food on his plate?  Where would we be without iphones and everything else? “Hevel havolim… hakol hevel” -- the words are probably still ringing in our ears from Sukkos. You have to be free from spending all day toiling in a field to have time to think about luxuries.  

We call that division of labor – you grow the crops, I’ll take care of something else.  Together we will split the results and the world will be a better place. The Torah calls it “achva.”  When Hevel was born, the concept of brotherhood, of shared responsibility, was born as well: "ES ACHIV es Hevel." 

The Midrash (B"R 22) writes that what triggered Hevel's murder was that Kayin and he decided to divide the world between them, with Kayin taking all the land and Hevel all portable goods.  Of course, you can't raise sheep or put up a house unless you do it on land.  And by the same token, you can't tend to land without clothes that come from sheep to keep you warm.  Kayin and Hevel lost sight of the fact that without cooperation, both were doomed to fail.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

she'hechiyanu on a new kiyum mitzvah (but not a new ma'aseh mitzvah)

There was a boy called up to the Torah as a bar mitzvah this morning in shul.  My wife asked me an interesting question: would the bar mitzvah have to make a she'hechiyanu tomorrow morning when he takes his lulav and esrog?  My peirush to  question: even though the bar mitzvah boy has been doing the mitzvah of lulav from day #1 of the chag, that was a kiyum of the mitzvah of chinuch.  Tomorrow will be the first day in which he is doing netilas lulav as a kiyum of netilas lulav.  Would you say that the new kiyum mitzvah of netilas lulav obligates him to say she'hechiyanu even though it is the same ma'aseh mitzvah he has been doing all week? 

[Update: take a look at the Tosefes Bikurim at the back of the Aruch LaNer on Sukkah, siman 637.]

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sukkos - chag of bitachon

The Mishna tells us that a dry lulav and a stolen lulav are both pasul. The gemara (Sukkah 29b) deduces from the fact that both cases are lumped together that they are similar.  Therefore, just as a dry lulav is pasul for all 7 days of the chag, so too, a stolen lulav must also be pasul for all 7 days.  The sugya then goes on to explain the source for that din.    

Rashi explains why a dry lulav is pasul for all 7 days:
בשלמא יבש. פסול בדרבנן נמי כיון דמצוה הוא משום זכר למקדש בעינן הדור מצוה

Why does Rashi need to mention in this context that the taking of lulav all seven days is a zecher l'mikdash?  Why is that relevant?  Wouldn't it have been enough to just tell is that there is a psul of hadar that applies to the chiyuv derabbanan of taking lulav for seven days?

I haven't found anyone who explains this and I am stumped.  Maybe you have a hesber?

Had you asked me, I would have said that we should say hoshanos on Pesach.  That's when the farmer has just planted his crops, nothing is growing yet, and so that's the time you want to cry out, "Ana Hashem hoshi'a na, Ana Hashem hatzlicha na."  That's when you want to do nisuch hamayim = shifchi ka'mayim libeich.  Sukkos is chag ha'asif, the harvest season, when the storehouse is full of grain, when you reap the fruits of a years worth of labor.  Why say hoshanos now?

There is no kuntz to davening and having bitachon when you are facing need and crisis.  It's the guy who needs parnasa, who needs refu'ah, who needs help for his children and family, who is davening a 10 minute shmoneh esrei in shul.  The guy who mumbles the words in 3 minutes so he can race out the door to drive to a well paying job in a fancy car and come home to a house in order with everyone in good health and happy is davening a different davening (of course, if he took a moment he might realize that even if he has no needs, he could put in a good word for his friend). What Sukkos comes to teach us is that even that second guy should be davening that 10 minute shmoneh esrei.  Even when times are good, you have to thank Hashem for what you have and recognize that its all from him and that you are completely dependent upon him.  That's why davka now, when the storehouse is full, when the harvest is finished, we say hoshanos, we pour our hearts out in tefilah.  Bitachon and dveikus is not just for when we are lacking, but its even for when we have it all.  "V'ha'boteiach ba'Hashem chessed y'sovivenu. (Tehillim 32:69)  Bitachon, says the Sefas Emes (5645), is the midah of sukkos, which surrounds us and envelops us within. 

Chazal argue whether sukkah is a diras keva or a diras arayei, a permanent structure or a temporary dwelling, and we pasken like the latter, majority view.  It takes a lot of bitachon to put aside your home, your life, and go live in a tent like a nomad, with nothing.  That's the level of bitachon sukkos is all about.  For big tzadikim, this is a diras keva, this is the way they live all year.  For me, for most of us probably, this is a diras arayei, a temporary moment.  We all know that after a week we will be back inside, back to work, back to the same grind.  We can't meditate on this idea of bitachon and live with it for awhile, but we will come back to earth, right?  After walking away from his encounter with Eisav unharmed, Ya'akov builds for himself a bayis -- that new level is where he would be at from now on.  But for his possessions and his flocks, he made sukkos, little temporary huts.  The Torah tells us that he named the place he was at not bayis, but Sukkot -- that was what he thought was most important.  The big tzadikim of course are on a high level all year -- that's what we expect.  What Ya'akov thought was more significant, more of an accomplishment, is that everything else, everyone else, can at least step into that mode for a short while, for a temporary visit.  "Yafeh sha'ah achas b'teshuva u'ma'asim tovim b'olam ha'zeh."  Even if it's only for a week, that week can still make a difference.

V'lakachtem lachem -- you have to take yourself.  The gemara darshens on "v'lakachtem lachem" that "md'agbihei nafik bei," that you just need to lift up the lulav and you are yotzei.   We need to take ourselves and lift ourselves up.  Even for one week, even temporarily.  The effect can last a whole year.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

ya'arof ka'matar likchi

“Ya’arof ka’matar likchi” – Chazal darshen from the word “ya’arof” that Torah is mechapeir even on murder, just like eglah arufah. The kapparah of Torah goes above and beyond what can be accomplished by tefilah, by korbanos, but anything else. How does that work? The gemara (Sukkah 42) darshens “u’lekachtem lachem” that the mitzvah of netilas lulav is accomplished by picking up the lulav. Torah, says the Shem m’Shmuel, is called “likchi.” It picks a person up. Other means of kapparah work by trying to push away and eliminate the contamination of aveiros, like trying to clean the dirty stains off one’s garments. The kapparah of Torah is like picking onself up and out of those old garments and putting on something completely new and unsoiled.

K’se’irim aley desheh v’k’revivim alei eisev” – “Se’irim” is a storm; "revivim" is the morning dew. Rashi says “desheh” refers to vegetation as a whole; “eisev” is the individual blade of grass. It’s not the same Torah, the same “likchi,” for everyone. For some people, Torah is like a hurricane. Other people can’t take that. They need Torah to fall gently, like the morning dew. There is the Torah that applies to the “desheh,” the community, and there is the Torah of each “eisev,” each blade of grass with its own needs.

How is the Torah like dew?   R’ Simcha Bunim m’Peshischa explained that when the dew falls, it has no noticeable effect on the plant. It’s only later, after time, that its effect is felt.  You can't open a sefer and expect a magic transformation to occur.  It takes time, but the growth will happen.

Final point -- a question: Ramban writes that Parshas Ha'azinu speaks of ultimate redemption with no conditions, no prequalifications -- it's going to happen, take it to the bank.  Yet the gemara (Sanhedrin 96) quotes R' Eliezer's view that geulah will happen only if Klal Yisrael does teshuvah.  R' Yehoshua disagrees only to the extent that he holds teshuvah itself is inevitable.  If Klal Yisrael doesn't do teshuvah of our own accord, then Hashem will cause us to be subjected to the decrees of an evil king Obama and that motivate us to do teshuvah.  Either way, it seems teshuvah is a prerequisite for geulah.  How does this fit with the Ramban?

Monday, October 10, 2016

chatzi shiur and a fishy Midrash

First a quick halachic point and then an amazing Chasam Sofer on a Midrash:

1) The 618:8 the Biur Halacha sneaks in a chiddush. Let’s say a person is c"v so sick on Y”K that he is allowed to eat even a full shiur, meaning a k’koseves within a k’dei achilas pras. He sits down with a full plate of food and starts to eat, and feels a little better. Now, says the M”B, he has to be careful. If he becomes well enough that he can space his eating out and get away with eating only a chatzi shiur, and he then continues and eats a full shiur, he would be chayav kareis. 

In other words: if a person ate a chatzi shiur b’heter (he is still sick and allowed that) and a chatzi shiur b’issur (the amount in excess of the chatzi shiur that he had no right to eat), he is chayav kareis.

Why should that be true? Why not say that since the person ate only a chatzi shiur b’issur, there should be no kareis?

Shu”T Binyan Shlomo 41 raises this as a safeik. It’s an interesting chiddush that there are a few ways to explain, so you can ponder it over the next two days : )

2) The Midrash (Braishis 11:4, quoted in Tos Kesubos 5a and by the Tur in Hil Y”K) tells the story of a tailor who erev Y”K went to the fish market to buy a nice fish to eat (who says the seudah ha’mafsekes has to be chicken?) l’kavod yom tov. At the same time, one of the servants of the local nobleman also came shopping for fish for his master. Unfortunately, there was only one fish left. A bidding war ensued, until finally the servant gave up and balked at paying an inflated price for a single fish. He returned to his master empty handed.  The master was angry and demanded to know who this was who was willing to spend such a fortune to get that fish. Forced to appear before the nobleman and explain himself, the tailor related that the day of Yom Kippur was coming and all our sins are forgiven; therefore, it was only appropriate for him to do his best to honor the day with that fish.  The tailor was allowed to go home in peace.  When he cut open the fish, he found in it a precious stone as a reward from Hashem.

What difference does it make if it was a tailor, a baker, or a candlestick maker who this story happened to? And what’s the big deal about having a fish? Couldn’t the tailor have had something else to eat?

Explains the Chasam Sofer (p. 70 in the Derashos): You look around Klal Yisrael and there are communities torn apart; there are families torn apart; there are people torn apart. We need “tailors” to sew the pieces together and make us whole.  That's who the Midrash is speaking about.

A fish never closes its eyes.  It is the symbol of Hashem's "eina pikcha" looking down and watching out for us.  The way to merit that is by creating peace and harmony, by looking at each other favorably, lovingly, in a caring way.  If we do that, Hashem in turn will look down at us in the same manner.  The fish the "tailor" was after for Yom Kippur was that "eina pikcha" of Hashem's loving gaze, brought about by the love between Jews.  

The gemara (Sanhedrin 98) writes that before Mashiach comes there will be a time when a sick person will need a little fish to be cured and none will be found.  There will come a time when the "eina pikcha" of Hashem is needed so desperately to make us better, but because of the way we look at each other, that fish is going to be really hard to find. 

“Eyn Hashem el yrei’av.”  The pshat is that the pasuk is speaking about how Hashem looks at us, but the Chasam Sofer explains it as follows: We, the yirei Hashem (at least I hope we are), should be blessed with the "eyn Hashem," with G-d's eyes, kavyachol.  We should see only the good in others.  We should see their needs and troubles so that we can help.  We should look beyond superficial nonsense that creates differences and see what really matters.

That's the way a "tailor" sees things.  If we learn to see things that way we too will merit a wonderful "fish" for our Yom Kippur.

Gmar chasima tovah!

Thursday, October 06, 2016

why no shirah on Rosh haShana

1. R’ Abahu tells us that the malachim in shamayim ask why it is that Bnei Yisrael do not say shirah [i.e. hallel] on Rosh haShana and Yom Kippur. Hashem answers that it is impossible for Bnei Yisrael to do so when the books of life and death are open and their fate hangs in the balance.

Don’t the malachim also know that the sifrei chaim v’meisim are open? Don’t we say in nesaneh tokef that even the malachim tremble in fear knowing that these are days of din?  

My son quoted one of the Telzer Roshei Yeshiva as explaining that the malachim are afraid as well, but they view that fear as an unwelcome distraction.  The motivation for their avodah comes from the pure intellectual knowledge that Hashem’s din is only l’tovah no matter what comes out.  That's all that counts.

Hashem’s response is that the avodah he desires is not just avodah of the intellect, but avodah of the lev and emotion as well.  Hashem wants to be served by feeling people, not just abstracted minds. Captain Kirk is the hero and Spock is the sidekick, not the other way around.  If achieving that goal means sacrificing shirah because we are too consumed by the emotion of fear to give voice to it, it is a worthwhile sacrifice. 

I wanted to explain the gemara based on an idea from R’ Yosef Engel
we discussed a few months ago. The gemara says that David haMelech was criticized for saying, “Zmiros hayu li chukecha,” for comparing words of Torah to a zemer, a song. Why is that such a bad thing when our parsha tells us “Kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos” and calls Torah a shirah?

R' Yosef Engel distinguishes between the concept of zemer and the concept of shirah. Zemer is like the word zomer=pruning. It’s a means of clearing away that which is unneeded and that which inhibits growth. Torah of course helps clear away the bad midos, aveiros, and wrong thinking that prevents a person from turning into a ben Torah, but Torah is also much more than that – Torah itself is the energy that creates and inspires growth. Torah is a shirah, not just a zemer.

“Zamru l’Elokim zameiru…” The word “zemer” repeats itself multiple times in the perek of tehillim we recite before tekiyas shofar. R’ Levi Yitzchak m’Berdichev in his Kedushas Levi explains that on R”H and Y”K our avodah is one of zmirah, of pruning. We want to chop off any influence the midas ha’din may have and elevate the midas ha’rachamim.

The malachim were wondering what happened to “kisvu lachem es ha’shirah ha’zos,” our avodah of shirah. Hashem answered that on R”H and Y”K our avodah is “zamru l’Elokim zameiru.” Because the sifrei chaim and meisim are opened, our focus narrows to eliminating the danger of din more than on shirah.

2. On Rosh haShana man was created, and almost immediately he sinned and was expelled from Gan Eden. Why was he kicked out? The Torah explains, “V’atah pen yishlach YADO v’achal mei’eitz hachaim.” The Midrash comments, “Ain v’atah eleh lashon teshuvah.” Adam haRishon had a path back to his former state, a path of get to the eitz chaim through teshuvah.  Adds the Sefas Emes, YADO = yud = 10. These are the 10 days of teshuvah which we find ourselves in.

Vayishlach Avraham es yado va’yikach es ha’ma’acheles.”Yishlach es yado” is completely extraneous. (I think the Kotzker explained that every muscle of Avraham’s being could not act contrary to ratzon Hashem. Hashem’s will, which Avraham did not know yet, was for Yitzchak to not be offered as a korban. Therefore, Avraham had to make an effort to extend his hand – “vayishlach es yado” – because it didn’t want to obey.) Here too, explains the Sefas Emes, YADO = the 10 days of teshuvah. Avraham had to rise above the natural rachmanus which a father has for a son. He had to escape the world of teva and grab onto the eitz chaim.  That is the path of teshuvah, which forces a person to rise above his/her natural inclinations and reach for something which is higher and greater.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

why not go for broke?

A question to think about:

The gemara (Baba Basra 147) writes that if the first day of Rosh haShana is hot, it means it will be a warm year. If it is cold, it means the year will be a cold year (sounds just like Farmer’s Almanac). The gemara asks, “L’mau nafka minah?” What difference does it make? The gemara I guess did not have a heating oil futures market to invest in, so the gemara says the nafka minah is for the tefilah of the kohen gadol on Yom Kippur.

Rashbam and Tosfos explain as follows: if it’s going to be a hot year, then the kohen gadol should daven for it to be not so hot; if it’s going to be a cold year, he should daven for it to be not so cold.

I don't understand.  Why not go for broke and ask for more?  I was reading a book recently and one of the characters is always telling his friend his wishes, like he wishes to be paid decently for his work that day so he can take off the next day.   His friend in turn always wonders why if he is wishing, he doesn't just wish for more -- why not wish for enough money that you don't have to work at all?  There's no limit on wishes.  I am bothered by the same thing here.  You can ask Hashem for anything.  Why accept that it’s going to be a hot year and just Hashem to make it a little less hot, or vica versa, when you can ask Hashem to make it seasonable, or whatever temperature you want? 

Whatever the answer to that is, one other point about tefilah: I saw R' Chaim Kanievsky quotes from the Chazon Ish that even though normally on Shabbos or Y"T one cannot make personal bakashos in tefilah, Rosh haShana is an exception.  I don't know the makor for such a din, but apparently the Chazon Ish said it.  So IY"H we should all daven for whatever we need (and the first thing to daven for I guess is that we have the brains to realize what we really need) and hopefully your tefilos and my tefilos will make a difference and we will all have a kesiva v'chasima tovah.

a mistake in blowing the kolos -- the chumra of the Chayei Adam

I’ve covered the machlokes Rashi and Tos on the shiur of tekiyos before, but want to revisit it because of an interesting Chayei Adam I noticed this year. The Mishna tells us that the length of a teruah is 3 yebavos. Rashi understands this to mean that the total length of a teruah is three very short tu sounds = 3 beats. Tosfos holds that the length of a teruah is three blasts of 3 yebavos = 9 beats.

The gemara writes that the length of a tekiya = that of a teruah. Therefore, according to Rashi a teruah must be at least 3 beats long; according to Tosfos it has to be 9 beats.

Tosfos points out that according to Rashi, each of the shevarim has to be less than 3 beats long.  If not, the shever turns into a tekiya.  Therefore, according to Rashi you have to blow 3 shevarim of no more than 2 beats each = 6 beats in total. According to Tosfos, you would not be not yotzei with this, since the minimum lenth of a tekiya, a teruah, or the shevarim = 9 beats.

R’ Soloveitchik came up with a solution to be yotzei both deyos: blow 5 shevarim of 2 beats each. Each shever will be less than 3 beats, fulfilling Rashi’s view, but the total will be 10 beats, fulfilling Tosfos’ requirement.

The minhag is to follow Tosfos’ view, but it’s still important to be aware of shitas Rashi because of a chiddush the Chayei Adam (141:12) quotes l’halacha which some poskim (e.g. R’ Elyashiv) take seriously. The halacha (in a nutshell) is that making a mistake blowing a totally pasul non-kol works out better than making a mistake blowing the wrong kol. If the ba’al tokea, for example, blows a tekiya and then blows a sound that is totally pasul, he can just blow the correct note and move on. However, if the ba’al tokea is supposed to blow teruah but instead starts to blow shevarim, even if he realizes his mistake and stops, he already blew it (sorry, I could not resist) and has to start again from the initial tekiya.

Says the Chayei Adam: since according to Rashi a one beat sound (not a 3 beat sound like Tos holds) is the first note of teruah, even a small toot of the shofar done in error is in reality a partial teruah. It’s a valid kol done in the wrong place, not just a bad pasul non-kol. Therefore, to correct the mistake the ba’al tokeah has to go back to the start of the set and blow the tekiya again.

You could argue (as other poskim do) that a kol blown without any intention to be a teruah is not a teruah at all – it’s just a mistake. The Chayei Adam, however, disagrees.