Thursday, June 29, 2017

vayishlach malachim -- messengers of Ya'akov, messengers of Moshe

So much is going on in the parsha, and there is no little time to write!

"Vayishlach Ya'akov malachaim el Eisav achiv..."  I know -- wrong parsha.  But not really -- as we'll see.  "Im Lavan garti..."  I fulfilled my mission.  I kept Torah and mitzvos even in Lavan's home; I came away unscathed.  I've achieved my tikun.  Now that I've perfected myself, I can reach out to you, Eisav my brother, and help you maybe achieve your tikun.  "Vayishlach Moshe malachim mi'Kadesh el Melech Edom..."  (20:14).  Moshe too sends messengers, and they come to the king of Edom and give him a history lesson.  Look at how "achicha Yisrael," your brother Klal Yisrael suffered in Egypt until we were redeemed by G-d.  Rashi suggests that Moshe emphasized brotherhood to hint to Edom that as brothers they should have shared the burden of slavery, but they did not -- only we carried that burden.  Therefore, Edom, you owe us one.  Meshech Chochma suggests that Moshe's point was that we were redeemed by G-d; we did not incite rebellion against Egypt.  There is no danger of letting us pass through your country, Edom; we do not cause trouble.  No executive order or wall is needed.  But Sefas Emes recognizes the parallel language to Ya'akov's shlichus, a shlichus that reverberates throughout history.  We suffered in Egypt and as a nation went through a process of tikun.  We are on the way to fulfill our destiny.  Maybe this time, Edom, you will help us and in doing so, help yourself achieve your own tikun. 

G-d tells Moshe in our parsha to tell Aharon that his time has come.  "Vaya'as Moshe ka'asher tzivah Hashem."  (20:17)  Moshe prepared Aharon for death, faithfully fulfilling G-d's command, no matter how difficult it might have been for him (Rashi).  If it was difficult for Moshe, how much more difficult it must have been for Aharon -- after all, he was the one who was going to die!  Yet, the pasuk only speaks about Moshe.  Did Aharon not know what was going to happen?  Sefas Emes explains that it was not the death of Aharon per se that troubled Moshe.  What bothered Moshe is that he saw the chain of events that would unfold without Aharon: the dissipation of the ananei ha'kavod, the attack of Amalek/Cana'an, the complaints of the people that would follow.  His beloved Klal Yisrael would suffer.  As hard as death is, sometimes life for those who remain behind, struggling to cope and come to terms with loss, with a different, changed existence and set of relationships, can be just as hard. 

So Aharon died and Canaan attacked.  "Vayishb mimenu shevi," they took a captive.  "Alisa la'marom shavisa shevi..." (Teh 68:19)   Chazal tell us that when Moshe went upstairs to get the Torah, it was being held captive by the malachim, who did not want to let it go. (Sefas Emes elsewhere notes that the fact that Torah is called a captive shows that the Torah is really meant for us here on earth, to elevate our mundane lives.  It's not meant for the heavens.)  Torah is like the cord that allows us to plug into Hashem to get chiyus.  Before Hashem gave us the Torah he offered it to the nations of the world, but they chose to reject it.  Therefore, their chiyus is dependent upon us.  "Vayishb mimenu shevi," the Canaani wanted to take back that dependence, to take back what they gave up, to try to seize their own chiyus instead of revolving around us.

Finally, at the end of the parsha we get to the complaint of Bnei Yisrael that the mon was inedible, "nafsheinu katzah b'lechem ha'kilokel."  For 40 years they had been eating mon and suddenly it's no good?  We discussed this last year here.  There is a unique din by the chatzotzros: while other klei hamishkan made by Moshe could be used until they wore out, the chatzotzros had to be put in genizah after Moshe died.  R' Yechezkel Sarna (I think - can't remember the source 100%) explains that the purpose of the chatzotzros trumpets was to call together the people to give them instruction.  What the Torah is telling us is that the call to the people used in Moshe's generation would not work in the next generation.  Each generation needs it's own call.  So too, each generation needs its own food, it's own nourishment.  The mon could be the most spiritual thing to eat, but that was good only for the dor hamidbar.  The new generation that was entering Eretz Yisrael need something else to sustain them.  

We have to be smart and thing about what our generation needs -- what is the trumpet call that will gather us, what is the food that will nourish our souls.  What worked in the past will not necessarily work in the present. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

the "she'lo lishma" rebellion

1. According to Avos the machlokes of Korach exemplifies machlokes she'lo l'shem shamayim.  Isn't that a strange statement?  The whole problem with Korach's machlokes is that it was she'lo lishma?!  That's like telling a guy who drives to the Reform temple to daven on Shabbos morning that his tefilah is lacking because he doesn't have proper kavanah.  That's the least of the problems!  Here Korach undermined the authority of Moshe and brought the whole transmission of Torah into question and our problem is whether he said a l'shem yichud and did it lishma or not?!

If indeed Korach's argument had even some theoretical validity and it's only the she'lo lishma that's the problem, why is that such a big deal?  Mi'toch she'lo lishma ba lishma!  Sefas Emes writes that you see from here that machlokes is an exception to the rule.  A machlokes can be constructive -- halacha is enriched by the debates and machlokes throughout sha"s -- but that's only a machlokes undertaken purely l'shem shamayim for the sake of Torah.  A machlokes with an ulterior motive results only in destruction.

Maybe the key to the Mishna is a Netziv in P' Acharei Mos  that we discussed here.  Netziv posits that even though a person should learn Torah even she'lo lishma, one cannot be mechadesh in Torah and innovate new practices unless one's motives are pure lishma.  Had Korach expressed his innovative ideas, "ki kol ha'eidah kulam kedoshim," purely l'shem shamayim, perhaps he would have gone down in history as the intellectual foil to Moshe, the Shamai of his generation, a view that was rejected, but a view that had validity.  However, since Korach acted she'lo lishma, his views by definition were no longer a chiddush, but rather were a distortion of Torah.  

2) According to Ibn Ezra the story of Korach's rebellion really took place much earlier, when the Levi'im were selected to take on the role formally assigned to bechorim.  The bechorim were unhappy with losing their jobs; the Levi'im were unhappy at being assigned to role of helpers to kohanim; the stage was set for rebellion.  Ramban disagrees, as, in general, Ramban takes a far more conservative position when it comes to re-ordering parshiyos.  According to Ramban the parshiyos are written in chronological order and the rebellion occurred after after the episode of the spies, after the people were reeling from having heard that the dream of entering Eretz Yisrael would not come to fruition during their lifetime.  Korach was able to use that disillusionment to his advantage in pressing long held grievances of his own. 

What is Rashi's view on this issue?  On the one hand, Rashi at the beginning of Korach cites the Midrash that says that Korach mockingly asked Moshe whether a talis completely dyed with techeiles needs a techeilis string of tzitzis -- the Midrash sees the Korach story as following the parsha of tzitzis, which itself is part of the response to the story of the spies.  This seems to accord with Ramban's view.  On the other hand, Rashi in the beginning of Shlach asks why the Torah juxtaposes the story of the spies with the story of Miriam's lashon ha'ra.  The implication of Rashi's question is that these stories are not written in chronological order, otherwise chronology itself would be a valid reason for the juxtaposition.  What is the out of order parsha that should chronologically appear between the Miriam story and that of the spies?  Mizrachi suggests that perhaps the answer is Korach's rebellion. (Mizrachi does not see a need to reconcile these two Rashis.  He argues that Rashi need not be consistent; Rashi can adopt one Midrashic view in one place and a different view elsewhere depending on the local textual problem he is trying to address.  See Maharal in Gur Aryeh who disagrees.)  

According to this latter view, we don't have the disillusionment that followed the episode of the spies as a motivating factor in the success of the rebellion; we don't have the immediate role changes of Levi'im and bechorim that Ibn Ezra focused on.  What we do have is the parsha of Eldad and Meided prophesizing that Moshe would die before completing his mission.  What we do have is Moshe himself saying that were it only the case that everyone could be a navi.  What we do have is Miriam equating to some degree Moshe with herself and Aharon and not recognizing his uniqueness.  Perhaps that context explans why the call of "ki kol ha'iedah kulam kedoshim" took on greater meaning.  If everyone could be a prophet, if all prophets were to some degree the same, then why not spread authority to all? 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

maror: radish or horseradish?

   This is a page from the Graziano Haggadah, a 13th century haggadah on loan to the Met from JTS (see here).  While wandering through the museum today the page caught my wife Ariella's eye because of the picture used for maror.  Unless she and I are very much mistaken, that is a radish -- not a horseradish, just a plain old radish.  I've never heard of anyone using a regular radish for maror.  Granted that just because this haggadah was printed in the 13th century doesn't make it a rishon, but it is interesting if using radish was in fact the minhag of Catalonian Jewry.      

why Yehoshua did not join Kaleiv in Chevron

Rashi writes that Kaleiv broke away from the meraglim and stopped off in Chevron in order to daven at the kever of the Avos and elicit their zechus.  Where was Yehoshua?  Why didn't he join Kaleiv there?

My wife suggested that Yehoshua didn't need to join him because Yehoshua had Moshe Rabeinu, a living rebbe of the highest rank.  He didn't need to go to kevarim to connect with the mesorah of the past; he had a living connection to it in the present.

I would just add that this fits perfectly with the Maharal in Gur Aryeh who writes that Moshe changed Yehoshua's name and davened on his behalf more than he did for anyone else (the implication of Maharal, as R' Hartman points out, is that Moshe did daven for everyone, just not to the same degree) because Yehoshua was his talmid.  If a talmid fails, it reflects back on the rebbe; when a talmid fails, it is as if the rebbe has suffered a personal failure.  That special bond existed only between Moshe and Yehoshua.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

how the barclay's center asifa answers chasam sofer's question on our parsha

Chasam Sofer (d"h nitma rosh) makes the interesting observation that even though  Klal Yisrael accepted the report of the mergalim and wanted to return to Egypt, they never lost their faith in Hashem.  In fact, when the people were told that Hashem disapproved of their attitude and that they were wrong, the ma'apilim did a 180 degree turn and took off for Eretz Yisrael without waiting for Moshe and the aron.  Despite the clamor of "nitna rosh v'nashuva Mitzrayma," no one actually disobeyed Hashem and left.  How do you square this apparent emunah with the acceptance of the report of the mergalim?

To anyone following news in the Jewish world during the past ,the answer is obvious.  The meraglim proved that their path was not one of rebellion -- aderaba, their path was the true ratzon Hashem. Klal Yisrael gathered in the Barclay's Center in the desert, and one by one each of the leaders, each of the meraglim, stood up and explained that Hashem wanted them to return to galus.  How can you go to Eretz Yisrael when the Torah says that there would be a 400 year galus of which only 210 years had passed?  How can you go to Eretz Yisrael when Hashem had told Moshe to ask for a 3 day leave -- no more -- from Pharoah and Mitzrayim to do avodah in the desert?   How can you go to Eretz Yisrael when the strength and might of the nations that are there shows that Hashem does not want them to be conquered yet?  When the time is right, surely Hashem will weaken those nations and taking the land will be a cakewalk.  The proofs are all there -- pesukim, Hashem's own directive, there was probably some lomdus too.  The only source that proved contrary was "vayo'el Moshe," Moshe's own desire to get to the land, as getting to the land must be part of some personal agenda on his part. 

The punchline to the story is that all those "proofs" were of course wrong and Moshe got it right.  When the people realized they had been led astray and understood what Hashem truly wanted, the regret was enormous.

To end on a more positive note, a vort from another member of the Sofer family: "Aloh na'aleh v'yarashnu osah ki yachol nuchal lah."  Why the double-language?  The message would be complete with just either the first half or the second half of the pasuk?  R' Shimon Sofer explains the pasuk as follows: "aloh na'aleh" -- we have to elevate ourselves, increase our commitment to Torah, increase our emunah, and then "yachol nuchal lah," we will be able to conquer the land.