Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lot: can't you live in beautiful pastures without giving up G-d?

Our parsha tells us that there was a dispute that broke out between the shepherds of Avraham and the shepherds of Lot.  The Torah immediately tacks on, "V'ha'K'na'ani v'haPrizi az yosheiv ba'aretz." (13:7) Note the use of "yosheiv," as opposed to earlier in the parsha when we were told (12:6), "V'ha'K'na'ani az ba'aretz."  "Yosheiv," means our enemies were settled in the land, not just temporarily there or there by happenstance.  When Jews fight with each other, even if it is just fight, even if it is a fight against the injustices committed by a Lot, even if it is a fight where one side is defending the interests of an Avraham Avinu in all his tzidkus, the net result is a gain for our enemies, who as a result are bolstered and have a greater sense of security and a stronger foothold.  It's the Chasam Sofer who says this, someone who knew how to fight when he perceived a threat to Orthodoxy, but here he is telling us to be careful.  Apply as you like to current events.

Getting back to the story, Avraham tells Lot that they must separate, and wherever he chooses to go, Avraham will head in the opposite direction.  Lot sees the land of Sdom and its beautiful fertile pastures  before him, and he makes the logical choice to move there with his flocks.  "Va'yisa Lot m'kedem" (13:11) -- literally, he headed away from the east, where Avraham was camped (see Seforno,) but the Midrash reads much more into the phrase and tells us that Lot was moving away from G-d, the "kadmono shel olam."   Lot was running away from religion, abandoning his faith.

Asks the Alter m'Kelm: in next week's parsha we are going to read how Lot, despite living amidst the wicked people of Sdom, risked his life to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim.  We are going to read how he baked matzah for his guests because it was Pesach (Rashi).  Unlike his sons in law, he did not doubt the malach's message that Sdom would be destroyed, and he immediately abandoned his home when he was told to flee.  Does this sound like someone who has run away from G-d and religion?!  OK, so he wanted to move to the best pasture land, he cared maybe too much about his flocks and his wealth, and so he ended up is Sdom, but why does that mean he is someone trying to escape from religion?

The Alter answers that we see from here that even if you eat the most kosher matzah, do mitzvos, dress the dress and walk the walk, if what really anchors your life is the almighty $ instead of the Almighty, then you are on the wrong path.  Then you are a Lot.  

Is it too early in the year for me to write about advertisements for Pesach vacations in  luxury hotels with pools and beaches and every amenity one can dream of, including a 24 hour a day tea room because you never know when you will be hungry, as if the banquet size meals were not enough (don't worry -- there is a gym and exercise room too, probably with a personal trainer available to help you)?  Of course they all have the best hashgachos, non-gebrokst food, daf yomi shiurim daily (maybe poolside?).  This is what Lot wanted -- the beautiful pastures of Sdom! -- while doing mitzvos.  

You can dress it up in hashgachos and mitzvos and other nice frum things, but it's still Sdom, far away from the values of kadmono shel olam.  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

ba'avur vs biglal

Both the Malbim and Netviv distinguish between the words "biglal" and "ba'avur," both of which can be translated as "because," but which actually have different connotations.  (The Malbim throughout his commentary assumes there are no synonyms in Hebrew and there must be at least subtle differences between words that seem at first glace to mean the same thing.) 

"Ba'avur" implies doing something because there is some tangible benefit to be gained.  Rivka tells Ya'akov to prepare a meal and bring it to Yitzchak, "ba'avur yivarechicha lifnei moso."  Prepare a meal because you want to get a blessing. 

"Biglal" is about logical causes, not gain/loss.  G-d promised to remove the 7 nations from Canaan and give us their land "biglal ha'toeivos ha'eileh" which they did -- because of their wrongs. 

Interestingly you have a pasuk in our parsha (12:13) that contains both words.  Avraham tells Sarah that when they enter Egypt she should say he is her brother "l'ma'an yitav li ba'avureich" -- there is a tangible gain of wealth that Avraham will accrue, hence "ba'avur." He then adds, "v'chaysa nafshi biglaleiach" -- Sarah will be the cause of the Egyptians avoiding the crime of murder.  (Shouldn't the latter point have come first?  Good question, but not for this post : )

Turning back two weeks to parshas Braishis, which "because" word would you use in the sentence telling us that man was giving the earth to toil because of his sin?   You would think it should be "biglal," -- sin is a logical cause.  But we know that's not what the pasuk says -- it says "arura ha'adaman ba'avurecha..."  (3:17)  What's going on?

Malbim and Netziv explain that the pasuk is in one word giving us a beautiful lesson: man's punishment forcing him to toil is to his benefit -- it is something he can gain from and grow from.  Work and toil will serve to curb his yetzer ha'ra so that the sin of eitz ha'da'as can ultimately be rectified.  The punishment is itself a bracha in disguise. 

Homework: check your concordance -- does the Malbim"s distinction work in all the places these words are used?  I was a bit puzzled by a number of examples... 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

the one word diffence between ya'aleh v'yavo in tefilah vs bentching

Over Yom Tov I reminded my family of a halacha that will come up once again on Rosh Chodesh when we have the addition of ya'aleh v'yavo in our davening and bentching.  If you look in your bentcher, you will see one little difference in the way ya'aleh v'yavo appears there from the way it appears in the siddur: the word melech in ki K-l melech chanun v'rachum atah is in parenthesis.  This is based din in O.C. 188:3  The Shulchan Aruch says that when you mention malchus beis David (rachem... al malchus beis David m'shichecha) in the third bracha of bentching you should not mention the malchus of Hashem along side it, e.g. a person should not say malchuscha u'malchus beis David, as if one were to do so it would give the impression that one is equating the malchus of Hashem with another malchus.  Adds the Rama, that the same principle holds true at the end of the bracha as well and the word melech should be left out of ya'aleh v'yavo.  That being said, the Rama continues and says that he has noticed that the minhag does not follow this recommendation.  Achronim (see Taz) try to justify the common practice, but the Aruch haShulchan writes that has noticed that where he lived people do in fact follow the Rama and leave the word melech out.  Now that I've made you aware of the issue, you can start leaving it out too : )

One other interesting note on the parsha: Chazal (Sanhedrin 58) darshen from the words "yom v'layla lo yisbosu" that an aku"m who observes a day of shabbos is chayav misa.  Achronim say pilpulim to explain how it is that the Avos were able to keep Shabbos (the gemara in Kiddushim tells us that Avraham kept even dinim derabbanan) when technically they might still have had the status of bnei Noach and not been allowed to set aside a day of rest. 

Shu"T Binyan Tzion (126) suggests that the key word is "yishbosu."  Resting means avoiding hard labor.  That is very different that our definition of Shabbos, which is based on the word "melacha," referring specifically to the 39 actions done in the construction of the mishkan.  An aku"m who moves a heavy couch between rooms in his house has broken his "shabbos" because he has done hard work, not kept it as a day of "shevisa", but a Jew who does the same action on our Shabbos is not liable because it does not fall into the category of melacha. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

dor ha'mabul -- dor she'kulo chayav

The end of last week's parsha sets the stage for the story of the mabul.  "Va'yinachem Hashem ki asah es ha'adam ba'aretz."  Netziv notes that it doesn't say "ki bara es ha'adam," like "braishis bara..."  G-d did not "regret" kavyachol the creation of man.  What G-d wanted to change is "ki asah es ha'adam."  Asiya is a more complete stage of creation.  Man needs to struggle, to work.  There has to be a void for us aspire to fill.  When things are done for us and we don't have enough to do, it's not good.  "Ha'batalah m'vi'ah l'ydei shi'amum," Chazal tell us.  Indolence breeds sloth and bad behavior. 

The Kozhnitzer Magid similarly writes that if a human artisan sets out to make a vessel and it does not meet expectations, he tosses it out and starts again, but it is impossible to say the same thing about G-d.  To think that G-d would destroy the world and start again because it did not work out the way he "anticipated" is an impossibility.  (What about the Midrash that G-d created many worlds and destroyed them before creating ours?  He does not address it.  My hunch is that the difference is that only our world was created based on the blueprint of Torah, and Torah is eternal).

With this background we can understand a Rashi a little more deeply.  The Midrash writes (quoted in Rashi) that the dor ha'mabul threatened that if Noach entered the ark they would to destroy it and kill him.  "Va'yisgor Hashem ba'ado" means Hashem protected Noach and ensured he could enter the ark without harm.  R' Shteinman in Ayeles haShachar asks what it is the dor ha'mabul were hoping to gain by this.  Did they want to prevent Noach from saving himself out of sheer vindictiveness?  What did Noach do to them that would warrant such a reaction?  After all, he had been trying to convince them to repent and save themselves for years.  Why were they out to get him?

The Kozhnitzer Magid answers that had Noach not entered the ark, the result would not have been his perishing with everyone else.  Once G-d created the world, there is no undoing the act of creation -- again, G-d is not like a human artisan who tosses side a failed product to start over.  There had to be a shei'ris ha'pleita of the old world; there had to be continuity.  Therefore, the only possible result of Noach not entering the ark would be no one perishing. If the choice was total destruction or no destruction, the only possible outcome would have been no destruction. 

Chazal (Sanhedrin 98) tell us that there are two ways Moshiach can come: he can come in a generation that proves itself completely righteous, but more amazingly, he can also come in a generation that is completely wicked.   If the historical struggle between good and evil comes to the point where evil completely vanquishes good, then game over, but it does not mean the world is destroyed.  It means that there is no longer any purpose to the game, and G-d will reveal himself fully (see Michtav m'Eliyahu vol1 p 28).  The end of the game is the same no matter how it plays out.  This was the plan of the dor ha'mabul.  So long as there was a Noach, a spark of righteousness, of hope, then the status quo of schar v'onesh and the struggle between good and evil would continue.  If Noach however was killed, the struggle would end in complete redemption of dor she'kulo chayav.

In his Mayan Chaim, R' Chaim Charlap (son of R' Y"M Charlap) suggests that this is what Rashi means when he writes that Noach vacillated, "ma'amin v'aino ma'amin," when it came time to enter the ark.  Surely Noach, the tzadik tamim, did not harbor doubts in emunah.  Yet, what Noach realized is that his very lack of doubt, his tzidkus, his belief, would destroy the world.  What he realized is that he was the one thing that stood between the complete redemption of dor she'kulo chayav and a flood that would destroy most of mankind.  The flood is called "mei Noach," says the Kozhnitzer Magid, because Noach's righteousness effectively doomed the world.  Would it not be better under those circumstances to maybe doubt a little bit, maybe as an aveira lishma, to spare the world and bring it to redemption? 

Yet paradoxically, the very thought of doing an aveira lishma to spare the world itself only enhances and proves Noach's tzidkus.  Who else other than a tzadik would do an aveira for the sake of sparing a generation of such evildoers?  And so G-d protected Noach as he entered the ark and the flood came. 

"Va'ya'as Noach k'chol asher tzivah oso Elokim..."  A perplexing diyuk: why the name Elokim, which connotes midas ha'din, when we are speaking about the means of rescue?  Should the pasuk use the shem Hashem that connotes rachamim?

Based on this approach, the pasuk hits the nail right on the head.  Davka because Noach had a path to rescue himself, the rest of the world was doomed and was subject to din.

(As for R' Shteimnan's second question on the Rashi, maybe you can use Sefas Emes 5641 d"h b'Rashi from "af she'lo matzinu she'pa'al bahem" to answer it.) 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Smach Zevulun b'tzeisecha -- taking the happiness of Y"T out with you

1. The navi concludes its description of the chanukas habayis done by Shlomo by telling us, "Va'ayas Shlomo ba'eis ha'hi es ha'chag... shivas yamim v'shivas yamim arb'ah asar yom." (Melachim I 8:65)  Chazal explain that Shlomo celebrated the dedication of the Mikdash for 7 days, and then immediately thereafter celebrated Sukkos for the next 7 days.  In other words, these were two different celebrations that happened to fall out one right after the other.  Why then, asks R' Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik Sukkos 32), does the navi describe it as a celebration of the chag, singular, and tell us the celebration was 14 days, as if it was one long event?  

R' Tzadok explains that the chanukas haMikdash and the holiday of sukkos are in fact one and the same celebration.  The sukkah is a commemoration of the ananei ha'kavod that surrounded Bnei Yisrael in the desert, and when the Mikdash was dedicated, the navi tells us, "V'he'anan malei es beis Hashem," (8:10) that Hashem's anan descended into the place.  The ananei ha'kavod of the midbar came in Aharon's merit, and it was Aharon's descendants who served in the Mikdash.   Mikdash and sukkah both symbolize the same hashra'as haShechina in Klal Yisrael.  Each one of our sukkos is a mini-Mikdash.  

The Vilna Gaon writes that the reason we celebrate Sukkos in Tishei and not in Nisan is because the ananei ha'kavod departed after the sin of cheit ha'eigel and did not return until 15 Tishrei when Moshe began collecting for the construction of the Mishkan.  In light of R' Tzadok's explanation, it is not coincidental that the clouds returned just then.  The kedusha manifest in Mishkan/Mikdash is the  very same as was manifest by the ananei ha'kavod.

2. On one of the days of Sukkos I suggested that the shalosh regalim correspond to banei, chayaei, and mezonai.  Pesach is the holiday of banai -- the Torah speaks to us of 4 sons.  Shavos is chayai -- chayei olam nata b'socheinu, the Torah.  Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres is mezonai, as it is on this chag that we daven for geshem, which encompasses our material needs.  I found the Sefas Emes alludes to this idea, see 5743 d"h baMishna. 
3. The gemara says Shmini Atzeres is distinct from Sukkos with respect to 6 halachos represented by the siman PZ"R KSh"V.  R=regel.  With respect to what din is it a new regel?  I saw quoted in the name of the Rogatchover that there is a new din of chayav adam l'hakbil pnei rabo ba'regel on Shmini Atzeres in addition to the chiyuv of the same din on Sukkos. 

4. V'Zos haBracha is the only parsha not read on a Shabbos.  R' Tzadok explains that Shabbos is "keviya v'kayma," it's kedusha is set without our having to do anything, unlike the kedusha of Yom Tov which comes through beis din's declaration.  The parsha of each Shabbos, the torah unique to that week, comes down to us like the kedusha of Shabbos, from without.  We hope that we can accept it and absorb it each week when it comes down to us.

The kedusha of Zos haBracha, after a full year of parshiyos, after experiencing a whole cycle of moadim, is a kedushah that comes from within.  At the end of the day, what Torah is all about is not obeying rules imposed upon us from without, but discovering within ourselves that those rules are built into our souls and define who we are. 

Sefas Emes explains that the difference between Shavuos and Simchas Torah is that on Shavuos we celebrate Torah sheb'ksav -- it is the Torah given to is, imposed upon us.  Simchas Torah, Shmini Atzeres, is torah she'ba'al peh, the Torah that comes from within, that we are mechadesh, that is part of who we are.

5. "Smach Zevulun b'tzeisecha..."  Sefas Emes asks: why should Zevulun be happy that he has to go off on business?   I don't know about you, but I don't get much simcha out of riding the subway and dealing with hectic problems at work all day. And it's not just about work.  This is the last few days of Yom Tov, and then we go out -- "tzeisecha" -- out from an intense period of kedusha back to the daily grind, back to the world of chol.  Where's the happiness in that? 

Sefas Emes answers that what the Torah is doing here is giving us advice.  How can we make that transition back to the world that for better or worse we have to be part of a successful one?  By making sure we start off with simcha.  If you are a Zevulun and are stuck going out there, then "smach Zevulun b'tzeisecha," before you go, take a moment to rejoice in what you have before you leave.  Have a simchas Torah, celebrate the dveikus of the chagim, appreciate the experience.  How many people go through three+ weeks of Yom Tov and don't even take a moment to THINK about what is going on?  How many people pause to reflect?  This is the last chance -- take advantage!  Absorb the simcha now, and then it will stick with you, so that even "b'tzeisecha," the Torah will be with you, the dveikus will still be with you.