Sunday, December 31, 2017

education is not about having a good job

Rabbi Dr Aaron Twerski writes in Crain's that the success some hareidim achieve in the business world proves that the education in hareidi schools is more than adequate to  meet the needs of the secular world.

One can debate how many B&H Photo-like successes stories it takes to outweigh the many sad stories of hareidim who remain unemployed and unemployable due to lack of basic skills.  However, I think R' Twerski's piece suffers from a more basic error: Education does not mean having a good job. There may be some correlation between the two, but they certainly are not identical.

If the entire purpose of education was to allow one to succeed in business, I would say we should end school at about sixth grade, or certainly by the end of elementary school.  (Some of you, like me, may be old enough to remember Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.)  We should abolish algebra and trigonometry from the curriculum (it would certainly spare me my daughter's constant whining, "Why do we have to learn this?!")  We should forget about challenging students to read Hamlet or Lear, to learn about other parts of the world, to discover something of past history, or to study other living creatures. 

None of the above will help them run a business.  None of the above are required to succeed at most professions.  It will help them, however, appreciate their humanity, their past, the world around them.  In other words, it will make them educated.

R' Twerski, this is what is lacking in the hareidi school system.   

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

the bracha of self awareness

Ya'akov's final charge to his children concludes, "V'zos asher dibeir lahem avihem vayivarch osam..." (49:28)  This is the blessings that he gave them. 

Blessings?  Reuvain was told that he is impetuous.  Shimon and Levi were told that they were guilty of murder, that they angered too quickly and plotted to do wrong.  What kind of blessings are these?  Ibn Ezra (48:1) writes in fact that what Ya'akov told his children was not a bracha -- it was a nevuah of their future.  Afterwards, "vayivarech osam..." he gave them some blessing that is not recorded, but what was said until that point was prophecy (see also Ohr haChaim 49:28).

Ralbag disagrees and says that yes, even what was said to Reuvain, Shimon, and Levi is a bracha.  It's a bracha to know you are impetuous.  It's a bracha to know you anger easily.  It's a bracha to know you are aggressive.  When a person recognizes their own personality traits -- and I deliberately say traits and not flaws -- then they can control and channel those traits properly.  It doesn't have to be a flaw if you are aware of it and manage it properly.  The bracha Ya'akov gave his children is the bracha of self-awareness.

Monday, December 25, 2017

bracha on shul talis

The M"B paskens in 14:11 that if a person takes a shul talis to get an aliya or daven for the amud he is obligated to say a bracha on the talis.  The logic here is that the shul talis is jointly owned by everyone in the shul.  Therefore, just like you would say a bracha on your own talis, you should say a bracha on the shul talis.

Maybe I am wrong, but my impression is that most people do not recite a bracha when they take a shul talis to daven for the amud.  Maybe the reason why is because if you fast forward to the M"B in 18:5, there he paskens that anyone who davens for the amud, even someone who says kadish, needs to put on a talis; however, since he is just wearing the talis for kavod tzibur and not as a garment, no bracha is recited.

I am not sure how you get these two M"B's to fit together.  In 14:11 M"B applies the sevara of the garment being worn only l'kavod tzibur only to a talis borrowed from another individual.  It sounds like the concern is that since you are borrowing the talis only for the purpose of kavod tzibur, the person lending it is not really makneh it to you for use as a garment.  However, if the talis belongs to you, or is the shul talis, i.e. it belongs to everyone, then even if you put it purely l'kavod tzibur, a bracha is required.  Yet this seems to fly in the face of the psak in 18:5.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

ha'od avi chai?

"Ani Yosef -- Ha'od avi chai?" 

Surely Yosef was aware that his father was still alive, as he had been told so already numerous times by his brothers.  Yehudah had just finished arguing that Binyamin must be allowed to return home lest his absence cause Ya'akov's death.  So what was Yosef asking?

Rashi in Parshas VaYeishev (37:2) tells us that Ya'akov and Yosef shared many similarities.  Not only were their life stories similar, but, says Rashi, they even looked alike.

Yosef therefore wondered: granted that when he left home he was still young and had no beard, but even so, how could his brothers fail to recognize him?  He was the spitting image of their father -- how could they stand before him, eat with him, meet with him multiple times, and fail to see that it was him? 

Perhaps, worried Yosef, a little too much of Egypt had rubbed off on him.  Perhaps that resemblance to Ya'akov, which was as much a product of a spiritual resemblance as much as physical looks, had been lost. 

Yosef's first question therefore was "Is my father still alive?" -- do you see his image alive within me?  Do I still resemble my father?   Or have I become just another Egyptian?

"V'lo yachlu echav la'anos oso ki nivhalu mi'PANAV."  Suddenly the brothers saw the truth -- the face they were looking at, the face of Yosef, was the face of Ya'akov Avinu.  Despite all that had happened, their brother Yosef had not lost that resemblance, physical and spiritual, to their father Ya'akov.

Isn't this the question we all need to ask ourselves?  When we look in the mirror, do we see our parents and grandparents reflected there?  "Ha'od avi chai?"  Or do we see a foreign face, someone with foreign values and a foreign lifestyle, someone who looks nothing like the past that he/she came from?

(Based on R' Chaim Charlap's Mayan Chaim here)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

chanukah without a menorah?

You would think that if the whole celebration of Chanukah is about the Chashmonaim being able to light the menorah in the beis hamikdash, then the way we should celebrate is by lighting a menorah in our homes.  Yet that is not the halacha.  "Ner ish u'beiso" is the mitzvah -- just one candle per night per house.  Not only that, but the achronim discuss whether or not you even need to use a menorah to hold however many candles you light -- maybe you can even just stick your candles in the windowsill or doorway all by themselves, with no kli to hold them, and light that way.  One light, no menorah -- how is this at all like what the Chashmonaim did?

Can I be yotzei writing about the parsha by quoting a Rogatchover in Tzofnas Pa'aneiach?  : )  The Rambam writes in Hil Temidim u'Musafim 10:13:

נר מערבי שכבה אין מדליקין אותו אחר דשונו אלא ממזבח אבל שאר הנרות כל נר שכבה מהן מדליקו מנר חבירו:

In case you missed the Rambam's point, the Raavad makes note:

 א"א נראה מדבריו שהוא עכוב לנר מערבי שלא להדליקו אלא ממזבח העולה

The Rambam tells us that the ner ma'aravi, unlike all the other lamps in the menorah, must -- an absolute requirement -- be lit only using the fire of the mizbeyach.

Read the Rambam in Hil Chanukah 3:2 carefully and you will see that he doesn't say that when the Chashmonaim found an untainted jug of oil they lit the menorah.  What he says is that they lit "neiros ha'ma'aracha," they lit the fire on the mizbeyach.   The Rogatchover writes that Rambam stresses this point because the Chashmonaim did not actually light the whole menorah -- what they lit for 8 days was only that single ner ma'aravi, which must be kindled with mizbeyach fire.

But what about the din (Menachos 28) that the 7 neiros of the menorah are me'akeiv each other, i.e. you need to light them all to be yotzei lighting the menorah?

Apparently the Rogatchover understood (see his Shu"t #251 and see R Wahrman's Sheiris Yosef vol 1 #24 who develops this theme) that there are 2 dinim in play here: 1) a mitzvah of hadlakah, which can be fulfilled even by lighting the single ner ma'aravi from the mizbeyach; 2) a mitzvah for the cheftza of the menorah to be lit, which is accomplished when all the candles that are part of the menorah are kindled (the choice of Brisker language here is mine and is inexact.) 

Rav Wahrman brings a brilliant proof to the Rogatchover's idea.  The gemara debates whether it is permissible to use one Chanukah candle to light another one -- madlikin m'ner l'ner.  One proof the gemara tries to bring is from the fact that the lamps of the menorah were lit from the ner ma'aravi.  At first glance the analogy from menorah to Chanukah candles makes no sense.  Once one lights one Chanukah light, the essential mitzvah has been done -- lighting additional lights is a secondary hidur.  However, until all the branches of the menorah have been lit, the essential mitzvah of lighting menorah is incomplete.  How are these two cases comparable?  

It must be that lighting the ner ma'aravi is a complete kiyum in and of itself, even if the rest of the menorah lights are not lit.

Based on this idea we can answer the question of the Tos Yeshanim (Yoma 24b).  The gemara says that the hadlakah of the menorah in the mikdash can be done even by a zar.  Tos Yeshanim asks: so why then does Parshas Beha'alosecha, which opens with the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, address itself specifically to Aharon?  According to the Rambam, the answer is simple: Parshas Beha'aloscha is speaking about the ner ma'aravi ("el mul pnei ha'menorah...") which must be lit from the mizbeyach, which only a kohen has access to; the gemara is speaking about the second din of lighting the menorah as a whole. 

Coming back to our original questions, R' Wahrman quotes his rebbe, R' Leizer Silver, who explained based on this Rogatchover that Chanukah commemorates lighting the single ner ma'aravi, and therefore, Chazal instituted that the base mitzvah consist of ner ish u'beiso, one simple candle.  Lighting the whole menorah is a hidur, a secondary kiyum -- even using a menorah is secondary -- but what is essential is simply lighting just one candle.

This has already been a long post, but I do want to make just one point about R' Shteinman zt"l.  There has been so much written this week about him, but what I found most incredible is a video clip of him sitting at his desk, surrounded by little school age kids, and him testing them on mishnayos.  This was one of the gedolei ha'dor, someone who had the problems of Klal Yisrael on his shoulders, someone consulted by leaders, other Roshei Yeshiva, etc.  Can you imagine a big politician stopping by an elementary school to test children on their math skills, or something like that?  Unheard of.  R' Shteinman, despite  a schedule crammed with meetings with bigwigs who sought his advise and counsel, never lost sight of the importance of simple people and simple things like inspiring Jewish children to learn Torah.  That's gadlus. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

v'kisinu es damo -- the cover-up

1. Rashi in last weeks parsha comments on the words "vayichbkeyhu... vayishakeyhu" (33:4) that even though it was out of character for Eisav to express love for Ya'akov, in this case the hugs and kisses were sincere as he was truly moved.  Yet two weeks ago in Parshas VaYeitzei the Torah uses nearly the identical phrase of "va'yichabek lo va'yinashek lo..." (29:3) in describing Lavan's greeting of Ya'akov and there Rashi writes that Lavan was insincere and was trying to pat down Ya'akov to find out if he had any jewels on him.  Why in one case does Rashi interpret the hugs and kisses as sincere expressions of love and in the other case as a selfishly motivated act?

HaKsav vHaKabbalah explains that in describing what Lavan did, the Torah separates the verb from it's object: "va'yinasek" = verb, "lo" = object.  There was a disconnect between what Lavan was doing and what he felt about Ya'akov.  In describing Eisav's actions, the Torah lumps subject, verb, and object into one word: "vayichakeyhu."  The person taking action -- Eisav -- was 100% invested into the action of giving those hugs and kisses.  There was no disconnect between them and his true self, his true emotions.

R' Yisrael Resiman brilliantly connects this to our parsha.  "V'lo yachlu dabro l'shalom..."  Of course, had the brothers wants to, they could have spoken nicely to Yosef and about Yosef.  But they wouldn't have meant it.   It would just be words.  They couldn't speak in the manner of "dabro," subject+verb+object in one, where your true self is invested 100%in what you say and every word reflects your true feelings.   

2. Speaking of the Ksav vHaKabbalah, here's another nice one: Yehudah says, "Mah betzah ki na'harog es achinu v'kisinu es damo."  (37:26)  Why should we kill Yosef and have to cover up his blood?  It's an incomprehensible statement.  Is this the way the shivtei K-h speak?  This is like a line from a Mafia movie.  Yehudah is only worried about having to do a cover-up once the crime is committed -- aside from that, no problem?

HaKsav vHaKabbalah explains that the word kisinu here does not mean cover-up.  It is like the word ksus, a garment.  Yehudah was giving mussar to his brothers!  If Yosef is killed, he told them, then we will wear the guilt of that deed like a badge of shame for all of our lives. 

The kabbalists speak of the body being a levush for the neshoma.  A person can take his holy neshoma and dress it in a body that does all kind of crimes and misdeeds.  When Yaakov stole his father's brachos dressed up like Eisav, what that meant is that even when the precious neshoma of a Jew finds itself in the kesus, the levush, of Eisav, his inside remains pure and blessed.

When Eishes Potifar tries to seduce Yosef, the Torah tells us, "Vatispiseihu b'bigdo," she grabbed his clothing (39:12).  The Sefas Emes explains that the yetzer ha'ra has the power to sink its hook into our external levush=begged=kesus. The yetzer can't really get at who we are deep down, but he can nip at our externals and try to change our behavior and our outer personality.  (It's a great strategy because how many of us are in touch with or even think about who we are deep down?   Life is about switching from one role to another, one levush to the next, without taking the time to pay attention to what's underneath.)  So what does Yosef do?  "Va'ya'azov bigdo b'yadah," he abandons that outer shell.  He retreats into himself and digs down to his root core.  (My wife has a creative take on these pesukim here.)  Once you do that, the yetzer no longer has a hold.


Are you tired of winning yet?  I'm not. 

It is lovely to hear and read the protests by the usual Jew haters and self-hating Jews whose moral and intellectual compass is almost always 180 degrees off the mark. 

Despite all his faults, aren't you glad you chose

And not
In case you are too lazy to look it up, here is a link to the White House contact page where you can express your hakaras ha'tov.
Kima'ah Kima'ah -- baby steps. 
Since it's 19 Kislev, at the risk of sacrilege, let me end with this:
Keep up the winning Mr. Trump!

Monday, December 04, 2017

a place in the beis medrash

I came across an interesting Avos d"R' Nosson by way of this shiur from Dr/Reb Michal Tukachinsky. 

חופר גומץ בו יפול וגו' – זו דינה בת לאה
שהיו אחיה ובית אביה יושבים ושונים בבית המדרש,
ויצאה לראות בבנות הארץ שנאמר: ותצא דינה בת לאה (בראשית ל"ד א')
מי הוא נחש שנשכה? זה שכם בן חמור (אבות דר' נתן נוסחא ב פ"ג)

Chazal describe how Ya'akov and his sons were learning in the beis medrash, but Dinah went out and was poreitz geder, which is why she was taken by Shechem.  It is possible that Chazal here are suggesting that Ya'akov and sons are at least partially to blame here for ignoring their sister while she wandered off.  They were in their own world oblivious to her until it was too late.

That alone is an interesting idea, but I think there is another message especially relevant to our time in this Chazal.   How is a Dinah situation to be avoided?  One approach is that if the problem is "poreitz geder," then the solution must be to build a better, bigger, stronger geder.  And this is exactly what most girls' education boils down to (trust me -- I have 3 girls.)

But there is another way.  Ya'akov and his sons were not in danger from Shechem because they were busy in the beis medrash.  There is no temptation for them to go out.  It's only Dinah who is not part of that world who lands in trouble.  The solution would therefore seem to be to help her find a place within it. 

Does that mean Beis Ya'akov should start teaching R' Chaim's and Ketzos?  Lav davka.  You don't need that to have a place in the walls of the beis medrash.  For you men out there, you don't know what you are missing if you have never read/heard a sichah from Yemima Mizrachi.  Here is a woman (and there are others like her) teaching torah on the parsha that inspires hundreds of women who come to hear her every week.  It's musar, chassidus, hashkafa, pshat -- all of that is part of torah too.

So why don't we have more Yemina Mizrachi's, more Michal Tukachinsky's?  Because we have become so afraid of the dreaded threat of "feminism" in the form of JOFA and the like that we've overcompensated and gone to the opposite extreme.  We've kicked women out of the figurative beis medrash and become obsessed with walls.  Walls don't inspire.  Walls don't feed the intellect or the heart.  Perhaps a different strategy is needed.

pre-mattan torah mitzvos

There seems to be a machlokes between the Bavli and Yerushalmi whether a mitzvah given pre-mattan Torah is a stronger mitzvah or a weaker mitzvah.   The Yerushalmi quoted in Tos Kid 38 writes that that the mitzvah of matzah is not doche the issur of chadash because matzah was given pre-mattah Torah and therefore is a weaker aseh.  However, the Bavli Yevamos 5b in searching for a source that an aseh can be doche even an issur kareis says you cannot bring proof from the korban pesach being doche shabbos, or milah being doche Shabbos, because these mitzvos were given pre-mattan Torah and therefore are stronger than all other mitzvos. 

How does either possibility fit with the Rambam's view (see last post) that all mitzvos are binding only because they were given at Sinai?  There is no pre-mattan Torah mitzvos -- everything became binding at the same time.  Why should the fact that there is some pre-mattan Torah background history to some mitzvos have any legal ramification?