Thursday, January 25, 2018

ad asher ko"h (=25) beirchani Hashem

My wife gets a mazal tov this Shabbos because she will have reached the milestone of having tolerated me for 25 years, which is quite an accomplishment.  "... Ad asher ko"h (=25) beirchani Hashem" (Yehoshua 17:14).  Time just flies.  I didn't posted anything last week because we went to Eretz Yisrael, the first time we have each been there since back  in pre-marriage days.  I hope to write something about that once I wake up from jetlag and have some time...

The gemara (Yevamos 63) tells a story: R' Yosi met Eliyahu haNavi and asked him what it means that woman was created to be an "eizer."  How?  Eliyahu answered that a man harvests wheat -- does he eat wheat?  A man harvests flax -- does he wear flax?  Of course not.  His wife turns wheat to bread; his wife turns the flax to a nice linen garment. 

R' Yitzchak Zilberstein asks: there are mishnayos in Kesubos that talk about the obligations a wife has to spin cloth, to cook, etc. for her husband.  Didn't R' Yosi know those sugyos?  What is the big mystery here that he needed Eliyahu haNavi to explain?

R' Zilberstein asked this to his brother-in-law, R' Chaim Kanievsky, who answered by reminding him of the behavior of their mother-in-law, Rebbetzin Elyashiv.  R' Elyashiv used to wake up at some ridiculous hour of the morning (actually, it was still night) to start learning, and every day his Rebbetzin would wake up then to make him a cup of coffee.  As the years passed and the Rebbetzin grew older, her children tried to convince her to just leave a thermos of coffee and R' Elyashiv could help himself -- she didn't need to get out of bed at 2:00 in the morning just to make the coffee.  She wouldn't give in.  Ain hachi nami, she told them, that if it was just about the coffee, she could leave a thermos.  But, she explained, what do you think R' Elyashiv is thinking when his alarm goes off at 2:00AM?  He's not a malach -- he's thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice to spend a few more minutes in a warm bed?"  Now, imagine him lying there in bed knowing that I am getting out of bed to make him a coffee so he can start learning -- do you think he will sleep in those few extra minutes knowing that I'm up for him? 

That's what Eliyahu haNavi was telling R' Yosi.  Mistama they had tailors and takeout in the times of Chazal.  If it was just about having food and clothes, about the obligations listed in those sugyos in Kesubos, that would not make a wife into an eizer.  That would make her into a live-in tailor and cook.  Leaving a thermos would fulfill the Kesubos requirements.  What makes a wife into an eizer is sharing in a sense of mission with her spouse, sharing in struggles, aspirations, and goals, be it in learning or so many other things.  For that, you wake up at 2:00AM to be there -- the thermos is not enough.  It's not just any food or any clothes that Eliyahu was talking about -- it's the wheat her husband grows that his wife bakes, it's the flax he plants that she fashions into clothes.  It's the shared sense of enterprise and accomplishment that makes a wife into an eizer (and the same is true vice versa). 

My wife of course deserves my thanks for fulfilling Eliyahu's words k'peshuto and making sure I have food to eat and bills get paid on time.  But far more than that is the thanks she deserves for being my eizer all these years, in sharing in the struggles, the aspirations, the goals which we work so hard together to try to achieve. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mesech Chochma on the "matarah Elokit" of yetzi'as Mitzrayim

The gemara (Sanhedrin 111) links "v'lakachti eschem li l'am" with "v'hei'veisi eschem el ha'aretz" and teaches that just as only Yehoshua and Kaleiv, 2 out of 600,000 of those who left Egypt, made it to Eretz Yisrael ("...v'hei'veisi"), so too, only 2 out of 600,000 actually left Egypt ("v'lakachti") -- the rest died in makas choshech.  Meschech Chochma writes that Chazal are trying to tell us that quantity does not matter to G-d.  All the makos and all the miracles done for Klal Yisrael in the desert were worth it if even just 2 out of 600,000 people would achieve the "matarah Elokit," the Divine purpose and end goal.  He adds that therefore one should not grow despondent when seeing how the masses remain unresponsive to the dvar Hashem.  That's just the way things work -- it is a few individuals who are truly inspired and committed, but in their merit, G-d protects our entire nation.

R' Moshe Tzuriel in his Derishat Tzion calls attention to the Meshech Chochma's phrase "ha'matarah ha'Elokit."  What indeed was the purpose and end goal of yetzi'as Mitzrayim?  Wasn't it mattah Torah?  Didn't the entire nation, all 600,000+, not just 2 people, merit standing at Sinai and hearing the dibros?   Clearly that's not the "matarah" the Meshech Chochma was speaking of.  The Torah is a blueprint, but what good is a blueprint, a plan, which is never brought to fruition?  The end goal, the "matarah," was building a nation in Eretz Yisrael.

To put what I think R' Tzuriel is saying a little more starkly, yesh lachkor: is the purpose/matarah of Klal Yisrael to learn and keep Torah, and having Eretz Yisrael is just a means to that end, or is the goal/matarah to build a nation, which means having our own country, and the Torah is a means, an instruction book, on how to go about doing that? 

"Eretz Yisrael einena davar chitzoni, kinyan chitzoni la'umah, rak b'tor emtza'i l'matarah shel ha'hisagdut ha'kelalit v'hachzakat kiyuma ha'chomi oh afilu ha'ruchani..."  (First sentence in Rav Kook's Orot)

Without "v'hei'veisi," the goal remains incomplete and the "matarah" is not achieved.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Torah needs a context of shared experience

Although Moshe takes his wife and child(ren - see Ramban) along when he departs Midyan to go back to Mitzrayim, it is not clear that they actually completed the journey with him.  "Vashav artzah Mitzrayim" (4:20) -- HE returned -- singular, implying Moshe alone came back.  We know from Parshas Yisro that Moshe's family rejoined him at that point in time, meaning that at some point they separated.  Ibn Ezra writes that Moshe sent his family back after stopping at the inn to mal his son.   Ramban suggests that Moshe's family might have came back to Mitzrayim, but Moshe may have sent them back to Midyan because Tziporah missed her father. 

Ramban quotes a Midrash:  Yisro asked Moshe where he is bringing his wife and kids.  Moshe replied that he is taking them back to Mitzrayim.  Yisro then asked: the people stuck in Mitzrayim want to get out -- why would you bring your wife and kids into such place!?  Moshe answered: eventually those enslaved will be freed and come to Har Sinai to hear "Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeisicha mei'Eretz Mitzrayim," I am G-d who took you out of Egypt.  If my sons don't go back, they will not be privileged to hear those words.  After hearing that answer, Yisro consented for them to leave.

Why did Moshe think that if he doesn't take his family back to Mitzrayim they would not hear "Anochi Hashem Elokecha...?"  According to some views Yisro and Moshe's family rejoined him post-yetzi'as Mitzrayim before mattan Torah.  Not being in Egypt did not preclude them being present at mattan Torah.  Even according to the view that Yisro and Moshe's family rejoined him later, there seems to be no logical or logistical reason they could not have come earlier to be present at mattan Torah.  Why did Moshe think that it was impossible?

I think what Chazal are telling us is that the same words "Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeisicha..." carried a far deeper more significant meaning for the person who had been enslaved in Egypt and was redeemed by G-d than they did for the person who had not been there.  Moshe was telling Yisro that if his children do not taste the bitterness of exile and experience the joy of redemption, they will miss that depth.  Yes, they might be there to hear the words, but those words will not mean the same thing to them. 

When we hear words of Torah, it's not just a text.  It's a description of our shared experience, and it's that shared experience that gives it context and meaning. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

our unique definition of freedom

Why is Hashem so insistent that Moshe Rabeinu be the one to go to Mitzrayim and lead Bnei Yisrael to redemption?  Moshe's argument that Aharon be the one to go seems to make a lot of sense: Aharon had been with the people in Mitzrayim, unlike Moshe who had to flee and was out of contact with them; Aharon was a great communicator; Aharon was a "rodef shalom" and had the personality for the job.  Why did G-d reject the obvious choice and demand the Moshe himself go?

On Jan 1 we had the pleasure of hearing a shiur from Rav Aharon Kahn in which he explained that the choice of Moshe was necessary as it served to define our unique concept of freedom.  In America, by way of analogy, we a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution.  Tzvey dinim, if you will.  The Declaration of Independence states our grievances with King George and says we are free.  But freedom in the Declaration has no boundaries -- there is no system of law, there is no framework of a government.  It was only years later that the colonies came together to create the Constitution and establish a framework of law so that they could function together as a nation.  The concept of freedom and the concept law, with its restrictions, are two totally separate ideas. 

Moshe was a man of din, Aharon of rachamim, peshara.  Moshe therefore was inevitably going to be the one to bring down the Torah to Klal Yisrael.  Moshe Rabeinu, G-d insisted, must therefore also be the man to lead Klal Yisrael out of Egypt.  Unlike the American system, the secular system, where freedom and law stand apart, in Judaism freedom and law are inextricably linked. 

"V'zeh lecha ha'os ki anochi shilachticha -- ta'avdun es ha'Elokim al ha'har ha'zeh."  The meforshim are all bothered: how could mattan Torah, which would only happen weeks after yetzi'as Mitzrayim, serve as a sign for the people to believe Moshe?  Rav Kahn suggested that Hashem was not giving Moshe a sign to present to Klal Yisrael.  He was giving Moshe a sign, an explanation, for himself personally.  "LECHA ha'os" -- like in the parsha of tefillin, where Chazal darshen "lecha l'os -- v'lo l'acheirim" with respect to tefillin shel yad -- "ki anochi shilachtiCHA," why YOU, and not Aharon or anyone else is being sent.  The reason is "ta'avdun es ha'Elokim al ha'har ha'zeh," because you Moshe are the vehicle through which mattan Torah will take place.  Therefore, you must also be the vehicle by which geulah from Mitzrayim takes place.  The two must go hand in hand.

There is no break between our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.  We go from being avadim of Pharoah to being servants of Hashem, bound to his law.  "Ain lecha ben chorin elah ha'osek baTorah."  This is our unique approach -- freedom and law are intertwined.

This is the argument on Pesach night between the rasha and the chacham.  The rasha argues, "Mah ha'avodah ha'zos lachem?"  It's the holiday of freedom -- why are you bothering me with all these halachic details?  Freedom means I can do what I want.  But the chacham's approach is "ain maftirin achar ha'pesach afikoman" -- freedom means halacha.  Freedom means law.