Thursday, May 31, 2018

the missing "va'yehi chein" of parshas braishis

1. By each of the days of creation the Torah describes what G-d created, and then tells us, "Va'yehi chein."  The exception is on day #1 -- "Va'yomer Elokim ye'hi ohr" is not followed with a "va'yehi chein."  Where do we find that missing "va'yehi chein?"  You have to wait with baited breath from Braishis until our parsha where you finally find it.  Aharon lights the menorah, and the Torah tells us, "Va'ya'as kein Aharon."  The light of creation is finally complete.  The menorah symbolizes the light of torah sheba'al peh (Aharon is the mouthpiece for Moshe, who represents torah sheb'ksav.  "Ki sifsei kohen yisheru da'as..."  Therefore, Aharon is the one who does the lighting.)  The Torah enlightens us.  Without it, we can't see and appreciate Hashem's light, Hashem's presence in the world.

2. At the end of the parsha right after we read that Miriam and Aharon spoke against Moshe the Torah tells us that Moshe was the biggest anav in the world.  The meforshim are bothered by the placement of this pasuk.  Is this part of Hashem's explanation of why Moshe is different than everyone else?  If so, it should come 2 pesukim later, where the Torah tells us Hashem's response.  Ohr haChaim and Da'as Zekeinim writes that the Torah is explaining why Hashem had to intercede at all -- why didn't Moshe speak on his own behalf?  Netziv writes that the Torah is telling us that Hashem was not interceding because this was an affront to Moshe's kavod -- Moshe did not care about kavod.  Hashem had to intercede because the singularity of Moshe's nevuah is an essential fact of our emunah.

Based on the Shem m'Shmuel's analysis of what Miriam and Aharon were thinking, the pasuk fits perfectly in context.  Didn't Miriam and Aharon appreciate the uniqueness of Moshe?  The Shem m'Shmuel explains that aderaba, it was precisely because of their great appreciation for who Moshe was that they questioned his behavior.  Why, they wondered, would a tzadik so perfect, a navi so exalted, need to engage in perishus?  Wasn't Moshe immune from failings and temptations the rest of us suffered? 

Which is harder -- to fast l'shem shamayim on Yom Kippur, or to eat l'shem shamayim the day before?  Surely it is the latter.  It is hard to engage with the world and remain untainted by selfish motives or desires.  I am sure this is true for all of us.  It was true for Miriam and Aharon to some degree.  But they perceived that it was not true of Moshe.  Moshe Rabeinu remained pure in a way that no one else could.  Therefore, Moshe and Moshe alone could sanctify every aspect of his life, even the most mundane, in a way that no one else could.  What a kiddush Hashem!  So how could he pursue a path of asceticism and withdrawal rather than use his talent to its fullest potential (see Eretz Tzvi of the Kozhiglover on the parsha)?

"V'ha'ish Mosha anav..." is not part of the defense of Moshe, but is part of Miriam and Aharon's complaint!  Moshe, they thought, in his great modesty thought of himself as no better than anyone else.  Just like others required  perishus in some degree or other to avoid being swayed by temptation, so too Moshe thought he required the same.  But, that modesty came at a cost.  Miriam and Aharon's point was that Moshe was not everyone else.  No one else could be mekadesh the world of chomer as only a Moshe could and should.

Hashem's answer in no way undermines their argument.  Moshe was indeed above all other nevi'im and was not subject to the foibles others might fall prey too.  Nonetheless, because "peh el peh adabeir bo," there was a need for perishus, not for fear of temptation, but rather because this was what the higher level of nevuah demanded.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

mitzvos bnei noach vs Torah law

Chazal tell us that before Hashem gave us the Torah, he offered it to the other nations.  "What's in this Torah?" asked the bnei Eisav.  When Hashem told them that it contained a command not to murder, they turned it down.  "Our grandfather was told, 'Al charbecha tichyeh,' so how can we accept a Torah that prohibits murder?" they replied.  Hashem went to Amon and Moav, but they too turned down the Torah because it prohibits arayos, which is part of their culture.  And so each nation had its chance, but in the end, we alone were the only ones willing to accept the Torah.

Question: murder, arayos, etc. are all among the mitzvos bnei Noach.  Eisav, Amon, Moav had to observe these commandments irrespective of whether they accepted the Torah.  What did the nations hope to gain by not accepting the Torah?  Or, to rephrase the same question, how would kabbalas haTorah have changed their obligations?

I want to present two answers I saw and one that I thought of:

1. The scope of mitzvos is different: In the dictionary of an aku"m, murder means killing another person.  Yet, for a ben Torah, murder goes far beyond that.  Someone who embarrasses his friend, malbin pnei chaveiro, is guilty according to Chazal of shefichus damim, murder.  The same expansive scope is true of arayos, theft, and many other mitzvos.  You don't have to walk into a bank and hold it up to be guilty of gezel -- if you just wake someone up too early you have committed gezel sheinah.  This is what the nations of the world were rejecting (see R' Nevenzah's sichos where he quotes this from Kelm mussar).

2. Mitzvos bnei Noach are about the law; Torah is about a relationship with G-d.  The Netziv in the beginning of Parshas Bechukosai offers an analogy: a doctor prescribes a regimen for good health to a patient; he prescribes the same regimen to his son.  However, the doctor does not just tell his son what to do like any other patient and leave it to him -- the doctor in this case wants his son to follow his direction, he wants him to obey and be healthy.  The benefit to the son of following the doctor's advice is not just good health, but it is a stronger relationship with his father who is doing the prescribing.   

Following the mitzvos bnei noach ensures the good health of society.  Following the Torah ensures the good health of our relationship with G-d as well.  It was that relationship that the nations rejected.

3. Torah is a culture, not just a set of laws.  What Eisav and Yishmael and the other nations were telling G-d is that their culture is one of bloodshed, theft, arayos, etc.  The ben Noach laws for them are a brake that forces them to curb their natural instinct, to hold back from being barbarians.  That's not what Torah is all about.  As the Rambam writes in Shmoneh Perakim, the goal of Torah is transform a person into someone who does not desire bloodshed, or theft, or other crimes -- not simply to avoid acting on those base desires.  The goal is to cease being a barbarian, not simply to cease acting out like a barbarian.  The nations could not envision changing in that way.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

l'mishpichosam l'beis avosam -- the key to kabbalas haTorah

The Yalkut on our parsha writes that when Bnei Yisrael came to accept the Torah, the nations of the world jealously asked why we deserve to come closer to Hashem then they did.  Hashem replied to them, "Bring me the records of your yichus... like Bnei Yisrael have."  This, says the Yalkut, is why the Torah juxtaposes the count of Bnei Yisrael in our parsha, which entailed each person tracing his lineage "l'mishpichosam l'beis avosam," with the pasuk, "Eileh hamitzvos asher tzivah Hashem... b'har Sinai," which concludes sefer Vayika.

Why should the nations complain?  Chazal tell us that Hashem offered them the Torah before giving it to us and they turned him down.  They had their chance!

The answer is that the nations complained because the scales were tipped in our favor.  When Hashem offered us the Torah, it was an offer we couldn't refuse -- "kafah aleiham har k'gigis."  He did not do the same for any other nation.

This is the point the Yalkut comes to resolve. 

The halacha (C.M. 205:12) tells us that if someone is coerced to sell something, the sale is valid, but a purchase made under duress has no validity.  Chasam Sofer (B"B 48) explains that a seller merely has to relinquish ownership for someone else to step in; a buyer has to establish a new claim to the item, which is harder to do.

R' Noson Gestetner in his sefer on chumash explains that even if Hashem were to hold a mountain above the nations and coerce them to accept the Torah, their acceptance would not be valid -- a kinyan cannot be made under duress.  However, when it came to Klal Yisrael, accepting the Torah, it was not a new kinyan -- it was a yerusha that we had form our Avos and previous generations.

"Bring me your yichus records," Hashem told the nations.  You are not the bnei Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.  You cannot claim the Torah as a yerusha, and will not give it over as a morasha, as one generation does not connect to the previous one.  Therefore, kaga aleihem had k'gigis would not help you absent a real desire to receive the Torah.

Nice pilpul, but I think you can say perhaps a simpler pshat as well. The nations want closeness to Hashem.  Hashem's answer is that closeness to Him is midah k'neged midah contingent on one thing: our closeness to each other.  "L'mishpichosam l'beis avosam" -- every member of Klal Yisrael connects to his family, to his sheivet, ultimately to the tzibur as a whole.  We connect with each other, therefore, we can connect to Hashem.  Only Klal Yisrael has this virtue.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

lo timacher l'tzemisus - redeeem the land

The Mishnas Chasidim, quoted by Rav Teichtel in his sefer Mishneh Sachir on parshas Bechukosai, writes that in the two years he spent in Tzefat in 1718/19 -- almost exactly 300 years ago -- he saw so many houses being built that he felt it could not be anything less than a reversal of the curse of 'v'areichem ye'hi'yu charva," the promise in the tochacha of the land being laid desolate.  The development of the city, says the Mishnas Chasidim, is a "siman l'bi'as ha'go'el."  

What do you think the Mishnas Chasidim would say were he alive today, looking at the many cranes that dot every neighborhood of Yerushalayim, at the buildings going up all over Eretz Yisrael?   What do you think he would say if he witnessed the celebration of Yom Yerushalayim in a rebuilt, modern, Yerushalayim in an independent Jewish state?

Ramban in sefer ha'mitzvot lav 227 discusses the nature of the issur of "lo timacher l'tzemisus."  Rashi seems to hold the issur is for the buyer not to return the land, but, as Ramban points out, the formulation of the lav seems to indicate the prohibition is on the seller, not the buyer.  Ramban, based on the Yerushalmi, is machadesh that the issur is in selling land to an aku"m, who has no incentive to return it.  Ramban then compares the issur of leaving Eretz Yisrael in the hands of aku"m to the mitzvah of redeeming a Jew who is sold into slavery to an aku"m.  Just like in that case  the Torah tells us that the reason for the mitzvah is "ki li Bnei Yisrael avadim," that we are supposed to be servants only of Hashem, so too, Eretz Yisrael is supposed to be a land dedicated to being a makom Shechina, a place of service to Hashem, which is impossible so long as it is not in our hands.

Rav Teichtel quotes 'Ha'gaon ha'mekubal ish ha'Elokim" R' Dovid Lida (the honorifics are especially noteworthy given the background of who R' Dovid Lida was) as saying that our redemption from galus is directly dependent upon the redemption of Eretz Yisrael from our enemies.  Why must the two go hand in hand?  Why can't Hashem redeem us irrespective of our establishing a home in Eretz Yisrael?  Can't we do that afterwards?  Rav Teichtel explains that this is not sisrei Torah, but is implicit in the Ramban's equation of the land in foreign hands to an eved.  Hashem treats us middah k'neged middah.  We want Hashem to take us out of galus and to restore us to being his, and only his, faithful servants.  It's up to us to practice the same middah and redeem his land from foreign control so it can be dedicated to his service.  

We should celebrate the fact that we have been zocheh to see the start of that slow process.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

the location of the mizbeiach

I found the language the Rambam uses when he describes the place of the mizbeiach (Hil Beis haBechira 2:2) to be striking:

ומסורת ביד הכול, שהמקום שבנה בו דויד ושלמה המזבח בגורן ארוונה--הוא המקום שבנה בו אברהם המזבח ועקד עליו יצחק, והוא המקום שבנה בו נוח כשיצא מן התיבה, והוא המזבח שהקריב עליו קין והבל.  ובו הקריב אדם הראשון כשנברא קרבן, ומשם נברא; אמרו חכמים, אדם ממקום כפרתו נברא.

What does the Rambam mean here by it being a "masores b'yad ha'kol" -- everybody knows this tradition?  Does he mean this tradition goes above and beyond what the "ba'alei mesorah," the leaders of each generation from Moshe through Ravina and Rav Ashi who were charged with preserving and transmitting torah sheba'al peh (as the Rambam writes in the intro to the Yad), dealt with?  In what way is this mesorah different than any other mesorah of torah sheba'al peh and why?  

Might the opposite be true -- could "masores b'yad ha'kol" mean this is simply a folk tradition and not part of what was preserved by the "ba'alei mesorah?"  That strikes me as a far weaker reading than the first one, but I'm throwing it out there just to consider everything.

I haven't seen anyone who discusses this point.  Suggestions, as always, welcome.  

Thursday, May 03, 2018

a good word -- amaros tehoros

I was not feeling in a writing mood this week, but then I got an uplifting email from someone telling me how much they appreciated the posts and it changed my mind.  That person gets the credit for being mezakeh everyone who might read this and learn something.  You never know the value of a kind word.

Why a bow and arrow on Lag ba'Omer?  When you use a bow and arrow, if you want to shoot an arrow into the air you have to pull back the drawsting toward the ground.  The further back down you pull the string, the higher up the arrow will go.  Life often pulls us down.  Lag Ba'Omer tells us that what we think is a big setback is really just a needed step to shoot even higher.  Can you imagine how far R' Akiva thought he had fallen when all 24,000 students of his died?  But then the arrow shot upwards again, and it was the whole torah sheba'al peh that was the result.

The Midrash opens our parsha by telling us that "amaros Hashem tehoros" unlike the promises of a human ruler.  A human king may make all kinds of campaign promises to build this or fix that, and then the king goes to sleep and maybe never wakes up and all the promises are for naught.  (The Midrash is pretty dramatic -- I guess the Midrash could not even conceive of modern politicians who make promises and don't keep them even though they remain alive and well.)  Hashem's word is emes for all eternity.

A beautiful idea, but what does it have to do with our parsha?  Why stick it here?  Just because the word "amaros" is like "emor" and "amarta" in the parsha -- so what?

Secondly, the Midrash gives examples of the promises a human king makes with no guarantee of being able to fulfill them, but it doesn't tell us what promise of Hashem it is talking about. 

If you had to choose one word to sum up the theme of our parsha, a good choice would be "tahara."  We learn in our parsha about the holiness of the kohen, who cannot become defiled with the dead and who cannot serve as a ba'al mum.  We learn about korbanos and the disqualification of mumim.  We learn about the mitzvah of sefira that we are engaged in, "u'sefartem lachem" = to make ourselves into sapir, precious sparkling gems, so to speak, ready for kabbalas haTorah.  It's all, at least in a symbolic sense, about perfection is serving G-d, about not being spiritually defiled, blemished, unsuitable.

The first Sefas Emes on the parsha asks a basic question: how is it possible for a human being of flesh and blood to become tahor, to purify himself properly to serve G-d?  How can any of us, with all the mistakes we make, with all our shortcomings, measure up?

The Besh"t taught "l'olam Hashem devarcha nitzav bashamayim" means that the words of Hashem used to create the world are constantly emanating from Him and constantly causing the world to be recreated.  Not only that, but as the Alter Rebbe explains in the second part of Tanya, those words are what are the true essence of what everything is made of.  In other words, Hashem's utterance do not cause the world to exist; rather, they are the very stuff of which the world is made, the underlying subatomic subphysical "stuff" of everything that exists. 

Says the Midrash in Parshas Kedoshim, "Nasata kedusha l'Yisrael, nasata lahem l'olam, she'ne'emar 'Kedoshim ti'hiyu.'"  G-d gave us eternal kedusha.  How do you know?  Because, answers the Midrash, the pasuk says, "Kedoshim ti'hiyu." 

How does that answer the question?  All the pasuk says is that we have a mitzvah to be holy?

Based on the Besh"t's teaching the Rebbe of Aleksander answers that the words "kedoshim ti'hiyu" are not just a command, but they are a reality.  Just as the words, "ye'hi or" reverberate for all eternity and every moment ensure the recreation of light in the universe, so too, G-d's words of "kedoshim ti'hiyu" reverberate for all eternity and make us holy.

I'm just flesh and blood, a human being with all the faults that go with that -- a spiritual ba'al mum, a person with spiritual tumah enveloping him.  How can I get ready for kabbalas haTorah?  The answer is "amaros Hashem tehoros" for all eternity.  What promise is the Midrash talking about?  The promise of "l'nefesh lo yitamah."  The promise of "kedoshim ti'hiyu."  Our parsha is not just a list of demands, commands.  It's a map of the reality of who we are and what we are.  Hashem's words give us the koach to be tahor, to be kadosh, for eternity -- no matter if we've fallen, if we've become a little blemished and defiled.  That's just the arrow being pulled back.  The koach to be better is within us willy nilly because Hashem's words, the words of our parsha, make it so.  All we have to do is not spoil that kedusha and tahara, not drive it away.