Thursday, June 28, 2018

a nation, not a religion

Balak sent messengers to Bilam saying that he should come and help, "Va'agarshenu min ha'aretz."  The Midrash comments, "Lo haya mivakesh elah l'garsham she'lo yikansu la'aretz."  All Balak wanted was to keep the Jews out of Eretz Yisrael.

Balak would fit right in today with the progressives, the EU, the Reform.  "I'm not anti-Semitic," he would say.  "I'm just anti-Zionist."  

Balak made the fundamental error of thinking that Judaism is a religion and not a nationality.  A religion stakes no claim to a country.  You can practice whatever avodah zarah you like any place in the world and its all the same.  Not so Judaism.  Judaism without Eretz Yisrael is an incomplete Judaism (see Ramban in parshas Acharei Mos.  See also the first Shem m'Shmuel on the parsha re: this Midrash).

Rashi writes that Bilam's donkey banging Bilam's leg into the wall three times is an allusion to the three regalim.  Hashem was telling Bilam that he cannot beat a people that celebrates the three Yamim Tovim of the year.

Everyone asks (and we've discussed it before): why does the celebration of the shalosh regalim in particular signify that Bilam's efforts were doomed?  Why is it more significant than any other mitzvah that we do?

Sefas Emes (5648 -- you really want to see this one inside) answers that on the shalosh regalim we make aliya la'regel and come together "ba'makom asher yivchar Hashem."  We demonstrate the centrality of Yerushalayim, the centrality of the makom mikdash, to who we are as a people.

"Ki me'rosh tzurim er'enu u'migeva'os ashurenu…"  Rashi explains that Bilam looked back and saw our roots, the Avos.  The Sefas Emes reads the pasuk k'peshuto: Bilam looked out over the mountains and valleys of Eretz Yisrael, and when he looked out at the land, at its character, at its soul, what he saw was the character and soul of the Jewish people.  He saw that we are one with the land.  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

R' Sadya Gaon on "mei" vs "meimei" and the three exceptions to his rule

1) This column on the parsha by R' Nachman Kahane is simply a MUST READ.

I hesitate to excerpt any of it because then people won't click the link; OTOH, some people won't read it anyway and therefore better an excerpt than nothing.  He writes:
In the process of bringing purity and kedusha to the world, one must be prepared to dirty one’s hands and soil one’s clothing if necessary.

This is the diagnosis of the ailment from which we religious people suffer. How much more pleasant to escape the responsibilities of being an active partner in bringing about the redemption of our nation. It was more pleasant to go on with one’s life in Europe in the early 20th century than going to the Galil to drain — the Chula swamp, or to clear the fields of the Jezreel Valley of the stones to prepare the land for planting after 2000 years of dormancy.

We who believe in the Torah and the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael didn’t do it; the Chalutzim (pioneers), whom we mock for their alienation from Torah, did. They fell from malaria, fought off the Arab gangs with no more than sticks in their hands, went into the ocean to bring in our brothers from the refugee ships under the noses of the brutish-British, and they established the State. And the nearly one million religious Jews in chutz la’aretz led by certain people continue to mock, degrade, despise, scorn, and disdain, the “Tzionim”; but to this day continue to sit on the sidelines, spectators of the renaissance of our nation.
Please read the rest.

2) The Chasam Sofer quotes a yesod from R' Sadya Gaon that Rabeinu Bachei cites on parshas va'eira: there is a difference between the words "mei" and "meimei."  "Meimei," like "meimei Mitzrayim," means water that is potable and tastes good.  The makah of dam turned the "meimei Mitzrayim," the good, drinkable water of Egypt, into blood.  "Mei," like "mei Yam Suf," is water that is not usable.  

Chasam Sofer writes that he found what appears to be three exceptions to the rule.  One is in our parsha.  When Bnei Yisrael want to pass to through the land of Sichon, they say "lo nishteh mei be'eir," we won't drink from the water of Miriam's well.  Instead, we will buy your water, "meimecha nishteh…"  Asks the Chasam Sofer: what could be better than the water from Miriam's well?  Shouldn't it be "meimei be'eir," not the "mei be'eir?"

Unfortunately, the Torah got it right.  When they came to the land of Sichon, Klal Yisrael looked at what the people of Edom had and suddenly they lost their appreciation for the gifts Hashem had given them.  They viewed the special water of the be'eir as "mei be'eir," something unpleasant to drink.  The water their neighbor had was "meimecha," it was Perrier.  It's no wonder that immediately following this incident Aharon was taken from them.

The second exception the Chasam Sofer notes is a pasuk we are all familiar with.  Mizmor l'David Hashem ro'i lo echsar…  b'nos desha yarbitzeini al mei menuchos y'nahaleini.  Simple pshat in the mizmor is that we are talking about Hashem giving us pleasant pastures with tranquil springs.  So why "mei menuchos" and not "meimei menuchos?"

Chasam Sofer answers that the mizmor actually means that even when Hashem punishes us, it is still pleasant.  Even if we have only "b'nos desha," vegetables to eat -- we are not living on prime rib or steak; even if it's only "mei menuchos" that we have, water that is unpleasant to the taste, "gam ki eiliech b'gei tzalmaves lo ira ra ko Hashem imadi," under the worst circumstances we are still satisfied because we know despite it all, Hashem is with us.

The third seeming exception is a pasuk less familiar to most of us, so for that you will have to look up the Chasam Sofer : )

3) The Mishna in Parah (2:1) writes that a cow which is pregnant cannot be used as a parah adumah.  The R"AB explains that the you cannot use an animal which has carried a burden for parah adumah.  The pregnant cow is considered to be transporting a burden -- the fetus -- within itself and is therefore pasul.  

The Chelkas Yoav asks (in the Kaba d'Kusyisa): How then can a pregnant woman walk in a reshuas ha'rabim on Shabbos?  Is she not carrying the fetus, just like the cow is carrying the calf within itself?

You probably want to work out some chiluk between hil Shabbos and parah to find an answer, or maybe you have something better to suggest?

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Dama ben Nesina's reward of parah adumah

The gemara (Kid 31) illustrates the extent to which one must go to fulfill kibud av with a story.  There was a non-Jew named Dama ben Nesina whose father owned a precious gem.  The Chachamim wanted to buy the stone for the ephod, but when they came to make the deal Dama turned them away.  The keys to the safe were under his sleeping father's pillow and he would not wake his father.  Hashem rewarded Dama for this act of kibud and the next year a parah adumah was born in his herd.  When the Chachamim came to buy the parah, Dama told them that he knows they would pay whatever price he would demand, but he would ask them only for what he lost in profit from not being able to sell them his precious gem.

Two questions:

1) Of all the rewards Hashem could have given Dama, why was it specifically a parah adumah which he was given?

2) Why does the gemara go into such detail extoling Dama's virtues, telling us that he knows the Chachamim would pay any price but he wouldn't demand it.  Do Chazal need to lay it on so thick?

The Kotzker (the same vort is quoted from others as well) explained that when Dama ben Nesina did this act of kibud av there was a tremendous kitrug in shamayin against Klal Yisrael.  Here this non-Jew was willing to sacrifice a fortune for the sake of not disturbing his father -- where is our sacrifice for mitzvos?!  

Hashem therefore caused a parah adumah to be born into Dama's herd.  Kibud av is the ultimate mitzvah sichlis -- it makes sense even to a non-Jew.  Even Eisav understood and fulfilled kibud av!   (See Maharal in Ch Aggados).  Parah adumah is at the opposite end of the spectrum -- it is the quintessential chok, a mitzvah that is incomprehensible.  Dama was willing to give up a fortune to fulfill a mitzvah that made sense to him.  A tremendous zechus, but Hashem set the stage for the Chachamim to top it.  As Dama himself admitted, they were prepared to pay any price for a mitzvah that made no sense to anyone.  

(Parenthetically, we pasken that it is the parent who must bear the cost of kibud av, not the child.  In other words if your father needs a new shirt, it's kibud av to get him the clothes he needs, but you can put it on his credit card.  Whey then is the Dama story a good example of the mitzvah?  He was under no obligation to suffer a loss of his money for the sake of kibud?

Ran gives two answers: 1) there is a difference between kavod, which you don't have to suffer a loss for [assuming the parent can pay], and causing pain to a parent, like waking them from sleep; 2) Dama was only giving up potential profit, not suffering a loss of capital.) 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

a one eyed monster

The sefer She'eiris Menachem quotes from the Shem m'Shmuel (the same idea is quoted in other seforim as well) that a person who is blind in one eye is patur from the mitzvah of re'iya on the shalosh regalim because a person who comes to the beis hamikdash needs to see the world with two eyes: one eye focused on the gadlus of Hashem, and one eye focused on his own person shortcomings.  A person who sees with only one eye, i.e. someone who sees and appreciates the gadlus of Hashem but is blind to their own faults, will not benefit from coming.

Rashi writes about Korach that "eino hit'aso," his eye deceived him.  Korach saw the world with only one eye -- he saw the gadlus in ruchniyus that Aharon achieved, and maybe even was sincere in his desire for that same level of closeness with Hashem.  "Boker v'yoda Hashem es asher lo" -- Rashi explains that Moshe told Korach that just like Hashem created boundaries in nature between morning and night, so too, Hashem created boundaries in ruchniyus and not everyone could be kohen gadol.  The Emunas Moshe (Rebbe of Aleksander)  explains that Korach was a big ma'amin.  Who cares if there are rules in teva that way?  A tzadik can rise l'ma'alah min ha'teva!  Korach saw with his one eye that in ruchniyus everything is possible; Hashem has no boundaries.  Korach had 20/20 vision in that eye and got it right.  But when it came to seeing with his other eye, the eye that should have seen his own faults, he was completely blind.  He failed to see that he was not Aharon; he lacked the lofty traits necessary to rise to the madreiga to which he aspired.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

bracha on pidyon ha'ben

At the recent pidyon ha'ben made by my nephew for his bechor, my BIL RYGB started discussing with me why you have to make a bracha on the mitzvah of pidyon ha'ben.  Rashba writes in a teshuva that we don't say a bracha on mitzvos like tzedakah where the fulfillment depends on other people -- since the poor person can turn down your gift, you risk it being a bracha l'vatala.  Since pidyon ha'ben depends on the kohen taking the money (you are not yotzei just by doing a hafrasha -- you have to actually give the kohen the money), it too should be classified as a mitzvah that is taluy b'yad acheirim and not require a bracha.

I asked my son what he thought, and he immediately remembered the Ketzos (243:4) has a chidush that nesina ba'al korcho works when it comes to paying off a debt and matnos kehunah.  You don't need the kohen to cooperate -- you can force him to take the money.

I thought you could distinguish between tzedakah and pidyon ha'ben.  When it comes to tzedakah, if the poor person does not want/need the money, there is no chiyuv.  With respect to pidyon ha'ben, the chiyuv exists whether the kohen cooperates or not.  His refusal to accept payment deflects the kiyum mitzvah, not the chiyuv.

RYGB wanted to say a bigger chidush and suggest that the kohen has a mitzvah to accept the payment.  I did not believe this (see Pesachim 121 where the gemara says with respect to pidyon that the father has the mitzvah; the kohen gets hana'ah) but I found that R' Noson Gestetner in his sefer on chumash on last week's parsha compares the role of the kohen to that of a woman in the process of kidushin -- there is a hechsher mitzvah or a kiyum of some sort, even if there is not a full chiyuv.  He writes that m'sevara this has to be the case.  How could a yisrael be commanded to do pidyon if every kohen in the world could theoretically turn down his money?  How would he do the mitzvah?  It must be that the kohen has an obligation of some sort to participate.

Let's test the theories by applying them to another mitzvah: mishloach manos.

You can't force someone to accept mishloach manos, so it makes sense according to the sevara of the Ketzos that there is no bracha.

According to my approach, it's a little trickier.  I have a chiyuv of mishloach manos irrespective of someone else's need for my gift, so isn't it like pidyon ha'ben?  

The Manos haLevi writes that the purpose of mishloach  manos is to engender friendship between people.  That seems to be the logic behind the view of the Rama that the recipient can be mochel the gift -- it's the thought that counts, not the actual present.  If so, perhaps no bracha is recited because the essence of the mitzvah -- friendship and collegiality -- is devarim she'b'lev, and no bracha is recited on devarim she'b'lev.  

According to RYGB's sevara, it's also a little trickier.  If you hold like the Rama, you could simply say that there is no mitzvah on the recipient to accept anything since he can be mochel.  But I wonder how you would resolve this question if you don't hold like the Rama.  Using R' Noson Gestetner's logic, since I have to give mishloach manos to somebody, doesn't there have to be some mitzvah on the recipient to accept it, or theoretically at least I would never be able to fulfill my mitzvah?  (I did not discuss this last point with RYGB.)

Thursday, June 07, 2018

meraglim and shlichus

1. V'avdi Kaleiv eikev hay'sa ruach acheres imo...  Sefas Emes asks why the Torah has to justify Kaleiv getting a portion in Eretz Yisrael.  That should be the result m'meila, by default.  It's only everyone else's wrongdoing which caused them to lose their portion. 

Sometimes not doing wrong is not enough.  When terrible evil is taking place, you have to step up to the plate and take action, take a stand, and let your voice be heard in opposition.  Had Kaleiv simply remained passive and not done wrong, I think perhaps he still would have forfeited his portion in the Land.  It's only by speaking out that he deserved it.  (Sefas Emes gives a different answer.)

2. Rashi (12:3) explains that the term “anashim”, men of importance, is used with respect to the spies because they were righteous people and not sinners. Yet, Rashi later (12:26) explains that the spies already had their evil plan in mind when they departed, implying that they were wicked from the start.  Which is it?

There is a well known chakira in Achronim with regards to how shlichus works: if Reuvain appoints Shimon as his agent, does that means that it's as if Shimon becomes Reuvain, and everything done by Shimon is as if Reuvain was doing it, or does it simply means that the **result** of Shimon's action is attributed to Reuvain, but Shimon himself is an independent actor?  

Maharal in Gur Aryeh uses the first tzad of the chakira to explain Rashi.  The spies who were selected were in fact righteous people.  However, once they were selected as shluchim by the tzibur, shlucho shel adam k'moso, they became the tzibur.  Klal Yisrael unfortunately did not have the right motives in mind in sending meraglim, and therefore, once appointed, they became tainted by that identification and took on the tzibur's bad character.

We've done this Maharal in a previous post, but I bring it up again to have an excuse to share the Ohr Sameiach's (Geirushin 2:15) beautiful proof to the second tzad of the chakira.  The gemara (Temurah 10) raises the question of whether it is the person who brings a korban or whether it is the person for whom the korban serves as a kaparah who can make temurah with it.  The gemara proves that it's the latter: the Mishna says that a tzibur or shutafim cannot make temurah.  Why not?  If the tzibur or shutafim appoint a shliach to bring the korban on their behalf, then the shliach should be able to make temurah with it as he is an individual.  QED that it's the person who is getting the kaparah which is the key, and it is still the tzibur/shutafim who are getting the kaparah.

Says the Ohr Sameiach: according to the first tzad of our chakira in shlichus -- Shimon the shliach becomes Reuvain -- then the shliach of the tzibur/shutafim should be no different than the tzibur/shutafim themselves.  It's only according to the second tzad -- Shimon the shliach is an independent actor the result of whose deeds are ascribed to Reuvain -- that the gemara makes sense.

Pretty convincing.  Amazing bekiyus.  It's the Ohr Sameiach after all.

3. The Zohar writes that the meraglim did not want to enter Eretz Yisrael because in the midbar they knew they were the "rosh," but that status would be lost once they entered the Land.  We are talking about the best and brightest leaders of the best and brightest generation in Jewish history -- did they really selfishly sabotage everything just to retain their own power?! 

Shlucho shel adam k'moso.  Sefas Emes (5639) explains that what made the meraglim leaders into the "rosh" was the fact that they represented the "rosh" of Jewish history, a spiritually elite.  You want such a generation, they thought, to sacrifice their spiritual bounty and take up growing Jaffa oranges?  Farming, building, conquering?  What kind of job is that for a nation of kollelniks?  It was not protecting their own interests, but rather protecting the spiritual status of their generation which motivated the meraglim.

In a nutshell, the meraglim thought holiness could only be cultivated in the protective bubble of the desert, surrounded by the ananei ha'kavod, sustained by the man and the be'er.  The reality is that holiness can be found everywhere -- the more mundane the environment, the greater the kiddush Hashem in sanctifying it and revealing the kedusha found there.  That's why we are put in a physical, mundane world.  That's why we have to farm, to build, to conquer. 

Many meforshim read the parshiyos that follow the cheit ha'meraglim as a response to their error.  Rav Teichtel in that vein has a wonderful derush on the pasuk that introduces the mitzvah of challah, "V'haya b'achalchem mi'lechem ha'aretz tarimu terumah la'Hashem." (15:19)

The Tur (208) writes that when one says a bracha mei'ein shalosh, one should omit the words "v'nochal m'pirya v'nisba m'tuva," as there is no inherent value in just enjoying the fruit of Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara rhetorically asks, "Did Moshe Rabeinu want to enter Eretz Yisrael just to eat its fruit?"  Bach disagrees.  He writes that the fruits of Eretz Yisrael are nourished by the Shechina itself, and by eating, we connect with G-d.  (See post here.)

"V'haya b'achalchem mi'lechem ha'aretz," when one is not eating man -- when instead one is eating mundane bread, created from the wheat grown and harvested by our secular labor, "tarimu terumah la'Hashem," that is an opportunity to elevate that work, that meal, that food, and discover within it something holy to Hashem.   (See Sefas Emes 5641 as well).

4. P.S. The Seforim blog has a fascinating piece looking at some of the material from the archives of R' Herzog's letters, now available online.  Link and link.   Well worth your time!

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

sitting on the fence

Rashi writes that the Torah juxtaposes the story of the meraglim in parshas Shlach with the story of Miriam's criticism of Moshe and her punishment (see the meforshei Rashi -- maybe the Torah is simply recording events in chronological order?) because the meraglim should have learned from what happened to Miriam not to speak lashon ha'ra.

R' Mordechai Eliyahu (quoted by his son R' Shmuel here) asked: Miriam criticized Moshe Rabeinu, the adon ha'nevi'im.  The meraglim were critical of a place, an inanimate thing, sticks and stones.  How can that be compared to Miriam's crime?

Speaking against Moshe Rabeinu is not just ordinary lashon ha'ra -- speaking against Moshe undermines the dvar Hashem.  If you cannot trust that Moshe acted 100% in accordance with the ratzon Hashem, then the entire Torah c"v is subject to question.  So too, speaking against Eretz Yisrael is not just lashon ha'ra -- speaking against Eretz Yisrael undermines the dvar Hashem.  The Torah's mission for Klal Yisrael is for us to establish a nation al pi Torah in Eretz Yisrael.  It can't be done anywhere else and any other way.  If you don't accept that as a positive goal and don't think that's what we are here for, then you are missing the boat of what Hashem wants from us.

The glass I am happy to say is at least half full.  I don't think anyone alive 50, 40, or even 30 years ago could have imagined thousands of kids wearing kipot who are shomrei Torah and mitzvos marching down 5th Ave. in support of the State of Israel, this while l'havdil the Reform invite Michael Chabon to speak at their graduation and bash the State.  Amazing.  These kids grasp, to some degree, what our mission is. 

The Reform and Michael Chabon don't worry me.  Nor am I worried too much about rebbes and their followers who chose the same say as the parade to hold an anti-Zionism rally in Nassau Coliseum

What bothers me is the half empty part of the glass that consists of the thousands of bnei Torah, who, while not openly sympathetic to Satmar, still do not think it is incumbent upon them to march, to rally, to speak out in support of and defense of Israel.  Where were they on Sunday?  Where are they for other rallies, demonstrations, etc.?

There are, of course, those people who are simply apathetic.  They don't think about the issue, so case closed.  I am not speaking about those people.  I am speaking about people who think they are following a "shitah," meaning they have thought about it a bit, or at least think they are following in the footsteps of people who have thought about it.

I think I get it.  I am not aware of any Roshei Yeshiva from hesder being invited to visit Lakewood and being given the kavod that the Satmar Rebbe gets when he goes there.  And as bnei Torah, the torah of people like R' Elchanan is like your bread and butter, so certainly his anti-Zionist views will have an impact on your hashkafa.  So you have to hedge your bets.  You do deep down feel having the State is a good thing, but you don't want to actually get labeled as a Tzioni, you don't want to risk going against da'as Torah, so you park yourself on the fence.  You don't go to the Coliseum, but you don't go to the parade either.  You can even pretend you are pareve for all kinds of religious reasons -- you can't skip seder for a parade or rally, can you? -- and so remain seated on your perch, not tilting to one side or the other.

Sadly, it doesn't work that way.  The NY Times doesn't care why you didn't show up.  They don't want to hear a pilpul about your hashkafa.  PR and politics is very simple -- showing up IS the battle.  Not there = you don't support the cause. 

And the RW world knows this too.  How do I know?  Because a few years ago they gathered with Satmar in Manhattan to say tehillim and protest AGAINST the State because of the supposed threat the draft law posed to yeshiva students.  You can say tehillim at home or in your shul.  Why come to Manhattan to do it in public?  Answer: PR and politics.  Because the NY Times is not interested in the sentiments you express in tefilah in your beis medrash at home, but they are interested in a rally.  

You can't remain on the fence.  Your vote will be counted for or against, willy-nilly.  So you might as well start thinking about what you really hold and act on it. 

There is an even greater reason than PR and politics that should motivate you to get out there and do whatever you can to support the State.  I was davening in shul on Shabbos and noticed the gabai very deliberately left out the words "relishes tzemichas geulaseinu" in reciting the tefilah l'shlom ha'medina.  Again, the glass is very much half full! -- at least in this shul the tefilah was recited, which is more than I can so for many other place.  But why leave out those words?  The idea that there is a "lo zachu" geulah that will unfold slowly (kim'a kim'a, as the Yerushalmi and Midrash put it) though natural means, with the land being given to us by the nations, with kibutz galiyos taking place before binyan hamikdash, is well established in Chazal, Rishonim, and achronim.  What does this person think the geulah is supposed to look like?  My guess is that he envisions a miracle.  Isn't that what most people expect?  But most people's view is wrong. 

You should support the State because if you take the time to investigate the sources, the evidence will, I am certain, lead you to the conclusion that the re-establishment of an autonomous Jewish state, even with all its present flaws, is the most significant theological event in 2000 years.  That this is a step -- we can quibble over how big a step and how many more steps are needed -- toward our ultimate geulah is undeniable.

The question is how do we get people off the fence?  And again, I am not speaking about convincing the NY Times, or the BDS crowd, or the Reform.  I am speaking about our community minei u'bei.  How do make people see support of the State as a religious obligation, not merely a hechsher mitzvah because Eretz Yisrael is the best place to learn, or because we want Jews to be safe?  Our obligation to the State should go far beyond that.  

I don't pretend to have an answer.  I'm just glad the somehow the glass is getting there, filling up bit by bit.  I just wish the process would go faster.