Sunday, September 30, 2018

the closing act

This limud should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for Shulamis bas Sarah Sacha.

Apologies for not having time to write more...

1) The Mishna at the end of the 5th perek of Chulin writes that even though normally only meshicha is koneh, there is a takanah that 4 times a year ma'os konos to buy meat.  Meaning, if you paid the butcher for a brisket for Yom Tov, even if he has to shecht an entire cow to give it to you and he doesn't know if there will be any other customers, he has to do so and can't just return your payment.  The payment completes the sale and the butcher can't back out.  There is such a demand for brisket for the Yom Tov that Chazal made is easier for everyone to get their meat : )  

Interestingly, Sukkos is not one of these 4 days, but erev Shmini Atzeres is.  Chasam Sofer in his Derashos quotes from the Yaavet"z that this proves that the chasima of our din is still incomplete until the end of the chag.  Who can truly fully celebrate when there is an unresolved judgment hanging over their head?  Who can enjoy their brisket in that state?  It's only at the end of the chag, as we approach Shmini Atzeres, when all will be resolved l'tovah IY"H, that we can celebrate.

2) The Midrash teaches that ha'posei'ach, the one who opens the Torah reading, recites a bracha, and the choseim, the one who reads last, closes the reading with a bracha.  (In the days of Chazal there was not a bracha recited before/after each aliya like we do, but rather one bracha was said before the start of the kriah and one at its conclusion).  The source of the bracha before reading, says the Midrash, is the pasuk "baruch atah Hashem lamdeini chukecha."  The source for the bracha at the conclusion of the reading is because "v'zos habracha..."  follows the shirah of Ha'azinu.

The obvious question: the pasuk of "v'zos habracha…" is not a blessing on the words of Torah that Moshe read.  It is a blessing given to Klal Yisrael.  What does that have to do with birchas haTorah?

Sadly, for a lot of people Torah is a closed book.  Take a peek at your average yeshivah high school classroom, for example, and you will see the glazed over eyes of the students, the captives forced to sit listening to lectures on topics that have no interest in, analyzing a dry book written in a language they cannot understand.

"Ha'posei'ach ba'Torah…"  How do you open that book?  It starts with "baruch atah Hashem lamdeini chukecha."  No one comes to school and says "Thank G-d we can study algebra today!" or "Thank G-d for Hamlet today!"  But when we sit down and crack open a sefer, that's how we have to start our learning.  We need to build love and appreciation for Torah first, before getting to the Tosfos or the R' Chaim, or we will never get out of the starting gate.

But even after you come to appreciate Torah, that's not enough.

"Sameini k'chosam al libecha…"   A chosam is a seal; it identifies who you are.  V'zos habracha is about who we are as Klal Yisrael -- our strengths and weaknesses, our future destiny.  Ha'choseim ba'Torah means Torah defines who we are.  It's not just a book we study; it's our identity.

We opened the Yamim Tovim with Rosh haShana and tekiyas shofar; now we come to the chasima: not just the closing of the books, the closing of the din, but the "sameini k'chosam" -- when we take all we have gleaned from these special days and make it part of our identity, part of who will be will during this coming year.  (based on Shem m'Shmuel Nitzavim 5672)

Sunday, September 23, 2018

tzeila d'heimnusah

כְּתַפּ֨וּחַ֙ בַּֽעֲצֵ֣י הַיַּ֔עַר כֵּ֥ן דּוֹדִ֖י בֵּ֣ין הַבָּנִ֑ים בְּצִלּוֹ֙ חִמַּ֣דְתִּי וְיָשַׁ֔בְתִּי וּפִרְי֖וֹ מָת֥וֹק לְחִכִּֽי

Shir haShirim (3:3) compares the beloved one, dodi, an allusion to G-d, to an apple tree in the forest.  It's beautiful shade is desirous to sit under; it's fruit is so sweet.

Rashi quotes the Midrash: All flee from the apple tree because it has no shade. So did all the nations flee from G-d at the giving of the Torah, but I sat and delighted in his shade(see here).

Meaning, the apple tree signifies the unique and special bond between Klal Yisrael and Hashem.

The mashal used by the Midrash begs the question m'mah nafshach: if the apple tree has shade, then why did everyone flee from it and not want to sit there?  And if the apple tree has no shade, then what does the pasuk mean by "b'tzilo chamaditi?"

The simple pshat in the pasuk "Hashem tzilcha" (Tehillim 121) is that Hashem is like a protective shade over us.  The Besh"T, however, famously interpreted the pasuk to mean that Hashem's relationship to us is like a shadow.  When you stand in the sun and move, your shadow moves with you.  So too, what happens to us in our lives, what happens to our families, even what happens to the cosmos, is effected and is changed by Hashem in response to our behavior.  You want there to be more chessed in the universe?  Act with chessed.   You want there to be more justice in the world?  Act with justice.  Hashem will in turn react and respond by revealing more of these midos in the world.

Sefas Emes explains that all the nations of the world see the apple tree, but they don't see any shade, so they walk away.  They see a world without chessed, and so they think it's a cruel place; they see a world where there is suffering, and they think there is no justice.  What they don't get is that whatever they see is just a reflection of themselves and what they are willing to bring to the table --  Hashem tzilcha.  Klal Yisrael believes the shade is there even if we don't see it at first, and so we come with our emunah, we come with the tremendous desire to connect to Hashem.  When you bring that to the table, then Hashem responds and you will find the shade you were looking for.  

Sukkah is the "tzeila d'heimnusah," the shadow of emunah.  Hashem comes to Avaraham at the Bris bein haBesarim, "Va'yotzei oso ha'chutzah," (Braishis 15:5) he tells him to go outside and count the stars, and promises that his children will be that numerous and great.  "V'he'emin ba'Hashem," Avraham was filled with emunah when he heard the message.  On Sukkos we imitate Avraham Avinu.  Hashem tells us to go outside, leave your house and go sit under the stars that you see through the schach of your sukkah and count them.  Do you believe in the destiny and greatness of Klal Yisrael, or do you believe what you read in the NY Times?  Do you see the shade under the apple tree?  Because if you believe in it, you will find it there. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

why Klal Yisrael's tefilah could not save Moshe from dying

Please have in mind that this limud should be a zechus for a refuah sheleimah for Shulamis bas Sarah Sascha.

At the end of the parsha (32:48) Hashem told Moshe to go "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh," this very day, up to Har Nevo, to look out over the Land, and then and to die.

Rashi points out that there are three places where the Torah uses this expression of "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh."  The common denominator between them is that in all three places there was a hava amina by human beings to try to stop G-d, and G-d responded by carrying out his plans in the middle of the day to demonstrate that no force can stop him.  When G-d was about to bring the flood, the dor ha'mabul threatened to destroy the ark; G-d in turn ordered Noach to enter in the middle of the day to prove that they could not stop him.  The Egyptians thought they would prevent Klal Yisrael from leaving; G-d took them out right in the middle of the day to prove the Egyptians wrong.   Finally, here, Klal Yisrael thought that they would cling to Moshe and not let him die; G-d arranged his death in the middle of the day.

We understand the hava amina of taking axes and breaking the ark; we understand the hava amina of taking up arms to stop Klal Yisrael from leaving Egypt.  But how could Klal Yisrael have even had a hava amina of stopping Moshe's death?  What power do human beings have to stop someone from dying?

R' Chaim Shmuelevitz answers that the power we have is the koach ha'tefilah. 

The gemara (Kesubos 104) tells us that when Rebbi was about to die, the tefilos of his generation kept him on earth until, seeing his suffering, his maid caused an interruption to the prayers so that Rebbi could depart this world in peace.   

We just said over the Yamim Noraim that teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedaka can avert an evil gezeirah. 

Now that we know the power our tefilah has, I have a simple kashe: so why didn't it work?  Why did the tefilos of Klal Yisrael keep Rebbi in this world, clinging to life, but G-d forced Moshe "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh" to pass away irrespective of what Klal Yisrael wanted and davened for?   

I think the answer to the question is rooted in the nature of Moshe's sin at mei meriva.  Netziv on our pasuk briefly reminds us of his interpretation of that episode, which he elaborates on more fully in Chukas.  Hashem wanted mei meriva to be a "teachable moment," as they call these things in the world of education.  It would be another step in the transition from life in the desert surrounded by miracles to the life of teva in Eretz Yisrael.  What do you do when you life in the world of teva and you face a drought?  Hashem wanted Moshe to show the people that the answer to their needs would come through tefilah and Torah study.  That's how we who live in the mundane world approach G-d with our needs.  But that's not what Moshe did.  Instead, he hit the rock, and through a miracle -- much like the other miracles that happened in the desert -- the rock produced water.  In response, Hashem told Moshe that since he was stuck in the miracle mode of desert life and could not transition to the teva life of Eretz Yisrael, he would not be the one to lead the people there.

Moshe now in our parsha  must pay the ultimate price for his sin and die before entering the land.  Al asher m'altem bi... b'mei merivas Kadesh..." I think is not merely a reminder of what Moshe did wrong, but is an explanation of why tefilah here did not work.   Because he did not capitalize on the koach ha'tefilah to meet the people's needs at Mei Merivah, midah k'neged midah, the koach ha'tefilah could not work on Moshe's behalf here to spare him from his fate.

At this special time of year may all our tefilos for all our needs be speedily answered.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Rav Kook's heirarchy of types of teshuvah

The gemara (R"H 16b) writes that there are 4 things which can cause a gzar din to be ripped up and nullified: 1) tzedaka; 2) tzea'ka (i.e. tefilah); 3) shinuy ha'shem (i.e. changing one's identity, personality); 4) shinuy ma'aseh, which Rashi explains to mean "shav mei'ra'aso," repenting from one's evil ways.

Rashi is difficult.  M'mah nafshach: if a person truly repents from his evil ways, then that alone should suffice for teshuvah.  But if a person does not repent from his evil ways, then all the tzedaka, tzea'ka, and shinuy shem will not help.  So all 4 items really boil down into one (see Ritv"a).

I would like to suggest the following hesber:

Rav Kook opens Orot Teshuvah by teaching us that there is a hierarchy of three different types of teshuvah:

1) Teshuvah that comes through teva, human nature.  This can be broken into two subcategories:
A) Physical teva -- a smoker who gives up his cigarettes because he realizes that smoking is bad for his health is doing this type of teshuvah.
B) Moral teva -- guilt can eat away at a person's kishkes. and keep a person up at night.   The desire to restore one's moral and psychological health is part of teva.  Think of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and I think you have an idea of what Rav Kook means here. 

2) Teshuvah of emunah -- it doesn't come from within a person, but rather the external force of religion, social norms, etc. cause person to want to fall into line.  A person does not want to live in discord with what the outside world tells him is right and good.

3) Tehuvah of the seichel -- this is the highest form of teshuvah.  This is repentance that comes not from physical or psychological discomfort, not from the pressure to conform to outside norms, but rather the intellectual realization that one's values and life goals are discordant with what is true and ethical, and therefore, one must change.  

(BTW, it seems that these three avenues roughly correspond with the Maharalian triad of guf, nefesh and seichel.  Maybe you can figure out a way to fit the avodah of the three Avos into these boxes as well.)

When Rashi writes "shav mei'ra'aso," he is not explaining WHAT the person is doing -- he is explaining WHY the person is doing teshuvah.  Rashi is explaining that we are talking about a person doing teshuvah because he cannot live with his own evil, a teshuvah of teva, because things are eating away at his kishkes.  We are speaking about a person who is running away from the evil within and looking for an escape.  You might have though that only a higher form of teshuvah would be sufficient to remove a gzar din.  Kah mashma lan our sugya that even the lowest form of teshuvah suffices to do the job.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Lo yoveh Hashem s'loach lo -- hope for change

1) We read in the shir ha'ma'alos m'ma'amakim, "Ki imcha ha'selicha l'ma'an tivarei" -- Hashem, forgiveness comes from you, so that we may come to fear you.  It's a very strange line.  You would think that if there was no forgiveness, we would have more to fear.  But we say exactly the opposite -- precisely because G-d forgives, we will fear him more.  How does that make sense?   

There is a pasuk in our parsha that may shed some light on things.  Our parsha describes the person who disregards the bris between the Jewish people and Hashem, and instead, "v'hisbareich bi'lvavo leimor," he says in his heart, "b'sherirus libi ei'leich," I'm going to do what I want (29:18).  The parsha continues, "lo yoveh Hashem slo'ach lo," Hashem will not want to forgive such a person, "u'macha Hashem es shemo," his name will be obliterated.

All we hear about this time of year is teshuva.  Tanach is filled with admonitions asking us to do teshuva.  Yet here, in the parsha we read right before Rosh haShana, the Torah tells us that G-d will not forgive this wrongdoer.  What kind of message is that?

The Beis HaLevi answers that we put the quotation marks in the wrong place.  "Lo yoveh Hashem s'loach lo" is not the Torah's response to the wrongdoer -- it's a continuation of the wrongdoer's statement.  It also belongs in the quotation marks.  The sinner is not just rejecting the bris with Hashem, but more than that and perhaps worse than that, he  rejects the possibility of undoing his disavowal of the bris.  When there is no hope for change, there is no check on evil. When there is no hope, there is no reason to not do whatever you want because it's not going to make a difference anyway.

Last week Rabbi Y Y Jacobson spoke in Far Rockaway and he quoted the Ba'al haTanya as saying a similar explanation of the pasuk in shir ha'ma'alos.  Imagine a person who has lost millions and is being pressured by the bank to repay everything.  He knows he has no chance of repaying anything close to what they are asking for, so he figures why bother -- might as well spend the money on something enjoyable.  Once you are in debt way over your head with no chance of paying it back, what's a little more or a little less?  "B'sherirus libi ei'leich!"  But if the bank tries to work out a payment plan, forgives the interest, and tries to help the person recover, then things are different.  "Ki imcha ha'selicha" -- Hashem is willing to work with us on a payment plan, bit by bit, one step at a time.  He gives us the hope that we need, the belief that we can in fact make amends and correct things.  There is no reason to throw everything away -- there is a life preserver that gives us a reason to hold onto our yiras shamayim.

2) Others suggest a different pshat in that pasuk in Nitzavim "lo yoveh Hashem s'loach lo."  It doesn't say "lo yislach lo," that Hashem will not forgive -- it says "lo yoveh," Hashem does not want to do it.  Hashem does not kavyachol want to give a free pass to a person who has done such wrong.  However, Hashem does it anyway.  Such is the greatness of teshuvah.   

3) And for the sake of completeness, let me give you a different pshat in the pasuk in the shir ha'ma'alos.  There are a lot of people who are looking for quick fixes.  They want a segulah, an easy solution.  Tell someone who has sinned that they have to fast x days, give $x to charity, wear X, say X, etc. and it's a done deal.  Wave the magic wand, and poof, it's all good.  No one is really afraid of sin if that's all it takes to make things better.  But that's not what it's really all about.  "Ki imcha ha'slicha" -- forgiveness only comes from G-D, with a capital G.  Nothing else works.  It's hard to stand naked (spiritually, emotionally, psychologically) before the King of Kings and face up to what we do with our lives.  "L'ma'an tivarei" -- that's something that should make you tremble. 

4) Tos. writes that we blow 100 shofar blasts because of the 100 cries of Sisra's mother as she waited for him to return from battle, eventually realizing that he would in fact never be coming home.  The connection between shofar and the cries of Sisra's mother is baffling.  My wife suggested the following: The Midrash writes that because Ya'akov caused Eisav to cry when he took the brachos, therefore Mordechai ha'tzadik had to suffer and cry at Haman's hands (see post here).  Causing pain, even to one's enemy, is a dangerous thing.  

The tears of Sisra's mother had the potential to arouse a kitrug against Klal Yisrael.  Therefore, we need the kol shofar to temper that judgment.  The cry of the shofar, genuichei ganachy'lukei yalil, drowns out the cries of our enemies. 

5) Lastly, in case I don't write before Rosh haShana, I wish everyone a kesiva v'chasima tovah for the upcoming year.