Thursday, March 28, 2019

the paradox of parah

Parshas parah is the antidote to tumas meis.  When you have no chiyus of your own, when you have no energy and no life left in you, you need parshas parah.  The Sefas Emes explains that the ashes are the ultimate nothingness. Water is also a symbol of humility -- Chazal tell us that Torah is like water in that it flows down to the lowest point, to the person who is truly humble.  The taharah of parah involved mixing ashes and water together -- a double-done of nothingness and humility.  If you are mevateil yourself to Hashem, says the Sefas Emes, then you don't need to worry about your own chiyus -- Hashem will give you the chiyus you need.  "V'es ruchi e'tein b'kirbichem," as we read in the haftarah.  Hashem says, "I will give you my ruach" so you don't need to worry anymore about your own lacking.

Shlomo haMelech said that the more he tried to understand parah, the further away from it's truth he got.  That doesn't mean that there is no reason for parshas parah.  The Midrash writes that Hashem revealed the reason to Moshe Rabeinu.  Rashi even gives a reason from R' Moshe haDarshan.  So why couldn't Shlomo understand it?

The Ishbitzer explains, as we learned last week, that drinking on Purim "ad d'lo yada" means that we appreciate the difference between Haman and Mordechai, between Esther and Vashti, not because of empirical data or rational chakira, i.e. "da'as," but rather it's something that we know in our hearts.    

Shlomo haMelech was telling us that the more he tries to translate the sugya of parah adumah into chochma and da'as, into logical terms and sevaros, the more elusive the parsha becomes.  Not because there is no reason, but because chochma is not the right vehicle to get to that reason.

Much as parah itself is paradoxical -- it is metaheir those who are tamei but is m'tamei those who are tahor -- the reason for the mitzvah if paradoxical as well.  The more one uses reason to try to arrive at it's secret, the less success one has of getting there.  And the more one accepts the limits of one's own mind, the more comprehensible the parsha becomes. 

Friday, March 22, 2019

Simcha and Torah she'ba'al peh

Rashi comments on the last pasuk in our parsha, "Va'ya'as Aharon u'banav eis kol hadevarim asher tzivah Hashem byad Moshe," that the Torah tells us that Aharon and his children followed instructions to emphasize that they did not deviate one iota from what they were told.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh here disagrees with Rashi instead of defending him as he usually does.  He quotes Toras Kohanim which explains that the point of the pasuk is not that Aharon obeyed, but that he did what he had to b'simcha, as if he had been commanded to do so directly by Hashem.  It is much harder, says Maharal, to take orders from someone else - a middleman - than to follow orders when they are given to you directly.

According to this pshat the language of the pasuk is meduyak.  It's the "asher tzivah Hashem b'yad Moshe" which is the challenge -- the fact that the instructions were given through an intermediary.

Much of Torah is transmitted to us via intermediary.  Torah sheba'al peh, mesorah, is all about following the instructions of Hashem as relayed to us by Chazal.  

Klal Yisrael willingly accepted Torah she'b'ksav.  The threat of kafah aleihem har kgigis was because Torah she'bal peh was a harder sell.

The gemara writes that true complete acceptance of Torah came at the time of Purim.

Just as the Toras Kohanim learns that Aharon's simcha reflected a complete kabbala of the ba'al peh mesorah given via Moshe,  so too simcha Purim reflects our complete kabbala of the same.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Asher haglah m'Yerushalyim

1) When reading megillah the ba'al korei usually switches to the tune Eichah for the pasuk "...Asher haglah m'Yerushalyim im ha'golah asher haglisa..."  My wife every year goes above and beyond the call of duty and prepares all our taxes, saving me a headache.  I was thinking that if my wife was a ba'alas kri'ah and was reading the megillah she would switch to the tune of Eichah for the pasuk "Va'yasem Achashveirosh mas al ha'aretz..."

Speaking of my wife, see her post on the idea of "ayeif" with respect to Amalek (atah ayeif v'yagei'ah) and the megillah and her post on Lot's connection to Purim.  She has more to say on Purim than I do.

2) Speaking of "Ish yehudi...Asher haglah m'Yerushalyim im ha'golah asher haglisa..." 

All the Jews living in Achashveirosh's kingdom had been exiled because of the churban.  Why does the megillah make a big deal over Mordechai being in galus?
Tiferes Shlomo answers: For some people, being in galus is about where you are.  For others, like Mordechai, being in galus is about who you are.

Look around at some of the homes in our from neighborhoods, at some of the lavish vacations (Pesach in Hong Kong!) advertised for the "heimish" world -- the only thing galus-dik about it is the location.  Psychologically, it's olam ha'ba!  Mordechai, even though he had full access to the palace, even though he was among the elite in Persian society, he was psychologically always "asher haglah m'Yerushalayim..." and yearning to return.  Even though politically he was an insider, his identity remained that of an outsider.

3) Esther min haTorah - "V'Anochi hester astir..."  Sometimes you can't see because it's too dark.  Sometimes you can't see because the light is so bright that you are forced to close your eyes. 

R' Yaakov Moshe Charlop explained that the light of Purim is so great that it has to be hidden -- it's not something we can see with the eyes of this world (I believe this idea stems from Maharal).  You have to close your eyes and just look with your neshoma.

The Ishbitzer explains "ad d'lo yada" means we have to abandon the idea of knowing as an empirical process.  If the only source of knowledge you have is what you see, hear, taste, and smell, then you are missing the boat.  "Arur Haman -- Baruch Mordechai" comes from a much deeper place than that.

That's the whole idea of dressing up on Purim.  Even though someone is dressed up as a whatever, we still can figure out who it is -- I know that it's not really Obama, a princess, a fireman, etc. in front of me because no matter what my eyes tell me, I know the truth is deeper, the truth is what's under the mask.  Purim is all about the true reality that is under the mask the world shows us. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Al te'hi tzadik harbei

The gemara in Yoma (22b) tells us that when Shaul received the command to wage war and destroy Amalek, he made a kal v'chomer: if the Torah takes the death of one innocent person so seriously that it demands that the closest city bring an eglah arufah, kal v'homer how horrible killing thousands is.  And even if the adults of Amalek are sinners, what of the children?  What of the animals of Amelek?  A bas kol echoed down and warned Shaul, "Al te'hi tzadik harbei," don't be so frum.  The mitzvah is to destroy Amalek, period. 

Was Shaul haMelech, who Chazal describe as perfectly righteous, questioning the mitzvah of waging war against Amalek!?  Did he have in mind from the get-go that he was not going to fulfill the dvar Hashem?

Rav Shach quoted an amazing hesber from R' Issar Zalman Meltzer (see this post from a few years ago as well): Shaul haMelech certainly was planning on fulfilling the dvar Hashem.  However, to go slaughter thousands and not become a barbarian oneself is not so easy. How does one go out and kill men, women, and children and not lose something of one's humanity? 

Shaul had a solution.  Before the war he gave a tremendous mussar shmooz reminding everyone just how repugnant what they were about to do is.  No one should go into battle thinking this was something done easily, something that should be relished or enjoyed.  Our attitude has to be that what is being done is morally detestable!  Nonetheless, we will do it anyway.

The bas kol answered Shaul that he was gravely mistaken.  Yes, murder is detestable, war and barbarism run contrary to our ethic.  But when Hashem says to kill Amalek, it means that doing do is not murder, is not barbarism, and is not morally detestable -- to the contrary, to not eradicate Amalek is to turn a blind eye to evil and enable it.  War in this case is an act of chessed -- for the Jewish people and for the world.  And doing G-d's chessed, even by fighting a war, in no way can corrupt a person. 

We see from the Purim story just how wrong Shaul's calculation was.  What was the result of fighting Haman, of fighting Amalek?  "Kiymu v'kiblu" -- a renewed kabbalas haTorah, a rededication to all that is moral and good.  Fighting evil does not weaken one's morality -- it strengthens it.

As I write this the news reports are coming in that the IAF is striking back at Hamas for the rockets launched at Tel Aviv earlier.  This is milchemes Amalek.

Of course we should not take life indiscriminately.  However, why is it that before we strike back at our enemies we seem to have a need to klap 10 Al cheit's in advance, to give them a week's warning to get out of the way, we need at least a minyan of Senators or Congressman to reiterate that we have a right to defend ourselves, etc?   Al te'hi tzadik harbei!  The defense of our homeland and our people is a mitzvah and is the greatest chessed, not only for us, but for all peace and freedom loving people.  Doing so is an act of moral courage.

more on the chiyuv of mikra megillah according to BaHa"G

The Ran in Pesachim writes that when a mitzvah can be done via shliach, the nusach ha'bracha is "al mitzvas...," but when it must be done personally the bracha starts "l...".   Ran then asks why is it that the bracha on megilah is "al mikra megillah," but the bracha on shofar is "li'shmoa kol shofar?"  In both cases there is a shliach tzibur doing something for us; in both cases we each listen.  So why is it that when it comes to megillah the mitzvah is defined as **reading** the megillah, and the shliach tzibur is our agent, and therefore the bracha is "al...," but when it comes to shofar the mitzvah is defined as the act of listening which we do ourselves and therefore say the bracha "li'shmo'a..?"

Ran gives a complicated answer which is not so easy to understand (see Steipler in Pesachim).  The Rosh (R"H 4:10) asks the same question. and quotes a straightforward resolution from the BaHa"G: the halacha is that if one blows shofar properly but does not hear the sound, e.g. one hears only an echo, one is not yotzei.  The mitzvah is hearing the kol shofar, not merely blowing.  Therefore, the bracha is "li'shmo'a."  He doesn't spell it out, but what he seems to be implying is that when it comes to megillah it is reading which is critical, even if one does not hear the words coming out of one's mouth.  Therefore, the bracha is "al mikra."

This answer of the BaHa"G may be l'shitaso of the BaHa"G's view we have been discussing earlier in this week (link1, link2).  Recall that BaHa"G, based on the Tosefta, argues that men and women do not have the same chiyuv in megillah.  Men are obligated in reading; women only in hearing the text read.  Given this assumption, mikra megillah MUST be different than shofar.  The chiyuv of megillah, unlike shofar, cannot be "li'shmo'a," because then there would be no way to distinguish the obligation of men from that of women.   

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Chiyuv of a katan in mikra megilah

Last post I mentioned the view of BaHa"G who distinguishes between the chiyuv of men and the chiyuv of women in megillah.  Men are obligated to actually *read* the text; women are only obligated to *hear* it being read by someone else.

One would expect that a male katan is chayav to *read* megillah -- he becomes obligated m'derabbanan based on the din of chinuch as a male adult.    Yet the Hagahos Maimoni in hill megillah equates the chiyuv of a katan with that of women - to listen, but not to read!

It would appear that the chiyuv of a katan in megillah does not stem from the general chiyuv of chinuch, but rather is a specific chiyuv mi'dina in hilchos megillah.  Just like women are included because of af hein, so too children ate also included because they were potential victims of Haman's decree.

The mishna (Meg 19) quotes a machlokes tanaim as to whether a katan can be motzi a gadol in mikra megillah.  Tos struggles to explain why not.  Based on the Hagahos Maimoni one could suggest that the issue is whether a katan is chayav in keriah m'din chinuch like any other male adult, or whether he is obligated only like a woman based on this unique din in megillah.  (See R Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi' s Birchas Mordechai siman 15).

Af hein - megillah, Chanukah

The BaHa"G holds that although women are obligated to hear megillah, a woman cannot be motzi a man in reading.  Some Rishonim explain that men have a chiuv to read megillah but women are only obligated to listen to it being read. There are many explanations as to why this should be so (see post of March 2006) and many other alternative explanations of the BaHa"G's view.

Aruch haShulchan (689:5) suggests that the obligation of women which stems from af hein hayu b'oso ha'nes, meaning they (Esther) caused the miracle or were beneficiaries of the miracle, is a lesser obligation then the actual takanah to read megillah placed on men.  He then goes a step further and argues that the same is true on Chanukah: men are obligated to light menorah, but women, whose chiuyuv stems from af hein, are only obligated to see the menorah lights, but not to actually light.  

Interestingly, Aruch haShulchan himself (671:9) seems to indicate that both men and women light.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Why wait for a letter

The megilah tells us that the Jews rejoiced when Achashveirosh sent out letters allowing them to defend themselves againt Haman and his henchmen and fight back againt any attack.

M'mah nafshach: If they were able to defend themselves, wouldn't they have done so without Achashveirosh's permission?  Surely they would not have gone like sheep to slaughter! And if they did not have any means of defense, what good does a letter do?

Rav Amiel answers in his Derashos El Ami that the people from day one had the means of defense.  What they lacked was fortitude and resolve.  Kiymu v'kiblu, Esther's revelation of her identity, and finally, the letters of Achashveirosh provided the psychological boost, the necessary chizuk, for the people to take action.

There is something a little sad here.  Why do we need a letter from Achashveirosh, from Lord Balfour, from the UN, from Trump, to empower us to fight for our rights?  Ha'levai it should be kiymu v'kiblu alone that gives us that strength.  

Monday, March 11, 2019

encore performance

The gemara writes that a person is obligated to read megillah at night and to repeat it -- l'shanosah --  during the day. 

Yesh lachkor whether these are two separate chiyuvim, one to read at night and one to read during the day, or whether there is one chiyuv to read the megillah but that one chiyuv requires two readings to be fulfilled.    

Nafka minah: what if, for some reason, a person cannot read the megillah during the day?

If day and night are independent chiyuvim, then just because the person can't read during the day shouldn't impact the chiyuv to read at night.

But if there is one chiyuv that can only be fulfilled by reading the megillah 2x -- by reading and **repeating** -- l'shanosah -- then if you can't do the reading during the day maybe there is nothing gained by reading at night since half a chiyuv is nothing.  (Sefas Emes)

Mayim achronim

An interesting halacha: if you only have a limited amount of water and can either wash mayim achronim after your second shabbos meal or save the water to wash mayim rishonim and eat seuda shlishis, MG"A paskens to wash mayim achronim and skip seudah shlishis.  (Quoted lhalacha by aruch hashulchan 181:6, but I could not find it in the M"B).

Been there, done that

No one should be shocked at the blatent antisemitism of the Democrats.  It is not a freshman member of Congress who first questioned the loyalty of Jewish representatives or who suggested they were selling out votes for aipac money.  It was Hussein Obama:


Let's not forget the damage this man and his supporters have done in laying the groundwork for what we see today.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

avodah vs melacha

K'chol asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe kein asu Bnei Yisrael es kol ha'avodah.

Va'yar Moshe es kol ha'melacha... va'yivarech osam Moshe. (39:42-43)

There are two words the Torah uses for work: avodah and melacha.  Ramban (VaYikra 23:7) writes that there is a difference between the two.  It's a sunny afternoon and you havw a choice between mowing the lawn -- kotzeir -- and making a barbeque -- bishul.  Both involve what the Torah defines as work, but we would all prefer the latter to the former.  Mowing the lawn is avoda; the barbeque is melacha.  Kayin worked the land and is called an oveid adamah.  Avodah is what you have to do willy-nilly; you have to force yourself to do it, or sometimes someone else forces you, like in the case of a slave, who is called an eved = avodah.  

When the Torah tells us that we can't do work on Yom Tov it uses the term "m'leches avodah," as opposed to on Shabbos where it says simply "lo ta'aseh melacha."  Ramban explains that m'leches avodah means only work that falls under the umbrella of also being avodah is prohibited on Yom Tov.  You can't mow the lawn, but on Yom Tov, unlike Shabbos, you can have your barbeque.  The one place where the Torah writes that melacha is prohibited on Yom Tov (Shmos 12:16), it immediately adds "ach asher yei'achel l'chol nefesh," cooking and the like, is permitted. 

The Rishonim debate whether ochel nefesh is hutra or dechuya on Yom Tov.  For example, Rashi and Tosfos disagree whether you can carry only if there is a need like tzorech mitzvah to push off the issur, or whether you can carry something just for enjoyment.  According to Ramban, it's neither.  Hutra/dechuya means there is an issur, but for some reason, we push off the issur, i.e. in this case, you're not allowed to cook, to carry, etc., but comes ochel nefesh and pushes off the issur.  According to Ramban, there is nothing to push off -- the Torah never prohibited melacha on Yom Tov, it only prohibited avodah.  It's much easier to understand how the concept of mitoch (Beitzah 12) works using Ramban's approach.

Since we're not learning hilchos Yom Tov, back to the parsha.  Chasam Sofer writes as follows:

"...Kein asu Bnei Yisrael es ha'avodah."  Even though building the Mishkan effected a kapparah for cheit ha'eigel, i.e. there was a benefit to doing it and it would have been something Klal Yisrael would have wanted to do for their own sake, like having a barbeque, that's not what motivated them.  The reason they put all their kochos into building a mishkan was purely l'sham shamayim, to serve Hashem, as an avodah.

However, "Va'yar Moshe es ha'melacha..."  Who knows what was going on in their hearts?  Not even Moshe.  What he saw was melacha, the work being done for potentially the selfish benefit of the kaparah.  Therefore, "Vayivarech osam..." so that even if it was a melacha, yehi ratzon that there should be a hashra'as haShechina anyway.

It's too good a vort to ask a kashe, on, but I will ask anyway.  About 10 pesukim before the pesukim above, the Torah says, "Va'teichel kol avodas ha'mishkan...Va'ya'asu Bnei Yisrael es kol asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe..."  Rashi comments: Va'ya'asu Bnei Yisael -- es ha'melacha.   The pasuk describes what was done as avodah.  Why does Rashi in his explanation switch terms and call it melacha?

I thought I had an answer that fit with the Chasam Sofer and was mulling it over for half the week, but at this point I am throwing in the towel and just posting the question.

Aside from explaining the switch in terms from avodah to melacha (which others comment on as well, e.g. Kli Yakar, Malbim, see also Ramban), we also gain from the Chasam Sofer an explanation of why Moshe's bracha was necessary -- even though Klal Yisrael had dotted even I and crossed every t, Moshe was concerned that it was a melacha and not an avodah and therefore needed his beracha.

Ralbag says a simpler answer: our parsha teaches us that a great leader knows not only how to give mussar, but knows how to give compliments as well.  When the tzibur does something right, you have to tell them!  If every Shabbos dersha is about how the tzibur is talking in shul, not learning enough, not dressed properly, etc. (the truth is all that stuff maybe is not said often enough these days...) then the Rabbi will eventually find himself alienated from the klal.  Sometimes you need to lift people up and tell them how great they are and talk about the good they have done.  And what is true for a manhig of Klal Yisrael is also true for each one of us as well.