Sunday, April 28, 2019

Neilas hachag

If the answer to "What did you gain over Yom Tov?" is "5 pounds," then there is something wrong, and not just with your weight.

Sefas Emes writes that "shalosh pe'amim ba'shana yeira'eh kol zechurcha es pnei Hashem" is not just a mitzvah -- it's a bracha.  How incredible is it that 3 times a year the simplest Jew can come to Yerushalayim and experience seeing Hashem's presence!

It's true, we have no mikdash.  Nonetheless, the Tiferes Shlomo derech derush writes that "makrivim af al pi she'ain bayis" means that the service in our hearts triggers the same avodah in beis hamikdash shel maalah that would have taken place here.  "Se'irei izim naaseh b' ratzon" -- with our ratzon, our desire to do avodah, we can offer korbanos even if we are not yet capable b'poel of doing so.

After every chag (esp pesach - see gra in maaseh rav) there is an idea of neilas hachag.  Neilah here is like "barzel u'nechoshes minalecha" -- it means a lock.  As Yom Tov departs, we have to lock in our spiritual gains and not let them escape or evaporate.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

the miracle of shir ha'shirim

1) Every shira in the Tanach is associated with a miracle: shiras ha'yam commemorates the splitting of the sea, the shira of the be'er celebrates the water from the well of Miriam, shiras Devorah commemorates the victory over Sisra, etc. 

What is the miracle associated with Shir haShirim?

Chasam Sofer in his derashos answers that it's a shira celebrating the fact that after all we as a nation have been through, we still sing to G-d -- it's a shira celebrating shira itself.

2) In the Dayeinu song we mention that "ilu... lo he'eviranu b'socho be'charava - dayeinu."  

What exactly would have been accomplished had G-d split the sea but not brought us to the other side and saved us?  What kind of outcome would that have been?

Netziv explains that the key word is "be'charava."  Of course G-d would have split the sea and brought us across to save us from our enemies.  We assume there is hashgacha pratis on the Jewish people.  But who says G-d had to do it in such a way that you didn't get mud on your shoes?  Who says he had to transform the riverbed into dry land to make it easier for you to walk on?

What this line of dayenu is telling us is that Hashems' hashgacha does not just extend to the preservation of Klal Yisrael's existence -- it extends down to the little creature comfort details as well.

kavod v'oneg on chol ha'moed

The Rambam opens Hil Yom Tov with a definition -- what days are called Yom Tov:

ששת הימים האלו שאסרן הכתוב בעשיית מלאכה--שהן ראשון
ושביעי של פסח, וראשון ושמיני של חג הסוכות, וביום חג השבועות, ובאחד לחודש השביעי--הן הנקראין ימים טובים
Later in ch 6, the Rambam tells us there is a din of kavod and oneg on Yom Tov:

 כשם שמצוה לכבד שבת ולענגה, כך כל ימים טובים--שנאמר "לקדוש ה' מכובד" (ישעיהו נח,יג), וכל ימים טובים נאמר בהן "מקרא קודש" (ויקרא כג,ז-לו); וכבר ביארנו הכיבוד והעינוג בהלכות שבת.

It appears from the Rambam that kavod and oneg apply only to the first and last days of the chag -- Yamin Tovim, as defined in ch 1 -- to the exclusion of chol hamoed.  By way of contrast, look at how the Rambam formulates the din of simcha in the very next halacha:

שבעת ימי הפסח ושמונת ימי החג עם שאר ימים טובים, כולם אסורים בספד ותענית.  וחייב אדם להיות בהן שמח וטוב לב, הוא ובניו ואשתו ובני ביתו וכל הנלווים עליו,

Here the Rambam here explicitly refers to **all** the days of Pesach and **all** the days of Sukkot -- not just days called Yamim Tovim.

R' Akiva Eiger (hashmatos siman 1), however, points out that when Rambam refers to the chiyuv of kavod and oneg, he talks about it as a function of days that are called "mikrei kodesh."  Rambam writes in ch 7:

חולו של מועד, אף על פי שלא נאמר בו שבתון, הואיל ונקרא מקרא קודש, והרי הוא זמן חגיגה במקדש--אסור בעשיית מלאכה

Chol ha'moed is also called "mikrei kodesh" by the Rambam!

R' Akiva Eiger leaves this as a difficulty and is convinced that there is no din of kavod v'oneg on chol ha'moed.  Others (see the Mishna Berura) pasken otherwise. 


Friday, April 19, 2019

Free choice vs destiny

1) The hagadah goes through pesukim describing how Hashem heard the prayers and cries of the Jewish people.  Vata'al shavasam... Vayishma Elokim... Va' yar es amaleinu.  The hagadah brings a derush that this last phrase refers to the drowning of the first born children.

Netziv points out that the time frame of these pesukim is just before Moshe Rabeinu appears on the scene and the chain of events leading to geulah is set in motion.  The first born being drowned was a gezeirah that happened 80 years earlier!  It would have been just a memory for most people, not a tragedy they were davening about at that moment.

Even if it was just a fading memory for us, says Netziv, Hashem still keeps kavyachol fresh in his mind the tragedy suffered by every Jew.   When we cry out in pain, He thinks not just about our current suffering, but He thinks about all we have endured in the past as well.

2) Abarbanel goes through different reasons and approaches to explain why there was a galus in Mitzrayim.  The gemara (nedarim 32) already explains that galus is a punishment for some sin committed by Avraham, and the gemara offers three possibilities as to what that sin might have been.  Abarbanel in one of his interpretations suggests that the galus was not a gezeirah imposed by Hashem, but was a result of the free will bechira choice of Yosef and his brothers.  It was their actions that led to Yosef being sold into Egyptian slavery, which in turn led to Yaakov's decision to go down to Egypt, and the rest is history -- the Egyptians took advantage of the situation and enslaved them.

Abarbanel concludes that this is the gadlus of "v'hi she'amdah." We put ourselves in a bad situation, but Hashem still bailed us out.  Our exercise of freedom a will in no way can undermine Jewish destiny.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira

Rashi and Tosfos disagree as to whether the issur of "lo tishchat al chameitz dam zivchi" applies only to the one offering the korban or whether all of the bnei chaburah participating violate an issur.  In either case, Tosfos (Pesachim 63a d"h hashochet) writes that the korban itself does not become pasul.

Question for thought: why is the korban not pasul because of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira?

The simple answer is as follows: Tosfos (Sukkah 30) distinguishes between a lulav made from an asheira tree, which is not pasul because of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira, and a stolen lulav, which is.  In the former case, the aveira does not *cause* the mitzvah to happen; stealing a lulav *causes* you to be able to have a lulav to shake.  Similarly, owning chametz does not *cause* the korban to be kosher; it's an ancillary detail.

Nice try, but it doesn't work.  The very same Tosfos that draws (or seems to draw) goes on to ask why matzah made of tevel is not pasul because of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira.  Tosfos leaves the question unresolved.  The issur tevel does not *cause* the matzah to come into being -- it's just an ancillary defect.  It should be just like the lulav from the asheira tree.  Yet Tosfos does not answer the question, which suggests that the key factor in defining mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira is not simply causation. 

If matzah shel tevel is theoretically mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira according to Tosfos, why not a korban pesach offered while chametz is in one's possession?  What's the chiluk?

Ani v'lo malach

Earlier in the week I posted Rashi's comment that when the time for geulah came, Klal Yisrael was bereft of mitzvos so Hashem had to give them milah and korban pesach to work on.  This, says Sefas Emes, is why the redemption is described as happening b'yad chazakah.  It took more effort kavyachol because the people did not have the zechuyos necessary.

Instead of doing things the difficult way, couldn't Hashem have simply given people the means, the opportunity, the motivation to earn the necessary zechuyos?

Sefas Emes answers that the reason yetzias Mitzrayim is so special and the reason it serves as the paradigm for future geulah is because it shows that Hashem can and will redeem Klal Yisrael even without zechuyos.  Even if we have not earned it, geulah is still possible.

We say in the Haggadah that Hashem took us out of Egypt "lo Al ydei malach vlo al ydei saraf...". Every time a Jew does a mitzvah it creates a malach to be his meilitz upstairs.  When it came time to leave Egypt we didn't have mitzvos - there were no melachim to serve  as our advocates!  Nonetheless, Hashem brought us geulah (R Yitzchak Menachem m'Aleksander). So too with respect to every individual, no matter how low a madreiga he/she may be on, no matter how many or how few zechuyos, Hashem can pluck that person from misery in a moment and bring them redemption.

Shoalin vDorshin

The din of learning hilchos hachag in preparation for the chag does not appear in hilchos talmud Torah -- it appears at the beginning of hilchos pesach.  This suggests that it is a din in dinei Yom tov, not in limud hatorah.  Nafka minah: there is no din of osek bmitzvah patur min hamitzvah by talmud Torah, but there is by other mitzvos.

Rashi in sukkah 25 writes that one who goes to a shiur to learn is patur from sukkah.  Once upon a time in the past ( we learned that the reason there is a ptur of oseik bmitzvah here for talmud Torah is because learning on Yom tov is a kiyum of simchas Yom tov.  Rav Baruch Povarski says a different pshat.  The case Rashi is speaking about is where the person is learning hilchos hachag.  That's not a din in talmud Torah - it's a din in celebrating Yom tov.

Another nafka minah to this question is whether women have a chiyuv to learn hilchos hachag b'chag or not.

Size of beitzah

The Tzlach in Pesachim holds that our eggs are smaller than those used by chazal.  Apparently this is not the case .  Good to know in time for pesach in case you were planning on trying to "eat" (I don't know if I would call doing so eating) two extra large kzeysim at once 

Monday, April 15, 2019


V'haya lachem lmishmeres... (Shmos 12:6)

Rashi asks why it is that the korban pesach  in Mitzrayim, unlike all future korbanos pesach, had to be taken 4 days in advance, on shabbos hagadol.  

Rashi quotes the Midrash that Hashem saw that Klal Yisrael was bereft of mitzvos and here it was time for Him to fulfill His promise to bring them geulah.  He therefore gave them the mitzvos of dam pesach and dam milah so they could earn redemption.

How does that answer the question?  Dam pesach and dam milah happened when the korban was supposed to be brought.  How does that explain why the korban had to be taken in advance?

Sefas Emes answers that there is something even greater than the dam of the korban and the dam of milah that Hashem was giving them  -- what he was giving them was the anticipation for and preparation for those mitzvos. 

The mitzvah is just one single act with a defined shiur.  The hachana and anticipation for a mitzvah can last for hours and days and consume a person's whole mind and heart.

There is so much work to do to get ready for the chag. It shouldnt just be viewed as a necessary evil.  The hachana, the anticipation, is part of the gift of the chag as well.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Road to recovery

Zos ti'hiyeh tahras hametzorah byom taharaso...  The parsha then continues that the metzora comes to the kohen who must perform an exam and check if the tzaraas is cured.  If it is, then the metzora may proceed to bring the required korbanos and undergo the process of becoming tahor.  Shouldn't the pasuk of "zos ti'hiyeh taharas hametzorah" come after the kohen's exam, i.e. only once it is actually determined that the metzora is cured and can undergo the tahara process? 

Aside from the physical blemish of tzaraas, the metzora needs to cure the bad midos that caused his punishment.  Chazal tell us that no one can pasken on their own negaim.  A person will always see themselves in the best light. Until a person is willing to listen to the advice and judgement of others, they are not ready to escape the pain of the tzaraas affliction.

Zos ti'hiyeh toras hametzorah... V'huva el hakohen.  The very fact that the metzora is willing to got out -- to leave his comfort zone and preconceived notions -- and meet with the kohen to seek his help already proves that he is on the road to recovery.  The cure of the physical nega is sure to follow.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

how can we celebrate geulah when we are still enslaved in galus?

Haven't had much time to think or write lately...

Before inyana d'yoma of Shabbos, two notes on inyana d'yoma of Israel's effort to reach the moon:

1) I work in IT and spend my time troubleshooting problems all day.  Believe me, when you invest lots of time trying different ways to solve a problem and nothing works, it can be very frustrating.  If I was part of that team that spent months working on engineering the moon landing only to see the lander crash, I think I would have torn keriya and ripped my hair out of my head on the spot.  The fact that no one responded that way is a testimony to the amazing professionalism of those engineers. 

2) I happen to be in the middle of 2 books, one history, one a memoir, that deal with the Holocaust.  I am willing to bet that if you would have told a Jew in 1944 that in 75 years he will be able to watch an engineering team from an independent Jewish state, speaking in our national language of Hebrew, with the eyes of the world on us, become one of the few countries in the world to send a spaceship to the moon, he would have thought you were totally bonkers.  The control room had folks with beards and yalmukas, there was even a Rav who was a consultant on the project because they wanted to minimize chilul Shabbos...  absolutely unbelievable.  We need to recognize chasdei Hashem and give thanks.

3) M'inyan l'inyan on the same topic -- We open the seder with on ha lachma anya inviting guests to join us in celebrating, and then we say l'shanah ha'ba'ah we will be in Eretz Yisrael.  How does that fit into our invitation?  What does one thing have to do with the other?

The Ya'avetz says a remarkable answer really worth seeing and saying over at your seder.  Before we can invite people to celebrate, we need to understand what we are celebrating.  How can we celebrate our redemption -- geulah -- when we are still in galus?! 

The haggadah answers that this is not true.  We are lacking complete geulah, but we are not slaves any longer.  L'shanah ha'ba'ah b'ar'ah d'Yisrael -- baruch Hashem, I and many other people have kids who literally will be spending next year in Eretz Yisrael.  Any one of us can theoretically hop on a flight and be there tomorrow if we wanted.  We are bnei chorin -- we can stand proudly on the world stage toe to toe with any other nation on the glob, just like any other free, independent people. 

So yes, we are still in galus, but that doesn't me we don't have what to celebrate, and in doing so, we should invite others to join us as well.

(For the nitpickers out there, yes, I modified the answer of the Yaavetz slightly from the way he put it, but I think I accurately captured his point.)

4) Why do we connect Shabbos to Pesach?  They took the korban pesach on 10 Nisan, so we should celebrate 10 Nisan.  Why do we choose to celebrate the day, not the date?

Throughout the parshiyos leading to yetzi'as Mitzrayim, Moshe kept asking Pharoah for one thing: give us three days.  You can't expect us to worship G-d here in Egypt.  Moshe didn't even daven there in Egypt because it was a makom tumah.  We need three days outside, three days of escape from the confines of impurity, to go somewhere where we can find G-d.  

We get to Shabbos before the exodus, and suddenly the whole plan changes.  Suddenly Moshe tells us to take sheep, the very item used as an avodah zarah by Egypt, to bring it in our homes, and to plan to offer it as a korban in Egypt, the very same makom tumah that he didn't even want to daven in.   

The lesson Moshe was teaching is that G-d is not out there somewhere else, somewhere distant from the messiness, challenges, and pitfalls of everyday life.  You don't have to escape reality for three days or even for one day to go serve G-d.  G-d is right here with you, here and now.

That change in perspective is what Shabbos is all about.

Lecha Hashem ha'**gedulah** -- says the gemara, gedulah = ma'aseh braishis.  The world is supposed to reveal the greatness of G-d.  Mizmor shir l'yom haShabbos...  Mah **gadlu** ma'asecha Hashem!  Shabbos **ha'gadol** -- G-d is immanent in his wondrous creation.  Shabbos breaks the cycle of the work week and says "Time out!" -- there is something behind all the ups and downs of the week.  The place to find G-d is not in some afterlife, not by journeying outside the normal routine, but to the contrary -- Shabbos tells us that G-d is with us here and now, that creation itself has a borei and a manhig running the show.  You don't need to escape somewhere else to find him.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

nega b'or besaro

In our parsha the Torah tells us that the metzora is brought to the kohen to be looked at, but in parshas metzorah the Torah tells us that the kohen goes out to the metzorah to check if he is healed.  Why the difference?  Why mention at all who is coming to who?

The kohen is the "doctor" for whatever spiritual illness plagues the metzora.  When you need help, it's your job to seek it out.

(Hashem made "kosnos or" for Adam and Chavah after the sin.  The Midrash writes that R' Meir wrote "or" with an aleph = light instead of "or" with an ayin = skin.  R' Meir (-- same root as "or") of course knew how to spell.  What R' Meir was telling us is that the "or" of ruchniyus should not just illuminate what's inside us -- our seichel and midos -- but should illuminate and elevate our physical, exterior world as well.

Chasam Sofer writes that the targum of "kosnos or" is the same as the tagum of "bigdei kodesh," the garment of the kohen.  The kohen embodied and exemplified this teaching of R' Meir.  Therefore, the metzora, who was afflicted "b'or besaro," who failed to live up to that ideal, had to seek the help of the kohen to rectify himself.)

Once the metzora was cured, "nirpah nega tzaraas **min ha'tzaru'a**," meaning by dint of his own efforts and toil, then the kohen must go seek him out.  Ba'alei teshuvah can reach heights that even tzadikim do not reach.  The kohen who formally served as the teacher now should become the student, and learn from the example of the cured metzora.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Orlas basar

The Torah in our parsha uses the expression "yimol *"bsar** orlaso" but when speaking elsewhere of the mitzvah to mal avadim so they can eat korban pesach the Torah uses the expression "u'malta oso," without the word "basar.' Why the difference?

Chasam Sofer explains that a Jew, whether he has a physical milah or not, is not an orlas lev. He has an inherent connection to Hashem. The Mishna in nedarim writes that someone who takes a neder that applies to aralim does not mean to include Jews, even those who might not have a milah.  The milah just removes orlas *"basar,** the physical orlah.

The same is not true for an eved who lacks that inherent connection.  He must undergo a complete transformation through the milah.