Friday, May 31, 2019

Yeish sachar l'peulaseich

Next week we will IY"H read Boaz's blessing to Rus that in response to her having come out to the field to meet him "yishalem Hashem paaleich u'tehi maskurteiach shleima..." (2:12).

The GR"A explains that there is a difference between being paid for "paaleich" and getting paid schar, "maskurteiach." A worker gets paid by the day or by the piece - that's "paaleich" pay. At the end of the year the worker gets a bonus.  The bonus is not for any particular day of work or any particular project -- it's for the overall assessment of the gavra as a loyal and dedicated employee.  That's "maskurteiach," schar.

The Malbim says something similar.  Your dry cleaner is a poel.  He gets paid for doing the job of cleaning your clothes.  If your suit is still dirty when you pick it up, don't pay the cleaner.  Jabob De Gram is a sachir and gets paid schar.  Whether he wins another Cy Young award or whether the Mets have to send him down to the minors, his contract guarantees him the same pay.  Schar is not for the individual act, the individual game or pitch.  It's for being a member of the team.

What Boaz was telling Rus is that Hashem will pay her like a poel for each mitzvah that she does, but by joining the Jewish people, she will get much more than that - Hashem will give her schar as well.  We get paid simply because we are members of the team, we get paid a bonus just for being employees, irrespective of and above and beyond what we earn for each individual act that we do.

Our parsha promises all kinds of great rewards for "im bechukosai teileichu..." Everyone asks: schar mitzvah b'hai alma leika?  Reward is received only in olam ha'ba?

Based on the GR"A and Malbim we can answer that true, schar = the bonus pay, what you get just for being a member of the team, is reserved for olam ha'ba.  However, you still can still earn pay for being a poel in olam hazeh based on what work you complete successfuly.

"Anu ameilim umekablim schar..." we say at a siyum.  "Im bechukosai teileichu" - Rashi explains that the pasuk is referring to ameilus in Torah.  Schar is for your efforts, not for the results, the peulah.  Even if you don't complete the job, you get points just for being a good employees and working at it.

Now that we learned this GR"A and Malbim, I think we can appreciate a pasuk we all know in a deeper way.  Yirmiyahu (ch 31) describes our mother Rachel Imeinu crying for us as we were led into galus.  Hashem turns to Rachel and tells her not to worry.  "Yesh **sachar** l'peulaseich v'shavu meiEretz oyeiv." Hashem is telling Rachel that she and Klal Yisrael don't just receive payment based on whether we succeed in doing mitzvos or whether we manage to accomplish what we are meant to.  What we also get is "sachar." Even if we have to be sent to the minors for a tune up, the contract is still in place, we are still valued employees of the firm.

This is Yom Yerushalayim -- yesh sachar l'peulaseich v'shavu meiEretz oyeiv.  We've been in the minors a lot of years.  We did not earn much as poelim because the cleaner doesn't get paid for dirty clothes.  But we are still on the team and ultimately, the reward of schar, the reward for hanging in there for 2000 years of ameilus, gets paid.

Friday, May 17, 2019

A preface to the mitzvos

Emor el hakohanim bnei Aharon v'amarta aleihem...  There are two redundancies here: 1) the double emor... v'amarta 2) Kohanim = bnei Aharon, so why say both?

The Kohanim are about to get mitzvos that place more restrictions on them than on an ordinary person.  The Torah therefore prefaces the commandments with an introduction: Emor el hakohanim bnei Aharon, tell the Kohanim that they are the decendents of the great Aharon hakohen, they are the heirs to his legacy.  You have more restrictions not to make your life difficult, but because you are holy and special. (Chasam Sofer)

Chazal learn from the double emor... v'amarta the idea "l'hazhir gedolim al ha'ketanim." I would say this goes hand in hand with the Chasam Sofer.  The way to teach a child is to first make him feel special, make him feel privileged to be given mitzvos. That is the preface needed before anything else can be taught.

(Lzecher nishmas Eliezer been Meir)

Thursday, May 16, 2019

subjective vs objective truth

Keitzad merkadim lifnei ha'kallah?  Beis Hillel hold that one can say "kallah na'ah v'chasudah" no matter what the kallah looks like; Beis Shamai holds that one must tell the truth.  (Kesubos 17)

One could learn that the point of disagreement here is whether one can bend the truth for the sake of shalom.  You don't want the chassan to feel bad, so no matter what the kallah looks like, you pay a compliment. 

R' Yaakov Kaminetzki explained the sugya differently.  The issue is not whether one has a license to bend the truth, but rather the issue is more fundamental -- what is truth?  Beis Shamai hold there is an objective standard of truth, and therefore, if the kallah is ugly, we have to call it like it is.  Beis Hillel, however, holds that truth is relative.  To the chassan, the kallah is the most beautiful girl in the world.  Relative to his way of thinking, one is being entirely truthful in saying "kallah na'ah v'chasudah."

R' Yaakov uses this yesod to explain another gemara (Eiruvin 14) l'shitasam.  Beis Shamai were sharper than Hillel's school, but Beis Hillel were more numerous.  Does the halacha follow smarts or rov?  A bas kol from Heaven declared that although eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim Chaim, the halacha follows Hillel.  Tosfos asks: "lo bashamayim hi" -- why should the bas kol carry any weight?

Hillel l'shitasam was interested in subjective truth.  Since the majority of people saw things their way, that defined the "correct" answer.  Shamai was interested in objective standards.  Therefore, l'shitasam they had to follow the bas kol, the objective voice of truth that stood outside the fray.

What does this idea of relative truth being truth come from?

The Midrash writes that Hashem took a poll among the angels to see whether He should create man.  It was a tie score among the different groups, with shalom and emes being opposed to man's creation because we are quarrelsome and can't be truthful.  To break the tie G-d took the angel of emes and cast him down to earth.

Why did G-d cast down the angel of truth and not the angel of shalom, since both were opposed?  And how does throwing the angel down to earth, removing him from the scene, address his objection?  It doesn't seem like a fair way to address the problem.

R' Yaakov explains that Hashem was not disregarding concern for truth.  What the Midrash is saying is that truth can be defined in different ways.  There is Heavenly truth, the truth of the bas kol and angels, objective truth -- man cannot live up to that standard.  But G-d revealed that there is also a truth based on human perception, a subjective truth.  Hashem said that to be fair to man we have to look at truth the way it appears on earth, through man's eyes.  That is a truth man can be held to and which he can live up to.  And if we go with that definition of truth, there will be shalom as well.  When all we know is subjectivity, then eilu v'eilu prevails because right and wrong can never be established with objective certainty.

Now we can get back to the question from yesterday's post: given that chazakah is proof even for dinei nefashos, why is it a chidush to say that a kohen can become tamei for his father, who we identify based on rov/chazakah, any more than his mother, who we can identify with certainty? 

R' Yaakov suggests that the Torah's allowance for tumah is tied to the emotional need to mourn for the loss of one's closest relatives (My 2 cents: see Rambam Hil Aveil 2:6 "kamah chamurah mitzvas aveilus she'harei nidcheis lo ha'tumah... k'dei she'yisasek imahem v'yisabel aleihem."  Note that the Rambam does not say that tumah is allowed in order to *bury* the dead, but rather he says that it is tied to *aveilus.*)  Therefore, what matters is not the objective definition of paternity, but rather what matters is the subjective emotions of the mourner. In that regards, a mother b'toras vaday trumps a father whose identity is established only by rov and chazakah.  These may be objective proofs, but that is not sufficient when the question on one of subjectivity and emotion.


Last week I called your attention to an edition of the derashos of R' Teichtel that seems to be missing the section where he expresses his support for a Torah/avodah combination in order to settle Eretz Yisrael.  This week I present you with this link that will take you to last week's edition of "Yabi'a Omer," a parsha sheet devoted to the teachings of R' Ovadya Yosef.  On the last page you will find an excerpt they print from a teshuvah in Shu"T Yabi'a Omer vol 6 in which R' Ovadya expresses his pain at the religious failings of the State of Israel, and concludes that because of these failings many still perceive that "Shechinta b'galusa" and therefore (here the editors bold the words to make sure you get the message) they refrain from saying hallel on Yom ha'Atzmaut.

The only problem is that if you look up the actual teshuvah  (I don't believe it is available online so I can't give you a link) you will discover that R' Ovadya continues and writes that there is much good that can be found in the State as well.  The State is the Torah capitol of the world, with thousands of people now learning Torah, thousands more who have come closer to Torah, and religious and spiritual growth constantly increasing. Therefore - and this is how R' Ovadya concludes the teshuvah - if one wishes to say hallel on Yom ha'Atzmaut, one is permitted to do so after davening, albeit without a bracha. 

I think it is fair to say that R' Ovadya's opinion of the State is a bit more complex than the quote taken out of context would lead one to believe, and the editors bolding of the text suggests a conclusion that is probably unwarranted. 

Am I wrong?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

tumas kohanim

In listing the relatives which a kohen can/should (machlokes Rishonim whether it is a chiyuv or a reshus) become tamei to bury, the Torah firsts lists his mother and then father.  Yet when it comes to listing who the kohen gadol may not become tamei for and who the nazir may not become tamei for the Torah places the father before the mother.  Why here does the Torah place the mother first? 

The Ibn Ezra gives what I would call an actuarial answer: men outlive women.  Women, in this case the mother, are listed first because they die first.  I believe the modern metziyus is that women in fact live longer, but maybe that was not true in the past given the higher chance of death in childbirth.  

Meshech Chochma points to the Rambam's view (Aveil 2:7) that m'd'oraysa a husband may not become tamei to bury his wife, but the Chachamim allowed it.  How can they uproot a doraysa prohibition?  Rambam answers that the Chachamim treated the wife as a meis mitzvah. A meis mitzvah means there is no one responsible for burial.  When it comes to a wife, the Chachamim defined the husband as the only one with a close enough relationship to feel responsible to bury her.  

The Torah lists mother first in the pasuk because one might have thought that if a person's father is alive, the father is responsible for the mother's burial and the kohen son should not make himself tamei, kah mashma lan that he can, and according to the Rambam, must.

The Toras Kohanim seems to say that the pasuk lists the mother first and father second because while we know exactly who a person's mother is, absent a DNA or paternity test we only know who a father is based on rov/chazakah.  If two people are married, we assume that the father is the mother's husband, but an assumption cannot outweigh certainty.

Aside from the technical detail that this is not much of a chiddush (beis din can administer the death penalty based on rov and chazakah, so it surely is a good indicator or paternity), the Rishonim and Achronim ask an even more basic question on the Toras Kohanim: any doubt as to the paternity of the "kohen" is MORE of a reason to allow him license to become tamei, not less!  If the father in question is not the true father of this individual, then odds are that he is not an kohen and there is no issur in him becoming tamei in the first place.

In other words, m'mah nafshach: either this is the son of a kohen and he can become tamei for his father, or he is not the son of a kohen and there is no issur on him becoming tamei.  What hava amina can there be to say otherwise that would cause us to think there is some chiddush here?

So hopefully I will have more time to write and get to an amazing yesod of R' Yaakov Kaminetzky's.  Stay tuned, and see the Malbim as well. 

The joys of technology

I am reading a book about the medieval period and the author makes an interesting point: even though by our standards, or by any standard, really, life was miserable - disease, malnutrition, poverty was the norm - that does not necessarily mean people were unhappy.  People had strong social bonds, strong religious affiliation, and everyone basically was in the same boat, which gave them comfort. When everyone in your social network is poor and miserable, then being poor and miserable doesn't seem that bad.

Contrast that with a news report I saw yesterday on which claimed "social media makes 61% of millennials... feel inadequate about their own life and what they have, with 88% comparing themselves to others on social media..."

Technology is great, isn't it?

Friday, May 10, 2019

On one leg

The gemara tells the story of a ger who came to Hillel and asked to be taught the Torah on one foot.  Hillel responded with a reformulation of v'ahavta l'reiacha kamocha -- don't treat others in a way that you would not want to be treated yourself.

Was this idea of  "standing on one foot" just a random crazy idea to test Hillel's patience?

The Aish Kodesh (in Derech haMelech) writes that in fact we find the idea of standing on one foot in halacha.  The difference between people and angels is that angels stand on "regel yishara," one single foot, but we have two legs.  When we daven we are supposed to put our feet together so that we look like angels standing on just one leg.

An angel has no yetzer ha'ra.  It fulfills its mission with single minded purpose, like a computer.  There is only one leg moving it in the single direction it can go in.  Not so human beings.  We have one leg that wants to move us in the direction of ratzon Hashem, like the angels, but we also have a second leg that often wants to take us places that we shouldn't be.  

When a person stands before Hashem to daven, he needs to forget about that second leg. Tefilah is not a time to struggle with or focus on one's failings -- it is a time to focus on coming close to Hashem.  At that moment we can be like angels with one leg because Hashem will listen to us despite our struggles and despite our failings so long as we aspire to move in the right direction.

That's great when we are davening, but our ger had a tremendous question for Hillel: how do we make this part of our life?  How do we incorporate this into the way we observe and learn all of Torah?  How can a person feel all the time that Hashem loves him and listens to him and values him and doesn't care about the failings and struggles that we all go through?  How do we stand on one leg?

The answer is if you want to feel valued and have self worth, then treat others that way.  If you see all those around you as having just a single "regel yishara," you see people as moving in the right direction, then that becomes part of how Hashem will always see you as well.

Missing pages

Yesterday I quoted Rav Teichtel's derush on the parsha of orlah where he argues that for yishuv ha'aretz we need people who are learners who will work the land.  The same idea appears in Aim HaBanim Smeicha.  

I wanted to double-check what he said before posting it, so since I wasn't home I looked up the derashos on  Lo and behold, the copy of the derashos posted there is missing that entire section.  

I hate to jump to the conclusion that it was censored out to as avoid the obvious Zionist message.  Anyone who knows Rav Teichtel's work knows he wrote Eim HaBanim Smeicha and was a Zionist.  So why take out that section?

I am waiting for the day when someone publishes an edition of Divrei Yoel with all the anti-Zionist propaganda removed so that those of us who disagree with that hashkafa can just read the torah without wasting time on the other stuff. 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Two types of planting

The midrash reads "ki tavo'u el ha'aretz u'nitatem kol eitz maachal" as a charge to learn Torah and cause the "eitz chaim" to grow and flourish in Eretz Yisrael.  The very same midrash goes on to interpret the pasuk as encouragement to plant literal trees in Eretz Yisrael.  Just like Hashem started the world off by planting gan eden, so too, we must imitate Hashem and plant as soon as we come to Eretz Yisrael.

So what are we supposed to pack in our carry on to grab as soon as we get to Eretz Yisrael -- a gemara, or a hoe and spade?  Do we first build greenhouses or first build yeshivos?  How do we reconcile the two interpretations of the midrash?

Rav Teichtel in Eim HaBanim Smeicha and in his derashos answers that there is no contradiction.  What Chazal are telling us is that to build a country we need people who wear multiple hats.  We need farmers who are bnei Torah who appreciate the spiritual value of the land; we need bnei Torah who are willing to roll up their sleeves to help plow the fields.

Ashrei doreinu that we have been zocheh to see a return to the land and the fulfillment of both types of planting.

Friday, May 03, 2019

The untaught and unspoken about in chinuch

One of the huge failures of our education system is that we spend so much time teaching nuts and bolts, curriculum topics, this perek of Chumash or that sugya of gemara, etc. that we forget to teach the big issues of what Judaism is all about and how to apply it to life.  I keep meaning to post a list of the top 10 issues / questions that anyone religious who comes in contact with secular society (even by just reading the news) must confront just to prove that our schools do not address any of them and leave our kids ill equipped to deal with them, but I'll leave that for another time.  For now, as we think about You HaShoah and the rising anti-Semitism around us and as we look forward to Yom HaAtzmaut, I just want to highlight one area: how many of our Rebbeim and Moros sit down with kids in high school or beyond and have a serious discussion with them about the benefits (I dare say the need) of planning to live in Israel as opposed to the US or elsewhere?  Why do we assume this idea will come to kids by osmosis instead of being mechanech them that this is the correct derech?   Isn't a discussion like that about what to do with the future of one's life at least as important as learning one more Ramban or one more Tosfos?  

Thursday, May 02, 2019

don't just be civil and ethical

1) The Torah warns against our imitating the laws and customs of Mitzrayim and Canaan.  Rashi explains that these were the most barbaric societies to be found at the time.  Ksav Sofer, however, takes the opposite view -- these were cultured societies, (supposedly)governed by laws and morals. 

Sefer HaIkkarim writes that there is what is called "das tiv'it" and "das Elokit."  You can have a society that has laws, that has a moral code, that is civil, but has no religion -- those laws are "dat tiv'it."  On top of that, you can build a relationship with G-d through religious law and practice, which is "dat Elokit."  (See also Derashos haRan in his derasha on parshas shoftim).  Years ago when the j-blogsphere was more active you had a lot of people talking about "rationalist" forms of Judaism, which basically meant they wanted to turn everything into dat tiv'it.  Religion in their view was a means to a more just society, a more ethical lifestyle.  Hence, orthopraxy -- following the rules in deed because they made sense, but absent belief. 

According to Ksav Sofer, this is what the Torah is warning against.  Don't turn Judaism into ethics, into law, into a means for a civil society like you had in Mitzrayim, like you had in Canaan.  Judaism is far more than that.  "U'shamrten is chokosai v'es mishpatai... ani Hashem" -- observe the mitzvos in order to have a relationship with "ani Hashem," not just for the positive morals and ethics that are to be gained as well.

2) I have to mention a question of the Chasam Sofer that I don't understand, but which he feels is so strong that he leaves it with no answer and just says "mitzvah l'yasheiv."  From the words "v'chai bahem" the end off the parsha we were just discussing ("U'shamrtem is chokosai v'es mishpatai asher ya'aseh osam ha'adam v'chai bahem" (18:5) the gemara learns that a person should violate an issur rather than die.  For example, if a person is going to starve to death unless he eats McDonalds, then he should eat at McDonalds.  The three exceptions to the rule are arayos, murder, and idolatry. 

Chasam Sofer asks: the very next pesukim after "v'chaim bahem" talk all about the issurei arayos.  How can arayos be an exception to the rule when it is the very context in which "v'chai bahem" appears?

I don't get it.  "V'chaim bahem" is the conclusion to the parsha discussing the issur of chukos ha'aku"m and the command to keep our own chukim and mitzvos.  Arayos is the topic of the next parsha.  Who says one thing is connected with the other? 

In fact, see Ba'al haTurim who writes that the juxtaposition of "lo tikrivu l'galus ervah" to "v'chai bahem" is to make the very point that even though there is a "v'chai bahem," nonetheless, "lo tikrivu" to arayos.   
3) VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe achrei mos shenei bnei Aharon... VaYomer Hashem el Moshe...

Hashem spoke... and Hashem spoke.  Why the repetition with nothing in the middle?

Rashi explains that there was something in the middle.  "Achrei mos shnei bnei Aharon" is a message to be careful.  Rashi gives a mashal: a doctor who tells a patient not to do X will likely be ignored; the doctor who says not to do X or you will die just like so-and-so has the patient's attention.  Hashem wanted to make sure Aharon was on guard, so he warned that a mistake in doing avodah might lead to death, just as had occurred to Aharon's own two sons.

Is this not a great example of yiras ha'onesh?  Don't be bad or Hashem will give you a big potch!   Is this what it took to keep the great Aharon haKohen in line?  Not only a threat, but even that's not enough -- a threat accompanied by an example he could relate to in order to make it real. 

Wouldn't Aharon have listened to Hashem just because it was the dvar Hashem?

Two approaches:

The mussar approach (e.g. see Ohr Yahel, Chiddushei haLev) is that we see from here that no matter how great the person, a human being is still flesh and blood, and while the neshoma may soar to lofty places, flesh and blood will always struggle with tayva, with failings, with challenges.  No one is above the need for sometimes getting harsh mussar, the threat of a potch, because that is what our physical selves can relate to.

The approach of R' Tzadok and the Sefas Emes is quite different.  Hashem's warning needs to be taken in context.  As we discussed here, Nadav and Avihu were great people who aspired to a hisgalus of Hashem even greater than what Moshe merited.  They could not contain their enthusiasm, their fervor, and so they entered the Mikdash and offered ketores even though they had no permission to do so and even though it would cost them their lives -- what value is human life relative to the prize of greater closeness to Hashem?  (see Meshech Chochma in parshas Braishis on "V'h'yisem k'Elokim") For someone with that type of yetzer ha'ra, the threat of death is no deterrent -- the ends more than justify the cost.  And yiras ha'romemus, appreciation of Hashem's majesty, awe of Hashem, is no deterrent either, as the greater one's appreciation, the more one would desire to come close to Hashem.  In order to prevent Aharon from falling into the same trap as his children, Hashem had no choice other than to directly command Aharon and say that this is not the type mesirus nefesh that He sanctions, and it must be avoided.

For the ba'alei musar, the Torah is speaking to Aharon's frailties as flesh and blood like any one of us.  For the gedolei chassidus, the Torah is speaking to Aharon's greatness, because who but a great person would be swayed by the temptation to even sacrifice his life to come closer to the majesty of Hashem.