Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ptur ones in kiyum hamitzvos

The Mordechai holds (see OC siman 13, MG"A) that a person is allowed to wear a 4 cornered garment on shabbos even if it is missing tzitzis.   Since one is not allowed to tie tzitzis on shabbos, there is a ptur ones which exempts one from the mitzvah.

(The Mordechai seems to hold that ones is not a maaseh aveira with a ptur from onshim, but is not a maaseh aveira at all.)

Rav Noson Gestetner (in Maor haTorah) asks: the SA paskens (YD 120:16) that if you forgot to be toveil a kli before shabbos you should be makneh it to an aku"m and then borrow it back to use. According to the Mordechai, why is this necessary?  Since you cannot be toveil a kli on shabbos, you should be exempt from the mitzvah based on the ptur of ones.  Why is tevilas kelim any different than the case of tzitzis?

This is such a nice question that I'm going to leave it up as-is without answers or comments so it has time to marinate.  Sometimes you need to pause to savor the "im tomar" before rushing to the "yesh lomar." Bli neder will come back to it.

Monday, July 29, 2019

...u'mesara l'Yehoshua

1) The GR"A, k'darko, in his peirush on Avos tries to bring sources for every statement in the Mishna. On the first Mishna in Avos which tells us that Moshe received the Torah from Sinai and give it over to Yehoshua, the GR"A points to a pasuk in our parsha,"V'nasata mei'hodcha alav," (27:20)  as the source.

I don't understand -- who says "hodcha" means Torah?  Rashi writes that it refers to the shine that emanated from Moshe's face.  I don't see how the GR"A took this as a proof.

2) Chazal tell us that the zekeinim of the generation exclaimed, "Moshe is like the sun but Yehoshua  is only like the moon -- oy lanu mei'osa busha!"  It was a big letdown for them to switch leaders.  

The Divrei Chaim (not me -- the real Divrei Chaim, the Sanzer Rav) writes that this is not the pshat in the gemara.  I put the quotation marks in the wrong place.  The zekeinim remaked, "Moshe is like the sun, Yehoshua only like the moon," end quotation.  The gemara itself now comments: oy lanu mei'osa busha!  Woe to us when we have leaders who are living in the past and looking in the past.  "The old days were better; the Rabbi Emeritus was better," etc.  We can't compare one generation to the next, one leader to the next.  Yiftach b'doro k'Shmuel b'doro.  

Anyway, anyone have a hesber for the GR"A?

Thursday, July 25, 2019

why blame Pinchas?

1) Rashi explains that the Torah traces Pinchas' lineage back to Aharon as a response to those who claimed that Pinhas came from tainted stock and had unjustly killed Zimri.  Pinchas ben Elazar ben Aharon -- Surely the grandson of the greatest lover of peace, Aharon, could not have acted out of hatred or malice but did what he did solely to save Klal Yisrael.

How could the people have had even a hava amina of blaming Pinchas or accusing him of wrongdoing?  We read at the end of last week's parsha that it was the blow Pinchas delivered to Zimri that brought the terrible plague that had come as a punishment for the sin done with bnos Moav to an end.  The Midrash records a number of miracles that occurred to enable Pinchas to kill Zimri in the middle of Zimri committing an aveira -- the crime was evident to all. 

R' Chaim Elazary tells the story of the Rabbi whose ba'alei batim wanted him to take action and drive the shochet out of town based on rumors of his wrongdoing.  The Rabbi responded with a derasha: why is it that when it came time to tell Avraham to offer Yitzchak as a korban in the akeidah, Hashem himself appeared to Avraham to make the request, but when it came time to stop Avraham at the last minute from actually offering Yitzchak as a korban, then the Torah tells us that it was only an angel who appeared?  The Rabbi answered that to save a life, a command from a malach is more than enough, but to take a Jew's life requires the authority of G-d himself.  To fire the shochet and cause him to lose his job, lose his home, lose his reputation -- you better have the strongest proof in the world.

So too here, writes R' Elazary, although the plague was stopped, although Pinchas was the beneficiary of miracles, it doesn't change the fact that a Jew was killed.  It takes a lot to justify that.  It is only because G-d himself ratified Pinchas' actions that the people accepted it.

I don't know if it is pshat, but it is a very positive spin on what otherwise is a Rashi that portrays Klal Yisrael in a negative light. 

2) The gemara (R"H 18) writes that for the fast days of 10 Teves, 17 Tamuz, Tzom Gedalya, so long as there is no trouble in the world it is up to Klal Yisrael whether we want to fast or not (practically speaking we have long since made the decision as a community to always fast).  However, when it comes to 9 Av, since "huchpilu bo tzaros," there are so many tragedies that occurred on that day, the fast is always binding. 

Way back in 2006 (amazing this blog is still going 13 years later) I quoted a chakira from the Aruch la'Ner: does gemara mean that we have no choice whether we want to fast on 9 Av or not, or is 9 Av no different than any other fast -- we theoretically have a choice --  but because of the many tragedies that occurred it is assumed that we always chose to do so.

The Shulchan Aruch writes that the shamash should announce on the Shabbos before 9 Av that the fast will be that week.  Rama disagrees and writes that minhag Ashkenaz is not to make an announcement.  It could be the issue here is the Aruch la'Ner's chakira.  If 9 Av requires our theoretical buy-in, then the shamash needs to make an announcement for us to accept the fast.  However, if the buy-in in automatic since huchpilu bo tzaros and we have no choice, no announcement is needed (see Biur ha'GR"A on that din.  The S.A. and Rama also disagree about whether an announcement is made before Yom Kipur and Taanis Esther; that requires some other hesber than this one.)

Friday, July 19, 2019

A lack of hisbonenus

Despite being given the opportunity to receive nevuah and despite seeing the spiritual greatness of Klal Yisrael -- "mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov" -- Bilam remains unchanged as a person from the start of the parsha through its end.  When the plan to curse fails, it does lead to a change of heart, a re-evaluation and reconsideration, but rather it leads to a new wicked plan and the episode of bnos Moav.  The kabbalists link Bilam with Lavan; some claim they were one and the same person.  Much like Lavan, who despite years of exposure to Yaakov Avinu simply goes back to being his old self, "Vayelech vayashav Lavan lmkomo," (32:1) after Yaakov's departure, so too Bilam, who, after experiencing prophecy simply goes back to being his old self, "Vayakam Bilam vayelech vayashav limkomo," (24:25) with no change in attitude or character.

The Chofetz Chaim noted the interesting fact that the entire story of Bilam's prophecy appears as one long parsha stuma in the Torah with no breaks -- something not too common.  Rashi writes at the beginning of parshas Vayikra that the breaks between parshiyos served to allow Moshe time to reflect on what he was learning, to be misbonein.  Even if a person is given the gift of nevuah, without hisbonenus, without taking time for  contemplation to internalize the message and its meaning,  the person will remain unchanged like Bilam and never grow like Moshe.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Bnos Moav

Rashi writes (25:1) that it was Bilam who advised Moav that the Jewish people would be susceptible to the temptation of znus and instigated this form of attack. 

What elicited this comment of Rashi?

Mizrachi explains that we find in general that Bnei Yisrael were careful not to engage in znus.  Rashi in parshas Emor (24:11) writes that the Torah reveals the identity of the mekalel's mother because she was the only one in Mitzrayim who was mizaneh.  Rashi in next week's parsha (26:5) again writes that while the Egyptians were able to enslave us and force us to work, they were unable to force our women into having any relationship with them.  So how suddenly did things fall apart in this episode with Bnos Moav? It must be that there was some outside influence that pushed Moav at us -- namely, the plot of Bilam.

Gur Aryeh adds that Rashi's comment may have been prompted by a textual issue.  The Torah specifies that it was the "bnos Moav" who were mizaneh.  If this was a case of simple lust, then any / all women should have been involved -- not only the bnos.  It must be that what happened was not the result of normal temptation alone, but rather was a deliberate plot -- the bnos alone were directed to purposefully go out to Bnei Yisrael and instigate trouble.

The two approaches may reflect a larger methodological question.  Does Rashi comment only when there is a particular textual point that needs explanation, or is Rashi interested in larger issues like motivation, morals, etc. that have to do with the story as a whole?

Be that as it may, al pi pashtus perhaps one might say that in Mitzrayim the relationship of master to slave that existed between the Egyptians and Bnei Yisrael served as a deterrent to znus, at least any that might have been initiated by a Jew.  For a lowly slave to dream of having a relationship with beyond their social station would have been unthinkable.  However, fast forward 40 years and in our parsha we are speaking about a Bnei Yisrael that is a free nation, a people that has flexed it's muscles against Sichon and Og and can compete with anyone.  Under those circumstances, the temptation to become involved in illicit relationships with members of other nations, now seen as peers on the world stage, is far more dangerous.

The lesson for our times is obvious.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

haTzur tamim pa'alo - Aharon's death

The Torah tells us that upon reaching Hor HaHar, on the boundaries of the land of Edom, Hashem told Moshe to prepare Aharon for death, "al asher m'risen es pi l'mei meriva," (20: 24) because of their failure to obey Hashem at Mei Meriva. 

Why does the Torah need to give us the geographical detail that Hor HaHar is on the border of Edom?  Rashi explains that it was the fact that Bnei Yisrael came under the influence of Edom which diminished their merits and caused this great tzadik Aharon to be taken from them.

The obvious question: the Torah itself tells us why Aharon died -- "Al asher m'risen es pi l'mei meriva" -- because of episode of Mei Meriva, the hitting of the rock.  Why do we need another explanation involving the influence of Edom to account for his death?

I think the simplest answer is that Aharon died for the sin of Mei Meriva, but why here and why now?  Rashi comes to answer that second question.

Sefas Emes offers another answer that touches on a yesod I thought I wrote about before, but can't find where, so it's good to visit or revisit it.  "HaTzur tamim pa'alo" -- G-d's judgment is perfect.  If a person commits a crime and is thrown into jail, it's not only they who suffer, but it's also their wife, their children, etc. who suffer as well.  There is "collateral damage," if you will, caused by the punishment meted out.  Not so G-d's judgment.  If a person is guilty of sin and needs to be punished, then Hashem does so in such a way that avoids causing pain to the person's wife, children, etc. who don't deserve it.  Everything is precisely measured out and meted out.

Aharon had to die because of the sin committed at Mei Meriva, but what did Klal Yisrael do to deserve to suffer the loss of such a tzadik?  Why should they have to deal with a tragedy like that?  The Torah therefore tells us that Aharon died on the border of Edom, where we fell under foreign influence -- our merits did not measure up, so we deserved to suffer as well.  

Maybe this yesod explains another Rashi as well.  At the end of Ha'Azinu, (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 Eretz Yisrael and then to die.  Rashi comments that the Torah uses the expression "b'etzem ha'yom ha'zeh," right in the middle of the day, when everyone can see what is happening, because Klal Yisrael thought that they would cling to Moshe and stop him from dying.  G-d therefore said I'm going to do this in public, right in front of you, and go ahead and see if you can stop me.
What kind of crazy hava amina is it to think you can stop someone from dying?  

Perhaps the answer is "ha'tzur tamim pa'alo," that if we did not deserve to lose Moshe, then irrespective of his sin of Mei Meriva, he would still be with us.  It is only our failure to rally ourselves to a higher level of ruchniyus to deserve his still being with us that let him be taken.  (See this post for a different answer that connects to our parsha as well.)

Friday, July 05, 2019

Not a chip off the ol' block

1) Rashi writes that Yaakov davened that his name not be connected to  the yichus of Korach. What difference does not mentioning his name make -- we all know  Korach came from Yaakov?  Maharal in Gur Aryeh (discussed back in 2009) explains that with great yichus comes great responsibility -- you have to live up to the privilege you have been afforded.  Had any Ploni started a rebellion, it would be bad, but when you are "ben Kehas ben Levi" and start a rebellion, it's even worse.  Yaakov did not want to be associated with condemning any Jew, even Korach.  Therefore, he asked that his name be omitted from the chain of yichus that served to highlight the severity of his sin.

R Baruch Sorotzkin has a different hesber.  Eisav was born first and should have been the bechor charged with the responsibility for avodah. Yaakov realized this would have been a disaster and therefore, when the opportunity presented itself, he demanded  that Eisav sell his birthright.  Under the guidance of Rivka, Yaakov later went ahead and took the brachos that Eisav might have gotten.  Korach might have been thinking to himself that he was a chip off the old block of great grandpa Yaakov -- he too would seize the privilege of avodah from his relatives and restore it to himself, to the person most worthy.  Yaakov davened that the kochos he used in his struggle against Eisav not be taken and perverted and used improperly by Korach.

2) Last post we discussed Ramban's view that even though there is an issur of offering ketores outside its proper place, and even though Moshe was not commanded by G-d to do so, Moshe took the initiative of suggesting it as a test to prove that Korach and co. were wrong. It could be that Moshe did so as a horaas shaah, similar to Eliyahu offering a korban outside the Mikdash in order to prove the prophets of Baal false.  The gemara (Sanhedrin 89) writes that you should obey a Navi who tells you to do something wrong as a horaas shaah only if that person is muchzak as a true Navi.  The very fact that the 250 people accepted Moshe's horaas shaah suggestion in effect validated him as a Navi and undermined Korach's argument (Chasam Sofer).

3) Why was the punishment of Korach's followers that they descend "chaim she'ola," to gehenom while still alive?  See Maharal in Tif Yisrael ch 18.  The second Belzer Rebbe suggested that Moshe, like Yaakov, as we discussed above, did not want any Jew to suffer at his behest.  So long as a person has life in him, there is the possibility of teshuvah.  Therefore, Moshe asked that the rebellious plotters remain alive even as they had to go to gehenom, so as to keep the possibility of repentance open.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Ramban or printer's error / addition?

Where did Moshe get the idea that Korach and co. should offer ketores as a test?

Ramban writes:

והנה משה מעצמו חשב המחשבה הזאת ורצה בקטרת יותר משאר קורבנות, כי ראה כבר בנדב ואביהוא כי
בהקריבם קטרת זרה לפני ה' נשרפו, והתיר לאהרן להקטיר אותה לצורך השעה

Ramban says Moshe thought of the idea himself (he has another answer as well, ayen sham.)

Ramban says it a second time later in the parsha.  When the people complained to Moshe that he was the cause of the death of those who rebelled, Ramban explains their argument:

יפתור, כי יאשימו אותם על שנתנו העצה הזאת להקטיר קטורת זרה לפני ה', מדעתם שהמקריבים אותם נשרפים. כי השם לא אמר למשה להקריב הקטורת הזאת, והוא לא אמר לישראל בשם ה' לעשות כן, אם כן מעצמם נתנו העצה הזאת אשר מתו בה העם, והיו יכולין לתת אות ומופת אחר במטה או בזולתו. 
The people blamed Moshe because it was his idea to offer the ketores -- it's not something that he was instructed to do by G-d.

In the sefer Kol Rom, thoughts on chumash from R' Moshe Feinstein that were collected and written up by someone else, R' Moshe is quoted as saying that this Ramban is inexplicable.  How could Ramban say Moshe acted of his own volition?  We know that "Shechina m'daberes mi'toch grono," that Hashem "spoke" through Moshe. When Moshe gave a command, it was as if G-d himself was speaking, albeit using Moshe's voice to communicate.  If Moshe said to offer ketores, it was if G-d himself said to do so. 

Furthermore, later, when Aharon, at the behest of Moshe, offered ketores to bring to a stop the plague that had broken out in the camp, there was no command from G-d to do so.  Rashi writes that Moshe heard the secret that ketores stops the plague from the Malach ha'Maves.  Offering ketores outside the Mishkan, outside it's proper time and place, is an issur.  How could Moshe have done so?  We don't find any other case where ketores was offered to stop a plague. e.g. David haMelech did not suggest doing so when there was a plague in his time.  Why did only Moshe Rabeinu come up with this idea?  It must be because only he was commanded to do so; only he had a hora'as sha'ah to do so. 

According to the sefer, R' Moshe was so convinced that this pshat cannot be correct that he thought it was a printers error!  Ramban never said it.  

Amazing -- Ramban says it two times in the parsha, yet because of his kashe, R' Moshe gets rid of the whole thing.  

(P.S. Should I ask whether Artscroll includes this Ramban in their edition, given their treatment of Rashbam in Braishis?) 

(P.P.S. Another interesting idea from that sefer on this week's parsha: R' Moshe said that just like we finish reading Torah sheb'ksav annually, one should ideally keep one's Torah sheba'al peh learning in sync and finish sha"s annually as well.

Huh?  We don't really finish Torah sheb'skav annually -- we finish the first 5 books.  And what does that have to do with Torah sheba'al peh?  I'm missing something here.  )