Thursday, January 30, 2020

Lma’an tisaper b’oznei bincha... vi’yedatem

"Lma’an tisaper b’oznei bincha u’ben bincha…  vi’yedatem ki ani Hashem"
Short of time this week but did not want to completely skip writing.  Two diyukim in the pasuk:
1) If the point of telling over the story is for the next generation -– bincha u’ben bincha –- to know what happened, then the pasuk should end off “v’yadu ki any Hashem” -– they will come to know Hashem.  Instead, the pasuk uses the term “yidatem,” which refers back to the speaker.
Oib es felt in hasbara is felt in havana.  If you cant explain something to someone else, then you really don’t understand it.  Having to explain something forces a person to define and crystalize their thoughts. 
You want to come to a better appreciation of yediyas Hashem yourself?  There is no better way to do so then by giving over the mesorah to your children.  You will sharpen your own beliefs, clarify your values, and come to a better yediyas Hashem yourself.
2) Why not just say "tisaper l'bincha" -- what's the extra word "b'oznei" doing there?  (Compare with next week's parsha where we read after the battle with Amalek that Moshe is told "sim b'oznei Yehoshua..." to remember the episode.)   
You can't whisper is someone's ear from a distance.  You have to be close to them. 
To give over the mesorah to your children you need to keep them close.  Torah is whispered in the ear, not shouted from far away.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

a band-aid or a vision?

1) Last week's parsha ended with Moshe's poignant question: Why have things become so much worse for Klal Yisrael because of his shlichus?  Why has he been a cause of suffering instead of a cause of redemption?

The opening of our parsha contains the 4 leshonos of geulah.  Those learning daf yomi should remember the gemara (Brachos 5) that lists a number of things that can be acquired only with yisurim, among them Eretz Yisrael and Torah.  This is Hashem's response to Moshe.  Why must Klal Yisrael experience such suffering?  Because their destiny is "v'lakachti" = kabbalas haTorah, "v'hei'veisi" = Eretz Yisrael.  (Chasam Sofer)

Despite such lofty dreams and promises, Klal Yisrael didn’t listen to Moshe's message  -- “V’lo sham’u el Moshe m’kotzer ruach u’mei’avodah kasha.”  Moshe came back to Hashem and asks how he can possibly deliver the demand to liberate Klal Yisrael to Pharoah if even Klal Yisrael won’t listen to him.  Hashem responded: “Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe v’el Aharon v’yitzaveim el Bnei Yisrael v’el Pharoah melech Mitzrayim l’hotzi es Bnei Yisrael mei’Eretz Mitzrayim.”  (6:13) 
Meshech Chochma explains that Hashem is not simply reiterating his command to Moshe to deliver the original message.   In fact, the message has changed. 
Originally Moshe came to Klal Yisrael with this glorious vision of a wonderful future --  not only did he promise freedom from the backbreaking drudgery of slavery, but he promised independence in their own beautiful country, not to mention kabbalas haTorah, spiritual salvation.   A person who is in pain doesn’t want to hear lofty dreams and promises.  All they want is immediate relief.  When a person is suffering, that suffering becomes their all consuming focus.  They don't have the patience to listen to anything else.  Hashem therefore told Moshe to go back to the people with one message alone: “Va’yitzaveim… l’hotzi es Bnei Yisrael mei’Eretz Mitzrayim.”  For now, it’s enough to talk about and work on getting out of slavery.  The dream and the fulfillment of those 4 leshonos of geulah could come later.
It's a beautiful diyuk in the pesukim, but I have one simple question: Hashem certainly knew that Klal Yisrael wouldn't listen to the whole speech and just wanted that message of relief.  So why did he send Moshe to tell the people the 4 leshonos of geulah in the first place?  Why not just deliver the short and sweet message up front?
I think the answer is (I think I touched on this once before) that even though the dreams and the lofty vision will not be listened to or absorbed quite yet, they still have to be articulated.  A mission without a dream, a vision, is a band-aid.  Band-aids don't inspire.  Band-aids get you though the here-and-now, but don't give you a reason to look forward to tomorrow.  Moshe had to first define to Klal Yisrael what geulah is -- not a band-aid, but rather a vision, an ideal.  Once the goal was defined, then he could come back and give out band-aids to deal with the here-and-now. 
We've been through this in recent history as well.  Do we want a Jewish homeland as a band-aid for anti-Semitism and suffering in galus?  Or do we want a homeland because we have a vision of a future that goes beyond escaping the pain of the moment?  The former may be what we need right now, but the latter is what defines our ultimate goal.
2) When Pharoah came running to Moshe to ask him to get rid of the frogs plaguing Egypt, Moshe asked Pharoah when he should pray for the plague to end.
Moshe was made a shliach of Hashem to bring makkos.  Who ever said anything about praying for the enemy? 
This question is discussed by R' Bunim m'Peshischa and made it ways into the torah of Sefas Emes as well.  Last week we discussed the emunas chachamim of Klal Yisrael in Mitzrayim.  I used the word "emunah" in that post and not some other term primarily because that is the term R' Chatzkel Levenstein used, but it actually fits better than other terms because emunas chachamim is an extension of emunah in Hashem.  "Es Hashem Elokecha tira" -- "es" comes to include yirah of talmidei chachamim. 
The whole point of the makkos was to establish that Hashem is the one in control, not some Egyptian diety, not natural forces, not Pharoah.  Moshe davening to remove a makkah and it happening  is not a contradiction to that mission but aderaba, a fulfillment of its purpose.  Moshe as an eved Hashem was an extension of the yad Hashem.  His control was a reflection of Hashem's control over Mitzrayim.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Amram's separation from Yocheved -- B'hadei kavshei Rachamana lamah lach?

Yesterday I mentioned the gemara (Sota 12) quoted by Rashi that Amram divorced Yocheved because he did not want to have any more offspring given Pharoah's gezeira to kill all male babies.  When Klal Yisrael saw what Amram did, they followed suit.

Everyone is learning daf yomi these days, so Brachos 10 is inyana d'yoma: Chizkiyahu was on the verge of death and so Hashem sent the navi Yishayahu to go visit him and tell him that he is being punished for not fulfilling the mitzvah of having children (Since when is a bitul aseh a reason to be chavay misa?  Sorry, not my topic for now.)  Chizkiyahu argued that he cannot be blamed -- how can he have children when he knows that from him will come the wicked king Menashe?  Better to not have children then to bring such evil into the world!  Yishashayu, however, rejected that reasoning.  "B'hadei kavshei Rachamana lamah lach?"  Your job, Chizkiyahu, is to fulfill Hashem's command, not to make calculations and cheshbonos as to whether that will end up being a good thing or a bad thing.  Chizkiyahu relented.

Achronim ask how to fit this gemara together with the gemara quoted by Rashi.  Why should Amram have worried about how he can have children in light of the danger of Pharoah's decree?  "B'hadei kavshei Rachamana lamah lach?"  Our job is to just do the mitzvah, not make cheshbonos.

You don't need lomdus for this -- some basic chilukim are enough to answer the question.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

emunas chachamim

A small observation from R' Chatzkel Levenstein (Ohr Emunah):

Rashi quotes the Midrash that in response to Pharoah's decree to kill all the male children, Amram went ahead and divorced his wife.  When Klal Yisrael saw what Amram had done, they followed suit and separated from their wives as well.

If you pause to think about this for a moment, it's incredible.  You can have gedolim galore who tell us that smartphones are evil, and what's the typical reaction (I'm speaking about myself)? -- they are fanatics, they are out of touch with reality, they don't know what life is all about.  This is in response to giving up something small like a phone!  Imagine if the gedolim were to tell everyone to give up living with their wives -- can you imagine the outcry?  (Sadly, some people may actually be happy, but that's a different story : ) 

R' Chatzkel goes a step further and points out that Amram did *not* in fact order anyone to stop living with their wife.  Amram simply separated from his own wife.  Klal Yisrael so believed in and trusted in Amram that they immediately followed suit without having to be told anything.  The people emulated his behavior without having to be given explicit instructions.  If Amram did it, it meant it was the right thing to do. 

Amram in the end took the advice of Miriam and reversed his position, and here again, Klal Yisrael followed suit.  One could easily imagine the potential accusations of Amram flip-flopping, of his being unsuited to lead because he was so inconsistent, etc.  But that's not what happened. 

Despite, according to some views, Klal Yisrael falling to tremendously low levels in Mitzrayim, the people still retained their basic emunah -- including their emunas chachamim.

a classic R' Ovadya

An interesting machlokes that is classic R' Ovadya:

R' Ben Tzion Aba-Shaul held that the authority of the Beis Yosef is based upon "rov" -- since the consensus among the majority of poskim is like the Beis Yosef, we accept his view as the final word in psak.  This approach leaves open the door to there being cases where the consensus proves to be not like the Beis Yosef, and the halacha would accordingly follow other views.

R' Ovadya (Yabia Omer 9 O.C. 104:5) strongly disagrees and writes that the Beis Yosef is correct not because of rov, but rather b'toras vaday, as if there was a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai (!) telling us that his opinion is correct.

R' Ovadya argues as follows: we have a rule that dinei mamonos cannot be decided based on rov (ain holchin b'mamon achar ha'rov).  Therefore, if I am trying to force you to cough up money, so long as you have even a minority of poskim that support your arguments, I can't get a penny (kim li).

There is an exception to this rule: Achronim write that if the minority opinions stand in opposition to the Beis Yosef, their view has no weight and is viewed as non-existent.

If R' Ben Tzion Aba-Shaul is right and we rely on the Beis Yosef only because of rov, then why when it comes to dinei mamonos, where rov is not sufficient proof, can we not accept minority views against the B"Y?  It only makes sense if we accept the Beis Yosef as 100% accurate, a vaday.

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

the greatest tragedy of all

Chazal offer different reasons why parshas Vayechi is a parsha stuma, a "closed" parsha, one with no break between its opening and the previous parsha.  One view suggests that the text is alluding to the fact that Yaakov's access to ruach hakodesh was closed off and he was unable to reveal to his children what will happen in the end of days.  Another view sees the parsha stuma as an allusion to Klal Yisrael being closed off in galus.  A final view quoted in the Yalkut explains that the parsha is closed because, after suffering for so many years of heartache and pain, Yaakov was finally closed off and removed from all sorrows.

Although the same Midrash quotes all three views, the last one clearly stands out as  anomalous.  The first two explanations see a parsha stuma as alluding to something negative -- Yaakov's loss of ruach hakodesh, Klal Yisrael's loss of freedom.  Not so the third view, which sees the stuma as alluding to Yaakov's loss of sorrow -- what could be better than that?

Chasam Sofer (derashos, 5593) explains that in fact, this third view actually reflects the most negative perspective on the parsha and sees in it the greatest tragedy of all.  Here we have Yaakov Avinu entering galus where he knows he will die, here we have the shivtei K-h leaving Eretz Yisrael with no idea when they will ever return home.  What happened when they entered the land of Mitzrayim?  Last week's parsha ends by telling us that they settled in Goshen, "va'yeiachazu bah vayifru vayirbu me'od."  They had beautiful homes, lots of kids, mistama they started businesses, and life was good!  There was probably a kosher pizza or two or three in Goshen, a sushi joint with fresh fish from the Nile, etc. -- all the amenities we like to have.  And with no break our parsha starts, "Vayechi Yaakov...," Yaakov had a second wind in life and he too could enjoy his final years in Mitzrayim.  What's so bad?

Chazal tell us that when you see this scene, instead of jumping for joy, you should shed a tear.  Does anyone living that life in Goshen -- a life similar to the life many of us live in galus USA -- remember that this is galus, that this is not where we are supposed to be and not where we should want to be?

The greatest tragedy of the parsha is that we've forgotten the tzaros -- we've gotten used to galus and we're successful and happy here and we could care less about getting out. 

Chasam Sofer elsewhere writes that when the navi tells us that the fast days that commemorate the churban habayis, among them today, 10 Teves, will one day be transformed into days of simcha, it does not mean that we will suddenly forget everything from the past.  Aderaba, the simcha comes davka because we never forgot the past.  It's only because we continue to think about beis hamikdash even when we don't have it,  showing that we still connect to it and long for it, that we will eventually be able to celebrate it's return.  But if we forget, if it doesn't bother us that it's not here, then what exactly is going to move us to happiness when we do get it back?