Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 5

1) The joys of working in IT...  someone called our hotline to ask whether anyone is in the office and can go over and feed their pet fish in the bowl on their desk. 
Why don't people call the accounting dept, or legal, or some other team to see if someone will do something like that?  Or call the HR dept -- can't be too many new hires they are working on now, right?  Nobody does that because they know those folks are busy doing "important" work.  We in IT are doing nothing other than keeping the entire network afloat so that 99% of the staff can work from home and trying to solve all the problems you may run into when working remotely, but how hard can that be?  There must be hours of free time we have to feed your fish, maybe water the plants, etc. 
2) There are SO many organizations and people that need help both for pesach and going forward.  My wife asked why is it among all the shiurim being given no one (at least she and I have not seen this topic yet) has given a shiur on how to prioritize one's tzedaka.  Who do you give to first when everyone is asking?  Good question and a good topic.  (Why don't I cover the topic here, you may be wondering.  See above -- I'm busy feeding the fish and watering the plants.)
3) So after my anti-chizuk rant yesterday, let me end today with some chizuk, with a nice Sefas Emes you can hold on to until seder night. 
Why do we open the door for Eliyahu haNavi on Pesach night?
You know what Klal Yisrael was doing leil ha'seder?  They were locked down in their bunkers.  "Al yeitzei ish m'pesach beiso ad boker."
The Yerushalmi in the beginning of Brachos writes (BTW, this is one of my favorite pieces - my wife is sick of hearing me quote it.  If you are even half a tzioni, you have to know this Yerushalmi) that there were two Amoraim travelling, and they saw the sun begin to slowly rise over the horizon.  This, one said to the other, is how the geulah of Klal Yisrael happens -- little by little.  First there is just a bit of brightness in the sky, then a small ray of light, then the sun finally peeks over the horizon, until finally it is day.  Geulah is a gradual process, not BOOM - an abrupt event.
We are in the bunker, says the Sefas Emes (5652), "ad boker" -- until the sunrise of true geulah breaks.  Sometimes the bunker is a physical room, sometimes its something psychological that constricts our growth and holds us back.  Either way, we're stuck!
Comes Pesach night, every year we open the door because every year we say to ourselves this is the year when the sun will finally completely rise on the "boker" we are waiting for and we can finally leave our bunkers behind.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Day 4

Baruch Hashem, at least on weekends I don't have to sit in front of the PC and try to work remotely.  Notes from the Underground therefore resumes today.
1) I thought this was a parody, but apparently it is real.  I simply have no words:

2) I took a walk out of the bunker on Friday and saw a price list for takeout food posted in a store window.  $18 for a quart of chicken soup.  Matzah balls -- extra, of course.  $9 for 8, if I remember correctly.  Again, I have no words.
3) On to a more serious matter.  The korbanos in last week's parsha are described as "reiach nichoach" - a pleasing fragrance.  Imagine walking into your house Friday afternoon as the Shabbos preparations are going on.  Before you even get to the kitchen and see what's cooking, you can already smell the challah and the chicken or cholent and you anticipate the arrival of Shabbos.  HaKsav v'haKabbalah explains (and we've touched on this before) that just offering a korban is not enough -- it has to come with a commitment to do better in the future.  When you offer the korban with that commitment, Hashem "smells" what's coming, he anticipates your better behavior, and gives you credit before you've even gotten there.
The many "chizuk" shiurim with the usual platitudes of "have emunah" and "let's improve our beis adam l'chaveiro" or "let's all try to learn more" etc. are all nice, but I've lost interest already.  Making people feel good and giving hope is nice, but what we need even more is real commitment to change, both in our personal live and in our communal lives, so that we can offer to Hashem a "reiach nichoach" of a better future.
Two differences between the usual generalities and platitudes and true change:
1) Chizuk makes you feel good, but real change is hard.  Saying "I will try to talk less in shul" makes you feel good.  You can always convince yourself you are doing a good job or at least trying and give yourself a pat on the back.  Forcing yourself to give $10 to tzedaka every time you open your mouth between baruch she'amar and aleinu will not make you feel so good if the cost adds up.
2) For change to be meaningful and effective it needs to be 1) Specific and  2) Measurable.  Like in the example above, the goal has to be precisely defined -- not talking during a certain period of tefilah, and 2) success/failure has to be measurable -- how much $ is going out of your wallet will tell you if you are making progress.  If you give $100 to tzedaka in week 1 but only $80 in week 2, the knas is having an effect.
On a communal level, the same two factors are in play.  There is a far cry between saying "let's work on our appreciation of kedushas beis ha'knesses" and we all applaud and feel good and saying that in our shul we have a no talking policy and if the gabai needs to warn you about it more than once you will be asked to leave the minyan for that day.  Period, no exceptions.  Can't you already hear the reaction?  "Who are you to throw me our?  Do you know who I am?"  Sticking to our communal guns and making hard decisions, taking actions that may rub people the wrong way at times, is what real change is all about.
Is there a "rei'ach nicho'ach" that we want to aim for in this crisis, or are we just mouthing psychobabble feel-good words until we can get back to the same routine as before?

Friday, March 27, 2020

avodas ha'korbanos in the midbar and in the future

Abarbanel in his introduction to Vayikra writes that the focus of our sefer is the kohanim, those who are our leaders and Torah teachers.  We need to ensure this group is supported economically -- korbanos and terumos/maasros to eat -- and they in turn need to follow the many laws in our sefer that have to do with their maintaining a state of kedusha, e.g. not becoming tamei l'meis.  Chazal don't refer to the sefer a "Torah haKorbanos," but rather "Toras Kohanim."
Ramban in his introduction has a different view and places his focus on the korbanos, not the kohanim.  He writes that after the building of the Mishkan, which was the culmination of the story of galus and geulah=hashra'as haShechina of sefer Shmos, the Torah now devotes itself to the topic of preserving the gains that were made and ensuring that the Shechina remains with us.  "Yivarechicha Hashem v'yismirecha..." -- meforshim explain that when a person gives a gift, the recipient may squander it, but when Hashem gives us the gift of his bracha, he also gives us the gift of shemira, a way to preserve it so that it is not wasted.  G-d know we are bound to mess up, so he gives us the parshiyos of korbanos in advance as a way to fix the problem. 
Shem m'Shmuel asks: The nevi'im speak of korbanos that will be offered in the future, after mashiach comes and we have the bayis shlishi.  Chazal tell us that those will be days where there is no more zechus or chovah, where the world will be united in kabbalas ol of Hashem.  Why will we still need a tikkun for our mistakes when there will be no mistakes?
Let me give you an analogy: A person goes on a diet and loses 50 pounds.  He wants to keep the weight off, so he starts exercising for a half hour each day.  After while, the person comes to realize that the exercise that he is doing to keep his weight down is actually beneficial in its own right -- he feels more relaxed after working out, he has more energy, he feels younger, etc.
So too with the avodas ha'korbanos.  What was given to us as a means of correcting our mistakes will one day be appreciated as a means of ritzuy, valuable in its own right.  We said in musaf of Rosh Chodesh this past Thursday, "u'seir izim na'aseh b'ratzon."  We look forward to the day that we can offer the seir, the korban chatas, not to correct our deficiencies, but rather "l'rzaton," as a means of ritzuy, simply to find favor in Hashem's eyes.
Rashi comments on the first pasuk on our parsha that Hashem told Moshe to say “divrei kivushin” to Bnei Yisrael.  The first Mishna in the second perek of Taanis says that on fast days a chacham would say “divrei kevushim” to the people.  Rashi explains: kovshim es ha’levalos l’hachziram l’mutav.  The chacham would give them musar!  What is the mussar that Moshe gave Klal Yisrael here in our parsha?  Rashi explains that Moshe told Klal Yisrael that “b’shvilchem nidaber imi,”  that it is only because of them that Hashem speaks to him, not for my own sake. 
Where is the musar here?  Moshe is telling Klal Yisrael how chashuv they are, how worthy they are!?
Chasam Sofer answers: This is musar too.  This is the Slabodka mussar of gadlus ha’adam.  You are great, you are holy – so act like it.  Live up to who you are.
Maybe we can explain Rashi in light of the Ramban/Shem m'Shmuel above.  Sefas Emes (5661) explains thst the word “shvil” can mean a path.  “B’shevilchem nidaber imi” –- Moshe was telling Klal Yisrael that the toras ha'korbanos was not given to him on the level he is holding at, but rather on the shvil, on the path, on the level, that they, Klal Yisrael, were holding at.  Had Hashem been speaking to Moshe on his level, then avodas ha'korbanos would be the avodah of ritzyuy, purely l'reiach nichoach, to bring nachas ruach to Hashem, the level the nevi'im who speak about toras ha'korbanos in the time of geulah are describing.  But that's not where we were holding.  For us, we need to hear about the tikunim for chatas, for asham, etc.  We see toras ha'korbanos as a means to correct our mistakes. 
That's the little aleph in Vayikra.  There is toras ha'korbanos of gadlus, of the ymos ha'mashiach, but we are not yet zocheh to that.  Instead, we have the toras ha'korbanos of katnus, little aleph, on our level, what we can absorb for now. 

Notes from the Underground - Shabbos edition

You know already Shabbos in the bunker with the family is going to be a challenge -- no way to dress it up any differently.  Fasten your seatbelts!  Perhaps it is a good idea to avoid setting  out sharp knives on the table.
Rashi writes that the voice calling to Moshe, "Vaikra el Moshe," was only heard in Ohel Moed, but it did not echo outward.  This was not because Hashem's voice was soft and weak -- aderaba, this is the same "kol Hashem ba'koach, kol Hashem b'hadar, kol Hashem shover arazim" -- but rather because Hashem's so decreed that only in "m'Ohel Moed" would it be audible.
Says R' Baruch Sorotzkin derech derush in his haBina v'haBracha): we see a lot of calamity taking place in the word; we also see glimmers of hope and sparks of goodness. So many people don't get that what they are seeing is the yad Hashem, the kol Hashem shover arazim that can break apart the whole world, the kol Hashem b'hadar that brings beauty into the world even in the midst of darkness and chaos.  Part of Hashem's greatness is that He creates a koach ha'hester to hide his presence -- you wont hear about yad Hashem on facebook, in the media, or at a press briefing.  Hashem allows those who want to to ignore him -- the kol Hashem cannot be heard outside Ohel Moed.  It's up to us to step inside to hear it.
The challenge we face is to turn our bunkers into Ohel Moed where we hear the kol Hashem. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Notes from the Undergound - Day 2

Another day in the basement bunker trying to stay sane...

I've debated whether to do a this post lest I be accused of being too callous, but since this is Notes from the Underground and not your regularly scheduled program, why not? 
So let's talk pandemic... this will be a little more serious than yesterday's notes.
Step aleph: What confronts us is not a choice of whether to lock down our cities in order to save some unknown % of people, but rather a choice of whether to lock down our cities to save some unknown % of people AT THE EXPENSE of the cost IN LIVES (literally) of some other unknown % of people.  In other words, this a large scale version of the trolley problem, except here you don't know how many lives it will cost to save how many other lives.
Maybe I am wrong, but I think doctors in particular have a hard time wrapping their heads around this.  A doctor I used to go to (I don't anymore for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of his care) would remind me every visit to mind my high blood pressure as it could cause health problems like heart disease, stroke, and all kinds of other unpleasant things that might shorten my life.  This same doctor has recently written that everyone should quarantine for their own safety -- meaning, no one goes to work, opens their business, etc.  Meaning, millions of people unemployed, people suffering the risk of foreclosure, bankruptcy, economic distress, etc. -- all guaranteed to raise blood pressure and send people to an earlier grave!  Talk about cognitive dissonance.  As a result of the total lockdown approach we can look forward to increases in the rates of alcoholism, depression, drug use, family violence, divorce, crime, and even suicide, and who knows what the educational effects of cancelling 1/4 of a school year are.  Do those who will suffer these effects have a right to say "Mi y'eimar d'dama didach sumak tfei?"    
No matter what you do in life, there is a degree of risk involved.  We cannot function as a society without risk.  You drive a car?  There are thousands of car accidents each year, some of which are fatal.  You walk outside?  You think pedestrians never get killed?  Yet as individuals and as a society, we accept these risks and don't curtail our lives because of them.
So here are the three questions I think anyone in favor of total lockdown needs to answer: 1) A numbers question -- how much risk is OK?  If a few thousand car accidents is OK, a few hundred thousand deaths from flu is OK, at what point (quantity) does it become not OK and we shut cities down?  2) An ethical question -- whatever that quantity is, why are fewer deaths than that # acceptable but more not?  3) A public policy question -- who gets to decide that number for society at large?   Elected officials?  You mean the same folks who used this crisis as a means to give themselves a 25k raise and give more money to "important" institutions like National Endowment for the Arts?  Or maybe Doctors?  Some other bureaucratic agency administrators?  
Wanting the world economy to not shut down is not putting economics above human life.  That would indeed be callous.  It is simply taking into consideration the totality of ALL the lives effected in both the short term and long term, which seems to me to be a more fair and just approach to the situation at hand.
Anyway, it is the chodesh of hischadshus, and Hashem should give us refuah and yeshu'a so we don't have to grapple with these issues.
Tomorrow hopefully an erev Shabbos Note from the Underground. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Notes from the Underground

Since I am an "essential worker," I have been commuting to work in NY as usual until today.  Finally, I too have now been ordered to work from home.  Today marked Day #1 in my basement bunker and I am already on the verge of insanity.

I am thinking of doing a daily podcast of random thoughts from the bunker, but we will see how it goes.  For now, I'll stick to text.  I was going to call this Thoughts from the Bunker, but Wife thought of the much better title of Notes from the Underground.

1) A lomdish chakira: does twitter attract the largest collection of stupid people on earth, or is it that participating in twitter makes one stupid?  Teiku.

2) I took a picture of the subway car I was on Monday night:

Normal commuter traffic was nonexistent.  However, I want to assure you that the subways and the stations were still filled with the usual collection of homeless, drunks, druggies.  In fact, they felt even freer than usual to roam about. 

Can someone please explain to me why we are not seeing the homeless/wino/druggie population, who literally sleep in filth on the floor of subway stations, dropping like flies in the midst of this pandemic?  Just wondering.  Whatever it is in the stuff they are drinking or smoking, maybe it has therapeutic effects?

3) And on that topic, to the three NYC policemen who got in the same subway car as me Monday morning and simply ignored the bums sleeping across the benches at the end of the car -- good job keeping NY safe.  (I like to call the subway cars like that "sleeper cars."  You can close your eyes and imagine the long gone heyday of railroad travel -- that is, if you have an exceptionally good imagination.) 

4) The reason I am deemed an "essential worked" is because I work in IT.  On twitter (see #1 above) there was recently a trending hashtag where people thanked all the workers who continued to do their jobs during this crisis: doctors and nurses, of course, but even truckers, cashiers, etc.  Not ONE single person mentioned IT folks.  Ladies and gentlemen, do you think all this remote access that allows you to "work" (or send out tweets - see #1 again) from your bunker at home just happens by itself? 

5) Pro IT tip: if you intend to work from home and remote into your office computer and your IT staff is finally told they too will be working from home, clicking shutdown on your office computer as you head out the door is NOT a good idea.  When you call support and get put on hold, let me tell you what is going on: either A) everyone is laughing their heads off at your stupidity, or B) everyone is cursing like drunken sailors at you because someone will probably now have to go into the office to deal with your problem, because that's what we unappreciated (see #4 above) IT people do.

That's all for now...  everyone stay healthy and sane in your own bunkers and keep praying for this to end.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

ketores: Rambam vs kabbalists

Because the kabbalists hold that it is a segulah to ward off the plague there seems to be a lot of emphasis being placed these days on reciting ketores as part of korbanos or after davening .  The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:45) actually gives a far more mundane reason for the offering of ketores in Beis haMikdash: the sweet fragrance of ketores was needed to help overcome the stench of the animals that had to be butchered to offer korbanos.

The Rishonim already have problems with the Rambam's view.  Meshech Chochma argues in their favor against the Rambam based on the pesukim in Pekudei.

Back in P' Titzaveh, when first describing the mizbach ha'ketores, the Torah describes its location as "lifnei ha'paroches" (30:6):

וְנָֽתַתָּ֤ה אֹתוֹ֙ לִפְנֵ֣י הַפָּרֹ֔כֶת 

Similarly, at the end of our parsha (40:26):

וַיָּ֛שֶׂם אֶת־מִזְבַּ֥ח הַזָּהָ֖ב בְּאֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד לִפְנֵ֖י הַפָּרֹֽכֶת:

Yet earlier in that same perek, when describing the hakamas haMishkan, the Torah writes (40:5):

וְנָֽתַתָּ֞ה אֶת־מִזְבַּ֤ח הַזָּהָב֙ לִקְטֹ֔רֶת לִפְנֵ֖י אֲר֣וֹן הָֽעֵדֻ֑ת

Why the switch here to "lifnei aron ha'eidus?"

Meshech Chochma answers that the Torah here is not describing the location of the mizbach ha'ketores, but rather alluding to its function.  It is not merely there as a perfume bottle, but rather just as the aron is a vehicle for hashra'as haShechina, so too, the offering of ketores is a means to bring hashara'as haShechina to the Mikdash.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

sometimes it's a mitzvah not to show up

"1) Va'yitzav Moshe... al ya'asu od melacha l'terumas ha'kodesh" -- Moshe commanded the people, "No more donations needed for the Mishkan." 
"Va'yikalei ha'am mei'havi" -- the people stopped bringing. (35:5) 

Chasam Sofer comments that this was a mitzvah like any other mitzvah.  No one said, "Whew, I'm glad they are done hitting me up for donations."  Aderaba, people wanted to give, but they were commanded to stop and so they couldn't.  They said a "l'shem yichud" and put the money back into their wallets l'shem mitzvah just like they would have given it away l'shem mitzvah.

Given our present circumstances, this is where we are holding.  It would be great if we could have minyanim and in-person shiurim and chavrusas.  Is there anyone who is thinking, "Wow, glad I don't have to get up for minyan anymore?"  I don't think so.  But right now our mitzvah is "u'shmarten es nafshoseichem."  Right now our mitzvah is to not go to minyan and to do so l'shem mitzvah.     

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

controlling the situation

What I think drives people’s fear in the current situation is the feeling of loss of control.
A lot of people are familiar with the segulah of the Nefesh haChaim that internalizing “ain od milvado,” that all is in Hashem’s hands, can help a person overcome any and all difficulties.  The (mis)impression that one might walk away with is that man’s job is to simply surrender his fate to Hashem.  Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Nefesh haChaim starts his book by defining “tzelem Elokim” as meaning that like G-d, man is endowed with the ability to control the universe.  The pasuk davka uses the term “Elokim,” the name of G-d that refers to his capacity as “ba’al ha’kochos,” master of all forces in nature, because it is that power which Hashem built into our makeup. 
When our ability to control our environment is challenged, jeopardized, it shakes us to our core because that power of control is at the core of who we are.
But things are not out of our hands.  Nefesh haChaim writes (1:4):
וזאת תורת האדם כל איש ישראל אל יאמר בלבו ח''ו. כי מה אני ומה כחי לפעול במעשי השפלים שום ענין בעולם אמנם יבין וידע ויקבע במחשבות לבו. שכל פרטי מעשיו ודבוריו ומחשבותיו כל עת ורגע. לא אתאבידו ח''ו. ומה רבו מעשיו ומאד גדלו ורמו. שכל א' עולה כפי שרשה לפעול פעולתה בגבהי מרומים בעולמות וצחצחות האורות העליונים.
So many people are talking these days about the need for emunah.  It's true we need emunah in Hashem, but we also need emunah in ourselves, in our ability through Torah and tefilah to make a difference.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

rav chessed

I don't even know where to begin in terms of thinking about the mess we are currently in.  This is more an exercise in trying to wrap my brain around something that makes sense than anything else. 
The Netziv on last week’s parsha comments that when we say Hashem is “rav chessed v’emes,” the vav hachibur means that “rav” modifies both terms –- Hashem is both “rav chessed” and “rav emes.”  Meaning, when a person appears before a judge, the judge may say that while it’s true/emes that the law says that for crime X the punishment is Y, he will be merciful and give a lesser punishment.  Or the judge may refuse to hear any grounds for leniency -– no chessed –- and instead, dispense exactly the punishment on the books.  It's either or: either you get the letter of the law, or the law goes out the window and you get mercy in its place.  Hashem somehow –- and this is beyond our human capacity to understand –- shows both an abundance of mercy, he is “rav chessed,” and at the same time, does not deviate one iota from being “rav emes,” from dispensing exactly what the letter of the law requires (see post here.)
It is always nice when we see  b’isgalya the “rav chessed” and the “rav emes” is somehow behind the scenes where we don’t pay attention to it.  But sometimes “rav emes” is b’isgalya; we become painfully aware of the midas ha’din.  At times like these the challenge is to remember that there is always “rav chessed” b’itkasya operating behind the scenes at exactly the same time.
There is one thing everyone wants during this crises: for things to back to the way they were.  I leave it to the big gedolim to figure out what we are supposed to take away from this whole situation, but I don't think you need to be an adam gadol to say that the one thing Hashem ***doesn’t*** want is for things to go back to the way they were.  Were that to be the case, or should we make that the case, then this whole crises would be a meaningless exercise in futility and pointless suffering.  It seems to me to be a davar pashut that if something like this happens, it means change is needed.  What needs  to change and how to bring it about is where cheshbon ha'nefesh is needed.

Everyone is talking about the need for tefilah, so let me say something about it too:  We had in last week's parsha “v’chanosi es asher a’chon v’richamti es asher a’racheim.”  The gemara (Brachos 7) darshens on both of these phrases that Hashem will have rachamanus and show chanina “af al pi she’aino hagun,” even if the person does not deserve it.  Is there anything we need more at this time?  How can we be zocheh to that?
Seforno asks, Netziv asks: why does the pasuk use the double-language?  Why both “chanosi” and richamti?”  Tiferes Shlomo answers that the pasuk is speaking about two different people.  If you cry out to me, says Hashem, not for your own problems, not because you are in pain, but you cry out for your neighbor who is suffering, for your community, for others in your city, then “v’chanosi…,” I will take care of your own burdens even if you don’t deserve it.  And not only will I take care of you, says Hashem, but “v’richamti” as well on those for whom you are davening, even if they don’t deserve it either.

The Tiferes Shlomo teaches the same idea on our parsha as well.  The keruvim are "porsei k'nafayim," they have outstretched wings,  "u'pnei'hem ish el achiv," and they face each other.  The Radomsker writes that "porsei k'nafayim" is an allusion to tefilah, like the pasuk of "u'b'parischem kapeichem..." (Yishayahu 15).  Davening has to be done "pneihem ish el achiv," with an eye towards what a chaveir needs.  Put in a good word for someone else.

The Zohar famously looks askance on someone who uses tefilah simply as an opportunity to present Hashem with a laundry list of their needs -- someone who uses tefilah to become a “taker.”  When someone uses tefilah, however, to present Hashem with someone else’s needs, then they are in effect a “giver,” as they are interested in helping others. 
So don't just daven -- daven for others.  A tefilah of chessed is, it seems, a very good way to be zocheh to again see "rav chessed" openly.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

start off on the right foot

There is a machlokes Tanaim as to exactly how much of the megillah needs to be read.  We pasken to read the entire thing, but there are multiple views that hold that first chapter of even the second chapter can be excluded.  Chasam Sofer asks why indeed is it that we include the early part of the story -– the party of Achashveirosh, what happened to Vashti, etc.  In terms of the miracle of Purim, all that really matters for us is that Haman hatched a plot to get us, thanks to Mordechai and Esther we were saved, and let’s eat.  The party, what happened to Vashti... who cares?
It’s no big deal, answers the Chasam Sofer, that after “sak v’eifer yutza la’rabim” and everyone does teshuvah, that Klal Yisrael is saved.  Why should we be worse than Ninveh, which was spared the destruction predicted by Yonah because the people did teshuvah? 
What should cause us to sit up and take notice is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning.  How is it that Achashveirosh was able to party for days and days on end and hold his liquor, and suddenly, at the end of the whole celebration he loses it and calls for Vashti to be brought in?  And how could he do something so foolish like actually kill Vashti just because she refused?  Why would his advisors have even suggested this as a punishment in the first place?  None of it makes sense! 
It only makes sense when placed in context of the story as a whole, as the first steps in a long chain of events guided by hashgacha to put Esther in place as queen, to bring out Achashveirosh's own weaknesses, to make him suspicious of enemies, all of which would eventually lead to Haman’s downfall.  The miracle of Purim does not begin to unfold only in the second half of the megillah –- the miracle already begins unfolding at the very start of the story.
What was Klal Yisrael doing at this time?  This was not a time of teshuvah, a time of “sak v’eifer.”  On the contrary, Klal Yisrael was partying, enjoying the feast of Achashveirosh, partaking of things that they should not have been partaking in.
That, says Chasam Sofer, is why we read that first section of the megillah. The lesson of Purim is not that when we do teshuvah and come close to Hashem that hashgacha works in our favor to save us, but rather that even when we are far away from where we should be holding, hashgacha is still working behind the scenes, arranging things for our benefit.  All that remains for us to do is trigger the salvation which is already waiting in the wings. 

Thursday, March 05, 2020

dress like a kohen

1) The SA in OC 91 writes (based on Shabbos 10a) that one has to dress properly for tefilah, as the pasuk says, “Hikon likras Elokecha yisrael.”  Aside from this din, there is another din regarding dressing properly for davening based on our parsha. OC 98: just as the kohen had special clothes to do avodah, so too, tefilah b’makom korban and therefore one should have special nice clothes for davening as well.

I don’t understand why some people think there is some kind of gezeiras ha’kasuv that says you must wear a jacket for davening, and so they daven (esp mincha and maariv) wearing their winter coat.  The halacha is to dress in a manner of kavod.  If you would put on a suit jacket for an important meeting, then put on a suit jacket.  I don’t know anyone who would come to an important meeting and wear their winter coat, so that doesn't really seem to fit with the din.
2) A more technical point: Our parsha tells us that the urim v’tumim had to be placed inside the choshen -– “v’nasata el choshen ha’mishpat es ha’urim v’es ha’tumim.” (28:30)  Rashi (28:30) and Raavad (Beis haBechira 4:1) hold that during bayis sheni there was no urim v’tumim at all; Rambam (see also Klei HaMikdash 10:10) holds that the urim v’tumim was there, but did not function since there was no ruach ha’kodesh.  Rambam holds that urim v’tumim were part of the bigdei kehunah; therefore, without it, the kohen could not do avodah.  Rashi/Raavad holds urim v’tumim was just a note with the shem Hashem placed in the choshen, but not a beged in itself. 
The Mishna in Yoma writes that during bayis sheni, when the luchos were hidden away, there was also no aron -– the spot upon which the aron stood was left empty.  Why, asks Rasha”sh, does the din in last weeks parsha of “v’nasata el ha’aron es ha’eidus” (25:16) mean that if there is no luchos ha’eidus, there is no aron, but the same does not hold true of “v’nasata el choshen ha’mishpat es ha’urim v’es ha’tumim,” that if there is no urim v’tumim there can’t be a choshen?
The Rashash and the Meshech Chochma on last week’s parsha point out that after describing how to make the keruvim the Torah comes back to the topic of the aron and in pasuk 21 concludes the section by saying “v’el ha’aron titein es ha’eidus.”  Rashi writes that he does not know why this is repeated, as we already have the earlier pasuk (25:16) “v’nasata el ha’aron es ha’eidus.”  (See Ramban, Ohr haChaim.)  Rashash and Meshech Chochma suggest that the repetition is the “shanah alav ha’kasuv l’akeiv” that teaches us that placing of the luchos in the aron is a non-negotiable part of making the aron -- without luchos, it's just a box, not one of the klei ha'mishkan.
3) The shem zayis zach that is used to light the menorah represents the pure light of Torah.  How do you bring such a light into the world?  “V’atah titzaveh es Bnei Yisrael…”  Titzveh = tzavsa, companionship.  It has to be a communal effort. 
The mitzvos ha'yom of Purim -- mishloach manos, matanos la'evyonim -- bring us all closer together.  "Yeshno am mefuzar u'meforad..."  Haman got it wrong.  "Hadar kibluhu" davka through the tzavsa of Purim, through togetherness.  Even though the yetzer may try to fight it and force people into isolation, gufim muchlakim, but the neshoma of the klal transcends that.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

kavanah l'shem mitzvah - mikra megila, seudas Purim

1) The MB in OC 690 s”k 39 on the din of one who reads the megillah while “misnamnem,” half-asleep, quotes the PM”G who holds that one has to be awake enough to have an awareness of kavanah l’shem mitzvah throughout the reading.   In the Shaar haTziyun the MB writes that he is not convinced this chidduh is correct. He argues that so long as one has kavanah at the start of the reading l’shem mitzvah, that is sufficient. 
2) The MB in 695:4 quotes the PM”G that you need kavanah to be yotzei the mitzvos ha’yom, including seudas Purim.
The Rambam writes that the mitzvah of shofar requires kavanah, yet the Rambam paskens that one is yotzei achilas matzah without kavanah.  Ran famously explains the difference: when it comes to eating, one inevitably derives pleasure from the experience (the halacha is that one is chayav for eating cheilev even as a mitasek because the pleasure received from the food is an inevitable outcome of the act), and the kavanah is therefore automatic. 
Why then does the PMG insist that one needs kavanah to be yotzei seudas Purim –- it should be like eating matzah?
It seems that it’s not the eating per se which is the mitzvah of seudah, but rather the ikkar mitzvah is the simcha which results from having the meal.  Yesh lachkor according to this a) whether one needs to eat a k’zayis to be yotzei the seudah, or whether some smaller amount would suffice so long as it engenders simcha b) does seudas Y”T require kavanah l’shem mitzvah?  Is it a mitzvas achila (there definitely are shitos Rishonim that define a shiur achila required for the seudah) or a mitzvah of simcha?  c) "ain simcha elah b'basar" -- is meat required for seudas Purim?  (discussed by many Achronim)

taanis esther as a kiyum of simchas purim

Fasting and hesped are prohibited both on the day of, as well as the day before and after holidays recorded in Megillat Taanis.  We pasken that “batlah Megillat Taanis.” We no longer celebrate any of the Megillat Taanis holidays that were observed during the time of Bayis Sheni, with the exception of Chanukah and Purim.
The Rishonim ask: since one is not allowed to fast on the day before a holiday mentioned in Megillat Taanis, how are we allowed to fast Taanis Esther, the day before Purim? 
The Rosh in Taanis (ch 2) answers:
1) Paradoxically, it is only the lesser holidays of Megillat Taanis that need the added safeguard of no fasting before/after around them to grant them significance.  Purim itself is “divrei kabbalah,” i.e. the holiday given to us through a navi (see Shitah Mekubetzet beginning of Bava Kama that kabbalah in this context comes from the root k-b-l = to complain -- the neviim complained to us about the aveiros that we were doing).  Since it is more chamur, it needs no special demarcation on the day before/after.
2) Taanis Esther is part and parcel of commemorating the nes of Purim.  Only a fast that is distinct from the holiday being celebrated is precluded, but here, the fast is part and parcel of the Y"T itself.
I was wondering if there might be a nafka mina between these answers in the case where someone is a onein on both Taanis Esther and Purim r”l.  An onein is normally exempt from doing all positive mitzvos, but has to keep lavim.  I would assume this extends to the prohibition of eating on a fast day.  However, since according to the second answer of the Rosh the fast of Taanis Esther is actually part of the positive kiyum of celebrating the holiday of Purim, if the onein is exempt from the kiyum mitzvah of celebrating the holiday itself (see OC 666:7), perhaps he should be exempt from the taanis as well.