Wednesday, May 27, 2020

join the party even if you can't hear the music

(Skip down to #4 if you just want a vort.)

1) I wish I could take credit for saying this because it is so simple and yet so true, but it's not my words, it's the words of a Rav in the community: if only people were afraid of cheit and looked after their neshoma as much as they are afraid of the virus and care about their guf; if only people fulfilled mitzvos with as much attention to hidur as they are careful about every detail the health authorities demand.  Ha'levay. 

2) I am not a posek or a Rav, so my opinion is meaningless.  I just throw it out there to provide entertainment and something to think about : )  With that caveat out of the way...maybe this goes without saying, but I see so many emails about outdoor minyanim that maybe it's a good idea to say it anyway.  Unless you intend to daven in a near silent whisper, it is really NOT (again, only l'fi aniyus daati) a good idea to make a minyan in your driveway, on your porch, on your lawn, at ha'neitz on Friday morning.  People (non-Jews, wives, children, neighbors) are asleep at 5:00AM.  They probably don't want to wake up to the sound of your hallel, as beautiful as it may be.  As someone in favor of tefilah btzibur despite the lockdown, in this case I would say it is better to make an exception since if you are making noise outdoors you risk violating issurei d'oraysa for the sake of a maybe kiyum derabbanan.  (Of course, if your shul is open and you have a minyan indoors then you avoid the issue, but I wont get into that again.)

3) Along the same lines, it is easier to stay up all night when you have someone giving you a shiur, when you can go out to the lobby to chat with a friend for awhile, when you can  go from m'chayil el chayil, from course to course all night, from the fruit platter to the ice cream to the sushi, etc.  When you are sitting alone at home with just a gemara, a cup of coffee, and whatever snacks your wife left out, you are in for a hard battle.  For those who can do it, kol ha'kavod.  I've written in previous years that it may be smarter to just go to sleep, get some rest, and learn b'hasmadah with a clear head all morning the next day when everyone else is napping.  Kal v'chomer this year when the odds are stacked against you it may be better to learn well a few hours next day rather than be misnamnen all night. Again, ask you LOR. 

4) V'kol ha'am ro'im es ha'kolos... va'yanu'u va'yamdu meirachok (Shmos 20:15)  Rashi quotes from Chazal that Bnei Yisrael were literally blown back by the experience of mattan Torah 12 mil, but the malachim came and brought them back, as it says in Tehilim (68:13), "Malchei Tzivakos yidodun yidodun."   

B'pashtus, the pshat in the pasuk in Tehilim is that "yidodun" is referring to the movement of the malachim (or milachim = kings, to be precise) themselves, and Chazal are interpreting it derech derush to mean that the malachim moved Bnei Yisrael.  Degel Mahaneh Ephraim, however, quotes a pshat from the Besh"T that reads the derash and pshat as perfectly in line with each other.  He gives a mashal: imagine a party where the best band in the world is playing.  As soon as the band starts, people can't help but to get up and start dancing.  The closer you are to the band and the better you hear the music, the more you want to dance.  Enter one poor deaf guy who takes a look around, sees all these people making movements and gyrations, and decides they must be crazy, as he has no idea what is going on.  If only he were a little smarter he would realize that it's the music that he can't hear that is bringing all these people simcha, and he would rush and join in with them as well.

Torah is the most beautiful music, the greatest shirah.  It is beyond any human being to take it all in.  We came to mattan Torah like deaf people to the party.  Nonetheless, we see the angels "yidudon yidodun," dancing like crazy -- they are the one's moving, dancing, filled with unbelievable simcha.  We are "ro'im es ha'kolos," we see the party even if we don't hear the music, and we know something special is going on.  So we push ourselves forward in the hope that we can maybe catch some of the notes, some of the music, and be uplifted as well.

There are a lot of people who comes into Shavuos (and who come into the beis medrash all year) who are ro'im es ha'kolos.  They don't hear the music -- they don't hear the sweetness of a R' Chaim, they don't hear the beauty of a Rashba.  They may not hear, but they see the joy of those who are zocheh to be yoshvei safsalei beis ha'medrash and they recognize that there is something important going on here.  They too want to be part of it.  So they come to the beis medrash, even if it is just this one night, and they hope maybe something will rub off, that maybe they will hear some of that joyous melody and maybe something of the tune will stick with them.  If we walk away with even that, we've accomplished something.

kedushas ha'yachid and kedushas ha'tzibur

Boaz tells Rus “…U’t’hi maskurteich shleima” –- your reward will be complete.  Of course it will be complete -– Hashem doesn’t short change people.  What did Boaz mean?
The TIferes Shlomo explains that when it comes to other holidays, there are specific individual mitzvos that we have to do.  On Pesach you fulfill the mitzvah of matzah and you get schar for eating matzah.  On Sukkos you shake a lulav or eat in sukkah and get schar for those specific mitzvos.  It is like taking individual vitamins -– one holiday is your B12, another is your vitamin D, etc.  Shavuos is different.  Shavuos is the multivitamin holiday.  There is no one specific mitzvah associated with it, but rather Shavuos is about accepting the Torah = accepting all mitzvos.  It is just like geirus; the gemara in fact learns hil geirus from what Klal Yisrael did in preparation for kabbalas haTorah.   The reward of Shavuos, of geirus, is therefore a complete reward, as it encompasses the totality of all mitzvos together.
Even though we learn halachos of geirus from mattan Torah, there does seem to be a slight difference between the way the Rambam formulates the geirus of maamad Har Sinai and the way he formulates what happens in an individual geirus.  In Hil Issurei Bi’ah 13:1 the Rambam writes:
בשלשה דברים נכנסו ישראל לברית במילה וטבילה וקרבן:
A few halachos later the Rambam continues with respect to an individual ger:
וכן לדורות כשירצה העכו"ם להכנס לברית ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ויקבל עליו עול תורה צריך מילה וטבילה והרצאת קרבן.
R’ Bakshi-Doron z”l (sichos on Moadim) points out that the Rambam add those extra words ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ויקבל עליו עול תורה when speaking about the individual, but not when speaking about  the geirus of ma’amad Har Sinai.  There, the Rambam merely mentions entering a bris.  It is this bris which necessitates milah, tevila, etc.  If the bris the Rambam is speaking of is not kabbalas hamitzvos, not kabbalas ol, then what is it?  And why is it the first ingredient on the list, taking precedence even over kabbalas miztvos and kabbalas ol, which would seem to be the essence of what defines a Jew?
I want to frame what is going on in the Rambam (and this is essentially R’ Bakshi-Doron’s answer in different words) using a hesber of R’ Aharon Soloveitchik to a famous machlokes Ramban and Chachmei Tzorfas.  Chazal tell us that the mikalel mentioned at the end of parshas emor had a Jewish mother but a Mitzri father and was megayeir.  Ramban and Chachmei Tzorfas disagree as to why geirus was needed.  Chachmei Tzorfas held that pre-mattan Torah membership in “Klal Yisrael” (or whatever you want to call the entity that existed) was based on patrilineal descent, just like all  halachos of yichus for bnei Noach.  It is only post-mattan Torah that we follow matrilineal descent.  Therefore, the ben Mitzri mikalel needed geirus to become a Jew.  Ramban disagrees and writes that from the time of Avraham Avinu membership in Klal Yisrael was based on matrilineal descent and the mikalel was a J  from birth.  The geirus Chazal were speaking of is the geirus of mattan Torah that all of Klal Yisrael underwent, not some special requirement unique to him.
What is the neukdas ha’machlokes?  Parashas Derachim (as we’ve discussed before) explains the issue here revolves around the question of whether the Avos had the status of bnei Noach, or whether they were already considered Yisraelim.  According to Ramban, the Avos were Yisraelim; therefore, lineage follows matrilineal descent.  According to the Chachmei Tzorfas, the Avos were bnei Noach; therefore, the standards of yichus followed dinei ben Noach, which looks at paternal descent
R’ Aharon offered a different hesber.  He explained that there are two overlapping elements to kedushas Yisrael –- there is the kedusha of the individual and there is the kedusha of the tzibur.  Avraham Avinu established kedushas yisrael as an individual; kabbalas haTorah at Har Sinai established the kedushas yisrael of the tzibur.  The machlokes Ramban and Chachmei Tzorfas is whether matrilineal descent is a din in passing on the kedushas yisrael of the tzibur, and therefore applies only post matan Torah, or whether it applies to passing on even the kedushas yisrael, and applied from the time of Avraham Avinu.
Longtime R’ Aharon talmid R’ Josh Hoffman z”l suggested that this is the meaning behind the oxymoronic term “b’mispar sheimos” used in the count in parshas bamidbar.  Mispar= you’re just a number, a small unit in a larger whole; sheimos = unique identity  of the individual.  This is the overlap of the kedushas ha’klal and the kedushas ha’prat.
This distinction gives us a new perspective on the Rambam in Peirush haMishnayos in Chulin who writes that we don’t keep the mitzah of milah or gid ha’nasheh because it was given to one of the Avos; we keep these mitzvos because they were given to Klal Yisrael at mattan Torah.  What the Rambam is saying is that mitzvos are not a function of the kedusha of the individual, but rather are a function of the kedushas ha’tzibur that we took on at mattan Torah.
We also now better understand what in fact we are celebrating on Shavuos.  Didn’t the Avos already do mitzvos and learn Torah?  Didn’t they pass that on to their children?  The answer is that their observance was the observance that stemmed from the kedusha of the individual.  Mattan Torah marks the creation of a kedushas ha’tzibur, and ties observance to being a member of the community.
Coming back to the Rambam, the Jewish people at Har Sinai already had a tradition of mitzvah observance and had accepted the yoke of the Shechina when they left Egypt.   The ingredients of ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ויקבל עליו עול תורה were not lacking.  What was lacking was becoming a tzibur = entering a bris as a collective unit, attaining kedushas a a klal, not just kedusha individuals.   That is what happened at Sinai.  The first step for any ger has to be choosing to throw his lot in with the collective unit of Klal Yisrael -– deciding to enter that bris.  
And to come back to the Tiferes Shlomo: how can we ever have “maskurteich shleima,” complete reward for all mitzvos, when we can’t ever do all mitzvos?  The Shem m’Shmuel asks this question in a few places.  His solution is that we as individuals can’t do all mitzvos, but we as Klal Yisrael can.  “U’t’hi maskurteich sheleima” because througg geirus you will no longer be just a righteous individual, getting reward for his/her individual deeds, but you will be part of the community of Klal Yisrael.  You will have the kedushas yisrael of the tzibur, not just kedushas yisrael of a yachid.  That’s why the Rambam mentions ולהסתופף תחת כנפי השכינה ויקבל עליו עול תורה only after he mentions entering the bris.  What is required of the ger is not just kabbalas mitzvos and kabbalas ol as an individual, but kabbalas mitzvos and kabbalas ol as a member of the collective unit of Klal Yisrael -- a qualitatively different thing entirely.  This is what our kabbalas haTorah, our kabbalas hamitzvos of Shavuos is all about -– not our individual commitment to Torah, but our commitment as a nation.

Monday, May 25, 2020

we don't stop life because of uncertainty

Another long piece from R' Twersky shlit"a that can be summed up in one sentence: since there is much we don't know about the virus, we have to error on the side of caution and avoid having minyanim.

This type of thinking flies in the face of our common life experience.  More often than not in life we made decisions -- often very consequential decisions -- having incomplete knowledge and facing uncertainty.  Does R' Twersky think the medical profession is any different?  Does he think that at some point doctors know *all* there is about a disease?  And if knowing *enough* is in fact good enough, then who says how much that *enough* has to be?  Ikar chaseir min ha'sefer.  There is no attempt made to specify what information we still lack, what benchmark needs to be met, what data will create a confidence level that can allow shuls to open.  (And what about people working essential jobs -- should they quit because due to uncertainty there is a safeik sakana and by going to work they violate the lav of u'shmartem es nafshoseichem?)  All that one can say for certain after reading this piece is that the NY State Board of Heath does not set the standard for us, as they already feel they have *enough* knowledge of the disease to say that 10 people gathering to worship poses a minimal risk.  Who does set the standard for us to follow and based on what criteria is never defined. 

Without answers to these critical questions -- without people being willing to ask these questions -- this is a recipe for continued and perpetual lockdown.

derech eretz kadmah la'Torah

Rashi quotes from Chazal that when Hashem told Moshe to go and count the members of sheivet Levi from one month old, Moshe argued that this was impossible -- how could he enter the tents of Klal Yisrael to do that?  Hashem answered not to worry, that He would take care of it.  All Moshe had to do was go up to the door and a bas kol would announce how many people were in each family.

Maharal writes in Gur Aryeh that what bothered Moshe about going into each tent to count each baby was not c"v the amount of work involved.  How can a mitzvah be too much work for Moshe Rabeinu?  Rather, what bothered him, for lack of a better way to put it, es pasht nisht for a talmid chacham to be poking his nose into the privacy of people's tents.  The obvious question: surely Hashem who commanded Moshe to take a count of babies knows what is proper behavior and what is not proper and nonetheless he told Moshe to go and count!

Al korchacha you have to say that when you have a tzivuy that flies in the face of derech eretz, it must mean the tzivuy is not to be understood k'peshuto.  Moshe knew that it cannot be that Hashem is commanding him to violate the norms of derech eretz any more than Hashem could tell him to add 2+2 to make 5. 

The Shabbos before Y"K is Shabbos Shuvah; the Shabbos before Pesach is Shabbos haHagol.  The Kotzker said that the Shabbos before Shavuos is called Shabbos Derech Eretz -- derech eretz kadmah la'Torah.  Derech eretz is the key to unlocking the meaning of all mitzvos, and is a necessary prerequisite for kabbalas haTorah.

Hashem's solution was for Moshe to go to each tent and a bas kol would announce the number of people.  Essentially the bas kol is doing the counting.  Why then, asked R' Mordechai Eliyahu, did Moshe need to do anything?  Why couldn't he sit in his own tent and let a bas kol simply announce the total # of Levi'im?

What we see from Rashi is that the purpose of the count was not simply to come up with a total number, but rather the process was important to.  Moshe Rabeinu showing up at the doorstep of every home, even if just for a moment to hear that bas kol (and was it really just for a moment?  When Moshe Rabeinu is standing on your doorstep who doesn't ask him to come in for a cup of coffee, to come in and give a bracha to the kids and grandkids etc.) is not something to be taken lightly. 

Thursday, May 21, 2020

kein ba'kodesh chazisicha

Trying to get back into the swing of things.  Yom Yerushalayim, erev Shabbos, Shabbos mevorchim -- a few thoughts that can maybe also carry through to Shavuos as well:

1) A had the privilege today of davening b'tzibur for the first time in a long time.  R' Yaakov Shapira, R"Y of Merkaz haRav, mentioned in speaking about Yom Yerushalayim a vort of the Besh"T.  "Tzamah lecha nafshi... b'eretz tziya v'ayeif b'li mayim."  (Teh 63) David haMelech speaks  about his thirst to come back to Hashem when he was in the desert.  Continues the next pasuk, "Kein ba'kodesh chazisicha..."  "Kein ba'kodesh" -- when we are zocheh to come back to kedusha, to Yerushalayim, to our mikdash me'at wherever it may be, we should retain that same thirst, that same longing, as we had before. 

2) "Eileh toldos Aharon u'Moshe..."  Rashi explains that the Torah lists the children of Aharon but refers to them as toldos Moshe as well because Moshe was there rebbe.  "Kol ha'melamed es ben chaveiro Torah, k'ilu yi'lado."  Simple pshat in Rashi is that if you teach someone's kid Torah, it is as if you brought them = that child into the world.  The Tiferes Shlomo takes a little liberty with the grammar and flips the saying on its head -- it is the child, the student, who brings his teacher into the world.  There are certain  neshamos, writes the T.S., that come into the world just to teach Torah to Klal Yisrael.  It's our need for their inspiration, their insight, that causes Hashem to gift us the gift of their presence.

Since the T.S. opens the door to this type of derush, let me continue in his footsteps.  RYBS gave a lecture that has been transcribed and appears in print in many places and is well worth reading/listening to in full if you haven't already, in which he describes the process of giving shiur: "Whenever I enter the classroom which is crowded with boys, who could be as far as age is concerned, my grandchildren, I enter the classroom as an old man. I am old- with a wrinkled face and eyes reflecting fatigue and the sadness of old age."  RYBS goes on to describe how the giants of the past enter the classroom and engage in the dialogue taking place -- R' Chaim, the Rambam, Rashi and Rabenu Tam, etc. The Rav contiunues: "Let me tell you that at the conclusion of three and sometimes four hours, I mean I have here a witness, I emerge young and elated, younger than my pupils. They are tired, exhausted, some of them yawn. I feel happy. I have defeated age; I have defeated oldness. I emerge young, less fatigued, less exhausted than my young pupils."

Ha'melamed es ben chaveiro Torah, if someone is involved in teaching Torah to others to the next generation, then "k'ilu yilado" = like the word "yeled"=child.  He will be rejuvenated; he will discover within himself the vigor and vitality of youth.  

3) Two pesukim just a few sentences apart (end of first perek) describe the Leviim's role and place in the camp:

וֹ֒ הֵ֜מָּה יִשְׂא֤וּ אֶת־הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ וְאֶת־כׇּל־כֵּלָ֔יו וְהֵ֖ם יְשָׁרְתֻ֑הוּ וְסָבִ֥יב לַמִּשְׁכָּ֖ן יַחֲנֽוּ

וְהַלְוִיִּ֞ם יַחֲנ֤וּ סָבִיב֙ לְמִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָעֵדֻ֔ת ... וְשָׁמְרוּ֙ הַלְוִיִּ֔ם אֶת־מִשְׁמֶ֖רֶת מִשְׁכַּ֥ן הָעֵדֽוּת׃

The Netziv addresses the redundancy here by suggesting there were two roles the Levi'im played by camping around the Mishkan.  The first role was to keep folks who didn't belong there away -- "ha'zar ha'areiv yumas."  They were in effect a human fence.  But they played a second role as well: "V'shamru mishmeres Mishkan ha'Eidus."  He writes:

ויש לפרש עוד דהוא הוספת ביאור לדלקמיה, ד״משכן העדות״, היינו כח התורה, היה שומר את ישראל מנחשים ועקרבים במדבר, כידוע שהיו זיקוקין של אש יוצאין מן הארון ושורפים נחשים ועקרבים. ועתה צוה ה׳ שגם הלוים ישמרו אותה משמרת של משכן העדות, היינו שיתעסקו בתורה, ובזכותם יהיו ישראל נשמרים, כמו על ידי כח משמרת ״העדות״.

Meaning, Mishkan ha'Eidus is a place that gives testimony to Hashem's presence.  A building doesn't do that, no matter how beautiful the architecture , no matter how grandly it is furnished, no matter how many chandiliers you hang from the ceiling.  What makes a Mishkan in to a Mishkan ha'Eidus is it being a vibrant, functioning makon Torah, and for that you need the Levi'im.  Mishkan ha'Eidus as a living makom Torah is the "mishmeres" for Klal Yisrael -- it is our protection, keeping out whatever threats come our way.

With respect to the first role of the levi'im, "v'ha'zar ha'kareiv yumas," no other applicants are accepted.  But with respect to this second role, the The Rambam famously writes at the end of Hil Shemita that anyone who wants can choose to be like a levi and devote his life to Torah.  Anyone who wants can take up that role of being the "mishmeres Mishkan ha'Eidus." 

 Klal Yisrael could certainly use the extra zechuyus of shemira.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

kedushas hamikdash and mora mikdash

The Toras Cohanim darshens (see also Meg 28) on the pasuk in the tochacha "V'hashimosi es mikdisheichem" that even when the mikdash is shomeim = in ruins, it still has kedusha.  The Rambam uses this din as the basis for his view that kedushas Yerushalayim and kedushas haMikdash is eternal, kedusha rishona kidsha l'asid lavo:  

למה אני אומר במקדש וירושלים קדושה ראשונה קדשה לעתיד לבוא. ובקדושת שאר א"י לענין שביעית ומעשרות וכיוצא בהן לא קדשה לעתיד לבוא. לפי שקדושת המקדש וירושלים מפני השכינה ושכינה אינה בטלה. והרי הוא אומר והשמותי את מקדשיכם ואמרו חכמים אע"פ ששמומין בקדושתן הן עומדים

The gemara in Yevamos 6 learns from the juxtoposition of mora mikdash to shabbos, "Es shabsosai tishmoru u'mikdashi tira'u," that just as the mitzvah of Shabbos is eternally binding, so too, there is an ongoing mitzvah of mora mikdash even if the mikdash is in ruins.  The Rambam writes in Beis HaBechira 7:7

אע"פ שהמקדש היום חרב בעונותינו חייב אדם במוראו כמו שהיה נוהג בו בבניינו. לא יכנס אלא למקום שמותר להכנס לשם ולא ישב בעזרה ולא יקל ראשו כנגד שער המזרח שנאמר את שבתותי תשמורו ומקדשי תיראו. מה שמירת שבת לעולם אף מורא מקדש לעולם שאע"פ שחרב בקדושתו עומד:

The Aruch laNer asks the obvious question: once we have a din that the kedushas hamikdash is eternal -- that Yerushalayim and the makom Mikdash retain the same sanctity whether the Mikdash is standing or not -- then doesn't it go without saying that the din of mora Mikdash still applies?  Why does the gemara and the Rambam need a new source for such a din?

(Rav Zolti in Mishnas Yaavetz (#47) points out that the Rambam includes in mora mikdash the prohibition of entering the area while tamei even though there is already a separate a issur lav of "v'lo yitamu es machaneihem" and a mitzvas aseh to send out temei'im.  R' Zolti  suggests a nafka minah between the two dinim: if we have a safeik whether a certain area was included in the original kidush, then from the perspective of lo yitamu es machaneihem, m'doraysa there would be no requirement to avoid the area, as according to the Rambam safeik d'oraysa l'kula.  However, one still would not be allowed to go there because of mora mikdash -- if you are in fear, then even in doubt you stay away.)

The overlapping dinim perhaps point to the fact that the Mikdash and Yerushalayim have overlapping kedushos.  The Rambam in Hil Beis haBechira quotes the pasuk of "V'asu li mikdash" as the source for the chiyuv to build a Mikdash, yet in Hil Melachim 1:1 the Rambam quotes "l'Shichno tidrishu" as the source.  Rav Soloveitchik explained (see Koveitz Chidushei Torah p135 and also Ch haGR"M vhaGRI"D) that there are two seperate dinim: 1) a din of the geographical makom Mikdash being the "beis habechira," the place chosen by G-d for hashra'as haShechina; 2) a din of kedushas mikdash that is tied to the building, be it the mikdash or the mishkan.  

The Rambam in Hil Beis HaBechira writes that the eternal kedusha of the Mikdash was established by Shlomo haMelech when it was built.  Yet, the gemara (Zevachim 24) writes that it was David, not Shlomo, who consecrated the ground upon which the Mikdash was built.  According to RYBS, there is no contradiction.  The Rambam is speaking about the kedushas ha'mikdash of the building; the gemara is speaking about the consecration of the geographical location as G-d's chosen place, beis ha'bechira.  

Perhaps when the Rambam speaks about kidsha l'asid la'vo, he is talking about the kidush of the mikdash building itself, the kidush established by Shlomo.  The din of mora mikdash, however, relates to the place of the Mikdash as beis habechira.  In Parshas VaYeitzei, when Yaakov realizes that he has slept in the future makom Mikdash, he cries out "Mah nora ha'makom ha'zeh..."   Nora=mora mikdash.  The building of the mikdash would take place long in the future, but the din of mora of Hashem's makom nivchar was already in place (Brisker Rav). 

We see the same theme of overlapping kedushos echoed in the Raavad.  Raavad holds 180 degrees the opposite of the Rambam: he famously writes that even those opinions which hold kedushas ha'aretz is still intact would agree that kedushas haMikdash has been dissolved; therefore, anyone who enters the makom Mikdash is not chayav kareis.  The implication is that there is no kareis punishment, but there is still an issur.  M'mah nafshach: if there is no kedusha, then why is there still an issur?  If there is kedusha, then why no kareis?

Again the same theme (see R' Zolti): overlapping kedushos.  The Raavad's contention is that the kedushas mikdash which Rambam holds is eternal is bateil, but there is some other kedusha (be it kedusha of a makom nivchar, be it kidush of machanah Shechina, as R' Zolti suggests) that is still latent and which prohibits entry.

It's almost Yom Yerushalayim.  This is the time to take a moment to reflect on the kedushas hamakom, on the fact that Hashem has once again given us access to his beis ha'bechira.  Hopefully those of us not there yet will merit to be there soon!

Notes from the Underground

I gave up writing at the end of last week because I've thrown in the towel on trying to understand not only the lockdown fanatics in government, but also what the Rabbinic establishment of our own community is thinking.  I figure it is best to just tune out the world for awhile.  Don't look to me for any chizuk in emunas chachamim.

Roshei Yeshiva who continue to beat the dead horse of "safeik pikuach nefesh" only reinforce the impression that they just don't get it.  The argument against the lockdown  is that the lockdown itself poses real and serious health risks to life (e.g. see here), not just economic risks.  This is an argument being made by professors, by doctors, by experts analyzing the data (see here).  When you read a story about someone who was a regular guy -- wife and kids, job -- and then two months into this mess, after being let go by his job, commits suicide, that's a safeik nefashos issue too, just as much as the virus is.  I have yet to see a single Rabbi address this point.  What do you tell that person?  Sorry, but we need you to take one for the team -- the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?  Is that a Jewish attitude?  

This piece says that halacha is about doing ratzon Hashem.  Conlusion: since ratzon Hashem is for us to not have minyanim, doing so is not keeping halacha.

Isn't this begging the question -- the conclusion assumes the very premis to be proven: what is the ratzon Hashem as it relates to our circumstance? 

Another Rabbi similarly writes on Twitter (no, I will not name names here), in defense of the Rabbi who basically threw folks who started a breakaway minyan because his shul remains closed: "By contrast, some Balabatim are having a hard time on this front. They've prioritized the usual message on the importance of attending Minyan, but not the clear exception to that in cases of danger.  This focus on following the "form" of Jewish practice, rather than of following Halakha's actual guidance (the "Retzon Hashem"), reveals an educational failing. It indicates that one is going through the motions rather than serving God."

Speaking as one of the "balabatim" of the world, let me say that "emphasis on form over ratzon Hashem" is not the issue; that is a straw man.  The reason for those starting minyanim is very simple: when the local health authorities are allowing (in that locale, not NY) restaurants to open, barbers to open, business to open, and the only thing remaining shut is the local shul, then something seems very wrong.  Does the chance of infection somehow exist only if I attend shul, but not if I go outside anyplace else? 

The Babylon Bee is supposed to be humor/satire, not a policy guide.

I have the utmost respect for a certain local Rosh Yeshiva here who has told people to lock themselves down and not go out unless absolutely necessary.  "It's not so bad," he said.  "You have a window"  (direct quote, as reported by by son who heard the shiur).  If this is how you want to live for the next year or two or 10 until a vaccine is developed, kol ha'kavod.  At least your consistent.

The reality, however, is that is not what people are doing.  I recently stopped at Lowes in our neighborhood to pick something up and I saw about half a dozen frum people walking through the parking lot before I even got into the store  My wife asked me why dont we make a minyan right there.  Ahh, but my wife is not a Rav so she doesn't understand (nor do I) why 10+ Jews can shop at Lowes,  why we saw half a dozen people waiting online outside the local Chinese restaurant to pick up orders on the day it reopened, why we can wait on line to get into Gourmet Glatt, but to get 10 people together for minyan -- that G-d doesn't want.  I guess the ratzon Hashem is for us to shop together, not to pray together. 

It's the inconsistancy which makes no sense.  If you are not afraid of catching the virus at the store, at the takeout (is there an "ochel nefesh" exception when facing safeik sakana?), at the park (because we are all taking precautions as needed), then why is the synagogue different?  Do the Rabbis give us so little credit that they assume once we are in shul, and only when we are in shul, we forget that there is a health crisis?  
Another Rabbinic quote, this one regarding people who attend some of the shuls that are now reopening: "Hopefully all those who are increasing their contact with the outside world, including through attending these Minyanim, will be very open about it, so that those who are concerned from a safety perspective, including the immunocompromised, can take caution & distance themselves."

I went in to my workplace in NYC yesterday.  Would you like me to wear a red badge on my shirt?   

Not only is there no debate over these issues, there seems to be an effort to stifle any meaningful conversation about them.  A friend yesterday sent me a link to a recording of a Rav who disagreed strongly with the policies in place.  Before I even had a chance to listen to it, it was taken down [Correction: It looks like it is back up].  Amazingly, every shul sends here out letters that are word for word identical and are signed by what seems to be ever Rabbi in the neighborhood.  Reminds me of the din that sanhedrin that reaches a unanimous guilty verdict means the offender goes free -- halacha does not take kindly to group think and quashing of dissent, as the mishnayos in the first perek of Ediyos indicate. What takes the cake is the report (I know it's a public article, but find it yourself if you want to read it) of a senior Rabbi  from our neighborhood who publicly called out a colleague who was running minyanim before Pesach and promised to (quote) "run this man out of the community."  Talmidei chachamim marbim shalom?  It's like an old Western -- "This town ain't big enough for the two of us..."   Do we settle things with a duel at high noon?

Enough for now.  I wish these Rabbanim well.  Maybe their "balabatim" are in fact making these sort of strawman arguments that are easy to knock down; maybe their congregants don't get the basics and need to be reminded about safek nefashos.  I would hope, however, that the layperson community is smarter than that.  If they are, they deserve better answers and more thoughtful responses to what is happening. 

Stay safe in your bunker. I think this is going to be my final word on this topic for awhile.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Notes from the Underground

1) The Sefas Emes (Emor 5632) asks: we learn in Pirkei Avos that one who is mekabeil ol Torah "ma'avirin mimenu ol derech eretz," implying that derech eretz is a burden to be gotten rid of. Yet on the other hand, we also learn in Pirkei Avos that "yafeh talmud Torah im derech eretz," that talmud Torah needs to be done in concert with derech eretz.  So which is it?  

I would have said that there is a difference between "ol derech eretz," and "derech eretz."  Some people are blessed (so I've heard : ) with jobs or secular interests that are enjoyable and give them a feeling or productivity; sometimes it is just a burden and a drain.  

The Sefas Emes draws a more interesting distinction between ol Torah and talmud Torah.  The letter is about the accumulation of knowledge; the latter is about accepting the limits of our knowledge.  Take a look.

2) The  gemara (Meg 31) writes that we have to read the tochacha in P Bechukosai before the end of the year (Shavuos is rosh hashana for new fruit) so that "tacheil shanah v'k'liloseha," that the kelalos of the year should come to an end.  How exactly does reading a parsha in chumash accomplish that?  If it was that easy then we should read a parsha about mageifa and bring Corona to an end!

Vanitzak el Hashem...vayishma Hashem es koleinu, va'yar es onyeinu.  Wasn't Hashem aware of our suffering in Mitzrayim before we cried out to him?  The Kozhiglover explains that there are two types of yisrurim.  There are yisurim we suffer because of hester panim -- Hashem kavyachol turns away and whatever our fate is b'derech ha'teva, that's what we get.  Those yisurim do not fully expiate aveiros.  There is another class of yisurim that we get not because of hester panim, but to the contrary, because Hashem is the one bringing the yisurim.  Those yisurim are a kaparah.  In galus Mitzrayim it was our davening to Hashem that transformed the yisurim of hester panim, yisurim because Hashem was ignoring us kavyachol, into "va'yar es onyeniunu," yisurim that were deliberately directed by Him, and therefore, an agent that lead to our kaparah and geulah.

If we think everything is b'derech mikreh,  without rhyme or reason, then there is no kaparah.   But if we read a parsha of tochacha and remind ourselves that that yisurim come because there is a Divine plan, that they are sent to wake us up and bring kaparah, then ultimately those yisurim will come to an end.

3) Your article of the day: Wired collects the data and makes the argument that schools should be open.  They quote one of the authors of a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine as saying, “What is interesting,” he continued, “is that even if children do get infected, they are less likely to transmit the disease to others than adults. We have not found a single instance of a child infecting parents.”  

Monday, May 11, 2020

Notes from the Underground: Lag baOmer, destiny vs free will

1) The lack of bonfires got me thinking back to when I was a kid and had TV.  I remember WPIX, channel 11, home of the Yankees, would go off air on Xmas and just show a loop of logs burning in a fireplace so that those folks living in their NY apartments or homes without fireplaces could still imagine themselves sitting all cozy around a yuletide fire.  Is there a virtual bonfire l'havdil out there that we can put on our screens in honor of Rashbi?

On second thought, it just wouldn't be the same as this:

No one plays a crowd like R ' Melech.

For some reason Lag baOmer has grown in popularity over the years.  It is hard to see the background in this picture of my wife's uncle, R' Immanuel Shochet a"h, as a very young man (center) speaking at Meiron in 1958, but it does not look like hundreds of thousands were there in those days:

2) Lab BaOmer is hod she'b'hod.  Hod=the midah of Aharon haKohen, oheiv shalom, rodef shalom, oheiv es ha'briyos u'mikarvan la'Torah.  This is why the day is also about R' AKiva, who taught v'ahavta l'reiach kamocha = oheiv shalom is the klal gadol ba'Torah; u'mikarvan laTorah= R' Akiva is the shoresh of Torah she'baal peh.  Those two are ha b'ha talya. 

The day is not really about the bonfire : )

3) Do you drive a car?  I used to have to drive as part of my commute. Link to your article of the day where they crunched the numbers and found: The COVID-19 death risk in people less than 65 years old during the period of fatalities from the epidemic was equivalent to the death risk from driving between 13 and 101 miles per day for 11 countries and 6 states, and was higher (equivalent to the death risk from driving 143-668 miles per day) for 6 other states and the UK... CONCLUSIONS: People less than 65 years old have very small risks of COVID-19 death even in pandemic epicenters and deaths for people less than 65 years without underlying predisposing conditions are remarkably uncommon."  The price we pay by doing a lockdown to protect against that risk is reported in in another study: "The same number of people could die from ‘deaths of despair’ as have already died in the U.S. from coronavirus, new study findsMai chazis d'damei didach who want the lockdown sumak tfei from those dying because of it?

4) The Midrash at the beginning of Emor, commenting on the pasuk "amaros Hashem t'horos," gives a mashal: A politician comes to town and the people love him.  The more they sing his praises, the more promises he makes to them -- when he's elected he will fix the Van Wyck, he will have the subways cleaned up and running on time, there will be a chicken in every pot.  Lo and behold, once he is elected none of what was promised materializes.  Hashem is not like that.  His word is true for eternity.

I could not figure this Midrash out.  What are Chazal trying to teach me?  That Democrats campaign on lies?  I know that.  That Hashem is not a politician and keeps his promises?  I know that too.  Sefas Emes (5640) says an amazing vort.  I've posted many times about the Ohr haChaim in P' VaYeishev (its in other sources too) that speaks about the power of bechira to even thwart hashgacha -- meaning, Hashem built into the teva the power for us to make decisions that change the course of our lives, and barring exceptional zechuyos that warrant a l'maalah-min-ha'teva intervention, we suffer the consequences.  Why am I so disturbed by the lockdown when Hashem sent the virus?  Why don't I just accept His gezira, like I quoted from the Ishbitzer yesterday?  The answer is that, as Alex Berenson puts it, the virus didn't put 30 million people out of work -- our reaction did.  Hashem gives us bechira to do as we please.  If you believe humans will usually choose well, then this is a very uplifting message -- we have a hand in tikun olam and making the world a better place.  I unfortunately am not one of those people that think people generally choose well : )  I am one of the people who believe if you bet on human stupidity, the odds are very much in your favor.  What Chazal are telling us here is that even if that is the case, don't lose faith.  Hashem promises that in the end we will overcome it all, that there will be a geulah, that we will return to Him, and though we may wittingly or unwittingly find ourselves sometimes working against those very outcomes, "amaros Hashem t'horos" and Hashem keeps his promise to make it all happen in spite of us.  The best thing we can do sometimes is to just do out best to get out of the way : )  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Notes from the Underground - Mothers Day, Lag baOmer, etc

1) Baba Basra 80 - "ima a'barta mitzavta."  Mothers take comfort in their children being there.  It doesn't matter if it's birds (the context in the sugya) or people.  So happy mothers day to all the mothers who are always there for their children and whose greatest nachas comes from their children.  (Though to be honest, unlike the birds in the sugya, it would be nice if some of my kids managed to get out of the house already, but that's another story.)

2) I guess if there are no bonfires allowed for Lag BaOmer we will have to celebrate by just learning Torah or something.  I have a hunch Rashi would approve, at least b'dieved : )

3) Remember why Rashbi ended up in the cave?  Why he was stuck in a bunker for 13 years?  My wife quotes the whole gemara in her Lag BaOmer post.  Rashbi was forced into hiding because he was brave enough to speak out against the Roman government.  Rashbi would not sit back in silence if the state were to shut schools to schoolchildren who are largely immune from the worst dangers of a virus but force nursing homes filled with  vulnerable elderly to accept patients that are still infectious.  He would cry out in protest.  Or maybe that's just my imagination.  

4) My wife asked why he is called Bar Yochai and not Ben Yochai.  The Lev Simcha explained that bar is like the word milbar vs milgav -- outside, as opposed to inside.  When a kid becomes bar mitzvah it means he comes out of his domain of pratiyus and becomes part of the klal, part of the community.  So too, Rashbi stepped outside himself and gave himself up completely to the klal.  

Parshas Emor tells us that a regular kohen can become tamei to his attend the funeral of his closest relatives, but not so the kohen gadol.  Why the difference?  The Kotzker explains that the kohen gadol gives himself over to the klal.  We are all his relatives.  He has to love every Jew like a brother, like a mother or father.  That's the spirit of R' Shimon bar Yochai -- giving everything over to the klal.  

5)  A very powerful Ishbitzer (end of P' Emor) to keep in mind when you are in the bunker:

  כי איש ישראל אחר שלבו דבוק בהש"י וכוונתו לש"ש, אף אם הש"י ידחה אותו מאיזה טובה, בזה עצמו יקרא עובד ה' במה שמרחיק עצמו על פי רצון הש"י ויזכה לטובה גדולה, כגון בעל מום מזרע אהרן, בזה עצמו היה זוכה לטובה גדולה במה שהרחיק עצמו מהעבודה, אך מי שאין שורשו וגזעו מישראל באם ירוחק מטובה אז לא יוכל עצור רוחו ויבעט

The proof that the mekalel's desire to have a place in machaneh yisrael was not truly lshem shamayim was the fact that when his dream could not be realized he rebelled.  True avodas Hashem means being willing to give up what you desire and accepting the task Hashem desires of you instead. 

Why does the Torah tell us the whole story of the mekalel?  Why not just give us the din of "nokeiv shel Hashem mos yumas" without the story?

The Torah wants to show us the exception that proves the rule (see Seforno).  It's only this individual who came from a Mitzri, who mother was not-so- good either, who could be nokeiv shem Hashem.  The same story could never happen to a person m'zera Yisrael, raised in a home in Klal Yisrael.  It's in our DNA not to behave this way.  The parsha is not just telling us a din, it's telling us something about the character of a Jew.  Klal Yisrael's greatness is that we accept the gzar din of shamayim without a rebellion.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Notes from the Underground -- erev Shabbos Emor, amazing chiddush of the Meshech Chochma

1) Lots to say on the parsha (don't miss the Meshech Chochma in point 5 at the bottom if you are going to skip), but let me get the article of the day out of the way.  Chairman of emergency services at St Barnabus writes in the NY Post: "Everyone seems to be avoiding the health system — an important and unfortunate consequence of the stay-at-home strategy...The growing numbers ­dying at home during this crisis must include fatal myocardial infarctions, asthma exacerbations, bacterial infections and strokes."
For those who support the lockdown, let me grant for now whatever figure you want to use, whatever imaginary number of lives you think have been saved -- 1 million, 10 million, 100 million -- I don't care.  Just tell me the halachic justification for being allowed to cause the deaths of others in the process to achieve that end.   

2) Baal haTurim on the din of shivas yamim tachas imo quotes a Midrash that says if the animal was offered on day #1 it would be like a korban to shamayim v'aretz that were created on day #1, on day #2 it would be like a korban offered to the heavens, etc. until 7 days pass and a person knows Hashem created everything and the korban can be offered lishma.  We are talking about someone who wants to offer a korban, not an ovied avodah zarah.  What's going on here?
R' Shteinman in Ayeles haShachar explains the Midrash based on shitas haRambam (Yesodei Torah 2:2) that ahavas Hashem comes from contemplating creation.  If a person contemplated Hashem's handiwork on day #1 of creation, when there was only shamayim va'artez, his appreciation of Hashem would be lacking because he did not experience the other days of the briya.  On day #2, his appreciation would still be lacking because he still only sees part of the picture.  It's only after a person sees the totality of the briya, after 7 days, that his lishma can be complete.  Ahavas Hashem takes time to grow and develop; therefore, the Torah says wait awhile before you bring your korban.  Go through a week thinking about the borei olam and then come to the Mikdash. 
3) Targum Yonasan writes on the pasuk "oso v'es bno lo tishchatu b'yom echad" that just like Hashem has mercy on us, so too we should have mercy and not shecht the mother and calf together. 
The Mishna in Megillah (25) says that a person is not supposed to ask Hashem in davening to have rachmanus on us just like he has mercy and gave the mitzvah of shiloach ha'kan.  The gemara explains that Hashem's mitzvos are gezeiros, decrees -- not acts of mercy.  So why is oso v'es bno any different?  See Maharasha there.
4) The gemara (Chulin 79) has a machlokes Tanaim whether the mitzvah of oso v'es bno applies only to the mother cow or also to the father.  When translating the pasuk, Onkelus switches the words from masculine (oso, bno) to feminine form.  Ramban (see also Rosh in Chulin) writes that Onkelus deliberately changed the gender used by the pasuk because he held the mitzvah only applies to the mother cow, not the father. 
One might argue that the mitzvah applies at least mi'safeik to both mother and father; however, since it is much harder to know which animal in the herd is the calf's father than which is its mother Onkelus changed the gender to reflect the metziyus where the mitzvah is most likely to apply.  See Ma'adanei Y"T on the Rosh who rejects this idea.  In any event, according to Onkelus it is hard to understand why the Torah would phrase the mitzvah in lashon zachar when it only applies to the mother cow  (see Ramban).

5) Finally, an amazing chiddush of the Meshech Chochma based on no more than his understanding of peshuto shel mikra.  Here is the case: you have a cow located at the north pole and its calf is located at the equator  When you shecht the cow at the north pole, it is already night=the next day at the equator.  Can you shecht the calf immediately because it is not "yom echad" relative to the mother's time zone, or do you look at things relative to the calf's time zone and say that since the mother was shechted when it was night at the equator, you can't shecht the calf until the next night?
Meshech Chochma says that everything is relative to the time zone of the initial shechita.  Since in the time zone of the shechita of the mother cow it was day, the calf that is located someplace where it is night can be shechted right away.
Then he goes a step futher: not only can you shecht the calf at the equator, but since the pasuk is written in plural -- "lo tishchatu" -- it alludes to the fact that if there was another calf at the north pole, it too can be shechted!  Even though this calf is in the same time zone where it is still the same day as when the  mother was shechted, since the issur does not apply to the calf at the equator, it also does not apply to the one at the north pole -- it's all or nothing.
There are similar questions raised with respect to other dinim.  The Oneg Y"T (#35) already discusses whether there is an issur of owning chametz in another time zone where it is pesach if it is not yet Y"T in your own time zone.  These days it is possible to control appliances in your home with the touch of a button.  If you are in a time zone where it is not yet shabbos, can you remotely turn on the air conditioner in your home which is in a time zone where it is shabbos?  Yesh l'chaleik between each one of these cases... 

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Notes from the Underground -- loss of a leader

1) I was looking for something related to inyana d'yoma to share from R Nachum Rabinovich, R"Y of Birkat Moshe in Maale Adumim, who passed away today, and what caught my eye was the concluding paragraph to a teshuva in Siach Nachum on the topic of shaving during chol ha'moed, the three weeks, and sefira.  I feel a little bad as it's almost too small a point to even remark on given the greatness of the man.  After going through an analysis of the geder of the issur of haircuts and shaving during aveilus and moed, which I wont get into, R' Rabinovich turns his attention to sefira.  He notes that the minhagei aveilus are not brought in Rambam or many other Rishonim; the Tur merely says "yesh nohagim she'lo l'histaper." We find in Achronim that there were communities that kept the minhag and communities that didn't -- it was not a universal practice.  Furthermore, the minhag seems to refer to avoiding haircuts, not shaving.  Based on these considerations, R' Rabinovich concludes there is ample room to be lenient and shave during sefira and during the three weeks up until the 9 days, especially if one is doing so l'kavod Shabbos.  Ad kan the technical details of what any posek might tell you.  Rav Rabinovich then adds: with respect to any minhag, one must consider how one's community and one's peer group acts so that he is not "standing when other are sitting or sitting when others are standing," (Derech Eretz Rabbah ch 7) i.e. acting out of lockstep of the norm.  He advises that with respect to what to do, one should follow the practice of one's father.  You would expect the teshuvah to justify this based on something like "al titosh," but that's not what he says.  The justification is that if one's father is clean shaven but one walks around with a beard, or vica versa it would surely create embarrassment and be a source of friction between parent and child.  Kibud av outweighs the minhag.
Psak is not a cut and dry accumulation of facts -- the teshuvah reflects tremendous sensitivity for kavod ha'briyos, for the impact behavior may have on others, for "darkei no'am."  A model to emulate.
2) Maybe I should make providing information like the article below into a daily feature -- I have mixed feelings about it.  Anyway, here is a letter in The Lancet (pretty chashuv) from a doctor who points out that, "There is very little we can do to prevent this spread: a lockdown might delay severe cases for a while, but once restrictions are eased, cases will reappear. I expect that when we count the number of deaths from COVID-19 in each country in 1 year from now, the figures will be similar, regardless of measures taken." 
So basically, all this sitting in our bunkers is saving no one and just inflicting unnecessary misery on people.  Which brings us to the headline of the day from CNBC: "Cuomo says it's 'shocking' most new coronavirus hospitalizations are people who had been staying at home."   It's only shocking if you stick your head in the sand and refuse to accept reality.

Tuesday, May 05, 2020

Notes from the Underground - b'chukoseihem lo teileichu

1) Ran (A"Z daf 11) writes that there is no violation of bchukoseihem lo teileichu so long as an action can be justified as serving some purpose or function, even if gentiles behave in a similar way.  Maharik similarly paskens, and is quoted l'halacha by the Rama, that, for example, a doctor may wear a uniform, even though it is worn by gentiles, because it serves a function to identify his role and is not being done to imitate non-Jews.

Tos does not seem to agree with the Ran's interpretation of that gemara.  The GR"A in Y.D. therefore (along with bringing proofs against the Ran) rejects the psak of the Rama and Maharik.   

There is a custom to decorate the shul with flowers and shrubbery for Shavuos.  Some say that the fragrant flowers commemorate the sweet fragrances that Hashem released into the air as each dibra of the aseres ha'dibros was given; others say that that it commemorates the green fruit trees Hashem caused to bloom on Har Sinai.  GR"A famously rejects this whole practice; he held that it mimicked the practice of the gentiles, who put out trees on their holiday.

This GR"A is l'shitaso.  According to Ran/Maharik/Rama, since the greenery serves a function for us -- to commemorate Har Sinai and mattan Torah -- even if the gentiles have a similar practice, it is permitted.  According to GR"A, functional need/use is not a justification to imitate chukoseihem, and so he rejects the minhag.

2) In case you did not see it, worth taking note of R' Gershon Edelstein's insightful explanation as to why the chareidi (lav davka -- he means religious) community was affected more severely by the virus: the chiloni community is a tinok she'nishbah and therefore cannot be held accountable for their aveiros; we, on the other hand, should and do know better. 

3) Bad news for lockdowns -- apparently things are not quite working out as promised, as you can see from the quote below (taken from here).  The solution Cuomo and others, including our own community leaders, advocate is simply more of the same -- it has to work sooner or later, right??? 
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the Food and Drug Administration and a lead booster of social distancing, admitted Sunday that the draconian measures aren’t working as the experts promised.
“The concerning thing here is that we’re looking at the prospect that this may be a persistent spread,” Gottlieb said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” further noting 20,000 to 30,000 new reported cases per day despite intense lockdown orders in most states.

Notes from the Underground

"Peret karmicha lo ti'lakeit..."  The Noam Elimelech sees the kerem, the vineyard, described in these pesukim as an allusion to the tzadik who is filled with good deeds.  Peret = pratiyus, focusing on the details, as opposed to the klal, the bigger picture.  Isiah Berlin has a famous essay (no, the Noam Elimelech did not say this part) in which is contrasts the fox and the hedgehog.  The fox knows many little things; his worldview is shaped by the amalgamation of many isolated, individual details that he somehow fits together, sometimes neatly, sometimes not so neatly.  The hedgehog knows one thing -- a hedgehog thinker sees everything through the lens of one overarching principle that then colors and shapes how he sees all the details.  A person can get lost in the myriad details of halacha -- we have peratim and we have pratei pratim for every single mitzvah.  We can become foxes to an extreme.  The Torah here is perhaps warning us that we also sometimes need to take a step back and learn from the hedgehog.  Don't get lost in pratiyus.  You have to have a bigger picture in life, a framework in which to hang all those details.  Knowing every Pri Megadim in Shulchan Aruch is great, but you have to have a vision of what avodas Hashem is all about, what values the halacha is trying to inculcate. Without vision, without a grasp of the larger picture, a person can get lost.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Notes from the Underground - pikuach nefesh, hutra or dechuya

Last week I referred to an article written by R' Meir Twersky shlita.  I would like to quote some more from that piece (the translation was done by talmidim):
In our family, we have a tradition regarding the following story: When Rav Chaim Soloveitchik's oldest grandson (the Rav, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik) was an infant, he became gravely ill and the doctor came to examine him on Shabbos. During the examination, Rav Chaim asked the doctor if he needed more light. The doctor, neither accepting or dismissing Rav Chaim's offer, replied, "nu, nu." Immediately, Rav Chaim instructed the family member who was standing closest to the fire to tend to the fire to provide more light. The family member, however, was deterred by the doctor's neutral answer, and did not immediately comply with Rav Chaim's directive. Rav Chaim excoriated him: "du bist a am ha'aretz un an apikores -- you are an am ha'aretz (ignoramus) and an apikores (heretic)!" Rav Simcha Zelig Rieger, who was also present, then hastened to fulfill Rav Chaim's directive.
This story is both awesome and instructive; per Rav Chaim, Rambam's designation --apikores!-- includes even one who subscribes axiomatically to the preeminence of pikuach nefesh, but is remiss in acting commensurately. After all, of what value is one's nominal belief if he does not act accordingly?
Two points -- first, I don't understand the instructive point.  The same rhetorical question -- "of what value is one's nominal belief if he does not act accordingly" -- can be raised with respect to any person who identifies as an orthodox Jew, but, for whatever reason, does any aveira.  Based on this standard, every chotei becomes an apikores?     
Secondly, though I love hearing a good R' Chaim just as much as anyone else, I was wondering just how justified the terms am ha'aretz and apikores really are here. 
There is a machlokes Rishonim with respect to the scope of chilul Shabbos that is permitted for a choleh in life threatening danger. Rashi (Shabbos 129a d"h davar) writes that only for those things necessary for the well being of the choleh may be done.  Magid Mishne (Rambam Shabbos ch 2) in contrast writes that anything may be done on the choleh's behalf -- Shabbos becomes like a weekday. 
In a nutshell, the issue seems to be whether Shabbos is hutra or decuya with respect to pikuach nefesh.  There are Rishonim that line up on both sides of the issue, with lots of literature in Achronim as to which side of the debate the Rambam comes down on.
Although the Beis Yosef seems to side with Rashi, when he codifies the din in S.A. he sides with the Magid Mishne and writes (328:4) that when dealing with a wound to an internal organ (i.e. a life threatening danger) even if there is no doctor to evaluate the situation and even if the choleh himself does not say he is in danger one may do **anything at all** for the choleh's sake.
The M.B, however, notes that many Rishonim agree with Rashi.  Furthermore, the S.A. himself in Hil Yom Kippurim (siman 617) paskens that a choleh should be given food on Y"K only based on a doctor's evaluation of what is needed, and one should ideally give only a bit at a time, less than the shiur, if possible.  In other words, here the S.A. limits the heter of pikuach nefesh to fulfilling only the most basic necessities needed to sustain the choleh and only under advice of a doctor, consistent with Rashi's view, not the M.M.'s  M.B. therefore concludes that when it comes to a melacha d'oraysa in one should violate Shabbos only out of necessity for the choleh's health, otherwise it is better to ask an aku"m to do the melacha. 
Since in the story the doctor did not affirm that stoking the fire was necessary for the choleh (what does "nu,nu" mean?) is it so far fetched, given shitas Rashi, which is how the M.B. paskens, for the bystander to pause and not jump to do the stoking? 
I would say the am ha'ratzus here may be not in not knowing hilchos shabbos, but rather in not knowing hilchos moreh halacha b'fnei rabbo.  R' Chaim knew the shitas Rashi too and nonetheles said to kindle the fire! -- but that's a different flavor of am ha'ratzus than I think was intended to be the point in quoting the story.
What do we do with the stira between S.A. in Hil Shabbos and Hil Y"K?  Two approaches:
1) R' Elchanan (Koveitz He'oros 18:5-11) writes that Shabbos is hutra, but Y"K and other issurim are dechuya.  Paradoxical, because you would think Shabbos is more chamur.
2) The Brisker Rav (quoted by R' Zevin in Moadim b'Halacha) explained that the S.A. in Hil Y"K is speaking about a choleh who WILL BECOME sick unless he eats -- not a choleh who because of his present illness must eat.  
What is the upshot l'halacha?  For that, ask your Rabbi.  The sefer Nishmas Avraham quotes the M.B., but then writes that after printing that psak in the first edition of his sefer he got a letter from R' Ovadya Yosef arguing that Shabbos should be treated as hutra -- see the long teshuvah in Yechaveh Daat vol 4 #30 where he marshals many proofs for this position.