Friday, August 28, 2020
erecting a spiritual maakeh
כי נח נפשיה אפסיק ליה עמודא דנורא בין דידיה לעלמא וגמירי דלא מפסיק עמודא דנורא אלא לחד בדרא או לתרין בדרא
קרב לגביה רבי אלכסנדרי אמר עשה בשביל כבוד חכמים לא אשגח עשה בשביל כבוד אביך לא אשגח עשה בשביל כבוד עצמך איסתלק אמר אביי לאפוקי ממאן דלא קיים (אפילו אות אחת) אמר ליה רב אדא בר מתנא לאפוקי ממר דלא אית ליה מעקה לאיגריה ולא היא מיהוה הוה וההיא שעתא הוא דשדייה זיקא
Abayei said the purpose of that pillar is to keep away those who have not fulfilled the Torah in its entirety. Rav Ada bar Masna then criticized Abayei, saying that he, Abayei, failed his own test, as his roof was missing a maakeh. (The gemara then concludes that Abayei had built a maakeh but it had blown down at that moment.)
The point of R' Ada is that nobody's perfect, and Abayei's lack of maakeh (whether intentional or not) served as an example to bring home the point.
Of all the mitzvos Abayei might be found wanting in that would make R Ada's point, why was it maakeh in particular where he got tripped up?
The Tiferes Yosef, the Radziner, quotes from that Ishbitzer that maakeh is not just about erecting a physical barrier to prevent people from falling off your roof. It's also about preventing people from falling in ruchniyus. "Ki yipol ha'nofel" -- there are unfortunately a lot of people who are "noflim." Let it not happen because of you, because your standards are not those that anyone can meet or relate to.
Rav Ada was telling Abayei that if the standard is perfection, then in your world everyone is a "nofel" and no one will every measure up. Your standard fails the litmus test of the mitzvah of maakeh.
Of course one has to be careful not to err in the other direction either. Having too loose standards, ignoring the need "l'migdar milsa" or avoid "mar'is ayin," can lead to equally destructive results.
Thursday, August 27, 2020
The Mishna in Brachos writes that one cannot ask in tefilah that Hashem should have mercy on us like the mercy exhibited by the mitzvah of shiluch ha'kan in sending away the mother bird. The gemara explains that we must treat mitzvos as gezeiros, not something that we do for a particular reason. Yet we find in Midrash (and the Rambam writes in Moreh) that the mitzvah is in fact about being merciful and avoiding causing pain to the mother bird.
R' Soloveitchik and Rav Kook explain that there is no contradiction here. When one is learning Torah and approaching mitzvos in an intellectual way, then one can delve into taamei ha'mitzvos. However, when one is davening, one must take the approach that our job is simply to fulfill the ratzon Hashem, with no reasons, without even trying to understand. Avodas ha'lev has different parameters than avodah with the brain.
Sefas Emes (5647) offers a different answer. The mother bird can't watch its offspring taken only because Hashem planted rachmanus in mother birds when he created the world. Hashem implanted all aspects of rachmanus that exist in the world -- if he did not create nature that way, it would not exist that way. What the Mishna means to tell us is that we should not think the bird inherently feels pain when its offspring are taken and halacha and the mitzvos haTorah are a reaction to that. To the contrary, it is the mitzvos haTorah, the gezeiras Hashem, which is what defines nature.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
eidim zomimin: does Hashem prevent beis din from making mistakes?
Ramban (19:19) explains that 1) "Elokim nitzvav b'adas K-l" -- Hashem has an active hand in ensuring beis din does not err, and 2) Hashem has an active hand in ensuring the innocent are not punished unjustly. If the court ends up meting out punishment on the basis of the testimony of zomimim, it means that the person who was punished is not really innocent. Maybe the testimony of the zomimim is false, but the person punished must have deserved what he got anyway, or Hashem would not have allowed it to happen.
In short, you don't get punished for harming a guilty man.
Maharal in Gur Aryeh takes issue with Ramban's reasoning:
ואין דבר זה טעם לסמוך על דבר זה - שלא היה נהרג על ידי בית דין אם לא היה חייב ממקום אחר, דבכל מקום אמרו (ב״ב קלא.) אין לדיין אלא מה שעיניו רואות, והקולר תלוי בצואר העדים, ומה יעשו בית דין
Interestingly, the principle Maharal bases himself on -- "ain l'dayan elah mah she'einav ro'os" -- is itself derived (see Sanhedrin 6a, as Rashbam in BB 131 notes) from the very same pasuk of "Elokim nitzvav b'adas K-l" that Ramban quotes as the basis for his sevara!
Yesh lachkor with respect to Elokim nitzvav b'adas K-l: Is halacha telling us that beis din will not err, or is it telling us that if beis din does err, they are not held accountable so long as it is an honest mistake?
Maharal understood "Elokim nitzvav b'adas K-L" as merely a ptur from punishment. As Rashi in Sanhedrin writes:
אלא לפי מה שעיניו רואות. לידון ויתכוין להוציאו לצדקו ולאמיתו ושוב לא יענש
Ramban, on the other hand, reads "ain l'dayan elah mah she'einav ro'os," as saying that a judge need only concern himself with the facts before him because Hashem acts as a backstop to ensure the outcome will always be correct.
Sefas Emes (in likkutim) asks a more technical question on Ramban. He quotes the case in the Mishna (Makos 6b) of two sets of witnesses that independenty testify that someone committed a crime. One set of witnesses are zomimin; one set is not. The Mishna says that if the zomimim are discovered before the verdict is rendered they will be punished as zomimim, and the person they testified against will also be punished based on the testimony of the other good witnesses. According to Ramban, why are the zomimim punished? They are testifying against a guilty man!
Sefas Emes suggests that the reason eidim zomimim do not get punished if beis din acts on their testimony is because punishment serves as a kaparah. Once the damage is done, the crime of hazamah is beyond the pale and there can be no expiation. (Maharal in Gur Aryeh argues that exactly the opposite is true: the plotting of the crime, the thought of doing evil, is far more severe than the act itself, and therefore it is only before gmar din, before beis din has acted on their testimony, that the zomimim are subject to punishment.)
Friday, August 21, 2020
mafrishin baal ha'tokea mi'beiso?
Hoffman, professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Iowa Hospitals, told The Times of Israel that quarantining shofar blowers before they blow may be in order. “Serial testing and quarantining the ram’s hornblower prior to the event may help mitigate risk,” he said.(Pedantic parenthetical comment: I'm not sure there is a noun "hornblower." The word makes me think Admiral, not musician. Would you use "horn player" here or something else? Maybe someone more pedantic than me knows the answer :)
Update: a reader emailed me that the MG"A in siman 581 quotes from the ShL"H that the baal tokeah and shat"z have to be mafrish themselves from "kol davar ha'mavi li'dei tumah" three days before Y"T, so there is some zecher to the din by R"H as well.
Apropos of it being Elul, many meforshim read this mitzvah as teaching us something about how to fight our battle with the yetzer ha'ra. Doing teshuvah should not be a scorched earth policy where everything from the past is thrown out. Don't destroy the trees that can produce fruit, the valuable elements of your old self that can be utilized to produce good.
(It occurred to me that how fitting it is that this pasuk should appear in this week's parsha, the week in which the gaon R' Zalman Nechemya Goldberg, הגרז"ן, was niftar.)
The Rambam in Hil Melachim 6:8 formulates this issur as follows:
אין קוצצין אילני מאכל שחוץ למדינה ואין מונעין מהם אמת המים כדי שייבשו. שנאמר לא תשחית את עצה. וכל הקוצץ לוקה. ולא במצור בלבד אלא בכל מקום כל הקוצץ אילן מאכל דרך השחתה לוקה. אבל קוצצין אותו אם היה מזיק אילנות אחרים. או מפני שמזיק בשדה אחרים. או מפני שדמיו יקרים. לא אסרה תורה אלא דרך השחתה:
A few points:
1) It's not just cutting down a tree which is assur, but even destroying the tree through a grama, like not watering it, is assur. Chazal derive this from the fact that the pasuk uses the lengthy formulation of "lo tashchis... lindoach alav garzen" instead of just saying "lo tidach alav garzen."
2) Contrast the Rambam's formulation here with what his writes in Sefer haMitzvos lav 57:
שהזהירנו מהשחית האילנות כשנצור על עיר כדי להצר לאנשיה ולהכאיב לבם.
Here the Rambam adds that not only is cutting down the tree unnecessarily assur, but even if cutting down the tree serves the purpose of causing pain to the enemy, it is still prohibited.
Ramban (Sefer haMitzvos, mitzvos aseh that the Rambam left out #6) disagrees on two points. Firstly, he counts eating the fruit as a mitzvas aseh in addition to the lav of bal tashchis:
נצטוינו כשנצור על עיר לאכול מן האילנות שבגבולה כל ימי המצור ואם נכרות אותם לבטלה דרך השחתה נעבור על עשה מוסיף על הלאו
Secondly, he holds that cutting down trees to strike fear in the heart of the enemy is permitted:
אבל בצאתנו מעל ארץ אויב נשחית ונחבל כל עץ טוב וכן בימי המצור להצר לאנשי העיר בהשחתת האילנות שלא יחיו מהם כל זה מותר, לא אסרה תורה אלא השחתה בחנם
Maybe this issue relates to a different machlokes.
The gemara (B"K 91) writes that you can chop a tree down if the gain is "me'ulah b'damim." Rashi and the Raavad explain the gemara as dealing with a case where the wood of the tree is more valuable than the fruit, e.g. the wood can be used to make a valuable piece of furniture. The Rosh, however, says an even bigger chiddush: if the cleared land would be more valuable than the tree itself, e.g. you want to develop real estate there, you can chop the tree down.
In the Rashi/Raavad example, the net benefit is a direct result of having the wood from the tree. In the Rosh's example, the tree poses an opportunity cost -- it's not the wood itself which provides a direct benefit, but it's having the land which is what's valuable. Achronim debate whether Rashi/Raavad and Rambam's omission of the Rosh's example implies that they disagree with his chiddush or not.
Here too, in Ramban's case the wood from the tree is not being used to fashion a weapon. The benefit from having the tree removed is indirect -- the enemy is deprived of food, the enemy perceives the battle is turning against them, etc. Is that enough justification to allow chopping down the tree?
Achronim discuss whether it is permissible to chop a tree down l'tzorech mitzvah, e.g. for schach on your sukkah. In this case the benefit may come directly from the wood of the tree, but it is an intangible, spiritual benefit which is motivating the behavior rather than a physical need. Again, the question may be how narrowly or not to define "me'ulah b'damim."
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Notes from the Underground five months later...and thoughts on religious apathy and empty shuls
Strikingly, I have noticed that the young married generation does not come to shul. Period. I have no reports of them on the lawns and I know that very few if any are in shuls. Our shul has the participation of some singles, some people in their 40s or so, some joining their parents, and some in their 80s! But I can’t think of any young married person who joins us with any regularity.
I was wondering if I am alone in this observation or if it’s widespread. So I put the question out on a Young Israel Rabbis chat that I belong to: “Do you observe that young marrieds are not coming back to shul?” I was stunned by the number of answers that I received from rabbis in many parts of the country, with the exact same observation.My first reactions to Rabbi Schoenfeld's article is that with all due respect to Rabbis, look at the statistics -- despite what people may believe, the mortality rate for "young marrieds" (age 25-34) is 0.7%! To protect .7% of that population, you closed off your shul and turned them away for months, creating the very problem you are now complaining about. Shuls remained closed in many locales even after stores, restaurants, and barbers opened. Were people at that point still being protected from illness, or were they being driven away?
Now, there are those who will argue that .7% is still a big number. True. And .1% is a big number too, but I have never in my lifetime heard of a shul closing due to the dangers of winter flu. As I wrote back in March, just give me a number and a source -- tell me what makes .1 or .2 or whatever # you choose an acceptable mortality rate but .7% not. The question still stands.
why we blow shofar in elul
תניא בפרקי דרבי אליעזר (פרק מו): בראש חודש אלול אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה: "עלה אלי ההרה", שאז עלה לקבל לוחות אחרונות. והעבירו שופר במחנה; משה עולה להר, כדי שלא יטעו כמו שטעו בראשונות במעשה העגל. והקדוש ברוך הוא נתעלה באותו שופר, שנאמר (תהלים מז ו): "עלה אלקים בתרועה, ד' בקול שופר"
Sefas Emes asks (in the likutim): if the purpose of blowing was to avoid falling prey to the same mistake of eigel worship that happened during the first 40 days, then shouldn't the shofar have also been blown during the middle 40 days Moshe spent on Har Sinai as well as the last 40? We should be blowing shofar all summer!
He offers two answers. The simple answer is that during the middle days Moshe went up to ask Hashem for forgiveness for the eigel worship. Davening for forgiveness for cheit ha'eigel is itself a deterrent against a similar sin.
The second, deeper explanation is that the shofar is effective only during an eis ratzon. Klal Yisrael felt a closeness to Hashem during Elul that they had not felt before, and they were able to use the shofar davka during that time period as an instrument to cement that connection and deepen it.
Were I a baal mussar I would point out that we are speaking about the dor de'ah, the dor that stood at Sinai and received the Torah on 7 Sivan. We are talking about a dor that had sinned with cheit ha'eigel, and knew that Moshe had to spend 40 more days on Har Sinai davening for their lives to be spared. They as no other dor knew what closeness to Hashem means, and knew the danger the eigel posed. Yet, they still needed a safeguard against making the same mistake all over again! They still needed a shofar כדי שלא יטעו כמו שטעו בראשונות.
Monday, August 17, 2020
how could Yeshayahu haNavi resolve a machlokes Amoraim?
שַׂמְתִּ֚י כַּֽדְכֹד֙ שִׁמְשֹׁתַ֔יִךְ
how the windows (according to most meforshim; see Rashi,) of Yerushalayim will be made of "kodkod." Ibn Ezra writes that this word "kodkod" אין רע למלת כדכד במקרא but from the context it appears to be some type of precious stone.
The gemara (Baba Basra 75a) brings an aggada to explain this strange word:
שמתי כדכד שמשותיך א"ר שמואל בר נחמני פליגי תרי מלאכי ברקיעא גבריאל ומיכאל ואמרי לה תרי אמוראי במערבא ומאן אינון יהודה וחזקיה בני רבי חייא חד אמר שוהם וחד אמר ישפה אמר להו הקב"ה להוי כדין וכדין ושעריך לאבני אקדח
There was a machlokes Amoraim, or according to a different tradition, a machlokes among the malachaim, what stones to use for the windows: shoham or yashfeh. Hashem therefore said let it be made like this and like that, "k'dein u'k'dein" = "kodkod" in short.
Tosfos quotes Rabeinu Tam who took out this whole girsa :
ר"ת ל"ג לה ואית דגרסי ומפרשי דקאי אכתוב דלעיל הנני מרביץ בפוך אבניך ויסדתיך בספירים פירוש כדין וכדין היינו פוך וספיר דלעיל
It's not so clear from Tos what was bothering R"T, but Rashbam spells out the difficulty:
ואע"פ שמקרא זה קדם לבני ר' חייא טובא יש לומר שכך נתנבא ישעיה שכדברי כל המפרשים עתידה להבנות:
The simple reading of the gemara sounds like there is a machlokes Amroraim what to make the windows out of, and Yeshayahu comes and resolves the machlokes "kdein u'kdein." That's impossible -- Yeshayahu lived hundreds of years before these Amoraim! How could he resolve a machlokes that would happen hundreds of years ahead in the future?
Rashbam solves the problem by saying that Yeshayahu was aware of the machlokes though nevudah, but R"T chose to remove the whole girsa.
I am bothered by this R"T. To me it seems obvious that Yeshayahu is not addressing the historical machlokes Amoraim, but rather is addressing himself to the principle behind it. Maharal in Ch Aggados basically suggests a similar hesber: the Amoraim were not arguing over what the windows were made of, but were arguing over which stone was the better stone. Yeshayahu described the windows as made of both because there is something to be said for both views. The same basic idea is articulated very clearly in the introduction to the Chasam Sofer al haTorah as a general principle regarding derush. How it is possible to suggest, to take one random example, that the disagreement between Moshe and Pharoah boils down to a machlokes Rambam and Raavad -- what did Pharoah know from Rambams and Raavads? The answer, again, is that the disagreement is over principles, and abstract principles are accessible to all people at all times.
This presupposes that the disagreement about whether the stones used were shoham or yashfeh is not just a matter of interior design preference, but in fact reflects some deeper principle (maybe R"T did not see it that way?) Maharal suggests that the disagreement is din vs rachamim. Many meforshim point out that these two stones were the two stones on the choshen that represent Yosef and Binyamin. Yosef is rescued from the clutches of Eishes Potifar because he receives a vision of his father = is'aruse dl'eila. Binyamin is described as "chofeif alav kol ha'yom" wanting to grab back that section of the mizbeiach not built in his portion = isarusa d'letata. See Shem m'Shmuel 5679.
Friday, August 14, 2020
every road has thorns
(רְאֵ֗ה אָנֹכִ֛י נֹתֵ֥ן לִפְנֵיכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם בְּרָכָ֖ה וּקְלָלָֽה(11:26
וְנָתַתָּ֤ה אֶת־הַבְּרָכָה֙ עַל־הַ֣ר גְּרִזִ֔ים וְאֶת־הַקְּלָלָ֖ה עַל־הַ֥ר עֵיבָֽל׃(11:29
It's fascinating that Hashem tells us at the beginning of our parsha that we will be getting a bracha/klala, but the bracha/klala does not actually appear here in our parsha. You have to wait until Parshas Ki Tavo (27:12 and onward) for the bracha/klala to be spelled out. We are in effect being told here, "Heads up and get ready -- here's what's coming." The word "re'ei" usually means not just to look at something, but to contemplate (e.g. see Shmos 31:2 and Seforno, Netziv there). There is a mitzvah of talmud torah to learn and pay attention to every parsha, but apparently with respect to the parsha of bracha/klala there is a demand for extra hisboninus.
The Midrash at the beginning of the parsha presents a mashal:
משל לזקן שהיה יושב על הדרך, והיו לפניו שתי דרכים: אחת תחילתה קוצים וסופה מישור, ואחת תחילתה מישור וסופה קוצים, והיה יושב בראש שתיהן ומזהיר העוברים, ואומר להם: אף על פי שאתם רואים תחילתה של זו קוצים, לכו בה, שסופה מישור.
וכל מי שהיה חכם שומע לו והיה מהלך בה ומתייגע קמעא. הלך בשלום ובא בשלום.
אבל אותן שלא היו שומעין לו, היו הולכים ונכשלין בסוף.
כך היה משה, פירש לבני ישראל ואמר להם: הרי דרך החיים ודרך המות, ברכה וקללה, ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך:
What in the parsha is the Midrash trying to clarify?
In the mashal, there are two paths: one that appears overgrown with thorns, but which down the road will become clear and easy to travel; one that appears easy to travel, but will lead to an impassable, thorn covered end.
There is no path that is thorn free.
The choice we have in life is not bracha OR klala -- the parsha does not say "bracha OH klala," but rather "bracha U'klala" -- even the path of bracha has thorns in the road. Life is not meant to be easy. Even if you make the right choices, you might suffer scratches. That's part of life in olam ha'zeh -- "asher anochi nosein lifneichem HA'YOM."
The Ishbitzer goes a step further and writes:
ראה אנכי נתן לפניכם היום ברכה וקללה. היינו בכל מקום שהקב"ה ינחיל טובה לאדם ילבישה בלבוש הנראה כפי ראות העין הפך מהטובה, (וכמו שנתבאר בפ' קרח בפסוק ואשים דברי בפיך), בכדי שעל ידי פעולות האדם שיברר א"ע ויוציא לאור את הטוב מעומק, ועי"ז יקרא יגיע כפיך
Whenever Hashem wants to give a person something good, a bracha, it comes wrapped in a package that looks like klala, the exact opposite. Bracha U'klala. Why? Because the biggest tovah is one that is earned, not received as a free gift. Everything Hashem gives us is l'tovah, but we have to do the work of recognizing it and seeing it as such. That's the avodah of "re'ei" -- seeing the tovah at the end of the road in what looks like just another path of thorns. That's the chiddush of our parsha and why just giving us the bracha/klala in Ki Tavo is not sufficient.
Thursday, August 13, 2020
feel good about giving - havtacha or mitzvah?
Nason titein lo v'lo yeira livavcha...ki biglal ha'davar ha'zeh yivarechicha Hashem Elokecha (15:10)
R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul questions whether this is a havtacha that if you give, Hashem will see to it that you are taken care of, or whether it it is issur, i.e. you are not permitted to feel bad when you give.
He quotes from Minchas Chinuch 479:3 that the schar mitzvah Hashem gives is for giving with joy, which implies that this is not a havtacha but a command.
gotta bring your A game
With all due respect to my alma mater Kerem b'Yavneh, mazal tov to the mesayeim, but this does not cut it:
August 12, 2020
Yeshivat haKotel brings their A game and shows how it is done:
Siyum of Masechet Shabbas last night! pic.twitter.com/Hc5gPcU4UJ— Yeshivat HaKotel (@YeshivatHakotel) August 11, 2020
Come on KBY, gotta step it up!
(Mazal tov to all those who learn daf yomi and finished Shabbos.)
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
the dog that didn't bark
The Midrash/gemara at least in a hava amina suggests that the word "v'haya" at the start of a parsha or pasuk indicates simcha. The Ohr haChaim is always attuned to trying to work out how this rule fits. He comments on the opening of the parsha, "V'haya eikev tishmi'un":
ויתבאר על דרך אומרם ז״ל (ב״ר פ׳ מ״ב) אין והיה אלא שמחה, והנה אדון הנביאים בא בנועם דבריו להעיר במוסר נעים כי אין לאדם לשמוח אלא כשישמור לעשות את כל אשר צוה ה׳ לעשו׳ אז ישמח לבו ויגל כבודו, אבל כל עוד שיחוש שחסר אחת מכל מצות ה׳ בין מצות לא תעשה בין מצות עשה עליו אמר שלמה (קהלת ב׳) ולשמחה מה זה עושה, והוא אומרו והיה שמחה תהיה לך עקב תשמעון פירוש עקב הוא סוף ותכלית, כדרך שמצינו שישתמשו חז״ל בלשון זה בלשון המשנה (סוטה מ״ט:) בעקבות משיחא וכו׳ כי בגמר זמן ביאתו יקרא עקבות, כמו כן אמר עקב תשמעון את המשפטים ושמרתם ועשיתם אז הוא זמן השמחה וכל שלא הגיע לזה אין לו מקום לשמוח וכמאמר חסידי ישראל (חובת הלבבות שער הפרישות פ״ד) שהפרוש אבלו בלבו וצהלתו בפניו, כי אין נכון לשמוח מי שהוא עתיד לעמוד בבושה וכלימה לפני מלך הגדול ואין צריך לומר מי שמחויב ראשו למלך, וכפי זה שיעור עקב הוא סוף שמיעת כל המשפטים.
עוד נתכוון לומר שאין שמחה לאיש אלא בסוף השמיעה, וכל עוד שלא גמר אדם עבודתו לא יאמין בצדקות מעשיו על דרך אומרו (איוב ט״ו) הן בקדושיו לא יאמין.
עוד נתכוין שצריך שילמוד התורה בשמחה ולא בעצבון כי דברי תורה אסורין לאבל (יור״ד סי׳ שפ״ד).
And he goes on with other remazim in the same vein.
Similarly, later in the same parsha he comments on "v'haya im shamo'a" that we say every day:
והיה אם שמוע וגו׳ – פירוש והיה לשון שמחה ותנאי הוא הדבר אם תהיה שמחה של מצוה, והוא אומרו אם שמוע תשמעו וגו׳ כאמרם ז״ל (שבת ל׳:) שלא שבח שלמה אלא שמחה של מצוה אבל שאר שמחות עליהם אמר (קהלת ב׳) ולשמחה מה זה עושה
Hashem promises all the rewards of the parsha if we have simcha shel mitzvah, not simcha from other sources.
Given the Ohr haChaim's attention to the issue, I don't understand why he does not say a word on the use of "v'haya" in this pasuk (8:13):
וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁכֹ֤חַ תִּשְׁכַּח֙ אֶת־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ וְהָֽלַכְתָּ֗ אַחֲרֵי֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים וַעֲבַדְתָּ֖ם וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִ֣יתָ לָהֶ֑ם הַעִדֹ֤תִי בָכֶם֙ הַיּ֔וֹם כִּ֥י אָבֹ֖ד תֹּאבֵדֽוּן׃
This is the most striking example in the parsha of the user of "v'haya" with no clear connotation of simcha. What is the joy in being told that if we forget G-d, then we will be punished? You could of course say derech derush that G-d's punishment shows his attention, but even so, you would expect the O.C. to comment here given that he bothers to do so other places.
Monday, August 10, 2020
birchas ha'mazon - thanks for food or the land?
V'achalta v'savata u'beirachta... al ha'aretz ha'tova
Is birchas ha'mazon a bracha to thank Hashem for the food we ate, or to thank Hashem for Eretz Yisrael? Maybe this machlokes Rashi and Tosfos revolves around that issue:
The gemara (Bracha 20b) raises the question of whether women are obligated m'doraysa or only mi'derabbanan in birchas ha'mazon.
Why would you think the chiyuv is not d'oraysa? It's not a mitzas aseh which is zman gerama?
Rashi explains that since the pasuk says "al ha'aretz ha'tova" and women did not get a portion in Eretz Yisrael, therefore perhaps they are exempt.
Tosfos disagrees (Kohanin also did not receive a portion in the land and the gemara never suggests that they have no chiyuv d'oraysa to bentch) and writes that the reason women might be exempt is because in birchas ha'mazon we mention "brischa she'chasamta b'bisareinu" and "torascha she'limadtanu" and women are exempt from bris milah and talmud torah.
According to Rashi the focus is on the land; therefore, no portion in Eretz Yisrael = no chiyuv. According to Tosfos, the bracha is thanks for the food, and therefore Tosfos comes up with a different reason to exempt women.
Excellent article in the Jerusalem Post on antisemitism in the African American community. I don't see how anyone can disagree with this statement:
As Jews, we don’t need to apologize when others engage in antisemitism, no matter who the perpetrator of the antisemitic act is. Even victims of racism should not be given a free pass to indulge in other forms of racism or hatred.
I am not sure if the word "unexpected" in the title of the article is meant cynically or not. According to ADL surveys from past years, antisemitism is materially higher in the African American community compared with other communities.
One thing missing from that article is a discussion of the NAACP's failure to fire / oust antisemite Rodney Muhammad, the president of its Philadelphia chapter. Apparently gone are the days when the NAACP would not tolerate antisemitism from its leaders or members.
Ben Cohen discusses that incident and hits the nail on the head:
Imagine the following scenario. The regional director of a mainstream Jewish organization in a city that is home to sizable Jewish and black communities starts sharing ugly, racist caricatures of African-Americans on social media. In a speech at a local synagogue, this same person denounces the influence of African-Americans on our broader culture as "Satanic." Then, when this outrageous behavior becomes the subject of media attention, that individual refuses to resign from their post and even retains the backing of their organization.
You can't seriously imagine something like this because it wouldn't happen outside of an alternate universe. The core ethics of every American Jewish organization would be utterly violated by such expressions of naked racial hatred, and the person responsible would be suspended immediately, and most likely, fired. That is how it should be.
But put the shoe on the other foot and the reaction is completely different.
It goes without saying that on an individual level we should treat all people with respect, but in terms of engaging with other groups and working with them on an organizational and communal level, I don't see why so many Jews are rushing to support BLM and show sympathy for the African American cause given these incidents and the attitude they reflect.
Friday, August 07, 2020
you have to believe it to teach it
"V'samtem es divarei eileh al livavchem... v'limadtem osam es b'neichem..."
1) The Alshich writes that these pesukim from our parsha that we say every day in k'rias shema are not separate mitzvos, but rather they go hand in hand. In order to fulfill "v'limadtem osam es bneichem," to teach others, one must first fully commit oneself to Torah and mitzvos. The "v'samtem es divarei eileh al levavchem..." is a prerequisite. If you don't believe it yourself, you can't give it over to others.
One of the problems in MO education is that (there are exceptions, of course) in many, if not most cases, the teachers do not believe in the ideology they are supposed to be teaching. If the school hires a rebbe who identifies with the chareidi community and its ideology, how can he possibly talk convincingly to students about zionism, about the value of secular studies, etc.? If you don't believe in it, how can you teach it?
2) Anyway, getting back to the parsha, the Netziv quotes from Tikunei Zohar (not a very common source for the Netziv to cite) that the parsha of "v'haya im shamo'a" is actually two parshiyos in one. The first section from "v'haya" up until "v'samtem" stands by itself, and then from "vsamtem" until the end is an independent parsha. The difference between the two sections is that the first deals with shemiras ha'mitzvos -- "v'haya im shamo'a... el mitzvosai." When a person's avodah revolves around doing miztvos, then there is a danger of "hishamru lachem pen yifteh livavchem," that they will be led astray and eventually have to be punished by Hashem. The second section, from "v'samtem," is speaking about a person whose avodah centers around talmud Torah. The Yeraim learns that "v'samtem es devarei... al levavchem" means to think about divrei Torah. Here there is no warning of "pen yifteh levavchem" and no threat of punishment. Torah is like a shield. When you are immersed in learning, then the dangers of being led astray are much further removed. The danger of galus is far removed, hence "l'maan yirbu yimeichem al ha'aretz."
The gemara (Brachos 35) asks that there seems to be a contradiction between "v'asafta d'ganecha" and other pesukim that promise an ultimate reward of others doing work for us while we engage in other things. The gemara answers that "v'asafta d'ganecha" is speaking about when Klal Yisrael is not fulfilling "ritzono shel Makom," what Hashem wants. Tosfos on the spot asks: "v'asafta d'ganecha" appears in the context of "v'haya im shamo'a...," which speaks about our observance of mitzvos -- how can the gemara say it applies only when we are not fulfilling "ritzono shel Makom?" The Netziv answers l'shitaso that one can fulfill mitzvos and engage in avodah, but still fall short of the ideal "ritzono shel Makom" which is talmud Torah.
Nefesh haChaim has the same heirarchy -- Torah reigns superme over avodah and any and all mitzvos.
3) A technical question: Tos (Pesachin 50) quotes from the Yerushalmi that a person is not allowed to do melacha on a day that he offers a korban. The Ylmi asks: if so, how can we ever go to work, as every day the korban tamid is offered on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael. Ylmi answers that the pasuk of "v'asafta d'ganecha" is a matir -- we see from the Torah itself that work is allowed.
Maybe I am missing something, but I don't understand the Ylmi. According to R' Akiva Eiger (Shu"t Mh"K #9) women are exempt from tefilas musaf; since they are exempt from machtzis ha'shekel, they have no share in communal korbanos, and musaf is a replacement tefilah for the korban. By the same logic women should not have a share in the korban tamid, nor should anyone under 20 according to those shitos that hold the chiyuv of machtzis ha'shekel only starts at age 20. If so, who says "v'asafta d'ganecha" is speaking to everyone? Maybe the pasuk is matir work only for women and others who have no share in the korban tamid, but not everyone else?
(Many Achronim argue on this chidush of R' Akiva Eiger for various reasons, but that's a different topic.)
4) I never like that piskei halacha from R' Chaim Kanievski are usually one word answers without much explanation. Here is an interesting one that I wish he had unpacked his reasoning on: better to daven with a minyan or to daven with hat and jacket later?
מי שנזדמן לו להתפלל בציבור ואין עליו חליפה וכובע, האם עדיף להתפלל בציבור, או להתפלל לאחר מכן ביחידות עם כובע וחליפה?
הגר"ח קנייבסקי: "חליפה וכובע".
Tuesday, August 04, 2020
exemplar of a baal mussar
There was a young man engaged in an active and productive career - he was a busy graphic designer in advertising - who was suddenly torn from his work because he fell ill with a malignant, inoperable spinal tumor at the top of his spine. This tumor quickly caused paralysis of his arms and legs. Now he could no longer keep up the way in which he had made his life meaningful, namely the path of being active and employed: he was pushed to one side, in a completely different direction; being active was increasingly inaccessible, and he was relying ever more on finding meaning in the passive experiences of his restricted situation, and extracting meaning from life even within such limited possibilities. So, what did our patient do? While he was in the hospital, he read intensively, he tackled books he had never had time to read in his busy professional life, he listened diligently to music on the radio and he had the most stimulating discussions with individual fellow patients. So he had withdrawn into that area of existence in which it is possible, beyond being active, for a person to fulfill the meaning of life and answer life's questions in the passive incorporation of the world into the self. Therefore, it is understandable that this brave person, even at that point, by no means had the feeling that his life, even in its very limited form, had become meaningless, But then came the time when his illness was so advanced that his hands could no longer hold a book, his muscles had become so weak; he could no longer tolerate headphones as they caused him such severe headaches; and eventually he found it difficult to speak, and could no longer hold his spirited conversations with the other patients. Thus, this man was again pushed to one side, rejected by fate, but now not only from the realm of value creation but also from that of experiential value. Due to his illness, this was the situation in his last days. But he was able to extract meaning even from this state of affairs, simply in the position he adopted. Our patient knew perfectly well that his days, or even hours, were numbered. I remember clearly making my rounds as the doctor on duty at the hospital at this time, on this man's last afternoon. As I was passing his bed, he beckoned to me. Speaking with difficulty, he told me that during the senior physician's rounds that morning he had overheard that Professor G. had given orders to give the patient a morphine injection in his last few hours, to ease the agony of his impending death throes. He went on to say that since he now had reason to believe that tonight he would reach that point, he asked me to give him the injection now, during that visit, so that the night nurse would not have to call me especially because of him and disturb me while I was sleeping. In the last hours of his life this man was still intent on sparing others trouble rather than "disturbing" them! Apart from the bravery with which he endured all his suffering and pain, what an achievement, not a professional but an unparalleled human achievement, lies in this simple remark, in his wish to consider others, literally in his last hour!You will understand me if I now state that no terrific advertising graphics, not the best nor the most beautiful in the world (if the patient had created them when he was professionally employed) would have been an accomplishment equal to the simple human achievement that this man demonstrated with his behavior in those last few hours of his life.