Thursday, October 28, 2021

invisible man

 וָאֹמַ֖ר אֶל־אֲדֹנִ֑י אֻלַ֛י לֹא־תֵלֵ֥ךְ הָאִשָּׁ֖ה אַחֲרָֽי׃

Rashi notes that the word אֻלַ֛י here is written chaseir, without the vuv, unlike how it is written earlier in the parsha, so if you didn't know better you might read it as אֵלַי.  The Sanz Klausenberger Rebbe explains that  to be the shliach to find a wife for Yitzchak is not a simple undertaking.  When Hashem came to Moshe and told him that he was to be the go'el of Klal Yisrael, Moshe responded by saying, "Mi anochi?"  Who am I to take on a job like this?  Choose someone more worthy.  Here too, Eliezer worried that his mission might fail because he was not the right one for the job -- who says the right girl will come with ME, אֵלַי?   Maybe someone else better suited would have more success.  A role, a mission, a shlichus has to be undertaken with modesty and humility and cognizance of the responsibility involved.  It is precisely that feeling of unworthiness which made Eliezer successful in completing his task.

We see throughout the parsha that Eliezer does his utmost to take himself out of the picture. Nowhere in the story is his name even mentioned -- he is just referred to as the "eved," Avraham's servent.  He views himself as just an instrument of Avraham's, not a gavra in his own right who deserves the credit.  He davens  הַקְרֵה־נָ֥א לְפָנַ֖י הַיּ֑וֹם, that what happens should be a mikreh, like a chance occurrence (see R' Shimshon Pincus's hesber), not something that happens due to his planning, his input, his effort.  He is willing to take a backseat and let Hashem take control and work things out.  

This same idea is brought out in a diyuk of the Meshech Chochma. Just as Eliezer finishes davening that the right girl should come and offer him water, the Torah tells us וַֽיְהִי־ה֗וּא טֶ֘רֶם֮ כִּלָּ֣ה לְדַבֵּר֒ וְהִנֵּ֧ה רִבְקָ֣ה יֹצֵ֗את.  Grammatically, the words of the pasuk seem out of order.  We would expect it to say וַֽיְהִי טֶ֘רֶם֮ כִּלָּ֣ה ה֗וּא לְדַבֵּר֒. Why does the word ה֗וּא appear before the words  טֶ֘רֶם֮ כִּלָּ֣ה?   Meshech Chochma explains:

דלפי הנראה הבקשה של אליעזר הוא הסיבה ומה שרבקה יצאת וכדה על שכמה הוא המסובב. אולם האמת לא כן כי השם רצה להראות שרבקה בת זוגו של יצחק שם הדברים בפי אליעזר שיעשה נסיון בהשקיית מים וידע מזה שרבקה בת זוגו וא״כ יציאת רבקה הוא הסיבה והמסובב הוא שידבר זה אליעזר בזה שאמר ויהי מה הוא שהיה שהוא טרם כלה לדבר היינו שדבורו היה מהשם ודו״ק בזה.

וַֽיְהִי־ה֗וּא tells us that the situation that was, i.e. the whole test of drawing the water and Rivka's response, was already in place טֶ֘רֶם֮ כִּלָּ֣ה לְדַבֵּר֒ , before Eliezer prayed for it to happen.  His tefilah was not the cause that set events in motion.  Aderaba, it was the events that Hashem had set in motion which caused Eliezer's tefilah.  Hashem put the words in Eliezer's mouth so that when Rivka would pass his test,  it would be clear that she was indeed the one destined for Yitzchak.

Eliezer was just a kli b'yad Hashem, not that his choices, his actions, or even his prayers were the cause of anything.

And that's exactly how he wanted it to be.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

milah done by a katan

Shitas haRambam (Milah 2:1) is that a katan can do milah.  Where did the Rambam get this from?  R' Chaim Kanievski cites the gemara (A"Z 27) that tries to prove that a woman can do milah from the fact that Tziporah did milah.  The gemara rejects the proof and says maybe Tziprah asked someone else to do the milah, not that she did it herself.  Who else could she have asked who was Jewish, says R' Chaim, other than her other son Gershom, who was a katan?    

(Parenthetically, as for how a katan can have kavanah for the mitzvah [as the Minchas Chinuch asks], see the Chelkas Yoav 1:33 who writes that mitzvos tzerichos kavanah only applies when the mitzvah is a one time act, not when it is a 'peulah ha'nimsheches' like milah is.)

R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul quotes a kashe that was asked to R' Chaim on this.  We learned 2 weeks ago that according to shitas haRambam all future descendants Keturah, not just her immediate children, are chayav in milah.  If so, maybe Tziporah asked one of the bnei Keturah to do the milah, not her own son?

R' Chaim answered by quoting a Mes Sofrim that says that when Avraham banished the bnei Keturah, they were imprisoned somewhere and could not escape, and so they could not have been present with Tziporah.  R' Ben Tzion Aba Shaul quotes gemaras that seem to not assume like that Midrash.

Based on the chakirah of R' Erlanger in his Birchas Avraham that we discussed, the kashe is not a kashe.  Yesh lachkor: is the pasuk that is mechayeiv the bnei Keturah in milah a new din, or an extension of the chiyuv milah given to Klal Yisrael?  If it is a new din, then the bnei Keturah cannot be mal someone from Klal Yisrael, as the chiyuv milah is not the same chiyuv, even if it is the same act.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

evolution in reverse

Sanhedrin 108b writes that there were 3 different factions involved in building the tower of Bavel.  One group wanted to go upstairs and fight G-d, one group wanted to live in the heavens, and one group was idol worshippers:

א"ר ירמיה בר אלעזר נחלקו לג' כיתות אחת אומרת נעלה ונשב שם ואחת אומרת נעלה ונעבוד עבודת כוכבים ואחת אומרת נעלה ונעשה מלחמה זו שאומרת נעלה ונשב שם הפיצם ה' וזו שאומרת נעלה ונעשה מלחמה נעשו קופים ורוחות ושידים  ולילין וזו שאומרת נעלה ונעבוד עבודת כוכבים (בראשית יא, ט) כי שם בלל ה' שפת כל הארץ

"And that faction that said: Let us ascend to the top of the tower and wage war, became apes, and spirits, and demons, and female demons." (Sefaria)

The Sheivet Musar ch 48 writes that the reason apes look so much like people and try to imitate the behavior of people is because they in fact were once people before this punishment transformed them into apes.  The theory of evolution in reverse -- apes descend from people!


1) Rashi comments at the beginning of the akeidah:

אחר הדברים – אאחר דבריו של שטן, שהיה מקטרג ואומר: מכל סעודה שעשה אברהם לא הקריב לפניך פר אחד איל אחד. אמר לו: כלום עשה אלא בשביל בנו, אילו הייתי אומר לו: זבחהו לפניי, לא היה מעכב.

According to Rashi, the "achar hadevarim" connects back to the beginning of the previous chapter, to the party that Avraham made when Yitzchak was weaned (or had his milah).  Now, 35 years later, the satan decided to pick on the fact that Avraham made a big party but did not offer any korbanos to Hashem to celebrate.

When I read Rashi, the question that bothered me is why in fact didn't Avraham offer any korbanos, like he did on other occassions?  Of course if asked Avraham would give everything up for G-d, but saying woulda coulda is not the same as his actually having done so.  

R' Shteinmen in Ayeles haShachar and in Y'malei Pi T'hilasecha goes in the opposite direction.  He writes that since there was no question that Avraham would give everything up, the satan's complaint had no merit.  The question that bothers him is why Avraham should have to do an akeidah just to prove such a ridiculous claim empty.  35 years ago he made a party and didn't sacrifice even a pigeon, so now he has to prove himself by sacrificing his son?!

In either case, you have to wonder why the satan would first raise this issue so many years after the fact.  

We know that what a person is held accountable for is relative to the spiritual level they are on.  G-d holds those closest to him to a much higher standard than the average person, who would not be able to stand up to such scrutiny.  Not only does G-d's standard of judgment vary from person to person, but even within a person's lifetime, it can vary.  As a person grows and comes closer to G-d, things that  he got away with earlier now may be counted as a sin and require teshuvah.  Maybe that is what's going on here with Avraham.  35 years ago, when Yitzchak was born, it was enough for G-d to know Avraham's deep love for him; Avraham didn't need to prove it with a korban.  But Avraham had grown in the intervening years.  Other meforshim connect "achar ha'devarim ha'eilah" to the previous episodes of Hagar and Yishmael being driven away, of Avraham's treaty with Avimelech, etc.  Rashi does not directly connect it, but those serve as background -- those were events that shaped and developed Avraham's character.  A kitrug which may have been meaningless and absurd years earlier takes on a different light in context of the more mature Avraham, for whom the bar is raised.   

2) The gemara (Sanhedrin 107) writes that David haMelech asked G-d why we say Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, Elokei Yaakov, but not Elokei David.  Hashem answered that the Avos faced tests which they passed, but David did not have a test.  David responded, "Bring it on!" Or something to that effect.  So G-d tested him with Batsheva, and you know what happened.

David was not tested?  What about all the hardship David had to deal with until that point?  His life certainly was filled with trials and tribulations, difficulties and challenges that seem incredible.

R' Shteinman answers that a true nisayon is one that pushes a person to the brink.  Life can be difficult, life can be challenging, but so long as those difficulties and challenges are within a person's capacity to deal with and withstand, they are not on par with the nisyonos faced by the Avos.  

R' Dovid Povarski writes something similar in Maskil l'David.  When we daven "al tivi'einu l'ydei nisayon," it doesn't mean that life should be easy and without challenges.  A person needs to face challenges and obstacles in order to grow.  What the Avos faced are challenges that are outside the normal derech ha'teva of normal nisyonos of life.  This is what he pray that Hashem does not bring upon us.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

אֵין חָבוּשׁ מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ מִבֵּית הָאֲסוּרִים - when one's own prayers are not enough

When Yishmael was cast into the wilderness and was close to death, the pasuk tells us that Hashem heard his cry and sent an angel to direct Hagar.  Rashi comments (21:17) את קול הנער – מכאן שתפילת החולה מתקבלת מתפילת אחרים עליו.  Meaning, even though the previous pasuk tells us that Hagar herself was weeping due to the distress her son was in, it was Yishmael's own prayers, his cries on his own behalf, not Hagar's, that Hashem responded to because a person's prayers on his own behalf are more efficacious than anyone else's.

Mizrachi asks: the gemara (Brachos 5b) tells us that when R' Yochanan was sick, R' Chanina came to visit him and helped him rise from his sick bed and get better.  

 רִבִּי יוֹחָנָן חֲלַשׁ. עָל לְגַבֵּיהּ רִבִּי חֲנִינָא, אֲמַר לֵיהּ: חֲבִיבִין עָלֶיךָ יִסּוּרִין? אֲמַר לֵיהּ: לֹא הֵן וְלֹא שְׂכָרָן. אֲמַר לֵיהּ: הַב לִי יְדָךְ! יְהַב לֵיהּ יְדֵיהּ וְאוֹקְמֵיהּ.

Asks the gemara: Why did R' Yochanan need R' Chanina's help to remove his illness?  Why could he not help himself?

אַמַּאי, לוֹקִים רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן לְנַפְשֵׁיהּ?

To which the gemara answers that a person who is ill cannot release himself from the bondage of his own illness -- help has to come from outside.

אָמְרִי: אֵין חָבוּשׁ מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ מִבֵּית הָאֲסוּרִים

So how can it be that Yishmael's own tefilos could be more efficacious than the tefilos of his mother?  Aderaba, we see from the gemara that a person who is ill cannot get out of their situation without the help of an outsider!

Mizrachi answers that in reality, if a person can pray for themselves, that is more helpful than anyone else's prayers, but to do so requires the ability to concentrate.  R' Yochanan was so ill that he could not focus, and so he had to rely on R' Chanina's help.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh does not like the whole question. He explains that אֵין חָבוּשׁ מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ מִבֵּית הָאֲסוּרִים does not apply to tefilah because even though it is the sick person himself who is doing the praying, it is Hashem, not the choleh himself, who cures the illness.  

 Maharal's approach is already alluded to in the Tur:  פירש״י מכאן שיפה תפלת החולה על עצמו מתפלת אחרים אע״פ דאין חבוש מתיר עצמו תפלה שאני כדאשכחן בחזקיהו ויסב חזקיהו פניו אל הקיר ויתפלל:

The difference between Maharal and Mizrachi may depend on how you understand how tefilah works here.  As we've discussed a few times (e.g. here, here and others), tefilah is not something supernatural, it's baked in the teva.  Hashem built nature in such a way that prayer has an effect on how it operates (see Maharal in Gur Aryeh on Braishis 2:5).  Maybe Mizrachi held that if that's the case, in the same way that the choleh can take medicine and be מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ, so too his tefilah is מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ .  It's not like Hashem is extending his hand and interfering with nature to pull him out of sickness,, which is how Maharal seems to view it.

Since we were talking about the whole idea of achvah last week, I wanted to mention the Chasam Sofer's answer. C.S. distinguishes between an aku"m and a yisrael.  When we are speaking about an aku"m (like Yishmael), there is no one who comes close to caring for the individual as much as the individual himself, and therefore, despite the limits of אֵין חָבוּשׁ מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ מִבֵּית הָאֲסוּרִים, there is no one else whose tefilah can come close to being as effective as the choleh's own tefilah.  However, when we are speaking about a yisrael, the pain of one Jew is felt by all Jews, and therefore, the tefilah of someone else can be as sincere and meaningful as the choleh's own.  In that case, since  אֵין חָבוּשׁ מַתִּיר עַצְמוֹ מִבֵּית הָאֲסוּרִים , the outsider's tefilah can be more efficacious than the choleh's own (see Ksav Sofer who offers a different answer than his father's).

Monday, October 18, 2021

Fauci vs Science

I would make this a daily or weekly topic but I think I would get sick of it too quickly.  It's like shooting fish is a barrel.

Dr. Fauci: "COVID-19 numbers are getting better. But where they go from here will depend on vaccinations, Fauci says."


Science: "Increases in COVID-19 are unrelated to levels of vaccination across 68 countries and 2947 counties in the United States."

koVei vs koYei

In this past week's haftarah we have the pasuk (Yesh 40:31)

וְקוֹיֵ֤ ה׳ יַחֲלִ֣יפוּ כֹ֔חַ יַעֲל֥וּ אֵ֖בֶר כַּנְּשָׁרִ֑ים יָר֙וּצוּ֙ וְלֹ֣א יִיגָ֔עוּ יֵלְכ֖וּ וְלֹ֥א יִיעָֽפוּ׃

For some reason a lot of people misread that first word as "koVei," but the correct pronunciation is "koYei"  (see Ibn Ezra Shmos 9:3 and Radak here).

In Tehillim 37:9 we have a similar pasuk:

כִּֽי־מְ֭רֵעִים יִכָּרֵת֑וּן וְקֹוֵ֥י ה׳ הֵ֣מָּה יִֽירְשׁוּ־אָֽרֶץ

There the correct pronunciation is "koVei," not "koYei."  

Grammar is not my strong suit, so can someone offer a simple explanation of why what appears to be the same word is pronounced differently in the two pesukim and I will update this post?  

(Radak addresses this issue for anyone who wants to try to summarize what he says.)

Friday, October 15, 2021

too close for comfort

  וַיֹּ֨אמֶר אַבְרָ֜ם אֶל־ל֗וֹט אַל־נָ֨א תְהִ֤י מְרִיבָה֙ בֵּינִ֣י וּבֵינֶ֔ךָ וּבֵ֥ין רֹעַ֖י וּבֵ֣ין רֹעֶ֑יךָ כִּֽי־אֲנָשִׁ֥ים אַחִ֖ים אֲנָֽחְנוּ

Simple pshat I think is that Avraham was saying that since we are "anashim achim," there shouldn't be a fight.  As haKsav v'haKabbalah writes: מצד קרבת משפחה ראוי קרבת הדעת ואהבה זה לזה לא פירוד הלבבות ומריבה  

Netziv comments further on והכנעני והפרזי אז ישב בארץ that והנה המה יושבים בלא ריב ומחלוקת, ובין אברהם ולוט יש ריב, ויהא חילול השם לומר דאמונת אברהם אבינו מביאה לזה.  The Canaani and Prizi managed to live peacefully alongside each other in the same land, so how does it look when Avraham and Lot, the Jews, can't live together without fighting?  A chilul Hashem!

Malbi"m, however, explains that כִּֽי־אֲנָשִׁ֥ים אַחִ֖ים אֲנָֽחְנוּ is part of the explanation of why there IS a fight.  Avraham was saying that had it been anyone else, they would not even be living in close proximity.  It's because he and Lot are related, are close, that they are living on top of each other, and that is causing problems.

IIRC, the Maharal writes (can't recall offhand where, maybe someone will remind me) that the reason Klal Yisrael has so many internal quarrals is because we are more "sichli" than other people.  Ideas and opinions matter to us.  It's not a bug, it's a feature.

The Malbi"m perhaps would say that the reason we have no many internal quarrels is because Klal Yisrael has such a strong sense of "achvah."  It too is a feature, not a bug.  If you don't feel any connection with your neighbor, so you go your way and they go their way. The Canaani don't care that deeply what the Prizi think or do; the Prizi don't care really deeply about their Canaani neighbors.  They do the polite wave when they see each other, some small conversation about the weather and whose turn it is to mow the lawn, but they are not getting together to discuss the meaning of life.  But with us it's not like that.  Because we feel like brothers and sisters, it matters more deeply to us what our neighbor, what the person who sits next to us in shul, is doing or thinking.  That achvah is the motivation for us to go the extra mile when a Jew is in need, but sometimes it can lead us to get too involved where we shouldn't be. 

In the next chapter, where we have the war between the 4 kings and the 5 kings, look at the different ways Lot is described in the following three pesukim:

1) וַיִּקְח֨וּ אֶת־ל֧וֹט וְאֶת־רְכֻשׁ֛וֹ בֶּן־אֲחִ֥י אַבְרָ֖ם וַיֵּלֵ֑כוּ וְה֥וּא יֹשֵׁ֖ב בִּסְדֹֽם

Lot is described as a nephew -- related, but not too closely.  They aimed to capture him because, as Seforno writes, מפני שהיה בן אחי אברם שידעו עשרו, והיו מצפים שיפדהו אברם בהון רב, a rich man like Avraham would pay a price to redeem him.

2)  וַיָּבֹא֙ הַפָּלִ֔יט וַיַּגֵּ֖ד לְאַבְרָ֣ם הָעִבְרִ֑י

Here Avraham is called Ivri.  The "palit" is informing him of Lot's capture not because the "palit" knows they are related, but simply because he recognizes that Lot and Avraham came from the same area, the same side of the river.  Or as Seforno writes לא שידע הפליט שיהיה אברם קרוב ללוט, רק ידע שהיה מחזיק בדעות עבר כמוהו.

3) וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָ֔ם כִּ֥י נִשְׁבָּ֖ה אָחִ֑יו

Why does the Torah even need to added these words?  Obviously if the "palit" told Avraham what happened, he heard the story, so why mention וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע?  

Because Avraham heard much more than he was told.  He didn't hear, "My fellow countryman is in danger."  He didn't hear, "My long lost nephew is in danger."  What Avraham heard is, "My BROTHER is in danger."

That's a whole different attitude.  That's what it means to have achvah.  

 כִּֽי־אֲנָשִׁ֥ים אַחִ֖ים אֲנָֽחְנוּ can be a tremendous thing, can motivate one in a positive way, but a person has to know where and when to give others some distance, so that אַל־נָ֨א תְהִ֤י מְרִיבָה֙

Thursday, October 14, 2021

chiyuv milah for bnei Keturah

The gemara (Sanhedrin 59b) writes that the mitzvah of milah was not given to all bnei noach, but only to Avraham and his descendants.  The gemara has a miyut to exclude Yishmael and Eisav from the chiyuv, but darshens the extra words  אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֖י הֵפַֽר (17:14) as a ribuy to include the children of Keturah.

Rashi and Rambam disagree as to the scope of the chiyuv.  Rashi comments לרבות בני קטורה. אותם ששה לבדם ולא זרעם אבל אברהם נצטווה לכל הנולדים לו that it only the direct children of Keturah who are chayav in milah, but not their descendents.  The Rambam, however, paskens (Hil Melachim 10:8)

 אמרו חכמים שבני קטורה שהם זרעו של אברהם שבא אחר ישמעאל ויצחק חייבין במילה. והואיל ונתערבו היום בני ישמעאל בבני קטורה יתחייבו הכל במילה בשמיני. ואין נהרגין עליה.  

Since the Rambam speaks about the chiyuv for bnei Keturah b'zman ha'zeh, we see that he holds all future descendants of Keturah, not just the first generation, are chayav.

Earlier this week R' Avraham Erlanger, R"Y of Kol Torah and author of the Birchas Avraham series on various masechtot, passed away at age 90.  Whenever I look at the B"A I am always taken by its clarity and the neat way he is able to boil down complex ideas into neat formulations.  He was a master of lomdus.

He poses the following chakira on this din: is the chiyuv for bnei Keturah an extension of the same chiyuv milah that was given to Avraham and his children, or is it a new din, a new chiyuv?

Nafka minah: the Achronim (Pitchei Teshuvah YD 264:5) debate according to the Rambam who holds all descendents of bnei Keturah are chayav whether they can be mal a Jewish baby.  R' Elanger suggests that this issue may depend on his chakirah.  If the chiyuv for bnei Keturah is a new din, then just like an aku"m cannot be mal because they are not included in the command of וְאַתָּ֖ה אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֣י תִשְׁמֹ֑ר given to Avraham, so too bnei Keturah.  But if the chiyuv for bnei Keturah is an extension of the mitzvah given to Avraham, then they are included in whatever command he was given.

Not mentioned by the Birchas Avraham is the very strange comment of Ramban on Devarim (2:4)  אֲחֵיכֶ֣ם בְּנֵי־עֵשָׂ֔ו:

טעם אחיכם בני עשו – שיחוס ישראל מן אברהם, וכל זרעו אחים, כי כולם נמולים. וזה טעם: לא תתעב אדומי כי אחיך הוא (דברים כ״ג:ח׳). רק בני הפילגשים, ישמעאל ומדין וכל בני קטורה, אינם באחוה מן הכתוב: כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע

According to Ramban, the descendants of Eisav are called our brothers because they have a milah, as opposed to the descendants of the bnei pilagshim, i.e. Ketuah, who don't.  

The exact opposite is true!  Bnei Eisav have no chiyuv milah; bnei Keturah do.

Whatever the pshat with respect to his comment re: bnei Eisav is, we can at least salvage the line about bnei Keturah with the Birchas Avraham's chakira.  The descendants of Keturah are chayav in milah, but that is not the same chiyuv as our chiyuv; therefore they do not share a bond of achvah with us.  (See Chemdas Yisrael p 112)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

don't look to others

R' Aharon mi'Karlin:

לך לך מארצך וכו'. היינו שצריך כ"א לראות לעשות הליכה לעצמו לכל דבר שבקדושה הנצרך לו. ולא להיות ח"ו משועבד לשום דבר שבעולם רק לשעבד א"ע להקב"ה כמ"ש חז"ל אם אין אני לי מי לי. ואל יסמוך עצמו ח"ו על חבירו. הגם שכל ישראל ערבים זה לזה. היינו שהם מעורבים זה בזה ויאמר הרי יש לי חלק במצות שעשה חבירי. ח"ו. רק שצריך כ"א לייגע עצמו בתורה ולא להיות ח"ו עומד רק צריך לילך בכל יום מדרגא לדרגא ולא יעמוד במדרגה אחת ח"ו. וכמו שאמר א"א זצוק"ל על זה דאיתא בגמרא. אכל ועמד שתה ועמד כו' הרי זה מתחייב בנפשו. רק האדם מחוייב לילך תמיד מעלה מעלה. וזהו כוונת הכתוב לך לך מארצך. היינו מהארציות שלך. וממולדתך. היינו שיש דברים שההולדה מקלקל וכו'. רק אל הארץ אשר אראך ואז ואעשך לגוי גדול:

The last point is a play on Shabbos 129b

 דְּאָמַר מָר: חֲמִשָּׁה דְּבָרִים קְרוֹבִין לְמִיתָה יוֹתֵר מִן הַחַיִּים, וְאֵלּוּ הֵן: אָכַל וְעָמַד, שָׁתָה וְעָמַד, יָשֵׁן וְעָמַד, הִקִּיז דָּם וְעָמַד, שִׁימֵּשׁ מִטָּתוֹ וְעָמַד

Pshat in the gemara is not to eat and then immediately get up, drink and immediately get up, etc. but rather a person should pause a bit before resuming activity.

He is homiletically interpreting the words to mean that a person should not get caught up in food and drink etc. and then stand, i.e. not move forward in life.  

issur of limud torah for an aku"m -- issur gavra or issur cheftza

Noach was told to take 7 (or according to some, 7 pairs of ) kosher animals.  Rashi explains that we see from the fact that Noach knew which animals were kosher that למדנו שלמד נח תורה, Noach much have learned Torah.

Maharal in Gur Aryeh asks: והא דאמר בפרק ד׳ מיתות (סנהדרין נט.) גוי שלמד תורה חייב מיתה.  An aku"m is not allowed to learn Torah?

I was wondering the same thing and thought the simplest answer, which is the answer Maharal gives, is that this issur only kicked in after mattan Torah.  The source for the issur is ואמר ר׳ יוחנן נכרי שעוסק בתורה חייב מיתה שנאמר  תורה צוה לנו משה מורשה לנו מורשה ולא להם.  The Torah is like a an arusah which is betrothed to us.  Mattan Torah was that betrothal.  

The Levush Orah, however, does not buy it. According to L"O, the only different mattan Torah made is viz a viz what is permitted to a yisrael or what became prohibited.  It can't be that mattan Torah is mechadseh a new issur for a ben noach -- viz a viz them, nothing changed.

His solution to the Maharal's question is that noach was mahul, and a ger who is mahul is allowed to learn Torah.  What about Avraham who learned Torah even before his milah?  L"O answers that this is b'geder sod.  

It could be Maharal does not disagree with L"O's premis that mattan Torah is not mechadesh issurim for a ben Noach.  The issur was there all along.  What was not there was a cheftza shel Torah for the issur to be chal on.  There may have been a collection of laws, an understanding of what the ratzon Hashem is, but that is not the same as a cheftza shel Torah. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

Sarah's beauty

Commenting on וַיְהִ֕י כַּאֲשֶׁ֥ר הִקְרִ֖יב לָב֣וֹא מִצְרָ֑יְמָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־שָׂרַ֣י אִשְׁתּ֔וֹ הִנֵּה־נָ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֛י אִשָּׁ֥ה יְפַת־מַרְאֶ֖ה אָֽתְּ׃ Rashi writes that  מדרש אגדה: שעד עכשיו לא הכיר בה מרוב צניעות שבשניהם.  Unbelievable -- Avraham never looked at his wife until that point?  He didn't know that she was beautiful?

R' Yehuda Leib Sorotzkin explains that when we look at our spouse, we take the whole person into account -- their personality, their behavior, everything about them.  It's the whole package that makes him or her seem beautiful to us.

Until this point, when Avraham looked at Sarah, of course she appeared beautiful to him, but that was because when he saw her he was also looking at the pnimiyus of who she was, the whole picture, including the depths of her personality.

This was the first time that Avraham took account only of the chitzoniyus, the way the Mitzrim looked at people, and became aware that even on that level alone Sarah was beautiful.

true information, false conclusion?

I saw an ad in a newspaper signed by a bunch of doctors advocating vaccines for everyone, including youth.  In one of their bullet points they say that the dangers of Covid to young people far outweigh the reported side effects of the vaccine.

I think this is an example of true information being used to advance a questionable conclusion.

There are two problems with the argument:

1) It confuses relative risk with absolute risk.

If a contractor were to offer to sell you a home upgrade that reduces the potential damage stemming from a tornado by 99%, you might still turn down the improvement.

But why?  Are you anti-protecting your home from tornado damage?

Of course not.  But here in NY the chance of your home being damaged by a tornado is so small that the advantage being offered is of little value. 

The 99% figure is relative risk; you need to look at absolute risk.  If the odds of tornado damage are a million to one, reducing those odds to a billion to one, a huge relative decrease, has no value because a million to one odds is something we can happily live with.  

So too with vaccines.  The odds of a child suffering death or serious illness from Covid is very, very small.  Even if vaccines reduce that risk further, that does not mean the vaccine is necessary or worth it.  

2) But what can it hurt?  To use my analogy, let's say the contractor was willing to install the upgrade to your home at no cost to you.  Why not do it?

And so the contractor installs a 5 ton piece of machinery on your roof at no cost and with no downside... until 10 years down the road and your roof needs to be replaced before anyone else's because the weight has unexpectedly caused it to buckle.  And 15 years later the foundation on the side of your house the machine was installed on starts to settle faster.  And then you go back to the contractor and he pleads innocence because he did his due diligence at the time of installation and these outcomes years later were entirely unexpected.  Besides which, his company was granted immunity from lawsuits by the gvt.

There are no long term studies of the effects of these new vaccines.  Could be there will be no problems down the road.  Could be there will be.  I don't know.  I don't know how your doctor can know.  Does the benefit warrant the risk?  

I think people tend to confuse knowledge with judgment.  A doctor has much greater knowledge of medicine than the lay person, but being qualified to diagnose and treat illness is not the same as being qualified to weigh risks and benefits and conclude with certainty which course of action is best.  

Only engineers, for example, have the technical know-how to build a bridge from point A to point B, but I hardly think that means only engineers are qualified to asses whether it is worth it for a city to invest in actually doing so.   

Lastly, in all discussions of this type one cannot avoid the issue of trust.  Do you trust what the government or big pharma tells you about these vaccines?  (Your local doctor takes marching orders/gets his or her knowledge from the FDA, CDC, local health authorities.  He/she is not an independent research lab.)

Just last week the President announced that, "“You’re not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations.”  This is a lie.  

Just last week emails from a Senior Director of Pfizer were revealed stating, "“The risk of communicating this [the use of fetal cells in testing the vaccine] right now outweighs any potential benefit we could see, particularly with general members of the public who may take this information and use it in ways we may not want out there.” 

In other words, we at Pfizer can choose what to reveal to the public and what not to reveal based on what they perceive to be the risk or benefit to our agenda.  Given statements like these, it is hardly conspiracy theorists alone who begin to wonder what else they are not telling us.

Scary stuff.  Not to mention the heavy handed censorship across the board, on social media, in the main stream media, etc. of all views (including those of doctors) that deviate from the approved orthodoxy regarding treatment of covid and vaccines, the labelling of people who dare raise questions as anti-vaxxers, and so on.  

I am not saying not to get your child vaccinated.  I am not saying you should. I am saying it is a decision that needs to be carefully considered and is far less black and white than these type ads lead one to believe.

Friday, October 08, 2021

when crazy becomes the norm

 R' Bachyei 8:14 writes:

 ואעפ״כ לא יצא עד שהורשה לצאת ואמר לו הקב״ה צא מן התיבה כי מפני שבא לתוכה מפני מצות ה׳ יתעלה לא רצה לצאת משם כי אם במצותו.

ואמרו במדרש כי מכאן למדו חנניה מישאל ועזריה שלא רצו לצאת מתוך כבשן האש עד שצוה להם המלך,

Noach did not leave the teivah until he was ordered to by G-d.  Chananya Mishael and Azarya did not leave the burning furnace they were throw in until ordered by G-d.

You would think someone trapped in a boat for a year, or someone tossed in a burning furnace would leave as soon as the opportunity presented itself.  But no -- Noach waited, Ch"M"v'Az waited until they were ordered out before leaving.

No matter how difficult the condition, people become acclimated to it and will refuse to deviate, even to return to what once the status quo.

Look what has happened to our own society in less than 2 years.  Will we ever return to normal?  Do people even remember what normal is anymore?

Thursday, October 07, 2021

gezel on less than a perutah

The gemara (Sanhedrin 59) writes that there is never a case where something is assur for a ben noach but permitted for a yisrael.  Mitzvos raise the bar on what we can or cannot do, they don't lower it.  Asks the gemara: what about stealing less than a perutah, which a ben noach is chayav for but not a yisrael?  Answers the gemara: התם משום דלאו בני מחילה נינהו.  

Rashi explains:  שאף ישראל נצטוו על הגזל אלא שפחות משוה פרוטה אינו נחשב גזל בעיניהם שעוברין על מדתן שרחמנין הן ומוחלין על דבר קל אבל בני נח אכזרים הם  A yisrael in theory is also chayav on gezel of less than a perutah, but we are nice guys and are mochel on such a trivial amount.  The beni noach are sticklers and they are makpid, so they are chayav.

When the Rambam in the beginning of hil geneiva quotes the issur of stealing even less than a perutah, the Magid Mishne explains: דין שוה פחות מפרוטה בממון כדין חצי שיעור באיסורין.  The shiur of the issue gezel is a perutah; less than that is an issur of chatzi shiur.  (Agav, there are shitos that hold that chatzi shiur only applies by issurei achila.  This M"M clearly disagrees).  If so, the reason why a ben noach is chayav has nothing to do with mechila or no mechila.  The reason why a ben noach is chayav is because, as the Rambam writes in hil melachim (9:10) שלא ניתנו השיעורין אלא לישראל בלבד, the concept of shiurim was given only to yisrael and not bnei noach.  A yisrael is exempt from the mitzvah of hashava, returning the stolen goods, because the amount is less than the shiur (this assumes there is no din of chatzi shiur on a mitzvas aseh); the same is not true for a ben noach for whom there is no threshold of a shiur.

The Minchas Chinuch (130:4) has a few nafka minos between these explanations:

1) gezel from a katan - according to Rashi, a yisrael should be chayav to return the money because a katan cannot be mochel.  The same would be true if the nigzal openly declares that he is not mochel.  However, according to the M"M, the ganav would not have to give the $ back because it is less than the shiur for the mitzvah of hashavah.

2) tziruf - according to Rashi, even if you steal multiple times, so long as each act of theft was on less than a perutah, the owner is mochel on each theft independently.  According to M"M, the owner is never mochel, so if the sum total of all the thefts adds up to more than a perutah, it must be returned.

3) change in value - according to Rashi, once there is mechila, the stolen goods belong to the thief even if the value later goes up.  According to M"M, there is never mechila, so if the value of the stolen goods becomes greater than a perutah, it must be returned.

4) kiddushin - if you put together the stolen amount with more $ and use it to be mekadesh a woman, according to Rashi the kiddushin is chal since there was mechila and the thief owns what was stolen.  According to the M"M, not.   

5) lachem - the MG"A (637:3) quotes the Yeraim that even if gezel aku"m is mutar, it is not lachem, so you should not steal an esrog from a nochri.  This fits well according to M"M that there is never mechila.  But according to Rashi, if gezel aku"m is mutar, then the aku"m probably gives up hope of getting his esrog back since he has no legal recourse, and so would be mochel.  

the month of smell

 בספר יצירה המליך אות נ' בריח

I make no pretense to understanding anything the Sefer Yetzira is talking about, but maybe here we can get a me'eyn of the idea based on what we've learned in the past.

The Midrash in Parshas Noach comments on the pasuk "Vayarach Hashem es rei'ach ha'nicho'ach" that Hashem was smelling not just the fragrant odor of Noach's korban, but was also smelling Avraham in the furnace of Nimrod, he was smelling Chananya, Mishael, v'Azarya in their oven, he was smelling the sweet scent of all those who sacrifice their lives al kiddush Hashem. 

When you walk through the front door of your home on Friday afternoon, you know what is cooking and your mouth begins to water even before you see get to the kitchen.  The aroma of the Shabbos food causes us to anticipate Shabbos, to anticipate the meal ahead, and our mouth starts watering.  Similarly, even though Avraham hadn't come on the scene yet, Chananya, Mishael and Azarya were in the distant future, as was the sacrifice of so many others, Hashem already "smelled" and anticipated what was coming.  That whiff the future proved that there was hope for mankind.

The Bnei Yisaschar writes in many places that in describing the sin of eitz hadaas (Braishis 3:5)  וַתֵּ֣רֶא הָֽאִשָּׁ֡ה כִּ֣י טוֹב֩ הָעֵ֨ץ לְמַאֲכָ֜ל וְכִ֧י תַֽאֲוָה־ה֣וּא לָעֵינַ֗יִם וְנֶחְמָ֤ד הָעֵץ֙ לְהַשְׂכִּ֔יל וַתִּקַּ֥ח מִפִּרְי֖וֹ וַתֹּאכַ֑ל every sense of the body is mentioned -- Chavah saw the tree, she listened to the nachash, she touched the tree, she ate of its fruit -- except the sense of smell.  That one aspect of man remains untainted perhaps because it is a link to the future, to a time when man will once again achieve a full tikun.

Rosh Chodesh too is a holiday of smell, of anticipation.  The Shem m'Shmuel (Noach 5675) writes that the letters of the word for moon, "yareiach" = yud, reish, cheis, are the same letters as "rei'ach"=reish, yud, cheis.  Rosh Chodesh comes when the moon is just a sliver, but we look forward to the day when we sill see "ohr ha'levanah k'ohr hachamah."  We say in Kiddush hachodesh, "David melech yisrael chai v'kayam," in anticipation of the restoration of malchus beis David.  

Chazal tell us that the letter nun was left out of ashrei because it portends nefila, downfall.  Cheshvan is a month bereft of holidays, the month when Yeravam setup his avoda zarah that split the kingdom in two.  

What Sefer Yetzira is telling us (see Shem m'Shmuel Noach 5675) is that the letter nun of nefilah, the letter of Marcheshvan, is tied together with the sense of smell because downfall is not permanent.  Every setback goes hand in hand with anticipation of something better coming in the future, of greater aliya. 

Wednesday, October 06, 2021


The gemara (Meg 27b) has a din that one should not use the bathroom right after finishing shmoneh esrei until one has waited the time it takes to walk 4 amos.  The gemara explains:  אמר רב אשי שכל ד"א תפלתו סדורה בפיו ורחושי מרחשן שפוותיה  Tefilah does not end the second you finish the last word -- it takes a moment to "recover" from the experience provided one is locked in and engaged as one should be.  It is like one's lips are still moving even after one has ceased to say the words.

This sevara of מרחשן שפוותיה is almost the exact letters as the name of our month, מרחשׁון (no, I am not going to debate you if you insist the name is חשׁון).  Derech remez, it defines the essence of our month.  Tishrei is the month of tefilah, of teshuvah, of making a kabbalah to achieve more.  It's not all over once Tishrei ends.  רחושי מרחשן שפוותיה - the prayers of the chagim are over, but it's like our lips are still moving.  We have to carry the experience and that high level of engagement into the next month and forward into the rest of the year. 

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

scooters on shabbos

I've noticed around my neighborhood that riding scooters on shabbos now seems to be a thing.  Meaning, it's not just being done by 5 year old kids, but it's common to see even kids who are of chinuch age (and I've even seen kids over bar mitzvah with scooters and skateboards), and even kids who I would say, judging by their dress and their parents, go to more RW schools riding their scooters in the streets.  For some reason riding a bike is just not done on shabbos by anyone (at least I've never noticed it being done), but a scooter is perceived to be a different animal entirely.

There are three reasons you can't ride a bike on shabbos (Tzitz Eliezer vol 7 # 30, see also here):

1) Uvdin d'chol

2) gezeira lest one leave the techum

3) gezeira lest one come to fix the bike - tikun maneh

Some would add 4) plowing up dirt if you ride over earth.

You can ride a bike for miles, but I don't think the same is true for a scooter, so maybe we can knock off #2.  Similarly, scooters have hard tires that don't go flat and don't have a chain that can fall off, so maybe #3 is not an issue.  But what do you do with #1?  I've never really been clear on how to define uvdin d'chol.  Obviously not everything we do on a weekday is automatically prohibited on shabbos -- uvdin d'chol seems limited things that diminish the kedushas ha'yom in some way or have some connection to a melacha.  Maybe people view a bike as a regular mode of transportation just like cars, and maybe a scooter is just a toy?  

R' Melamed in Pninei Halacha writes that he feels the argument to be stringent is more compelling than the argument to be lenient. Shemiras Shabbos 16:17 writes that even skating should not be done on shabbos, and he allows only a tricycle to be ridden by a little child.

Puk chazei that the velt seems regard scooters as heter gamur, but I'm not sure if that is out of ignorance or whether there are some poskim who are matir and their view has somehow become the norm.

Monday, October 04, 2021

cover up

I would imagine that those who recite the 13 ikkarim every day assume that just like "adam nifal k'fi p'ulosav" (as the Chinuch writes many places), so too, by  saying the words if the ikkarim again and again it will inculcate those beliefs.  However, in R' Baruch Sorotzkin's sefer on chumash he says the opposite -- reciting the words without first fully believing in the ikkarim inculcates the midah of sheker.  Interesting.

He has a very nice pshat in what it means that Adam discovering his nakedness after the sin of eitz ha'daas.  Why does the Torah single this out? B'shlama if the Torah had told me that after eating the eitz ha'daas Adam now understood quantum mechanics, neicha, but how big an IQ do you need to know you are naked?  

No one who is already wearing clothes says, "I'm naked and need something to cover myself up."  The person understands that they are their body, and the clothes are a separate covering, and so you don't need a covering to the covering.

Before the sin of eitz ha'daas Adam identified who he was as a neshoma.  The physical body was just a covering for the true self.  M'meila, there was no need for clothes because you don't need a covering on top of a covering.

After the sin of eitz ha'daas, Adam's perspective switched and he identified his true self as the guf.  If the guf is the self, then the guf needs a covering, and so he discovered his nakedness.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Ishbitzer on the name Chavah

This upcoming Monday is the yahrzeit of my MIL and the divrei torah should be l'iluy nishmasa.

The parsha tells us that Chavah was called by that name because she was "aim kol chai," the mother of humanity.  Why is Chavah given all the credit for being the mother of all future generations of humanity, but Adam gets no credit for being the father of humanity?  Why is there an "aim kol chai" but not an "av kol chai?"  

Ohr haChaim explains that Chavah was called by that name after she was given the punishment of "harbeh arbeh itzvoneich v'heironeich," of suffering pain during childbirth.  And it's not just during childbirth.  We know the difficulties involved in raising children fall primarily on the mother.  Who stays up nights when a child is sick?  Who does the child run to when they are crying, when they are hungry, when they are tired?  It's always the mother.  The title "aim kol chai" is earned the pain and suffering of raising children, and no one can equal a mother in that regard.

Beis Yaakov (Ishbitz - Braishis #67) gives a different explanation of why Chavah was given this name here, and it's one that you should definitely say over to your wife this Shabbos.  When woman is first created, Adam is told that she will be an "eizer k'negdo," a helpmate.  In other words, someone who could help Adam accomplish whatever he set out to accomplish.  

Left to his own devices, in a million years Adam would never have dreamed of eating the fruit of the eitz ha'daas.  That idea only came from Chavah.   Without getting into the nitty-gritty of the Ishbitzer's approach to that sin (and sin in general), suffice it to say that l'asid lavo that sin will be rectified and be revealed as having brought something powerful and great into the world.  

Adam now understood that his wife, "ishto," is much more than an "eizer," someone who can help him get where he wants to go.  

  והכיר בה שלא לעזר בלבד נתנה לו, אבל היא מנשאת אותו בדרכי השי"ת בדברים שהם למעלה מתפיסת שכלו.  

His wife is the one who can take him even to places and inspire him to do things that he never would have dreamed of by himself.  

  ועיקר החיים שופע לו ממנה, לכן אמר, כי היא היתה אם כל חי, היינו שממנה הכל

Therefore, Adam now names her Chavah, the "aim kol chai," because he recognizes her as the mother of all the chiyus in the world, including the chiyus that he attains himself by growing beyond what he perceives as his limits.

The job of a mother and a wife is not just to help you become all that you think you can be.  It's to help you become even more than you think you can be.