Monday, November 28, 2022

the "seudas mitzvah" that Eisav prepared

Last week I mentioned R' Sadya Gaon's chiddush that Yitzchak sent Eisav out to hunt game for him because אבל הבאת דבר מיגיעו ועמלו {של בנו} היתה לו לנחת רוח.  Yitzchak was not really a connoisseur.  You see that he could not tell the difference between fresh game meat and the goats that Rivka had Yaakov prepare.  What made the food that Eisav served special is the effort that Eisav put into getting it.  It's like when your kid brings home a work of "art" from school that you post on the wall or the fridge.  It's not the beauty of the picture that makes it special -- it's the effort of the child to make it which does.

On Shabbos I said over this RS"G and added that R' Tzadok haKohen in Pri Tzadik writes that what made Eisav's food special to Yitzchak is that it was infused with the mitzvah of kibud av v'eim, the one mitzvah that Eisav excelled in.  It was a seudas mitzvah -- the mitzvah of kibud av!  That's why, explains R' Tzadok, Rivka had to COMMAND Yaakov to listen to her and prepare the goats,  וְעַתָּ֥ה בְנִ֖י שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלִ֑י לַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אֲנִ֖י מְצַוָּ֥ה אֹתָֽךְ (27:8)  Had she not done so, Yitzchak would have immediately known that it was not Eisav because the taam of kibud av would be missing.  By ordering Yaakov to listen to her, Rivka created an opportunity for Yaakov to fulfill kibud eim and infuse the goats with that same taam.  

2) Rashi explains that Yitzchak warned Eisav to go out to the forest to hunt and not bring him stolen food.  וצודה לי – ולא מן הגזל.  If Yitchak thought Eisav was a good guy, why would he need to warn him not to steal?

Maharal in Gur Aryeh answers:

מן ההפקר. ואף על גב שהיה עשו בחזקת כשרות, היה צריך להזהירו שלא יצוד חיות ועופות בסמוך לעיר, כההיא דתנן מרחיקין מן העיר, דלאו ודאי גזל הוא, והיה יצחק סבור שמא יעלה על דעתו שכבוד אב ואם דוחה אסור דרבנן, דהיינו ספק גזל - דדבריהם, ולפיכך הזהירו שגם זה לא יעשה, אלא ירחיק מן העיר.

I am not sure how to explain this hava amina (for whatever a hava amina is worth) that a mitzvah d'oraysa might be doche a safeik issur gezel derabbanan.  The safeik gezel is a dinei mamanos issue, so sfeika derabbanan l'kula does not come into play (and were it that simple you would not need dechiya).  


How much does "diversty" and LGBTQ+ rights really matter to those who trumpet their support for such things?  In the case of World Cup athletes, we now know the answer.  No less than seven European countries planned to have their teams or team captains wear a rainbow colored armband to indicate their support (or so CNBC tells me) of "diversity and inclusion," whatever that means.  However, FIFA disapproved of the move and threatened to sanction teams for doing so by issuing a yellow card to players who violate the rules.

Now, I am admittedly not a big soccer fan, so maybe I don't see things quite the way fans do, but from what I understand a yellow card is just a warning.  The player has not yet been ejected, but would be if a second yellow card were issued.  Once a player gets 2 yellows, they are also automatically have to miss a match.  So it is a pretty steep penalty.  But it's also just a penalty.  Against just ONE player. In what is just a GAME. 

What does it say about the character of players whose commitment to human rights is shut down because they may get a warning penalty in a mere game? 

Friday, November 25, 2022

how to deal with an Eisav

Rashi comments on the pasuk  וַֽיִּגְדְּלוּ֙ הַנְּעָרִ֔ים וַיְהִ֣י עֵשָׂ֗ו אִ֛ישׁ יֹדֵ֥עַ צַ֖יִד אִ֣ישׁ שָׂדֶ֑ה וְיַעֲקֹב֙ אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֔ם יֹשֵׁ֖ב אֹהָלִֽים that it was not until Yaakov and Eisav became gedolim, after bar mitzvah, that they went their seperate ways, one to the beis medrash, the other to avodah zarah:

 כל זמן שהיו קטנים לא היו נכרים במעשיהם. הגדילו,ב זה פרש לבתי מדרשות וזה לעבודה זרה

Yet a few pesukim later we read that Yaakov was cooking red lentil soup, and Rashi there explains that this was a seudas havraah, as Avraham had just died at the age of 175, 5 years before his expected lifetime, so that he should die in peace and not witness his grandson Eisav go off the derech:

שאותו היום מת אברהם, שלא יראה את עשו יוצא לתרבות רעה, ואין זו שיבה טובה שהבטיחו המקום, לפיכך קיצר חמש שנים משנותיו. שיצחק חי ק״פ, וזה מת בן קע״ה, ובישל יעקב עדשים להברות האבל. 

Simple math: Yitzchak was born when Avraham was 100, and 60 when Yaakov and Eisav were born.  That would make Yitzchak 75 and Yaakov and Eisav 15 when Avraham died.  If Eisav already went out to do עבודה זרה when he became a gadol, at bar mitzvah, as the previous Rashi tells us, where is the  שיבה טובה that was promised?  It was already 2 years too late!

Answers the Maharal in Gur Aryeh:

נראה דלא קשה, דאף על גב שהיה פורש לעבודה זרה - לא עבדה ולא עשה מעשה, אלא פורש אחריה ללמוד דרכה, דלא קאמר ד׳עבד עבודה זרה׳, אלא ׳פירש לעבודה זרה׳, ואין זה עדיין תרבות רעה:

We already saw this same idea a few parshiyos ago.  Rashi comments on וַיִּסַּ֥ע ל֖וֹט מִקֶּ֑דֶם (13:11) that הסיע עצמו מקדמונו של עולם, Lot turned away from G-d.  I once quoted the Alter m'Kelm who points out that we see that Lot risked his life to fulfill the mitzvah of hachnasas orchim even in Sdom; according to Rashi he baked matzah and celebrated Pesach there.  Does this sound like someone who has run away from G-d and religion?!  Answers the Alter of Kelm that we see from the pesukim that Lot cared more about pasture for his flocks than in being around Avraham Avinu.  You eat the most kosher matzah, do mitzvos, dress the dress and walk the walk, but if your value system is off, that's הסיע עצמו מקדמונו של עולם.

Eisav did not become a practicing pagan at age 13.  He still walked the walk and talked the talk of a frum Jew.  Avraham could have  שיבה טובה because he did not see his grandson engaging in any wrong behavior.  However, Eisav's value system was off.  His interests were elsewhere, not Torah and mitzvos.  

(R' Chaim Shmuelevitz (quoted in the Mir Yeshiva parsha sheet) asks: Chazal tell us that it was only that very day of Avraham's death that Eisav went out to do aveiros,  א״ר יוחנן, חמש עבירות עבר אותו רשע ביום ההוא.  What then was Yaakov's hava amina to ask his brother to sell the bechorah?  R' Chaim answers that Yaakov understood Eisav's character from the way he spoke.   הַלְעִיטֵ֤נִי נָא֙ מִן־הָאָדֹ֤ם הָאָדֹם֙ הַזֶּ֔ה Rashi explains  אפתח פי ושפוך הרבה לתוכה, shovel the food down my throat.  Someone who speaks like that, who is so controlled by his appetite, is someone who will easily walk away from the bechora.  According to the Maharal, the question doesn't get off the ground.  Eisav was already a  פורש from the beis medrash from earlier.  He may not have actively engaged in aveiros yet, but his heart and mind were no longer engaged.) 

The question is how do you deal with an Eisav?  How do you keep him from drifting away?

When Yitzchak decided it was time to give the brachos, he called Eisav in and he told him וְעַתָּה֙ שָׂא־נָ֣א כֵלֶ֔יךָ תֶּלְיְךָ֖ וְקַשְׁתֶּ֑ךָ וְצֵא֙ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה וְצ֥וּדָה לִּ֖י צָֽיִד , to take his bow, his knife, his tools of the trade, and go out to the field to hunt some game and prepare a meal.  

Why did Yitzchak need to send Eisav on this mission?  Yitzchak had flocks of sheep; surely there was some lamb chops or mutton in the freezer that Eisav could have cooked up a meal with.  It would have been a lot easier than hunting fresh game in the wild!

My wife's grandfather, R' Dov Yehuda Shochet, answered that the value a person places on something is in direct proportion to the effort put in to acquire it.  Chazal tell us (B"M 38a)  רוצה בקב שלו מתשעה קבין של חבירו.  Rashi explains: חביבה עליו על ידי שעמל בהן .  Yitzchak wanted Eisav to value the brachos; therefore, he forced him to work for them, to put in a huge effort.  

I wanted to share with you a different answer given by the Alshich.  According to the Alshich, Yitzchak knew that Eisav was a man of the field.  Yitzchak knew that Eisav hunted not just animals, but he preyed on people as well, and he had a wild streak in him.  

Rather than try to turn Eisav into another Yaakov, into something he was not and could not be, Yitzchak took a different approach:

 ע"כ התחכם ויאמר לו עשה זאת איפה. והפך נא כל מעשה רשעתך לטובה כי הכלים אשר תעשה בם לסטאותך בהם תעשה מצותי זאת. וזהו שא נא כליך תליך וקשתך ובמקום אשר תעשה הרעות הוא השדה הידוע לך כד"א ויבא עשו מן השדה כי היה יודע ציד איש שדה שם עשה המצוה הזאת, וזהו וצא השדה ומעשה הרעה הוא הצידה אשר תצוד נפשות עתה צודה לי ציד כלומר מה שהיא ציד ולא מה שאינו ציד. באופן שתהפך כל הכנות רשעתך לטובה

Yitzchak's command of  וְצֵא֙ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה וְצ֥וּדָה לִּ֖י צָֽיִד echoes the pesukim from earlier in the parsha.  You're an  אִ֛ישׁ יֹדֵ֥עַ צַ֖יִד?  Great, so go צ֥וּדָה לִּ֖י צָֽיִד and fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av.  Instead of וַיָּבֹ֥א עֵשָׂ֛ו מִן־הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה וְה֥וּא עָיֵֽף from doing who knows what wrongdoing, צֵא֙ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה and accomplish something positive there.  Take the same kelim that you use for robbery and who knows what else and use them to make a delicious meal.  Use your talents for good.  

The pasuk doesn't say צד; it says  וְצ֥וּדָה לִּ֖י צָֽיִד.  The point is not to command Eisav to hunt -- that's who Eisav is, it's not something he has to be told to do.  The point Yitzchak was making is WHAT to hunt.  צ֥וּדָה לִּ֖י צָֽיִד, as opposed to preying on people or doing other wrong.

Coming back to my wife's grandfather's point about Yitzchak surely not lacking for food at home, R' Saadya Gaon comments : וצודה לי ציד – לא היה צריך שיביא לו עשו, כי צאנו ובקרו רבים היו, אבל הבאת דבר מיגיעו ועמלו {של בנו} היתה לו לנחת רוח.  By deliberately sending Eisav out to hunt instead of taking a ready made meal at home Yitzchak was validating who Eisav was and showing appreciation for his talents and efforts.  

That's the secret to dealing with Eisav.  Why didn't it work?  Why in the end did Eisav remain a rasha?  I don't have an answer.  But I don't think it means the approach is wrong or doomed to failure.  Not everyone can be an אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֔ם יֹשֵׁ֖ב אֹהָלִֽים.  It's not one size fits all.  Everyone has their talents and abilities that can be channeled for good, valued, and appreciated.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

no room for reflection?

I didn't bother to read the article in the Atlantic about COVID "amnesty" or any of the many reactions to it.  I can understand why someone who was barred from being with a loved one at their time of death, or someone who lost a job, or someone whose spouse is suffering from depression or alcoholism, or any of the many terrible outcomes that resulted from misguided Covid policies would refuse to simply brush off the harm that was done (and that continues to be done) in the name of public health.  Dr Scott Atlas recently said that Dr Fauci is guilty of presiding over "the biggest failure in public health history."  I would say there is plenty of blame to go around and Dr Fauci is not the only one at fault.  

Yet at the same time, I think the Atlantic piece is important.  The article may be self serving, an attempt to exculpate wrongs rather than answer for them, but it's at least a first step, a start to raising the uncomfortable question of whether all that was done -- the lockdowns, the forced vaccinations, etc. -- was justified.

What troubles me is that there has been no effort, at least that I have seen, within our community to consider the same issue.  Was closing shuls for so long really justified?  Was firing teachers who were unvaccinated?  If you like, you can ask whether the community was too slow to react to the dangers of the virus or whether there was more that could have been done?  Either way, the issue deserves reflection.

I do not think it is fair to say that the question is strictly an issue for the medical community or a public health issue and not a religious/halachic issue.  In other words, I do not think it fair to say that the Rabbis and leaders in the community were simply following the dictates of public health and medicine and therefore are excused from any onus of responsibility.  Medical professionals are biased, like all people.  Political and financial motives affect their decision making; their judgment and reasoning can be as faulty as anyone else's.  (Recommended reading: False Positive: A Year of Error, Omission, and Political Correctness in the New England Journal of Medicine by Theodore Dalrymple.)  Just today, Dr. Jha, the head of the White House Coronovirus response team, said, "We can prevent every covid death in America" if everyone gets their booster.  This is an obvious lie.  Many, many people who have been vaccinated and gotten boosters continue to die with Covid.  Were someone to take this doctor's word at face value and declare that getting a booster is a matter of pikuach nefesh, as it assures one of avoiding death from Covid, that person would be a fool. A declaration by a medical professional does not excuse one from thinking critically, examining the evidence, and considering other points of view.  One need not be a doctor to form an informed opinion on a public health issue issue any more than one need have a PhD from the Harvard School of Government to have an informed opinion on foreign policy.  So no, the onus is not on the public health community alone.  The onus is also on the Rabbinic and lay leadership of the religious community to reflect on whether their decisions/psak were arrived at through an informed, unbiased assessment of the differing opinions and information that was available, or whether they perhaps uncritically followed and were too easily led by modern shaman down wrong paths, perhaps paved with good intentions. 

For someone, either a layperson or a leader, to think that their community -- whichever community it is and however they handled the response to Covid -- got it 100% right and there is no need for further reflection and consideration, to me is just another mistake among many of the Covid era.

seudas havraah; halacha k'divei ha'meikil b'aveilus vs safeik derabbanan l'kula

Rashi tells us, echoing the Midrash, that the lentil soup that Yaakov prepared was ובישל יעקב עדשים להברות האבל.  Chasal Sofer and others ask: the din is that seudas havraah must come from someone else; the aveil cannot use his own food.  אמר רב יהודה אמר רב אבל יום ראשון אסור לאכול לחם משלו (Moed Katan 27b).  Yaakov was a poor kollelnik who was someich al shulchan aviv -- he lived with his parents and did not have his own job or means of support.  How then was he able to make a seudas havraah for his father?  The meal he prepared was Yitzchak's own food!

Aruch haShulchan (Y.D. 378) writes that the chiyuv seudas havraah applies specifically to eating bread:

ונראה דהעיקר הוא הלחם, כלשון הכתוב. וכן לשון הגמרא שם: אסור לאכול לחם משלו, עיין שם. אבל תבשילין יכול לאכול משלו. וכן המנהג שמביאין להאבל לחם וביצים בלבד.

If so, it could be that Yaakov did serve Yitzchak's own food, and the real kiyum of seudas havraah was in eating bread from someone else.  (I would say it's still ktzas kashe to explain the words להברות האבל in Rashi.)

If this Ah"S is correct, it means aveilim have to be careful to make sure to wash before shekiya of that first day of aveilus to fulfill eating the seudas havraah (assuming the chiyuv is on them to eat, as opposed to the chiyuv being on others to offer them food.)  

I saw R' Shternbruch (Shu'T Teshuvos v'Hanhagos III:380) quoted as holding that even though the S"A paskens like most Rishonim that the chiyuv seudas havraah applies only to the first meal eaten, one should, if possible, be machmir like the minority view that holds all meals eaten in the first day (note the gemara's language: אבל יום ראשון) should come from someone else.  

He says a bit of lomdus and distinguishes between the din of safeik derabbanan l'kula and halacha k'divrei ha'meikil b'aveilus.  Sfeika derabbanan l'kula is an allowance to follow the more lenient view, but the issue remains unresolved; therefore, a person certainly deserves and gets credit for going the extra mile to be machmir.  Hilchisa k'divrei ha'meikil b'aveilus is because we do not want a person to engage in excessive mourning where there is no need to do so.  In these cases, you don't get extra credit for taking on more grief.

Halacha k'divrei ha'meikeil b'aveilus, R' Shternbruch argues, only applies to the nihugei aveilus like not washing, not wearing leather shoes, etc.  The din of seudas havraah is not a din in aveilus, but is done either 1) because we are afraid the aveil would be so consumed by grief that he would forget to eat, or 2) as an expression of nechama.  The reason we follow the lenient view and only require one meal is because of the din of safeik derabbanan l'kula.  Therefore, there is certainly something to be gained in this case by covering all bases.

Monday, November 14, 2022

why Sarah became the superior prophet to Avraham

1) A fantastic Meshech Chochma on last weeks parsha:

Meshech Chochma points out that when the malach appears to Hagar to tell her that Yishmael will live, he calls to her from the heavens:  וַיִּקְרָא֩ מַלְאַ֨ךְ אֱלֹקים ׀ אֶל־הָגָר֙ מִן־הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם (21:17).  However, in Lech Lecha, when Hagar was first driven out by Sarah, a malach appears and speaks to her directly, not just as a voice echoing from the sky:  וַֽיִּמְצָאָ֞הּ מַלְאַ֧ךְ הֹ׳ עַל־עֵ֥ין הַמַּ֖יִם בַּמִּדְבָּ֑ר עַל־הָעַ֖יִן בְּדֶ֥רֶךְ שֽׁוּר  וַיֹּאמַ֗ר הָגָ֞ר שִׁפְחַ֥ת שָׂרַ֛י אֵֽי־מִזֶּ֥ה בָ֖את וְאָ֣נָה תֵלֵ֑כִי (16:7-8)  Apparently Hagar had somewhat of a spiritual downfall from the time she was first driven from Avraham's house and was no longer worthy of having that direct form of conversation with angels appearing on her level, only of hearing the voice echoing from above.

But don't we find that after the akeidah Avraham too was addressed by a malach that only called to him from the heavens,  וַיִּקְרָ֛א מַלְאַ֥ךְ הֹ׳ אֶל־אַבְרָהָ֑ם שֵׁנִ֖ית מִן־הַשָּׁמָֽיִם!?

Answers the Meshech Chochma: when performing the akeidah Avraham was like the kohen gadol entering the kodesh kodashim on Y"K.  At that moment, no one can be present in the Kd"k, not even an angel.  The angel called to Avraham from the heavens not because Avraham was not worthy of seeing him directly, but aderaba, because the angel was unworthy of being in that holy place where the akeidah occurred.

2) I think my wife'e favorite pasuk in Braishis may be כֹּל֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר תֹּאמַ֥ר אֵלֶ֛יךָ שָׂרָ֖ה שְׁמַ֣ע בְּקֹלָ֑הּ (21:12) : )  Rashi comments: למדנו שהיה אברהם טפל לשרה בנביאות  Sarah was able to see things that Avraham could not, and therefore he was told to listen to her.

Of course Sarah is one of our great Imahos, but Avraham was not lacking in greatness either, so how is it that he did not measure up to Sarah's prophetic ability?  

Earlier in the parsha, G-d decided to reveals to Avraham what will his plan is for Sdom (18:17-19:

 וַֽהֹ׳ אָמָ֑ר הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה׃

וְאַ֨בְרָהָ֔ם הָי֧וֹ יִֽהְיֶ֛ה לְג֥וֹי גָּד֖וֹל וְעָצ֑וּם וְנִ֨בְרְכוּ־ב֔וֹ כֹּ֖ל גּוֹיֵ֥י הָאָֽרֶץ׃

כִּ֣י יְדַעְתִּ֗יו לְמַ֩עַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ הֹ׳ לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא הֹ׳ עַל־אַבְרָהָ֔ם אֵ֥ת אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֖ר עָלָֽיו

Rash is already bothered by the lack of connection between the second statement, the fact that Avraham was involved in passing on his legacy of derech Hashem to his children and grandchildren and followers, and the first statement, Hashem's rhetorical question, "Can I hide from Avraham what I plan to do?"  

Chasam Sofer writes that many prophets, e.g. Yirmiyahu, Yishayahu, etc. were able to prophetically see not just events that would occur in their immediate environment, but they prophesized to the world at large as well, to Mitzrayim, to Ashur, to other nations.  The saw the future of the world as a whole, on a vast, global scale.  Avraham, however, if not for G-d's deliberate effort to reveal it to him, was unaware even of what was in store for the nearby city of Sdom.  Why?  Because Avraham was involved in teaching his children, his followers, about G-d, about monotheism, about the 'derech Hashem.'  According to the Meshech Chochma, this pasuk of  לְמַ֩עַן֩ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ הֹ׳ is the source for the mitzvah of chinuch.  You can't spend your time in a meditation, seeking prophetic insights, involved in your own growth, when you have a household to train and educate, when you have an outreach program to run.  A guy out there on a college campus giving classes to the barely religious and trying to pull together meals for them every shabbos and programs for during the week can't be expected to be immersed in every sugya the way someone sitting in beis medrash all day with nothing else on their plate is.  

G-d therefore said that it's not fair here,  הַֽמְכַסֶּ֤ה אֲנִי֙ מֵֽאַבְרָהָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר אֲנִ֥י עֹשֶֽׂה, that Avraham should be blind to what's coming just because his involvement in other areas of avodas Hashem deprives him of the time or kochos to work on his own personal development, his own prophetic ability.  

The gemara in Nazir (29) tells us  איש חייב לחנך בנו במצות ואין האשה חייבת לחנך את בנה.  A woman is exempt from the mitzvah of chinuch.  For the sake of derush let's not get involved in nitpicking on the details of that sugya -- that's what the words say.  If so, the mission of אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְצַוֶּ֜ה אֶת־בָּנָ֤יו וְאֶת־בֵּיתוֹ֙ אַחֲרָ֔יו was perhaps Avraham's mission, but not Sarah's.  Undoubtedly she would have helped him, but it was his primary role, not hers.  

Therefore, perhaps Sarah had more time to herself, to develop her gift of prophecy, in ways that exceeded Avraham's ability.

Thursday, November 10, 2022

motivation to pass the test

 On the way to the akeidah, Avraham took some things along:

 וַיִּקַּ֣ח בְּיָד֔וֹ אֶת־הָאֵ֖שׁ וְאֶת־הַֽמַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת

Rashi comments:

מאכלת – סכין, על שם שאוכלת בשר, כמה דאתה אומר: וחרבי תאכל בשר (דברים ל״ב:מ״ב), ושמכשרת בשר לאכילה.

דבר אחר: זו נקראת מאכלתא על שם שישראל אוכלין מתן שכרה.

It's called a מַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת and not a 'sakin' because we eat the rewards of this knife forever after.

What are Chazal trying to teach us with this derash?  That we enjoy eternal reward for akeidas Yitzchak?  Don't we know that without a derash on the single word מַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת? 

What Chazal were commenting on, says Sefas Emes, is how Avraham Avinu motivated himself for the test of the akeidah.  How does a person rise to such a challenge?

Chazal answer that וַיִּקַּ֣ח בְּיָד֔וֹ, the motivation that Avraham took in hand, is the מַּאֲכֶ֑לֶת, the fact that שישראל אוכלין מתן שכרה.  Avraham took to heart that his actions would reflect not just the strength of his own beliefs, but would reverberate through history and have an impact on future generations.  The relationship between present and future cuts both ways -- future generations draw inspiration and meaning from Avraham's passing the test of the akeidah, and Avraham in turn drew inspiration from the thought of future generations riding on his coattails.

The Sefas Emes uses this same idea elsewhere.  For example, the Midrash writes that had Reuvain known the Torah would write that he saved Yosef from the pit he would have carried him home to Yaakov on his shoulder.  It's not that Reuvain was out for fame and would have behaved differently had he known his actions would be front page news.  Sefas Emes explains that what Chazal are telling us is that Reuvain would have behaved differently had he known that his actions constitute "Torah," i.e. something that generations would be impacted by and learn from.  When you know that your actions have an impact on generations to come, it changes your behavior, it pushes you to do more.  

Monday, November 07, 2022

put it on the company's tab

 After his battle against the kings, G-d appeared to Avraham to promise

אַל־תִּירָ֣א אַבְרָ֗ם אָנֹכִי֙ מָגֵ֣ן לָ֔ךְ שְׂכָרְךָ֖ הַרְבֵּ֥ה מְאֹֽד׃

Rashi comments: אחר שנעשה לו נס והיה דואג שמא נתקבל שכר כל צדקותו, לכך אמר לו: אל תירא אנכי מגן לך – מן העונש על כל אותן נפשות שהרגת. ומה שאתה דואג על קיבול שכרך – שכרך הרבה מאד.

In other words, this one is a freebie.  Whatever miracles, whatever siyata d'shemaya it took to win that war does not take anything away from Avraham's ultimate reward in store in olam haba.  

R' Shimshon Pincus in his sefer on chumash quotes from the AR"I that the word מָגֵ֣ן in the pasuk is like the Aramaic word מגנא, free.  I don't know why he had to go to the ARI" when the Netziv explains that this is how the Midrash learned the pasuk:

אנכי מגן לך שכרך הרבה מאד – פירש רש״י שירא מן העונש שהרג כמה נפשות, על זה אמר הקב״ה ״אנכי מגן לך״, ודאג עוד פן קיבל את שכרו בשביל הנס על זה אמר ״שכרך הרבה מאד״. ובאמת תרי אמוראי אינהו, ר׳ לוי ורבנן, חד אמר שירא מן העונש או ממלכי אומות העולם, וחד אמר שירא מקבלת שכר. והנה למ״ד שירא מן העונש, מפרש המקרא כמשמעו — ״אל תירא אנכי מגן לך״, והסיום ״שכרך הרבה מאד״ לא קאי להא ד״אל תירא״, ומילתא בפני עצמו הוא, ולא משום שירא מזה אלא הבטחה בעלמא. אבל למ״ד דירא מקבלת שכר וא״כ קאי ״אל תירא״ על ״שכרך הרבה מאד״, וא״כ האיך מפרש ״אנכי מגן לך״. משום הכי איתא במדרש ׳כל מה שאני עושה, בחנם אני עושך עמך, ושכרך משלם הרבה מאד׳, ומפרש ״מגן״ לשון תרגום ׳בחנם׳, ואינו אלא בתורת דרש וכוונה שניה. אבל לפי הפשט קשה להבין. ועל כן פירש רש״י שתי הכוונות יחד, ללמד דגם למ״ד ד״אל תירא״ קאי על ״שכרך הרבה מאד״, קאי גם על ״אנכי מגן לך״. אבל הרי במדרש מבואר דחולקין.

Be that as it may, the question R' Pincus then asks (which the Netziv also raises) is why this should be so.  R' Pincus quotes the baalei musar as warning that one can consume one's olam haba even in olam ha'zeh.  R' Yisrael Salanter compared this world to a hotel where anything and everything is available, but everything in turn has a price.  A plate of tzimmis, he said, can cost all of olam ha'ba.  Meaning, if your enjoyment in olam ha'zeh is so great, if that plate of tzimmis, or the Yankee tickets, or the new car, are so valuable and so important to you, then you've got your olam ha'ba right there already.  There is nothing left to pay out in the next world.  If everything has a cost, if everything has a price, then how can it be that Avraham got a freebie?  And what can we do to make sure that we don't end up paying too high a price, to ensure that even if we don't get a freebie, we are not consuming all of our rewards in the here and now and not leaving anything over?

He has six different approaches to answer the question, of which two very similar ones are:

1) When the company you work for tells you to go to a conference or an event, the hotel does not give you a bill when you check out.  The company pays the cost.  Some of my colleagues volunteer for these things because they love the fact that they can order a steak from room service, they can have a valet park their car, etc. and it's all paid for.  Everything Avraham Avinu did was for the sake of the company -- l'shem shamayim.  The biography of R' Yaakov Herman is called All for the Boss because that's how he lived his life -- every action and decision was determined by ratzon Hashem, not selfish motives.  When that's how you behave, then the Boss upstairs picks up the tab and there is never a cost to you.

2) When the owner of the hotel's son stays for a few days, he can sleep in the most expensive suite, he can whatever he likes off the menu, and no one is going to hand him a bill.  Banim atem l'Hashem Elokeichem.  If we act like Hashem's children in this world, then we don't have to worry about exhausting our expense account.

above the mazalos

 Avraham is told by the bris bein ha'besarim (15:5):

 וַיּוֹצֵ֨א אֹת֜וֹ הַח֗וּצָה וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ הַבֶּט־נָ֣א הַשָּׁמַ֗יְמָה וּסְפֹר֙ הַכּ֣וֹכָבִ֔ים אִם־תּוּכַ֖ל לִסְפֹּ֣ר אֹתָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ כֹּ֥ה יִהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ׃

Rashi quotes from the Midrash:

והמדרש: צא מאיצטגנינות שלך, שראית במזלות אינך עתיד להעמיד בן. אברם אין לו בן, אברהם יהי לו בן, שרי לא תלד, שרה תלד. אני קורא לך שם אחר וישתנה המזל

Don't think your fate is governed by mazal.  You, Avraham, are above the mazalos.

Says the Sefas Emes, the promise of כֹּ֥ה יִהְיֶ֖ה זַרְעֶֽךָ means the same applies to us.

Just like papa Avraham, Klal Yisrael's fate is l'maalah min ha'teva, not determined by mazal.

we don't live in a bubble

This article is one of the best I have read on why you should vote Republican, and I think when you examine the reasons it's easy to guess why some communities like Satmar have done the wrong thing and endorsed Hochul and other D's in NY.  

My guess is that certain communities are convinced that they live in a bubble, isolated from society at large, and therefore whether this candidate or that promotes LGBT... (I lose track of all the letters in use these days) rights, whether they waste money on fruitless "climate change" policies, whether they allow abortion even post-birth, whether the public schools are destroyed, whether criminals roam the streets outside their bubble, etc. all don't matter.  These are non issues in the bubble.  

What then does matter?  Here's a great example.  The D candidate has honed in on one thing that will get the community endorsement  -- $$$.  Bring home the bacon.  Large government means large $ to funnel to those who depend on it.  

The problem is that no community is a bubble anymore.  The trends in society at large eventually make it into our communities, some more so, some less so.  I am not just talking about criminals that roam the streets freely in NY and are now a danger to our communities.  In 1996 then President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage bill into law, defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.  These days, D's cannot even define what a woman is anymore.  I am talking about issues like that.  In 1996, an LGBT whatever club in YU would have been unthinkable.  Yet look at where we are today.  

It would be nice if we were to care about what happens in society at large lishma, i.e. because we want the world to be a better, more moral, safe, equitable place to live.  But even if all the motivates us is a selfish concern for our own small corners of the world, we cannot turn a blind eye to what is going on out there.

Thursday, November 03, 2022

pshat vs practice in anti-discrimination law

From The Great Unwokening, a summer 2022 article in The Claremont Review of Books:
Though our landmark anti-discrimination laws were written in race-neutral terms, the main purpose of the 1964 Civil Rights Act was to correct laws and social conventions which discriminated against a specific group: black Americans. Talmudic scholars have a term, peshat, to describe the form of interpretation that restricts itself to a text’s surface meaning alone. The peshat of the 1964 law, then, would suggest that there should be no legal or moral difference between a white person discriminating against a black person, and a black person discriminating against a white person. But in practice the latter conduct is defined as reverse discrimination, frequently said either not to exist or not to matter. That is to say, discrimination by whites, and not against them, is what really counts as discrimination in civil rights law as practiced, despite the law’s surface appearance.

A second important element of the contrast between peshat and practice in our civil rights law is that we keep identifying new classes of people, in addition to blacks, against whom discrimination is prohibited. For our purposes, the key additional prohibitions forbid discrimination by whites against racial minorities in general, by men against women, and, nowadays, by straights against gays or by the “cisgendered” against the “gender non-conforming.” Strictly speaking, the text says that all discrimination according to “race,” “sex,” and “gender” is prohibited. In practice, though, we have created certain “protected classes,” defined as those “minority groups” against whom one may not discriminate. Members of these groups have learned, thanks to the law, to see themselves as deserving special protections in the aggregate. In other words, the way we have enforced our civil rights laws since 1964 has fostered what we might call protected class consciousness. Moreover, for convenience of enforcement, we put all members of protected classes on one side of every conflict and, well, straight white males on the other.

no place like home

Our parsha tells us that there was a massive war of five kings against four. It must have been a humanitarian disaster involving death, destruction, loss of property.  However, it is not until Avraham hears that his own family member Lot has been captured, וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע אַבְרָ֔ם כִּ֥י נִשְׁבָּ֖ה אָחִ֑יו, that he moves to intervene.  Had Lot not been involved, presumably Avraham would have sat on the sidelines and watched these nation clans beat each other to death.  Maybe we don't need to jump into every case of crisis in the world and offer our help.  Maybe this case is different because going to war is a sakana, and therefore the risk of providing aid has to be balanced against personal cost.

Later in the parsha Avraham famously asks G-d how he can be sure that his children will be the ones to inherit Eretz Yisrael, בַּמָּ֥ה אֵדַ֖ע כִּ֥י אִֽירָשֶֽׁנָּה (15:7)  "Yerusha ain lah hefesk" -- G-d's promise amounts to an eternal kinyan, an unbreakable claim to Eretz Yisrael granted to the Jewish people, even if we are exiled, even if we are banished for centuries.  How is such a thing possible?  G-d responds,  וַיֹּ֣אמֶר לְאַבְרָ֗ם יָדֹ֨עַ תֵּדַ֜ע כִּי־גֵ֣ר׀ יִהְיֶ֣ה זַרְעֲךָ֗ בְּאֶ֙רֶץ֙ לֹ֣א לָהֶ֔ם וַעֲבָד֖וּם וְעִנּ֣וּ אֹתָ֑ם אַרְבַּ֥ע מֵא֖וֹת שָׁנָֽה.  The simple reading is that G-d does not answer Avraham's question, but rather tells him that because of his question, his lack of faith, his children must suffer the penalty of exile.  R' Yaakov Moshe Charlap, however, suggests that G-d here has in fact provided an answer to Avraham.  כִּי־גֵ֣ר׀ יִהְיֶ֣ה זַרְעֲךָ֗ בְּאֶ֙רֶץ֙ לֹ֣א לָהֶ֔ם, your children may suffer exile, but the lands they go to will always be foreign lands to them, "lands not their own."  No matter how many centuries pass while we are in exile, no matter where we find ourselves, there will aways only be one home for us, and that is Eretz Yisrael.