Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Mesech Chochma on the "matarah Elokit" of yetzi'as Mitzrayim

The gemara (Sanhedrin 111) links "v'lakachti eschem li l'am" with "v'hei'veisi eschem el ha'aretz" and teaches that just as only Yehoshua and Kaleiv, 2 out of 600,000 of those who left Egypt, made it to Eretz Yisrael ("...v'hei'veisi"), so too, only 2 out of 600,000 actually left Egypt ("v'lakachti") -- the rest died in makas choshech.  Meschech Chochma writes that Chazal are trying to tell us that quantity does not matter to G-d.  All the makos and all the miracles done for Klal Yisrael in the desert were worth it if even just 2 out of 600,000 people would achieve the "matarah Elokit," the Divine purpose and end goal.  He adds that therefore one should not grow despondent when seeing how the masses remain unresponsive to the dvar Hashem.  That's just the way things work -- it is a few individuals who are truly inspired and committed, but in their merit, G-d protects our entire nation.

R' Moshe Tzuriel in his Derishat Tzion calls attention to the Meshech Chochma's phrase "ha'matarah ha'Elokit."  What indeed was the purpose and end goal of yetzi'as Mitzrayim?  Wasn't it mattah Torah?  Didn't the entire nation, all 600,000+, not just 2 people, merit standing at Sinai and hearing the dibros?   Clearly that's not the "matarah" the Meshech Chochma was speaking of.  The Torah is a blueprint, but what good is a blueprint, a plan, which is never brought to fruition?  The end goal, the "matarah," was building a nation in Eretz Yisrael.

To put what I think R' Tzuriel is saying a little more starkly, yesh lachkor: is the purpose/matarah of Klal Yisrael to learn and keep Torah, and having Eretz Yisrael is just a means to that end, or is the goal/matarah to build a nation, which means having our own country, and the Torah is a means, an instruction book, on how to go about doing that? 

"Eretz Yisrael einena davar chitzoni, kinyan chitzoni la'umah, rak b'tor emtza'i l'matarah shel ha'hisagdut ha'kelalit v'hachzakat kiyuma ha'chomi oh afilu ha'ruchani..."  (First sentence in Rav Kook's Orot)

Without "v'hei'veisi," the goal remains incomplete and the "matarah" is not achieved.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Torah needs a context of shared experience

Although Moshe takes his wife and child(ren - see Ramban) along when he departs Midyan to go back to Mitzrayim, it is not clear that they actually completed the journey with him.  "Vashav artzah Mitzrayim" (4:20) -- HE returned -- singular, implying Moshe alone came back.  We know from Parshas Yisro that Moshe's family rejoined him at that point in time, meaning that at some point they separated.  Ibn Ezra writes that Moshe sent his family back after stopping at the inn to mal his son.   Ramban suggests that Moshe's family might have came back to Mitzrayim, but Moshe may have sent them back to Midyan because Tziporah missed her father. 

Ramban quotes a Midrash:  Yisro asked Moshe where he is bringing his wife and kids.  Moshe replied that he is taking them back to Mitzrayim.  Yisro then asked: the people stuck in Mitzrayim want to get out -- why would you bring your wife and kids into such place!?  Moshe answered: eventually those enslaved will be freed and come to Har Sinai to hear "Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeisicha mei'Eretz Mitzrayim," I am G-d who took you out of Egypt.  If my sons don't go back, they will not be privileged to hear those words.  After hearing that answer, Yisro consented for them to leave.

Why did Moshe think that if he doesn't take his family back to Mitzrayim they would not hear "Anochi Hashem Elokecha...?"  According to some views Yisro and Moshe's family rejoined him post-yetzi'as Mitzrayim before mattan Torah.  Not being in Egypt did not preclude them being present at mattan Torah.  Even according to the view that Yisro and Moshe's family rejoined him later, there seems to be no logical or logistical reason they could not have come earlier to be present at mattan Torah.  Why did Moshe think that it was impossible?

I think what Chazal are telling us is that the same words "Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeisicha..." carried a far deeper more significant meaning for the person who had been enslaved in Egypt and was redeemed by G-d than they did for the person who had not been there.  Moshe was telling Yisro that if his children do not taste the bitterness of exile and experience the joy of redemption, they will miss that depth.  Yes, they might be there to hear the words, but those words will not mean the same thing to them. 

When we hear words of Torah, it's not just a text.  It's a description of our shared experience, and it's that shared experience that gives it context and meaning. 

Friday, January 05, 2018

our unique definition of freedom

Why is Hashem so insistent that Moshe Rabeinu be the one to go to Mitzrayim and lead Bnei Yisrael to redemption?  Moshe's argument that Aharon be the one to go seems to make a lot of sense: Aharon had been with the people in Mitzrayim, unlike Moshe who had to flee and was out of contact with them; Aharon was a great communicator; Aharon was a "rodef shalom" and had the personality for the job.  Why did G-d reject the obvious choice and demand the Moshe himself go?

On Jan 1 we had the pleasure of hearing a shiur from Rav Aharon Kahn in which he explained that the choice of Moshe was necessary as it served to define our unique concept of freedom.  In America, by way of analogy, we a Declaration of Independence and a Constitution.  Tzvey dinim, if you will.  The Declaration of Independence states our grievances with King George and says we are free.  But freedom in the Declaration has no boundaries -- there is no system of law, there is no framework of a government.  It was only years later that the colonies came together to create the Constitution and establish a framework of law so that they could function together as a nation.  The concept of freedom and the concept law, with its restrictions, are two totally separate ideas. 

Moshe was a man of din, Aharon of rachamim, peshara.  Moshe therefore was inevitably going to be the one to bring down the Torah to Klal Yisrael.  Moshe Rabeinu, G-d insisted, must therefore also be the man to lead Klal Yisrael out of Egypt.  Unlike the American system, the secular system, where freedom and law stand apart, in Judaism freedom and law are inextricably linked. 

"V'zeh lecha ha'os ki anochi shilachticha -- ta'avdun es ha'Elokim al ha'har ha'zeh."  The meforshim are all bothered: how could mattan Torah, which would only happen weeks after yetzi'as Mitzrayim, serve as a sign for the people to believe Moshe?  Rav Kahn suggested that Hashem was not giving Moshe a sign to present to Klal Yisrael.  He was giving Moshe a sign, an explanation, for himself personally.  "LECHA ha'os" -- like in the parsha of tefillin, where Chazal darshen "lecha l'os -- v'lo l'acheirim" with respect to tefillin shel yad -- "ki anochi shilachtiCHA," why YOU, and not Aharon or anyone else is being sent.  The reason is "ta'avdun es ha'Elokim al ha'har ha'zeh," because you Moshe are the vehicle through which mattan Torah will take place.  Therefore, you must also be the vehicle by which geulah from Mitzrayim takes place.  The two must go hand in hand.

There is no break between our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution.  We go from being avadim of Pharoah to being servants of Hashem, bound to his law.  "Ain lecha ben chorin elah ha'osek baTorah."  This is our unique approach -- freedom and law are intertwined.

This is the argument on Pesach night between the rasha and the chacham.  The rasha argues, "Mah ha'avodah ha'zos lachem?"  It's the holiday of freedom -- why are you bothering me with all these halachic details?  Freedom means I can do what I want.  But the chacham's approach is "ain maftirin achar ha'pesach afikoman" -- freedom means halacha.  Freedom means law. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

education is not about having a good job

Rabbi Dr Aaron Twerski writes in Crain's that the success some hareidim achieve in the business world proves that the education in hareidi schools is more than adequate to  meet the needs of the secular world.

One can debate how many B&H Photo-like successes stories it takes to outweigh the many sad stories of hareidim who remain unemployed and unemployable due to lack of basic skills.  However, I think R' Twerski's piece suffers from a more basic error: Education does not mean having a good job. There may be some correlation between the two, but they certainly are not identical.

If the entire purpose of education was to allow one to succeed in business, I would say we should end school at about sixth grade, or certainly by the end of elementary school.  (Some of you, like me, may be old enough to remember Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.)  We should abolish algebra and trigonometry from the curriculum (it would certainly spare me my daughter's constant whining, "Why do we have to learn this?!")  We should forget about challenging students to read Hamlet or Lear, to learn about other parts of the world, to discover something of past history, or to study other living creatures. 

None of the above will help them run a business.  None of the above are required to succeed at most professions.  It will help them, however, appreciate their humanity, their past, the world around them.  In other words, it will make them educated.

R' Twerski, this is what is lacking in the hareidi school system.   

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

the bracha of self awareness

Ya'akov's final charge to his children concludes, "V'zos asher dibeir lahem avihem vayivarch osam..." (49:28)  This is the blessings that he gave them. 

Blessings?  Reuvain was told that he is impetuous.  Shimon and Levi were told that they were guilty of murder, that they angered too quickly and plotted to do wrong.  What kind of blessings are these?  Ibn Ezra (48:1) writes in fact that what Ya'akov told his children was not a bracha -- it was a nevuah of their future.  Afterwards, "vayivarech osam..." he gave them some blessing that is not recorded, but what was said until that point was prophecy (see also Ohr haChaim 49:28).

Ralbag disagrees and says that yes, even what was said to Reuvain, Shimon, and Levi is a bracha.  It's a bracha to know you are impetuous.  It's a bracha to know you anger easily.  It's a bracha to know you are aggressive.  When a person recognizes their own personality traits -- and I deliberately say traits and not flaws -- then they can control and channel those traits properly.  It doesn't have to be a flaw if you are aware of it and manage it properly.  The bracha Ya'akov gave his children is the bracha of self-awareness.

Monday, December 25, 2017

bracha on shul talis

The M"B paskens in 14:11 that if a person takes a shul talis to get an aliya or daven for the amud he is obligated to say a bracha on the talis.  The logic here is that the shul talis is jointly owned by everyone in the shul.  Therefore, just like you would say a bracha on your own talis, you should say a bracha on the shul talis.

Maybe I am wrong, but my impression is that most people do not recite a bracha when they take a shul talis to daven for the amud.  Maybe the reason why is because if you fast forward to the M"B in 18:5, there he paskens that anyone who davens for the amud, even someone who says kadish, needs to put on a talis; however, since he is just wearing the talis for kavod tzibur and not as a garment, no bracha is recited.

I am not sure how you get these two M"B's to fit together.  In 14:11 M"B applies the sevara of the garment being worn only l'kavod tzibur only to a talis borrowed from another individual.  It sounds like the concern is that since you are borrowing the talis only for the purpose of kavod tzibur, the person lending it is not really makneh it to you for use as a garment.  However, if the talis belongs to you, or is the shul talis, i.e. it belongs to everyone, then even if you put it purely l'kavod tzibur, a bracha is required.  Yet this seems to fly in the face of the psak in 18:5.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

ha'od avi chai?

"Ani Yosef -- Ha'od avi chai?" 

Surely Yosef was aware that his father was still alive, as he had been told so already numerous times by his brothers.  Yehudah had just finished arguing that Binyamin must be allowed to return home lest his absence cause Ya'akov's death.  So what was Yosef asking?

Rashi in Parshas VaYeishev (37:2) tells us that Ya'akov and Yosef shared many similarities.  Not only were their life stories similar, but, says Rashi, they even looked alike.

Yosef therefore wondered: granted that when he left home he was still young and had no beard, but even so, how could his brothers fail to recognize him?  He was the spitting image of their father -- how could they stand before him, eat with him, meet with him multiple times, and fail to see that it was him? 

Perhaps, worried Yosef, a little too much of Egypt had rubbed off on him.  Perhaps that resemblance to Ya'akov, which was as much a product of a spiritual resemblance as much as physical looks, had been lost. 

Yosef's first question therefore was "Is my father still alive?" -- do you see his image alive within me?  Do I still resemble my father?   Or have I become just another Egyptian?

"V'lo yachlu echav la'anos oso ki nivhalu mi'PANAV."  Suddenly the brothers saw the truth -- the face they were looking at, the face of Yosef, was the face of Ya'akov Avinu.  Despite all that had happened, their brother Yosef had not lost that resemblance, physical and spiritual, to their father Ya'akov.

Isn't this the question we all need to ask ourselves?  When we look in the mirror, do we see our parents and grandparents reflected there?  "Ha'od avi chai?"  Or do we see a foreign face, someone with foreign values and a foreign lifestyle, someone who looks nothing like the past that he/she came from?

(Based on R' Chaim Charlap's Mayan Chaim here)