Thursday, October 19, 2017

the one word diffence between ya'aleh v'yavo in tefilah vs bentching

Over Yom Tov I reminded my family of a halacha that will come up once again on Rosh Chodesh when we have the addition of ya'aleh v'yavo in our davening and bentching.  If you look in your bentcher, you will see one little difference in the way ya'aleh v'yavo appears there from the way it appears in the siddur: the word melech in ki K-l melech chanun v'rachum atah is in parenthesis.  This is based din in O.C. 188:3  The Shulchan Aruch says that when you mention malchus beis David (rachem... al malchus beis David m'shichecha) in the third bracha of bentching you should not mention the malchus of Hashem along side it, e.g. a person should not say malchuscha u'malchus beis David, as if one were to do so it would give the impression that one is equating the malchus of Hashem with another malchus.  Adds the Rama, that the same principle holds true at the end of the bracha as well and the word melech should be left out of ya'aleh v'yavo.  That being said, the Rama continues and says that he has noticed that the minhag does not follow this recommendation.  Achronim (see Taz) try to justify the common practice, but the Aruch haShulchan writes that has noticed that where he lived people do in fact follow the Rama and leave the word melech out.  Now that I've made you aware of the issue, you can start leaving it out too : )

One other interesting note on the parsha: Chazal (Sanhedrin 58) darshen from the words "yom v'layla lo yisbosu" that an aku"m who observes a day of shabbos is chayav misa.  Achronim say pilpulim to explain how it is that the Avos were able to keep Shabbos (the gemara in Kiddushim tells us that Avraham kept even dinim derabbanan) when technically they might still have had the status of bnei Noach and not been allowed to set aside a day of rest. 

Shu"T Binyan Tzion (126) suggests that the key word is "yishbosu."  Resting means avoiding hard labor.  That is very different that our definition of Shabbos, which is based on the word "melacha," referring specifically to the 39 actions done in the construction of the mishkan.  An aku"m who moves a heavy couch between rooms in his house has broken his "shabbos" because he has done hard work, not kept it as a day of "shevisa", but a Jew who does the same action on our Shabbos is not liable because it does not fall into the category of melacha. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

dor ha'mabul -- dor she'kulo chayav

The end of last week's parsha sets the stage for the story of the mabul.  "Va'yinachem Hashem ki asah es ha'adam ba'aretz."  Netziv notes that it doesn't say "ki bara es ha'adam," like "braishis bara..."  G-d did not "regret" kavyachol the creation of man.  What G-d wanted to change is "ki asah es ha'adam."  Asiya is a more complete stage of creation.  Man needs to struggle, to work.  There has to be a void for us aspire to fill.  When things are done for us and we don't have enough to do, it's not good.  "Ha'batalah m'vi'ah l'ydei shi'amum," Chazal tell us.  Indolence breeds sloth and bad behavior. 

The Kozhnitzer Magid similarly writes that if a human artisan sets out to make a vessel and it does not meet expectations, he tosses it out and starts again, but it is impossible to say the same thing about G-d.  To think that G-d would destroy the world and start again because it did not work out the way he "anticipated" is an impossibility.  (What about the Midrash that G-d created many worlds and destroyed them before creating ours?  He does not address it.  My hunch is that the difference is that only our world was created based on the blueprint of Torah, and Torah is eternal).

With this background we can understand a Rashi a little more deeply.  The Midrash writes (quoted in Rashi) that the dor ha'mabul threatened that if Noach entered the ark they would to destroy it and kill him.  "Va'yisgor Hashem ba'ado" means Hashem protected Noach and ensured he could enter the ark without harm.  R' Shteinman in Ayeles haShachar asks what it is the dor ha'mabul were hoping to gain by this.  Did they want to prevent Noach from saving himself out of sheer vindictiveness?  What did Noach do to them that would warrant such a reaction?  After all, he had been trying to convince them to repent and save themselves for years.  Why were they out to get him?

The Kozhnitzer Magid answers that had Noach not entered the ark, the result would not have been his perishing with everyone else.  Once G-d created the world, there is no undoing the act of creation -- again, G-d is not like a human artisan who tosses side a failed product to start over.  There had to be a shei'ris ha'pleita of the old world; there had to be continuity.  Therefore, the only possible result of Noach not entering the ark would be no one perishing. If the choice was total destruction or no destruction, the only possible outcome would have been no destruction. 

Chazal (Sanhedrin 98) tell us that there are two ways Moshiach can come: he can come in a generation that proves itself completely righteous, but more amazingly, he can also come in a generation that is completely wicked.   If the historical struggle between good and evil comes to the point where evil completely vanquishes good, then game over, but it does not mean the world is destroyed.  It means that there is no longer any purpose to the game, and G-d will reveal himself fully (see Michtav m'Eliyahu vol1 p 28).  The end of the game is the same no matter how it plays out.  This was the plan of the dor ha'mabul.  So long as there was a Noach, a spark of righteousness, of hope, then the status quo of schar v'onesh and the struggle between good and evil would continue.  If Noach however was killed, the struggle would end in complete redemption of dor she'kulo chayav.

In his Mayan Chaim, R' Chaim Charlap (son of R' Y"M Charlap) suggests that this is what Rashi means when he writes that Noach vacillated, "ma'amin v'aino ma'amin," when it came time to enter the ark.  Surely Noach, the tzadik tamim, did not harbor doubts in emunah.  Yet, what Noach realized is that his very lack of doubt, his tzidkus, his belief, would destroy the world.  What he realized is that he was the one thing that stood between the complete redemption of dor she'kulo chayav and a flood that would destroy most of mankind.  The flood is called "mei Noach," says the Kozhnitzer Magid, because Noach's righteousness effectively doomed the world.  Would it not be better under those circumstances to maybe doubt a little bit, maybe as an aveira lishma, to spare the world and bring it to redemption? 

Yet paradoxically, the very thought of doing an aveira lishma to spare the world itself only enhances and proves Noach's tzidkus.  Who else other than a tzadik would do an aveira for the sake of sparing a generation of such evildoers?  And so G-d protected Noach as he entered the ark and the flood came. 

"Va'ya'as Noach k'chol asher tzivah oso Elokim..."  A perplexing diyuk: why the name Elokim, which connotes midas ha'din, when we are speaking about the means of rescue?  Should the pasuk use the shem Hashem that connotes rachamim?

Based on this approach, the pasuk hits the nail right on the head.  Davka because Noach had a path to rescue himself, the rest of the world was doomed and was subject to din.

(As for R' Shteimnan's second question on the Rashi, maybe you can use Sefas Emes 5641 d"h b'Rashi from "af she'lo matzinu she'pa'al bahem" to answer it.) 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Smach Zevulun b'tzeisecha -- taking the happiness of Y"T out with you

1. The navi concludes its description of the chanukas habayis done by Shlomo by telling us, "Va'ayas Shlomo ba'eis ha'hi es ha'chag... shivas yamim v'shivas yamim arb'ah asar yom." (Melachim I 8:65)  Chazal explain that Shlomo celebrated the dedication of the Mikdash for 7 days, and then immediately thereafter celebrated Sukkos for the next 7 days.  In other words, these were two different celebrations that happened to fall out one right after the other.  Why then, asks R' Tzadok haKohen (Pri Tzadik Sukkos 32), does the navi describe it as a celebration of the chag, singular, and tell us the celebration was 14 days, as if it was one long event?  

R' Tzadok explains that the chanukas haMikdash and the holiday of sukkos are in fact one and the same celebration.  The sukkah is a commemoration of the ananei ha'kavod that surrounded Bnei Yisrael in the desert, and when the Mikdash was dedicated, the navi tells us, "V'he'anan malei es beis Hashem," (8:10) that Hashem's anan descended into the place.  The ananei ha'kavod of the midbar came in Aharon's merit, and it was Aharon's descendants who served in the Mikdash.   Mikdash and sukkah both symbolize the same hashra'as haShechina in Klal Yisrael.  Each one of our sukkos is a mini-Mikdash.  

The Vilna Gaon writes that the reason we celebrate Sukkos in Tishei and not in Nisan is because the ananei ha'kavod departed after the sin of cheit ha'eigel and did not return until 15 Tishrei when Moshe began collecting for the construction of the Mishkan.  In light of R' Tzadok's explanation, it is not coincidental that the clouds returned just then.  The kedusha manifest in Mishkan/Mikdash is the  very same as was manifest by the ananei ha'kavod.

2. On one of the days of Sukkos I suggested that the shalosh regalim correspond to banei, chayaei, and mezonai.  Pesach is the holiday of banai -- the Torah speaks to us of 4 sons.  Shavos is chayai -- chayei olam nata b'socheinu, the Torah.  Sukkos and Shmini Atzeres is mezonai, as it is on this chag that we daven for geshem, which encompasses our material needs.  I found the Sefas Emes alludes to this idea, see 5743 d"h baMishna. 
3. The gemara says Shmini Atzeres is distinct from Sukkos with respect to 6 halachos represented by the siman PZ"R KSh"V.  R=regel.  With respect to what din is it a new regel?  I saw quoted in the name of the Rogatchover that there is a new din of chayav adam l'hakbil pnei rabo ba'regel on Shmini Atzeres in addition to the chiyuv of the same din on Sukkos. 

4. V'Zos haBracha is the only parsha not read on a Shabbos.  R' Tzadok explains that Shabbos is "keviya v'kayma," it's kedusha is set without our having to do anything, unlike the kedusha of Yom Tov which comes through beis din's declaration.  The parsha of each Shabbos, the torah unique to that week, comes down to us like the kedusha of Shabbos, from without.  We hope that we can accept it and absorb it each week when it comes down to us.

The kedusha of Zos haBracha, after a full year of parshiyos, after experiencing a whole cycle of moadim, is a kedushah that comes from within.  At the end of the day, what Torah is all about is not obeying rules imposed upon us from without, but discovering within ourselves that those rules are built into our souls and define who we are. 

Sefas Emes explains that the difference between Shavuos and Simchas Torah is that on Shavuos we celebrate Torah sheb'ksav -- it is the Torah given to is, imposed upon us.  Simchas Torah, Shmini Atzeres, is torah she'ba'al peh, the Torah that comes from within, that we are mechadesh, that is part of who we are.

5. "Smach Zevulun b'tzeisecha..."  Sefas Emes asks: why should Zevulun be happy that he has to go off on business?   I don't know about you, but I don't get much simcha out of riding the subway and dealing with hectic problems at work all day. And it's not just about work.  This is the last few days of Yom Tov, and then we go out -- "tzeisecha" -- out from an intense period of kedusha back to the daily grind, back to the world of chol.  Where's the happiness in that? 

Sefas Emes answers that what the Torah is doing here is giving us advice.  How can we make that transition back to the world that for better or worse we have to be part of a successful one?  By making sure we start off with simcha.  If you are a Zevulun and are stuck going out there, then "smach Zevulun b'tzeisecha," before you go, take a moment to rejoice in what you have before you leave.  Have a simchas Torah, celebrate the dveikus of the chagim, appreciate the experience.  How many people go through three+ weeks of Yom Tov and don't even take a moment to THINK about what is going on?  How many people pause to reflect?  This is the last chance -- take advantage!  Absorb the simcha now, and then it will stick with you, so that even "b'tzeisecha," the Torah will be with you, the dveikus will still be with you.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

teshuvah = achdus

I haven't had time to write much lately, but wanted to say gmar chasima tovah to all and thank everyone who takes the time to read, comment, email.  Our biggest tefilah on Yom Kippur should be that Hashem should give all of us strength to continue learning Torah and growing in avodah. 

"Va'yar Moshe es ha'am ki par'ua hu..." (Shmos 25:32)   Rambam explains that as a result of cheit ha'eigel the people were torn apart -- some thought making an eigel was a good idea; others thought just the opposite; everyone was going in a different direction. 

The tikun of cheit ha'eigel -- the achievement of forgiveness -- occurred on Yom Kippur.  On that day the shattering of Am Yisrael into splinter groups was repaired.  We became one people again and regained that lost unity and common direction.

"Shuva Yisrael ad Hashem Elokecha" -- lashon yachid, in the singular, not Elokeichem, the plural.  The path to teshuvah starts with our becoming one united people.

(Another possible pshat is that teshuvah is not accomplished by thinking about what the Klal can/should do -- it starts with each individual asking what he/she can do about his/her own behavior.  As the Brisker Rav points out, when Yonah was sitting on a boat filled with people who were actual avodah zarah and a storm arose, he stood up and said, "Throw me into the sea -- it's my fault."  He didn't point the finger at anyone but himself.)
Sefas Emes explains that this is why there is a special mitzvah of ritzuy on erev Yom Kippur.  Ritzuy is not appeasement or saying, "I'm sorry."  Ritzuy, says Sefas Emes, is from the word ratzon.  We have to want to be with all our fellow Jews, we have to want good things for them.  (I'm only half joking if I say that this idea is probably a more difficult mitzvah than all 5 inuyim combined.)

Wishing all a year of shalom and achdus and kaparah and geulah.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

the parsha of teshuvah

"V'shavta ad Hashem Elokecha... b'chol levavcha u'bchol nafshecha." (30:2)  A few pesukim later we have, "V'atah tashuv... v'asisa es kol mitzvosav." (30:8)  Chasam Sofer explains that the first pasuk is addressing us in galus.  We don't have a beis hamikdash; many of us are not even living in Eretz Yisrael.  Return to authentic Jewish life, meaning living as Jewish nation in our own Jewish homeland where Torah and mitzvos are our national culture, is something we dream of, "b'chol levavcha u'bchol nafshecha," in our hearts,but is something far from our reality.  R' Tzadoh haKohen interprets "lo b'shamayim hi," assuming that the pasuk is speaking about teshuva (as Ramban learns, not like Rashi), as meaning that one should not think that the fact that Beis haMikdash is up in heaven now and inaccessible is an obstacle to teshuvah; "lo mei'eiver l'yam hi," the fact that Eretz Yisrael is across the ocean is not an obstacle either.  We can dream, we can hope, we can have the desire to get there.  Continues the parsha, one day, "v'hevi'acha Hashem Elokecha el ha'aretz..." (30:5) we will return to the land.  When that day comes, "V'atah tashuv... v'asisa," (30:8) we will have the opportunity to do, to take action and live as we are supposed to, not just to dream about it.  But it all starts with the "hishtokekus," the desire to get there.  That much we can all do now. 

Ramban asks why it is that when describing the mitzvah of teshuva the Torah uses "lashon beinoni" -- a description, not a command, e.g. "V'hasheivosa... V'shavta..." but it does not say "tashuv."  Minchas Chinuch raises the possibility that according to the Rambam there is a mitzvah of viduy, but no actual mitzvah of teshuvah.  When you want to do teshuvah, you have to do viduy, but there is no command to do teshuvah.  According to this approach, Ramban's question seems to be moot.  Ramban, however, assumes there is a mitzvah of teshuvah and explains that the Torah here is giving us more than a command -- it is a promise.  We all have dreams, some of which might come true, many of which will not.  The hope and dream of the Jewish people returning to Eretz Yisrael and doing teshuvah is something that is built into our destiny.  The Torah is describing what must come to fruition, not just giving a command that we have a choice whether or not to fulfill.

I would like to flip this model of the Chasam Sofer, of moving from "hishtokekus," from desire, from the heart and soul, to the world of action, on its head.  Shem m'Shmuel is bothered by the order of words in the pasuk, "...b'ficha u'b'levavcha l'asoso"  Ramban writes that the Torah here is describing the mitzvah of teshuvah.  Shouldn't the order be reversed?  Doesn't a person first come to teshuvah with his heart, and only afterwards, articulate through viduy what he/she did wrong, and express and formulate and new, positive direction?  The heart precedes the mouth, not the other way around? 

Of course you should see the Shem m'Shmuel for a great answer, but I would like to suggest that the pasuk makes perfect sense and is telling us how to do teshuvah.  There are lots of people who know that it is the teshuvah season and they therefore run to this shiur or that lecture seeking to be inspired.  They wait to do teshuvah -- they are waiting to hear just the right lecture that will lift them up, they waiting to hear just the right shiur from the right Rabbi that will capture their heart.  In the meantime, while they are waiting for that elusive moment of inspiration, the clock is ticking toward Rosh haShana.  The Torah here is telling us, "Don't wait!"  Say the words of viduy, say an extra perek of tehilim, learn an extra blatt of gemara.  You may not feel inspired -- you may feel like you are just going through the motions -- but those words will sink in.  Start with the words (and deeds) and the heart will follow.  Inspiration will stem from action, not the other way around.

We baruch Hashem get a second helping of parshas hashavu'a this week with Vayeilech.  The Midrash Tanchuma writes that "Vayeilech Moshe" is a tochacha.  Here Moshe steps out of his holy space and comes to each sheivet, maybe each member of Klal Yisrael, to speak to them -- where is the rebuke?  What could be more positive than that?

Shem m'Shmuel writes that the Torah is not telling us that Moshe took a physical walk to get from place to place -- who cares about that?  It is telling us that Moshe had to make a spiritual journey.  He had to leave where he was spiritually holding in and travel down a notch to come speak to us. 

I don't remember what the person did to earn it, but the Tchebiner Rav promised a certain person that he would make sure to get him into Gan Eden.  Later in life the Tchebiner asked that person for one favor: "Don't make it so hard for me."

Why should Moshe Rabeinu need to take a walk down the spiritual ladder in order to speak to us?  Why do we have to make it so hard for him?  Can't we make it a little easier and come a little closer to his level?  That's the tochacha.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

for the sake of bikurim

"B-reishis" = the world was created for the sake of reishis, the "reishis pri ha'adamah," the first fruits of bikurim which the farmer brings to the Mikdash, as described in the opening to our parsha.  

I don't mean to minimize the importance of bikurim, but let's be real -- if you asked 100 people to pick one mitzvah for which the world was created, most would answer things like learning Torah, saying shema, emunah.  Not bikurim.  What do Chazal see as so crucial in the mitzvah if bikurim?

When the farmer brings bikurim to the Mikdash in essence what he is saying is, "It's not me."  He may have plowed the field, he may have planted the seeds, he may have weeded, watered, tended the crops, and finally harvested, but the crops are not the product of his work alone.  By bringing bikurim the farmer is saying that it's not "kochi v'otzem yadi," but rather his success comes from Hashem.  

"V'lakach ha'kohen ha'teneh mi'yadecha" -- bikurim takes the fruit out of being "mi'yadecha," the work of your hands (alone), and acknowledges that it is a gift from Hashem.

"Lo achalti b'oni mi'menu" -- R' Shimon Sofer explains that the word "oni" can be interpreted as strength.  Ya'akov describes Reuvain as "kochi v'reishis oni," my first strength.  Again, the farmer is declaring that the fruit does not come from the strength of his labor, but rather is a gift from G-d.

What Chazal are telling us is that G-d created this thing we call "earth" with laws of nature that serve to obscure his presence and where humans can delude themselves into thinking they are in total control in order so that we might have the opportunity to make the biggest kiddush Hashem possible -- to pierce that veil and declare that Hashem is behind it all. Even if there was no physical world there could be angels who learn Torah, who say shema, who have emunah.  You don't need a world for that.  All that can take place in Heaven.  What you need a world for is so that we can declare, through our bikurim, that G-d is present even where he doesn't seem to be.

The Torah uses the term "higadti" when describing the farmer's speech to the kohen. Normally the term hagadah, as opposed to amirah or dibur, connotes harsh words.  The farmer is relating how G-d helped bring us to Eretz Yisrael and his asking for Hashem's bracha -- what's so harsh about what he is saying?

Here we have the kohen, says the Ishbitzer, who lives a holy life, who can cloister himself in the Mikdash, who is involved in Torah (Rambam end of Hil Shemitah) when he is not doing avodah.  Along comes a simple farmer with his basket of fruit and barges into that domain of kedusha.  You can picture him with his overalls, maybe with the mud from the field still on his workboots, marching up to the kohen and handing over that basket. The farmer then declares to the kohen, "Don't think you have an exclusive on G-d.  I may be out on the field working, I may be a simple farmer, but my basket of fruit is as valuable as what you are doing."  That's hagadah = kashe k'gidim, harsh words.  "Higadti l'Hashem Elokecha..." -- your G-d, reb kohen, is my G-d too.  My avodah is at least as valuable as yours.  Real holiness is not just when you live a life in the Mikdash, in the beis medrash, the life of the kohen.  Real holiness is when you live in the darkness of olam=he'elem, where G-d's presence is hidden, out in the field, out dealing with the struggles of the world, and you come with bikurim and declare that that "real" world is just a fake and what is real is G-d. 

Maybe this is what the Midrash Tanchuma means when it teaches that Moshe was troubled as to how we would get by without bikurim when we no longer had a Mikdash.   Moshe was not worried about the loss of korbanos or avodah -- holiness.  Moshe was worried more about the loss of a place where one could elevate the mundane and make even it holy. That's what bikurim is all about.

Hashem's answer to Moshe was that we will have 3 tefilos a day that will make up for the loss.  Tefilah reminds us (especially when you stop right in the middle of a work day for minchah!) that it's not the hard work we do that makes things happen, but it's G-d who is behind it all.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Al dvar asher lo tza'akah -- sometimes you have to scream

The one factor, at least based on a superficial reading of the parsha, that distinguishes a case of ones from a case of znus is whether the woman screamed out or not.  "Al dvar asher lo tza'akah ba'ir" (22:24) -- the assumption is that if whatever happened took place in the city, the woman must be guilty as well or someone would have heard her screaming.

Ramban is bothered: why are we so hung up on the screaming?  Maybe this woman lives in NY and knows no one is going to respond to her screams anyway, like the Kitty Genovese story, so she doesn't scream -- she obviously is not still guilty.  The key question should be whether she was coerced or not, whether she engaged in an illicit act willfully, not whether she specifically screamed.    

Ramban answers that you have to say that screaming is lav davka and the Torah is just describing a typical case.

Sefas Emes, however, says screaming makes all the difference in the world.  Screaming is not just a siman, a way to raise an alarm, but screaming is the means to effect yeshu'a.  "Al dvar asher lo tza'akah ba'ir" -- because had she screamed, she surely would have been heard and saved.  Not seizing that opportunity is itself a crime.

(Without the Sefas Emes I think you have a bit of a pshat difficulty.  The Torah tells us exactly what the man did wrong -- "al asher inah..."  When it comes to the woman, if you read the pasuk like Ramban, it does not tell us anything.  It just gives us a siman, "asher lo tza'akah," and leaves us to infer that she therefore consented and committed an immoral act.  According to Sefas Emes, the failure to scream, the failure to avail oneself of the opportunity of rescue, is itself the crime.  It's not just an inference but the Torah is telling us exactly what was done wrong by the man and by the woman.) 

The Sefas Emes is not just a comment on this specific parsha, but is a comment on life.  There is a lot of stuff that does not befit us that we come in contact with due to our having to work in and live in a secular society.  What can you do -- ones!  We can't so easily change when and where we live.  The Sefas Emes is telling us that if it's really ones, then you should be screaming.  If you passively sit back and do nothing, or worse, accommodate yourself to the situation or enjoy he situation, then all bets are off.  If you want to be saved, you have to scream.  And if you do scream, you will be saved.   

(I had a very hard time trying to formulate this Sefas Emes.  For some reason earlier in the week I became fixated on writing this point up and then I couldn't let it go.  It became a mental block to my writing anything else.  After mulling it over for 2 days I don't like the results.  See S.E. in the Likutim, in 5634, and 5640 and see what you make of it.)