Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Everyone gets to leave Mitzrayim

Moshe argues to Pharoah at the beginning of parshas Bo that men, women, old, and even young children should be allowed to leave Mitzrayim "ki chag l'Hashem lanu". Pharoah, however, counters that only the men need to go to bring korbanos "ki osah atem mevakshim", for after all, that is the purpose of Moshe's request to go.

There is a machlokes Rishonim (see Rambam and Ra'avad perek 1 of hil chagiga, Tos kiddushin 34, Sha'agas Arye #66) whether a woman is obligated in bringing shalmei simcha, or whether she is yotzei by eating her husband's korban, or whether her kiyum of simchas haregel has nothing to do with korbanos whatsoever.

Pharoah's contention was even if you want a "chag l'Hashem", still, the chiyuv for korbanos would only be on the men. Moshe Rabeinu, however, held that even if the men did the hakravah, the din if simcha was inclusive of everyone in the family.

(My wife never likes when I try these type divrei Torah, trying to boil a machlokes rishonim down into the pesukim, especially when Pharoah ends up holding like one tzad. I, on the other hand, get tremendous oneg Shabbos from seforim like the Parashas Derachim which do this all the time.)

Hirhur k'dibbur

The gemara in Brachos (20b) has a machlokes R' Chisda and Ravina whether "hirhur k'dibbur damei" - is thinking the same as speaking with respect to the mitzva of reading keriyas shema. Most Rishonim pasken that hirhur lav k'dubbur damei based on a stama d'gemara in Shabbos 150 which tells us that with respect to the issue of "dabeir davar" (not speaking about business activities on Shabbos) only dibbur but not hirhur is prohibited (this has become part of our zemiros!) Were hirhur the same as dibbur there should be no difference.
Yet, the Rambam in perek 1 of hilchos Brachos paskens that a bracha may be receited even in one's heart (i.e. hirhur k'dibbur), yet the Rambam also paskens (perek 24 of hilchos Shabbos) that dabeir davar applies does not apply to hirhur. Asks the Sha'agas Arye, why does the Rambam pasken hir k'dibbur with respect to brachos but not with respect to shabbos?
How do you attack this question - by contrasting cases or principles (scrool down to the lomdus posts before this if you don't know what I am talking about)? How do you answer for the Rambam?

Monday, January 30, 2006

School vacation

It has been a wonderful mid-winter vacation with all my kids home driving my wife batty while most of the neighborhood packs off to Florida, Israel, and other assorted places. I'm certainly glad my kid's schools manage to keep the tuition high enough so that I cannot even be tempted by such indulgences : )

What is Lomdus - part II

We are trying to define what "lomdus" is or the "Brisker derech" is working through a real example, so if you missed part I scroll down for the background of the machlokes R"I and R"M M'Rotenberg whether an onein would be obligated to say havdalah on Sunday after kevuras hameis. Rather than a specific approach, I would say there is a spectrum between what a yeshiva guy would call a "balebatish sevara", i.e. a theory a layperson would think of, and what is considered a "lomdish" analysis, which is something the yeshiva guy would pat himself on the back for thinking of and expect to find in a R' Chaim, R' Elchanan, Baruch Ber, R' Shimon, or other yeshivishe seforim. I would like to tentatively suggest the difference is that former focusses on the CASE, the latter focuses on the PRINCIPLE.
The R"I argued that havdalah should be similar to a lame person who once exempt from aliya l'regel on the first day of yom tov is not obligated on any subsequent days, which are just makeup days for the first day. The opportunity to say havdalah on Sunday is just a makeup for Motzei Shabbos - if an onein was not obligated then, he cannot become obligated during the makeup period. Why would the R"M M"Rotenberg argue? What is the locus of disagreement?
Balebatish approach #1 - distinguish between the CASES: by aliya l'regel, the days subsequent to the first are all makeup days. By havdalah, Sunday is not just a makeup, but R"M M'Rotenberg understood that the obligation of havdalah was extended through Sunday. You can make this more sophisticated and add a little sevara to explain why this should be so: by aliya l'regel, each day is a discreet unit. By havdalah, there is no seperation between motzei shabbos and Sunday that would warrant treating them as separate periords with different parameters on the obligation.
We can slide a little further down the "lomdus" spectrum with a distinction still rooted in the cases. You might contrast aliya l'regel, which is a pure positive commandment (actually, maybe not, but that's a complicated aside) with havdalah, where there is an issur to eat before havdalah - you might dispense with a mitzva, but not with a matir. If we generalize that into a rule, we can test it in other examples, and we are well down the road of dealing with principles.
Real "lomidus" would focus exclusively on the PRINCIPLES: even assuming the facts of the cases are similar, the time periods are similar, and all the practical details are the same, you can still distinguish between the fundemental principle which exempts aliya l'regel and the principle exempting an onein. No chiyuv of aliya l'regel ever applied on the first day of yom tov to the lame person, but perhaps by an onein there is a chiyuv of havdalah, but the mitzva of kevurah and tending to the meis overrides that obligation. Once the burial is complete, the latent obligation of havdalah which existed motzei shabbos now could be fulfilled. Once one has moved beyond CASES and into analyzing PRINCIPLES, one has opened the pandora's box to looking at many other cases with the same analysis: no obligation whatsoever, or a latent obligation overriden by some other concern? For example, see Y.D. 341 in the Taz and Shach in Nekudas haKesef regarding whether someone who misses davening because he was engaged in communal mitzva work is obligated in a tefilas tashlumin - was there never an obligation of tefila so no makeup is required, or was there an obligation overridden by another mitzva?
We are already pretty far down the "lomdish" spectrum, but I think a Brisker would go a step further. If you've heard Brisker analysis, you probably have heard the jargon of "gavra" vs. "cheftza", "tzvei dinim", or other such terms. In a nutshell, Brisk takes even the PRINCIPLES and breaks even those down into substrata to be contrasted and compared. Perhaps the R"M M'Rotenberg would not argue practical differences between the cases, perhaps he would agree that the operant exemption should be the same, but still there is a distinction that could be drawn. There are actually two elements to havdalah: the obligation on the person to say havdalah, and secondly, the "kos shel bracha" the halachically acceptable cup with beverage over which it is recited. Until now we have treated the PRINCIPLE exempting the onein as a whole unit, yet we can actually break it apart. It could be that the exemption has nothing to do with the onein being obligated or not obligated in havdalah - instead, it relates wholly to the nature of the "kos shel bracha" of an onein being unacceptable. The cheftza shel mitzva is lacking, not the chovas hagavra. When the kos becomes acceptable on Sunday, the onein is then free to fulfill his chovas hagavra which was never dispensed with. (NOTE: I am using this example for theoretical purposes only. I don't think you can realistically interpret every exemption of an onein from mitzvos as a ptur in the cheftza shel mitzva).
I haven't exhausted every possibility, but the purpose was more to dramatize the chiluk between lomdus and non-lomdus. In actaulity, sometimes the case by case method is best. In this case, I think the Brisker approach is a stretch. But ultimately, the goal of a "lamdan" is to discover those fundemental questions and principles that cut across multiple cases and issues.
Up next: another test case... oto be continued.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Teach ALL kids

Rabbi Lazer Brody shlit"a has a right on target post (http://lazerbrody.typepad.com/lazer_beams/2006/01/the_great_capsu.html) regarding the overuse of prescription drugs to solve education problems. I would just add that R' Brody is describing just half the problem. Let me preface these next comments with the statement that none of my children have been diagnosed B"H with any learning disorder, so this is not a sour grapes post. As a parent of 4 kids, each of which is wonderful, I know each has his/her own ways of doing things - including learning. The work of people like Howard Gardner, the originator behind the idea of "multiple intelligences" (which I am not going to discuss in this posting - get his book!), is already mainstream in the world of secular education, but most mechanchim have no idea what it means much less how to apply it. (As an aside, for those who think these ideas only work in secular US school environments, H. Gardner has a fascinating book about work he did in China, which has a completely different system of education than US schools.) Any deviation from the rigid "norm" (which is a very narrow ban of middle of the road learners who are visual learners with average attention spans) will get you a recommendation from your school to go for "testing". Testing means subjecting your child to hours to psychological, neurological, and other tests designed to find some diagnosis to label your child. I hate to throw cold water on those who think education is an exact science, but the reality is that the social sciences in general are far from rigorous, and every test has subjective elements that can be fudged depending on the attitude of the tester (get a sample parent questionaire used to screen ADD and you will see immediately what I mean). If you question the motive behind this testing process, many schools take the attitude that it can't hurt, so why the complaint, which ignores the obvious stigma placed on the child pulled out of class for batteries of tests. Many schools also adopt the attitude of why not take free services paid for by the state here in the US (so much for abusing tax money). The end result is the inevitable pulling the child out of class for "remediation", which leads to loss of self-esteem, loss of self-confidence, often the remediation is done by teachers with no special training, the child is labelled for ever after by teachers who assume there is always going to be a "problem". The teacher who suggests testing often has no idea what tests are offered, what they diagnose, or how to interpret the results - the goal is not to help a child learn better, but to label the child as unteachable so the teacher is excused from further efforts, and in many cases the child is taken out for all or part of the day for "extra help". Before "testing" a child, I would recommend every parent speak to his/her teacher and ask: what have you done in the classroom to try to accomodate my child? What do you do to assure students with varied learning styles absord the lesson? Before testing, teachers should try teaching in the full sense of that word.
Let me close my saying there are wonderfully talented people who are qualified to give tests, who do know how to interpret the results, and most imporantly WHO CAN GUIDE TEACHERS ON HOW TO TAILOR CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION TO ACCOMMODATE ALL LEARNERS without labels or pulling kids from class. These people are just rare - if your kid has a problem, I hope you can find one. I have gone through this more than once with my kid's teachers. My daughter's school fought with me over testing for a full year and now she is considered one of the brightest in her class - the only changed variable is the one in front of the classroom. Finally, for those who care about these things, I have taught for 2 years, I have a Masters in Ed, and no, I would not want to step back into the classroom in any of my kid's schools because I could not deal with the system the way it is run.

What is lomdus?

I have been thinking of writing a post on this for awhile. For those who are "holding in learning" the pinnacle of achievement is being considered a "lamdan". Most high level yeshiva shiurim are devoted to "lomdus", especially of the variety commonly known as the "Brisker derech". So what is lomdus and what difference does it make to how you learn?
Rather than start with a definition, I want to start with an example. A person became an onein and was exempt from havdalah on Motzei Shabbos - would this person have to make havdalah on Sunday after the meis is buried? The R"I compares this case to that of a lame person who is exempt from aliya l'regel on the first day of Yom Tov. A person who has an obligation to offer an olas r'iya on the first day may fulfill that obligation during the duration of the week of Yom Tov; however, one who is exempt on the first day is exempt for the entire duration. Similarly, even though if one has no wine on motzei shabbos one can make up havdalah the next day, the onein had no obligation of havdalah on motzei shabbos and is therefore under no obligation to do so on the next day. The MaHaRaM Rotenberg, however, disagrees and holds that once the meis is buried on Sunday, the obligation of havdalah must be fulfilled.
Before "lomdus" became the rage, out story would just about be over. We have a difference opinion in Rishonim regarding a specific case in halacha. We can go a step further and ask why the R"M M'Rotenberg disagrees with the argument of the R"I. and here is where the pandora's box is opened.... think about it, and I'll be back with more : )

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Faith and Doubt

Why does G-d allow us to doubt Him? Just a recommendation that if you have a Likurei Moharan, take a look at I:64, esp. since it ties in with the next parshiyos. I touched before on the idea of tzimtzum, which provides a solution to the problem of the inherent contradiction between G-d's infinite Being and creation as we perceive it. If G-d has no boundry and is a singluar indivisible "Being" which transcends space/time, how can I, an independent entity with free will, exist in a physical world at a specific point in space/time? Should not G-d's "infiniteness" of Being swallow me up or not allow me to exist at all? The idea of tzimtzum teaches that for physical reality to exist, G-d first created created an appearance of a Void (chalal panuy), a space that gave the illusion of being empty of His presence, and only through that can any separate universe come into being. At the same time, we believe paradoxically that G-d remained unchanged and fills all of reality. These ideas are diametrically opposed, yet exist simultaneously and are actually in harmony. This is what we discussed with respect to Yosef and Yehudah and Mikdash and Mishkan, the challenge of affirming the yichud gamur of Hashem's presence with us in every aspect of reality, and at the same time hidden from our view so we have free choice.
R' Nachman extends the cosmic idea of tzimtzum to the very personal level. The chalal panuy, the space that G-d created that seemed devoid of His presence, is not just the key to the cosmic idea of creation, but it is the key to understanding faith and doubt. Inside every peson there is a chalal panuy, a place where there exists some unanswerable doubt, some point at which G-d's presence seems absent. Many doubts are simply a product of a lack of knowledge, e.g. the entire internet debate of evolution and ma'aseh braishis is a product of our limited scientific wisdom and our limits of wisdom in understanding the Torah. The doubt of the chalal panuy is more profound - it cannot be solved by knowledge or answers. It's an existential doubt, not an epistomological doubt.
Our working assumption is that dibbur, speech, is the answer to doubt. You don't understand? Here are more words, more facts, more explanation. All that is fine when it comes to the doubt which is due to a lack of wisdom, but it utterly fails when the doubt is existential. I thought of a mashal that may help here, but feel free to critique it. Imagine little kids at a puppet show. Not knowing about ventriloquism or the control mechanisms, for all intents and purposes to the children the puppet appears to talk, to move, to be Pinnochio! Yet, the children know a puppet cannot be alive, so they ask the little puppet to explain how it works. No matter how many words the puppet speaks, it just cannot convince the children that it is not speaking. In fact, the more it speaks, the more it reinforces the illusion that it is in fact alive. The only thing that would immediately dispel the illusion is if the puppet master stood up from behind the screen, yet doing so would end all the fun of the show. The nimshal: to us, the world, with all its defects, seems to be running on its own course with no external control by G-d. Pinnichio is alive and kicking. The only way to really dispel the illusion would be for Hashem to remove the chalal panuy, to reveal that the puppet is just a an act, but to do so would end the universe as we know it.
Hashem created the world though 10 statements, through dibbur. Dibbur keeps the illusion going, it defines things in neat little boxes, and solves all the problems you give to the puppet except for the biggest problem of all, how the puppet works. The only way around that is shtika, silence, the silence of faith that behind everything G-d is in control. Moshe is "kvad peh", he finds speech difficult, because he knows that the G-d ultimately transcends all the words we utter - it all just boils down to faith before the Void. If the puppet master is in charge, why is there a wicked Pharoah killing Jewish children? The only answer Moshe and the tzadikim can give us is the strength to have faith. The existential question cannot be answered, for to do so, to reveal G-d's presence even in the chalal panuy, would mean the end of our existance. When G-d is asked to explain the suffering of R' Akiva and his horrible death, He answers "shtok", be silent. Pharoah, the chalal panuy, exists "lama'an shiti ososay eileh b'kirbo", so that the osos, literally the letters, the speech of G-d that created the Universe, can exist.
I don't think R' Nachman is saying you can't ask a question that there is no answer to. If you learn the Torah, R' Nachman goes on to say that the Tzadik (Moshe) can help with the doubt of the chalal panuy. This was the song of "az yashir", the song that tells us that all the answers in life are not things that can be expressed through speech or rationally understood. Silence is not avoiding the question, but serves as the answer. The answer to doubt is not always explanation, but sometimes is pure and simple faith. R" Nachman says only Moshe can approach Pharoah because for most of us, it is better to avoid doubt than to face it head on and try to overcome it through faith.
If you are a rationalist, this whole approach probably makes you very uncomfortable. A rationalist wants a logical way to explain away everything, and sees failure to do so as a weakness of reasoning ability, not a product of the human condition. The mystical approach of R' Nachman plants doubt as part and parcel of the human condition no matter how smart we are. I admittedly used to be more inclined to grapple with the things rationally, but I have moved more squarely into the R' Nachman camp on this one. I don't like kiruv programs that portend to offer answers to all the great questions of existance, or people who can rattle off reasons for the Holocaust in an evening's speech. Some mysteries are too profound for simple answers or essays, and the only real answer is the silence of faith.

kvad peh - aral sefasayim

What is the difference between "kvad peh" and "aral sefasayim"? Have not had a chance to look into it yet....

(Motzei Shaboos update: found it discussed in Pri tzadik by R' Tzadok, but too much to write over right now)

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Ones b'yom acharon

(Just finished Mes. Archin - this is apropos of the siym). The Mishna in Archin (31) tells us that on the last possible to redeem a home in a walled city (the Torah allows the seller of such a home one year to repurchase his home from the buyer after which that right is forfeit) the buyer would hide to avoid giving the seller the opportunity to present him with the repurchase monies. Hillel therefore made a takkanah that the money be deposited in the Mikdash, and the seller retake his home even by force. The Ktzos (it seems I post a Ktzos almost weekly - maybe a once a week Ktzos blog is not a bad idea? Comments?) quotes an interersting chiddush of the Agudah based on this halacha. If one made an agreement subject to a condition being fulfilled within a time period, and one the last day of the time period some extraordinary circumstance (an ones) prevented fulfillment, the Agudah writes that one has no claim. After all, we see that if not for Hillel's takkanah, the fact that the buyer made himself unavailable on the last day would serve as no excuse to the seller - why did he wait until the last day when he had 364 days before that to take advanatage of the buback right?

The Ktzos (siman 65) disagrees with the Agudah. The Ktzos argues that in the case of arei chomah, a home in a walled city, the deal is finished at the moment of sale and the Torah simply allows the seller a right of un-doing the sale for 12 months. A claim of ones (extenuating circumstance) can serve to undo an action, but cannot make an action occur. To undo the completed sale, the seller has to see to it that the money is delivered - claiming ones cannot make an event happen. However, if there was a case where a deal was consumated on the condition that a certain event NOT occur over the next 30 days, e.g. if a seller sells a home on the condition that he does not return in 30 days, and due to extenuating circumstances, ones, he is prevented on the final day from returning home therefore fulfilling the condition and triggering the sale, the seller would have the right to claim ones and say that the fulfillment of the condition dues to duress is not valid and does not confirm the sale.

This Ktzos is discussed my many later achronim, so more maybe another time. Just one final note: if one understands the the idea of arei chomah is that the sale is not finalized until the final day of the year has elapsed and the seller has NOT offered to return the money to the buyer, then based on the Ktzos's own analysis, if the seller fails to turn over the money even on the final day due to ones, duress or extenuating circumstances, the sale owuld be cancelled.

Goel Chazak

Every day in davening we praise Hashem as our "goel chazal", our strong redeemer. In these parshiyos that discuss the redemption from Egypt, we also find emphasized over and over that Hashem redeemed us with strenth, with his yad chazakah. Are there some things that require G-d to exert more strength and other things that require less strength? What could that mean? The Kedushas Levi (Parshas Shmos) explains that there are two paths to redemption. There is a the path by which the Jewish people garner enough merit through their mitzvos and Torah to earn G-d taking them out of galus. Yet, there is also another path, the path of redemption even though we are undeserving, even though we have no merit, but simply based on G-d's mercy and our unbearable need. A gibor, a strong man, is one who can conquer his own inclinations; G-d so to speak (kavyachol) acts with his strength when He withholds the attribute of Justice that calls for the Jewish people getting no more than they deserve and acts through pure Mercy, based not on our present merits but on what we may achieve after given the great opportunity of Geulah. "G'aleina mheira l'ma'an shemecha" - May Hashem redeem us speedely and not wait for us to earn it, "Ki Goel Chazak Atah", because Hashem has the great strength to overlook the Justice our deeds may deserve to redeem us immediatly.

"Names" (Shmos) descending into Egypt

V'Eileh Shmos Bnei Yisrael haBa'im Mitzrayma - These are the names of Bnei Yisrael coming to Mitzrayim. In Hebrew it would suffice to say "V'Eilah habai'im Mitzrayma..." and list the names without the added word "shmos" - it sounds almost as if the names alone without the people decended to Egypt. How does a name come or go anywhere by itself??? A "shem" is an identity; an identity is formed, is earned, is made by the person through how he/she acts and presents him/herself to others. At times life deals a person circumstances that compel actions that don't necessarily conform to the person's true essence - the "shem" of the person is not consistant with the person's true self. We discussed in previous posts the discrepency between what our eyes tell us is going on in the world around us, the "Yosef" that appears to be the plotting evil viceroy of Egypt, and the true essence of things, the Yehudah that cries out not to be deceived, that everything is really G-d's hand and worthy of praise, and that ultimately draws out Yosef's true identity. At times we see the "sheim" Yosef, when the reality is Yehudah. The true essence of the Jewish nation was never enslaved in Egypt. However, we were blinded to that true essence and focussed on what our eyes were telling us about the reality of our social position, livlihood, and destiny, and we allowed external circumstance to dictate our "sheimos", our external identity, based on the straitjacket of Mitzrayim. (See the Sefas Emes...)

For those looking for shidduchim insights

Check my wife's new blog, http://kallahmagazine.com/WordPress/ Soon to be updated!

Safek in shiur (amount)

We once before touched on Tosfos's difficult to understand opinion (chullin 65, brachos 26) that even though safek derabbanan l'kula, when one has a safek in shiur (amount), the rule of safek l'chumra applies. (See: http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2005/12/sfeikos-in-shiurim.html). This Tosfos should be applicable to manay halachos, e.g. can one rely on a smaller shiur of k'zayis for a miztva derabbanan like maror on Pesach, or a smaller shiur of revi'is for kiddush on Shabbos morning. I have not seen Tosfos addressed, so was happy to find tucked away in the Ma'adanei Yom Tov on the Rosh in brachos 14: The Rosh paskens that t'ima (tasting a liquid) on a ta'anis up to and including a revi'is is OK, but no more than that. Asks the MY"T, why up to and including a revi'is - according to Tosfos "kol shiurei chachamim l'hachmir" means ad v'lo ad b'chlal (up to but not including...) even by dinei derabbanan, so only up to but not including a revi'is should be included in the heter? He ultimately ends with a tzarich iyun.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The test of believing in Redemption

Moshe argues with Hashem (4:1) that he should not be sent to redeem the Jewish people because "hein lo ya'aminu li v'lo yishmi'u b'koli ki yomru lo nirah elecha Hashem", the Jewish people will not believe him, will not listen to him, and will say Hashem did not appear to him. The Netziv explains that Moshe did deny that the Jewish people would believe they were going to be redeemed, rather he felt that they would deny that he was chosen as the redeemer. After all, Moshe had been raised as an Egyptian prince in his childhood; immediatly after rescuing his fellow Jew he was forced to flee for his life to the wilderness and was not heard from for years; his brother was already established as a prophet. Why would anyone accept his credibility?

Moshe therefore was given three signs: 1) the staff changing to a snake and then back to a staff when its tail was grabbed; 2) Moshe's hand turned leperous and was healed; 3) the water drawn from the Nile changed to blood. Explains the Netziv: 1) although Moshe was on the bottom rung of the social ladder in Bnei Yisrael, much like the snake when grabbed by its tail, that tail transforms into the top of the staff, so too, Moshe would become the top of Hashem's staff; 2) much like the hand healed of leperousy is healthier than the hand before being afflicted, Moshe upon his second foray into Egypt would be stronger than the first time around; 3) and there are still those who refuse to accept him, just as the water of life would turn to blood, the events of geulah would bring death to those who deny the plan of Hashem.

The Redeemer may be the person we least expect, it may be a person who has a history of failure in the past who we are not willing to give a second chance to, it may be a person who has been off the radar screen and has long since vansihed from our list of heroes, but, as the Netziv writes, it is in our hands to see that the water does not become blood, that we stand ready to accept the geulah shlaimah with unquestioning emumah in the yad Hashem. (Editorial comment: In other words, don't second guess the yad Hashem. You may think redemption by a former Egyptian prince with a lisp who spent the past 80 years alone in the desert is a bad idea, or that establishing reishit tzimchat geulateinu through those far from ruchniyus is a bad idea, but you're not in charge of the overall plan).

Bechira / free will (part II)

One can make the following chakira (I think this is the second time I have posted a "machshavadik" chakira; no reason not to use the tools of lomdus in the area of machshava): does a person naturally have bechira chofshis (free will) unless some extreme circumstance causes it to be taken away, or is a person naturally either statically good or bad unless granted the gift of bechira chofshis (free will) to change by Hashem?
The question is asked how could Hashem have "hardened Pharoah's heart" - it's not a fair test? If one assumes the second possibility, the question is far less explosive (if it is a question at all). Pharaoh was naturally a rasha; he was given the gift of bechira to see if he would seize the opportunity to rectify his life. When he failed to take advantage of the gift he was given, it was only fair for that gift to be removed.
The interestingFOIL is the two sides of the no bechira coin in Shmos: Moshe, no bechira and therefore tov, and Pharoah, loses his bechira and is ra.

Bechira / free will - Moshe Rabeinu

There is a fascinating essay by the Meshech Chochma in the introduction to Sefer Shmos (also end of kuntres "hakol tzafuy v'hareshus nesumah" in the Ohr Sameiach) arguing that Moshe Rabeinu had no bechira chofshis. It would be implausable to suggest Moshe had a real choice whether to become Hashem's agent for the geulah, or a real choice whether to act as the one to go up on Har Sinai to accept the Torah. I once wanted to say this idea which sounds so radical is actually implicit in a Mishna in Pirkei Avos. "Hamezakeh es harabim ein cheit ba al yado", one who causes merit to the masses will not come to sin, but "hamachti ain maspikin b'yado la'asos tshuvah", one who causes the masses to sin will not be afforded the opportunity to do tshuvah. The mezakeh is Moshe; the machti is Yeravam - these two are polar opposites. The Rambam explains the negetive "ain maspikin b'yado la'asos tshuvah" to mean that at some point a person loses his/her bechira and therefore cannot do tshuvah (similar to the hardening of Pharoah's heart: at some point the gift of free will is lost). The opposite good side of the coin would mean a person can lose bechira to do bad -"ain cheit ba al yado" because he cannot choose otherwise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

black hat rant

OK, this is going to be a non-Torah rant, so check back another day for the usual lomdus part of this blog. Yesterday I happened to catch site of someone on the train wearing a wide brimmed Borsolino - very chashuv - and it brought to mind one of my pet peeves. I happened to notice this same person other days on the train learning from an English mishnayos, and lately he has started the daf with the Artscroll - someone whom b'temimus is obviously growing in avodah and learning, someone whom I guess comes from a background weak on learning and maybe even observance but who is moving up the latter of ruchniyus for the better. I just wonder why the black hat? Now, I mean no disrespect to those who were raised in a culture where the "levush" of the hat is a cultural "uniform" and therefore donning it is an act of conformity to the social mileau - I see that as neither a positive nor negeative phenomenon. But for someone who was not raised in that derech, for someone who is taking baby steps in growing in learning, where does this come from?
If I had to guess, I would assume this is part of identifying with a certain social stereotype. Lets face it - if you take a slice of the average American daf learner society, the majority of that slice I would venture to bet would be black-hatters, at least on Shabbos. A person donning the hat doesn't analyze whether he agrees with the hashkafa of Agudah, whether he really buys into every shita of R' Shteineman or R' Elyashiv shlit"a - he simply knows that if you want to be thought of as part of the "in" crowd of those who purport (at least) to take their religion seriously, this mode of dress serves to express that.
And this brings me to the point of sadness - why is it that the Modern/Centrist/whatever-you-want-to call it movement in the US is not as clearly identified with limud hatorah as the "black-hatters"? Why is it that the sight of a kippah-serugah wearing man sitting in a bais medrash sticks out like a sore-thumb? Why has there been a failure to produce in the US the equivalent of the dati-hesder type yeshiva movement that exists in Israel? I have no good answers. A few months ago I traded my black-kippah for a large white kippah serugah that I wear l'kavod Shabbos. It may make little difference, but I feel that my children and those who see me should have a picture of what it means to be a shomeir mitzvos and engaged seriously in limud haTorah (which hopefully I do to the best of my ability) while at the same time embracing certain hashkafos which would be to the "left" of what is current in true "charedi" circles - e.g. belief in the political success of Eretz Yisrael as the start of our national redemption, willingness to learn from secular culture, openess to women taking a more active role in avodas Hashem and an equality in general society. Yet, what impression is made my a single isolated person when I live within 3 blocks of two very large "modern-orthodox" shuls (as in hundereds of families), yet neither has an open bais medrash at night - is it any wonder that I make neither one my makom kavua for tefillah? How can one take modern/centrist orthodoxy as having any significant religious meaning under these circumstances?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Chasam Sofer's "kushya atzuma" (great question)

Meforshim exlain that G-d's yediya, knoweldge, per se does not influence free will (were an astrologer able to predict what I was going to eat for breakfast tomorrow, I would still sit down in the morning and have the same range of choices before me. Whether this proof of the Ra'avad convinces you or is the best approach is a discussion for another time...) but when G-d utters a statement, that becomes the reality and there is no way out. E.g., in Parshas VaYechi, the prophetic vision had to depart from Ya'akov before he could reveal anything about the days of Moshiach because otherwise that utterance in G-d's name would remove any sense of free will.

The Chasam Sofer in Parshas Shmos asks what he calls a "kushya atzuma" (a great question): Moshe tries to declince to serve as G-d's messenger and says he cannot speak properly; G-d replies that He knows Ahron, Moshe's brother, will serve as spokesperson for Moshe and is in fact on the way to greet him in the desert. Did Ahron have free choice to accept of reject acting as Moshe's spokesperson on this mission? Asks the Chasam Sofer, if G-d told Moshe that Ahron would serve in that task, would that not by definition not leave Ahron the choice of not accepting the appointment?

The Chasam Sofer has an approach, but I would rather leave this one to think over than write the answer right away.

Martin Luther King Day

I have a day off from work with all my kids in school - a pleasant break. I'm not going to suggest that they get the day off, but would it be so bad if in yeshiva kids were taught a little history of the civil rights movement and what King represented? Believe me, I am as far from liberal as you can get on issues of affirmative action, but one can be sensitive to issues of racism, tolerance, and respect for all people without entering that debate.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Shema Yisrael - Baruch Shem (Yichud Hashem)

R' Tzadok explains that this Mishkan-Mikdash paradox (see previous post) is the meaning of Shema Yisrael followed by Baruch Shem...Kvod Malchuso. Shema is a proclamation of G-d's unbounded transcendent existance; Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuso stresses G-d's immanance and the notion of Malchus, his allowing for a separate creation space to reveal his Kingship. G-d at one and the same time remains forever unchanged, unbounded, complete, and at the same time, allows himself to be hidden behind our experience of a separate world and an existance that allows for free will. "Yichud Hashem" means proclaiming the Unity of this paradox.

Witht this we have a little better insight into the meeting of Yehudah, whose name means to always praise G-d, to see G-d in the most transcendent form, with Yosef, who represented the Shechina acting in hiding, when we do not perceive its presence.

We also begin to uderstand the meeting of Ya'akov and Yosef, where our Rabbis teach that Ya'akov was reading Shema and Yosef was silent. Ya'akov's spirit soared to reflect on G-d's transcendent power, while Yosef, true to character, remains the archetype of the hidden hand of the Divine (see Sefas Emes).

Recall also Ya'akov's words at the loss of Yosef - "vatikach ha'Echad m'iti", you have taken "Echad" from me. Explains the Tiferes Shlomo, the word "Echad" hints to "Shema Yisrael... Hashem Echad". The veil drawn across Ya'akov's perception of the unfolding events as G-d's hand meant his experience of Shema Yisrael, as seeing G-d in everything and everywhere, was somehow diminished, until retored with his reunification with Yosef.

And finally, we now understand a bit more of what the Midrash teaches in this week's parsha. Ya'akov wanted to reveal the "keitz", the ultimate redemption plan, the guide to perceiving the unity of KB"H and his Shechina, the "ain sof" as one with the hidden hand of G-d in the world. Yet, at that moment the ruach hakodesh departed from him. Ya'akov could not prophetically proclaim the destiny of his children while in touch with the spirit of ruach hakodesh as that would remove all free will. Yaa'kov suddenly experienced Hashem hidding, the idea of Shechina which masks itself in the world. The Midrash teaches at that moment the Shevatim unanimously comforted their father by saying Shema Yisrael - at that moment the Shevatim reminded their father that although the mask has been pulled over his eyes, in truth all that ever exists and ever existed is the Echad, the indivisable unity of the ohr ain sof. And Ya'akov in turn responded, Baruch Shem Kvod Malchuso, he recognized that the same ohr ain sof that transcends time/space gives us the opportunity to have free will so that we may bring about his Malchus, and through that come to recognize the ultimate yichud of these two ideas of Mishkan and Mikdash.

Mikdash - Mishkan and L'Shem Yichud

I was not able to shake my cold to post this last week, but wanted to still touch on R' Tzadok haKohein's opening pieces in his sefer Dover Tzadek, and as IY"H we will see, they relate to these past few parshiyos. I have not learned Tanya in a long time, but I recall much of these same ideas can be found there. R' Tzadok starts with a gemara in Eiruvin(2) - "Mishkan ikrei Mikdash, u'Mikdash ikrei Mishkan" - the terms Mikdash and Mishkan are synonomous, and therefore halachic limudim can be made one to the other (we will not explore the halachic details here). R' Tzadok quotes that this gemara represents the idea of "Lshem yichud Kudsha Brich Hu u'shechintei", which according to chassidic tradition is said before performance of a mitzva.

Mishkan comes from the root Sh-K-N, to dwell. The Torah teaches G-d dwells within each of us because during creation G-d "blew" from his spirit into man, meaning inside every single person, even a Jew (and for the sake of simplicity we will discuss Jewish neshomos only) on the lowest level far removed from Yiddishkeit, there is a spark of neshoma which is a direct manifestation of G-dliness. In the guise of Shechina, G-d's presence hides itself in our world, hides itself in man, it masks its presence so that at times we loose sight of the fact that He is always with us.

At the same time, it is fundemental that G-d has no boundry, cannot be contained, cannot be delimited, and has absolutely no form. Mikdash comes from the root K-D-Sh, meaning separate (something which is kadosh is separate). Seforim refer to this aspect of G-dliness as the "ohr ain sof", the unbounded light of G-d, G-d in the most transcendent form we can conceive of.

The problem is if G-d has no boundry or container, we should cease to exist as independent creatures with free will (bechira) and just be subsumed under the "ohr ain sof", the infinity of G-d. G-d as Mikdash seems incompatable with G-d as Mishkan!

Without the illusion of our having a separate existance, there would be no concept of "malchus", Kingship, because a King by definition is a ruler over a separate domain. G-d is perfect, and embodies this trait of King as well. Therefore, through a process that we cannot even begin to understand, G-d created a "void" in which he created our universe and world that appears distinct and separate from Himself so that this idea of Malchus, G-d as King, can be revealed. This is the essence of the idea of tzimtzum, G-d "contracting" his presence to create the world. If a single word, the entire purpose of creation is Malchus.

The paradox is that even though there is tzimtzum and G-d is immanent and part of every aspect of our lives, we still believe G-d NEVER changed in TIME or SPACE from the unbounded "ohr ain sof" that has always and will always exist. Tzimtzum is not an event, because an event takes place in space/time and G-d transcends space/time - it is a concept, but exactly how this exactly works is beyond our conception in human terms. Mishkan, G-d as "m'tzumtam", contracted in the world and us, is always simultaneously Mikdash, the same transcendent boundry-less existance.

This is the idea of "L'Shem Yichud Kudsha Brich Hu U'Shechintei". We have to embrace K- Brich Hu, the transcendent, Mikdash, as one with Shechintei, G-d as immanent, as Mishkan.


If you have a Pri Tzadik, it is worth taking a look at his amazing comment in Parshas VaYigash (#1) that according to kisvei tzadikim our suffering in galus has been equiavlent to milchemes Gog U'Magog and Mashiach ben Yosef and we await only the final tikkun, which can come in an instant.

Monday, January 09, 2006

under the weather

I've spent the weekend suffering with what feels like the flu - as a result, light blogging for now until things are back to normal.

Easy fast to all

Asarah B'Teves

There is a comment regarding 10 Teves which seems to have passed into folk knowledge. The BH"G writes that if any fast were to fall on Shabbos, the issur of fasting on Shabbos would be doche the ta'anis. However, with respect to 10 Teves, since the ta'anis is stated in Nach as falling "b'etzem hayom hazeh" (Yechezkel 24, see R"H 18b), on the precise date of the 10th, even if that day were to occur on Shabbos one would be obligated to fast. How does the fact that the Navi specifically designates the day change 10 Teves from all other fasts where the day of the fast is also defined precisely by the halacha? In the Chiddushi HaGR"Ch (stencil), R' Chaim Soloveitchik explains that all the other fasts in Nach are referred to by the month they fall in - "tzom harevi'i, tzom hashevi'i...", etc. If those fasts were to fall on Shabbos, we can subsitute another day of the month for the day of Shabbos. However, with respect to 10 Teves, the date, not the month, defines the fast, and therefore there can be no substitute.
I thought perhaps with this chiddush of R' Chaim we could explain a difficult Tosfos in Megillah. The gemara has a hava amina that Rebbi wanted to abolish the fast of 9 Av, which Tosfos finds incredible because a latter Bais Din has no right to overrule a takkanah of an earlier Bais Din (in most circumstances), and 9 Av was established by the Nevi'im. Tosfos therefore suggests that the hava amina merely meant that Rebbi wanted to abolish the additional strictures of 9 Av beyond other fasts, or perhaps Rebbi wanted to change the date of 9 Av to 10 Av (see Tos as to why). Asks the RashaSh, but moving the date of a holiday or fast once established by Chazal is also uprooting a takkanah of Bais Din (see Megillah 2a)!? Based on R' Chaim's chiddush we can answer that the precise date of 9 Av was never established by the Bevi'im, only the month was established. Exactly which date of the month should be the fast day was left to Chazal's judgement.
Easy fast to all!!!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Yosef Reveals Himself (III)

How did Yehudah cause Yosef to reveal that "Mai'Elokim yatzah hadavar", that despite their perception of danger, everything which occurred only was the yad Hashem? The Sefas Emes captures the tension between the reality of hashgacha and our perception of events in a teaching from his grandfather. Yehudah and Yosef represent two personality archetypes. Yehudah represents hoda'ah, acknowledgment (modeh) and praise (hoda'ah) that comes from seeing the yad Hashem b'giluy. Yosef is the yad Hashem in hiding; superficially Yosef is the Egyptian viceroy bringing suffering, yet behind the scenes is Yosef haTzadik carrying out the plan of hashgacha. When a person feels he/she is sinking, they have to cry out that this is just the pretend image of Yosef as viceroy, but everything in truth is only Yehudah, only a cause to thank Hashem. "VaYigash eilav Yehudah": the Yosef-perception that masks the hashgacha can be dispelled the closer draw to a Yehudah-attitude, to constantly praising for Hashem and being always aware of his presence.

Yosef Reveals Himself

When Yehudah approaches Yosef at the opening of the parsha, the brothers are truly in dire straits. Yosef was lost, the brothers already acknowledged "asheimim anachnu", their guilt, Shimon had been imprisoned on their last trip to Mitzrayim and they were all suspect of being spies, they had declared whoever had stolen goods would forfeit his life only to discover the goods on Binyamin, and now they all stood to be imprisoned as slaves. The Ishbitzer in Mei HaShiloach (vol 2) writes that we learn from this parsha that in the darkest moments of galus never to give up hope. In the blink of an eye, Yosef reveals himself and the entire picture changes from complete despair to a joyful reunion. Yet, writes the Ishbitzer, in truth NOTHING had changed other than their perspective (in fact, the meforshim even ask what Yehudah added in his recapitulation of events that we did not already know). The brothers accuser had always been Yosef, they had never been in any real danger, Binyamin would never have been harmed, and this was all a grand play to bring about the resolution of the dreams. When the moment of geulah comes it will not be an outside force that relieves us from daily worries and travails, but geulah will come when we are finally able to see behind the curtain and discover that all our tzaros were just an illusion caused by our ignorance of the goings on behind the scenes. (Although this is an Ishbitzer Torah, you can't help but think of R' Nachman's adage that "asur l'hitya'eish", and that all the worry in life is just a result of our chisaron of da'as.)

Yosef Reveals Himself (II)

The Midrash comments on the pasuk "Mayim amukim eitzah b'lev ish, v'ish tevonah yidlenah" (Like deep waters is the counsel in man's heart, and a wise man can draw it out): to what can Yehudah's encounter with Yosef be compared? To a deep well with fresh clean water on its bottom that was unreachable. Along came one who combined thread with thread and rope with rope and finally drew up the water so all were able to drink. So too, Yehudah added argument to argument until he moved Yosef's heart. The Midrash is difficult on two levels: firstly, as we noted, Yehudah offered no argument to Yosef other than a recapitulation of the story that was already known; secondly, it should be obvious without the mashal to the well that Yehudah's words made an impact on Yosef causing him to relent - what does the analogy add to our understanding? Perhaps we can interpret the message in light of the Ishbitzer's teaching. Had this parsha been an old western, we would expect the cavalry to ride in at this point and rescue the brothers. However, the Torah's lesson is that there is no cavalry waiting out there to come to the rescue. The answer was buried within the well, it was in the very circumstances that stood before them, but it required looking at things in a different light. It was not a change in fortune from outside that brought help, but a change in attitude on the inside which revealed that everything before them was b'hashgachas Hashem. (See the Sefas Emes's comments on this Midrash.)

Ain holchin b'mamon achar haRov (II)

The gemara in B.M. attempts to prove that in a location where a large number of people pass, any lost object is considered abandoned by its owner even if it has simanim. The gemara cites a mishna in machshirim which states that if a majority of the residents of a city are nochrim, one who finds a lost object is not chayav to announce it to determine the owner - we assume that it has been abandoned because of the presence of the majority, proving at least with respect to a majority of nochrim passing through the din holds. Tosfos asks why we need the sevara that the presence of a majority of nochrim in the city causes ye'ush, causes the owner to abandon hope of getting the object back - we should simply argue that if the majority of the city residents are nochrim then the likelihood is that a nochri dropped the object and there is no mitzvah of hashavas aveidah? The achronim point out that this Tosfos seems to contradict the rule we have discussed before that "ain holchin b'mamon achar harov", we cannot resolve financial questions using the principle of rov. One may need to draw a distinction between where title (chezkas marei kammah) exists and one is trying to use rov to prove that someone else is the real owner (which rov cannot do) and the case of aveidah where we do not know who originally had title to the object and that is what we are trying to use rov to determine.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


Hopefully the vacillation between halacha. aggada, and "other" is not detracting anyone from reading this blog. I am a bit all over the place, but hopefully that means everyone can find some topic that more of less is to their interest. As the hashkafa/parsha postings seem to be drawing the most interest, I will try to keep those up bli neder. Feedback is appreciated!!!

Ain holchin b'mamon achar haRov

The gemara in Bava Metziya (22b) asks if we hold that "yeiush shelo m'da'as lo havei yeiush", that a lost item is not considered abandoned until the owner is aware of its loss and gives up hope of finding it, how is it permissible to eat dates that have blown off the orchard trees without the owner's awareness - even if one assumes that all fruit that falls off trees is implicitly abandoned because the owners know it will be eaten by insects before being recovered by them, perhaps the owner is a minor who is incapable of relinquishing ownership? The gemara answers that we are not "machzik" an orchard as having trees owned by minors unless we know otherwise; Rashi explains that this is based on "rov", because the majority of trees are not owned by minors. I was wondering how the gemara can use the principle of rov to resolve this issue - since this is a monetary case, the rule is "ain holchin b'mamon achar harov", one cannot rely on the principle of majority to resolve questions of monetary ownership? More to come on this....

Ohr Makif (II)

I wanted to share n idea I said over the first Shabbos after one of my children was born that relates to this idea. The gemara in Beitzah darshens the pasuk by Shabbos which says Vayinafash (Hashem rested) to read "vy avdah nefesh", woe for the spirit is gone, and derives from that we are each given an additional spirit or soul on Shabbos, called the neshama yeseira, which then departs after Shabbos. The reason we smeel besamim during havdalah is to comfort us for the loss of this extra neshoma. The Ba'al Shem Tov questions the basis for the gemara's derashs: the pasuk of Vayinafash is written at the ONSET of Shabbos, yet it is only AFTER shabbos when this additional neshoma departs that we should cry "vy advah nefesh"? The Sefas Emes (P' Tazriya) offers the best answer I have seen. He explains that only a certain amount of neshoma can be extant in the body at one time. Therefore, to make room for the extra holiness of Shabbos and the extra dose of higher neshoma we are given, at the onset of Shabbos a bit of the weekday neshoma is pushed out. The cry of "vy avdah nefesh" is for this bit of the weekday nefesh we are so used to having about. Perhaps this is why the first Shabbos after a child is born is so special (shalom zachor). The descent of the neshoma into thw world is incomplete until this first Shabbos when the higher neshoma yeseira comes into the world.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Ohr makif

A recent post touched on the concept of Ohr Makif, which prompted a question in the comments as to what this means. In a nutshell, our soul has numerous levels which reach from the loftiest closest connection to G-d right down to our mundane existence on earth. By way of what is perhaps a poor analogy, we each have tremendous brainpower at our disposal - the concentration and intensity we use to solve a calculus problem is not the same intensity of thought we use when we are washing the dishes. Our soul has tremendous power - some of that power is needed just to animate our body, some of that power is needed for higher thought, some is needed to do Torah and mitzvos and cleave to G-d, and some of that power is so strong that it cannot be contained or detected by the physical body we are in. Those higher rungs of the soul that are part of the definition of who we are but are connected to G-d on higher levels than can be absorbed or detected by the body, are the ohr makif, the "surrounding light". My wife had suggested that the spinning of the dreidel round a single point represents the levels of the neshoma of ohr makif that spin around the point of our physical body. More to come...

Yosef and Bitachon (III)

With this background we are better able to appreciate R' Tzadok haKohein's approach in Pri Tzadik (I am writing it with slight variation). R' Tzadok argues that Yosef had perfected his tzadikus except for the inescapable residual effects of the cheit of Adam haRishon, and this is what led to the mistake of relying on the Sar HaMashkim. Adam HaRishon wanted to bring about Hashem's dominion over the world, but wanted his own efforts and hishtadlus, his own da'as, to be part of the equation. Because of that, man's entire worldview became tainted with that little bit of "me" that effects every thing we do, think about, or observe. Yosef knew Hashem's plan for his escape through the Sar HaMashkim, but he could not leave that alone without attempting to play some role in its occurring.

Yosef and Bitachon (II)

Someone left a comment that that Ya'akov employed his own efforts to deal with Eisav by sending gifts and preparing for war, so why is Yosef expected to rely on bitachon and not make any effort to free himself from prison? The Chazon Ish writes in Emunah U'Bitachon that one can act purposefully to resolve a situation in consonance with bitachon, but one can also act our of desperation as if no hope was left, which reveals a lack of bitachon. According to the Chazon Ish, relying on the efforts of a criminal drunk (to paint the Sar HaMashkim in his most unflattering light) fell into the latter category. Yosef had trust in Hashem in a global sense, but in this one instance it did not properly translate into action.
However, based on the Yismach Moshe we posted, the contrast with Ya'akov is not a question at all. Ya'akov had no clue as to how he would escape the confrontation with Eisav, hence every avenue of hishtadlus was open to him. Yosef knew and recognized the hand of hashgacha in sending the Sar haMashkim to be in prison at the same moment he was, so the path of eventual escape was clear. He is criticized for saying "zechartani...v'hizkartani" because what possible gain could there be in Yosef interjecting his own efforts to the plan which Hashem already had set in motion and would eventually bring his escape?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Yosef and Bitachon

The Midrash writes: "Ashrei hagever asher sam mivtacho baHashem", Praised is the one who trusts Hashem, this refers to Yosef; "V'lo panah el rehavim", And did not turn to haughy ones, since Yosef said to the Sar HaMashkim "z'chartani v'hizkartani", to remember him, he was sentenced to two additional years in prison. On the one hand Yosef is praised as having bitachon, on the other hand he was punished for asking the Sar haHamashkim to remember him and not relying wholly on bitachon?? A number explanations are given to this Midrash (among the more well known is the Bais HaLevi's suggestion that for a regular person using every avenue of escape, including the Sar HaMashkim, would be acceptable, but a tzadik like Yosef is held to a higher standard). The Yismach Moshe has an interesting approach that I noticed this year. Recall our discussion of the differences between the Sar haHaMashkim and the Sar HaOfim (http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2005/12/sar-hamashkim-vsar-haofim-rosencrantz.html ). The Sar HaMashkim was tossed in prison due to a fly landing in the King's cup; events out of his control determined his destiny. Yosef understood that more than chance was at work here, and he ascribed the turn of events to hasgacha. Yosef tursted only in Hashem for his salvation, but reasoned (correctly) that Hashem would engineer his escape through the Sar HaMashkim. Read precisely, the Midrash criticises Yosef only for saying the words "z'chatani v'hizkartani". Once he realized that Hashem had arranged that the Sar haMashkim would be the instrument of his deliverance, Yosef did not need to say anything - he should have accepted the natural unfolding of events through hashgacha without comment.
Sometimes when Hashem chooses to take over and control the destiny of am Yisrael on a collective level (as it is hard to apply this to yechidim) it means we have to turn the wheel over to him and resist the urge to drive or get out and push.

Eating Dairy on Chanukah

The Bnei Yisaschar explains the minag of eating dairy on Chaukah based on the Midrash Chazal that when the angels appeared to Avraham he fed them basar b'chalav, meat and dairy together. When later Hashem wished to give the Torah to the Jewish people and the angels complained that only they were deserving of getting the Torah, Hashem raised the issue of their not being worthy because they violated this issur. The Bnei Yisaschar further expains derech pilpul that Avraham was able to serve basar b'chalav even though normally deriving any benefit from basar b'chalav is prohibited because since this became the vehicle by which the Jewish people overcame the angels argument and received the Torah, and the halacha is that "miztvos lav l'henos nitnu", the benefit derived from a mitzva performance does not have the halachic status of personal benefit, this hana'ah was not prohibited. My wife added the following observation, apropos to the previous posting I had done on Chanukah and birur: why specifically was it that basar b'chalav became the means of overcoming the angels? Perhaps basar b'chalav represents this idea of irbuvya, the mixture of good and bad that is all confused in the world as a result of man eating from the eitz hada'as. Man must face the confusion of the world, but can undo it through the power of Torah. Angles live in a static state and are forever trapped in the same static state. (I pointed out to my wife that the Noam Elimelech in Parshas Mishpatim also sees in basar b'chalav an idea of irbuvya, but has a different approach - take a look!)

P.S. See my wife's website: www.kallahmagazine.com