Wednesday, September 30, 2009

bal tosif: adding a new mitzvah vs. modifying an existing mitzvah

A few years ago in honor of the occasion of my MIL's donation of a sefer torah, my wife’s uncle edited and published a small collection of the correspondence and writings of my wife’s grandfather, HaRav Dov Yehudah Shochet, who was among the talmidim muvhakim of Telz (see my BIL's article on Telz) and a Rav in Basel, the Hague, and Toronto, and in whose memory (along with others) the sefer was written. By coincidence, one of the few full length shiurim (I only recently got my hands on the kuntres) is devoted to the topic of bal tosif which we have been discussing as of late. I am sorry I can only write up a smattering of an idea from this brilliant shiur (and I am adapting the idea, so the errors are mine); the small amount printed is rav b'eichus on many levels despite being miyut b'kamus, and I hope bl"n to share more.

The shiur draws a distinction between two types of bal tosif: changing the tzurah of an existing mitzvah vs. fabricating a new mitzvah. (This is similar to the distinction I cited from Avi Ezri between adding a chiyuv vs. changing the kiyum mitzvah.) As we learned, the Rashba writes that takanos of Chazal do not violate bal tosif because they are justified by the need for legislation. The Turei Even asks: the gemara (R”H 28) writes that R’ Eliezer holds if the blood of a korban requiring the sprinkling of dam 4 times gets mixed with the blood of a korban that requires sprinkling only once, sprinkling the blood 4 times is prohibited because of bal tosif. Why doesn't the need to perform zerikas hadam 4 times not override the issur of bal tosif just like the need to enact a takanah overrides bal tosif? Based on the distinction between the two types of bal tosif, this question is easily answered: given the need for legislation, creating new takanos does not violate bal tosif; however, no matter what the need, the parameters of an existing mitzvah cannot be altered. Because one of the korbanos demands zerika no more than one time, the mitzvah of zerika cannot be modified and done four times.

Is adding tekiyos d’meyushav an addition of a new mitzvah or a change to the existing mitzvah of tekiyas shofar? That essentially is the difference between Rashba, who justifies tekiyos d’meyushav as a takanah and therefore excluded from bal tosif, and Tosfos, who suggests a different sevara and explains that doing a mitzvah 2 times is allowed. The question I ended my last discussion of this topic with (see this post) -- why does the Rashba's sevara not answer Tos' question -- does not get off the ground. Tosfos could not use the Rashba’s sevara because changing the parameter of an existing mitzvah, as opposed to adding a new takanah, would be a kum v’aseh violation of bal tosif which Chazal have no license to do.

We can explain the debate on a deeper level by returning R’ Akiva Eiger’s question (which we discussed here) on Tos’ comparison of tekiyos d’meyushav to a kohein doing birchas kohanim for a second time in one day. R’ AK”E argues that there is an obvious difference: the kohein has a new chiyuv of birchas kohanim every time he enters a shul that is up to duchaning; the ba’al tokeya has no new chiyuv to blow shofar once he has fulfilled his mitzvah d’oraysa. Chasam Sofer answers that the ba’al tokeya’s obligation of shofar is in fact incomplete by dint of arvus so long as others still have not heard shofar.

Tosfos may have held like the Chasam Sofer and viewed tekiyos d’meyushav as an extension of the mitzvah of tekiyos already in progress. The Rashba, however, may have sided with R’ Akiva Eiger and viewed tekiyos d’meyushav as a new mitzvah, the old mitzvah of tekiyos already having been completed with the conclusion of one round of tekiyos.

bal tosif in adding to the 4 minim

In the last post I did on bal tosif I left a question hanging that I will try to return to bl”n, but first this...

The Rambam (Lulav 7:7) writes that one may take extra hadasim with the lulav because having a full bouquet looks more beautiful. However, one may not take more of the other minim; taking an extra lulav, esrog, or aravah does not add to the beauty of the mitzvah and violates bal tosif. The Ra’avad disagrees and writes that he does not understand why taking extra minim disqualify the mitzvah. Since lulav does not require eged, meaning there is nothing which unites whatever you pick up and defines it as a single halachic bundle, there is no connection between the extra items picked up and the items which are part of the mitzvah requirement. An extra lulav, esrog, or aravah serves no function and has no effect on the character of the mitzvah.

Recall our discussion before Rosh haShana regarding bal tosif: according to the Rambam bal tosif occurs when adding chiyuvim; e.g. were Chazal to give the impression that a din derabbanan is actually a chiyud d’oraysa they would be in violation of bal tosif. Ra’avad sees bal tosif as a function of changing a kiyum mitzvah, e.g. adding an extra bayis to tefillin.

The Avi Ezri extends that discussion to explain our machlokes as well. According to the Rambam whether or not the extra items technically count as part of the cheftza shel mitzvah bundle of 4 minim is irrelevant -- the disqualification of bal tosif is caused by the attempt by the person to alter the chiyuv of the mitzvah by adding minim. The Ra’avad who looks only at the kiyum mitzvah as the measure of bal tosif sees no problem in this case because since there is no eged the kiyum mitzvah is unchanged.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

closing thoughts on Yom Kippur

Some closing Yom Kippur thoughts:

1) The Kohein Gadol's prayer ended with a special plea for the safety of the residents of the Sharon whose homes collapsed every few years because of the weather conditions where they lived. Isn't it a strange way to end off the tefilah which otherwise includes general requests for the welfare of Klal Yisrael by focusing on a specific group of people? I think the answer is that these people demonstrated a remarkable trait. The residents of the Sharon could have simply packed up a moved to some other area where their homes would not continue to collapse, but they chose to remain put rather than abandon this area of Eretz Yisrael. The tenacity and commitment to the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael deserves extra bracha.

2) The gemara tells us that the Kohein Gadol would make a Yom Tov in celebration of completing the avodah successfully. What the gemara apparently means is that the Kohein Gadol would make a seudah and invite others to join him. R' Tzadok is medayeik: why does the gemara not simply say the Kohein Gadol would make a seudah -- why phrase it as making a "Yom Tov"?

If, for example, I got a new car, I might tell you about my car, let you test drive my car, invite you to a little car party to celebrate my car, etc. all of which you might enjoy and partake of, but at the end of the day the car will still just be my car and the party my party. The celebration of the Kohein Gadol was not like that. The joy upon completion of the avodah was infectious. It wasn't the Kohein Gadol's party that others joined, but it became their party, i.e. there was a sense of personal joy that each and every person experienced.

Why is that the case? I think it has to do with the role played by the Kohein Gadol, and in our times, the shaliach tzibur. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the shliach tzibur is no more than our agent -- in fact, the Mishna in Brachos applies the idea of "shlucho shel adam k'moso" to the shat"z. We depend on the shat"z or the Kohein to fulfill the job we assign to them, but their success depends on more than going through the motions of an assigned task. The shat"z and the Kohein carry with them the kochos hanefesh, the hopes and aspirations and thoughts of the tzibur, without which tefilah and avodah is an empty shell. Their success means the emotions which we invested in them have been accepted, and we therefore we each have good reason to make a Yom Tov.

3) The transition from Yom Kippur to Sukkos may seem for some like going m'igra rama l'beira amikta as we switch gears from the solemnity of tshuvah to the joy of Yom Tov. I think the following story is a good response to that. In one of the Shlomo Carlebach bios there is the tale of a Jew who davened with R' Shlomo on the Yamim Noraim and afterwards complained that he just didn't feel uplifted by the tefilah. R' Shlomo replied that he noticed that whenever he was singing this individual did not join in; "You never responded when I said 'Give me harmony!'" The Jew answered that he was so focused on praying and repenting that he did not feel much like singing. R' Shlomo replied, "Don't you know that just like you can pray your way to Heaven you can also sing and dance your way to Heaven?"

On Yom Kippur we repent and pray our way to Heaven. On Sukkos we sing and dance our way there. And on that note, time to start preparing for the next chag.

Friday, September 25, 2009

when disagreement with sanhedrin is allowed

The Mishna (Kerisus 6:3) records a machlokes between R' Eliezer and the Chachamim whether a person can voluntarily bring an asham taluy. Baba ben Buti, the Mishna tells us, in accordance with R' Eliezer's view would bring an asah talauy every day except the day after Yom Kippur .

The Tiferes Yisrael asks an interesting question. How could Baba ben Buti ignore the majority opinion of the Chachamin in favor of R' Eliezer when the Torah tells us acharei rabim l'hatos? How could the kohanim have accepted his korban on a daily basis when according to the majority view it was chulin b'azarah? Even in the famous debate (Baba Metziya 59) over tanur shel achna'i where R' Eliezer had miracles and a bas kol on his side, the Chachamim rejected his view because majority wins. Not only that, but what is a zakein mamrei if not someone who acts based on his own interpretation of the law in contradiction to the psak of the majority of Sanhedrin?

Why then was R' Eliezer (or Akavya ben Mehalalel in Ediyos 5:7) not a zakein mamrei? The Tif. Yisrael answers that though he disagreed with the majority of the Chachamim in theory, in practice R' Eliezer bowed to their view. Baba ben Buti, however, disagreed in practice. My son did not like this distinction. He pointed out that the gemara (B.M. 59b) says openly that the Chachamim burned the taharos of R' Eliezer, implying that he had relied on his own opinion in practice.

The truth is that we find in other places that individual Tana'im acted in practice based on their own minority view. The gemara tells us that in R' Eliezer's town they would chop wood on Shabbos if needed for milah because he held machshirei milah are doche Shabbos against the majority view; R' Yosi would eat chicken and milk together because he held that there was no rabbinic prohibition of doing so, against the majority view. R' Elchanan in Kuntres Divrei Sofrim explains these cases as having occurred before the issue was formally brought to a vote and decided by the Sanhedrin. In other words, historically there may have been a period of flux during which different traditions were accepted and practiced, some more widely adopted than others, and Sanhedrin took no pains to intervene. Once the issue did come to a vote and was resolved, the minority view became unacceptable in practice. Based on this approach perhaps Baba ben Buti was free to do as he pleased because there had not yet been a formal vote on the issue.

Chazal famously darshen (cited by Rashi in P' Shoftim) that one must obey the Sanhedrin even if they appear mistaken and declare that right is left and left is right. Yet the gemara in Horiyos implies that even a talmid who knows Beis Din is mistaken should not follow their psak. The Ramban in Sefer haMitzvos resolves the contradiction using the same logic as R' Elchanan: Before Beis Din hears out the talmid, he is entitled to stick to his guns and follow his own interpretation irrespective of the majority's disagreement. However, if Beis Din hears out the talmid's objections and formally rejects them and rules otherwise, then the talmid must conform in practice to the psak of the majority or risk being labeled a zakein mamrei.

What remains unclear to me is why certain issues were to be taken to a vote and resolved and other issues remained unresolved. For example, it seems (Chagigah 16) that the issue of whether a korban should get smicha on Yom Tov was debated for centuries. The Margoliyas HaYam in Sanhedrin discusses why this was the case; i.e. why a vote and final psak was not given. Whatever the answer in that particular case (I don't recall his solution offhand), I think the question needs to be raised more broadly and I don't know that we have enough information to formulate an intelligent answer (at least I don't, but mareh mekomos welcome).

Thursday, September 24, 2009

R' Chaim Shmulevitz on Yonah

Yonah did not want to deliver his prophecy to Ninveh because if Ninveh would do tshuvah it would make Klal Yisrael look bad for their lack of repentance. We all know the story of Yonah's attempt to flee, the storm that follows his boat, his being swallowed by a fish, and his eventual delivery of the message. Why, asks R' Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar, Shoftim 1971), did Hashem "need" Yonah? Why try to force him off the boat, why miraculously keep him alive in a fish (actually there were two different fishes that swallowed him), why keep after him alone to go to Ninveh? Surely Hashem could find another prophet willing to deliver his message if Yonah refused!

R' Chaim Shmulevitz answers that it was precisely because Yonah fled that no substitute could fill his place. The sensitivity shown by Yonah in trying to avoid any action that might cast the Jewish people in a bad light is what endeared Yonah to Hashem. Who could be more deserving of being Hashem's prophet than someone who evinces such caring?


There is a din to ask mechila before Yom Kipur from people one may have harmed, so in that spirit I hope my reading audience includes mechila of me in their tefilah zakah (or earlier!) We say after every amidah: "Elokei, netzor leshoni mei'ra... Psach libi b'torasecha" -- we ask Hashem to guard our tongue from speaking ill and to open our hearts to Torah. I can't recall where I saw written that the reason these sentiments are placed in the same tefilah is because the former is a precondition to the latter. Perhaps one should recite the same tefilah before blogging. Undoubtedly there is room for my improvement in the tone of posts and comments (sometimes harsh, sarcastic, vitriolic) , the choice of topics, and other areas. All things considered, I hope the gain in posting outweighs the downside, and ask your forbearance for those times it doesn't.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

a political note

My coworker unfortunately decided to keep his radio on to listen to Obama's speech to the UN this morning. Perhaps I should bring in a radio to listen to Glenn Beck or Rush or Mark Levin, but I'm too nice. Anyway, for anyone who is still delusional and thinks this President is a friend of Israel, WAKE UP! In case you missed it, Obama declared, "America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements" and to called for "...A viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967." This is not a political blog so I don't want to get into a wider discussion of the issues, but I think it is very important to recognize the danger that American foreign policy now poses for Israel. Sorry for this brief break from our regular program -- I just had to get that out of my system.

For those of you who can't remember what happened last time a deal was made regarding settlements, here's a little reminder of what we lost. And what did we gain?
Warning: watch with a tissue nearby to catch the tears.

the obligation of women to eat on erev yom kippur

The Minchas Chinuch and R' Akiva Eiger (Shu"T #16) raise the question of whether women are obligated in the mitzvah of eating on erev Yom Kippur. On the one hand, since the mitzvah can only be performed on erev Y"K, it would seem to be a classical mitzvas aseh she'hazman gerama. On the other hand, the gemara tells us that one who eats on erev Y"K gets credit as if he/she fasted two days. Since women are obligated in the fast of Y"K, perhaps they should also be obligated in this eating which serves as a kiyum of the ta'anis.

The relationship between the mitzvah to eat and fasting is further reflected in why we eat and what we eat. Rashi (Yoma 81b d"h kol ha'ochel) writes that eating is necessary simply to prepare for the fast. According to Rashi a simple meal of bread and water might suffice so long as it fills one before the fast. However, other sources indicate that eating is not just preparatory to the fast, but is an end in its own right and should be fulfilled with the finest foods. The Tur quotes a story of a poor man who spent his fortune on fish for the erev Yom Kippur meal; Rabeinu Yonah (S.T. 4:8) suggests that the eating on erev Y"K is a substitute for the simchas Yom Tov celebratory meal we lack on Yom Kippur itself. Whether one who is ill and cannot fast must fulfill the mitzvah of eating may hinge on which of these approaches is correct.

The gemara illustrates the principle of "mutav she'yeheyu shogigin v'al yehu meizidin" by pointing to our tolerance of women eating and drinking right up until twilight on erev Yom Kippur, ignoring the mitzvah to add a few minutes of the weekday onto the observance of the fast. The Rabbis thought it better to not inform women that they should stop eating earlier because their warning would likely be ignored; what had been done in ignorance of the law would continue to be done in violation of any warning, with no gain in observance. At first glance one might read this gemara as patronizing toward women in not trusting their commitment to the din of tosefes. However, the Halichos Beisa in his introduction cites an explanation of the Torah Temima which puts things in a different light. There are so few mitzvos aseh she'hazman gerama which women are actually obligated in that women relish the chance to do these mitzvos. An example of this type of mitzvah is eating on erev Yom Kippur (we see which side of R' Akiva Eiger's safeik the T"T was on)! In their enthusiams to perform this mitzvah to its fullest, women continued to eat right up until the last moment before Yom Kippur. Rather than throw cold water on their love for the mitzvah, Chazal felt it better to remain quiet and allow the practice to continue.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

eating on erev Yom Kippur

Chazal tell us that one who eats on Erev Yom Kippur gets credit as if he fasted two days. Mar, son of Ravina, would fast all year except for three days: Purim, Shavuos, and Erev Yom Kippur (Pesachim 68).

Tosfos (Rosh HaShana 9b) asks: the gemara tells us that even though R' Eliezer and R' Yehoshua disagree whether eating a meal is required on a regular Yom Tov, whether "chatzi lachem" is required to balance out the "chatzi laHashem", they both agree that on Shabbos, Shavuos, and Purim eating is required. Why does the gemara not also say that they both also agree that eating on Erev Yom Kippur is required?

R' Tzadok HaKohen answers (Pri Tzadik Erev Y"K 4) that there is a conceptual difference between the eating required on erev Yom Kippur and the eating required on Yom Tov. Eating on Shabbos or Yom Tov is done to fulfill the requirement of "lachem" or "oneg", to physically enjoy the day. The purpose of eating on erev Yom Kippur is not for the sake of "lachem" -- it is not for our own physical enjoyment, but rather must be done purely l'shem shamayim.

The requirement to eat on erev Yom Kippur is derived from the same source as the requirement to fast on Yom Kippur, "v'inisem es nafshoseichem". Why nafshoseichem in the plural? We face a dual challenge: to avoid the temptation for indulgence that entices our lower, base instinct/soul, and to be proper consumers of the world as required to energize our positive faculties/soul. The former is the lesson we learn from withdrawal from the world on Yom Kippur; the latter is the lesson of the meal on erev Yom Kippur.

ordination of women and maharats

Unless you've been living in a cave, you know that the ordination of a Maharat has been followed up by the opening of a yeshiva dedicated to training other Maharats. Good idea or bad idea? I want to focus on defining the question in the spirit of she'eilat chacham chatzi tshuvah with the caveat that these thoughts are just tentative musings.

1. The impetus for women's ordination/Maharat stems from the feeling that women are given less than their due as leaders in terms of authority, salary, or opportunity. Given the inequality of such a situation and the moral need to take corrective action, the presumption is that the title of Rabbi or Maharat will grant women who earn it a greater degree of authority and opportunity and also allow them to command a commensurate salary to their male counterparts. One can take issue with any of the three elements of this argument: 1) One might argue that even as the situation now stands women are able to rise to leadership roles and earn recognition, as evidence by examples like Reb. Jungreis; 2) One might accept that women do earn less and are not afforded equal opportunity, but not see any reason to challenge this status quo -- in fact, some would see the inequality as an ideal to be preserved in the name of tzniyus, separate gender roles, etc. 3) Finally, one might accept that there is indeed a problem and something should be done, but disagree that ordination of women is the solution. (I personally have more sympathy for this third objection than for the first two, but all three objections have been voiced.)

2. The papers or tshuvot which have been written regarding the halachic permissibility of ordaining women, even if technically correct, should be the beginning of the discussion, not its end. Obviously that which is clearly prohibited is out of bounds. However, even assuming ordaining women is permitted, the question remains: is it the right thing to do? Here is where public policy considerations, ideological and political considerations, and other meta-halachic considerations need to be weighed and addressed. Is the ordination of a Maharat a victory for Judaism, an opportunity to advance Torah values, or a victory for a form of feminism that views halacha as no more than the expression of the temporal will of its rabbinic decisors and therefore easily molded to meet some desired end? Need we be concerned if some draw the wrong philosophical conclusions from innovation so long as it is technically and morally justified? Rabbi Mayer Twersky cites an illuminating tshuvah of R' Dovid Tzvi Hoffman: "...Even if we would say that it [conditional kiddushin] is being accomplished in a permissible fashion, nevertheless what will the reformist rabbis say: behold those Orthodox [rabbis] have conceded that their laws are no good and the temper of the times cannot tolerate them . . . and they have thereby conceded that the temper of the times is mightier than antiquated laws. And what can we possibly say in response?"

3. Given the broad scope and impact of this issue, who is qualified to offer answers? Quote: "In the same framework, all those who hold to Orthodoxy contend that "new Halakha," which emerges constantly from the wellspring of the halakhic process, must always be based on the highest caliber of religio-legal authority. There must be an exceptional halakhic personality (italics mine) who affirms the new ruling on the grounds of sound halakhic reasoning." In other words, innovation must pass muster by the likes of a gadol, someone of unquestionable integrity, scholarship, and whose voice carries tremendous weight. These words of Rabbi Avi Weiss (Judaism, Fall 1997) are no less true today than when he wrote them. The institution of Maharat needs strong backing from rabbinic leadership if practically it is to become part of the accepted fabric of Orthodoxy instead of a fringe innovation. Yet, to be fair, if rabbinic leadership fails to take account of women's changed social status and ignores or stifles women's professional aspirations to serve the Torah community and contribute to its scholarship, what are these women to do and to whom should they turn?

Monday, September 21, 2009

the psychological challenge of the akeidah

When Avraham approached the mountain upon which he would perform the akeidah, he told Yishmael and Eliezer “Shvu im ha’chamor”, wait with the donkey. Implicit in Avraham’s words was the message that Yishmael and Eliezer were no more important than the donkey -- they were excluded from this important moment in his life and he made no effort to even put on a pretense of respect for their companionship. This behavior seems inconsistent with the Avraham we imagine as a role model of chessed, the man who went out of his way while in pain to welcome even those who he thought were idol-worshipping wanderers into his tent. How do we reconcile the Avraham who loved all people with this Avraham who is so dismissive of Yishmael and Eliezer?

After the akeidah the Torah tells us "Vayashav Avraham el ne'arav vayakumu va'yeilchu yachdav el Be'er Sheva," that Avraham returned to his two lads, Yismael and Eliezer, who were left at the foot of the mountain, and together they journeyed to Be'er Sheva. What significance is there in the reunion of Avraham with his traveling companions that warranted it being mentioned?

The Tiferes Shlomo explains that these two questions answer each other. Avraham showed love and respect for all people and would certainly not in other circumstances marginalize Yishmael and Eliezer. However, Avraham was commanded to sacrifice “Your son, your singular one, the one you love, Yitzchak;” he was commanded to allow his love for Yitzchak to dominate his emotions. Avraham was denied recourse to the natural psychological defense mechanisms that would mentally and emotionally distance him from Yitzchak in preparation for his sacrifice; to the contrary, Avraham was commanded to deepen his emotional attachment to Yitzchak and express it as he never before done so as to heighten the test which he faced. In response to this command alone, not for any inherent lack of love for them, Eliezer and Yishmael were pushed to the periphery.

Upon the conclusion of the akeidah Avraham returned to Yishmael and Eliezer, meaning his emotional equilibrium was restored and he no longer displayed any favoritism toward Yitzchak. Together, equally, they all continued their journey.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

shanah tovah u'metukah

My wife Ariella has a nice post on why we say "shanah tovah u'metukah" -- why not just "shanah tovah", like "kesiva v'chasima tovah"? The answer is that what is good for us may not always be sweet, and what is sweet is not always good. We ask Hashem for both. Take a look over here.

Rosh HaShana: the release of our inner Yosef haTzadik from prison

"On Rosh HaShana Yosef emerged from prison." (R"H 10b) The Sefas Emes and others teach that within each one of us there is a spark of Yosef hatzadik. During the year that spark of holiness yearns to escape, but it finds itself unable to. Economic burdens, health problems, spiritual turmoil and the petty attractions of this-worldliness all demand our time and attention and form a spiritual prison; our spiritual energy is squandered on all things except that which is truly spiritual. On Rosh HaShana we have a chance for a new beginning. That pent up spark of Yosef hatzadik finally can break free of its shackles and energize us to "rule over Egypt", to overcome all constraints (Mitzrayim = tzar).

I think there is an important caveat that needs to be added to this vort. Chazal tell us "ain chavush matir atzmo m'beis ha'asurim" -- a prisoner cannot free himself from jail. No matter how hard each of us individually try this Rosh HaShana to release that portion of Yosef hatzadik within ourselves, there is no way we can be successful -- unless we help each other. It's not enough on Rosh HaShana to dedicate ourselves to personal improvement; we have to dedicate ourselves to a shared effort. Only by giving and receiving, by pooling our efforts, talents, and ideas, can we break the barriers which constrain our growth.

I was struck by language of the phrase "ain chavush matir atzmo m'beis ha'asurim." Why not say "ain asur matir atzmo..." so that the same term is used to describe the prisoner, "asur", as the prison, "beis ha'asurim"? Why introduce a new term, "chavush"?

A few points of introduction before getting to the answer:

The last Mishna in shas tells us that in the future G-d will grant to every tzadik 310 worlds, hinted at by the pasuk "l'hanchil o'havay yesh", yesh = 310 in gematria.

If we combine the 613 commandments with the 7 Noahide laws we get a total of 620, double 310, equal in gematria to "keser", G-d's crown.

Rosh HaShana celebrates the creation of the world "yesh m'aiyin." The material world is "yesh" = 310. We must work to reveal the hidden G-dliness within the world by doing Torah and mitzvos to reveal the missing 310, the added 310 given to the tzadik, to complete the 310+310=620 of "keser". The focus of our tefilah on Rosh HaShana is malchus, the crowning of Hashem by revealing this keser.

But 310+310 is not just the combination of the spiritual and the material worlds; it is the combination of our individual efforts to bring about that result. 310 worlds are given "l'kol tzadik v'tzadik" -- in the plural -- because it takes my 310 worlds combined with your 310 worlds to bring about the desired "keser"=620.

Returning to our question of why the word chavush and not the word asur is used, I would suggest that it is because "chavush" (spelled without the vav) is also gematria = 310. Chazal were perhaps hinting that "ain chavush (= 310) matir es atzmo," each of us is just half of the crown of keser=620; without each other's help we cannot crown Hashem with his keser, and we cannot truly release our inner Yosef hatzadik.

Wishing everyone a kesivah v'chasima tovah!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

explanations in chassidus to why we don't blow shofar on shabbos

Someone in a comment pointed out a sicha of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (Nitzvaim-VaYeilech 5749 found in Sefer haSichos for that year, vol2) dealing with the omission of shofar on Shabbos. I am not sure I can do justice to the Rebbe's sicha in particular, but it's worth discussing more generally some of the approaches in chassidus to this issue. As we have discussed in previous posts (here and here), the Achronim all are troubled by the omission of the mitzvah of shofar on Shabbos. How can we surrender a mitzvah which is so integral to the theme of malchus (tamlichuni aleichem... b'mah? B'shofar) and the theme of kaparah (see Ramban, VaYikra 23:24) which define the very essence of Rosh HaShana because of the remote chance that someone may carry a shofar on Shabbos? Rosh HaShana without shofar is almost like Sukkos without a sukkah -- something of the very fabric of the holiday is missing.

The Rebbe quotes the Ba'al haTanya's answer: Tekiyas shofar is a means to awaken our desire to accept the dominion of Hashem, his malchus. On Shabbos we do not need an extra signal to inspire that desire; the day of Shabbos itself draws us to accept Hashem as our king.

Why then is shofar blown in the Mikdash even on Shabbos (R"H 29b)? Because a person who is within the Mikdash has the potential to be aroused and inspired to even greater heights than can be reached by the celebration of Shabbos alone.

The Shem m'Shmuel's answer: The gemara explains the bent shape of shofar as a hint to bend oneself in submisiveness to Hashem. The shofar reminds us of the need for humility; it arouses us to tshuvah by reminding us of our shortcomings. The celebration of Shabbos is the antithesis of that idea. On Shabbos we delight in being in Hashem's presence and remind ourselves of the greatness of what it means to be a Jew. There is no place for the trembling wail of a shofar on Shabbos, the day of oneg and happiness.

While normally these contrary emotions of humility and greatness, of fear and love, cannot co-exist, within the walls of the Mikdash one can reach a state of trancendence and find harmony even in opposites. Therefore, within the Mikdash, even on Shabbos the shofar is blown.

The Ba'al haTanya and Shem m'Shmuel are really two sides of the same coin. The appreciation of G-d's greatness goes hand in hand with a recognition of one's own limits. The Ba'al haTanya sees shofar as a reminder of the lofty dominion of G-d and hence unnecessary on Shabbos; the Shem m'Shmuel sees shofar as a reminder of the shortcomings of humanity and hence not fitting the Shabbos spirit.

The L. Rebbe's contribution to this discussion is returning the focus to man's avodah. Both the Ba'al haTanya and the Shem m'Shmuel see Shabbos as the day in which G-d expresses his majesty over the world and draws us to his service. We sit in passive acceptance of that state of affairs, spectators who experience Hashem's malchus, not agents who bring it about (Shabbos is "keviya v'kayma" and does not require a kiddush by Beis Din). But, argues the Rebbe, doesn't Rosh HaShana celebrate the creation of man in particular because man alone is charged with actively revealing G-d's majesty, not just experiencing it? We don't celebrate 25 Elul, the start of creation and revelation of G-d's power in the world, but rather 1 Tishrei, the day of mankind's creation, the day of the revelation of man's power, as man alone can change creation for better or worse by accepting G-d as his master or c"v rejecting him.

The theme the Rebbe develops is that our choice to not blow shofar is itself an active expression of our own agency. Blowing shofar during the week expresses our acceptance of Hashem as king; our choice to cease all activity on Shabbos, including shofar blowing, expresses that same acceptance. Between the lines lies the paradox: blowing shofar and the choice to not blow shofar represents hisbatlus to G-d's dominion, but that hisbatlus is effective only because it is an expression of our independent choice.

The sicha gets into deep territory in explaining why we do blow shofar in Mikdash. In a nutshell, hisbatlus is necessary only as a means to resolve the tension between existance as an independent entity, and G-d, the ultimate negation of anything's independence. The Mikdash transcends that conflict; within its walls reality and G-d can be seen as one and the same. The choice of not-blowing as an act of hisbatlus is therefore unnecessary. (Again, the sicha is pretty complex and I admit I have not done justice to it, especially this point, so please see it inside. The sefer can be found on

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

bal tosif and adding tekiyos

Tosfos (R"H 16b) asks why blowing shofar two times on Rosh HaShana -- tekiyos d'meyushav before musaf and then tekiyos again during the brachos of the amidah -- does not violate bal tosif. The Torah said to blow one set of tekiyos, not two! Tosfos answers that performing a mitzvah multiple times is not a violation of bal tosif, as we see from the case of a kohein who can duchen in one minyan and then duchen again should he go to another shul.

The Rashba gives what seems to be a simpler answer to Tosfos' question Rashba writes that the reason there is no bal tosif is because the Rabbis legislated that this is how we are to perform the mitzvah. Blowing shofar two times is no different than taking lulav on chol hamoed sukkos or fulfilling any other Rabbinic law which is categorically excluded from bal tosif.

Interestingly, these two views have elicited opposite reactions in various Achronim. The Pnei Yehoshua sees the Rashba's answer as so obvious he questions why Tosfos avoided it. The Turei Even, on the other hand, argues that the Rashba must agree with Tosfos. Take the case of eating matzah on Pesach -- surely no one eats exactly a k'zayis and no more. If only a Rabbinically legislated increase in shiur is permissible, how do our actions pass muster? (See this post from a few years ago for R' Chaim's explanation of the machlokes, also see here as well.)

R' Shach in Avi Ezri (Hil. Mamrim) suggests that Tosfos and Rashba are in agreement. Both answers are necessary because they are addressing different questions. As we learned last post, bal tosif can apply both to the chiyuv hamitzvah, the nature of the obligation, and the kiyum hamitzvah, its fulfillment. The Rashba's question focusses on the chiyuv of blowing shofar -- how could Chazal legislate sixty (or ninety or 100) kolos when the Torah mandated far fewer? The answer is that Rabbinic legislation is by definition not a modification of Torah chiyuv; it is just an additional obligation. The Turei Even's question from the case of eating more than a k'zayis of matzah is of no concern to the Rashba because Chazal never legislated how much to eat.

Tosfos' question relates to the kiyum mitzvah of shofar. Chazal changed the parameters of the obligation of shofar, but how do we justify in practice blowing more than the number of kolos mandated by the Torah? The answer is that fulfilling a mitzvah multiple times is not a violation of bal tosif.

While the lomdus sounds nice, the question that bothers me is given that Chazal have a right to add to the chiyuv of shofar, why would our obligation to fulfill the words of Chazal not be justification enough to explain why there is no bal tosif in our kiyum of 100 kolos? Why would Tosfos need to devise a new answer instead of simplying extending the answer of the Rashba to the realm of kiyum hamitzvah?

Rambam / Ra'avad on bal tosif

Rambam (Mamrim 2:9) explains that there is no issur of bal tosif when Chazal add takanos and seyagim to the mitzvos of the Torah so long as they make clear that their legislation is not a din d'oraysa. For example, the Rabbinic prohibition of eating fowl with milk is not in violation of bal tosif because Chazal never claimed that the Torah prohibited anything except animal meat and milk; they simply added an additional distinct safeguard to the existing law. Were Chazal to pretend that their enactment is actually a Torah law, they would be in violation of bal tosif.

The Ra'avad disagrees and holds that bal tosif does not apply to any Rabbinic enactments, whether they are permanent or temporary, whether they are formulated as if they were Torah law or not. What is an asmachta, asks the Ra'avad, if not an attempt to present Rabbinic law as if it was Torah mandated? (The Ra'avad clearly sees asmachta as more than a mnemonic device, in contrast to the Ritva in Eiruvin). Bal tosif applies only to individuals in their performance of mitzvos, e.g. adding extra fringes to tzitzis, an extra compartment to tefillin, extra species to one's lulav.

One thing gained by the Rambam's approach is it makes bal tigra much easier to understand -- Chazal cannot legislate away a mitzvah. If we focus on the individual's performance of mitzvos, like the Ra'avad, how is bal tigra different than a simple failure to perform a mitzvah?

Putting that point aside for now, we can explain the two views with the following chakira (Avi Ezri, Hil Mamrim): does bal tosif / bal tigra limit modification to the chiyuv or the kiyum of mitzvos? The Rambam emphasizes the immutability of Torah chiyuv or issur obligations even through Rabbinic legislation -- the nature of law itself is not subject to change. Ra'avad, however, shifts the discussion from the nature of law in theory (chiyuv) to its to fulfillment in practice (kiyum) -- has the individual performed what the Torah demanded without adding or subtracting from what is required?

As we shall see, this issue comes up in other areas as well, notably with respect to shofar.

Monday, September 14, 2009

chasam sofer on shofar and kedushas shabbos

The pesukim in Parshas Emor which describe Rosh HaShana (23:24) reveal little about the nature of the holiday.
דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֵאמֹר: בַּחֹדֶשׁ הַשְּׁבִיעִי בְּאֶחָד לַחֹדֶשׁ, יִהְיֶה לָכֶם שַׁבָּתוֹן--זִכְרוֹן תְּרוּעָה, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ
We are not told what we are commemorating, why on this day, or how the ritual of shofar plays into the theme of the holiday. Ramban explains:

ולא פירש הכתוב טעם המצווה הזאת, למה התרועה, ולמה נצטרך זיכרון לפני השם ביום הזה יותר משאר הימים, ולמה יצווה להיותו מקרא קדש כלל. אבל מפני שהוא בחדשו של יום הכיפורים בראש החודש נראה שבו יהיה דין לפניו יתברך כי בם ידין עמים, בראש השנה ישב לכסא שופט צדק, ואחרי כן בעשרת הימים ישא לפשע עבדיו. נרמז בכתוב העניין כאשר נודע בישראל מפי הנביאים ואבות קדושים.

The Torah does not elaborate on Rosh HaShana because it relies on the explanation given a few pesukim later for our celebration of Yom Kippur as a day of atonement. Coming so close together, it stands to reason that Rosh HaShana is intimately connected with Yom Kippur as a day of judgment, and the blowing of shofar is part and parcel of how we merit repentance and atonement.

Given that we see from the pesukim themselves (and the theme is reinforced many places in Chazal) that shofar is integral to kapparah, Chasam Sofer (P' Nitzavim d"h v'chaim sha'alu) asks how Chazal could cancel shofar on Shabbos just because of the slight chance that someone would err and carry a shofar in the street. Does the slight risk of chilul Shabbos outweigh the great risk of not having complete atonement?

The answer must be that yes, for even a slight chance of chilul Shabbos it is worth postponing tekiyas shofar, and we have Chazal's assurance that we will suffer no harm and diminishment of kaparah for placing paramount our concern for Shabbos. Quite the contrary -- our demonstration of concern for Shabbos and respect for Chazal's gezeiros will increase our merits.

However, writes the Chasam Sofer, this is a double-edged sword. If a person on every Shabbos of the year treats Shabbos with less than the respect it deserves, it is very hard to justify not blowing shofar because of an ostensible concern for kedushas Shabbos. How can you suddenly be such a machmir on Shabbos when it comes to shofar when for your own needs you were out playing ball on Shabbos, when you dress in casual clothes that are less than fitting for kedushas Shabbos, when your speech on Shabbos revolves around business instead of Torah, etc. whatever your own example may be.

Rather than bemoan the mistreatment of Shabbos in the past as an obstacle, reflecting on the concern Chazal demonstrated for Shabbos can inspire us to commit ourselves to greater respect for the sanctity of Shabbos in the future.

See here for other thoughts on the issue of not blowing shofar on Shabbos (Meshech Chochma, Minchas Elazar). I have spent a little time trying to organize some of the past posts by topic, so for more of what we discussed in past years regarding Rosh HaShana just click the topic on the left side.

Friday, September 11, 2009

mizmor l'todah: hoda'ah or viduy?

The Yerushalmi (Shavuos 6b in Vilna ed) writes that when Moshe heard that the viduy of the sa'ir l'chatas is mechapeir he recited the chapter of tehillim "mizmor l'todah". It seems that the Yerushalmi understands the term "todah" in "mizmor l'todah" as an expression of viduy, contrary to the views of poskim (see Tzion Yerushalayim on the spot) who read it as an an expression of thanks, hoda'ah.

Perhaps there is a way to reconcile the two views. R' Yosef Engel in his derasha for shabbos shuva cites a Tosefta which tells of a man who instructed his son to make an elaborate seudas hoda'ah because he fulfilled the mitzvah of shikcha. The father explained that being able to fulfill shikcha gave him more joy than any other mitzvah because shikcha occurs only where a person forgets crops in the field unintentionally. Hashem brings about the mitzvah without the doer intending it and gives him the credit! Therefore, a special hoda'ah is required.

The same holds true of tshuvah. Tshuvah m'ahavah transforms all sins into merits, yet it is obviously prohibited to sin in with the intent to then do tshuvah to accrue more merits that way. Like shikcha, these zechuyos come without the person intending to do good (in fact, the person had just the opposite intention), yet Hashem gives credit anyway. Therefore, like shikcha, these zechuyos which come through our viduy and tshuvah warrant a special hoda'ah to Hashem.

Interestingly, the MG"A (O.C. 51:10) quotes a minhag (which we do not have) to recite mizmor l'todah on R"H and Y"K. He attributes the minhag to the fact that the mizmor contains the words "hari'u l'Hashem", hinting to tekiyas shofar. Based on the Yerushalmi perhaps the minhag is rooted in the relationship between the today and viduy.

(Also see Sefas Emes, Chanukah leil 3, 5631, who explains hoda'ah in a way that relates to viduy.)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

new edition of Kallah Magazine

The fall edition of Kallah Magazine is now out and is being distributed in the 5 Towns, Brooklyn (parts done already), and Queens (should be there tomorrow). Pick up a free copy where you shop and if you call the advertisers (please do!) let them know where you saw their ad.

experience over explanation

Understanding that he could not lead the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael, Moshe pleaded with Hashem to allow him to give up his title as leader in exchange for the opportunity to simply enter Eretz Yisrael instead of dying outside its borders. The Midrash relates that Hashem agreed to abide by Moshe's wish so long as he, Moshe, found it tolerable. On the day Yehoshua was appointed leader, he entered the Ohel Moed, just as Moshe had done. All others, including Moshe, were kept out, just as had been the case when Moshe entered. When Yehoshua emerged, he was immediately approached by Moshe and asked what Hashem had revealed. Yehoshua responded that just as he was not privy to all that Moshe learned from Hashem in Ohel Moed, so too he in turn could not reveal to Moshe all that he was taught. When Moshe heard this response he cried out, "Better a thousand deaths than to suffer these pangs of jealousy."

Could it be that Moshe Rabeinu suffered from pangs of jealousy at seeing Yehoshua now taking his place? A Slabodka-ish answer would be that yes, indeed, even Moshe Rabeinu could suffer such pangs. No matter to what heights a person rises, he/she remains subject to human temptation and failings. If even a Moshe Rabeinu could be plagued by such concerns (albeit on his level, meaning he was attuned to the most fleeting feeling of jealousy which would not even register on our radar), how much more must we pay attention to our midos and remain attuned to possible lapses. Perhaps Moshe's recognition that he could not escape human failing brought with it the recognition that he could not escape mortality either.

R' Chaim Shmuelevitz, however, sees a deeper lesson here. Why couldn't Yehoshua have simply told his Rebbe. Moshe, what Hashem said? The answer is that communicating the message alone would not have been sufficient or satisfied Moshe. When Moshe or Yehoshua entered into the Ohel, or when a Navi enters into a prophetic state, it is not just about hearing words from Hashem, but it is an experience that envelops the entire person. Even if Yehoshua told Moshe what he heard, there is no way through words alone that he could capture the experience of nevuah and pass that on vicariously to Moshe.

We have discussed this idea many times in the past. Imagine trying to describe what a rainbow looks like to someone who is color blind, or trying to explain to someone deaf what a symphony sounds like. That's what trying to put Shabbos or talmud Torah into words is like. You have to hear Mozart and see Rembrandt -- listening with an attentive ear, observing with a discerning eye -- to appreciate their depth and beauty. One must immerse in the experience of Torah with an open heart and mind to gain what it has to offer; philosophical proofs alone cannot convey this appreciation.

Monday, September 07, 2009

kol haschalos kashos

Blogging may be light for awhile because I am starting a new job tomorrow and don't know what the schedule will be like other than it will surely mean less free time in the day. Over the past 9 months I lost the job I had at a major financial company after the meltdown that hit Wall Street. After that I was hired by a small company in a completely different business that was planning a major expansion and was confident that their balance sheet was unaffected by the financial crises. That temp to perm opportunity became very temp when someone woke up from their slumber and did a reality check and discovered that the revenue they had been projecting was non-existent -- expansion was canceled and 1/3 of the company was immediately laid off. Well, round three starts tomorrow at another financial place for another project that will hopefully get a bunch of budget extensions so I can stay for awhile. I should probably make a virtual seudas hoda'ah or something, but virtual food is not so tasty so we will leave it with an expression of hoda'ah for this siyata d'shemaya.

bikurim and tefilah: the antidote to superficiality

The Midrash Tanchuma writes that Moshe foresaw the destruction of the Mikdash which rendered the mitzvah of bikurim impossible to fulfill; he therefore instituted davening three times a day in its place. Why was Moshe concerned over the loss of bikurim more than any other mitzvah? And wasn't davening already instituted by the Avos (Brachos 26b)?

1. The second tochacha of the Torah corresponds (writes the Ramban) to the destruction of the second Mikdash. The pasuk tells us that the reason for tochacha is "tachas asher lo avadita es Hashem Elokecha b'simcha u'btuv leivav," there was a lack of simcha and joy in avodas Hashem. Yet, Chazal tell us (Yoma 10) that the second Mikdash was destroyed for the sin of sinas chinam, not lack of joy?

The Shem m'Shmuel answers that both of these sins share the same common denominator. A person who is is doing mitzvos without really wanting to will rush through them with a superficial, rote performance; simcha comes only to a person who loves what he/she is doing and immerses his/her entire personality in their work. The key to ahavas Yisrael is overlooking the superficial differences that seperate us all and focussing instead on the shared G-dly spark within each of us (Tanya ch 32, Pri Tzadik, P'Kedoshim). A person who tries to get away with being frum on a superficial level without putting his/her heart into it, a person who wants to be perceived by others and judged by this superficial veneer, is a person who judges others the same way, looking at superficial veneer and the many differences between people instead of the pnimiyus of our shared humanity.

The parsha of bikuim ends, "V'samachta b'chol hatov..." Hashem encourages us to relish the simcha of bikurim. Why is this mitzvah in particular characterized by simcha? I think we can get to the answer if we think about the meaning and cost of the little fruit basket the farmer brings. You can fulfill bikurim with a few dollars worth of fruit, but what makes the mitzvah special is that those fruits are the first fruits -- there is an emotional chord struck in the farmer, something that stirs in his pnimiyus, when he finally sees what his labor has brought to being. It's not just a fruit basket the farmer brings, but it is all the emotions beneath the surface connected with thanks for another successful harvest. Bikurim is a mitzvah of simcha because it embodies the idea of finding meaning in pnimiyus instead of superficials.

When Moshe saw the loss of the Mikdash because of the lack of simcha, because of sinas chinam, he saw a society focussed on external trappings and superficiality. He saw in particular our loss of bikurim, the mitzvah that reminds us of the well of meaning that exists behind the superficiality of just a little sacrifice of fruit.

2. The parsha of bikurim is followed by the parsha of viduy ma'aser. The focus of the entire viduy is the farmer's actions -- he used ma'aser only as food, he seperated his tithes in the right order, he recited a bracha, he gave away his terumos and ma'asros to make others happy, etc. -- the farmer sounds almost boastful that he got everything right and did what he was supposed to. The conclusion sounds like a quid pro quo request -- "G-d, I did what you asked, now you do what I ask and provide a blessing."

Contrast that with the parsha of bikurim which speaks not of anything done by the farmer, but only of the help G-d gives -- not just G-d's help in bringing the crop to fruition, but of the help which G-d has given the Jewish people throughout history. As opposed to viduy ma'aser where we introduce our supplication by recounting our own merits, in the parsha of bikurim we try to ellicit G-d's continued help by reciting his "merits", so to speak, meaning the chessed he has performed for us even when we may not have deserved it and even when there was nothing done on our part.

"V'anisa v'amarta" -- the Tiferes Shlomo explains that "v'anisa" here does not mean "to answer", but is from the same root as "ani", a poor person. Bikurim is "tefilah l'ani ki ya'atof," the prayer of one who is poor in deeds but looks to G-d's charity.

The tefilos of the Avos were the tefilos of those who achieved the pinnacle of closeness with G-d. The tefilah of vidy ma'aser is the tefilah of someone who can point to the fact that it looks like they have done everything right. But what if there is nothing we can point to on the surface that gives us credibility to ask anything of G-d? What if there is no deeds that we can use to gain entrance for our prayers?

What we need is tefilah l'ani, tefilah which ellicits Hashem's mercy based not on deeds, but based on the fact that b'pnimiyus there is an inextinguishable bond with Hashem that remains even when on the surface we have no other merits. This is the tefilah of "anisa v'amarta" of the bikurim which Moshe found a way to preserve for us even when all else was destroyed. Our obsession with superficialities led to the Mikdash's ruin; our recovery of the spirit of bikurim through heartfelt tefilah that stems from the pnimiyus of our souls can lead to its being rebuilt.

Friday, September 04, 2009

the exemption of shemita produce from terumos and ma'asros

The Rishonim explain that hefker is patur from terumos and ma'asros is because terumos and ma'asros are a substitute for the kohanim and levi'im not having an equal share in Eretz Yisrael; where they do have an equal share, e.g. the land is hefker for all, there is no obligation of ter"um.

Produce that grows during a shemita year is exempt from terumos and ma'asros. Had you asked me, I would have said the reason for this din is because everyone has equal access to produce grown during shemita; fields are hefker. However, Rashi (Rosh haShana 15a) writes that the source for this din is from the pasuk, "V'achlu evyonei amcha v'yisram tochal chayas hasadeh," from which the Mechilta darshens that just as an animal eats without having to take ma'aser, so too, when you eat produce during the shemita year you do not have to take ma'aser. According to Rashi the exemption from teru"m during shemita is not based on the usual exemption of hefker but is a special din unique to that year.

One possible approach to understand why Rashi invokes this Mechilta and does not assume shemita falls under the rubric of the usual ptur of hefker is to distinguish between usual hefker, where a person willingly declares his property ownerless, and the special situation of shemita where the halacha forces the owner of produce to surrender his property. The Minchas Chinuch (#84) questions whether shemita produce must be declared or affirmed to he hefker by their owner (afke'usa d'gavra), or whether the produce is automatically in a state of hefker willy-nilly of the owner's will because the Torah decrees it so (afka'usa d'malka). If one assumes the latter to be true, shemita is a unique type of hefker situation that may have its own parameters (see Avi Ezri, Hil. Shemita 4:24).

As we once discussed, the Ketzos understand hefker to be a pledge to not stop anyone who wishes to take possession of one's property; however, until someone actually claims hefker it remains in the original owner's possession (R" Shimon Shkop in Sha'arei Yosher 5:23 strongly disagrees). Given the Ketzos' definition, perhaps the added gezeiras hakasuv is needed by shemita to teach that we are dealing with hefker that makes property truly ownerless even before being claimed.

Another approach taken by Achronim is that unlike hefker, which exempts produce that would otherwise be obligated in teru"m from that obligation (i.e. a ptur), during the shemita year the pasuk teaches us that there is no chiyuv of teru"m to begin with (see Gan Shoshanim #56 citing R' Soloveitchik, Chazal Ish).

maharal on why 39 malkos

The end of Mes. Makkos discusses the halachos of giving malkos. The Ramban in last weeks parsha explains that "arba'im yakenu", the 40 lashes given, correspond to the 40 days it takes for an embryo to be considered fully formed and the 40 days of mattan Torah. The obvious question: Chazal understood the pasuk to mean only 39 lashes are given, not 40?

Maharal has a beautiful explanation. In each of the first 40 days starting from conception there is some aspect of a person which comes into this world, until at day 40 a fully formed embryo exists. On the first day it is the shoresh haneshama of the person, the core essence of a person's being, which is brought into the world. On all subsequent days various aspects of the body which clothe that core essence are added.

Each lash of malkos heals an aspect of the person which sin corrupted. There is, however, a limit to the damage sin can do. Every aspect of a person that comes into the world can become corrupted, but the shoresh haneshoma always remains pristine and pure. Therefore, only 39 lashes, never 40, are all that is needed to correct the flaws of cheit.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Elul and the midah of tzechok

The Steipler writes in the introduction to Chayei Olam that discussions about theology with those who do not share our beliefs usually fails. He illustrates this by pointing to the story of the angels who came to destroy Sdom. When the people of Sdom approached Lot's door to demand that he turn over their guests, the angels smote the population with blindness and they could no longer even find the entrance to Lot's home. Yet, shortly thereafter, when Lot tells his sons-in-law that these same angels have come to destroy the city, "veye'hi k'metzachek...", they thought Lot foolish. They did not have even a shred of doubt that Lot was wrong and misguided even though they had earlier witnessed these same angels exerting supernatural power. If they ignored the evidence of their own eyes, what could he possibly have said to convince them?

The Steipler does not stress this point, but it seems that the reason why Lot's sons-in-law went astray was the midah of "tzechok" - frivolity, lightheartedness, taking everything as a joke. It's not that they were philosophically disenchanted with Lot's religious beliefs (whatever they were), but rather they simply did not take things seriously enough to give religion and philosophy much thought. Had Lot spent more time trying to convince them of the seriousness of what was at stake it would have probably just given them more to mock at. The Mesilas Yesharim writes (ch 5.) that leitzanus is like a shield greased with oil that causes the arrows of hisorerus to simply fall away (see also Sichos Mussar of R' Chaim Shmuelivitz, 5731 #21).

Contrast the reaction of Lot's sons-in-law with a different tzechok later in Braishis: when Sarah finally gives birth to Yitzchak she declares, "tzechok asah li Elokim, kol ha'shomea yitzachak li." Lot's sons-in-law turned G-d's word into something to be mocked; G-d mocks the naysayers and doubters who said Sarah could not have children.

Elul is the antithesis of tzechok. The ba'alei mussar would examine every detail of life with seriousness and great introspection as the days of Rosh haShana approached. Having not had the privilege of learning in a yeshiva with an intensive mussar program, I find this a hard mindset to absorb or imagine; I cannot imagine the thoughts of a R' Yisrael Salanter or a R' Simcha Zissel as they prepared for the Yamim Noraim.

sha'agas arye on blowing shofar for no reason

It seems early to start thinking of Rosh haShana, but we are getting closer. The Sha'agas Arye (103) asks whether it is permissible to blow shofar for no reason after one has already fulfilled the obligation of tekiya on Rosh haShana. On a regular Yom Tov there is an issur derabbanan of blowing shofar, just like there is an issur derabbanan of playing a flute. At first glance one might argue that one has already fulfilled the mitzvah of shofar, this issur derabbanan prohibits further use of the shofar.

The Sha'agas Arye writes that if one has a safeik whether one fulfilled the mitzvah of shofar or not, it is permissible to blow shofar again not withstanding the potential violation of an issur derabbanan. This seems like an obvious point, but the Sha'agas Arye brings a ra'aya that is not so obvious. He compares this case to R' Abahu's takanah to blow TSHR"T, TSH"T, and TR"T to be yotzei every possible safeik of what a shevarim is.

Two points on his analogy: 1) R' Abahu made a takanah institutionalizing the heter to blow even in a case of safeik. There obviously is no issur derabbanan if the rabbanan told you to blow! How is this comparable to a case where an individual has a safeik whether he fulfilled the mitzvah, in which case there is no special takanah? 2) The Ran (end of Rosh haShana) writes that there was never a real safeik whether shevarim was shevarim, teru'ah, or a combination. There were multiple equally valid minhagim how to blow and R' Abahu simply standardized the practice to blow all the valid combinations. Since there was never a real safeik to begin with (though other Rishonim may disagree), how is the comparison valid?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Was the Divrei Chaim of Sanz a "rationalist" because he read Moreh?

In commenting on a previous post regarding the influence of Moreh, David G. points to a number of Achronim (Ohr Sameiach, Rogatchover, Gedalya Nadel) who incorporate the Moreh into their thought and were impacted by it. I would only add to his list and include the Divrei Chaim, the Yismach Moshe, R' Pinchas m'Koretz, and others. In fact, see the footnote at the end of the into to R' Kasher's "Mefa'aneyach Tzefunos" (p. 35) where he points out that while the GR"A forcefully opposed the Rambam's philosophy, the chassidic world embraced his thought and various Rebbes quote freely from Moreh.

I originally had an extra qualifying paragraph in that post that I took out, but David G. is right to call me on it and I should have explained better. Let me put it this way: the Divrei Chaim who quotes from the Moreh in his commentary on Chumash and who spent Yom Kippur night learning Moreh (!) is the same Divrei Chaim who in his tshuvos (Y.D. 105) writes that someone who denies that the Ohr haChaim was written b'ruach hakodesh is an apikores. The same Rogatchover who build his entire system of thought and learning around the Rambam's Moreh was a chassid of Chabad. Rav Kook encourages the learning of "razei Torah" and sod in anticipation of the geulah and to respond to the theological needs of our generation, but he also was a student of the Moreh. Were all these great talmidei chachamim schizophrenics?

I think not. Part of the greatness of these Torah giants is their ability to assimilate sources from all over and synthesize them into a coherent whole consistent with tradition. They were able to study Moreh and find in it the tools to bolster their yiras shamayim and avodah rather than philosophical questions, pitfalls, and challenges to the mainstream thinking of klal yisrael. The Moreh studied by the Divrei Chaim of Sanz was, quite simply put, a completely different book than the Moreh studied by someone looking for an excuse to reject the tenets of kabbalah or chassidus or other traditional beliefs and using the Moreh as cover.

None of these Torah giants were "rationalists" in the way certain contemporaries and bloggers use the term. They all were influenced by the Moreh, used the Moreh, read the Moreh, but all affirmed rather than rejected traditional beliefs. Those who veered more widely from the well tread path of tradition (let's omit specific examples) have been largely forgotten by the Torah world. Here's a simple litmus test: can you find me three examples of where the Divrei Chaim of Sanz or Rav Kook used the Moreh as a source to reject theological views held by the mainstream tradition of their time?

So to return to Davis G.'s point, I think he is right to say Moreh has exerted an influence on ba'alei machshava. However, that influence has not meant slavish conformity exclusively to the specific philosophical approach of Moreh or the rejection of mysticism because of it. It has meant (and this is why I wrote what I did) the absorption and adaption of Moreh into the larger stream of Jewish thought that has also absorbed and been influenced by mysticism and other philosophical views through the centuries. In that regard the influence has certainly been positive.