Monday, May 31, 2010

who were Eldad and Meidad?

Who were Eldad and Meidad, singled out for prophecy beyond what their 70 peers experienced? The Targum Yonasan has an interesting spin. Recall that when Pharoah decreed that all male children should be drowned Amram divorced Yocheved, which started a movement that others followed (Sotah 12). It took the cajoling of Miriam to re-unite her parents, leading ultimately to Moshe's birth. Targum Yonasan writes that Yocheved actually married Elitzaphan bar Parnach after being divorced, Eldad and Meided are offspring from that marriage! That makes them Moshe, Aharon, and Miraim's half brothers.

I told this to my wife on Shabbos, and she raised a few objections. How could Amram re-marry Yocheved after she married another husband? (My answer: no problem, the Torah had not been given yet so there was no issur.) How was there time for her to conceive and give birth to two children? (Who knows how long she was divorced?) And doesn't the gemara say that Amram's actions led to a mass divorce movement -- all husbands followed his lead and divorced their wives as well. It doesn't make sense that someone would buck the trend and marry Yocheved. (I have no answer for this point other than to think the Midrashing argue.) Perhaps, suggested my wife, the idea here is to create a thematic relationship and remind us of the separation between Amram and Yocheved as a prelude to the parsha of Miriam's objecting to Moshe's separation from his wife.

My wife later showed me that the Ksav v'Kabbalah quotes that a certain scholar (unnamed) sent a letter to Rav Amram Gaon saying he saw the graves of Eldad and Meided and on their their tombstones is written "Brothers of Aharon from the father but not the mother." According to this story, Amram divorced Yocheved after mattan Torah, as she was his aunt and became forbidden to him. Amram remarried and had two other children named in a way to emphasize that they came from a kosher marriage: Eldad = "aino dodah," not from my aunt; Meided = "mi hu dodasi" who is my aunt. The relationship between Eldad and Meided and Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam in this version is the opposite of the Targum -- they are half brother through the same father. However, the Ksav v'Kabbalah questions the authenticity of this legend. If Amram divorced Yocheved only after mattan Torah, that only leaves two intervening years until the episode of Kivros haTa'avah, where Eldad and Meided became prophets. They must have been precocious toddlers indeed! I also wonder at the purported tombstone engraving. Why mention being brother of Aharon and not Moshe Rabeinu?

The mysterious lineage of Eldad and Meided, their prophecy, what happened to them, have all the ingredients to make a good thriller. Someone get Dan Brown on the phone...

For another insight on the parsha from the Ksav v'Kabbalah, see here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

"shelo shina" -- Sefas Emes vs. Ishbitza on why Aharon was praiseworthy

Rashi tells us that the words, "Vaya'as kein Aharon," that Aharon did as told in lighting the menorah, are written in praise of Aharon, "she'lo shina," as he made no changes. The obvious question: Why is doing a mitzvah without change from the way it was commanded deserving of praise and not simply to be expected? The Sefas Emes and the Ishbitza read Rashi as addressing the same point, but head in nearly opposite directions!

Sefas Emes (5735): Of course Aharon did not change anything the first time he lit the menorah; the chiddush is that he didn’t change anything even the ten-thousandth time. Not only was there no deviation in what Aharon did, there was also no deviation in Aharon’s thought and attitude. Most of us need change to prevent boredom and staleness -- not Aharon! He carried with him the exact same thoughts which he had the first time he lit the menorah even years later and those same thoughts continued to inspire him.

Ishbitza: The word “shinah can also mean repetition. The ten thousandth lighting of the menorah may superficially have looked exactly the same as the first lighting, but that was not the case. Every time Aharon lit the menorah he discovered a different nuance to the mitzvah, he had a different thought in mind. Aharon never once repeated the mitzvah the same way as the day before.

The Sefas Emes sees the hischadshus, the enthusiasm and intensity, of the initial lighting as singular and irreplaceable, while the Ishbitza sees hischadshus as an ongoing process. The chanukas hamishkan through lighting the menorah (see Meshech Chochma) can teach us something about the proper approach to chinuch. The word about Slabodka was that after attending, even if you might sin, you would never really enjoy it -- that's the "shelo shina" of the Sefas Emes that lasts a lifetime. But on the other hand, a person needs to be able to develop the ability to pull new tricks out of his own hat and re-charge even when long out of yeshiva. It's somewhat paradoxical, notes the Shem m'Shmuel (in the Chanukah ma'amarim) that the word chinuch, which really means training till a task can be repeated again and again, is related to the word chanukah, inauguration, the first time something is done. This tells us that true chinuch is not merely repetition of past lessons, but the repetition of inaugurations, as each accomplishment brings an opportunity to add something new, "shelo shina" Ishbitza style.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

GR"A on kiddush before ma'ariv

Having a 7:00 kabbalas shabbos minyan is like having a circle with four angles equal angles and sides -- a halachic contradiction in terms. The gemara has two views as to the proper time for mincha/ma’ariv: according to one view mincha must be completed before plag and ma’ariv may be done immediately afterward; according to other view mincha may be davened until shkiya and ma’ariv only afterward. Either view may be followed provided one is consistent. The problem with the 7:00 minyan is that it takes the short end of both sticks -- mincha is later than plag but ma'ariv is earlier than shkiya.

Someone commented that there was an easy solution: daven mincha early, go home, get ready for Shabbos, make kiddush, eat your meal, and then come back to shul and daven ma’ariv at the proper time. Everyone is happy -- the kids get supper at a decent hour and you avoid the contradiction in zmanei tefilah.

Only problem is that the GR”A in Ma’aseh Rav shoots this down. GR"A holds that kiddush may not be recited before ma’ariv. The proof: the gemara (Brachos 27b) writes that Rav davened ma’ariv early on erev shabbos. Asks the gemara, did Rav also say kiddush? The gemara answers by quoting Rav Nachman in the name of Shmuel that one can daven early on erev shabbos and say kiddush as well.

What exactly is the proof from this gemara? Just because Rav davened and then said kiddush does not mean that it cannot be done some other way!? The meforshim on the Ma'aseh Rav are so troubled by this issue that they suggest that perhaps the GR"A never said this chiddush in the first place (an easy solution!). You can nitpick and say that since Shmuel first repeats that once can daven early, which was never under debate, and only then tells us the chiddush that kiddush can be recited, he implies that these two facts are related and tefilah must precede kiddush. Still, far from compelling. Even if you kvetch out some diyuk in the gemara, how do you explain the lomdus? Why is it that tefilah must precede kiddush? I don’t know the answer. For the record, the Aruch haShulchan has no problem with kiddush before ma'ariv. But for those who are concerned for the GR"A's view, the very fact that the GR"A thought this chiddush was correct gives it a stamp of legitimacy, even if the proof is unclear (as noted by the meforshim on the Ma'aseh Rav).

Monday, May 24, 2010

nazir -- sinner or saint?

While some Tanaim hold that the nazir’s self-denial is itself sinful, the majority view seems to be that nezirus can bring a person to great spiritual heights. Various pesukim refer to the nazir and the prophet in the same breath, implying a similar status. Why then must the nazir bring a korban chatas? Ramban answers that the chatas is a penalty for the nazir ending his nezirus and not remaining on this plateau of spiritual perfection. Tosfos (Ta’anis 11), however, denies the basis of the question. The nazir surely reaches great spiritual heights, but at the same time is guilty of a minor infraction of foregoing the pleasures of the world. The greater good is worth the peril of the lesser evil. Tosfos notes that even where required by halacha to take on a vow of nezirus – “ha’ro’eh sotah b’kilkula yazir min ha’yayin” – the nazir is nonetheless is guilty of a minor sin.

Rav Bloch in Shiurei Da’as wonders what Tosfos means by this last point. How can a person be called a sinner if he/she is following the path required by halacha?!

Ain tzadik ba’aretz asher ya’aseh tov v’lo yechetah.” The simple understanding of the pasuk is that even the greatest people experience failures – 99 out of 100 actions of a tzadik may be raiseworthy, but there is always that 1 out of 100 misstep. R’ Chaim Volozhiner, however adds an additional insight: the pasuk is not just speaking of quantitative tzidkus, but qualitative tzidkus as well. Even acts which are perceived as righteous are only 99% pure, but there is an inevitable element of “lo lishma,” selfishness, wrongful motivation, which creeps into all deeds. Even a tzadik cannot act with pure intention of “tov” without cheit tainting his deeds.

As psychologists put it, our actions are overdetermined, i.e. there are multiple individually sufficient causes that drive behavior. The Torah is realistic in its assessment of personality – even good people who do the right thing do so with mixed motives.

Rav Bloch interprets Tosfos as referring to the motivations that bring one to accept a vow of nezirus. Becoming a nazir may, under certain circumstances, be the 100% right thing to do, but that doesn’t mean the potential nazir's motives are 100% pure is making that leap. When we submerge the totality of our personality into an endeavor, even a positive endeavor, the bad traits that are inherent within us come along for the ride. That initial small lacking of proper intention stands out all the more in light of the tremendous spiritual heights reached by the nazir, but ultimately does not diminish in the larger sense from the value of the commitment.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

kiddush for a nazir

The gemara (Nazir 3b) quotes a derasha to prohibit a nazir from mitzvah wine as well as non-mitzvah wine. What mitzvah wine are we talking about, asks the gemara? The gemara answers: kiddush and havdalah. But, asks the gemara, why is a derasha needed to permit that – the nazir is “mushba v’omeid” already? Rashi explains: since the Torah commands that kiddush be made over wine, no vow of nezirus can interfere with that pre-existing obligation.

Tosfos disagrees with Rashi's reading. Reciting kiddush over wine may be a din d'oraysa, but drinking the wine of kiddush is certainly is not! The gemara, explains Tos, is asking a rhetorical question – is the person mushba v’omeid to drink the wine, requiring a pasuk to teach that it is allowed?! Obviously not, therefore the pasuk must teach us something else.

Did Rashi really think that even drinking wine is part of the mitzvah d’oraysa of kiddush? Possibly, but it is difficult to understand why this should be so. Rav Soloveitchik suggested a different approach to Rashi (quoted by R’ H. Schachter in “M’Pninei haRav”, Zeved Tov p. 249). Rashi read the gemara to mean that the cheftza of mitzvah wine is mufka, inherently excluded, from the parsha of nezirus. In other words, wine used for kiddush is a food-item which is excluded from the nezirus vow, just like most other food and drink. It's not that the mitzvah of kiddush overrides the vow of nezirus, which would force us to define kiddush as including drinking, but rather that kiddush wine is never included in that vow in the first place.

the message of Megillas Rus

The message of Megillas Rus, take 1:

Ploni Almoni knew that Boaz, the Gadol haDor, paskened that Rus the Moavi’ah was permitted, but Ploni nonetheless stubbornly stuck to his own way of thinking. No matter what his reasoning, whether it was concern for the established custom of rejecting converts from Moav, or worry lest a future Beis Din disqualify his lineage, of some other concern, Ploni was still wrong. His decision cost him the opportunity to bring David's family into the world. The message of the megillah is that personal cheshbonos, even when they appear to be well grounded, must give way to the rulings of our Gedolim.

The message of Megillas Rus, take 2:

The established norms of tradition could not be clearer: converts from Moav could not be accepted. Social and religious convention closed minds and hearts to Rus' plight. But there was someone willing to listen – Boaz. Roused by empathy for her plight, Boaz re-examined accepted doctrine and discovered that the law was not as clear as some would like it to be. There was room for leniency – Moavi v’lo Moavis – and Rus could be accepted into Klal Yisrael. Accepting Rus would be perceived as the act of a maverick, but Boaz did not hesitate. The message of Rus is that when faced with the call of those who cry out for empathy, for equality, for help against injustice, we must re-examine tradition and find innovative solutions, even if they challenge convention and received wisdom. The Ploni Almoni’s of the world may lead a life of safe complicity, but it is the courage of Boaz (Bo-Oz) that will lead us to redemption.

The message of Megillas Rus, take 3:

Be wary of simplistic derush that imposes ideological readings onto the text to the preclusion of other possible meanings.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

tosefes shabbos and tosefes yom tov on shavuos

The Shulchan Aruch O.C. 261:4 says that an eiruv may not be made once one was mekabeil Shabbos. Yet, in O.C. 393:2 the Shulchan Aruch quotes two views on the question. Why does the Beis Yosef not cite both views in siman 261?

The Dagul m’Revava answers that these simanim are speaking of two different cases. In siman 393 the Beis Yosef refers to making an eiruv during “tosefes shabbos.” In siman 261 he refers to making the eiruv after one has accepted Shabbos by saying barchu. The difference is as follows: tosefes shabbos means simply stopping work in advance of Shabbos, a pure issur gavra of doing melacha. Kabbolos Shabbos means accepting the kedushas hayom of the upcoming day. When speaking of the time period of tosefes Shabbos, when one has not yet accepted the kedushas hayom but has simply accepted the issur of melacha, the beis Yosef is willing to entertain two views as to whether an eiruv can be placed. Not so where one has accepted kedushas hayom of Shabbos, in which case placing an eiruv is certainly prohibited.

This Dagul m’Revava may shed light on a number of sources that relate to tosefes Shabbos that we discussed in the past. For example, Tosfos (Kesubos 47) holds that the din of ain m’arvin simcha b’simcha does not apply during tosefes Shabbos and a wedding may be held so long as it is not yet actual Yom Tov or Shabbos. Perhaps the logic here is that ain m’arvin simcha b’simcha applies to the kedushas hayom of shabbos or yom tov, but has nothing to do with the pure issr gavra created by tosefes.

The Netziv writes that the words “b’etzem hayom ha’zeh” used to describe Shavuos tell us that there is no din of tosefes yom tov. Others go so far as to suggest that woman not light their Yom Tov candles early, as this would constitute an acceptance of the chag and cut short sefirah. Rav Shternbruch (Shu”T Tshuvos v’Hanhagos vol 4 #111) rejects this sevara. Even if we cannot extend kedushas yom tov earlier than nightfall, as we learned from the Dagul m’Revava, it is possible to have tosefes without making a statement about the kedushas hayom. Rav Shternbruch writes based on this that when one accepts tosefes on shavuos (the mitzvah of being mosif on shabbos or yom tov should ideally be done through a verbal declaration, not simply by stopping work) one should be careful to accept “tosefes yom tov” and not say that one is accepting the “kedushas yom tov.”

My son was very unhappy with this chiluk of the Dagul m’Revava (he’s in good company: the Aruch haShulchan writes that it is a distinction without a difference) and added a good point regarding the practical upshot. Neicha those who read my blog and are informed about such matters, but what of the rest of the world? As my son put it, what do I think his sisters have in mind when they light candles – do they think their kabbalah is merely tosefes, or do they think it is an acceptance of the kedushas hayom, like any other Shabbos or yom tov? (The way around that is to educate them about the sugya, which is sometimes easier said than done.)

On a final note, the practice of not saying kiddush until dark on Shavuos night (the Taz is the one who mentions not davening ma’ariv until dark, but most poskim refer to kiddush only) is very difficult to understand. Assuming the Dagul m’Revava is right, why should Shavuos be different than any other week when those who make early Shabbos recite kiddush during the period of tosefes even though the kedushas hayom of Shabbos is yet to arrive? M’ikkar hadin it seems there is no real issue here (Shu”T l’Horos Noson 7:31) and one would certainly be yotzei kiddush if it is recited early.

Monday, May 17, 2010

na'aseh v'nishma

Chazal tell us that the expression "na'aseh v'nishma" was used only by angels in their service of Hashem until the Jewish people came used it to declare their commitment before matan Torah. What is so special about these two words? If the phrase is simply an expression of unquestioning loyalty, would we expect less from the Jewish people after they merited yetziyas mitzrayim and a blatant display of hashgacha along the journey to Sinai? It would be surprising if Bnei Yisrael were not willing to accept the Torah willingly, even sight unseen! It must be that there is something more here…

The Rishonim (see Tosfos, Brachos 11, Rosh) ask why a person does not have to make a new birchas haTorah if he takes a break from learning during the day. Why is learning Torah different than, for example, the mitzvah of sukkah, where a person would be required to recite a new bracha if he leaves the sukkah and then returns later? The Beis Yosef (O.C. 47) cites an answer offered by the Agur. Even if a person stops learning to do other mitzvos, those mitzvos have halachos and dinim that govern how they are performed. There is never really a hefsek, a break from learning Torah, as every mitzvah act must involve Torah thoughts about what to do and how to do it and when and where to act. [The Emek Bracha quotes the Agur as I explained it here, in connection with mitzvos, but as cited by the Beis Yosef the Agur actually says even more: every act, even going to the restroom, is governed by halachos, and therefore there is never a hefsek from Torah.)

The Bikkurei Ya'akov paskens that birchas haTorah should be recited before performing the mitzvah of netilas lulav if one takes the lulav before davening. Rav Shternbruch (Moadim u'Zmanim vol 8) wonders why this should be so -- what does the bracha on talmud Torah have to do with the mitzvah of lulav? In light of the Agur, there is no question. Netilas lulav, like other mitzvos, has a myriad of halachos that define how it should be performed. One cannot engage in the proper performance of the mitzvah without also engaging in Torah thought. (Perhaps the Agur holds that even hirhur of Torah requires a bracha.)

I think that "na'aseh v'nishma" points to this link between deed, “na’aseh,” and Torah study, “nishma.” Judaism does not consist of two separate realms, the practical and the intellectual, but rather the practical itself must be an intellectual experience. "Na'aseh v''nishma" does not mean we will do and then study, a sequential relationship between ideas. Rather it means that through doing we will arrive at study, a logical relationship. "Na'aseh v'nishma" is not a "hakkava shichnit," to use the Rogatchover's jargon, i.e. a commitment to two mutually exclusive ideals that exist side by side, but rather "na'aseh v'nishma" is a a commitment to a synthesis, a "harkava mizgit," a hybrid fusion.

Chazal tell us that myriads of angels descended to place two crowns on the head of every Jew, one for the commitment to "na'aseh", one for the commitment to "nishma". After the cheit ha'eigel, the angels returned to reclaim those crowns. Why, asks the Avnei Nezer (cited by the Shem m'Shmuel), should the angels have reclaimed the crown of nishma? The commitment of "na'aseh" may have been undermined by the act of worshiping the eigel, but how was the commitment to "nishma," to learning, affected?

The removal of both crowns underscores that learning and mitzvah performance are intertwined. Torah study without a commitment to practical implementation is worthless; practical implementation without Torah knowledge is impossible.

It is uniquely human to take action and afterward exclaim, “What was I thinking!?” but angels have no such second thoughts – deed and thought are united as one. This is the ideal of “na’aseh v’nishma” which we experienced at Sinai.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

summer issue of Kallah Magazine

My wife has put together another issue of Kallah Magazine and posted it online for easy viewing. Please click on the link here ( to have a look or just click on the issue below. If you contact any of the advertisers please mention where you saw the ad. Thank you!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rav Soloveitchik on making early Shabbos

In an article in the sefer Zeved Tov (a compilation of torah essays in honor of Rav Zevulun Charlop, former dean of RIETS, available here in .pdf format), Rav Hershel Shachter cites (p. 245) a number of insights from Rav Soloveitchik in connection with the Ramban’s comments to the pasuk “Zachor es yom hashabbos.” Ramban mentions that Shabbos must be distinct from other days in the week, similar to the Rambam’s psak (Shabbos 30:3) that one must have different, better food for Shabbos, nicer clothes for Shabbos, and even if one eats lavish meals all week one should change the time of the meal so as to mark Shabbos as special. Based on this idea Rav Soloveitchik frowned on the practice of making early Shabbos. The Rav felt that the motive behind early Shabbos is to have dinner at the same time as usual, to make Shabbos more like the rest of the week, contrary to the theme developed by the Ramban and Rambam. Making early Shabbos does not necessarily pose a problem in terms of hilchos tefilah, assuming one davens mincha before plag and ma’ariv only afterwards, but it does pose a problem in this are of hilchos shabbos.

As someone whose kids still grow cranky waiting too long for dinner, I sympathize with those who make early Shabbos. Looking at the Rambam, it is in the context of discussing what to do if you eat lavish meals during the week that the Rambam says to eat at a different time. If nothing else distinguishes the seudas Shabbos, than the time the meal is served will have to do. But for most of us the Shabbos meal is distinguished from regular weekday dinner in various ways, e.g. by what is served, how it is served, the fact that the family is eating together, etc. Where the meal is defined as special in other ways, I am not so sure eating earlier, even at the same time as usual, to avoid cranky kids is an issue, b'frat if it will be a more peaceful seudah in keeping with the Shabbos spirit. Hard to know what RYBS would hold without more information. (Haleva'i anyway that I should get home from work in time to make early Shabbos.)

(Update: By coincidence I saw in a local paper that RHS is a guest rabbi-in-residence somewhere and he is scheduled to speak between mincha and ma'ariv at their Friday night early kabbolas shabbos minyan. I think it's a fair guess that he is davening at the minyan he is speaking at, despite the sevara in the article. Make of it what you will.)

parshas bamidbar: the rebbe-talmid relationship

Unfortunately I have not had much time to write, so just a few thoughts on parsha to close out the week.

Rashi writes that Moshe reacted to Hashem telling him to count every levi from 30 days old by asking how he could possibly intrude and enter every tent to get a proper count. (Apparently Moshe felt that he must personally due the counting and not rely on eid echad testimony – I’m not sure why.) At first glance the question is seems audacious. What do you mean how can you intrude – Hashem told you to count, so do whatever it takes to count! But apparently that’s not how to understand the dvar Hashem. It is as preposterous to think Hashem would demand a breach of privacy as it would be to think if Hashem said to go from NY to NJ he meant us to walk on water. Therefore Moshe asked for clarification. The respect for the dignity and rights of others is so integral and essential to the meaning of Torah that Moshe correctly intuited that no tzivuy can cross these norms.

And just to be clear, when I write “breach of privacy”, I mean exactly that. I don’t think the concern here was tzniyus, in case someone in the house was not dressed properly when Moshe stopped by, as that situation could easily be averted with a knock on the door and a warning before entering. I think the very assumption of the right to demand entrance to someone's home without prior invitation, no matter how important the reason, is the issue at hand here. The obvious lesson that zealousness for kvod shamayim which tramples of kavod habriyos is an oxymoron.

The Netziv makes a number of significant points in his comments on the parsha that relate to the rebbe-talmid relationship.

The Torah speaks of the children of Moshe and Aharon, "V’Eileh toldos Aharon u’Moshe b’yom diber Hashem es Moshe b’Har Sinai "(3:1), though it lists only Aharon’s children. Chazal, cites by Rashi, explain that Moshe the teacher is given equal credit as if he too were the father of Aharon’s children. (see Havolim’s post for details). One would imagine that this special bond between rebbe and student developed over the course of years of study together. However, the pasuk speaks of the bond as existing “byom diber… b’har Sinai,” from the moment of kabbalas haTorah. Apparently it is not the course of study over years, but rather it is the commitment which the student makes on day one which forges the bond Chazal speak of. (Of course the upcoming holiday of Shavuos is a good time to reflect on the significance of making an initial commitment at the moment of kabbalas haTorah.)

The end of the parsha speaks of the covering of the utensils of the Mishkan in preparation for the camp traveling. The Netziv notes that the description of the covering of the menorah is unique in two aspects: 1) the Torah first mentions the covering of techeiles and then tells us that it is to be used for the menorah, while with respect to other kelim first the kli is mentioned and then its covering; 2) the Torah instructs that not only the menorah, but each and every one of the utensils used in its lighting is to be covered in this one covering of techeiles. There are two lessons here. Firstly, the techeiles is a reminder of Hashem’s heavenly guidance (like the techeiles thread of tziztis); the menorah represents the light of wisdom found in the Torah. Divine assistance in the study of Torah does not come only after one has achieved success in learning. Were that the case the difficulty and demands of Torah study would cause many to turn away. The techeiles is mentioned first because Divine assistance comes even before one has achieved success in learning. Hashem doesn’t wait for us; he reaches out and helps us get to the goals we aspire to. Secondly, rebbe and talmidim must forge a strong bond and exist as one community. The menorah and the instruments which serve it are all wrapped in the same garment, inseparable. Again, important lessons to take to heart as we draw closer to the holiday of kabbalas haTorah.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

yom yerushalayim

asiri vaday v'lo asiri safeik: rov as probablity

The Ksav V’Kabbalah at the end of parshas Bechukosai brings up a sugya which deserves mention due to the enormous amount of ink spilled by Achronim discussing it, but I’m afraid all I’m going to give for now is roshei perakim due to lack of time and my lack of research into it (but feel free to comment away!) The scenario: after a customer purchased a side of beef at the local butcher, it was discovered that one of the cows put up for sale was a treifa. Using the rule of thumb of kol d’parish m’ruba parish, the customer assumes that his side of beef is part of the rov and is kosher. Yet we also have a rule of kol kavua k’machtza al machtza. If anyone were to now walk into the store to purchase a side of beef, the rule of kavua tells us that every hide of beef has an only 50/50 chance of being kosher, and hence may not be eaten (safeik d’oraysa l’chumra). But how can this be? If the side of beef the customer took home is kosher, how every side of beef remaining in the butcher store, including potentially the side of beef from the same cow bought by the customer, be treif?!

The Kv"K cites the K'reysi, who suggests an answer based on a din in hilchos ma’aser beheima (end of Behukosai). If an animal counted for ma’aser beheima jumps back into the herd, the halacha (Bava Metziya 6) is that the entire herd is patur from ma’aser. The reason why is because every tenth animal counted is potentially the one which jumped back in and an animal already counted is patur. The Rishonim (quoted in Shita Mekubetzes) ask: but isn't this one animal bateil in the entire herd? They answer that the Torah demands asiri vaday – the definitive 10th animal – for ma’aser beheima. Rov tilts the odds in favor of any animal being counted not being the one that jumped back in, but a high degree of certainty – good odds – is not the same as definitive truth. In lomdishe terms, rov is mevarer the safeik, not machriya the safeik. (Side note: note that the question here dealt with bitul b'rov, but the answer speaks to the rule of kol d'parish... how are these concepts related is a long discussion in its own right!)

Returning to our butcher store case, if we declared with certainty that the meat in the customer’s possession is from a kosher cow, we would indeed be hard pressed to justify declaring a side of beef from the same cow treif! But that’s not how rov works. In reality we don’t know whether the side of beef in the customer’s possession is kosher – all we have is a probability of rov. There still remains a doubt whether the meat is really kosher or treif, and there remains a doubt as well whether the corresponding side of beef in the butcher store is kosher or treif. Kok d’parish and kol kavua do not determine physical reality – they just provide two different ways of relating to uncertainty. Sometimes meat can be eaten despite the doubt that it may be trief, sometimes not.

The Ksav v’Kabbalah is not happy with this approach based on a question from Kesubos 15 that we once discussed (here). He follows up with an answer he received from from R’ Akiva Eiger, but this post is long enough for now, so if you want more you'll have to read it inside (link).

Monday, May 10, 2010

the connection between tochacha and archin

Someone asked me on Shabbos why the parsha of archin follows the tochacha – what does one thing have to do with the other? The Rishonim ask this question and explain (see Rashbam in particular, also Ramban, Abarbanel) that the tochacha is primarily a punishment for failure to observe shemita. Rashi writes that the length of the galus predicted by the tochacha corresponds exactly to the years of shemita and yovel that were not observed properly by the Jewish people. The tochacha is therefore connected with the laws of shemita that open Parshas BeHar. The close of Bechukosai, with its discussion of the assessment of the value of property, returns the discussion to the laws of yovel. Since a field will return to its original owner at the yovel, its value must be assessed relative to when the next yovel will be.

It is a bit difficult to understand, however, why the Torah inserted the tochacha between the sections that deal with yovel. Abarbanel addresses this point, but I like the idea suggested by the Ishbitza. The theme of the parsha of archin is pidyon – redemption of pledges. The Ishbitza suggests that the idea of redemption should be understood more generally. Faced with a disheartening list of punishments, the Torah ends the parsha by telling us that all is lost; there is always an opportunity to redeem onself. Excluding the first pasuk of "Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe…" and the last pasuk which closes the parsha, there is an exact pasuk by pasuk match between the thirty-three pesukim of parshas archin and the thirty-three pesukim of tochacha. Every punishment has an escape clause should a person sincerely return to Hashem.

My wife thought of a slightly different formulation along these same lines. By connecting archin to tochacha perhaps the Torah is teaching that punishment itself is a means of redemption. G-d does not punish merely to cause pain; he punishes for the sake of kaparah and to teach us to change our ways.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Tosfos vs. the Ran on counting sefirah early

Yesterday I mentioned the view of Tosfos (Menachos 66a) that since sefrah is derabbanan it can be counted during bein hashemashos based on the principle of safeik derabbanan l’kula. The Ran disagrees and argues that sfeika derabbanan l’kula means that if one is forced into a situation of doubt, one can be lenient; it does not give a person the right l’chatchila create a situation of safeik.

Rav Hershel Shachter (article here) notes that the Ran’s point seems to be borne out by the principle of ain m’vatlin issur l’chatchila, which tells us that one should ideally avoid having to decide a safeik if such a situation could be avoided. Why then does Tosfos advocate counting during beis hashemashos?

Rav Shachter suggests that Tosfos agrees in principle to the Ran, but argues that the case of sefirah is different because there is compelling reason in this case to enter into the safeik: the din of temimos. Tosfos held that the count of sefirah must be done at the earliest possible moment to include as much of the 24 hour day as possible. (If one davens ma'ariv at a late minyan it would be preferable based on this to count sefirah earlier.)

Why does the Ran disagree? The Ran may simply hold that since were sefirah d’oraysa counting early would be impossible (as sfeika d’oraysa l’chumra), the din derabbanan of sefirah done zecher l’mikdash cannot have more stringent parameters the d'oraysa mitzvah and cannot require counting earlier. Altrenatively, Rav Shachter suggests an interesting chiddush: the Ran may hold that the count of sefirah done at any point during the night covers the entire time period in question. In other words, just like kiddush hachodesh by beis din, even if done mid-day, retroactively creates a status of kedusha on the entire day, so too, the count of sefirah done at any point during the night effectively includes every moment of the night in the mitzvah, retroactive to the night's beginning. According to this approach, the reason to count early is not because of the din of temimos, but rather because of the usual din of zerizim makdimim.

A similar machlokes perhaps exists with respect to the mitzvah of kiddush. The Tur writes that one should hurry to recite kiddush immediately upon getting home Friday night to fulfill the mitzvah of zachrey’hu b’knisaso. The Rambam (shabbos 29:14), however, makes no mention of a need to rush, and even adds that although “ikkar kiddush” is at night, the kiddush may be recited at any point during Shabbos.

According to the Tur, the mitzvah of kiddush serves to sanctify the time of Shabbos going forward from the moment it was recited. Therefore, to encompass as much of Shabbos as possible, kiddush must be recited at the earliest possible moment. The Rambam, however, understood that kiddush works even retroactively, like the kiddush hachodesh of beis din. There is no specific din in hilchos kiddush that demands that it be recited early, only the usual din of zerizim.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

a rising tide lifts all boats

Among the brachos promised to Bnei Yisrael in Parshas Bechukosai is, “V’lo tigal nafshi eschem,” Hashem will not be repulsed by us. Given the tremendous gifts of the other brachos, e.g. more than bountiful crops, enemies falling on their own swords, peace in the land, etc., the bracha that Hashem will not be repulsed by us hardly seems much of a blessing at all!

The Netziv explains that this bracha is not directed to those who fulfill “Im b’chukosai tei'leichu,” but to the stragglers who do not. When the majority of the community lives a Torah life not only will they receive the tremendous brachos promised by the parsha, but even those who might fall through the cracks are promised that “lo tigal nafshi eschem,” Hashem will not abandon them.

krias shema - d'oraysa or derabbanan?

There is an opinion of Tosfos (Menachos 43b) which holds that krias shema is not a mitzvah d’oraysa, contrary to what most of us probably assume without a second thought. Because of the many proofs that reading krias shema is in fact a kiyum d’oraysa (see Tosfos Sotah 32b which lists numerous gemaras that point in this direction), the Sha'agas Aryeh concludes that everyone must agree that there is a mitzvah to read parshiyos at morning and night, b’shachbecha uv'kumecha. The only question, says the Sha’gas Aryeh, is whether the specific parsha (or parshiyos) of shema must be read, or whether m’doraysa any parsha may be read, and the designation of reading specifically the parsha (or parshiyos) of shema is derabbanan.

My wife’s grandfather, R’ Dov Yehudah Shochet, in passing in an article on a different topic mentions a proof to this Sha'agas Aryeh. Tosfos (Menachos 66a) writes that sefirah is only derabbanan, and since sfeika derabbanan l’kula, once may count during beis hashemashos, the time period of safeik day safeik night, without waiting for actual nightfall. Were krias shema really only a kiyum derabbanan, the same logic should apply; one should be allowed to read shema during beis hashemashos as well, without waiting until tzeis. Yet, the very first Mishna in Brachos tells us that the time for krias shema is tzeis, not earlier! It must be that the Sha'agas Aryeh is right -- everyone agrees that there is a mitzvah d’oraysa of some sort; the only question is whether a specific parsha is mandated or not.

Monday, May 03, 2010

the aseh of shemita - zman gerama?

Why according to the Chinuch are women obligated in the mitzvas aseh of shemitah (shnas shabason…) when it is zman gerama? As we once discussed (link), some Rishonim (see Tosfos Kiddushin 34a, Ramban) treat the case of an aseh which coincides with a lav as different than a regular aseh. Since women are obligated to keep the lav, the aseh tags along even though it is zman gerama. With respect to shemita, since women are obligated to keep the lav of not working the field, they are also obligated in the aseh as well.

The Ritva distinguishes between two types of mitzvos. The exemption of zman gerama applies where the mitzvah demands some act on the part of the individual, a chovas hagavra. However, where the mitzvah relates to the object instead of the person there is no zman gerama exemption. According to the Ritva the gemara does not classify milah as zman gerama mitzvah (See Tos Kiddushin 29) because the purpose of the mitzvah is to bring the child into the state of being nimol, not the actual act of cutting off the orlah.

The Minchas Chinuch applies the logic of the Ritva to shemita. The aseh of shemita is not a chovas hagavra on the individual, but is din in the land, i.e. the land must be given a year of rest. Therefore, women as well as men are obligated.

A number of other interesting conclusions follow from this chiddush. 1) If one asks an aku”m to work the land during shemita, one is not merely in violation of an issur derabbanan of amira l’aku”m, as on Shabbos, but rather one is in violation of the issur d’oraysa of shabason. Since the focus of the mitzvah is the land, not the farmer, causing the land to be disturned by work violates this aseh. 2) The M.C. further debates whether the aseh would be violated if one planted seed just before shemita and that seed took root on shemita. While no actual work was done during shemita in this case, there was an effect produced on the land.

My son asked me recently why we need a gezeiras hakasuv (see Shavuos 15b) to teach us that the beis hamikdash cannot be built on Shabbos or Yom Tov – since binyan mikdash is an aseh and yom yov is an aseh and a lav, the standard rule that ain aseh doche lo ta’aseh v’aseh should apply. A simple answer is that without the gezeiras hakasuv you might have thought that just like korbanos are doche shabbos and yom tov, the building of the mikdash itself should be doche yom tov. Also, it also does not seem from the gemara that all the amoraim agree that there is in fact an aseh associated with yom tov. I prefer a more lomdish answer. Perhaps the chiddush here is that the issur of building is not just a din in shabbos or yom tov, but is a din in the mitzvah of binyan mikdash. A nafka minah would be in a case where an aku”m is asked to do the building: if the issur were a regular hilchos shabbos din based on ain aseh doche lo ta’aseh v’aseh, then we would be dealing with a standard issur derabbanan of amira l’aku”m; however, if the issur is a din in binyan mikdash, meaning the mikdahs is precluded from being built on yom tov or shabbos, then the work of the aku”m would be an issur d’oraysa, similar to the sevara of the Minchas Chinuch with respect to shemita.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

another unreasonable edict of gedolim

The gedolim have again decided to impose their standards of orthodoxy on the rest of the world. Their sparsely worded edict that offers no halachic explanation for its rationale, makes no attempt to address the arguments of competent rabbonim who disagree, no invitation was extended to the individual most adversely affected by this edict to present their side of the story, and no heed was taken of the minhagim and psak of other communities who also call themselves orthodox but follow different traditions.

No, I am not speaking of Rav Elyashiv and co., but rather I am speaking of the members of the RCA committee which recently declared smicha for women off-limits.

Yes, this is a poor attempt at satire. It's not that I am particularly enamored of the idea of having a woman get smicha. It's that I find it strange that those who routinely criticize Rav Elyashiv and other giants when their psak is seen as disenfranchising the so-called centrist camp are suddenly silent or even voicing agreement when their leaders and rabbonim do the same to others. Mai shena? If you don't like when intellectual stones are thrown at you, why throw them at others?

What should we do about Rabbi Weiss and his "smicha"? I don't really see why we need to do anything. Who cares what he calls his assistant, or whether he calls his shul "orthodox"? The question is entirely semantic. Most of us don't live in Riverdale -- why is it our issue? Instead of focusing on what Rabbi Weiss should do in his community, why not focus instead of making our own communities exemplars of Torah, avodah, and yiras shamayim? And when the time comes to hire a Rav, each of our communities can seek appropriate counsel from talmidei chachamim to help find an appropriate candidate.