Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Balak, Rus, and the merits of she'lo lishma

Chazal tell us that even a mitzvah done she’lo lishma has merit. Because Balak offered 42 korbanos, even though done with the wrong intention, he merited to have Rus among his offspring (Nazir 23).

The gemara elsewhere (Brachos 17) seems to present a contrary view, telling us that one who performs a mitzvah shelo lishma should never have been born.

Tosfos reconciles the two statements: even when done without a positive lishma goal in mind, e.g. someone who learns Torah just because he wants to be called Rabbi, the mitzvah still has merit. However, if done for a destructive purpose, e.g. someone learns Torah in order to pick arguments with others, it is better that the mitzvah not be done.

Rav Shach writes that he does not understand how Tosfos’ answer fits the gemara. Balak offered his korbanos in a misguided effort to help Bilam curse the Jewish people. Surely this type of aim should be characterized as a destructive she’lo lishma! Yet, we see that Balak is given credit for his actions.

My son told me that the sefer Chavatzeles haSharon suggests that Tosfos’ distinction applies specifically to the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. The reason Torah study for a destructive purpose counts for nothing is because the subject matter itself, when poisoned with improper intentions, is no longer considered a cheftza shel Torah. Torah studied just to pick fights is not Torah! However, the cheftza of other mitzvos is not defined by intention. A korban offered is a korban offered, regardless of what the person bringing the offering may have in mind.

My problem with this answer is that the language of the gemara speaks of an “osek b’mitzvah" for the wrong reasons not deserving to be born, not just one who learns with destructive intentions. Also, if the Chavatzeles haSharon’s distinction is correct, Tosfos’ should have offered it to resolve the contradiction between gemaras. Tosfos could have explained that Balak gets credit because he performed a mitzvah action, offering a korban, but the gemara which speaks of she’lo lishma having no merit is speaking about Talmud Torah alone.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

the missing paroches

Rav Asher Weiss in the derashos in his Minchas Asher quotes a remarkable story. Once upon a time, the Sanzer Rav, the Divrei Chaim, told his chassidim that the Beis Hamikdash was sitting in shamayim already completed; all it needed was the paroches and it could be revealed. One of the chassidim, I imagine a bit of an outspoken one, could not contain himself. He shouted out his question, “So, Rebbe, why don’t you complete the paroches through your avodah so we can have the Beis haMikdash?” The Divrei Chaim responded with anger, “I have made the paroches again and again! – but each time I do, it is torn to shreds by aveiros.”

We are once again at the threshold of the three weeks, the time when we mourn the churban of the Beis HaMikdash. It’s not just a 2000 year old memory of what once was that we are mourning; what we are mourning is the Beis HaMikdash that exists in shamayim right now, whose paroches we keep ripping to shreds.

Maybe we shouldn’t darshen a story, but I don’t think it’s by accident that the paroches is the missing piece. It’s with the paroches that the tragedy of Tisha B’Av really began. As the gemara tells us (Gittin 56b), when Titus entered the Mikdash he took a sword and stabbed it through the paroches, which miraculously began to bleed. When 9 Av comes, if the Mikdash has not yet been build and the day is not yet a day of simcha, we will at night remove the paroches from in front of the aron kodesh in our shules as a sign of mourning.

Tikun is a process that moves from the outside inward. A person may find after a superficial spiritual examination that he/she has certain flaws that need correcting. The process of teshuva and fixing those flaws makes a person more sensitive, more attuned to other defects that need to be worked on, and the process continues on a deeper level. Slowly the layers of defensive posturing, the excuses, the plaque that has accumulated around the neshoma are peeled back, until finally we are at the threshold of the most pnimiyus point that exists in every Jew, the kodesh kodashim of the neshoma. The gateway between that point, that kodesh kodashim, and the rest of the person, is the paroches. What does that paroches look like? Is it a wonderful tapestry that shows our love for the neshoma inside, or is it a torn a ragged garment? What do we want it to look like?

What is true for each individual is true for Klal Yisrael on a national level as well. The destruction began with our loss of autonomy, then our loss of Yerushalayim, then the walls of the Mikdash fell, then finally Titus entered the Kodesh Kodashim and did what he did. Each step of physical destruction manifested the spiritual destruction that had eaten away at our identity. We have witnessed the beginnings of the reversal of the process, again moving from the outside inward: first the restoration of autonomy, the establishment of the State, the reclamation of Yerushalayim, each step accompanied by a greater flourishing and revival of the spirit. We have so much of what centuries of Jews only dreamed of… all we need is the final push, the restoration of that missing paroches.

Monday, June 28, 2010

an excuse for change

Commenting on Bilam's words, “Melech Moav shalach eilay,” that the King of Moav had called upon him to curse Klal Yisrael, the Ishbitzer reminds us that Bilam himself had a long history of plotting against the Jewish people. According to the Midrash, it was Bilam who advised Pharoah how to enslave the Jewish people. Having heard of the greatness of yetziyas Mitzrayim, Bilam was held in check by fear and did no further harm. He dared not initiate a plot, but instead waited, biding his time. Balak’s invitation was just the excuse he needed. Bilam could now pass off the initiation of hostilities as Balak’s idea while taking full advantage of the opportunity to do as much harm as he could.

Sound familiar? How many so-called intellectuals would claim that they would dare not sully themselves with base anti-Semitism, but given the opportunity to speak out about a flotilla, a Goldstone report, the suffering in Gaza, suddenly their voices are heard. The hypocrisy is evident; for four years Gilad Schalit has been held in clear violation of the Geneva conventions and none of these “humanists” has anything to say.

Current events are important, but I think the Ishbitzer wanted to tell us more than that. His concern is usually our avodah and personal growth, and here too, there is something to learn in that regard. Even if we would not dream of taking the initiative and doing something questionable ourselves, when faced with the invitation from a "Melech Moav," suddenly we concoct excuses to warrant joining the fun. There is a Bilam inside our hearts that desires nothing more than to destroy our sense of kedusha. Fortunately, that internal Bilam is usually held in check by fear, by our yiras shamayim. But all it takes is some small opportunity, some excuse, and that opening becomes the invitation that allows the spirit of Bilam to throw off its shackles. To steal from a fellow Jew – never! But when a great business opportunity presents itself and you are “only” a partner with Melech Moav, suddenly what used to be black and white in the abstract can seem very grey. I’m sure we can all think of many other examples.

But why should we focus on the negative only? Zeh l’umas zeh, there is an upside that counterbalances every downside. How many Jewish souls are out there that will never take the initiative to make Shabbos or to open a siddur and daven? Like Bilam, these souls are held in check by fear -- not fear of doing wrong and suffering punishment, but fear of changing their life to come closer to avodah. These souls need an invitation to act, a calling to provide an excuse for change. The person who would not on his own open a gemara might be willing to join a chavrusa; the person who might never take the initiative to make Shabbos might be willing to join others for kiddush. When someone asks Ploni why he suddenly is getting up an hour earlier to learn the daf, why he suddenly is busy every Saturday morning, that Jew will have the excuse he needs. Not Melech Moav, but, Ya’akov or Berel or Reuvain or Shimon "shalach eilay," and their invitation has made all the difference.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What was Kozbi guilty of?

Today is the yahrzeit of the Ohr HaChaim haKadosh, so let me mention a question he raises on the parsha. We know why Zimri was killed by Pinchas, but why was Kozbi deserving of death? What issur is there for a bas noach to have relations with a Jewish man? There is an issur for a bas noach who is married to commit adultery, but who says Kozbi was married? And even if she was, how would Pinchas have known that? Safeik nefasos l'hakeil!

The Ohr HaChaim suggests that just as we kill an animal which a person has relations with so that the sin is blotted out and people don't see the animal and comment, "Oh, that's the cow Ploni sinned with," so too there was an obligation to kill Kozbi because of Zomri's sin.

Other Achronim suggest that the issur here is one of lifnei iver, as even a ben noach is not permitted to abet even another ben noach in sin.

I had in mind as follows: Rashi (Baba Basra 50b) writes that the halacha of safeik nefasos l'hakeil is based on the pasuk of "v'hitzilu ha'eidah." Tosfos disagrees, and argues that no pasuk is needed -- logically, a person cannot be killed unless we are certain of their guilt; to act otherwise is tanatamount to murder.

Is it possible that if the din of safeik nefashos l'hakeil is based on a special pasuk that it only applies to Jews, but not to bnei noach?

This is not a great answer because: 1) Tosfos is clearly compelling; Rashi must have some other reason for introducing the pasuk other than to tell us that you cannot carry out a death penalty in a situation of safeik (maybe more on that in the future...); 2) Safeik nefashos l'hakeil is a rule that tells us how beis din should function; who the defendant is (Jew or ben noach) should not make a difference.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bilam's nevuah-- solution to unfairness?

Rashi writes that Hashem granted nevuah to Bilam to prevent the nations of the world from complaining of unfairness because we have nevi’im and they don’t. Rav Shteinman in his Ayeles HaShachar asks an interesting question. Has the complaint of unfairness really been resolved? The nations still will complain. True, they got a navi, but look at who they got! Bilam was a good for nothing rasha. They will say, "Had we only gotten someone like Moshe Rabeinu...."

Rav Shteinman offers one approach, but I don't think there is one answer alone to this question. What do you think?

If you have no sense of humor please stop reading now.

If your workplace has a TV around (as the financial institution that employs me, and most other financial institutions, do) it is probably usually tuned to CNBC or some other boring business news station. Yet, Wednesday morning was different. I think no work at all was done for most of the latter half of the morning, as instead people were fixated on this:

Now, there have been accusations of bias against the US because of disqualified goals, but what I think clinches the argument of bias is scheduling the game on Shabbos where bakasha is prohibited in tefilah. But no matter. All we need to do is have kavanah in the beginning of our amidah

-- v'Zocher chasdei Avos u'mavi


l'vnei b'neihen.

I'm glad I got that out of my system.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

points to ponder on the parsha

Some further parsha points to ponder this week when learning Rashi (this time posted earlier in the week):

1) וַיַּרְא בָּלָק בֶּן צִפּוֹר אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאֱמֹרִי
Rashi (22:2) explains that Balak calculated that if the two great kings of Sichon and Og who were relied on to stop any infiltration into Eretz Yisrael were defeated, he certainly had cause for alarm. Why does Rashi interpret “vayar” as an act of deliberation, thinking, calculating, instead of explaining it according to the plain meaning of vayar = “to see”, i.e. Balak saw the defeat of the Emori and decided to act?

2) וַיִּשְׁלַח מַלְאָכִים אֶל בִּלְעָם בֶּן בְּעוֹר פְּתוֹרָה
Rashi first suggests that Pesorah means moneychanger, based on the meaning of Pesorah=table [where the moneychanges exchanges coins] in Aramic. He then offers a second interpretation, which he writes is closer to the pshuto shel mikra, defining Pesorah as a place.
A) Why does Rashi not first give us the explanation closest to the simple meaning of the text and only secondly the derash? Why even offer the interpretation of “moneychanger” if it does not fit the plain meaning of the text?
B) וַאֲשֶׁר שָׂכַר עָלֶיךָ אֶת-בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר מִפְּתוֹר אֲרַם נַהֲרַיִם לְקַלְלֶךָּ. (Devarim 23:5) In this pasuk Pesor clearly seems to be the name of a place. How does that fit with Rashi's interpretation of it meaning moneychanger?

3) וַיֹּאמֶר מִי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה עִמָּךְ
Hashem asked Bila’am who his visitors were (22:9). Rashi explains that Hashem wanted to trick Bila’am and give the impression that He was not all knowing. [Of course Hashem does not trick anyone. What Rashi means is that Hashem spoke in such a way that allowed Bilam the opportunity to deceive himself by believing that G-d is not all knowing.]

If we look back in Parshas Braishis, when G-d approached Adam after the sin of eating the eitz ha’da’as, and asked, “Ayeka?” (Braishis 3:9) “Where are you?” Rashi commented that G-d asked this question in order to ease Adam into conversation without startling him, just as he introduced himself to Bilam with a question to initiate conversation. Why does Rashi in our parsha explain G-d’s question as a trick and not simply as a means to create an opening for conversation like he explained in Braishis? Is Rashi contradicting himself?

4) וַיָּשֶׂם דָּבָר בְּפִיו וַיֹּאמֶר שׁוּב אֶל בָּלָק וְכֹה תְדַבֵּר
Rashi explains the extra words “vayasem davar b’piv,” (23:16) to mean that Bila’am was like a horse with a bridle stuck in his mouth, forced to return to Balak and speak his prophecy. Yet, almost these very same words, “Vayasem davar b’pi Bilam” appear earlier in the parsha (23:5) and Rashi there offers no comment. Why did Rashi wait until now to offer his explanation?

5) וְהֵמָּה בֹכִים פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד
Rashi (25:6) explains that the people were crying because Moshe forgot the halacha. Why does Rashi not explain simply that the people were crying because of the shock of witnessing the outrageous sin of Zimri? Why does Rashi introduce the added factor of Moshe forgetting the halacha?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

latest time for mincha

We’ve discussed in the past (with respect to making early Shabbos) the machlokes between R’ Yehudah and the Chachamim regarding the proper time for mincha and ma’ariv. According to R’ Yehudah, the latest time for mincha is plag (1 1/4 hours before sundown), with ma’ariv permissable thereafter; according to the Chachamim the latest time for mincha is shekiya, sundown, and only then can you daven ma’ariv . The crux of the issue is what time the korban tamid bein ha’arbayin, which the tefilah of mincha corresponds to, was offered.

The gemara does not come to a conclusion as to who is right – d’aved k’mar avid, d’avid k’mar avid – one is free to follow either view so long as one is consistent. In other words, you can’t wait until after plag to daven mincha in accordance with the view of the Chachamim but daven ma’ariv on the same day before shekiya in accordance with R’ Yehudah’s leniency.

At first glance the reason why either view is acceptable is because sfeika derabbanan l’kula. When dealing with a mitzvah or issur derabbanan, where there is a doubt as to what the halacha is, one is permitted to be lenient. Since tefilah is derabbanan and there is no clear resolution who is right, one can be lenient and wait until shekiya to daven mincha or daven ma’ariv after plag if one davened an early mincha.

However, that’s not how the Rambam seems to see it. Hil Tefilah ch 3:

ויש לו להתפלל תפילת ערבית של לילי שבת, בערב שבת קודם שתשקע השמש; וכן מתפלל ערבית של מוצאי שבת, בשבת: לפי שתפילת ערבית רשות, אין מדקדקין בזמנה

The Rambam does not invoke the rule of sfeika derabbanan l’kula to justify davening ma’ariv early, but instead invokes the rule of “tefilas arvis reshus,” i.e. ma’ariv is less of an obligation than other tefilos because it does not correspond to a korban.

Another indication that this is not a real safeik is the Rambam’s ruling (Hil Temidim 1:3) that the tamid shel ben ha’arbayim was offered until sundown:

תמיד של בין הערביים, שוחטין אותו משיאריך הצל ויוכר לכול שהאריך, והוא משש שעות ומחצה ומעלה, עד סוף היום

Were there any real doubt as to who is right – R’ Yehudah or the Chachamim –the rule of sfeika d’oraysa l’chumra should apply and we should avoid offering the korban after plag. Yet, the Rambam allows until sundown for the korban to be brought.

Apparently the Rambam understood the gemara's conclusion not as a statement of doubt about who is right, but as an affirmation that both R' Yehudah and the Chachamim are right. Both positions are tenable halachic approaches. Since the Chachamim are the majority view we give preference to their opinion, but since tefilas arvis reshus one rely on R' Yehudah.

Monday, June 21, 2010

kilayim in bigdei kehunah

The Rambam writes in the last halacha in Hil. Kilayim (10:32) that kohanim may not wear bigdei kehunah (which contained kilayim) when not performing avodah. A kohein who does so is liable for malkos. Ra’avad disagrees and writes that kohanim may wear bigdei kehunah even if they are not engaged in avodah so long as they remain in the mikdash. I don’t have time for a full analysis of the machlokes, but do want to point out a Midrash Rabbah on Parshas Chukas which comments on Aharon’s death:

והלא אם יצא כהן גדול בבגדי כהונה חוץ מהר הבית, סופג את הארבעים, שהם צמר ופשתים, אלא להודיעך, שבלשון שקרבו לכהונה ואמר לו: קח את אהרן, בו בלשון אמר לו לעלות ההר

In finding fault with Aharon wearing the bigdei kehunah outside the mikdash, the Midrash seems to clearly side with the Ra’avad. What would the Rambam make of this? Without getting into the details, one method to defend the Rambam (see Ha’amek She’eilah to She’ilta 126 - p. 13 in the standard edition) would be to prove that the Midrash is an isolated view which the gemara disagrees with. I'm putting this one on the back burner for another time.

an amazing yalkut shimoni on the sin of mei meriva

Not to be missed among the many views of what Moshe did wrong at Mei Meriva is the opinion of Yalkut Shimoni (remez 564):

יען לא האמנתם בי ארבע חטאות כתובין כאן לא האמנתם, לא קדשתם, מעלתם, מריתם, לא האמנתם שלא אמרתי לכם להכות והכית אותו. ולא קדשתם לעיני כל ישראל להוציא להם מים מכל סלע שרוצים, מעלתם אמרת המן הסלע הזה, מריתם ודברתם אל הסלע שנה עליו פרק אחד ועברת על דברי.

The sin of “not speaking” according to the Yalkut does not mean not ordering the rock to produce water, but rather refers to the sin of not studying Torah near the rock. Moshe should have responded to the demand for water by sitting and learning! Hitting the rock to produce water undoubtedly demonstrated Hashem’s miraculous power, but it did not demonstrate the power of Torah, and it was for that specific crucial failing that Moshe was blamed.

There is much to learn from this Yalkut. Imagine the criticism a leader would face if after hearing of the people's needs and demands he would retreat to the beis medrash to sit and learn. The headlines would decry the callousness -- He doesn't care! He's not engaged in the world! But that's exactly the response the Yalkut sees as appropriate. Where else can we find guidence, what greater power can we bring to bear on a problem, if not the merit of Torah study?

Consider about whom the Yalkut is speaking – is there anyone who we can say embodied love for Torah more than Moshe Rabeinu? Is there anyone whose life was devoted to teaching Torah more than Moshe Rabeinu? Surely Moshe was the paradigm of what a Torah scholar should be. Nonetheless, Moshe is not spared criticism or punishment for failing in this one instance to impress upon the people the power of Torah.

We are not Moshe Rabeinu, but the responsibility rests with us as bnei Torah to reinforce to our families and others the awesome power of limud haTorah. "Ain mayim elah Torah" -- if we are diligent in our learning, even the dry rocks will be inspired.

Friday, June 18, 2010

some parsha points to ponder

I generally do shenayim mikra too fast. Here are a few random points worth slowing down and thinking in Rashi (answers can be found in various meforshim):

1) Rashi (20:1) explains that the parsha of parah is juxtaposed to the death of Miriam to teach that the death of tzadikim is mechapeir like the offering of korbanos. Why then not juxtapose one of the many parshiyos of korbanos that appear in VaYikra with Miriam's death -- why is specifically the parsha of parah adumah chosen?

2) Rashi writes (20:12) that Moshe failed to do a kiddush Hashem because he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. Yet Rashi in Parshas Be'ha'alosecha (12:22) implies that it was Moshe's exclamation of "Shimu na ha'morim" that was the sin. Which was it?

3) "VaYishma haKena'ani ki ba Yisrael derech ha'atarim." (21:1) Rashi explains that the Kena'ani heard that Aharon had passed away. Why does the text require any interpretation beyond its plain meaning, namely that the Kena'ani heard that Bnei Yisrael were travelling in their direction?

4) Why does Rashi (21:21) give a reason for Sichon objecting to Bnei Yisrael crossing his territory (namely, he was paid by the rules of Kena'an to keep them out) but Rashi doesn't give a reason for Edom's earlier objection?

5) Rashi (21:35) comments on the pasuk, "Vayaku oso v'es banav v'es amo", that Moshe personally killed Og. The word "vayaku" is written in the plural -- why does Rashi ascribe the killing of Og to Moshe alone?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

compound zechuyos

Chazal tell us that the man fell in Moshe's merit, the well gave water in Miriam's merit, and the ananei hakavod protected the camp in Aharon's merit. After the death of Miraim, the be'er vanished, but was restored in Moshe's merit; after the death of Aharon the ananei hakavod departed but then returned in Moshe's merit. Apparently Moshe's merit alone must have been sufficient to bring about the be'er and the ananim, otherwise why would they have returned? Yet, if so, why do Chazal attribute their initial appearance to Aharon and Miriam and not exclusively to Moshe?

Chasam Sofer explains that each of these tzadikim, Moshe and Ahraon and Miriam, had a specific task: Moshe taught Torah; Aharon taught how to preserve shalom; Miriam taught yiras shamayim and inspired the women. Moshe's merit alone initially would have be insufficient to bring the ananei hakavod, the be'er, as well as the man. However, after 40 years of absorbing the yirah of Miriam, after 40 years of absorbing the teaching of shalom by Aharon, the people were on a far higher spiritual plane than they were at the start of their journey. Moshe could now even alone could restore the be'er and ananim.

There is a cumulative power to zechuyos. Because earlier generations struggled to achieve the seemingly impossible, we enjoy the benefit of their accomplishments and experience.

I want to mention one other Chasam Sofer because my wife has asked me this in the past. We know what Moshe and Aharon did wrong and why they died in the midbar, but what about Miriam? Why didn't she get to enter Eretz Yisrael?

The C.S. explains that the real reason behind the death of all three of these tzadikim is the sin (obviously slight) of lashon ha'ra. Chazal tell us that evil speech harms the speaker, the listener, and the one about whom it was spoken. It was Miriam's speaking against Moshe, Aharon's overhearing, Moshe being the topic of their gosip, which caused their death. Hashem hoped that the tragic death of these tazdikim would reinforce the lesson for us.

Miriam began the downward slide by speaking against Moshe, undermining the sensitivity of the people to the harm of wrongful speech. Her death caused the removal of the be'er, and created a need for water. Had Moshe and Aharon spoken to the rock instead of striking it, it would have restored the nation's recognition of the power of words. Instead, by hitting the rock, Moshe and Aharon again gave the impression that words alone have no power.

We can now understand why there would never have been a churban had Moshe and Aharon led us into Eretz Yisrael. The churban habayis was caused by the cheit of lashon hara. Because Moshe and Aharon failed to impress upon the nation the power of words, they opened the door to the potential for tragedy. Therefore, they could not be the leaders to bring about a permanent yishuv ha'aretz.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

bitul terumah (II)

To sum up yesterday’s long post: there is a din of “ma’achilin lo ha’kal ha’kal techila” that obligates one to opt for the lesser evil when faced with a choice of what to feed a choleh whose life is in danger. The gemara presents a machlokes as to whether terumah or tevel is the lesser issur. The case seems very strange -- why not just seperate terumah from the tevel and make it permissible (chulin)? We discussed two approaches as to why that is not an option:

1) Rashi: there is one pile of wheat that has exactly enough grain to bake what the choleh requires. If terumah is taken off, you haven't avoided an issur because the choleh will have to eat chulin + the terumah anyway. The debate is whether it’s still preferable to do the hafrasha and eat the terumah, or to just eat tevel?

2) Parashas Derachim interpreting the Ran: there are two piles of wheat, one of tevel one of terumah. The only reason the tevel cannot be turned into chulin is some external technical reason, e.g. the owner of the wheat did not give permission for hafrasha.

The Parashas Derachim writes that his approach helps resolve another difficulty. If the only obstacle to hafrasha is the fact that the choleh has to eat everything, why not be mafrish terumah and then mix it back in to the pile so it is bateil? “Ain mevatlin issur l’chatchila” is just an issur derabbanan, and here, faced otherwise with issurei d’oraysa, it seems the best way out. The case must be that the tevel cannot be fixed for some other technical reason.

Just to add fuel to the fire, I was bothered by another point. Since separating even one stalk of wheat is sufficient to fulfill the chiyuv d’oraysa of terumah, according to Rashi why not separate a tiny portion of terumah which would only be a chatzi shiur if eaten by the choleh?

The Avnei Milu’im (in the Shu”T, #18) argues against this Parashas Derachim. As we read in Parshas Korach, terumah requires “shemira” (“mishmeres terumosai”). It cannot be destroyed, used improperly, or made tamei. Ordinarily ain mevatlin issur l’chatchila is a din derabbanan, but when it comes to terumah, since bitul causes terumah to lose its identity and sanctity, it violates this d’oraysa halacha of shemira.

And to put my fire out as well: Rav Yosef Engel writes that even those who hold that eating chatzi shiur is derabbanan agree in the case of terumah that it is d’oraysa – ingestion by a zar would effectively destroy the terumah and therefore also be a violation of shemira.

Whether this chiddush of the Avenei Milu’im is correct is a major debate in Achronim. The Steipler in his Birchas Peretz on chumash is not convinced that bitul or loss of kedusha can be equated with destruction. Others offer alternative reasons why bitul would not work in this case, e.g. terumah is property of the kohen, and bitul does not work in the realm of dinei mamonos (arguing that the dollar you owe me is bateil to the rest of the money in your wallet and therefore doesn't have to be paid back just doesn’t work).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the lesser of two evils -- bitul terumah

When prohibited food must be eaten because of life threatening circumstances, the rule is "ma'achilin lo ha'kal ha'kal techila" (Yoma 83) – if there is a choice of issurim, we choose the lesser evil. This principle gives rise to a number of disputes in the gemara and rishonim as to which among various choices is the more minor issur. One of the interesting cases involves a person who requires meat on Shabbos, but there is no kosher meat available -- would it be better to violate Shabbos and shecht an animal to have kosher meat, or to consume non-kosher meat without violating Shabbos? At first glance one would think that Shabbos, an issur sekilah, is certainly the more stringent issur, but the Ran disagrees and argues that eating the treif food is more stringent as each and every k’zayis is a separate issur, while the Shabbos violation would involve just one act. This seems to be a classic question of kamus vs. eichus: how does one qualitatively more stringent issur stack up against a greater quantity of lesser issurim?

The Parashas Derachim challenges the Ran based the following case: The gemara asks which is worse -- eating tevel or eating terumah? Says the gemara: if it is possible to fix the tevel and make it chulin, there is nothing to talk about, as that is obviously the best option. The case in question is where that is impossible. Is tevel the lesser issur because at least in potential it can be transformed into chulin, or is terumah the lesser issur because at least it is permitted for some people (kohanim) to eat b’heter? The gemara quotes a machlokes and does not resolve the question.

What type of case does the gemara have in mind when it says that the tevel cannot be corrected through hafrasha? Rashi explains that we are speaking of a case where someone is ill and requires a specific amount of food which is equal to the total quantity of tevel available. For example, imagine a person who must eat an entire challah roll, and all you have is enough flour to bake exactly that one single challah roll. If you separate off terumah from the flour, the person will still have to eat that portion as well. Is it better to just bake the roll as-is, in a state of tevel, or is it better to do a hafrasha of terumah even though the person will have to eat both the chulin portion and the terumah portion?

Returning to the Ran, if multiple quantities of a lesser issur are viewed as more severe than even a one time desecration of Shabbos, it stands to reason that eating the one bite of terumah would be preferable to taking multiple bites of tevel, each of which is a separate issur. What's the whole machlokes about? Shouldn’t everyone agree the one bite aveira of terumah is the lesser evil than the bite after bite multiple aveiros done by eating tevel?

The Parahas Derachim answers that the Ran did not learn the gemara's case like Rashi. The machlokes must be where you have two separate portions, one which is terumah, one which is tevel, and are not sure which one to use. Why then not just separate terumah from the tevel? What makes it impossible? The P.D. says that there must be some technical reason that makes hafrasha impossible, e.g. the owner of the wheat did not give permission to do hafrasha from it, in which case the hafrasha is not chal. According to the Ran, given that there are two piles, no matter which one you eat, there will be multiple issurim involved.

Now we get to the fun part. The Parashas Derachim adds that by learning the gemara in this way (i.e. not like Rashi), you can resolve another difficulty. Given the way Rashi sets up the case, it seems that it is in fact possible to have your cake and eat it to without violating any issur!Instead of being mafrish terumah and eating it separately, why not just mix the terumah back with the other flour and be mevateil it?! True, there is a din of ain mevatlin issur l’chatchila – you cannot intentionally set up a situation of bitul – but that is only a din derabbanan according to most Rishonim. Everyone should agree that bitul is a better option than a certain d’oraysa violation. Why according to Rashi is this not a valid solution? It must be that since the gemara does not consider this option it means that we are not speaking of a single pile of food, but rather of two distinct piles, one of terumah, one of tevel, and the question is which one to choose.

This issue of ain mevatlin issur l'chatchila on terumah gets us involved in a major debate among Achronim -- to be continued bli neder.

Monday, June 14, 2010

a little chizuk

Yesterday was the annual siyum in my son's yeshiva and it was a tremendous source of chizuk. Over 60 bachurim finished Bava Kama (yes, my son was among them), and others were mesayeim other masechtos as well. These are boys who mostly hail from Far Rockaway and the 5 Towns, boys who certainly are aware of, if not exposed to, TV, the internet, to the allure of Central Ave in the Five Towns with its numerous hangouts and what-not. Yet, despite the potential distractions, these boys have achieved success in learning b'iyun and hasmadah. Y'yasher cheilam. I wrote this last year, but I'll repeat it: this is what chinuch is all about. My son's yeshiva doesn't have a gym period, an art class, a music program, etc. all of which I agree have value, but unless you can show me a yeshiva which has all those and can also boast of bachurim churning through masechtos, I'll stick with what we have.

Just two quick stories from the siyum:

First, a story about a bachur, one of my son's chaveirim. This boy is a Russian immigrant who came to the yeshiva last year mid-year from another school knowing next to nothing. The Menahel explained to the boy that the yeshiva has no real preparatory classes -- the expectation is that the boys will sit and learn gemara, Rashi, Tosfos, Rishonim. How will he fit in? The boy responded, "But I want to learn Torah." The Menahel said that he and the Rosh Yeshiva were in tears. What could they do? The Menahel is a tzadik and did the right thing -- they took the boy in and figured they would see what happens. This boy was mesayem Bava Kama this year.

The guest speaker was Rav Noach Oelbaum from Queens, who told a story that I heard before from another reliable source as well. The minhag in Poland was that on the yahrzeit of the Rama, which is Lag baOmer, people would gather in Cracow by the Rama's kever and be mispallel and learn (see Yevamos 121a, Rashi on top). One year R' Yosef Shaul Natahanson, the Sho'el u'Meishiv, was passing through town on that date, so he came and paid his respects to the local mora d'asra, Rav Avraham David. The Rav asked R' Yosef Shaul to honor them with a derasha, but R' Yosef Shaul said they should talk in learning instead. The Rav asked what he would like to discuss; R' Yosef Shaul suggested maybe going through every Abayei and Rava in shas. (!) I imagine this little contest attracted a crowd, and so they began.... R' Avraham David put his head in his hands and began with Brachos, saying over ba'al peh every Abaye and Rava. After Brachos, he turned to the Shoel u'Meishiv and asked if they should continue, and he got a nod to go on. Next came Shabbos, and then seder Moed, and they kept going right through Nashim and Nezikin. Finally, and here there is a safeik whether it was in Mes. Sanhedrin or Shavuos, R' Yosef Shaul Nathanson said to stop -- enough for one day. Rav Avraham David turned to his guest and asked why, considering how much they had done so far, they should suddenly stop? To which the Sho'el u'Meishiv answered that he, R' Avraham David, had missed 33 instanced of Abaye and Rava since the beginning of shas, and l'chavod the yahrtzeit of the Rama on Lag (33) b'Omer, that's enough.

As Rav Oelbaum said, missing 33 Abayei and Rava's is mistama like a 95 on a test -- and all this on the spot, ba'al peh. We don't even have a hasaga of what this level of yedi'as haTorah is! Yet, people not too long ago were able to do it. But, you will say, how many of us have the kishronos, the ability, the memory, the concentration, of the Sho'el u'Meishiv? They had extraordinary ability -- what does it have to do with us? But I want to echo a point Rav Oelbaum made -- it's not all about memory and ability. How many of us have a cheishek for Torah like that of the Sho'el u'Meishiv? Rav Oelbaum related that the Chazon Ish's brother mentioned in his hesped for the C. I. that everyone knew of the ge'onus of the Chazon Ish, but did they also know about the tears he said when he davened "atah chonein l'adam da'as"? Hashem rewards those tefilos and that desire to achieve. You don't believe it? Just look at that 15 year old boy who didn't know aleph-beis last year and said a hadran yesterday.

The yeshiva deserves a special y'yasher koach for producing bachurim such as these, boys with a love for learning who will undoubtedly reap the rewards of that cheishek.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

shabbos rosh chodesh (II)

Thanks to Anonymous for making me track down a R' Yosef Engel in Tziyunim laTorah (#38) that deals at length with the issue of overlapping kedushos hayom. One of the gemara's he cites relates to our issue of rosh chodesh on Shabbos which we discussed last post (part I here). In discussing which takes precedence, tadir or mekudash (Zevachim 90), the gemara tries to bring proof from the fact that the korban musaf of rosh chodesh (mekudash because it is called a moed) is offered before the korban musaf of shabbos (tadir, because it is brought every week). The gemara rejects this proof -- does rosh chodesh effect only its own musafim and not those of shabbos as well? In other words, on shabbos rosh chodesh we are not dealing with the usual korban musaf of shabbos that just happens to fall out on the same day as the musaf of rosh chodesh (a harkavah shichnit), but rather the kedushas hayom of rosh chodesh combines with that of shabbos to create a new, synthesis kedushas hayom (harkavah mizgit). The korban musaf of this shabbos has the benefits of both kedushos hayom together and is no proof to an ordinary tadir vs. mekudash issue.
This is clearly against what I wrote in the previous post, but R' Yosef Engel has much more to say on the issue.

hallel on shabbos rosh chodesh

The gemara (Archin 10) discusses why we say full hallel on some days and not others. Why no full hallel on Shabbos? Because, answers the gemara, Shabbos is not called a mo'ed, and we only say full hallel on a mo'ed. Why no full hallel on Rosh Chodesh, which is called a moed? Because, answers the gemara, there is no prohibition of doing work on Rosh Chodesh, which indicates that it is a different sort of mo'ed than the yamim tovim.

So why did we not recite full hallel yesterday? On Shabbos Rosh Chodesh all the necessary factors overlap -- it is Shabbos, so there is an issur melacha, and the day is called a mo'ed because it is Rosh Chodesh as well.

As we discussed once before (here), when two different kedushos hayom (or other logical halachic structures) overlap, one needs to investigate whether the two different factors co-exist side by side independently (what the Rogachover calles a harkava shichnit) or whether the two factors combine together to create a new synthesis (what he calls a harkava mizgit). In our case, if there was a new type of kedushas hayom created called Shabbos-Rosh Chodesh which was a synthesis of elements of both Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh, then perhaps one could argue the case for full hallel. But apparently that's not the case. The kedushas hayom of Shabbos and the kedushas hayom of Rosh Chodesh happen to coincide on the same day, but each retains its independence, each retains its shortcomings as a mechayeiv of hallel, and therefore, only partial hallel is recited.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

korach's claim -- mamlechas kohanim v'goy kadosh?

Lest we dismiss as preposterous Korach's assertion that the nation is “kulam kedoshim” and all should have an opportunity to serve as kohen, we need only remind ourselves of Hashem’s words, “V’atem tehiyu li mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh,” charging us with to become a nation of kohanim and a holy people. The question is not what gave rise to Korach’s claim, but why indeed was he wrong.

Moshe’s challenged Korach, “U’bikashtem gam kehunah?” -- Do you, Korach, also dare desire serving as kohen as well? Given Korach’s mindset, it is hard, writes the Shem m’Shmuel, to understand why Moshe’s challenge would give him pause. Given his claim of supposed holiness, Korach might feel that in fact there is no one more deserving of the position of kohen than himself.

The Shem m'Shmuel explains that the position of kohen demands being “kadosh,” but not in the way Korach imagined. “Kadosh” means separate. The kohen was kadosh not because he separated from the people, but rather because he separated himself from his own base instincts and desires, including the desire for position and privilige. Aharon did not desire the role of kohen, but had it thrust upon him. He did not hold himself above and seperate from the people, but mingled among them, trying to mend broken relationships and trying to make peace where quarrels broke out.

Moshe’s argument to Korach was that the very notion of “u’bikashtem,” desire for the position, is antithetical to the role of a kohen. A person who is convinced of his own self righteousness to the extent that he sees only himself as deserving is someone who has not succeeded in separating himself from desire enough to deserve the role that he aspires to.

Rashi comments on “V’asu li mikdash” that the word “li” means “lismi,” for my [Hashem’s] sake. The difference between Hashem’s charge and Korach’s claim is that while Korach was motivated by his desire to serve, Hashem demands, “V’atem tehiyu li mamleches kohanim v’goy kadosh,” that our becoming a nation of kohanim and kedoshim be purely “li,” for his sake alone.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

hefsek in mitzvas tzitzis

1. If one intends to wear multiple pairs of tzitzis one should recite a bracha only on the first and then put on the other garments. The Rama (O.C. 8:12) writes that if a person took off the first garment before putting on the second garment a new bracha must be recited on the second garment. Many of the Achronim disagree. Since the person had in mind that the bracha would apply to all the garments, what difference does it make if the first is taken off before putting on the second? The Magen Avraham asks how this case is different than a person who recites one bracha intending to shecht multiple animals -- at the time of shechita on the second animal, the person is already finished with the first, yet no new bracha is required?

Seems to me that there is a clear difference between these cases. In the case of shechita, the mitzvah is finished m'meila once the first animal is done. Even if the person wanted the mitzvah to continue, it can't! In the case of tzitzis, it is only the person's deliberate removal of the garment that creates an interruption. If not for that, the chiyuv tzitzis accomplished by wearing the first garment would be ongoing. It's that choice to deliberately end the mitzvah which creates the hefsek.

2. The Beis Yosef (and GR"A) paskens (O.C. 8:14) that if you remove your talis, even if you have in mind to put it back on immediately, a new bracha is recited. The MG"A asks how this case is different from the case of a person who leaves a sukkah with the intent to return, in which case the Beis Yosef himself paskens no new bracha is required. Interestingly, here the Aruch haShulchan draws a distinction similar to the one I drew above -- there is nothing compelling the removal of the talis, so the choice to do so creates a hefsek. However, I think a more basic distinction can be drawn between the cases. The mitzvah of sukkah is one of dirah, living in the sukkah just as one would live in one's home. Just as living in a home does not mean imprisonment -- one can pop in and out as need be -- so too, by definition the mitzvah of sukkah allows one to pop in and out as need be without creating a hefsek. The mitzvah of tzitzis, however, does not allow for interruption -- take the garment off and the mitzvah ends.

3. I am not sure what to make of R' Chaim Volozhiner's statement in Keser Rosh that tzitzis have to be down to your knees.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

the shiur of challah

Rashi (15:20) writes that challah is called terumah because like terumah it has no shiur -- any amount (m'doraysa) may be given to the kohen to fulfill the mitzvah. Yet, one pasuk later, Rashi comments that the word "titnu" teaches that one must give a not-insignificant amount to the kohen so that it counts as a proper nesina, an act of giving. Is there a minimum amount required to fulfill challah or isn't there?

The Noda b'Yehuda answers (as we've discussed before, and here as well) that there are two aspects to the mitzvah of challah: 1) removing the status of tevel from the dough; 2) making a gift to the kohen. Seperating any amount of dough removes the status of tevel from the dough. However, to fulfill the mitzvah of nesina, of presenting a gift to the kohen, requires a more significant gift.

stolen tzitzis and mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira

The gemara darshens from the words "V'asu lahem tzitzis" that the string of tzitzis must be owned and not stolen. Minchas Chinuch asks why a special pasuk is needed for this din -- stolen string should be excluded based on the din of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira? (Obviously this is not a question according to the Rishonim (Tos. Sukkah 9) who hold mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira is only a psul derabbanan.) The M.C. explains that the din of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira means that the mitzvah action is not acceptable to Hashem, it is not "l'ratzon." The limud from the pasuk goes a step further. Not only is wearing stolen tzitzis something Hashem funds unacceptable, but more than that -- it is like not wearing tzitzis at all. It's not just a lackof a kiyum mitzvah, i.e. like wearing a four cornered with tzitzis but getting no credit for it, but it's a biutl aseh as well, like not having tzitzis on the garment at all.

The Minchas Chinuch uses this same reasoning to explain why a limud is needed to exclude a stolen sukkah. Not only is eating in a stolen sukkah not a kiyum mitzvah because of mitzvah haba'ah b'aveira, but more than that -- it is like eating outside the sukkah, a bitul mitzvah. (See R' Yosef Engel in Asvan D'Oraysa #11 who rejects this chiddush.)

Ordinarily the shulchan aruch deals only in practical halacha, not philosophy. Tzitzis, tefillin, and sukkah are exceptions to the rule and the shulchan aruch tells us the reason for these mitzvos as well as how to perform them. Achronim explain that besides the regular din of kavanah required for all mitzvos, these mitzvos also require having in mind the reason behind them while doing the mitzvah.

R' Elchanan Wasserman, using similar logic to the Minchas Chinuch, raises the question of what happens if a person wears tzitzis without kavanah: does he simply lose the kiyum mitzvah, or would we go a step further and say it is as if the person was wearing a four cornered garment without any tzitzis, a bitul aseh?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

collecting on the promise of Eretz Yisrael to Avraham Avinu

The Midrash (BaMidbar Rabbah 16) quotes R’ Acha haGadol’s derush on the pasuk “Yaveish chatzir naveil tzitz u’dvar Elokeinu yakum l’olam,” (Yeshayahu 40:8):

למה הדבר דומה? למלך, שהיה לו אוהב והתנה עמו ואמר לו: לך עמי ואני נותן לך מתנה. הלך עמו ומת. אמר המלך לבנו של אוהבו: אעפ"י שמת אביך, איני חוזר בי במתנה שאמרתי לו, בוא וטול אתה! כך הדבר, המלך, מלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה. והאוהב זה אברהם, שנאמר (שם מא): זרע אברהם אוהבי. אמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא: בא לך עמי (בראשית יב): לך לך מארצך וממולדתך ומבית אביך. התנה עמו, שיתן לו מתנה, שנאמר (שם יג): קום התהלך בארץ. וכן הוא אומר (שם): כי כל הארץ אשר אתה רואה לך אתננה. אמר לו הקב"ה למשה: אעפ"י שהתנתי עם האבות ליתן להם את הארץ ומתו, איני חוזר בי,

The Midrash reassures us that we still have a claim on Eretz Yisrael despite the fact that it was promised originally to Avraham and he is long dead. Why this affirmation now? Avraham Avinu had been dead already for hundreds of years by the time Bnei Yisrael left Egypt, ostensibly with the goal of settling Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, wasn’t the land originally promised to Avraham in trust for his descendents, not as a personal gift – what is the hava amina that Hashem should not deliver?

The answer (as explained by the Shem m’Shmuel) is that there is little bit of Avraham Avinu that lives on inside each and every one of us. Avraham Avinu thus theoretically had the ability to personally collect on the promise of Eretz Yisrael through us.

The tragedy of the meraglim was that Bnei Yisrael disassociated themselves from this legacy of the Avos and their love of the land. That little piece of Avraham within was no longer alive, it no longer had meaning to the generation of the midbar. That ability of Avraham to personally collect was lost.

What right then did we have to the land? The Midrash answers that Hashem’s promise is irrevocable -- even if we fail to live up to the model of the Avos, Eretz Yisrael is ours.

I think this Midrash more generally addresses the inevitable rift that emerges between generations. Not only Avraham Avinu, but the spirit of all fathers and grandfathers eventually dies off, as children go their own way and pursue their own dreams and destiny. Does that mean that ideas and values are lost? Does that mean that the promises made to and by our forefathers have no meaning? Not necessarily. The dor hamidbar was not a dor of Avraham Avinu’s, but Hashem nonetheless was willing (and I don’t think the Midrash means begrudgingly) to reaffirm his promise of Eretz Yisrael. Despite there being differences between our generation and that of our parents or grandparents, and our generation and that of our children, there is a sense of continuity to yahadus which cannot be extinguished.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

when a zemer fulfills a mitzvah d'oraysa

Warning: this post may cause you to skip a popular shabbos zemer -- don't say I didn't warn you.

This week I want to mention another chiddush of the GR"A that I don't fully understand. If you pay attention to the words, Tzur Mishelo is basically a song of thanks to Hashem for the food eaten at seudas shabbos. The stanzas "Hazan...," "Al kein Nodeh...," "Rachem...," "Yibaneh haMikdash..." parallel the brachos of birchas hamazon and echo the same themes. Therefore, as reported by R' Chaim Volozhiner, the GR"A avoided singing Tzur Mishelo lest it count as a fulfillment of his chiyuv d'oraysa of birchas hamazon.

I'm missing something here -- so what if it may count as a fulfillment of the chiyuv d'oraysa of bentching? Since one would not be yotzei on a derabbanan level by reciting Tzur Mishelo because it lacks the formula of shem and malchus, there should not be a problem of bracha l'vatalah in reciting the full bentching (and according to the Pri Megadim that we discussed here I would even venture to say there is not even a d'oraysa kiyum in singing Tzur Mishelo). Perhaps the concern is that if the zemer counts as bentching it means the meal has ended, which may not be convenient. But this too is a problem easily eliminated. One obvious solution is to sing the zemer at the close of the meal. Another solution: the Steipler (Orchos Rabeinu vol 1.) is reported to have made sure to eat a k'zayis of bread after singing Tzur Mishelo (so that his real bentching would be on a proper shiur achila) and also had in mind specifically that it is not a hefsek.

But there is a more basic problem I have with the whole chiddush. Mitzvos tzerichos kavanah, especially when speaking of a d'oraysa. I am willing to bet that a large number of people who sing Tzur Mishelo have no idea that it echoes birchas hamazon and have no intent for it to count as a kiyum mitzvah. The GR"A obviously did, but knowing what the words mean is not the same as having kavanah l'shem mitzvah. Just to be safe, you can even have negative kavanah while you sing, i.e. have in mind specifically to not be yotzei by singing. This seems to be even simpler than the Steipler's solution, which makes me wonder why the Steipler did what he did.

Any ideas?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

choosing lots to find 70 zekeinim -- unfair probability?

One other Rashi from last week's parsha provided much food for thought in my home. Hashem told Moshe to select 70 zekeinim to help him. Problem: there is no way to divide 70 into 12 equal parts -- we need some way to determine which shevatim got only 5 representitives and which got 6. The solution was to draw lots. 72 lots were created, 70 of which said "zakein" and 2 which were blank. But, asks the Taz in Divrei David, is this method really fair? Let's say you are the first one to draw -- the odds of your getting one of the "losing" lots is 2/72. But let's say you are the last one to draw -- if no one else got a blank lot, you are certain to draw a losing ticket! The fewer lots in the mix, the greater the odds of drawing a losing ticket. The Yerushalmi provides some help and says there were 74 lots created, so that even the final two people to draw would have a chance to win. But even so, their odds would be 50/50, far higher than the initial person's odds of 1/36! (Perhaps it was my BIL's mention of the Monty Hall problem in a comment to the previous post that attracted my attention to this issue, as both problems deal with the effect of choice on probability.)

By rights I should have discussed this earlier in Parshas BaMidbar where the same issue comes up in regards to pidyon. Each Levi served as a substitute for a bechor. Problem: there were 22,000 Levi'im, but 22,273 bechorim. The 273 overflow had to pay pidyon, but how do you determine who the 273 "losers" who have to pay are? Again, the answer was to draw lots, and again the question is whether the method is really fair.

One might answer simply that the lots were not truly random but were guided by hashgacha, but if that's the case, why not dispense with the pretense of lots entirely? Another interesting answer offered by the Taz in BaMidbar is that since the lots were drawn from a fixed jumble, we apply the principle of kol kavua treat everyone has having 50/50 odds. This seems hard to swallow. Kol kavua is not a metziyus; it's a legal fiction. You can't use a halachic reality to answer a mathematical question about real metziyus. Kol kavua doesn't mean the odds are really 50/50, but rather despite the tilt in odds, for purposes of law we treat kol kavua as 50/50.

My son and I both thought this question doesn't get off the ground. No matter who chooses first and who chooses last, the odds remain the same. Imagine dealing a deck of cards to 52 people. Whether you stop after 10 cards or 20 or 50, the odds of any one person holding the ace of spades is still 1/52. The Taz cites a Rashba"sh who writes that the more lots chosen, the greater the odds the losing lot is among those taken already (simple principle of rov). I'm not sure I follow the logic here completely, and for either of these answers to work I think (though I may be wrong) you have to assume that no one revealed their choice in advance. To tell you the truth, the more I think about this, the more confused I get, probably (no pun intended) because I am a lost cause when it comes to math. If anyone has another solution or cares to shed some light, please comment away.

Moshe Rabeinu as shliach tzibur

Commenting on the strangely short prayer by Moshe on behalf of Miriam, Rashi (second pshat) writes that Moshe was concerned lest the people say that he immersed himself in prayer for his sister but not for them. While the people were fast developing a track record of crying wolf and complaining without basis, this one surely is way beyond the pale. What are we to make of it?

I want to suggest a limud zechus and a different way to read Rashi. The meforshim are troubled by the extra word "leimor" in the pasuk, "VaYitzak Moshe el Hashem lei'mor..." "Leimor" suggests that the words are meant to be spoken to others, as in, "VaYidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor," yet here Moshe is speaking to Hashem, not instructing others. Why the extra word?

Perhaps there was a dual nature to Moshe's tefilah: on the one hand, Moshe was acting as Miriam's brother and offering a personal tefilah on her behalf. On the other hand, Moshe was also the shliach tzibur for klal yisrael, who, as evidenced by their willingness to delay and wait for her, were obviously concerned and moved by Miriam's plight. Klal yisrael wanted to join in tefillah as well. "Leimor" teaches that Moshe recited his tefilah out loud, encouraging others who wished to join him in a communal tefilah.

Most of us have probably experienced at one time or another a ba'al tefilah that went on a little bit too much and lost the tzibur's interest in the process. Moshe Rabeinu avoided a lengthy tefilah for precisely this reason. He did not want to be charged with having only his personal needs in mind and forgetting his role as the people's leader in prayer as well; he did not want people to say that the tefilos he offered were his alone and were not on their behalf as well.