Friday, July 30, 2010

a menorah of parts

With all the blogging on more philosophical topics this week I have been remiss in posting something about parsha. It’s late in the day, but not too late for a quick idea:

The Midrash opens the parsha with a halachic question: May one move a “menorah shel perakim,” a candelabra composed of interlocking parts, on Shabbos? The Midrash answers that this is prohibited because of boneh. The Midrash then proceeds to expound on the significance Shabbos and the merit of celebrating Shabbos, but it never clarifies the relevance of that initial halachic query to the homiletic message or to our parsha.

Perhaps we are the candelabra the Midrash is speaking of, as it is our job to shine the light of Torah into the world. Yet, as a people we are not whole. We are like a candelabra of interlocking pieces that can easily crumble if moved. Even when the day of Shabbos comes, the day which brings peace and harmony into the world, the menorah of parts may not be moved lest it collapse. It’s our job to make that menorah whole before Shabbos comes.

It’s not only as a people that we are a menorah shel perakim, but even as individuals we often feel like we are composed of different parts, as different demands and values pull us in different directions. Shabbos cannot put the menorah together. The work of “boneh” must be done before Shabbos starts.

Only if that can be achieved can we enjoy the full splendor of Shabbos as it should be celebrated.

laws vs. values

Perhaps the fundamental error of the Reform and Conservative movements is their (mis)interpretation of halacha as a value system instead of a legal system. For the yeshiva student, Shabbos means 39 categories of forbidden labor, psik reisha, melacha she’eina tzericha l’gufa, etc. For the the non-halachically committed Jew, Shabbos is simply a day to celebrate the values of family, community, rest. “Antiquated” legalisms have been replaced by a commitment to some nebulous set of principles that guide, but do not dictate, behavior.

There is a trend in Orthodoxy to commit the mirror image of this error in interpreting value judgments as legal mandates. It is increasingly fashionable to point to “meta-halacha,” unstated first principles, as the justification behind prohibitions that have no clear source. However, in truth, these meta-principles are no more than value statements being disguised as law. Thus, for example, some might say that playing ball on Shabbos, while not clearly prohibited by any one rule in shulchan aruch, is no less a prohibition than lighting a fire in that it undermines the essence of what Shabbos is all about. Values as distinct from law have been replaced by a flat arena of do’s and don’ts.

Rabbi Meyer Twesky has written, “This latter concern, which we have dubbed axiological, may alternatively be described as hashkafic or public policy. Phraseology and nomenclature per se are unimportant.” But you see, nomenclature and phraseology are critically important, as they reflect (in this case) a substantive distinction. If you want to debate the length a woman’s skirt needs to be with me, we can go through the relevant gemaras, Rishonim, poskim, and see who the sources support. If you want to debate public policy, such as the degree tzniyus should impact a woman’s career choices or participation in public leadership, how are we to measure the precise balance required or determine who is right and who is wrong? It really boils down to a matter of judgment, and while people can exercise better judgment and worse judgment, it is near impossible to say with absolute certainty where the truth lies. That is not to say that anything goes – it simply means that reasonable people who equally cherish Judaism and halacha may differ and the waters are murkier than many would like to imagine.

The problem is particularly acute for modern orthodoxy. The chareidi world assigns substantial value and respect to “da’as Torah,” the value judgments of its leadership. There is no need to refashion these judgment calls into legal dictates because they are respected as-is. However, modern orthodoxy does insist a sharp distinction between “da’as Torah” and halacha proper. What then are Rabbis to do when the value system of halacha is trampled upon while technical fidelity to the law is maintained? The answer of some seems to be to extend the legal system beyond its natural borders, de facto undercutting the right to differ in matters of judgment, while still maintaining this largely fictional distinction between the “da’as Torah” of the chareidi world and that of the centrist movement.

The obvious downside to this approach is evident when the guns of axiological truth become aimed at- instead of by- the meta-halachists. Whether it be on the issue of Zionism, secular education, age of the universe, or other principles, those in the centrist camp refuse to defer to the judgment of chareidi leadership even where the “gedolim” on the right claim that the principles in question are of axiological importance. Clearly, one man’s axiological principle is another man’s bone of contention. If only those in the centrist camp took the message to heart when addressing those to the left of their own viewpoints.

I think it far better to maintain a natural and logical distinction between laws and values instead of blurring the lines. I too sympathize with the need to ensure that we don’t become halachic technocrats, maintaining fidelity to the letter of codes but trampling on their spirit. However, I think the way to achieve that goal is to teach Torah in a way that ensures that those values are meaningfully and forcefully communicated and are given the respect and appreciation they deserve. After learning Rav Tzadok haKohen’s or the Shem m’Shmuel or the Sidduro Shel Shabbos’s beautiful insights into what Shabbos means, I don’t think one can spend Shabbos on the ball field. Telling someone that not playing ball is an axiological principle reduces it to just another rule that can be trampled; teaching someone to love Shabbos is a different ball game.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

women in leadership roles - the issue of tzniyus

One of the issues I did not touch on in the posts on whether women may serve in communal leadership positions is the issue of tzniyus. Some poskim apparently take this issue very seriously. In this article (link) by Rabbi Hershel Shachter’s article on the Torahweb site, interestingly it is the only objection mentioned.

Why was it so obvious to the tanaim that we can not have women rabbis? After all, Tosfos (Bava Kama 15a) raises the possibility of giving semicha to women, and having them serve on a beth din. So if women can possibly receive semicha, why can’t they serve the community as rabbis?

The answer is obvious. Although we must sometimes compromise on our midas hatznius and do certain mitzvos befarhesia (in public), this is not required of women. Women are not being discriminated against. They alone, unlike men, are given the opportunity to maintain their midas hahistatrus at all times.

Maybe it's me, but I find this very unpersuasive. If one is to apply the tzniyus argument, one must apply it consistently. If it precludes women from serving as Rabbis, it precludes women from serving as lawyers, as professors, as businesswomen. I don’t think Stern College is about to shut down its pre-med and pre-law program, nor has anyone suggested they do so. Why the double-standard?

Rashi in Devarim who writes that there was never a hava amina of appointing women judges can easily be interpreted as simply reflecting social norms common for that period, not halachic restrictions. Were tzniyus reason alone to dismiss a woman from serving as judge, one would have expected Tosfos or any of the other Rishonim who discuss the admissibility of Devorah to raise the issue – yet none do. Tosfos (B"K 15) is not discussing the theoretical possibility of giving semicha to a woman for her to hang as a diploma on her wall, but rather is discussing the reality of a woman serving as judge.

In the tshuvah by Rav Uziel I cited in the previous posts ( Mishpitei Uziel C.M. 6, link) he notes that women on a day to day basis engage in commerce without anyone objecting. “Al tarbeh sicha” restricts only frivolous, unnecessary speech, not professional interaction. If we do not limit women’s professional pursuits because of concerns for tzniyus, kal v’chomer we need not impose limitations when they are involved in klei kodesh, in activities that aim to strengthen Torah.

Rav Yehudah Herzel Henkin (Shu”T Bnei Banin I p. 202) in an essay entitled, “Mekomah Shel Isha” notes that the description of the eishes chayil portrayed by Mishlei is a women engaged in commerce, in providing for her family – not the stay at home mom. While not every woman can successfully be the ideal eishes chayil, that does not mean there is a prohibition against aspiring to do so. A recent news item celebrated the appointment of a frum woman judge to district court in Baltimore. It does not seem that the frum world shuns her for her achievements, but to the contrary, celebrates her ability to balance her religiosity with her involvement in the public sphere.

I am sure some will react to my post by saying, ain hachi nami, women should better be at home than in the workplace, and indeed, we should bar them from all professions, not only the Rabbinate. I credit them for at least being consistent, but don't see their attitude as realistic. Tzniyus while at work is certainly required, for men as well as women, but I do not think the requirement for modesty can be used to preclude professional aspirations entirely.

tnai on mitzvos

Regarding tnai on mitzvos that we touched on yesterday (link), Anonymous said a nice sevara in the name of R’ Tzvi Pesach Frank that many other Achronim echo as well. How is giving a ring for kiddushin on condition different than trying to chop off a chicken’s head and stipulating that you want it to remain alive – the outcome of the act is inevitable; it’s not under your control to determine whether it occurs or not? How does tnai work? The answer is that the ability to appoint a shliach to create kiddushin proves that the result, the kiddushin, is not inevitably tied to the chassan’s act of giving a ring, but stands on its own, and can be effected by stipulations and conditions.

The test of whether an act can be done through an agent is necessary only in cases like kiddushin, where the goal is to produce some effect, some chalos, and the question is whether that chalos can have conditions attached to it. Where the act being done stands as an end in its own right, obviously conditions can be set -- you don’t need the whole chiddush of parshas t’naim to allow that. Therefore, even though kri'as shema cannot be done by a shliach, a tnai can be made: if one makes the zman later, that later reading should count as the kiyum mitzvah; if not, the earlier reading should count.

(If this logic is correct, that all the rules of mishpetei ha’tenaim do not apply to tnaim on mitzvos, e.g. one does not need tnai kaful. I have seen quoted that both R’ Yisrael Salanter and the Chazon Ish did require tnai kaful even in these cases.)

A side note that I was thinking of when I went over last week's parsha, and found that the Kesav vhaKabbalah says it: when we read "V'hayu hadevarim ha'eileh..." and "V'shinantam l'vanecha" in shema, these are not meant as stand alone mitzvos of Torah study, but are in context a continuation and amplification of the opening pasuk, "V'ahavta eis Hashem Elokecha..." Someone who is truly filled with ahavas Hashem cannot help but communicate that love to others. The way to do so is by learning Torah, teaching Torah, speaking Torah.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

making a tnai on the mitzvah of kri'as shema

If a person is uncertain if he will make sof zman kri’as shema if he davens along with the tzibur, simply reading shema early is not the ideal solution. That might guarantee making the zman, but it definitely forfeits the kiyum mitzvah of reading shema in the context of its brachos. A better solution (see R’ Akiva Eiger O.C. 46) would be to read shema early with a tnai that if one makes the zman, the earlier recitation counts only as talmud torah; if not, the earlier recitation counts as the mitzvah of kri’ah.

The problem with this solution is that the reading of shema does not seem to be something one can set stipulations on. The gemara (Kesubos 74a) tells us that a tnai can only be made when an action can be done by a shliach. Tosfos explains that the ability to designate an agent to act on one’s behalf demonstrates control over a process. It is that same level of control which affords the possibility of making conditions. Since one cannot appoint a shliach to read kri’as shema on one’s behalf, one should be precluded from setting any conditions on the mitzvah.

How then can R’ Akiva Eiger suggest tnai as a possible solution in this case? I have seen two basic approaches to resolve the quesion. I’ll leave it for you to mull over for now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

women serving in leadership positions (II)

Yesterday (link) we reviewed the relevant Rishonim and concluded that it would be permissible according to almost all views other than the Rambam for women to hold positions of authority. So why did I leave off saying that Rabbi Riskin’s analysis was incomplete? Because you can’t justify sociological change with legal proof. When Barry Goldwater said, “You can’t legislate morality,” he was on to something. The reason the ordination of a woman has met with such resistance, with terms like “ye’hareig v’al ya’avor” and “bizayon haTorah” being brandied about, is not because poskim are so dead set on following the Rambam’s opinion against all other Rishonim, but rather because poskim and Rabbanim (rightly or wrongly) see the issue as a threat to the fabric of Orthodoxy. It’s not a question of asur vs. mutar, but rather a question of what Orthodox Jewry is all about.

Rabbi Riskin began his address by discussing the topic of women learning Torah, noting that Beis Ya’akov in its time was a revolutionary departure from previous norms. Why was Beis Ya’akov accepted? The few lines the Chofetz Chaim wrote in his Likutei Halachos to Mes. Sotah that justify Torah study for women were more than simply a psak halacha -- they represented the stamp of approval of the tzadik hador, one of the gedolei hador, to the entire enterprise of Beis Ya’akov. Without first obtaining the approval of the Belzer Rebbe, the Gerrer Rebbe, and finally the Chofetz Chaim, Beis Ya’akov would have suffered the same fate of previous unsuccessful efforts to accomplish the same goal.

It was not only the approval of Rabbinic luminaries that made Sarah Schenirer successful, but there were a number of other factors as well, some of which are highlighted in this article by Dr. Yoel Finkelman:
1) Sarah Schenirer was a charismatic leader who developed trust and admiration.
2) The time was ripe for a movement like Beis Ya’akov.
3) Agudah provided backing once the schools began to gain traction.

Do those factors apply to the situation of women’s ordination? To date, not a single major Rabbinic luminary whom the Torah world respects as a gadol has signed onto the idea. To date, not a single major Rabbinic organization has voiced approval. Lastly, there is the question of personality. When Branch Rickey realized the time was ripe to break the color barrier in baseball, he looked for a specific type of player – Jackie Robinson was one of many excellent players; he was chosen as much for his personality as for his ability. What woman’s ordination needs is a Jackie Robinson. I do not know Sarah Hurvitz and do not chas v’shalom mean to criticize her achievements or ability. However, the fact that she would address JOFA and thank them for their support obviously distances her from myself and others who have serious questions about an organization whose leader espouses the philosophy, “Where there’s a Rabbinic will, there’s a halachic way.” Regardless of whether modern scholars may choose to portray Sarah Schenirer as proto-feminist, I have little doubt that the Chofetz Chaim did not see her in that light, nor would being seen in that light have helped her cause.

And finally, there is the question of timing. Sarah Schenirer addressed the pressing need of youth falling prey to assimilation because of a lack of Jewish education. She provided a solution to what was fast becoming a crisis. Is there a crisis in Jewish leadership that would demand the ordination of women? When Rav Moshe wrote that a woman could serve as mashgiach despite the Rambam’s prohibition of serara, he writes that his psak applies to the scenario of tzorech gadol for an almanah’s parnasa. Are we in a state of tzorech gadol with respect to the question of women’s ordination? Are there more than a handful of women in the entire United States who are sitting a learning gemara and Rishonim, Shulchan Aruch with Shach and Taz, and who would feel unfulfilled without the recognition that comes from receiving ordination? Clearly this issue has caused a rift even within the modern orthodox community – are the net gains worth fighting the battle over at this point in time, and realistically was there ever a chance of success?

This post is no more than a summary of issues raised by many others, none of which Rabbi Riskin contended with. They must be more fully addressed by those who wish to enable women to take leadership positions. I have some further thoughts in that regard, but I'll leave them for another post.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Rabbi Riskin on women's ordination

On Shabbos I had the privilege of hearing Rav Shlomo Riskin speak, and one of the topics he addressed was the issue of women’s ordination. Listening to his address gave me a chance to get my own thoughts on the issue a little more in order and I want to share what he said as well as my own reflections. I think the issue can be broken into two or three subtopics, and I’m going to divide the posts accordingly. I don’t want to focus on the narrow issue of ordination alone, but more broadly on women taking a leadership position (Rabbi Riskin lumped them together as well), whether it be as a shul president or in some other capacity. This post will focus mainly on the Rishonim and halacha. The issue begins with the Rambam, who writes in Hil Melachim (1:5):

אין מעמידין אישה במלכות--שנאמר "מלך" (דברים יז,טו), ולא מלכה; וכן כל משימות שבישראל, אין ממנים בהם אלא איש.

Not only does the Rambam exclude a queen from ruling, but he excludes women from being appointed to any position of authority or dominion. The derasha “melech v’lo malka” is not found in the Talmud and the Rambam’ extension of that law to all appointments appears to be his own sevara. Yet, a Rambam is a Rambam, and were that the only source there would not be much to discuss.

However, as Rabbi Riskin noted, the Rambam is not only a tremendous chiddush, but is a da’as yachid as well. The Rishonim ask how Devorah could serve as a judge when the halacha tells us that only someone who can serve as a witness can serve as a judge, and a woman is precluded from serving as a witness. Among the answers:
1) The exclusion of an invalid witness from serving as a judge applies to men, not women (Tosfos Nidah 50).
2) There is a difference between imposed authority and Devorah’s authority, which was a product of consent of the people (Tosfos B”K 15).
3) Devorah taught halacha, but did not offer final judgment on cases (Nidah 50).
4) Devorah served as a leader (manhiga), not a king or judge (Rashba, Ran).
The difference between the first and third answer is that according to the first a woman may serve in any capacity of authority, even as judge, while according to the third a woman may serve in any capacity of authority except judge. Neither view fits with the Rambam’s exclusion of women from all positions of authority. It goes without saying that the fourth answer which reads “melech v’lo malka” and the exclusion of women from serving as a judges in a very narrow sense runs contrary to the Rambam. Finally, we have Tos’ distinction between authority that is imposed and authority based on consent, which the Rambam might agree with, and which practically opens the door to women filling most modern leadership positions – be it shul president or Rabbi – which are based on being elected or chosen by the tzibur. The Mishpetei Uziel (C.M. #6) has a nice review of these sources, and the acknowledgement of the Rambam as a minority view is noted by R’ Moshe Feinstein as well (Igros Moshe Y.D. II #45 ).

Rav Riskin mentioned a sevara of the Mishpetei Uziel that I did not find inside. The exclusion of women from positions of authority is not a psul gavra, but is based on the fact that in ancient society women would not have been accorded the respected deserved by a melech. Were the societal norma to change, the halacha would change as well. Rav Riskin seemed enamored by this sevara. I am less convinced that a nice sevara in the Rambam is enough to shape halacha (as the gemara puts it, mipnei she’nidmeh na’aseh ma’aseh?), but this is just icing on the cake given the previous collection of sources.

Rabbi Riskin concluded that the weight of the sources favors allowing women to serve in leadership roles and even being given a title. His only caveat was that a woman could not serve as the sole Rabbi in a small community where the Rabbi must also often serve as chazzan or ba'al korei. With respect to the question of serving in a leadership role, I don’t see (not that he needs my haskama) how you can argue otherwise, but I’m not sure whether these sources can truly be extended to cover even ordination, as ordination is not a position, but a title conferring a certain status. But leaving the question of title aside, there seems to be little reason (again, considering only the sources) that a woman cannot be hired to give shiurim, teach halacha, render halachic decisions, etc. in a formal capacity as part of a shul leadership staff. Yes, there is the Rambam, and why not be yotzei kol ha’deyos? Indeed, some have written that Rav Soloveitchik denied women the right to serve as synagogue board president based on this Rambam. I think it is unfair to foist such an approach on others. One cannot enforce being “yotzei kol hadeyos” on someone else’s cheshbon. If a tzibur feels that Plonis instead of Ploni would make a better leader and they wish to hang their halachic hat on the overwhelming majority of Rishonim who disagree with the Rambam, the benefit of trying to be “yotzei” the Rambam’s view may be outweighed by the cost to that tzibur in being forced to forgo the better candidate based on gender considerations alone. It seems to me that each situation in this regard needs to be judged on a case by case basis and cannot be covered by a single inflexible policy.

All that being said, I think if we were to stop here our analysis would be incomplete. Rabbi Riskin’s remarks, while halachically on the mark, I think did not fully do justice to the topic because they offer a legal (or halachic) answer to a sociological question, as we will discuss next part. Please hold your fire for now, unless it pertains directly to these sources.

Friday, July 23, 2010


I'm highlighting this article by Rav Druckman on Arutz Sheva because I love this phrase: "Even where halacha demands a 'mechitza atuma' there is no mitzvah to create a 'lev atum.'" (Sorry for the poor formatting - click on the link to the article.)

מי שמצוי בהוואי היהודי-חרדי במדינות הרווחה בחו"ל, מכיר את התופעה; בחתונות חרדיות, מביאים בחשבון שחלק מן הקרואים אינם חרדים, אלא יהודים שהם בבחינת 'תינוקות שנשבו'. בשמחות אלה, מקפידים אמנם על מחיצה אטומה בין גברים לנשים – אבל עושים את המחיצה באמצעות ...שיחי פרחים סבוכים יפהפיים וריחניים, והרי לך מחיצה כשרה למהדרין - אטומה לחלוטין, אבל לא מחיצה מעצבנת, או/ו מעוררת דחייה אצל אותם יהודים שלעת עתה עדיין לא בנויים נפשית ולא מבינים את העדינות והטוהר דצניעות וקדושה, במיוחד כשמדובר בשמחות, כמבואר בפוסקים

כן, מחיצה אטומה, אבל לא כזו האוטמת את הלב.

ונחזור לעמנואל: לשם מה היה צורך בסגנון מחיצה שכזו בין 2 סוגי התלמידות. מחיצה פיזית שיצרה לצערנו גם מחיצה ריגשית שאך יכולה לעורר אצל הזולת הרגשה של השפלה (אפילו אם לא זו הייתה הכוונה). לאין נעלמה היצירתיות, לאן ברח השכל והתיחכום?

לעיתים צריך אולי מחיצה אטומה, אבל אין מצווה שגם הלב יהיה אטום?

acts of charity

"U'tzedaka t'hiyeh lanu ki nishmor la'asos..." (6:25)

Don't we do mitzvos out of a sense of obligation, not simply to be charitable? Ramban explains that the pasuk is speaking about the concept of reward. We owe Hashem our fidelity and service for all he has done for us; we have no right to demand or expect payment or reward for mitzvos. Any reward that we receive is simply an act of charity on Hashem's part.

I would go a step further. At the Bris ben HaBesarim Hashem promised Avraham a multitude of children who would inherit Eretz Yisrael. The Torah tells us, "V'he'emin ba'Hashem v'yachshiveha lo tzedaka," Avraham believed the promise and he considered it an act of charity for him (15:6). Rashi interprets the pasuk as praising Avraham for his belief -- He, Hashem, considered him, Avraham, as performing an act of charity. Ramban takes issue with this reading. Does a Navi like Avraham who has already demonstrated his commitment to Hashem deserve praise for believing what Hashem says? The "him" the pasuk refers to, explains Ramban, is not Avraham, but rather is Hashem. Rather than view Hashem's promise as a reward for his greatness, he, Avraham viewed it as an act of charity which he did not deserve.

Hashem acts midah k'neged midah. Our Avos, as demonstrated by Avraham, did not view Hashem as obligated to reward them even when they fully earned it; they attributed Hashem's gifts to charitable love. Hopefully we carry on that legacy. Hashem in turn promises us that even though we owe him a debt of servitude, he will credit as if we acted out of a sense of charity, out of a love and desire to accept the yoke of mitzvos even if we had no obligation to do so.

On a different note: There are approx. 170 pages of Mishna Berura from the beginning of hilchos Rosh haShana until the end of hilchos Lulav. At three pages a day, you can start now and finish by about Shmini Atzeres/Simchas Torah. Just a thought.
Any suggestions on what posts should focus on for the next few weeks? Since I mentioned it, hilchos hachag is not a bad idea, but I'm open to suggestions.

the first "yoetzet" in history

Nidah 13b: Rebbi said, "There was a deaf lady in our neighborhood who not only did bedikos herself, but when her neighbors saw [mar'os] they brought them to her for examination."

Rashi: She was an expert in [distinguishing] dam tamei from dam tahor.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


U’bikashtem mi’sham es Hashem Elokecha u’matzasa ki tidrishenu b’chol levavcha u’bchol nafshecha.” (4:19)

Why does the pasuk switch terms from the plural, “u’bikashtem,” to the singular, “u’matzasa?”

The gemara (R"H 18) notes the seeming contradiction between the pasuk, “Dirshu Hashem b’himatzo,” that there is a specific time when Hashem is available, so to speak, and only during that time are we free to petition for our needs, and the pasuk that teaches that Hashem responds, “B’chol koreinu alav,” whenever we daven. The gemara answers, “Kan b’yachid, kan b’tzibur.” There is a difference between personal prayer, which is accepted only at appointed times, and the prayer of the community, which is accepted at all times.

R’ Shlomo Kluger notes that there are two possible ways to understand the gemara’s conclusion. Does the gemara mean that communal prayer, i.e. prayer for the needs of the community, is always accepted, or does the gemara mean that individual prayer recited with a tzibur, in the context of the community’s prayers, is always accepted?

He opines that the latter interpretation is correct. The gemara does not refer to “tefilah l’tzibur,” prayer for the community, bur rather, “tefilah b’tzibur,” prayer recited in the context of a tzibur, even if it be for a private need.

U’bikashtem m’sham,” if a community we join together to daven and serve Hashem, then in that context, “u’matzasa,” our individual prayers will be answered as well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

the cycle of galus

OK I did a positive post first, and I’ll start this on a positive note as well, but we’re headed downhill. 9 Av afternoon is as good a time as any to look at some Holocaust books and reflect on the tragedy closest to out time, a tragedy perhaps unparalleled in Jewish history. I draw inspiration from the aftermath of the churban. It is easy to get depressed if you have faced or continue to face unemployment in the current economic crisis, if you are dealing with a home foreclosure, debts, a shidduch crisis, etc. But when you realize that many of our people faced far worse with less and managed to rebuild and survive, you gain a sense of perspective. I cannot imagine what life was like in a DP camp. I cannot imagine what coming to this country or anywhere else with no job, not knowing the language, no money, no resources, was like. The difficulty of your kids’ yeshiva bill being more than your salary just doesn’t compare – baruch Hashem you have a yeshiva to send your kids to. I once took some of my kids in the summer to the Tenement Museum in lower Manhattan so they could see first hand what life was like for an entire family to live in two rooms with no air conditioning, no private bathroom, no privacy, and a twelve hour work day. It’s hard to communicate just how lucky we are.

When looking back in time the question that I find fascinating to ponder (and so many others wonder about as well) is how could it have happened. How could the Jews in Europe have not seen it coming? And this is the frightening part, because I fear the answer is found right in the newspaper today: the almost casual bashing of Israel that occurs daily, the anti-semitism of those in the highest echelons of society. Can we really ask why America did not do more to stop the destruction of European Jewry when we live in a time when a modern dictator is developing nuclear weapons with the intent to use them against Israel and the world and America look on and do nothing? But we push it aside and trust that it will all come to nothing, they won’t get that far, Israel or America will stop them sooner, etc. The Reich won’t get to Poland, to Budapest, to Vilna…, the war will end sooner, the Russians are coming, etc. Sound familiar?

Rav Altusky, the Rosh Kollel of Darchei Torah, noted that Rashi explains that kinos are really meant to focus on recent tragedies; the remembrances of churban habayis are secondary to the mourning over losses of the present. Rav Altusky noted that we live 60+ years from the Holocaust. The tragedy of our time is not the sho’ah. The world was on our side for a few decades after the sho’ah as we struggled to rebuild. It was politically correct to support Eretz Yisrael. But those times are gone. The world now frowns on our very existence. This is what we should be saying kinos over.

Rav Altusky reminded those who attended the kinos program at Yeshivah Darchei Torah of the prophetic words of the Meshech Chochma in Parshas Bechukosai who foresaw the destruction of European Jewry precisely because they had grown too comfortable in their host countries. Hashem does not let us grow too comfortable. We are not supposed to enjoy galus. The frightening thing is that the Mesech Chochma continues and writes that his message of impending doom does not apply only to his own era. There is a historical cycle: the Jewish people escape one country’s danger and flee elsewhere; they thrive and rebuild in a new host country; they grow complacent and forget the lessons learned the last time around; sadly, they once again face tragedy and exile.

To me, what is even scarier than the external threats is the internal problems and decay of Torah life taking place all around us.

B’mechilas kvodo, I do not agree with the Rosh Kollel that this time we have no place left to go. This time the only place left is the place that we belong – Eretz Yisrael. Even if we cannot get there physically, if our hearts and minds are there and we yearn to be there, we will have broken the cycle of complacency.

I don’t want to dwell on tzaros, so as we approach chatzos on 10 Av, may we be zocheh to nachamu nachanu ami…

challenges and opportunities

I want to get back into the swing of things on a positive note, so let’s start with a Koznitzer Maggid and then a vort that will make your day. It is no coincidence, explains the Koznitzer Maggid, that Parshas Va’Eschanan always comes out right after 9 Av. After we suffer churban, which we mark by not studying Torah on 9 Av, we must begin rebuilding, we must re-accept the Torah, and we do so by again by hearing aseres hadibros in Va’Eschanan and re-living mattan Torah. He writes that from 10 Av to Rosh Chodesh Tishrei is 50 days – the letter Nun. From Rosh Chodesh Tishrei to Yom Kippur is Aseres Y’mei Tshuvah, 10 days – the letter Yud. From Y”K to Sukkos is 4 more days – the letter Daled. Finally, we reach Sukkos, which the Midrash calls, “Rishon l’cheshbon avonos,” the first day for calculating our sins – the letter Aleph. Aleph – Daled – Nun – Yud: This, explains the Koznitzer Maggid, represents the rebuilding of malchus after churban.

Yesterday I attended the kinos program at Yeshiva Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway and had the privilege of hearing many wonderful speakers, but there was one vort in particular that as soon as I heard it I knew I wanted to share here. R’ Tuvia Lieff said in the name of R’ Shmuel Berenbaum, the R”Y of Mir zt"l, that our generation is one of greatness precisely because of the many challenges we face. The commitment of so many to learning and mitzvos despite the temptations of the material culture in which we live is nothing short of miraculous. And Hashem knows we can succeed, otherwise he would not test us in this way.

When Ya’akov heard that Yosef was alive, he said, “Avo v’erenu b’terem amus,” let me go see him before I die. It would have sufficed for the Torah to say that Ya’akov wanted to see Yosef and leave it at that – why does specifically mention “before death” and a motivation?

Rav Berenbaum explained that Reb Elchanan Wasserman hy”d used to push the students in Baranovich to go visit the Chofetz Chaim. Reb Elchanan would tell them that in this world, for the price of a simple train ticket, they could go and see the gadol hador. But, said Reb Elchahan, who knows whether that will be possible in the next world -- who of us can rest assured that he/she will be zocheh to be able to enter the mechitzah in shamayim, the radiance and aura of holiness which will surround the Chofetz Chaim, that will keep out those not on such an exalted level?

Rav Berenbaum explained that this is what Ya’akov was saying -- he must see Yosef while there is yet time in this world, because who knows whether if after death he will have the merit to enter the mechitza of Yosef haTzadik in the next. Even Ya’akov, the bechir ha’Avos, felt that compared to Yosef, compared to someone who was thrust into an alien culture and faced the challenges and temptations of Mitzrayim and still remained a Yosef haTzadik, his merits paled. Davka our generation, because we are surrounded at every turn by influences foreign and hostile to all that we believe in, can rise to the greatness of Yosef haTzadik, greatness that even Ya’akov Avinu envied.

Monday, July 19, 2010

b'sinas Hashem osanu -- the cheit of 9 Av

The bad report delivered by the spies prompted the people to complain, “B’sinas Hashem osanu hotzi’anu mei’Eretz Mitzrayim,” (1:27) that it was because of his hatred for them that G-d took them out of Egypt. Of course, quite the opposite was true. Everything Hashem had done for Bnei Yisrael was for their benefit and motivated only by his love for them. The baseless crying caused by this complaint, which occurred on the night of 9 Av, planted the seeds of churban.

The Sefas Emes (5642) writes that way to rectify this sin is to develop the opposite perspective, to see even in that which appears painful and tragic the love of Hashem for Klal Yisrael.

selfless crying

The Midrash contrasts the needless crying of Bnei Yisrael when the spies returned with the crying of our matriarch Rachel, who refuses to be consoled over the churban, and the crying of Bnei Yisrael on the banks of the rivers of Bavel as they bemoaned the loss of avodah. The Radomsker in Tiferes Shlomo expands on the contrast. The Torah describes the crying in the desert as “bocheh l’mishpechosav,” which Rashi interprets to mean that the people were crying because familial relations had become prohibited. This was a selfish crying, a crying over unfulfilled material desire. The crying of the exiles in Bavel is described in the context of, “sham yashavnu gam bachinu” – "yeshiva" means the Jews had settled comfortably in their exile. They lived in two million dollar homes in the best neighborhoods, they had jobs in all the best firms, they were successful in their business, and still they cried because they remembered the loss of Mikdash. This is an altruistic crying, a crying over spiritual exile. There is no surprise in our matriarch Rachel refusing consolation and crying when Jews are oppressed – what the Navi is telling us is that Rachel continues to cry even when we live in the best of situations, because Rachel remembers life before the churban. This altruistic crying is the crying that leads to geulah.

“Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza Yerushalayim was destroyed.” (Gittin 56) In the famous story, an invitation was mistakenly delivered to Bar Kamtza instead of Kamtza, and he came to his enemy’s party. Despite his offer to even pay for the entire party, Bar Kamtza was tossed out, while the Rabbis looked on in silence. Bar Kamtza took revenge by inciting the Roman authorities to act against the Jewish people, leading to the churban. It’s clear how Bar Kamtza’s actions led to the destruction of Yerushalayim, but why is Kamtza even mentioned? He didn’t do anything?

As my wife wrote up here, Maharal explains that friendship can serve a selfish motive as well. The relationship of the party’s host with Kamtza was designed to exclude Bar Kamtza. The circle of friends was created to separate those who were part of the “click” from those not, much as the act of “kemitza” separates a korban into different parts. It is again, the theme of selfishness, which marks the story of churban.

The gemara (Makos 10a) darshens the pasuk, “Cherev el habadim v’no’alu,” a sword should be taken to the liars who become fools, to refer to talmidei chachaim who learn “bad b’bad,” alone, without a partner, and become fools instead of wiser. “Eichah yashvah badad” – the Radomsker explains that the Navi was bemoaning this foolish type of learning, this selfish type of learning done “bad b’bad” that could not lead to a flourishing of Torah that would spare Klal Yisrael from churban.

As we draw closer to ultimate geulah the tools to share Torah unselfishly have increased exponentially. You can listen to a shiur given in Erez Yisrael while sitting in New York, you can join a facegroup discussion, you can read or write a blog. The tools to act unselfishly have increased, as a credit card donation on a website can bring food to a poor family in Bnei Brak. But at the same time, a person can wrap himself in a virtual "bad b'bad" reality and exclude the entire world. We live in a galus that is so comfortable, a galus where you can mourn in air conditioned comfort watching a DVD, where you can get online at chatzos for a latte to break your fast. A little selfless crying not for the cup of coffee we miss, but for the Mikdash that we mourn despite all the comforts we have, will hopefully bring us a step closer to geulah.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Gam Zu l'Tova

Adapted from a shiur by R' Shlomo Farhi, sent to me as a guest post by Nosson Gestetner of

The Gemara relates a story about a gentleman called Nachum. He was a man who had a a difficult life, but whenever something bad happened, he would say "Gam Zu L'Tovah - this also is for the good", and this is what he later became known as - Nachum Ish Gam Zu. But why does the Gemara call him Nachum Ish Gam Zu, literally, “Nachum Also”? He was famous for saying "Gam Zu L’Tovah" yet he is not called "Nachum Ish Gam Zu L’Tovah"! One would think that "L’Tovah" would be the key part of what he is remembered as, as opposed to the seemingly extraneous ‘also’.

To understand the answer, we must be aware that there is a fundamental misunderstanding with regard to what he did, and consequently what he is remembered for until today. He wouldn't pass a car crash and point and say it was “l’Tova” - one cannot label an inherently bad thing as "good". "Good" is clearly not an applicable adjective. The depth behind his words is as follows: What he did was recognise the masterplan of Hashem, and the web in which events in our lives unfold. He attempted to see the bigger picture, the greater good which is hidden from our direct sight. That web, that bigger picture, is l'tova. Parts of it may not be, or may not obviously be but in recognising that bad events are part of a good web, we should be able to say "Gam Zu L’Tovah!" So in fact ‘Gam Zu’ – his ability to see that this is "also (one more event)" is the key part of what Nachum said - it is the mechanism by which he could label bad as "also" being good. Not just "L’Tovah".

It take a great inner strength to truly be able to say, in the face of a bad event ‘this too shall pass’ and to really believe in the bigger picture and the greater good. But by working on that strength, we will be able to get to the stage where we can say, as Nachum did, Gam Zu L’Tovah – This too is for the good. The word ‘also’ is the very mechanism that allowed him (and resultantly us) to state something was ‘L’Tovah’.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eicha as a kinah

Mes. Sofrim quotes different minhagim as to whether Eicha is read at night or during the day. It seems odd that we have adopted the practice of reading it at night and not during the day, as every other megillah is read during the day. The only exception is Esther, and even there many Rishonim hold that the primary reading is the one done during the day and not the one at night. Why should Eicha be different?

I think the explanation can be found in a question posed by Rabbi Maroof in a comment to a post from last year. He asked whether Eicha should be read by the ba’al koreh while standing, as the halacha demands for any act of kriah b’tzibur, or whether it should be read sitting, the way kinos as recited. I heard it read last year in a local yeshiva from a klaf with a bracha and the ba’al koreh sat. Eicha is perhaps read this way not just because it is followed by kinos or said in the context of kinos, but because Eicha is itself a kinah. Eicha sets the tone for all that we say and do on Tishab b'Av night and during the day. “Bacho tivkeh ba’laylaKumi roni ba’layla…” Kinah is done at night, when the darkness adds to the sense of psychological despair and tragedy, and therefore Eicha, our paradigm of kinah, is recited only at night.

I would suggest the same can be said of our kri'as haTorah on Tisha b’Av. Kri’as hatorah is a kiyum of talmud torah – why are we engaging in talmud torah on 9 Av, a day when learning is prohibited? Would it not be more fitting with the character of the day to omit leining entirely? The answer I think is that the kriah is not done as an act of talmud torah, but also as a kiyum of kinah. (Nafka minah l’dina: can someone who is no fasting be called for an aliya on 9 Av morning? See Mishnas Ya’avetz by Rav Betzalel Zolti.)

R’ Bunim of Peshischa commented that of all that we had before churban, nothing remains except for Torah – “ain lanu shiyur rak haTorah hazos.” While the words of Eicha and “Ki tolid banim…” are tragic, the very fact that we have words of Torah to guide us in our grief is itself an element of consolation.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

marpeh lashon eitz chaim -- the speech of Moshe

The Midrash darshens the pasuk, “Marpeh lashon eitz chaim," as teaching that Torah can heal speech. The exemplar of this phenomenon is Moshe Rabeinu, who early in his career pleaded with Hashem that his difficulty speaking should disqualify him as a Navi, but who closed his life with the rousing address that is Sefer Devarim.

But why prove the point from Sefer Devarim, spoken almost a full forty years after the giving of the Torah? Moshe Rabeinu had surely been speaking Torah for years and years before that, as almost every parsha in chumash begins, “Vayidbeir Hashem el Moshe leimor…”

Maharal explains that Moshe’s speech defect was not a shortcoming, but was actually due to the very high spiritual level he was on. Where does the power of speech come from? The Targum translates the expression “nefesh chaya” as “ruach m’malela” – a spirit of speech. Mankind is uniquely endowed with the ability to speak because mankind alone has a neshoma which is connected with a physical body. The neshoma gives rise to thought and emotion; the mouth articulates the ideas. An animal has a body without a neshoma, and therefore cannot speak. A baby has a body, but it’s neshoma is not fully manifest, and therefore it cannot speak. Moshe Rabeinu’s body was so pure and holy that it lost its physicality; Moshe Rabeinu had a neshoma without a physical body (in the normal sense) and therefore he could not speak.

But, asks the Shem m’Shmuel, the gemara often refers to spirits speaking, the Nevi’im tell us of angels speaking -- if these beings without bodies could speak (obviously one could read all these gemara’s allegorically, but that’s not the Sm”S’s approach), why couldn’t Moshe?

The Shem m’Shmuel answers that there are two types of speech. Angels and spirits can speak to other spiritual beings using spiritual speech. A Navi has the gift of being able to overhear these spiritual conversations, e.g. hearing the shirah of the angels. Those of us listening with physical ears are excluded. We are attuned only to the speech of other physical beings, speech which emanates from a physical body and can therefore be heard by another physical body.

We can now answer the question we started with. For forty years Moshe spoke Torah and taught Torah – but what kind of speech was that? It was spiritual speech like that of the angels! It was speech that only the dor de’ah, the generation who received the Torah, who ate man, who drank the be’er, who were surrounded by the ananei hakavod, could hear because they themselves were on an exalted spiritual level.

It was only now, at the close of the forty year journey through the desert, that Moshe had the opportunity to address a new generation, a generation prepared to engage in the physical labor of conquering and settling Eretz Yisrael, a generation listening not only with their neshomos, but with physical bodies and ears as well. It was Moshe’s ability to address even this generation using normal speech that proved, “Marpeh lashon eitz chaim,” that Torah had the power to engender this ability to communicate.

What do we gain from this beautiful analysis? Two points, one philosophical, one practical. Firstly, the philosophical: Torah is not about transcending reality for the sake of some otherworldly existence; it’s about bringing the transcendent into our world. Marpeh lashon – Torah transforms the person and the physical world into an environment that allows for spiritual communication to occur. Secondly, the practical: it is easy to speak Torah to a lofty select group of listeners who are attuned to the spiritual messages being transmitted. It is far more challenging to teach Torah to regular people involved in the regular day to day challenges of life. The greatness of Moshe Rabeinu was that his speech could reach not only the dor de’ah, but could reach the next generation as well. He did it not by watering down the message, but by keeping his focus on marpeh lashon eitz chaim, delivering true Torah wisdom which engaged his listeners and assured his voice of being heard.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

buried treasure

The Maharal in Ohr Chadash references a Yalkut which teaches that Nevuchadnezer ensured that nothing from his treasure of plunder would remain after his death. He loaded his riches onto a boat and sank the boat into the sea. The treasure remained lost until Koresh authorized the rebuilding of the Mikdash and Hashem revealed the riches to him for discovery.

The nature of the Mikdash is to reveal that which is hidden. More important than the revelation of physical treasure is the revelation of the riches of the soul which the Mikdash caused to flourish. The power to grow in Torah, avodah, ruchniyus, and reach unimaginable heights is buried within our souls, awaiting discovery. No matter how deep Nevuchadnezer and the destroyers of sanctity try to bury that treasure, our commitment to rebuild the Mikdash will ultimately prevail and bring about its revelation.

siyumim during the nine days

Yesterday we discussed whether there was a heter to eat felishigs leftovers during the nine days. If one does not rely on the minority view which is matir, the other option is to make a siyum. There are differing views regarding siyumim, and I’ll highlight just two. The Aruch haShulchan (551:23) is harshly critical of those who break the minhag of not eating meat, writing that if the non-Jews can abstain from meat for a few weeks (I assume he means during Lent) we certainly can afford to give up meat for a week for the sake of mourning the Mikdash. He suggests minimizing the invitees to any siyum and avoiding deliberately delaying a siyum so that it can be made during the nine days (551:28 link). What about learning a masechta for the specific purpose of having a siyum during the nine days? Here he tempers his position and suggests that this is not a bad idea, as the net result will be an increase in Torah study, no matter what the motivation.

At somewhat of an opposite extreme I would place the position of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who encouraged making siyumim during the nine days and inviting others to share in the simcha, even people off the street who might know nothing about what a siyum is (Sha’arei Moadim p. 49-55). The Rebbe explained that the increase in Torah study and celebration of Torah study helps reveal that even amidst the bleakest time of churban there is still inherent potential for goodness. Furthermore, the joy of Torah helps in the process of transforming that churban to joy. The encouragement of others to participate increases ahavas yisrael, the lack of which contributed to the cause of churban.

In two different summer camps I was in as a teenager the practice was to have siyumim during the nine days so meat could be served. That this was a deliberate scheduling move I think is evident from the fact that no other siyumim were celebrated camp-wide the rest of the summer. I think it pays to keep in mind that the gemara only records an issur of eating meat during seudah hamafsekes before the fast – all else in minhag. In weighing the good that can come out of a siyum-- whether it be ahavas yisrael, whether it be a chinuch agenda of encouraging learning and siyumim – against a less formal issur, the scales may tilt differently than were we dealing with a true issur derabbaban.

Contemporary poskim discuss whether a fleishig restaurant may stay open during the nine days. In some locales the lack of readily available kosher food might drive some less than committed Jews to eat from questionable hashgachos or worse. Again, the issue seems to be weighing the cost of sacrificing a minhag against potential benefits. I don’t want to get into the halachic details other than to mention one point noted by the Maharasham. He writes that to allow people to eat meat is one thing, but to institutionalize the heter by publicly allowing a restaurant to serve felishigs under community hashgacha is a different thing. What is permissible on an individual case by case basis given certain circumstances should not always be taken as a blanket dispensation around which to formulate a public policy. An interesting point relevant to many other contexts.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

leftover fleishings during the nine days

Yesterday we mentioned that there was a unique heter for neveilah to be eaten, for treif utensils to be used, during the fourteen years that the wars of conquest for Eretz Yisrael were fought. The gemara (Chulin 17) raises the question of whether neveilah leftover from these fourteen years may be eaten after the wars have ended -- do we say that the food has a permanent status of heter, or was the issur of neveilah temporarily lifted for the period of battle and immediately went back into effect at the close of war. (As noted yesterday, the fact that the gemara even considers extending the heter beyond the close of battle seems problematic according to the Rambam's view that the heter is one of pikuach nefesh to avoid starvation.)

There are a minority of poskim who find in this gemara a solution to what to do with your leftover fleishigs from Shabbos once the 9 days starts. They compare kosher meat which was prepared before the 9 days to this case of neveilah which was permissable to be eaten during the years of battle -- in both cases once permissable, the status of heter remains; the food can be eaten even when circumstances change and new food of the same type would be prohibited.

The Chelkas Ya'akov (O.C. 214) writes that this comparison does not hold water. The analogy assumes that the gemara's safeik was whether or not to apply a new issur to food which previously had a status of heter. But that's not really the gemara's question. The C.Y. explains that even during the period of war, eiver min ha'chai could not be eaten -- the meat had to be killed in some way, just kosher shechita was not required. However it was done, the act of killing the animal served temporarily, during the years of battle, as a sufficient matir to permit eating any meat. The gemara's question is whether post-battle this same matir which was in place is sufficient, or whether the bar is raised even retroactively and only food shechted properly was permitted.

In other words, the issue is not whether a new issur applies retroactively to old food, but rather whether an old heter applies going forward even once the standards have changed.

Food prepared before the nine days did not have a "matir" that permitted it to be eaten -- there simply was no issur of eating meat. It is no analogous to the question of whether the matir of killing the animal in some way other than shechita extended beyond the end of the period of conquest.

The lomdus is nice, but the problem is the Rosh proves from the gemara in chulin that if a person takes a neder not to eat a certain type of food, he can finish leftovers of that food that he had before taking the neder. The case of neder clearly seems parallel to the issue of food during the nine days. (See Aruch haShulchan 551:24 who. among others, addresses this issue. I think perhaps you could distinguish between neder and neveilah, which are issurei achilah, and not eating meat during the nine days, which is a kiyum mitzvah of aveilus, not an issur achilah on the meat itself.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

kashering after the war with Midyan

Ramban in Parshas Matos asks why the halachos of giyul keilim, how to kasher the utensils obtained from non-Jews, were given only after the war with Midyan and not after the wars with Sichon and Og. Ramban answers that the gemara permits “katlei d’chaziri,” eating fleshpots of pig, during the fourteen year period of fighting for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael. The wars against Sichon and Og were wars of conquest fought for the sake of yishuv ha’aretz, as these lands would be incorporated into Eretz Yisrael; therefore the heter to eat tarfus and use utensils that had absorbed tarfus applied to these battles. The war against Midyan was not a war of conquest for territory, as the Jewish people could not take Midyanite land; it was simply a war against an oppressive enemy. The utensils obtained after this battle required kashering before use.

The Rambam (Melachim 8:1) writes that the heter to eat tarfus has nothing to do with the conquest of the land. It applies to any war, but only when soldiers have no other food to eat and are starving:

חלוצי הצבא--כשייכנסו בגבול הגויים, ויכבשו אותם וישבו מהן--מותר להן לאכול נבילות וטריפות ובשר חזיר וכיוצא בו, אם רעב ולא מצא מה יאכל אלא מאכלות אלו האסורים; וכן שותה יין נסך

Rambam’s view seems difficult to explain in light of a question the gemara in Chulin (17) raises. Before war started, if a Jewish soldier had neveilah, he of course could not eat it. Once war began, he could eat even treif food in the enemy’s camp. The gemara asks what about that piece of neveilah that the soldier had from before the war? Do we say that that once categorized as asur, the status of the meat remains unchanged, or does the start of battle not only lift prohibitions going forward, but even lifts the issur on that piece of meat obtained beforehand?

If, as the Rambam writes, the soldier can eat treif food only under duress to avoid starvation, the whole question makes no sense – of course all prohibitions should be lifted to spare human life. If starvation is at hand, why would there be any issur of eating the treif meat, no matter when it was obtained? The question seems to makes sense if we assume like the Ramban that the heter for tarfus is not based on pikuach nefesh, but rather is a unique dispensation at times of war.

By coincidence, as we shall bl”n see, this gemara sheds light on the question of what to do with your leftover fleishigs now that the nine days are here.

Not immediately after the return from battle, but only after hearing the halachos of kashering utensils, do the soldiers approach Moshe to offer a korban after the battle with Midyan. Why did they wait? The Sefas Emes explains that we learn from the parsha of kashering utensils that not only is the glaringly obvious piece of bacon treif, but even undetectable flavor absorbed in a pot is off-limits as well. The soldiers applied the lesson to themselves -- not only did they have to be concerned for obvious acts of sin, which they had avoided in the war, but they had to concern themselves with the more subtle infleunce of sin that may have penetrated to their neshamos.

Friday, July 09, 2010

bnei reuvain and gad -- mitzvah of kibush ha'retz?

The Ba’al haTurim writes that the words of Moshe to Bnei Reuvain and Gad, “Ya’avor lachem kol chalutz,” hints to the gemara that all who went out to war with David wrote gittin to their wives to free them from the potential problem of yibum or chalitza (chalutz=chalitza) should they be lost in battle. Why is this hint mentioned in the context of addressing Bnei Reuvain and Gad in particular -- shouldn't the takanah of writing gitin to avoid yibum and chalitza apply equally to all soldiers?

R’ Yosef Shaul Nathanson explains that the writing of gitin was only done in milchemes reshus like those fought by David, wars for the sake of expanding the country. When it came to fighting a milchemes mitzvah, the takanah was not needed; Hashem promises that anyone engaged in a mitzvah will not come to harm, and there was no reason to weaken bitachon in that promise by having gitin written.

The majority of the shevatim fighting for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael were engaged in a milchemes mitzvah to conquer their promised territory. Bnei Reuvain and Gad, however, already had their portion of land. For them, the battles in Eretz Yisrael were a milchemes reshus, required only because of their promise to Moshe. Therefore, Moshe commanded to them, he’chaltzu lachem, in particular, not to rely on Hashem’s protection and to make sure they had gitin written.

(Side point: why is there no mitzvah to help conquer the land regardless of whether you take a portion somewhere else? Did geirim not have a mitzvah of kibosh ha’aretz just because they received no portion of land?)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

even "Ataros v'Divon"

The other post on this topic was pretty long, so I'll toss this machshava in seperately. The gemara tells us that each parsha must be read shenayim mikra v'echad targum, even "Ataros v'Divon," the cities asked for by Reuvain and Gad, where the targum just recapitulates the text. Why does the gemara single out these city names as an example rather than "Reuvain, Shimon..." or some other list of names where the targum just repeats the text?

Perhaps the gemara’s choice of “Ataros v’Divon” sheds light on the motivation of Reuvain and Gad. It is easy to judge these shevatim in a negative light as abandoning Eretz Yisrael for the sake of their flocks. Yet, it’s possible to put a far more positive spin on things. Perhaps these shevatim did not want to abandon Eretz Yisrael, but rather wanted to extend the kedusha of Eretz Yisrael outside its defined boundaries to cover even the pasture land on the east bank. Not only would this be to their own benefit, but it would be to Moshe Rabeinu's benefit as well, as it would mean he could actually step foot in land of Eretz Yisrael. (Some read "mikneh rav" as a play on words referring to the connection of Reuvain and Gad to their Rav, their Rebbe.)

The relationship between the west bank pasture land and Eretz Yisrael proper is analogous, explains the Imrei Emes of Ger, to the relationship between targum and the text. Usually there is a clear distinction between the text itself and its targum. "Ataros v'Divon," however, serves as the paradigm of text without a different targum because it reflects Reuvain and Gad's blurring of the distinction between the sanctity between Eretz Yisrael proper, the "text" of our homeland, and the additional conquered land of Sichon and Og, the added portion, the targum.

shenayim mikra v'echad targum -- even "Ataros v'Divon"

The gemara (Brachos 8) tells us that a person must be “mashlim parshiyosav im hatzibur,” complete the study of parsha with the community by reading each parsha two times and its targum once, shenayim mika v’echad targum. “With the community” is usually understood to mean that a person should time his study of the parsha so that it coincides with what the community will read on shabbos. Some Rishonim understand shenayim mikra as a preparation in case one is called up for an aliya and has to read the parsha. (If one falls behind in shenayim mikra whether one should skip a parsha to catch up or go in order may depend on whether this or some other reason is the motivation for the din.) The Sefer haPardes, however, understands the gemara to mean that shenayim mikra is a communal activity -- before the Torah was read the tzibur would join together in studying the parsha with its targum. (Parenthetically, I think this may be a nice idea to implement on a scaled down level in some shuls. Too often the reading of the Torah is viewed as some kind of ritual performance or a part of tefilah instead of an opportunity for real study. Imagine a 5 minute guided chavrusa session as an introduction to the parsha – why not?)

The gemara adds that this obligation of shenayim mikra v’echad targum includes even “Ataros v’Divon,” referring to the names of two of the cities requested by Reuvain and Gad in our parsha (BaMidbar 32:3). Rashi writes that even though these are just place names and the targum adds no interpretation, there is still an obligation to read the targum along with the text.

Tosfos asks: If Rashi is correct, why does the gemara select specifically this pasuk to make its point? The gemara could just have easily have said to read the targum to “Reuvain, Shimon…” Secondly, the targum does in fact interpret the names “Ataros v’Divon”!

(There is a girsa change in the margin of the gemara that changes the text to read “Divon v’esAtaros.” This pasuk appears later in the parsha (32:34) and there the targum does not interpret the names, avoiding Tos second question.)

Tosfos therefore suggests that the gemara singled out “Ataros v’Divon” because there is a targum on this pasuk, albeit the lesser known targum yerushalmi and not onkelus. The gemara’s chiddush is that reading the targum yerushalmi is still preferable to not reading any targum at all.

It is not clear whether Tos’ disagrees with Rashi only with regards to pshat in the gemara or whether Tos disagrees with Rashi's halachic conclusion. In other words, would Tosfos also require a third reading of a pasuk even where the targum just recapitulates the text, e.g. in the case of “Reuvain, Shimon…? It’s also not clear whether Tos acceptance of interpretations other than onkelus extends only the other targumim like the targum yerushalmi, or would other translations and interpretations pass muster as well, e.g. Artscroll?

The Torah Teminah offers another novel reading of this gemara. According to the T”T the chiddush of the gemara has nothing to do with targum, but has to do with the requirement of shenayim mikra, reading the text itself. In the context of Reuvain and Gad’s request for land, the list of cities named really does not seem to add anything. The parsha is just as understandable, just as readable, if that entire pasuk were omitted. The gemara’s chiddush is that even in this case where an entire pasuk seems extraneous, one is still required to read it to fulfill the obligation of reviewing the parsha.

This sounds like a remarkable chiddush. Is this the only pasuk that seems like it serves no function? It stands out more than the lists of genealogies in Sefer Braishis, just to take one example? Secondly, just because the pasuk appears extraneous does not mean it is so. It did not take more than a glance at a Mikra’os Gedolos to find meforshim who discuss why particular cities were named (e.g. Seforno, Ohr haChaim). [Update: see the Rabeinu Bachye who specifically makes the point that these pesukim are important despite appearances to the contrary; he explains their meaning al pi sod.) The T"T is certainly an interesting twist, but I'm not convinced it's better than Rashi or Tos' approach.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Moshe like the sun, Yehoshua like the moon -- oy lanu!

The gemara (Baba Basra 75b) writes that Yehoshua was a pale comparison to Moshe – “Pnei Moshe k’pnei chamah u’pnei Yehoshua k’pnei levana.” Moshe was like the sun, Yehoshua like the moon. The gemara continues that when the Elders saw this they bemoaned, “Oy lanu m’oso busha,” Woe to us from such embarrassment. Why were the Elders in particular affected by this difference between Moshe and Yehoshua? Would not all of the people feel the loss of Moshe Rabeinu's leadership?

The Mishna (Rosh haShana 2:10) tells us that the names of the members of Moshe’s beis din are deliberately omitted from the Torah so that if a person feels that the judges of his era are incompetent, not worth listening to, we can always argue that they are no worse than the anonymous members of Moshe’s court – there is no way to prove otherwise. The Divrei Shaul quotes the Ketzos haChoshen as explaining that this is why the Elders in particular were so shocked when they saw the discrepancy between Moshe and Yehoshua. The Elders realized that the dramatic difference between Moshe and Yehoshua indicated a trend of continuing precipitous decline in leadership over time. And yet, theoretically, some future judge, obviously on an even lower level, could be compared to one of them!

The Ksav Sofer offers another beautiful explanation. Yehoshua was the leader of a new generation, a generation that did not see Yetziyas Mitzrayim first hand and who did not witness Moshe Rabeinu in his prime. That generation saw that Yehoshua was not on the level of Moshe, but they assumed this was to be expected given Yehoshua’s relative younger age and lack of experience. However, the Elders had seen Moshe when he was the same age as Yehoshua;, they had seen Moshe when he was also new to leadership. They knew that it was not age or experience alone that could account for the difference between Moshe and Yehoshua, and therefore it was these Elders who felt the full brunt of the decline.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

extra sleep on shabbos

The Torah in Parshas Pinchas tells us to bring the daily korban tamid "baboker," each morning, but with respect to the korban musaf of shabbos it uses the expression, "b'yom hashabbos," on shabbos day. Based on the difference in language, the Rama (O.C. 281) quotes from rishonim that our davening, which corresponds to korbanos, should be scheduled later on shabbos than during the week. (Even though the word "yom" is used with respect to the korban musaf, the assumption is that the musaf immediately followed the tamid, and so a later musaf implies a later tamid/shacharis.) The Mishna Berura notes that later davening does not mean so late that one misses the zman of kri'as shema, but simply later than the normal weekday tefilah.

Is it permissible to daven at a hashkama minyan on shabbos? It seems that this din is not a real derasha, but is simply an asmachta. Davening later is a kiyum of oneg shabbos -- most people are happy to have an extra hour or two of sleep. However, if davening earlier brings you more oneg shabbos than sleep, then I imagine (you can ask a rabbi to be sure) that there is no issue.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Zimri the hero?

The gemara (Nazir 23b) compares the act of adultery committed by Tamar with that committed by Zimri. The former produced kings and prophets, the latter led to the death of hundreds. The Shem m’Shmuel quotes his father as teaching that although these acts had very different outcomes, the very fact that the gemara compares them reveals that they share a common denominator -- they both were motivated by the best of intentions. Just as Tamar was motivated l’shem shamayim, so too was Zimri motivated l’shem shamayim. He believed that his relationship with Kozbi was what Hashem wanted; his intention was for the sake of Heaven.

An aveira lishma is a dangerous thing. If even the slightest tinge of she’lo lishma creeps into the equation, the entire act is sinful. It was this slight tinge of she’lo lishma that only Pinchas was able to detect (see the Ishbitzer in Mei HaShiloach) and which prompted him to act.

The Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 9:7) relates that there was an effort to place Pinchas in niduy in response to his act. At first glance this punishment makes no sense. If the people thought Pinchas was guilty of killing an innocent man, then they should have judged him as a murderer. If he did nothing wrong, then why censure him?

The Shem m’Shmuel explains that the people knew what Zimri did appeared wrong, but they appreciated his intentions as being l’shem shamayim. Beis Din, however, passes judgment based only on the facts of the case, not intentions. Pinchas could not be condemned as a murderer because his response did fit the facts, but the people could still censure him for not respecting what they thought were the pure motives of Zimri.

With this background we can better appreciate the precision in Rashi's words. Rashi writes that the gossip of the camp was that Pinchas was not worthy of the act he performed, as his great-grandfather Yisro fattened cattle for idol worship. Why did the people not seize on the fact that Pinchas' great-grandfather Yisro actually worshipped avodah zara, a far greater sin than merely fattening the cows to use as offerings!?

The Shem m’Shmuel beautifully explains that knocking Pinchas in this way perfectly reflected what people thought of his actions. Whether a cow is skinny or fat is merely a matter of appearance. The purpose of any offering is to sprinkle the blood, the innards of the animal, on the altar – the animal’s size is irrelevant. There halacha sees no merit in delaying a korban just to fatten an animal. The people charged Pinchas with being driven, like his grandfather, by superficial appearance. They claimed he killed Zimri in his zeal because he was blind to the pnimiyus, Zimri’s inner intent and motivation, and looked only at the surface of events. Pinchas failed in their eyes to show sensitivity to that which lay below the surface.

The Torah responds to these charges by connecting Pinchas to Aharon. The Maharal teaches that Aharon embodied the ideal of pnimiyus, as we see reflected in his name. The letter hey is the middle letter of the first ten letters of the aleph-beis, the letter nun is the middle letter of the letters with gematriya 10-90, the letter reish is the middle letter of the letters with gematriya values 200-400, the aleph is the beginning, the most fundamental point of pnimiyus. Pinchas did not act against Zimri because he was oblivious to pnimiyus, but rather because he was connected to pnimiyus on a deeper level than all others and could see the limits of their piety.

Feel free to skip reading my editorializing here. There was an article (link) written by a local Rabbi condemning the decision of a local shul to invite Sara Hurwitz to serve as Scholar in Residence. The article uses the RCA, NCYI, and Agudah decision to object to women’s ordination as an excuse to deny Sarah Hurwitz the right to speak. It demonizes all who disagree as acting with the intent to undermine our “ancient mesorah,” it impugns their actions as being motivated “for the sake of feminism and perceived equality”, it bemoans the rejection of “da’as torah” in this area as a bizayon haTorah. There is nothing of substance I can say in response to the article because the article makes no substantive argument -- it simply defames the intentions of others and derides their position.

I don’t view these type attacks as coming from a modern day Pinchas, but rather as the actions of a modern day Zimri. Zimri too wrapped himself in the mantle of “l’shem shamayim.” Zimri had communal support on his side, he could point to kol korei’s from the RCA and Agudah of his day protesting the act of Pinchas. Zimri, not Pinchas, was viewed as an unimpeachable paragon of piety.

But Zimri was wrong.

I am not saying that we should applaud the decision to ordain women. I am saying that our objections should be voiced with civility and respect. We should not deny others the opportunity to be heard, especially when they are speaking in their own venue and not ours, and it's not for one Rav to dictate policy for the community at large. The popular perception of who the villian is and who the hero is is often wrong -- it takes reflection and deep thought to get to the truth, and public grandstanding and demagoguery adds nothing of value to that process. Greater zeal does not always reflect greater wisdom.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

safeik nefashos l'hakeil

Earlier in the week (link) we discussed why safeik nefashos l’hakeil. Rashi writes that this din is based on the pasuk, “v’hitzilu ha’eidah.” Tosfos (Baba Basra 51b) asks why you need a pasuk – simple logic dictates safeik nefashos l’hakeil, as executing a defendant where there is doubt as to his guilt places the court in a situation of potentially murdering an innocent person.

R’ Elchanan Wasserman explains that basing the din on a pasuk may make a big difference. According to Tosfos reasoning, the defendant who gets off is never really cleared – we just can’t do anything about it. According to Rashi, however, the Torah decrees that in cases of doubt the defendant is presumed completely innocent. There is no longer a safeik – he is definitely not guilty.

A potential nafka minah between the views would be in a case of safeik nefashos by a shor niskal. According to Tosfos model, since safeik nefashos leaves a doubt, i.e. there is still potential guilt, there is little reason not to kill the shor. At worst, there is a loss of money. According to Rashi, however, we grant the defendent, be it a person or a shor, the presumption of innocence so long as there is any doubt of guilt.