Thursday, June 30, 2011


R' Yehoshua ben Kavsui said: My whole life I read the pasuk "V'hiza hatahor al ha'tamei" (19:19) as teaching that one person who is tahor may sprinkle [parah adumah ashes & water] on only one person who is tamei. Then I learned at the gathering of Yavneh... that one tahor may sprinkle even on a group of t'mei'im. (Dmai 3:4)

I saw a nice thought derech derush on this Yerushalmi. R' Yehoshua thought that his influence as an individual was limited in scope -- at best, he could have an impact on only one other individual at a time. Yavneh taught him otherwise. The remnants of the Chachamim left in Yavneh had an impact on all of Klal Yisrael; they preserved and taught Torah to the entire nation. R' Yehoshua realized that each one of us as individuals can also have an impact on the masses. (I have to bl"n look up where I saw this again.)

the parsha of emunah

Why did Bnei Yisrael wait until after 40 years to sing shirah about the waters of the be'er? R' Leibele Eiger writes that the theme of our parsha is emunah. One must have faith even when things look bleak, even in the face of the incomprehensible. "Chukah chakakti, gezeirah gazarti -- ain lecha reshus l'harher achareha." What can look bleaker than the tumah of death itself, the focus of the parsha of parah adumah? Our parsha contains the death of Miriam and the death of Aharon, the loss of the be'er and the loss of the ananei hakavod. We read how Moshe is denied the opportunity to enter Eretz Yisrael. Yet, despite all these setbacks, the fact is that the be'er returned, the ananei hakavod returned, and there was a tzintzenes haman tucked away in safekeeping for all eternity. What appeared to be a complete loss was just that -- just appearances. That's what Bnei Yisrael sang shira for. The appearance of the be'er at the start of the journey in the midbar was miraculous, but the return of the be'er even after it seemed to vanish provided the knowledge that chasdei Hashem would be eternally present.

adam ki yamus and yishuv hada'as

The Rambam codifies l'halacha (Talmud Torah 3:13) the famous derasha on our parsha on "Adam ki yamus b'ohel," that a person has to kill himself learning in order to succeed.

אמרו חכמים דרך רמז, "זאת, התורה, אדם, כי ימות באוהל" (במדבר יט,יד)--אין התורה מתקיימת, אלא במי שממית עצמו באוהלי החכמה. וכך אמר שלמה בחכמתו, "התרפית, ביום צרה--צר כוחך" (משלי כד,י); ועוד אמר, "אף חכמתי, עמדה לי" (קוהלת ב,ט)--חכמה שלמדתי באף, עמדה לי.

Rav Shach asks an interesting question. One of the ingredients necessary to acquire Torah is "yishuv ha'da'as." Chazal tell us, "Shamytza ba'ei tzilusa" -- learning demands a clear head. How can you have yishuv ha'da'as while at the same time killing yourself? How can you have yishuv hada'as while subsisting on pas b'melach?

The Slabodka mussar answer would probably be that the kashe gufa is itself the teirutz -- Chazal want a person to develop the skill to have yishuv ha'da'as despite the hardships.

My son suggested that there is a difference between interenal and external pressure. The Rambam is speaking of personal commitment, similar to his psak elsewhere that poverty, age, illness, etc. are not excuses for not learning. When Chazal speak of yishuv hada'as they mean freedom from outside interference.

Rav Shach (intro to Avi Ezri, Hil. Nashim) answers that unlike other disciplines, Torah is not acquired only through brains alone -- it must come as a gift from Hashem, and Hashem rewards those who invest self sacrifice and maximum effort in their learning. The appreciation that one has been given a gift directly from Hashem is the blessing of yishuv hada'as Chazal had in mind.

One final note: Someone who sees a person killing himself to learn might think why bother -- why choose to kill yourself when you can enjoy life. The answer is that such a life is itself misa, as the Rambam tells us in Hil Rotzeiach (7:1):

וחיי בעלי חכמה ומבקשיה בלא תלמוד כמיתה חשובה

It's only through the misa of adam ki yamus b'ohel that one can truly live.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

R' Chaim's psak on Torah/work -- RSHB"Y vs. R' Yishmael

My son pointed out to me in interesting line in the Birchas Shmuel at the end of Kiddushin which discusses the parameters of the mitzvah of talmud Torah. The gemara (Brachos 35) records a machlokes between R' Yishmael and RSHB"Y whether one must learn at all times or whether one is permitted to take time off for planting, plowing, harvesting, etc. R' Baruch Ber writes that he asked R' Chaim how we pasken and R' Chaim answered that we pasken like RSHB"Y. The proof: The Rambam (Shemita 13:13 ) writes that anyone who desires can emulate sheivet Levi and devote themselves completely to talmud Torah to the exclusion of all other pursuits.

ולא שבט לוי בלבד, אלא כל איש ואיש מכל באי העולם אשר נדבה רוחו אותו והבינו מדעו להיבדל לעמוד לפני ה' לשרתו ולעובדו לדעה את ה', והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלוהים, ופרק מעל צווארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר ביקשו בני האדם--הרי זה נתקדש קודש קודשים, ויהיה ה' חלקו ונחלתו לעולם ולעולמי עולמים

This seems a bit difficult,as the Rambam himself in Hil Talmud Torah (1:12) describes how a "ba'al umnos" should split his time between his learning and his profession:

כיצד: היה בעל אומנות--יהיה עוסק במלאכה שלוש שעות ביום, ובתורה תשע

Later in Hil Talmud Torah (ch 3) the Rambam extols the value of work:

מעלה גדולה היא למי שהוא מתפרנס ממעשה ידיו, ומידת חסידים הראשונים היא

The gemara itself concludes that many people tried to emulate the path of RSHB"Y and failed. It seems clear that for the masses, R' Yishmael's approach is correct. What was R' Baruch Ber's safeik? Was he perhaps wondering whether there is a heter to follow RSHB"Y? Were that the case it would turn the whole machlokes on its head -- R' Yishmael and RSHB"Y are not arguing about whether there is a heter to work, but whether there is a heter not to work! This would be quite a chiddush -- maybe its just me, but I never read the sugya that way.

Interestingly, R' Ahron Soloveitchik writes that there really isn't any machlokes RSHB"Y and R' Yishmael in the first place. Elsewhere (Menachos 99) the two Tanaim seem seem to reverse positions. To reconcile the sugyos R' Ahron suggests that everyone agrees that for the masses, a balance between talmud Torah and secular pursuits is needed, but Torah-only is OK for the elite. The Tanaim offered different advice depending on whom they were speaking to. I guess R' Aharon did not hear from R' Chaim the psak R' Baruch Ber refers to, because if there is no machlokes, there can't be a question of psak.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kavata itim (II)

Commenting on Ya'akov's vision of the angels going up and down a ladder, the Midrash (M.R. is in P' Emor) explains that Ya'akov saw the sar of Bavel going up the ladder only to then fall back down; he saw the sar of Madai climbing up only to fall back down; he saw the sar of Yavan climbing up only to fall back down. Ya'akov got nervous when he saw Edom climb up and not come down, but Hashem reassured him that Edom too shall fall. Hashem then said to Ya'akov that it was his time to climb. Ya'akov refused! Hashem promised that Ya'akov would not fall like those other nations, but, says the Midrash, Ya'akov did not believe and did not climb. Everyone asks: Ya'akov Avinu, the bechir ha'Avos, lacked emunah?

Perhaps the Midrash can be explained based on the yesod of the Koznitzer Maggid we discussed yesterday. The rungs of the ladder represent the unfolding of history step by step through the hanhagas hateva (see Sefas Emes, VaYeitzei 5662 - "V'chein hasulam romeiz al hanhagas hateva..."). Each empire had its moment in history and then vanished. Ya'akov wanted nothing to do with the ladder of hanhagas hateva even with the promise of never falling. Ya'akov instead wanted, "Hinei Hashem nitzvav alav," a direct connection only with Hashem, a world run by hanhagas haTorah alone. (Sefas Emes -- "HaTorah etzem Elokus mamash v'hu bechinas haneshomo cheilek Eloka mi'ma'al...")

When you live within the hanhagas hateva, you need emunah to see Hashem behind the veil of hester panim. When you live with the hanhagas haTorah, you don't need blind faith because you see Hashem standing right there alongside you. It's not the Ya'akov didn't have emunah -- the Midrash means that Ya'akov didn't need emunah because he chose a higher calling.

Last week we learned from R' Tzadok that the Meraglim were the greatest of neshomos. They accurately saw the "inevitable" churban habayis and galus from Eretz Yisrael; that's why they cried the night of 9 Av. So what did they get wrong? Because that vision encompassed only events as they would unfold if the hanhagas hateva played itself out. Had Bnei Yisrael adopted the perspective of the hanhagas haTorah, the galus could have been avoided.

There is a tremendous danger in this limited vision of hanhagas hateva alone. The Shem m'Shmuel asks: If Korach was able to see b'ruach hakodesh many years into the future that his descendent would be the great Shmuel haNavi, how could he not see that his own children would do teshuvah on the same day as his rebellion and not suffer his fate? The answer is that teshuvah is incomprehensible using the framework of hanhagas hateva. As the Rishonim ask, if I knock down a house and do teshuvah, will the house rebuild itself? Teshuvah works only because there is a hanhagas haTorah that effects the world as well. Korach's great ability was seeing how the future that would play out based on the rules of the game in hanhagas hateva. His entire argument with Moshe was based on what made sense using the rational rules of this world. What he failed to see that there was a higher order that played by different rules entirely.

Monday, June 27, 2011

kavata itim laTorah?

My son did his siyum, my daughter had her graduation, so this week was my turn -- on Shabbos I made a siyum on Bavli. Some divrei Torah:

First a comment on On ben Peles. The gemara (Sanhedrin 109) darshens every detail of his name: On - he observed aninus for participating in Korach's rebellion; Peles - pila'os, wonders were done so he could escape, Reuvain - ra'ah v'heivin, he saw what was going on and understood he had to back out. Yet, the very next line of the sugya tells us that it was On ben Peles' wife that talked him out of the rebellion and kept him home safe. Some are puzzled by this gemara: does On deserve the credit for his havana, or does his wife deserve the credit? I don't think the question gets off the ground. Looking for the
sibah and the mesovev in a husband/wife relationship is impossible; the two go together, ha b'ha talya. Like every siyum before this one, I may have been the one reading the hadran, but it was ha b'ha talya on my wife's encouragement and support.

On to the topic of the title of the post: The Midrash comments on the pasuk, “V’ha’aretz hayesa tohu va’vohu v’choshech al pnei tehom,” that “tohu” refers to Madei, “vohu” refers to Bavel, “choshech” refers to Yavan, and “tehom” is Edom. These are the four kingdoms that brought us our four periods of galus. How can a pasuk describing the pre-creation universe be referring to kingdoms that would not exist until hundreds and thousands of years later? Maharal answers that the Midrash is teaching us that galus was built into the bri'ah from day one. The material world, the universe, is inherently imperfect, and the four galiyos are a product of that imperfection. It just took time for history to unfold along its inevitable course to get there.

The only problem with this Maharal is that we know it isn’t true.

We learned at the end of Shlach in Rashi that had Bnei Yisrael had observed one Shabbos (or according to other versions 2 Shabbosos) they would have had immediate geulah. Had Bnei Yisrael not sent the spies they might have entered Eretz Yisrael right away with Moshe and had geulah. Had they not worshiped the eigel they might have had geulah. We can go on and on with other examples, rolling the clock right back to Adam haRishon who would have merited immediate geulah had he not eaten from the eitz hada’as. So how can the Midrash tells us that the galiyos of Bavel, Madai, Yavan, and Edom were built into the fabric of creation from day one and were destined to be when at any one of many points in history we could have made a choice that circumvented the need for galus entirely?

The Koznitzer Maggid addresses this question in a piece printed in the back of the Maharal's Be’er haGolah. He explains that there are two different systems which Hashem put in place to run the universe. The first system is the hanhagas hateva, the natural order. We call the study of this system biology, history, sociology, etc. However, there is also another system Hashem put in place -- the hanhaga Tori'it. There is only one force that controls natural and historical events in this system -- fidelity (or lack of fidelity) to Torah.

Galus was built into the system of hanhagas hateva, the natural order of creation, and was destined to unfold if that system would play itself out. However, had the right choices been made, the universe history might have unfolded through the system of hanhaga l'ma'alah min hateva, the hanhagas haTorah, and there would be no need for galus.

Now comes the knock your socks off part of the Koznitzer Maggid: After 120+ years, question #1 they will ask you in shamayim is, "Kavata itim la'Torah?" The Koznitzer Magid explains that question as follows: Did you let "itim" = time, history, control you, meaning you went along with the flow of hanhagas hateva? Or were you "kove'a itim," did you fix and control time, did you take charge of history and cause it to unfold along a different path, a path directed by the power of hanhagas haTorah alone?

Limud haTorah can change a person's personal destiny; it can also change the destiny of Klal Yisrael.
More to come bl"n if I get some more time.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

what the meraglim got wrong

How do we explain the mistake of the Meraglim? How could such chashuv people, "kulam anashim," have been so mistaken in their calculations and speak badly about Eretz Yisrael? R' Tzadok HaKohen says an amazing pshat in Likueti Ma'amarim (p.85 -- link). The Meraglim were telling the truth! The Meraglim had great neshomos and were therefore able to sense the future. They saw that life in Eretz Yisrael would eventually lead to a churban, would end in a tragic and painful to galus. Midrashim already in Parshas Braishis predict 4 galiyos; Midrashim tell us the galiyos were revealed to Avraham; 9 Av was revealed already to Ya'akov. The "bechiya l'doros" of the Mergalim was a cry in advance of what they knew was inevitably coming.

So what did they get wrong?

Because "b'shuv Hashem es shivas Tziyon hayinu k'cholmim" means that all that sorrow and pain is just a passing dream and not reality. It may look real, it may even feel real as it occurs, but it is not eternal truth. (R' Tzadok here is echoing a torah of the Ishbitzer in Sefer Braishin in which he distinguishes between emes and emes l'amito. The Meraglim spoke truth, but it was not the emes l'amito, eternal truth of Torah.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

shalheves oleh m'eileha

Chazal interpret the word, "B'ha'alosecha," as a hint that the menorah should be lit so that "shalheves oleh m'eileha," the flame should rise of its own accord from the wick. We usually think of this halacha as chiyuvi, as a requirement for us to do something. The same wicks the Mishna tells us that we cannot use on Shabbos because the flame sputters also cannot be used to light the menorah in the Mikdash (Shabbos 22) because we would not be producing a flame that can remain lit of its own accord. Yet, there is actually a shlili element to this din, a negation of a premis. The gemara (Yom 24) tells us that even a zar is permitted to light the menorah; a kohen is not required. Why? Tosfos Yeshanim explains because the flame is a "shalheves oleh m'eileha," and is therefore not considered the product of the person who does the lighting. The Kozhiglover (Eretz Tzvi, P' Be'ha'aloshecha) explains that even though halacha usually does not usually seperate cause and effect in this way, e.g. the halacha is that "isho m'shum chitzav," an arsonist is considered to have done an act of mazik even though it was the fire which caused the damage, here the special gezeiras hakasuv of "Be'he'alosecha" negates the usual rule and the flame as treated as an entity in its own right, disconnected from the zar who lit it. (The Kozhiglover was the last R"Y of Yeshivas Chachamei Lublin before WWII and was a genius in lomdus as well as wellspring of machshava in the style of his Rebbe, the Sochatchover. This hesber is a bit different than that of R' Chaim Brisker, which we once discussed before.)

My daughter complained shortly after her graduation last night that I posted about my son's siyum but not her finishing 8th grade, so this post is for her. "Be'ha'alosecha" is more than the story of "raising" candles -- it's the story of raising children. We have a chiyuv to raise our kids to become like a "shalheves oleh m'eileha" -- a flame that does not need a shamash or match held next to it to keep it from burning out, but rather one which burns brightly on its own. That's a big challenge and a long process, but congrats to daughter #2 for passing one more hurdle on the road to independence.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

a cause for celebration

The very presence of the guest speaker at my son's yeshiva's annual gala siyum (held yesterday) brought warm memories to my mind. R' Ahron Kahn, a brilliant lamdan and orator, also happens to have been my Rebbe and served as the kohen at my son's pidyon haben just over seventeen years ago. How time flies! At the pidyon, following the traditional custom, Rav Kahn asked, "B'Mai ba'is tefi?" what would I rather have -- my one month old son, or my five silver dollars. I took the baby and parted with the five shekalim. Even with the inflated price of silver these days, I still think I got the better end of the deal : )

I cannot do justice to Rav Kahn's remarks, but I want to relate one point he made about the perspective required for the proper chinuch of one's children. The Rambam (Deyos perek 3) writes that all of one's actions must be done l'shem shamayim, for Hashem's sake alone. The Rambam gives an example: Having a child merely to serve as an apprentice, to carry on the family business, is not a proper aim -- there has to be a l'shem shamayim in rearing children as well. We would expect the Rambam to conclude that therefore we should have in mind that our children become ovdei Hashem, shomrei mitzvos, etc. However, the Rambam says much more than that:

וישים על ליבו שיהיה לו בן, אוליי יהיה חכם וגדול בישראל

The Rambam writes that when we have a child, we must think of that child as having the potential to be a gadol b'yisrael.

What the Rambam is telling us is that when we dream of what our children might become, when we try to inspire our children and encourage them to dream of what they might become, don't hold back -- dream big. The first step to becoming a "chacham v'gadol b'yisrael" is to want and desire to become a "chacham v'gadol b'yisrael." To raise a child l'shem shamayim means to dream that dream, to pass on that dream to our children.

The hanhala of the yeshiva, the Menahel and Rosh Yeshiva in particular, deserve hakaras hatov for not only daring to dream big dreams, but for making those dreams into a reality. Yesterday over 100 boys from the local Far Rockaway and Five Towns area finished Mes. Kiddushin -- over 100! The siyum has become not a celebration reserved for a few yechidei segulah, exceptional students outside the "norm", but rather has become a celebration in which dozens and dozens of boys can enjoy a feeling of achievement. And they deserve it. Our community is blessed with a wealth of gashmiyus (I lost count if there are five or six pizza stores in a one mile radius), but these boys prove that it is blessed with a wealth of ruchniyus as well.

Not only is the siyum a celebration for the boys, for their families, but I think it's important to note that community Rabbonim attended, Roshei Yeshiva from other local yeshivos attended as well. The concept of community seems sadly to have nearly vanished from our Jewish societal lexicon. Sometimes we need a reminder that though we may not all attend the same yeshiva or daven in the same shul, we can all share the same goals, the same dreams of growth l'shem shamayim for our children and our community, and celebrate together.

There are those who may look down on the emphasis on bekiyus that these siyumim celebrate. Of what value is breadth of knowledge without depth? Proof to the contrary can be found in the very masechta the boys finished. The gemara (Kiddush 10b) records the challenge made to one of the Tanaim: "Baki atah b'kol chadrei Torah v'lidrsoh b'kal v'chomer ei atah yodeia?!" - "You are an expert in all areas of Torah and do not know how to properly darshen a kal v'chomer?!" At first glance this seems difficult to understand. A kal v'chomer is a logical inference -- what does being a baki have to do with the ability to think logically? R' Elchanan (Koveitz Shiurim) quotes R' Chaim Brisker as explaining that while an inference may be logically compelling when seen in the narrow context of one sugya, it may prove totally erroneous when measured against the larger background of kol haTorah kulah. Truth in Torah can be arrived at only if one has a grasp on the breadth of Torah as a whole. If Rav Chaim Brisker, the exemplar par excellance in yeshivos of analytical thinking, championed the value of bekiyus, is there anyone among us who can question its value?

However, as emphasized by my son's Rebbe this year, as emphasized by the Menahel at the siyum, bekiyus has little value without constant review. Without chazarah, knowledge quickly fades. But have no fear -- tacked to the door of the beis medrash on the very day of the siyum was a chart setting the pace for a daf by daf review of the masechta so that come the fall, once again a sizable number of bachurim will participate in completing the masechta for yet a second time. We should all look forward to celebrating their accomplishment.

Monday, June 06, 2011

aleph - beis

The Midrash tells us that the letter aleph complained for hundreds of years that it was shortchanged when Hashem created the world, as it was the second letter, beis, which was chosen to open the story of creation, Braishis. The aleph received its due, however, at mattan Torah, as the aseres hadibros start with the letter aleph, Anochi...

Letters obviously don't have an ego and don't get jealous or upset. What are Chazal trying to teach us?

Aleph represents the full sense of Hashem's presence, the alufo shel olam. Creation masked Hashem's presence, hence the story begins with a beis.

Mattan Torah restored the aleph to its rightful place, as
Torah is the key to finding Hashem's presence even within the physical. The ma'amaros of creation, devoid of spiritual content, were transformed into the dibros of mattan Torah, which infused the world with spiritual meaning and potential.

earning Hashem's favoritism

Chazal (Brachos 20) explain that Hashem shows favoritism towards Bnei Yisrael, "Yisa Hashem panav eilecha v'yasem lecha shalom," because we go the extra mile for Him -- even though birchas hamazon need only be recited if one is satiated, we recite it even after eating a k'zayis. Why is shalom in particular the reward for saying birchas mazon even on a k'zayis? And why are we rewarded davka for this particular case of going the extra mile and not some other case where we go above and beyond the d'orasya level in doing a mitzvah?

Chasam Sofer has a simple answer: One can only have peace when people are satisfied with what they have. If everyone always wants more than the k'zayis they have been doled out -- never happy until fully satiated -- there will always be jealousy and fighting. (On a related note, I saw a beautiful vort in the name of R' Dovid Povarski. The Nesi'im each brought the same items as gifts to the Mishkan, but each with a different intention. Just ask your teenage daughter if she would wear the same dress as a friend to an event -- lo yitachein! So how did each Nasi end up bringing exactly what the other ones brought? Because they paid absolutely no mind on what others were doing -- their eyes were only on their own world.)

The Ishbitzer goes a step further. Why can one be happy even with a k'zayis? Because it's not physical bread alone which satiates, but it is the "motza pi Hashem" found in the bread. If that pnimiyus is the ikar and the physical loaf is tafeil, then one can be happy with any amount. If you choose to look beyond the superficial and focus on the pnimiyus within, then Hashem will look beyond your superficial shortcoming and bless you with shalom (=shleimus) in turn.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

how soon we forget!

Daughter #2 told me that in one of her classes today (Social Studies) the teacher asked if anyone knew what today was. One kid volunteered that it was "Yom.. something," but that was about it (except for Daughter #2, who knew).

Daughter #3 had an assembly today.... devoted to the topic of shemiras halashon.

My son came home from yeshiva and also had no idea what today was -- "Why didn't you tell me?"

Im eskacheich Yerushalayim...! Should I be disappointed in what I'm getting for my thousands of dollars of tuition? Is learning about one of the most significant events in Jewish history in the past 50 years something that is important only if you go to a certain type of yeshiva but not a different type? Is Yerushalayim -- its history, its meaning, its recapture -- something we take so for granted that we don't need to speak about it anymore?

We all know Hashem works midah k'neged midah. Do you need to be an oracle to see a connection between our lukewarm response to Yom Yerushalayim and the plans of the EU, Obama, and others to turn back the clock to before 1967?

When will our nation wake up???