Tuesday, January 31, 2012

parshas hamon and segulah scrooges

Lots of frum websites and blogs have publicized R' Mendele m'Riminov teaching that reading the parshas hamon shenayim mikra v'echad targum today is a segulah for parnasa.  A few thoughts:

1. Trying to offer some rationalization of how the segulah works seems to me to be a waste of time.  A segulah by definition is something whose workings cannot be explained.  After all is said and done about the parsha of mon focusing our bitachon, or whatever other explanation is offered, it's still a mystery as to why this particular parsha on this particular day should have an effect.

2. Parnasa does not mean wealth.  If anything, the parsha of mon teaches us to be satisfied with what we have.  To borrow my wife's words on the topic (link): 
Beyond that, though, the mon came down each day with just enough for that day except on erev Shabbos when the double portion came for the next day). That meant that the Jews in the midbar never had the feeling of security that comes from pas besalo [bread in the basket, on hand for later]. Each day was another challenge in bitachon that Hashem will provide what you need. 
The way the term parnassah  tends to be used today is not that you live day-to-day with bitachon that Hashem will provide but that you are comfortable -- secure in the knowledge that you have a number of baskets filled with bread and whatever else you want on hand. I get the sense that people consider the segulahs for parnassah to be guarantees of a certain standard of living that is quite different from the experience of eating mon.
3. The popularization of segulos always brings out the segulah scrooges who think everything of this sort is illegitimate and feel it is their duty to convince the rest of Klal Yisrael of their point and make fun of the cretin neanderthals among us who would believe in this superstitious magic.  I once gave a shiur and noticed that one of the participants reacted to every other line in the gemara with either a nod of approval or a question on the logic employed.  My 2 cents is that when you sit in judgment of a sevara of  Chazal, you sit in judgment of yourself.  If you think Abaye or Rava's logic is faulty, it means your logic is faulty.   If you think Abayei or Rava got it wrong, it means you got it wrong.  Hillel and R' Akiva, Abeyei and Rava, Rashi and the Rambam's words define what the standard of Torah is -- there is no other external source of any sort against which they can be measured and judged.  Everyone who is a frum Jew understands this.  What some people seem to miss I guess is that R' Mendele m'Riminov is also a standard, a ruler against which other things are measured.  

Now that I provided a great line for the segulah opponents to take out of context, a little clarification.  Of course I don't mean that the opinions of a chassidishe Rebbe living not to long ago carry the same weight as statements of Abayei and Rava.  To put what I mean in another context, I stand as much chance of jumping to the moon as jumping to Jupiter.  Of course I know there is a difference between the moon and Jupiter, but from my perspective of jumping up and down, even with Air Jordans on my feet, they are equally unreachable.    R' Mendele m'Riminov may be the moon, not Jupiter or Alpha Centauri, but it doesn't change the fact that practically speaking, no matter how high I jump, the world he lived in and the Torah he understood may be beyond me.  A segulah is from toras hanistar; it's not like pshat in a Rambam where you can argue as to what makes better or worse sense.  It would be the height of chutzpah to think I can decide whether there is anything to this segulah or not, much less to throw around terms like "darkei emori" to describe it.  If I don't understand, it means my understanding falls short of the mark -- not the other way around.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

sippur yetzi'as Mitzrayim as a kiyum of talmud Torah

Hashem told Moshe at the opening of Parshas Bo that the makkos will be so great that the story of yitzias Mitzrayim will be something passed on and related to both children and grandchildren, "l'ma'an tisaper b'oznei bincha u'ben bincha."   R' Leibele Eiger asks why the Torah goes out of its way here to emphasize not only children but grandchildren as well.  When it comes to the mitzvah of Shabbos, but example, the Torah only mentions, "atah u'bincha," you and your children -- there is no added mitzvah to see that one's grandchildren observe Shabbos.  When one's children grow up and have children of their own, they can take care of them -- children eventually become their own "atah" of the "atah u'bincha" of the next generation.  Why here does the Torah go out of its way to add a responsibility for the third generation as well? 

Rav Gifter (in Pirkei Torah) explains that the inclusion of grandchildren here hints to the nature of the mitzvah of sippur yetzias Mitzrayim.  The gemara (Kiddushin) tells us that there are certain mitzvos that a father is obligated to do for his son, e.g. milah, pidyon haben, to teach him a parnasa (that's not too popular these days).  The mitzvah of talmud Torah is unique in that it requires not only that a father teach his sons, but requires that he teach his grandsons as well.   The Torah mentions the obligation to tell the story of yetzias Mitzrayim to grandchildren to convey that the mitzvah of sippur is itself part and parcel of the mitzvah of talmud torah -- the Torah commands us to engage in the talmud Torah of a particular sugya (yetzias Mitzrayim) on a particular night, leil haseder.  

This idea helps explain why there is no birchas hamitzvah on the mitzvah of sippur or on the haggadah -- since sippur is a kiyum of talmud Torah, it is exempted by the birchas haTorah one recites in the morning. 

Rav Gifter suggests that krias shema shares a similar geder.  The Torah requires that we learn a particular parsha twice daily.  There is no birchas hamitzvah on shema because again, krias shema is a kiyum of talmud torah of a specific parsha and is therefore exempted by birchas haTorah.  (2 cents of mine: see the Sha'agas Arye siman 1.) 

(Achronim discuss whether/how one can be yotzei sippur yetzias Mitzrayim through shome'a k'oneh.  Does every person have to read every passage of the haggadah, or is listening to one reader enough?  My first thought was that if the geder hamitzvah of sippur is one of talmud torah, the question is exacerbated.  Surely there is no mitzvah in listening to someone else learn and having kavanah to be yotzei!  But on second thought, maybe the question of shomea k'oneh is even easier to resolve now.  There is a kiyum of talmud torah in just thinking about torah.  If one person reads and everyone else is attentively listening and thinking about what is being said, even without saying the words themselves, isn't that talmud torah?)   

Thursday, January 19, 2012

talking to the walls makes a difference

1. Bnei Yisrael was not receptive to Moshe's message that the redemption was immanent.  Moshe Rabeinu went back to Hashem and argued (6:12) that his mission was futile: If Bnei Yisrael won't listen, kal v'chomer then certainly Pharoah won't listen either. 

Everybody is troubled by this kal v'chomer.  Bnei Yisrael didn't listen because they had no time to think and listen; they were being beaten and persecuted day in and day out.  Why does the fact that they didn't get the message mean that Pharoah won't get it either?  (Previous post on the torah of the Noam Elimelech on this.)

The Sefas Emes answers that the road to Pharoah's ears was through Bnei Yisrael's hearts.  Pharaoh was not the real cause of Bnei Yisrael being freed or enslaved.  As we see later in the parsha, Pharoah eventually lost even his bechira -- he was not in control of his own destiny or that of Bnei Yisrael.  However, so long as Pharoah appeared to be in charge, so long as Bnei Yisrael believed that he controlled their destiny, there could not yet be a full geulah.  Geulah means recognizing ain od milvado -- there is nothing other than ratzon Hashem.  All the obstacles to freedom fall away once that one truth is accepted. 

Hence Moshe's argument -- if Bnei Yisrael are not yet ready to accept that message, all the rest is moot and nothing will help. 

2. Taking a step back, Hashem certainly knew that Bnei Yisrael wouldn't listen.  Why then did he send Moshe only to be rebuffed? 

Turning to the Sefas Emes again, he explains that this parsha was written to teach us that even when people don't listen -- even when the listener's mind is closed and words of Torah seem to bounce off a hardened shell of indifference -- those words still leave an impression.  There is no such thing as wasted chizuk and hisorerus.  

(A nice Sefas Emes to keep on your pulpit shtender to peek at when the you feel only the walls are listening : )  

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

kedushas hayom of shabbos: definition vs. outcome

R' Elchanan points out that there seems to be different views in Tos. with respect to the relationship between tosefes shabbos and the actual kedushas hayom.  Tosfos (Kesubos 47) writes that the halacha of "ain me'arvin simcha b'simcha" does not apply during tosefes shabbos or yom tov and one can hold a wedding then.  This seems to indicate that the kedushas hayom of shabbos/yom tov is not yet in effect during the time of tosefes.  However, Tosfos elsewhere (Pesachim 99) quotes R"Y M'Korbil that if not for being barred by a special gezeiras ha'kasuv, one could theoretically fulfill the mitzvah of korban pesach, matzah, and maror during the time of tosefes.  This seems to indicate that the full kedushas hayom of the upcoming day is in effect during the time of tosefes. 

Rav Wahrman resolves this inconsistency by positing that there is a difference between halachos which define the kedushas hayom and halachos which are merely an outcome of there being a kedushas hayom.  He offers the following example: 

The gemara (Shabbos 69) says that it is possible to be chayav 39 different chata'os if one is aware that it is shabbos and violated each of the 39 different melachos b'shogeg.  How is such a case possible -- if one doesn't know any of the 39 melachos are prohibited, in what sense can one be aware that it is Shabbos?  The gemara answers (according to Reish Lakish) that one is aware that there is an issur of techumin. 

Tosfos asks why the gemara did not answer that the case is where the individual is aware of the mitzvos aseh of shabbos.  The Achronim go further: Why did the gemara not simply answer that the case is where the person made kiddush or knew there was a mitzvah of kiddush? 

The answer, writes Rav Wahrman, is that melachos or techumin, are part of the definition of the kedushas hayom of shabbos.  The mitzvah of kiddush is a result, an outcome of there being a kedushas hayom -- i.e. since it is shabbos, one must say kiddush, but the saying of kiddush does not define the day as shabbos. 

"Ain m'arvin simcha b'simcha" is a result, an extension, of their being a kedushas hayom of shabbos or yom tov.  The mitzvah of korban pesach, of matzah, or maror, are part of what define the kedushas hayom of pesach.  (Seems to me that this is a very subtle distinction!) 

(Rav Wahrman mentions that R' Hershel Shachter has a different approach to explaining why the gemara in Shabbos defines awareness of shabbos only by reference to the melachos but not the mitzvos aseh of shabbos.  RHS suggests that the concept of kedusha is created specifically through added issurim.  Kedushas kehunah (kedusha of people) is reflected in the fact that a kohen cannot marry a gerusha and other issurim.  Mitzvos that are teluyos in kedushas ha'aretz (kedusha of place) like terumah create issurim -- tevel.  Kedushas shabbos (kedusha of time) is reflected specifically in the awareness that shabbos carries with it varios prohibitions.   
This may explain why according to one view in Tosfos (Baba Basra 81) the mitzvah of bikurum is not a mitzvah ha'teluya ba'aretz -- since there is no issur of tevel created if bikurim are not separated, the mitzvah cannot be considered connected with kedushas ha'aretz.) 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the source of Pharoah's zechuyos

1. You have to be the Sefas Emes could ask the following question: What was the zechus that Pharoah had that allowed him to merit having a daughter like Batya and gave him the privilege of raising young Moshe Rabeinu in his house?   He answers that this merit stemmed from the bracha that Ya'akov Avinu gave Pharoah when he met him.  (We see the bracha of a tzadik can effect even the life of a rasha in ways that the rasha may not appreciate or even be aware of.)

2. The Sefas Emes and many others are bothered by Moshe's challenge to Hashem, "V'hein lo ya'aminu li," that Bnei Yisrael will not believe in him.  Time after time after each cheit in the Torah Moshe Rabeinu comes to the defense of Klal Yisrael -- why here is he so reluctant to give them the benefit of his trust, even after Hashem promises him that they will listen?  

My wife suggested that once Moshe accepted his role of manhig, he never gave up on "his" Klal Yisrael.  We were like Moshe's baby -- our problems were his problems.  However, at this point, before Moshe accepted his mission, there was not yet that relationship.  When Moshe jumped into the job, he gave it 100% forever after, but that jump had to first occur to create that bond.

Moshe's questions

The Shem m'Shmuel points out the incongruity of two of Moshe Rabeinu's questions that we learn about in parshas Shmos.  When Moshe confronts one Jew  striking his fellow and tries to intervene, he is rebuffed and challenged, "Who put you in charge?" (2:14)  Moshe responds, "Achain noda ha'davar," now I know.  What did Moshe now know?  Rashi cites  Midrash that Moshe had been wondering why the  Jewish people deserved to suffer more than any other nation.  After being verbally assaulted, after being informed on to Pharoah, after being the victim of lashon ha'ra, he now knew.  Contrast that with the question Moshe asks later in the parsha, when he is charged by Hashem to serve as the go'el.  There, he asks Hashem (Rashi 3:11) what merit Bnei Yisrael have that would warrant their being redeemed.  Moshe seems to bounce from one extreme to the other.  At first, he questions why any people deserve to suffer the fate of Bnei Yisrael.  Later, he questions why Bnei Yisrael deserve to escape their fate.  You can't have it both ways! 

Before getting to an answer, I want to make some observations about the question.  Firstly, I think modern readers might be troubled by Moshe's second question even without the background of the first.  What do you mean, "In what merit do they deserve redemption?"  Didn't Moshe ever hear of Thomas Jefferson, of inalienable rights?  It would seem that the ba'alei Medrash may not have shared our political theories.  Secondly,  I wonder what troubled Moshe when he asked that first question.  Was it simply the degree of suffering, i.e. there was some quantitative threshold which he perceived had been broken through, or was there [and is there] some qualitative difference to Jewish  suffering that places it on a different plane?  [I would suggest that it is the unconscious assumption of the latter position that causes such grief when the term 'holocaust'  is used to describe tragedies other than that of our own.]  Finally, cynic that I am, I wonder if Moshe's change in perspective is the result simply of maturity.  Moshe the young man, perhaps still in the hold of idealistic notions of life, struggled to reconcile suffering and tragedy with his world view.  Moshe the more worldly and wise has grown to accept suffering as the norm of life and it is freedom and happiness which he takes to be the exceptions that warrant explanation.  

Rather than give the Shem m'Shmuel's answer (which you can look up), I want to suggest an approach based on a Maharal we discussed once before (and which the Shem m'Shmuel coincidentally cites in quite a few places).    The gemara (Kesubos 66) tells us that Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai came across the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion picking through animal dung looking for food after the churban. Recalling the tremendous dowry that was pledged in her kesubah and now seeing her so degraded, R' Yochanan exclaimed, “Ashrecha Yisrael! – When the Jewish people do G-d’s will, there is no one who can surpass them, but when they fall, they fall to the lowest depths of animal dung.” It’s understandable why R’ Yochanan ben Zakai would say, “Ashrecha Yisrael!” on the ability of Klal Yisrael to rise to the greatest heights, but the, “Ashrecha Yisrael!” seems to refer also their being in the lowest depths as well. How does that make sense?

Maharal explains that the fact that when we fall, we fall good and hard to the lowest depths, proves that our fall is not just some turn of history, just another accident of fate – the overwhelming force of our destruction can only be attributed to hashgacha. Therefore, we can be confident that the same guiding force that drags us down when reversed can carry us to the greatest heights.  The neshoma of Klal Yisrael knows no passive middle ground -- it either unleashes a powerful thrust of positive energy, or leaves a gaping chasm that inevitably becomes filled with negative poison.

"Achain noda ha'davar" meant Moshe came to understand this idea of  Jewish exceptionalism.  If the reason why Bnei Yisrael suffers is because yad Hashem, hashgacha pratis, determines their fate, and therefore their downfall is so steep, then their freedom also must come not from some theory of inalienable rights, but rather must stem from that same well of hashgacha.  

This is why Moshe asks Hashem, "In what merit have Bnei Yisrael earned a miracle being done for them to redeem them?"  Who said anything about miracles?  Hashem had just told Moshe that he would take Bnei Yisrael out of Mitzrayim -- he never said how, nor did me mention anything about the supernatural. Yet, Moshe understood that a redemption that comes b'hashgacha pratis is one which by definition deviates from the natural order.  

One final point: The Sefas Emes also asks this same question aand gives his own short but striking answer.  It was because Moshe came to understand that it is the cheit of lashon ha'ra in particular that was the root cause of Bnei Yisrael's suffering that he questioned whether they had any zechuyos that would warrant their being redeemed.  So great is the evil of lashon ha'ra that Moshe thought it inconceivable that anything could overcome it. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

everyone makes mistakes -- even nevi'im

The Torah tells is that when stopped at an inn en route back to Mitzrayim with his wife and children, Moshe Rabeinu was attacked by some kind of angel.  Tziporah came to the rescue by doing milah on newborn Eliezer.

The Ibn Ezra (4:20) writes that we learn a fundamental idea from this episode: A navi can be wrong!  Moshe Rabeinu was the greatest of nevi'im, yet he obviously miscalculated in undertaking this journey with wife and children at that time.

(What exactly Moshe Rabeinu's mistake was is not clear from the text.  See Rashi that Moshe should have done the mila on his son before leaving, but Ibn Ezra suggests that the problem was bringing his wife and children along.  Their presence gave the impression that the geulah would not be immediate, but would take time to unfold, and Moshe did not want to be separated from his family for such a long period.  Moshe had no right to dishearten the people in this way.  Meshech Chochma along similar lines suggests that the Moshe brought his family as a way to prove to the people the geulah would happen -- he would not bring his family just to add to the slave population.  The very fact that he thought such proof necessary demonstrated Moshe's doubt that the people would as a matter of course believe him, even after being told by G-d that they are ma'aminim.  This lack of trust was an error.)

We find a similar idea in Sefer Shmuel (II:7).  When David haMelech consulted Noson haNavi about whether to build a Beis haMikdash, Noson told him to go for it.  (And let me remind you of the Minchas Chinuch (posted once before) that according to some Rishonim there is a mitzvah to listen to a navi even when he gives advice that was not received b'nevuah.)  Yet, that very night Hashem appeared to Noson and told him to go back to David and tell him to stop, as he did not have Hashem's permission to build the Mikdash.  Noson made a mistake in his original advice.

I don't think the Ibn Ezra means to throw out the mitzvah of listening to a navi, nor do I think he means to take a position in the Minchas Chinuch's safeik of whether there is a mitzvah to listen to the advice of a navi.  What he means is that EVEN THOUGH there is no greater source of insight than a navi, EVEN THOUGH one is commanded to obey the navi, that does not mean that navi is guaranteed to come up with the right answer.

One more EVEN THOUGH, which I think is the more important lesson for us -- The argument that since talmidei chachamim have erred at times in their judgment, therefore QED their judgment is not superior to that of a layperson and can be ignored, does not follow.  Just as a navi is the best person to consult on issues that relate to the future of Klal Yisrael, EVEN THOUGH he might err, a gadol b'yisrael is the best person to consult on those same issues EVEN THOUGH he might err as well.  

These mistakes -- that of Moshe and that of Nosson -- were no small errors.  Moshe Rabeinu's error put the plan of geulas Mitzrayim in jeopardy.  Noson's error was with respect to Beis haMikdash, the kodesh kodashim, the central point of avodah.   Hashem came to Noson and revealed his error; the geulah from Mitzrayim was directly guided by Hashem's hashgacha and would have worked out somehow anyway -- we don't have that benefit, so how can we trust our leaders?  How can we place our faith in their judgment when they have been wrong about issues of great magnitude in the past?  I think this question makes a wrong assumption.  Just because Hashem is not speaking from burning bushes or coming to people in dreams does not mean he is not working behind the scenes, ironing our whatever errors are made.  Jewish history and fate do not hang in the balance of our leaders' decisions alone, whether for good or bad.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

is this really what "Torah hashkafa" is all about?

In my home we hardly have any English language Torah literature.  If it's important enough to learn, it's important enough to learn in the original Hebrew.  If it's a biography or some other work, esp. magazines and newspapers, then sadly I have to say that I no longer have any trust in the accuracy of such works, and the ta'aroves of emes and sheker without birur is like an issur kilayim.  I was reminded of why I avoid these books when saw one lying on a table in shul this morning and foolishly skimmed through it.  The book in question is a transcription of questions addressed to an "adam gadol" (at least someone who is in the eyes of those who put out the book and/or read it) and his responses.  A few pages in there was this gem of a question (and I can't remember it word for word, but I think I'm close) -- "If we don't provide an education for the colored people, when will it all stop?"  I'm not sure what the questioner wanted stopped (no explanation is offered), but I haven't heard or seen the term "colored people" since I stopped watching Archie Bunker many, many moons ago.  The answer in a nutshell was that "it" (whatever "it" is) won't stop because there are very few "Negoes" like Booker T. Washington who are willing to use an education to make a positive contribution to society.  Now, I'm not even going to pass judgment or question whether this point of view was perhaps proper in a certain time and place.  What I am going to wonder is why the editor would choose to include this in a book issued in 2011.  Is this the sort of attitude, is this the idea of respect for the dignity and rights of all people, that is part of our hashkafa and that we want to pass on to our children and talmidim?  (This is your MLK day inyana d'yoma post).  This was just the beginning, as the topper came a scant less than five pages later.  Question: Should we should be happy that the Reform movement favors abortion because that means there will be less Reform Jews in the world?  I did a double-take.  This is the type question a person addresses to a talmid chacham?!  The bigger pliya I have is that this is the type question a talmid chacham entertains and answers!?  And it gets recorded and put in a book for people to read in a section entitled "Torah Hashkafa," like these are the type Torah hashkafos we bnei Torah need hadracha and chinuch in!  L'havdil, in the Telzer "Shiurei Da'as" there is a discussion of the idea of "she'eilas chacham chatzi teshuvah."  How a person formulates a question, how he defines the safeik, often solves half the problem.  The type questions put in this book are not a she'eilas chacham.  If "bnei Torah" are really so dumb (and it's a coarse and blunt way to put it, but I'm at loss for words) that they need to ask these things to talmidei chachamim, if our generation is so dumb that these discussions pass for "Torah hashkafa," then woe to us.  True, this is an English language book -- one might say it's not meant for someone who can appreciate, for example, a shtickel in the Shiurei Da'as.  But kal v'chomer hu: The less educated and familiar the reader is with true Torah thought, the more harmful exposure to such nonsense is.  If I thought this is truly what discussions of Torah hashkafa are all about, I would be even more appalled than I am.  

One other point: Of course, these type works are just fodder for those in other camps who look for any opportunity to undermine, belittle, and destroy any notion of da'as Torah and kvod talmidei chachamim.  Indeed, if it required consultation with da'as Torah to figure out whether we should be happy that Reform Jews have abortions, they certainly have a point.  My reaction to this book is so strong precisely because I believe that real da'as Torah is not about issues like this.  The only reason that point gets lost in the shuffle is because real talmidei chachamim have better things to do than write English language popular press books or report their thinking on blogs.  The other side gets to win the PR war, but that's why this is called "alma d'shikra," isn't it?  

Thursday, January 12, 2012

the need for empathy

There is a vort in the Oznayim laTorah that gives me an excuse to go off on a little soapbox tangent.    Moshe Rabeinu as a baby was tossed into the river like any other baby, the only difference being that he was rescued.  Couldn't Hashem have found some way to spare baby Moshe so that he would not even come close to suffering the same potential fate as all the other children?  R' Zalman Sorotzkin answers the question with an anecdote from his family.  He writes that his brother, who was leaning in Volozhin and was a tremendous talmid chacham, was conscripted into the Russian army.  His mother had no doubt that his brother would be released, as "Kol ha'mekabel alav ol Torah..." is not burdened with the ol malchus, and so it was.  But he was bothered by the question: Why did this happen?  Why was there in shamayim a seeming hava amina of his conscription only to come to a different maskana?  His mother explained that this too was part of Hashem's bigger plan.  Since his brother would one day be a gadol, a rav u'manhig b'yisrael, he needed to taste the pain of his brothers, he needed experience in some measure what they experienced, so that he would later be able to empathize with their plight and understand their hardship.    

I want to ask a "dangerous" question: Do talmidei chachamim sitting in kollel today empathize with me; can they understand and relate to my life experience?  I don't know the answer to that, which I find scary.  I certainly don't feel it is an unqualified, confident "yes."  I think there is a vast difference between sitting in an ivory tower and writing a sefer on some narrow area of halacha (which we seem to see more and more of these days, with ever increasingly sophisticated chumros based in new lomdus and pilpul) and being a rav, a manhig, a real gadol.  Rav Shach, for example, could appreciate the burden of any and every Jew because he struggled to learn Torah when he had no winter coat and not much food in harder winters than we ever have.  I don't know if suffering is a prerequisite for the job of manhig, but appreciating the often harsh reality of life is.  Perhaps it is just the nature of things the individuals who can do that are indeed rare.

differences between hotza'ah and ma'avir

Continuing the series I started on Rav Wahrman's Oros Shabbos, this week I want to share something a little more technical from later in the sefer (siman 31).  Aside from novel sevaras, Rav Wahrman also does an impressive job of collecting bekiyus.  Watch what he does in putting together a Kapos Temarim with a teshuvah of the MahR"Y Asad:

We know that the source for melachos of Shabbos is the Mishkan (either building, or the work done therein -- different views in Rishonim).  With respect to moving objects on Shabbos, there are two potential melacha elements: hotza'ah, carrying from one domain to another, and ma'avir, carrying an object 4 amos in a public domain.  The gemara (Shabbos 96b) explains exactly where the melacha of hotza'ah occurred in the Mishkan.  However, the gemara   findd no source in the Mishkan for ma'avir and concludes it is a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai. 

The fact that these two elements have two different sources leads to a number of interesting differences between them:

1. The Kapos Temarim (Sukkah 43) writes that the ptur of melacha she'aina tzericha l'gufa (i.e. there is usually no issur d'oraysa if a melacha is done for some other purpose other than it was used for in the Mishkan) does not apply to the issur of ma'avir.  The ptur of melacha she'aina tzericha l'gufa is derived from the fact that the Torah says only meleches machsheves, melachos done with intention, as they were done in the Mishkan, are chayav on Shabbos.  Since the issur of ma'avir is not patterened after the Mishkan, but is rather a separate halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai, it does not need to conform to any Mishkan-use purpose to be chayav.  (This is a tremendous chiddush, which R' Wahrman notes can be disputed from other sources in Rishonim.) 

2. The definition of reshus ha'rabim, a public domain, for the purposes of hotz'ah is also based on the melacha's source.  The Mishkan, where the paradigmatic melacha of hotz'ah took place, was the central point of Bnei Yisrael's camp of 600,000 people; therefore, a reshus ha'rabim is defined as an area where there are 600,000 people (there are lots of technical details to this point that are relevant for hil eiruvin, but lets keep it simple for now).  What about ma'avir?  When we speak about the issur of carrying an object 4 amos in a public domain, what do we mean by "public domain"?  MahR"Y Asad writes that since ma'avir is a halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai and not derived from the Mishkan, the standard of 600,000 goes out the window and does not apply. 

Using this foundation, we can now solve a difficulty raised by Tosfos.   Chazal made a gezeirah not to perform the mitzvos of lulav, shofar, and megillah on Shabbos lest a person who does not know how to do the mitzvah carry the lulav, the shofar, or the megillah to an expert to teach him what to do.  "Amar Rabbah: Gezeirah shema ya'avirenu 4 amos b'reshus ha'rabim" -- Rabbah taught that the gezeirah is in place lest a person carry 4 amos in a public domain. 

Why, asks Tosfos, does Rabbah focus only on the potential issur of carrying 4 amos in a public domain?  Wouldn't the person who carries in the street also violate the issur of hotza'ah, of taking an object from the public domain of the street into the private domain of the expert who is going to teach him how to do the mitzvah?  Why does Rabbah not use this as the basis for the gezeirah? 

Putting together what we learned from the Kapos Temarim and the MahaR"Y Asad, we can resolve Tos.' question.  The issur of hotza'ah is learned from the Mishkan and applies only where the public domain encompasses 600,000 people; the issur of ma'avir is a seperate halacha l'Moshe m'Sinai with its own parameters that applies to any public space.  Chazal may not have been motivated to create a gezeirah for the relatively rare cases of domains populated by 600,000 people.  They were, however, still concerned about carrying in public areas using the broader definition of the term. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

living up to expectations

The Chiddushei HaLev (R' Henoch Leibowitz zt"l) uses an idea we once discussed in a different context (here from the Shem m'Shmuel and here from R' Simcha Zissel) to shed light on a Chazal that we have also discussed a few times (e.g. here), so I thought I would put 2 and 2 together here.  Why did Ya'akov make Yosef swear to bury him in Eretz Yisrael?  Didn't he trust Yosef?  Ramban answers that Ya'akov did not distrust Yosef, but he was aware that Pharoah might not let Yosef carry out his wishes unless he backed them up with the force of an oath.  Ramban then adds an additional consideration: Ya'akov knew that the force of an oath would serve as an added motivation for Yosef himself. 

Of course Yosef would not try any less to fulfill his father's wishes without that oath.  Were Yosef to fail, he would be blameless.  However, human psychology being what it is, the fact is that a person works harder when his back is against the wall.  A person who says he is giving 100% means he is giving 100% in context, ba'asher hu sham, according to the scale he uses the evaluate his ability at that moment.  Put the same person in a dire situation, a do or die, and somehow they discover an extra 10% or 20% to give.  When failure is not an option, a person discovers untapped kochos and a person can succeed even where he otherwise would have every justifiable reason not to even make further effort.   

The Midrash tells us that had Reuvain known that the Torah would write that he saved Yosef, he would have run home with Yosef on his shoulders.  Had Aharon known that the Torah would write that he went out with no jealousy to greet his brother Moshe (our parsha), he would have made a whole parade.  Of course Chazal don't mean that the added attention and publicity would have served as a motivator for these giants.  What Chazal mean, says R' Henoch, is that had Reuvain known that the Torah itself would testify that he had the koach to save Yosef, that Aharon known that the Torah itself would testify about his ability to overcome natural jealousy, then these giants would have pushed themselves even harder and found the added strength needed to do even what they themselves otherwise had no idea they were capable of.  

Monday, January 09, 2012

ro'eh -- shepherd or friend?

I want to share two linguistic observations on the parsha that shed light on two well known pesukim in Tehillim: 

1) Most translations render Ya'akov's description of Hashem as, "Elokim ha'ro'eh osi," (48:15) as "G-d who has shepherded me," or something along those lines.   The Targum uses the word for "fed," which fits nicely with the words of Yosef's bracha later in the parsha, "M'sham ro'eh even yisrael," as Yosef fed his father and brothers during the years of famine (there too, the translation "shepherded" is used, even though it does not really fit.)  Ramban, however, suggests that the word "ro'eh" is like the word "re'ah," as in "V'ahavta l're'acha kamocha."  The parsha is not metaphorically describing Hashem as Ya'akov's shepherd, but is poetically describing Hashem as Ya'akov's companion on his journey.   

I thought this was such a brilliant insight that I am wondering why no one translates "Hashem ro'i lo echsar," as, "The L-rd is my companion," instead of, "The L-rd is my shepherd."  (Tehillim 23)  Granted that the imagery of the next pasuk that refers to pleasant pastures and water may describe the needs of sheep, but it may also simply be a poetic description of the idyllic needs of man.  Does, "gam ki eilech b'gei tzalmaves," have anything to do with sheep?  And I'll even grant you that the Midrash on that mizmor discusses the comparison of Bnei Yisrael to Hashem's flock, but Midrashic interpretation does not preclude another reading al pi peshuto shel mikra.  Unfortunately, I haven't found a peirush that agrees with me, which means I'm probably too far out on a limb here, but if someone does find one it will brighten my day a little.   

2) Turning to that bracha given to Yosef, "M'sham ro'eh even yisrael," many translate, "m'sham," as "from there."  But where is "there?"  The word seems to lack any antecedent.  Ibn Ezra realized the problem and explains it as, "M'az," as "from then" -- it refers to a point in time rather than a point in space.  Still, there is the ambiguity -- when exactly did "then" start?   

The Ksav v'Kabbalah directs us to another famous pasuk in Tehillim: "Al naharos Bavel sham yashavnu gam bachinu..."  We are told exactly where this incident takes place -- "Al naharos Bavel." Why repeat "sham," that we sat there?  Why not just say, "Al naharos Bavel yashavnu u'bachinu?"  I told this to my wife and she suggested that the pasuk needs the "sham" and "gam" for the poetic meter.  I hear (pun intended) the point; however, the Ksav v'Kabbah has a different idea.  He suggests that the word "sham" is the root or a shortened form of "shemama," destruction.  There are no extra words in the pasuk -- it reads as follows: "Al naharos Bavel" -- on the banks of the rivers of Bavel, "sham yashavnu," in a state of destruction we sat, "v'gam bachinu," and there we also cried.   

Now we can also understand the meaning of the pasuk at the end of VaYeishev when Yosef is thrown in prison and we read, "Vayehi sham b'beis ha'sohar."  If Yosef was thrown in prison, obviously he was, "sham," there, in the prison!  Many meforshim struggle to make heads or tails of the pasuk, but based on the Ksav v'Kabbalah, the meaning is plain -- Yosef was "sham," in a state of internal decay, "b'beis ha'sohar," when he found himself in prison. 

The tide for Yosef eventually turned, as we read in our parsha, "M'sham ro'eh even yisrael." From the depths of destruction, from that prison cell, Yosef rose to feed his brothers and father when times were most bleak. 

Thursday, January 05, 2012

smichas geulah l'tefilah and why we say baruch shem kvod malchuso quietly

Last week we started what I hope will be a series based on R' Wahrman's Oros Shabbos.  I want to continue this week with a piece (siman 5 in the sefer) that relates to parshas hashavu'a as well as hilchos shabbos.   

The halacha is that one may not interrupt between the bracha of ga'al yisrael and shmoneh esrei in shacharis -- one is required to have smichas geulah l'tefilah.  The same holds true for ma'ariv, except that there is the additional bracha of hashkiveinu (and baruch Hashem l'olam) after ga'al yisrael.  The gemara explains that this is a "geula arichta", a long geulah, meaning the bracha of hashkiveinu continues the theme of geulah and is therefore not considered an interruption.  What about on Shabbos and Yom Tov, where we add V'shamru Bnei Yisrael es haShabbos and VaYidaber Moshe es Moadei Hashem... between hashkiveinu and our amidah -- why are these insertions not considered interruptions?  How on these days do we satisfy the requirement of smichas geulah l'tefilah?  

The Rishonim offer various answers to this question.  The Tur writes that V'Shamru... is also a form of geulah, as Hashem has promised to redeem Bnei Yisrael if only we observe two Shabbosos.  The Prisha sees these pesukim not as connected to geulah, but as part and parcel of our teflah, as they describe the kedushas hayom of Shabbos / Yom Tov.  Rav Wahrman focusses his attention on the interesting answer of the Rokeach, who writes that these pesukim are not considered an interruption because they are recited quietly.  Putting aside the fact that our minhag is not like the Rokeach, how can we explain this view?  What difference does it make whether the pesukim are recited aloud or in a whisper? 

There is a well known machlokes between Rashi and Tosfos (Brachos 21) regarding what to do if one is in the middle of shmoneh esrei and the tzibur is saying kedusha.  Rashi writes that one should remain silent and simply attend to the recitation of the tzibur -- based on the principle of shome'a k'oneh, hearing can substitute for actually saying the words.  Tosfos disagrees.  If hearing is equivalent to saying the words, argues Tosfos, then listening to the words of kedusha would be no less a hefsek, an interruption, than actually reciting the words themselves.  According to Rashi, obviously this is not the case -- there is a distinction between a recitation done aloud and recitation done quietly or by listening.     

To explain this idea found in Rashi and the Rokeach, as he does in many places, R' Wahrman cites a novel explanation from his rebbe, R' Leizer Silver.  The gemara Pesachim (56) explains the reason we say the words, "Baruch shem kvod malchuso..." after Shema in a whisper as follows: Ya'akov Avinu became worried when he wanted to reveal the day of geulah to his children and his ruach hakodesh departed.  The Shevatim consoled Ya'akov by declaring, "Shema Yisrael (meaning their father), Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad," and Ya'akov responded to their declaration of faith by saying, "Baruch shem kvod malchuso..."  However, says the gemara, when Moshe Rabeinu wrote and said the parsha of Shema, he did not add "Baruch shem..."  Ya'akov said it; Moshe didn't say it; we compromise and recite it in a whisper. 

The Tzlach asks what the whole tumult in the gemara is about.  There are many praises and expressions that we have in our davening that were not said by Moshe.  Just because Moshe didn't say, "Baruch shem...," doesn't seem to be enough of a reason to leave it out. 

Tzlach answers that the difference here is context.  To insert in davening additional praises not recited by Moshe, like chapters of tehillim, of course needs no justification.  But here, in the case of "Baruch shem...," the additional phrase is being stuck right in the very middle of Moshe's words.  What gives us the right to create a hefsek, an interruption, right in the middle of the parsha of Shema as told to us in the Torah by Moshe Rabeinu?   

The gemara's answer is that there is no problem of creating an interruption because we say, "Baruch shem..." quietly.  In other words, a quiet recitation, a recitation that is different in tone than the normal tefilah voice, does not consititue a hefsek. 

The is exactly the point Rashi and the Rokeach were making.  Through shome'a k'oneh listening counts the same as a recitation of kedusha, but since that recitation takes place silently, it does not count as an interruption.  Since "V'shamreu Bnei Yisrael es haShabbos" is recited quietly, it also therefore does not count as an interruption that would break smichas geulah l'tefilah. 

R' Wahrman notes that his rebbe said this derech derush and he goes on to provide a more detailed halachic analysis, but it's nonetheless a clever and enjoyable vort.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

remembering what's important

There are two Midrashim in VaYigash that I think everyone knows, but I don't think most people know that they go together hand in hand.  Everyone knows that Ya'akov sent Yehudah to set up a yeshiva in Goshen before he got there.  Everyone also knows that Yosef sent agalos, wagons, to Ya'akov to hint to him that he remembered that the last thing they learned together was the parsha of eglah arufah (eglah and agalah sound the same).    What I don't think people know is that this second Chazal is brought as a proof to the first.  After telling us that Ya'akov sent Yehudah to set up a yeshiva, the Midrash continues, "Teida lecha she'hu kein....," Know that this is so...," and the Midrash then tells us that Ya'akov was not convinced that  that Yosef was alive until he saw the agalos that were the reminder of eglah arufah.     

What does one thing have the do with the other?  How does the fact that Ya'akov knew it was Yosef because he remembered the last sugya they were last learning prove that Yehudah was sent to setup a yeshiva?   

R' Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz (and I later found it in Ohr Yahel as well) explains that a person whose first question about his son is, "Does he know what sugya were we last holding in?" is a person whose whole world revolves around nothing but Torah.  We remember things by what stands out as important to us.  For Ya'akov Avinu, what stood out about Yosef, the one thing he had in his mind about his son and what he was sure his son would have in mind about him, is the sugya they were last holding in together.  For such a person, it's not important whether his house in Goshen would have a one or two car garage -- he didn't need to send a remodeling team down ahead of time to make sure the kitchen counter had the right shade of granite and the basement was finished.  What such a person obviously needs (hence the proof of the Midrash) is to make sure his future home is a makom Torah.  

Monday, January 02, 2012

Torah is not just legal reality

The Midrash (90:5) writes that Yehudah argued to Yosef that the Torah says, "V'im ain lo v'nimkar b'gneivaso," only if someone has no money to pay his debts is he sold into slavery.  Since Binyamin can pay, he should be freed.   

Yosef was posing as the viceroy of Egypt; the issue at at hand was what Binyamin's penalty should be under Egyptian law.   Why did Yehudah think it would make any difference to Yosef/ the viceroy what the din Torah in this case should be?   

Chazal tell us that Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world -- everything in creation functions according to Torah.  I saw in the sefer Bein HaMishpisayim that this idea was so ingrained in the consciousness of the Shevatim that they could not imagine that Binyamin would receive a punishment that was at odds with what the Torah dictated.  Yehudah's was not making a legal argument to Yosef, but was simply stating a metziyus -- no other punishment is conceivable. 

Sunday, January 01, 2012

did Ya'akov have an easy life?

When Ya'akov appeared before Pharoah, Pharoah apparently was shocked at how old he looked and asked Ya'akov his age (47:7-10).  Ya'akov replied that the reason he looks so frail and old is because life had not been easy for him.  Chazal tell us that since Ya'akov complained about the difficulty of his life, he was punished and had 33 years taken off his life (he lived 33 years less than Yitzchak), one year for every word in the pasuk.  The Da'as Zekeinim m'Ba'alei Tosfos quotes the Midrash: Hashem said in response to Ya'akov's complaints, "Didn't I save you from Eisav?  From Lavan?  Didn't I deal with Dinah's attackers?  And didn't I return Yosef to you?  And you complain?!"

I don't understand what Chazal mean.  True, Hashem saved Ya'akov from Eisav, from Lavan, he re-united him with Yosef, etc., but the happy ending doesn't mean there wasn't agmas nefesh, pain and suffering along the way.  Being saved by Eisav at the end of the day doesn't erase the years spent in hiding from Eisav or the tension of dealing with the threat he posed.  The fact the Ya'akov left Lavan's home whole does not mean he had any pleasure in the years he spent under Lavan's roof.  The revelation of Yosef does not wipe away the 22 years Ya'akov suffered with the thought that Yosef was dead.  

Chazal don't say Ya'akov is being punished for airing his complaints in public.  Were that the case, I would have no question -- it would mean aliba d'emes life was lousy, but you don't need to tell others about it.  But that's not what the Midrash says -- Hashem's response is that Ya'akov's life was good and he had no reason to complain at all.  I'm stumped -- any ideas?

(Thanks to Great UnKnown for pointing out that this is discussed in the Sichos Musar of R' Chaim Shmuelevitz and I just found it discussed in Rav Gifter's sefer as well here.)

take no prisoners

When Egypt runs out of cash during the famine years described in Parshas VaYigash, the populace comes to Yosef and asks him to buy them as slaves and buy their land in exchange for food (47:19).  The Torah tells us:
 וַיִּקֶן יוֹסֵף אֶת-כָּל-אַדְמַת מִצְרַיִם, לְפַרְעֹה,
Yosef bought up all the land for Pharoah...
Ramban notes the omission: Yosef buys the land, but he does not buy the people as slaves.  Even in the continuation of the parsha, we read:
וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל-הָעָם, הֵן קָנִיתִי אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם וְאֶת-אַדְמַתְכֶם לְפַרְעֹה
The pasuk distinguishes between the purchase of the people, which was done "hayom," on a temporary basis -- meaning they were the equivalent of hired workers -- and the purchase of the land, which is not qualified with that same adjective of "hayom," and apparently was a permanent sale (see Meshech Chochma).

The Ramban does not address himself to why Yosef did not take the people up on their offer to become slaves, but I think the reason is obvious in light of Yosef's background.  Yosef was sold by his brothers and was bounced from the Midyanim to the Egyptians and then finally even landed in prison before becoming appointed viceroy by Pharoah.  Having personally suffered the degradation of being sold as a slave, it would be an anathema to Yosef to buy and sell other human beings as slaves.