Thursday, May 31, 2012

no ego trip

Why does the Torah repeat the list of gifts brought by each Nasi to dedicate the Mishkan when the gifts were all identical?  The Torah could have just given the list once and written "ditto" eleven times?  Ramban gives two answers: 1) The Nesi'im agreed upon the same gifts and brought them all on the first day, but the korbanos had to be spaced out and offered one per day.  The Torah repeats the list of gifts and offerings brought each day so as to stress that those which were brought later were just as valuable and important as those offered earlier.  2) Although the gifts were the same, each was brought with a slightly different intention in mind; therefore the Torah repeats each gift seperately. 

It seems that Rashi disagrees with this last point, as Rashi only explains the intent behind the gift brought by Nesanel ben Tzu'ar on the second day.  He offers no similar explanation as to the intent of the other Nesi'im.   If the motivation and intent of each Nasi was different and that is why the Torah repeats the list so many times, Rashi should offer an explanation for each one (as the Midrash in fact does).  

Yesh lachkor whether the Nesi'im presented one gift in twelve parts or twelve separate gifts?  I would say Ramban holds the second view while Rashi holds the first.  The parsha concludes by giving the sum total of all that was presented, suggesting that all that was given should be viewed as one whole unit.  According to Ramban, one must read the summation as another way to underscore the theme of equality.

The Yalkut Shimoni writes that had the Nesi'im not offered identical korbanos -- had they instead tried to out-do each other -- the korban of day seven would not have been doche Shabbos.  Since the Nesi'im respected each other, Hashem said He will in turn show respect to their korbanos and accept them even on Shabbos.  The meforshim explain that even though each gift korban was brought by an individual Nasi, the korbanos had the din of a korban tzibur.   We see that the "shem" tzibur in a hashkafic sense depends less on how many people are involved than on many egos are involved.  

But why specifically is being doche Shabbos the response to the Nesi'im's selflessness?  The Shem m'Shmuel in many places explains that the word "vayechal" in the pasuk, "VaYechal Elokim bayom ha'shevi'i," can be interpreted as coming from the root "klal," as in Klal Yisrael. Shabbos is the unification of G-d with creation; it is also the unification of man with his fellow man to create one unit, one klal, one tzibur.  All the individual days of creation and their parts come together as a greater whole on Shabbos.  The surrender of ego for the sake of the group, the klal, as exemplified by the Nesi'im, is itself the greatest fulfillment of the ideal of Shabbos, hence their korbanos could be offered even on the seventh day.  

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

a one night stand

After an all night tikun and vasikin davening on the first day of Shavuos, the very next day of Yom Tov things in most places return to normal, which usually means davening at 9:00 with most people coming around 9:15 and missing sof zman krias shema (9:10 or so in NY this past weekend).  I know minhag yisrael is to stay up as a tikun, but let's be honest: How many people are concentrating on anything at 3:00 AM other than whether there are any new snacks out and how much longer until shacharis?  Wouldn't it make more sense if instead of pushing for one all-nighter one would spread that dedication to Torah out a bit?  Instead of trying to cram five or six hours of weak learning into one night, wouldn't it be more beneficial to devote just half-hour a week every week for the next month or two to getting up earlier on Shabbos to make the zman or maybe have a little seder before davening when one can fully concentrate?  

Maybe it's me, but I don't get it: A guy can push himself to stay up all night round the clock, but the next shabbos he can't push himself to get up at 8:00 to learn a bit or daven b'zman?  What's that one night worth if in the overall scheme of life it doesn't produce any net change?
The reason why the all-nighter is so popular is because it's an event -- it's the thing to do, the place to be, it's the social happening.  It's where everyone is, so there must be something to it.   You don't want to hear the next morning that just after you left they brought out the ice cream sundaes or sushi platters (these days a little cake and watermelon just doesn't cut it).  Who cares if you are barely awake and can't concentrate on the shiur when just showing up (and eating) is 80% of the goal?

Am I being too cynical?

(After writing this post I found the following (link) written by Rav Sorotzkin, which echoes the point I am trying to make.   He too wonders why the inspiration of Shavuos night is so short lived.  He uses the analogy of mattan Torah to kiddushin and binyan mikdash to nesu'in to suggest that unless the inspiration of Shavuos night is internalized (it is built into one's psychological mishkan) it quickly evaporates.) 

no argument

Rashi alludes to the Midrash that Moshe was hesitant to tell each  of the degalim where they should camp.  "If I tell tribe X to camp in the North," Moshe said to Hashem, "They will ask me why not in the South.  If I tell them to camp in the South, they will ask me why not in the North."  (Sounds like your typical shul.)  Hashem told Moshe that he has nothing to worry about because Bnei Yisrael already knew exactly how to arrange the camp, as they had been assigned positions by Ya'akov Avinu when they carried his coffin out of Mitzrayim.
Moshe Rabeinu must have known that the shevatim had been assigned positions by Ya'akov, and yet he still felt arguments would erupt.  Moshe felt that he needed to offer people some kind of explanation, some kind of justification, some reason why one sheivet should camp here and not there, or vice versa.  Yet Moshe was wrong. Hashem reassured him that the people will willingly accept their place based simply on the way things were done before, even if he couldn't provide a good reason for it.   The anticipation of having to offer rationalizations or explanations that may be difficult to come by is sometimes itself the only obstacle to getting things done.  Certain practices are built into our Jewish DNA from way back and need no justification beyond that strength of precedent.  

Why is it that Moshe anticipated arguments to whatever arrangement he proposed while Ya'akov's word on the matter was accepted (as Moshe knew) without question?  I think the answer is that our forefather is known as Ya'akov Avinu, but Moshe is Moshe Rabeinu.  As great a rebbe as Moshe was, he knew that Ya'akov as a father can ask of his children and get their agreement even where he stood no chance.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

mattan Torah in the present

I hardly have time to write anything, so this will be short. 

1.   וְכָל-הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת-הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת-הַלַּפִּידִם, וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר, וְאֶת-הָהָר, עָשֵׁן; וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ, וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק. Not only does the pasuk seem to contain a redundant mention of seeing the kolos of Har Sinai, "ro'im es hakolos," and then again, "va'yar," but it also switches tenses from the present, "ro'im," to the past, "va'yar." What's going on here?

R' Tzadok haKohen explains that mattan Torah did not just happen over 2000 years ago -- it happens again each and every year.  We have the special zechus in the present tense to be "ro'im es hakolos," to see the sounds of Har Sinai with our own eyes, because in the past, "vaya'r... vaya'amdu mei'rachok," our ancestors stood at Sinai and shrunk back in awe at the overwhelming experience.  

2. The gemara (Chagiga 13) darshens from the pasuk we say every morning in pesukei d'zimra, "lo asah kein l'chol goy u'mishpatim bal yida'um," that there is an issur of teaching Torah to an aku"m.  Tosfos asks why we need a new derasha for this din -- since the gemara elsewhere (Sanhedrin 59) already learns that there is an issur for an aku"m to learn Torah, it follows that teaching an aku"m Torah should be assur because of lifnei iveir, as it enables his crime? Tosfos answers with an ukimta -- we are dealing with a case where there is another way for the aku"m to learn (e.g. someone else wants to teach him), so by your teaching him, you have not enabled him to do what he otherwise couldn't.

The Turei Even gives what sounds like a sharper answer.  The source for the prohibition of an aku"m learning Torah is the pasuk, "Morasha kehilas Ya'akov," that refers to Torah as our inheritance.  For an aku"m to learn Torah is a theft of our yerusha, an issur of gezel.  It follows that if a Jew decides to voluntarily teach Torah to an aku"m, he has in effect given permission to the aku"m to take away his portion -- it's just like a family member giving his slice of inheritance to an outsider.  The aku"m has not violated the issur or gezel by taking what is voluntarily offered, and the Jew is not in violation of lifnei iveir.  Were it not for for the new derasha of "mishpatim bal yeda'um" there would be no issur in this case. Tos obviously did not accept the Turei Even's approach -- what's the nekudas hamachlokes between them? 

Perhaps the focus of their dispute revolves around how to understand the concept of "morasha."  There are two types of shared ownership: a partnership and a cooperation.  In a partnership, each partner is the exclusive owner of some percentage of the whole.  In a coorporation, each shareholder has partial ownership over the entire entity.  The Turei Even understood morasha as a partnership.  There is nothing stopping any Jew from "transferring" his portion to an aku"m by teaching him Torah.  Tosfos, however, understood morasha as being like a corporation.  The communal ownership of Torah by Klal Yisrael is greater than the sum of each individual part, and no one individual can surrender any portion to an outside party without the consent of all.  (See R' Yitzchok Sorotzkin's sefer on Shavuos for more on this).  

I was thinking perhaps another approach is possible.  The Turei Even treats morasha exactly like a dinei mamonos halacha, hence, what the aku"m takes, the Jew loses. It could be that Tosfos understood it not as a dinei mamonos halacha, but rather as part of the world of issur v'heter, and that's why there can't be kinyanim or transfer -- Torah is not a tangible object that can be bought/sold. When the gemara says the aku"m violates the issur gezel, all it means is that the gavra has a shem gazlan because what he did is *akin* to theft.

Monday, May 21, 2012

to infinity and beyond

Rav Dessler (Michtav m'Eliyahu vol II p.26) asks how a mattan Torah could be possible when Torah is infinite, aruka m'aretz midah, and the world by definition is finite.  The "tzimtzum" that was necessitated to create a physical world never applied to Torah, which preceded and transcends the creation.  How do you fit an infinite peg in a finite hole?

Rav Dessler answers that mattan Torah can only be understood as a nes, a miracle.  Hashem has no constraints on what he can do, and so if he wills an infinite Torah into a finite human mind, it will stick.  The goal of a person therefore must be to become a worthy vessel for Torah by deflating his ego and correcting his midos and hope that Hashem will award him Torah as a gift, as it is only through Hashem's grace that Torah can fully be absorbed.

I thought that perhaps one could answer the question a bit differently.  A person is composed of two parts -- chomer and tzurah, or, if you like other terms, nefesh and guf.  While part of the nefesh resides in the body and is bound by the constraints of a briya m'tzumtzemes, the rest of the nefesh remains connected "upstairs" to its source.  It therefore can transcend the physical world and its constraints.  An infinite Torah can be given to mankind because mankind, by virtue of having a neshoma, remains connected to the infinite as well.   

shemita and Har Sinai

If the only point of the juxtaposition of Har Sinai with the laws of shemita in Parshas Behar is to teach that the details of all mitzvos were given at Sinai, the lesson could have just as easily conveyed by mentioning Sinai in the context of any number of other mitzvos aside from shemita and yovel(Ramban).  There must be some more fundamental  connection between the two ideas. The gemara (Shabbos 88) tells us that Hashem lifted Har Sinai and held it over the heads of Klal Yisrael and threatened to drop it on them if they did not accept the Torah.  From here, says the gemara, "moda'ah rabbah l'oraysa," Bnei Yisrael had an excuse for not keeping Torah and mitzvos, as their initial kabbalah was done under duress.  Only later, at the time of Purim, was there a willing re-acceptance. But how can this be?  We just read in Parshas Bechukosai all the promises of reward for doing mitzvos and the punishment of galus for disobeying.  If mattan Torah was done under duress and therefore the kabbalas haTorah was not binding, how could there be punishment for disobeying?   Perhaps this was the question of "Al mah avdah ha'aretz?" that all the Nevi'im and Chachamim could not answer (Bava Metziya 85).  They could not fathom why Klal Yisrael was being sent into galus despite the claim of duress that would excuse them from punishment. The Ramban answers (see Parashas Derachim derush 22) that there is a difference between all other punishments and the punishment of galus.  Eretz Yisrael is a special gift.  You can use duress as an excuse to get out of punishment, but you can't expect to get an extra special gift while making excuses.  Our stay in Eretz Yisrael is predicated on our acceptance of Torah, no matter what.   I think this is what the opening to Parshas Behar is hinting at.  The excuse of "moda'ah rabbah" may work for other mitzvos, but when it comes to shemitah and yovel, mitzvos that depend on kedushas ha'aretz and yishuv ha'aretz, even if given "b'har Sinai," with the mountain suspended over our heads and under duress, there are no excuses.  

Thursday, May 17, 2012

schar v'onesh: Rishonim vs. the historians

Parshas Bechukosai promises the rewards of a plentiful harvest, peace, prosperity, etc. for those who observe Torah and mitzvos and all the bad tidings of the tochacha for those who do not. The Rishonim are all troubled by the question of why material benefit and material benefit alone is promised as a reward for mitzvos while the ultimate reward, namely, a portion in the world to come, is never mentioned at all. Ikar chaseir min hasefer!

The Kli Yakar (riding on the coat tails of the Abarbanel) summarizes seven different answers given by the Rishonim that you can look up if interested, but I wanted to take a step back and make one a small observation about the problem itself. The entire premis that there is some "question" here that needs to be resolved is one that a historian would dismiss without a second thought. The problem is only a problem if you assume that the concept of reward / punishment in Tanach is consistant with the concept of reward / punishment accepted by the Rishonim, presumably based on Chazal. Otherwise, the answer is simple: In the good ol' Biblical days, there was no idea of afterlife. Reward and punishment happened to you in this world. Later, the Rabbis, either motivated by what they realized were irresolvable philosophical / theological problems with the Biblical account or by external influences on their thinking, came up with this idea of reward / punishment in an afterlife. Biblical Judaism and Rabbinic Judaism are separated by a difference of hundreds of years (not to mention differences in location and surrounding culture) -- is it any wonder that there exists theological differences between the two?

Baruch shekivanti, it took less that 10 seconds to find the following except ( link) from a very prominent Conservative Rabbi, one with a PhD after his name to boot, so his scholarly credentials trump mine:

The biblical references are all to divine recompense and retribution in this world, in terms of material prosperity and suffering here on earth. But a remarkable shift of emphasis took place, it is generally held, at the time of the Maccabees, when righteous men and women were being slaughtered because of their loyalty to their faith.

In the face of such direct contradiction to the notion of reward and punishment in the here and now, faith could only be maintained by affirming that recom­pense and retribution were to be the fate of humans in the Hereafter, in the World to Come, as it is called by the Rabbis. In the Rab­binic literature, while this‑worldly formulations are not unknown it is in the World to Come that the doctrine is made to receive its chief application.
Why not embrace this approach? After all, what could be better than not only solving a kashe that plagued the Rishonim, but even more than that -- showing that the kashe never existed in the first place? As to why the Rishonim didn't give that answer if it's so good -- maybe the Rishonim simply did not have the same historical sense of things that we do; perhaps they were more tolerant of anachronisms and the like; perhaps they saw history as a blur rather than a set of discrete time periods, each with its own flavor and character.

I think this argument is mistaken. I think the Rishonim avoided saying halachos or hashkafos were historically conditioned not because they viewed history as one flat space into which everything melds as one, but rather because they viewed the totality of Torah as one flat space into which everything blurs and melds as one. I think the Rishonim held that the truths of Torah, at least and certainly with respect to ikkarei emunah, are akin to logical or mathematical axioms. 2+2=4 whether you live today or lived 2000 years ago or will live 200 years hence. If the concept of reward and punishment entails belief in an olam ha'ba, the necessity of that belief would have been true in the days of Tanach as much as in the days of the Tanaim and Amoraim.

This example is illustrative of a point I've written about here before, but is worth repeating because it au courant even in some Orthodox circles these days to take the opposing position. The tools of the historian are different than the tools of the halachist. Even where the questions they examine happen to overlap, the framework in which those questions are posed is radically different, the methodology of study is different, and the answers and the assumptions that underlie them are also often radically different.

A Brisker who might answer up a kashe of Tosfos with a gavra/chefzta split will undoubtedly defend his Brisker methodology as being rooted in the Rishonim themselves. It's just taking the use of structural categories, ideas the Rishonim use in many places, to the next level. The historian has no such similar precedent to call on. He cannot argue that his approach is an extension of an already existing methodology of Torah study that has been passed on as part of the mesorah. I think this is the reason the "yeshiva" world views with such suspicion the conclusions of the academic world in matters of hashkafa and halacha. It has less to do with the conclusions themselves than with the methodology, with the paradigm.

I'm not an either / or guy, so let me throw in a caveat. That is not to say we should avoid *all* critical or historical inquiry into Torah. We can be tocho achal and toss away the klipah. My point is that before doing so, one must first recognize the difference between the wheat and the chaff and know what to toss and what to keep. An answer to a halachic or hashkafic question that rings "true" to the historian may carry very little weight in the world of Torah, where other Truths reign supreme. It's those Truths alone that count.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

va'yinatzu ba'machaneh -- when things go public

There are multiple explanation in Chazal as to what the mekalal did wrong: According to one view he rejected the idea of lechem hapanim being left out for a week; according to another view is could not tolerate not receiving a spot in the camp just because on his father's side he was related to a Mitzri and not part of any sheivet. Whatever the case may be, the mekalel blasphemized G-d's name and was guilty. He was held in prison until Hashem clarified to Moshe that he deserved the death penalty, after which the Torah tells us that Bnei Yisrael stoned him. The Torah then adds an enigmatic concluding sentence to Parshas Emor: "U'Bnei Yisrael asu ka'asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe," that Bnei Yisrael did what Hashem commanded to Moshe (24:23). The pasuk already told us that the mekalel was judged and executed -- what does the Torah add with this concluding line?

A number of answers are given by the classical meforshim. Rashi explains that not only was the execution carried out, but all the associated halachos involved in the process were fulfilled as well. Ibn Ezra writes that this concluding statement refers back to the other halachos given in the parsha, e.g. the laws of damages. Not only was the mekalel killed, but these halachos too were accepted and fulfilled. Ramban reads the pasuk as addressing the morality of Bnei Yisrael's actions: The execution was carried out only to fulfill G-d's command, "ka'asher tzivah Hashem," without malice or desire for vengence.

Abarbanel has a unique reading of the parsha that sheds a bit of a different light on this pasuk. The mekalel was the son of a Jewish mother and an Egyptian father. This mixed lineage left Bnei Yisrael unsure of how to treat him -- should Torah law be applied equally to this half-member of Klal Yisrael? Was the mekalel fully Jewish and subject to the same halachos as everyone else? (Abarbanel does not get involved in the technical details of whether the child had geirus or not -- see Ramban who discusses.) The "hava amina" of Bnei Yisrael was that this case was different, and the "yichus" of the mekalel to his father the Mitzri was grounds for an exemption from the death penalty.

Moshe Rabeinu decided to investigate further and ascertain whether the whole story of this mixed lineage was correct. He put the question directly to the mekalel's mother: Who is the father of your child? It's a fascinating catch-22: If the mother defends herself and claims the father is Jewish, her son wouldn't have a leg to stand on in terms of avoiding the death penalty. If the mother says the father is not Jewish to get her son off, she blackens her own reputation by admitting to znus with a Mitzri. While Rashi interprets the mekalel's mother's name, Shlomit bas Divri, in a pejorative light -- she called "Shlomit" because she used to say "shalom" to everyone she met; she was called "Divri" from the root d-b-r because she had no constraints in who she spoke with -- Abarbanel interprets the same name in a positive light. She was called "Shlomit" because she wanted to be "mashlim" her son and protect him; she was called "Divri" because she was not afraid to speak out on his behalf, even at the cost of sullying her own reputation.

The Torah ends the parsha by telling us that Bnei Yisrael carried out the death penalty, "ka'asher tzivah Hashem..." Even though Bnei Yisrael held m'sevara that an individual of Mitzri descent should not be put to death, even though in their hearts they thought the law should be different, they nonetheless carried out the sentence as instructed.

In some sense, the behavior of Bnei Yisrael serves as foil to the mekalel himself. The mekalal could not understand the law of lechel hapanim or could not accept the judgment against him in terms of nachala, and therefore rejected Torah. Bnei Yisrael's thought the mekalel should not be subject to the death penalty, but carried out his sentence despite their reservations.
The Abarbanel's introduction of Bnei Yisrael conflicted attitude toward the mekalel sets the stage for the interpretation of the Radomsker. While Abarbanel frames the doubts of Bnei Yisrael as a legal issue -- should an individual with a Mitzri father suffer the same death penalty as a full Jew -- the Radomsker frames the issue as a psychological one. "Vayinatzu bamachaneh," writes the Radomsker, does not simply mean the mekalel's dispute took place in public view -- it means the public itself was torn by the issue. Where there once was complete commitment to Toras Moshe, there was now in the eye of the public two views -- the view of Moshe, and the view of the mekalel -- that stood in conflict. What once would not have even been given a passing thought was now deemed a view that one must at least contend with, even if ultimately rejected.

The idea of "u'bi'arta ha'ra m'kirbecha," is not simply about meting out punishment to wrongdoers. It's about fixing "kirbecha," what's inside of you. It's about uprooting the wrong ideas that take hold after exposure to the mekalel or whatever the outside influence is. "U'Bnei Yisrael asu ka'asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe" -- once the mekalel and his corrupting influence was removed, once the seeds of doubt and / or psychological confusion were removed, Bnei Yisrael returned to their original level of commitment.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

the hint to Rus in our parsha

I was preparing a totally different post on the parsha (which I didn't have time to finish writing yet), but this Ta'ama D'Kra from R' Ch. Kanievsky caught my eye and is too sharp to not mention.  Smack in the middle of the parsha of the moados, after talking about the korban ha'omer, the mitzvah of sefirah, and then the shtei halechem, the Torah throws in a mention of the mitzvah of pe'ah and leket (23:22) and then goes back to the topic of the Yamim Tovim.  What are these mitzvos of leket and pe'ah doing here? 

R' Chaim suggests that perhaps the Torah here is hinting at the story of Rus.  Rus met Boaz when she went out to the field to gather leket.  The Torah here specifically mentions, "le'ani v'lager ta'azov osam," the need to leave over grain for the poor and the convert.  Rus came to Eretz Yisrael at the time of the barley harvest; the parsha of leket and pe'ah comes right after the discussion of the korban ha'omer, a barley offering.  "Le'ani v'lager ta'azov" -- take the last letter of "ani" and the first of "ta'azov" and put them together with "v'lager" and it spells "giyores."  "Ta'azov" has the same letters as "Boaz" with an additional letter "taf," which can be combined with the reish and vav of "v'lager" to spell Rus.  And the final icing on the cake: The gematriya of "l'ani v'lager ta'azov osam" = "zu Neomi v'Rus kalasa." 

Even if you don't like remazim, this is pretty impressive.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

be all that you can be

The gemara (Kesubos 62) relates the famous story of R' Akiva:

R' Akiva was a shepherd who worked for Kalba Savu'a. Kalba Savu'a daughter Rachel saw that he was modest and refined and offered to marry him on the condition that he would go and learn in yeshiva. He agreed, and they became secretly engaged... R' Akiva went and learned for twelve years and returned home with a following of 12,000 students. As he approached, he heard someone criticizing his wife, saying that she was like a widow, as her husband was gone for so long. She answered back that if was up to her, her husband could stay away another twelve years. R' Akiva inferred that he had his wife's permission to continue learning, and so he immediately turned around and returned to yeshiva. After another twelve years he returned home again, this time with 24,000 students. R' Akiva's wife came out to greet her husband, now the great Tanna, and fell at his feet. The students tried to push her away, but R' Akiva told them to leave her, as all his Torah and theirs came through her merit alone.

Its' clear from the gemara that R' Akiva assumed he could spend at least twelve years learning, enough time to attract 12,000 students. But why? Where did he get this idea from? All his wife told him was that she was getting married on the condition that he learn in yeshiva. Imagine a kollel husband and his wife to be discussing their future plans before the wedding. Together, they decide that he should continue in yeshiva. Right after the wedding, he leaves home and is not heard from for the next twelve years. I imagine that any wife faced with such a situation would say this is certainly not what she bargained for!

R' Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi explains that R' Akiva and his wife understood that yeshiva is not just a place that you spend a few days/months/years accumulating knowledge. It's not about becoming an expert in some particular discipline, an expert in the "field" of Talmud or Jewish law. Yeshiva is about becoming what you are capable of becoming -- "Be all that you can be," to borrow the slogan from elsewhere. When R' Akiva's wife set as a condition of her marrying him that he go to yeshiva, implicit in her "tnai" was the fact that she wanted him to fulfill his potential -- that's what yeshiva is for.  Had he come come home after a year, after five years, after even ten years, even with as many hundreds or thousands of students that might have joined him by that point, R' Akiva would still not have accomplished all that he was meant to.  His potential would still have been unfulfilled.

When R' Akiva returned home and heard his wife agreeing that he could spend another twelve years in yeshiva, this was not a new "matir," not additional permission she was granting him on top of her original consent. This was part and parcel of their original marriage agreement. When you are capable to having 24,000 students, to have only 12,000, as great an achievement as that may be, is nonetheless to stop halfway. R' Akiva's wife did not want a half-way solution -- she wanted her husband to be R' Akiva, in the fullest sense of what he was capable of becoming.

(Interestingly, it was not his sharp mind that attracted R' Akiva's wife to him and led her to recognize his potential, but it was his midos tovos, and in particular, his tzniyus -- the gemara describes him as "tzani'a u'ma'alei." On that basis alone, R' Akiva's wife was able to discern that he had the seeds of becoming the gadol hador.  Apparently lomdus alone doesn't cut it.)

Lest this post be misinterpreted, let me say that of course not everyone is R' Akiva.  Goals and aspirations need to be realistic.  Both husband and wife need to be on the same page -- it would not have worked if R' Akiva thought he could spend twelve years in yeshiva and his wife expected him home in a week, or if his wife wanted him to learn for twelve years and he just didn't have it in him.  That being said, punching the clock is not a goal.  Live up to your potential, whatever it is.  R' Akiva did not stop at 12,000 students when he knew he could have 24,000.  Someone who can learn two blatt a day doesn't need to close the gemara just because the daf yomi calendar says he is done.  That's what R' Akiva's life is all about, and what we look forward to celebrating on Lag ba'Omer.    

Thursday, May 03, 2012

the kodesh kodashim within

R' Shimshon Dovid Pincus makes a simple but beautiful point on P' Acharei. The avodah of Yom Kippur done by the kohein gadol was the highlight of the year. You would think that maybe it should be done at Citi Field, Met Life Stadium, or maybe [substitute your local sports arena here]. But no -- the most intense avodah of the day, the offering of ketores, is done inside the kodesh kodashim with no one, not even a malach, present to observe! There is certainly a value to b'rov am hadras melech, but often times we assign too much weight to public displays of piety and lose sight of the fact that it's what happens in private, in the 4 amos of yours that no one but you and G-d can see, that can make all the difference in the world.

The truth is this idea is already found in the first sicha in Ohr Tzafun of the Alter of Slabodka, who takes it a step further. The Alter notes that given two people, one who is shuckling away while learning or davening, visibly involved in what he is doing, and one who is quiet and introverted, the natural tendency (except for those of us who ourselves are introverts) is to think the first person is more "into it" than the second. The knee-jerk assumption is based entirely on what we see on the outside but ignores what is going on in the kodesh kodashim inside.

The gemara (Nedarim 81) tells us that the Chachamim and Nevi'im could not figure out why the churban habayis was warranted until Hashem himself revealed that it was because people were lax in reciting birchas haTorah. The Ran explains that the lack of birchas haTorah demonstrated a lack of "lishma," of proper intent and motivation in learning. The Chachamim and Nevi'im, explains the Alter, saw all the learning taking place, saw the shmiras hamitzvos people had -- on the outside everything looked kosher. They could not see in the kodesh kodashim of people's hearts. But Hashem can see there, and Hashem judges us precisely on what no one else is aware of and no one else can see but ourselves.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

mikra kodesh

The Chayei Adam (132) quotes the minhag of the GR"A to eat chadah immediately after 16 Nissan in order to demonstrate that the reason he refrained from eating new wheat earlier was not because he preferred his Cheerios made from old grain, but rather because he did not want to violate the issur of chadash. The GR"A wanted to actively demonstrate that his behavior was motivated only by the desire to fulfill the lav. We see an interesting chiddush: Just like there is a din of mitzvos tzerichos kavanah when it comes to the positive performance of a mitzvah, there is also an idea of obeying a lav with the right kavanah as well.

Where did the GR"A get this idea? The gemara in Shavuos (13a) discusses whether someone who does not fast, does not refrain from melacha, does not call the day of Yom Kikkur a "mikra kodesh," gets a kapparah. Rashi interprets the vague idea of not calling the day "mikra kodesh" to mean that the person did not refer to the day as mikra kodesh in his tefilah. Tosfos rejects this interpretation. How can the gemara attempt to derive from a derasha whether someone who does not refer to the day as "mikra kodesh" in davening gets or does not get a kapprah when the whole text of tefilah is only derabbanan? Instead, Tosfos quotes Rabeinu Tam who explains that the gemara is referring to someone who refrains from melacha but does so simply out of sheer laziness. Even though such an individual has done nothing wrong -- he has fully kept the lav of not doing melacha -- nonetheless, since his kiyum is for the wrong reason, it does not count as a full kiyum mitzvah. 

(If not for the Chayei Adam quoting this proof, I would have though you could be mechaleik. The din of mikra kodesh is a mitzvas aseh that requires sanctifying the day in some way. I would have thought Rabeinu Tam meant that if one does not do melacha out of laziness, one indeed does get full credit for fulfilling the lav; however, one has failed to fulfill the mitzvas aseh of mikra kodesh.  The bad fulfillment of the lav is just a siman that the aseh is lacking, not a sibah in itself to discount any kiyum.  That's very different than the case of chadash where, according to the GR"A, the fulfillment of the lav itself is deficient.)

Rav Soloveitchik
(link) is quoted as suggesting a brilliant understanding of a well known gemara based on this chiddush of Rabbeinu Tam.  The gemara connects the mitzvah of "zachor" on Shabos with the mitzvah of "shamor." Women are obligated in the mitzvah of kiddush even though it is zman gerama because whoever is chayav in the lav of shamor is also obligated in the aseh of zachor. This connection between zachor and shamot is not merely a technical derasha. What Chazal meant is that only though  "zachor," by sanctifying the day of Shabbos and declaring in kiddush why we are refraining from work, can we properly fulfill the mitzvah of "shamor." Merely abstaining from work without a sense of being motivated by the kedushas hayom is not sufficient.

What about Rashi's reading of the gemara? Apparently Rashi holds that even though the specific text of tefilah is derabbanan, there is a mitzvah d'oraysa of engaging in tefilah that mentions the kedushas hayom of Yom Kippur / Yom Tov as a means of sanctifying the day. In other words, davening on Yom Tov is not (just) a kiyum mitzvah of the mitzvah of tefilah -- it's a kiyum mitzvah of "mikra kodesh."  Failing to daven does not merely undermine the mitzvah of tefilah alone, but it undermines the sanctity of the day, as part and parcel of how we make our Yamim Tovim special is through engaging in tefilah that makes mention of their special distinction.

Ramban writes similarly (VaYikra 23:2) writes that there is a mitzvah on Yom Tov to gather in shul "l'kadesh hayom b'farhesya b'tefilah v'hallel...," i.e. for public prayer and thanksgiving. I believe someone commented on a post here once that even though R' Chaim Brisker held that it is better to daven in private without a minyan in order to make zman kri'as shema, perhaps the same would not apply on Yom Tov where there is a kiyum d'oraysa of tefilah b'tzibur based on this Ramban. (I would think that so long as one davened even a single tefilah at some point during the day b'tzibur it would be sufficient to fulfill this din of mikra kodesh, so tzarich iyun, but it's an interesting idea.)

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

the city of Shomron

We learn from Parshas Metzora that a person afflicted with tzara'as must sit alone outside the camp.  The haftarah tells the story of four metzora'im who, because they were sitting outside the city of Shomron, were the first one's to discover that the siege placed by Aram on the city was broken.  Hashem caused the army of Aram to think that they were under attack and so they fled, leaving behind all their food, wealth, and provisions for Bnei Yisrael to plunder (Melachim II ch 7).

I want to focus on where this story took place -- the city of Shomron.   Melachim I 16:24 tells us that Shomron was built by Omri, a king who was "more wicked than all those before him" (ibid 16:25).  Despite his wickedness, Omri managed to pass the throne to his son and then to his grandson -- three generations -- certainly outside the norm for malchei Yisrael.  Why did Omri merit such a special reward?  Chazal answer (Sanhedrin 102b) that it was because he built this new city of Shomron and thereby fulfilled the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael.  Omri may have built Shomron for his own personal gain, to serve as his capital city; Omri may have done everything else wrong in his life; yet, Omri's family was zocheh to retain the throne because he dedicated himself to the mitzvah of yishuv ha'aretz.  Rav Teichtel in his Aim haBanim Smeicha (p. 61 in the new edition) writes that we can derive from here not to discount or dismiss the contributions to yishuv ha'aretz of those who are notreligious (see the explanation he quotes from R' Yosef Engel as to how Omri's reward was midah k'neged midah).  Is the chiloni or chofshi zionist who puts his strength into building and protecting our country any worse or any less deserving of credit than the wicked Omri?   (Consider this a belated Yom haAtzmaut post.)

Switching hats to halacha, the Mishna in Keilim (1:7) tells us that the din of sending a metzora out of a city applies only to walled cities.  Many of the Rishonim (Bartenura, R'Sh) qualify this din and explain that the Mishna means specifically a city that was walled since the days of Yehoshua bin Nun.   The problem with this chiddush is it does not fit the story of Shomron.  Shomron was built by Omri -- it did not even exists in the days of Yehoshua.  So why, as we read in our haftarah, were the metzoraim being expelled from its walls?   R' Akiva Eiger on the Mishna answers by quoting the Targum which interprets the pasuk on Melachim to mean that Omri rebuilt Shomron, but was not its true founder (this of course makes all the more remarkable the level of reward he earned for doing so).  See Ksav v'Kabbalah who also addresses himself to this issue.