Thursday, June 28, 2012

any rock will do

I'm very short of time and want to get this in before Shabbos, so apologies in advance for not doing justice to the topic.  In the second hakdamah to Gevuros Hashem the Maharal attacks the wrong ideology of certain philosophers (I assume it's Aristotle that he has in mind) who dismiss the whole notion of miracles as impossible. These philosophers reasoned that the laws of nature are a necessary condition of the existance of the universe, e.g. the universe as we know it would not exist if certain laws of chemistry or certain physical constants were not in place.  G-d cannot break these laws without the entire universe coming to a halt.

Maharal responds by arguing that, "Just as there is an order to nature, so too there is an order to the miraculous." (The Sefas Emes on Pesach quotes this line a number of times.) Miracles do not twist or break the laws of the universe because miracles themselves are built into the fabric of nature. In addition to the law of gravity, Planck's constant, etc, there are other laws like the fact that a Yam can split when the existance of the Jewish people is in jeapordy.  Maharal goes on to say that miracles are few and far between because the "law," or seder, of miracles demands that certain very specific conditions be in place for them to occur.  The time and place must be exactly right to be ripe for a miracle.
I could not help but think of this Maharal when looking at the episode of Mei Meriva in our parsha.  Hashem told Moshe to take his staff and bring water from a rock.  Rashi writes that Moshe began looking around for the specific rock which he identified as the one Hashem intended him to use, but that rock had become mixed in with other boulders.  Bnei Yisrael did not know what was going on -- if Hashem is going to do a miracle, they asked, what difference does it make which rock the water comes from.  Moshe responded, "Hamin ha'selah ha'zeh..." -- "Can this rock produce water?" (20:10)  Even when it comes to miracles, not all rocks are the same!
In other words, Moshe's response was that there is a seder and order to miracles as well.  It's not that Hashem haphazardly breaks the laws of nature, but rather that built into certain times, places, objects, is the ability to do wonderous things under the right conditions.  Therefore, you need exactly the right rock.
But it's apparently not so simple, because there is a beautiful torah of the Ishbitzer that teaches us the maskana.  He writes that Hashem's denying Moshe the right to enter Eretz Yisrael was not really a punishment, but was a midah k'neged midah that fit the crime.  Based on how history should unfold, based on the the "seder" of how events should happen, it could only be Yehoshua who could lead Klal Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael.  So how could Moshe even have a hava amina to ask Hashem that he should take the people into the land?  Because, says the Ishbitzer, Moshe Rabeinu said to Hashem once you are making miracles, once you are doing wonderous things beyond the seder of nature so that Klal Yisrael can conquer the land, does it really have to only be Yehoshua?  Once you throw seder out the window and are doing miracles, can't you let me, Moshe, lead the people even if that too is beyond the normal seder of what should be?
"Dear Moshe Rabeinu," says Hashem, "Hamin ha'sela ha'zeh?"  Remember how you responded to my people when they said asked you why you needed a specific rock -- once you throw seder out the window and rely on miracles, can't Hashem just do anything with any rock?  How those words come back to haunt!
Sure, there are laws that govern nature.  There are even laws and a seder to miracles.  But it's not these laws themselves which are obstacles -- it's the belief that there is nothing higher than those laws that boxes a person in.  You can spend a lifetime searching for just the right rock, the right yeshiva, the right neighborhood, the right shul, thinking only that rock and that rock only will bring mayim chaim into your life.  If that's really what you think, than Hashem will respond accordingly and you won't find bracha till you somehow find that rock.  But once you believe water can come from a rock, once you believe that the life of a Jew is a wonderous miracle anyway, why not believe that it's not the rock that matters, but it's the belief in the One who provides the water?  Then, anything is possible.

Monday, June 25, 2012

al teifen el minchasam -- throwing the baby out with the bathwater

Why would Moshe ask Hashem, "Al teifen el minchasam" -- were Dasan and Aviram or Korach going to offer a korban mincha?

Rashi writes that Moshe was asking Hashem to not count Dasan and Aviram's portion of the korban tamid, which was a korban tzibur. (It seems from this Rashi that the korban tzibur was a type of large shutfus, a partnership among all members of Klal Yisrael, such that an individual share could be excluded. See Ramban at the beginning of VaYikra who discusses whether this is indeed the case, or whether a tzibur is a whole that transcends its individual parts and cannot be sliced and diced.) 

Ramban takes a more expansive view and writes that Moshe was asking that Hashem not accept any offering or respond to any tefilah from Korach's lot.  Why should the fact that these evildoers happened to be engaged in a rebellion against Moshe automatically negate the value of their korbanos?  If someone, for example, does not keep Shabbos properly, who are we to ask G-d not to accept that person's tefilah should they come to shul?  The difference is, explains Ramban, that the korbanos here would serve as a means to further rebellion.  What better way to demonstrate the valdity of a "kehunah for all" popularist rebellion than to lead the masses is offering korbanos without the aid of Aharon or his family?  Unfortunately, the baby must be thrown out with the bathwater when the validation of good behavior might be misinterpreted (or where it is deliberately used as a means of fostering the misinterpretation) as validation of other wrong behaviors.  This point has practical relavance in other contexts, e.g. can we work together with members of other "movements" of Judaism to achieve shared aims, and if we do, how do we ensure that cooperation in one context is not taken as a broader tacit approval of everything those movements represent?  Where do you draw the line?

Seforno goes a step further and writes that Moshe asked that Hashem not accept even korbanos Korach's camp may have offered for the sake of achieving kaparah.  Avodah can help achieve repentance in the realm of bein adam la'Makom, but sins bein adam l'chaveiro require asking and receiving mechilah on the part of the one who was wronged.  Moshe was not willing to let Korach's lot off with a korban offering alone when it was he as well as G-d who was wronged.  I was a bit taken aback by this Seforno.  Would Moshe callously deny mechila?  I think the point here is that Korach's rebellion at heart was aimed at separating adherence to G-d from adherence to Moshe's leadership.  We're all good Jews, preached Korach, and so why should we bow to Moshe's leadership?  The only way to undo Korach's false ideology is to acknowledge that no kapparah is possible -- no korbanos are acceptable -- so long as Moshe, G-d's chosen leader, is shut out.  The bein adam laMakom is inseperable from the bein adam l'chaveiro of accepting Moshe's authority.

Finally, my favorite reading of this difficult pasuk is found in Ralbag, who suggests that it is not a request by Moshe, but simply a statement of fact -- if those who join with Korach pray that G-d help their cause, G-d will not respond to those tefilos.  You cannot daven for G-d's help to achieve an unjust or improper cause -- it just won't work.  I seem to recall that the gemara says that even a thief offers tefilah on the threshold of the home he is breaking into.  We seem to think that prayer is just another part of the effort required to get what we really want.  The thief wants his money, Korach's wanted kehunah, we all want something, and we put those wants into tefilah.  What the Ralbag is reminding us is that tefilah works only as an expression of our ethical consciousness -- we pray to bring G-d into the world to make it a better place, not to satisfy our own selfish needs. 

korach -- religious reformer or political opportunist?

The question of how to judge the motive(s) and sincerity of Korach's rebellion I think depends in large measure on the machlokes between Ramban and Ibn Ezra as to when the rebellion took place. If one takes the view of Ibn Ezra that the rebellion took place immediately after the first born were replaced by Levi'im and Kohanim -- i.e. chronologically the parsha of Korach occurred immediately after cheit ha'eigel -- then perhaps there was a certain sincere religious motivation to the revolt. Coming so close to ma'mad Har Sinai where the entire nation was told that they were a "mamleches kohanim," the displacement of the bechorim and the creation of a tiered system of Levi'im and Kohanim as exclusively responsible for avodah, with Aharon, the very person who crafter the eigel, as kohen gadol, would create an understandable feeling of frustration. That is not to say that Korach was correct -- simply that the position of those involved becomes more understandable and that perhaps there was a degree of idealism that motivated them.

According to Ramban, the story of Korach occurred chronologically after the meraglim episode. Korach waited to act until Moshe's power was weakest. The people had just suffered the setbacks of the punishment of the misonenim, kovros ha'ta'avah, the meraglim and the decree that they would not enter Eretz Yisrael, they had just heard the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad that Moshe would die in the desert with them -- the time was ripe of revolt. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I don't think an idealist concerned only with religious reform would engage in such political calculations before making his move.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Dasan and Aviram or Bnei Eliav -- what a difference it makes!

The Kozhiglover explains that Korach had tremendous hislahavus in his avodas Hashem and therefore felt that Moshe's leadership was unnecessary.  Does the presence of one string of techeiles really make a difference when the entire talis is made of techeiles?  What Korach did not realize is that all his hislahavus and all the great avodah of those who stuck with him was due not to their own efforts and ability alone, but was due to their being in the presence of the tzadik hador Moshe Rabeinu.  It was the one string of techeiles that elevated the rest of the talis. 

We once discussed the Maharal's beautiful approach to Rashi's comment that Ya'akov requested that he not be mentioned in recounting the lineage of Korach. Rav Shach in his sefer on chumash writes more plainly that what Rashi means is that Ya'akov davened that he not be assigned any portion of blame for Korach's behavior. The Torah takes the position that certainly parents, but even grandparents and great-grandparents and generations back share in the responsibility for how the next generation turns out. Ya'akov did not want it said that somehow he did not put in enough effort in the chinuch of his children, which in turn led to a Korach generations later.  This despite the fact that any minor mistake Ya'akov might have made (and we are speaking of Ya'akov Avinu, so the mistake would be subtle and very minor if there was one at all) had no effect at all on Levi, his son, as Levi himself was a tzadik and had children who were tzadikim. Apparently a minor mistake that is invisible one generation may resound many generation later in ways we might never imagine.

We see a similar idea in a positive vein as well. In an effort to quell the machlokes Moshe sought out Dasan and Aviram. "Vayishlach Moshe likro l'Dasan vaAviram bnei Elieav vayomru lo na'aleh." (16:12) Why does the Torah here make reference to Dasan and Aviram's father, "bnei Eliav" -- we already know from the first pasuk in the parsha who their father was?  R' Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Apta Rav, in his Ohev Yisrael writes that Moshe was trying to find some way to turn Dasam and Aviram to good.  Rather than fight them head on, he appealed to their "shoresh ha'neshoma," he went back to their roots.  He reads the pasuk as follows: "Vayishlach Moshe," Moshe sent, "Likro l'Dasan v'Aviram," to call Dasan and Aviram not by their usual names, but by a different name --  "Bnei Elieav," "Children of Elieav." Moshe invoked the name of their saintly father. 
We can understand this without getting into any mystical ideas.  The names Dasan and Aviram were on  most wanted posters, so to speak.  They already were laden with the baggage of a lifetime of sin.  Moshe had to remind Dasan and Aviram that they were not born that way.  They were once Bnei Elieav, the name Eli-Av being a contraction of K-li / Av, Hashem is my Father.  Their neshoma came from very holy roots, and they therefore had within them the potential for greateness and tzidkus -- if only they would acknowledge those roots.  Moshe said, "I'm not calling you Dasan and Aviram anymore, because you are not really those bad guys everyone is talking about.  You are really 'Bnei Eliav,' holy righteous Jews. 
Unfortuantely, Dasan and Aviram's response was, "Lo na'aleh."  We are not interesting in being elevated by your speech about the greatness of our lineage, the greatness of our neshoma. 
There are teachers who I have heard always refer to students as this tzadik'l or that tzadik'l, when most of us would be tempted to call the same kids little monsters.  The message is the same -- other people might call them Dasan and Aviram's, but deep down, their real name just might be tzadik'l.
And so we come full circle.  Korach, as the Koshiglover explains, viewed his achievements as isolated from outside influence.  Dasan and Aviram refused to allow the past lineage of their family, their neshomos noble roots, to influence their destiny -- they refused a name that connected with their family's past greatness.  The musar haskel, as we learn from Ya'akov's tefilah, is what tremendous influence we indeed have over others, in particular over our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, as every deed reveberates and impacts genrations to come.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

40 day cram session

The gemara writes that midah tovah outweighs punishment by a scale of 500 to 1. Chazal illustrate the point from the fact that in the merit of Miriam having waited just a few moments to see that her baby brother Moshe was safe, the entire nation of Bnei Yisrael waited two weeks while Miriam overcame her leprosy . Tosfos (Sota 11a) is bothered by the apparent contradiction to this rule from the story of the meraglim. For every one day that the meraglim spent scouting out Eretz Yisrael, Klal Yisrael had to spend an entire year in the desert. That's not much different than the 500 to 1 ratio of midah tovah.

Tosfos in the end does not answer the question (see Maharasha), but the Sefas Emes offers a response (I did not find this in the Sefas Emes but saw it quoted in the Beis Yisrael). In reality, al pi derech hateva, Klal Yisrael should have had to spend 40 years in the desert. It should have taken that long for them to develop as a nation and be ready to deal with the challenges of yishuv ha'aretz. Hashem, however, wanted to do Klal Yisrael a favor and cram those 40 years of preparation into only 40 days. If only the meraglim had brought back a positive report and Klal Yisrael would have responded appropriately, job over! Since they didn't, they had to face reality and do the job the long way. The 40 years therefore were not an onesh -- they were simply the way things should have been if not extra special chassadim.

Says the Sefas Emes, once Klal Yisrael figured out over 40 years the tikun that was necessary and realized the mistake they had made, the power to effect the same result in only 40 days as originally planned became part of the collective spiritual yerusha of Klal Yisrael. We now know what needs to be done and can do it the quick way. Every year during these 40 days, from the beginning of Tamuz until 9 Av, we have a chance to do it right this time around. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

ishbitzer on nesachim and challah

The story of the mergalim is immediately followed by the parsha of nesachim and the parsha of mitzvas challah, both of which seem out of place here. Nesachim would seem to fit better somewhere in VaYikra, or perhaps in Parshas Pinchas where the nisachim of korbanos hachag are discussed. Challah seems to fit in with terumos and ma'asros, not here. So why does the Torah choose this place to discuss these halachos?

Ramban adopts the view (it is a machlokes Tanaim) that nesachim were only offered in Eretz Yisrael.  Based on this he explains that the Torah here is reassuring Bnei Yisrael that despite the setback of having to spend 40 years in the desert, they will ultimately get to Eretz Yisrael. The same idea holds true of challah, which is the only agricultural-type mitzvah that applies immediately upon entering Eretz Yisrael, even before the land is conquered and divided.

Even though the Ramban himself doesn't say it, I think there is a connection between nesachim and a Ramban earlier in the parsha. What did Moshe Rabeinu hope to gain by sending meraglim? Surely Moshe believed that Eretz Yisrael was a land of "zvas chalav u'devash," and no matter what the report, he intended to lead Bnei Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael. So what did he hope to gain? Ramban explains that Moshe Rabeinu was fully confident that the spies  would bring back a glowing report of Eretz Yisrael. The description of the land's beauty would serve to heighten Bnei Yisrael's enthusiasm for the task of kibush and yishuv ha'aretz.  Moshe wanted Bnei Yisrael to not just enter the land, but to do so b'simcha, with hislahavus.  [Obvious lesson of how important how a mitzvah is done is.]

The Midrash darshens the pasuk in Koheles (9:7), "Leich echol b'simcha lachmecha u'shtei b'lev tov ye'einecha ki kvar ratzah ha-Elokin es ma'asecha," as referring to our parsha. The lechem the pasuk refers to is challah; the wine the pasuk refers to is nesachim; both showed that Hashem still desired the avodah of Klal Yisrael despite the cheit hameraglim. In light of the Ramban, I think the key words here are "simcha" and "lev tov." Even though the attempt to inject simcha and hislahavus into the mitzvah of kibush ha'aretz ultimately resulted in the entire miztvah being lost for a generation, that doesn't mean these values carry no weight.  It doesn't mean we should push aside emotion lest it disrupt or cause the loss of the ikar mitzvah.  Echol b'simcha.. shtei b'yein tov -- don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The Ishbitzer has such a classic Ishbitzer torah (no other way to describe it) here. The pasuk in Koheles refers first to lechem and then to wine. Why then does our parsha first introduce the mitzvah of nesachim, wine, and only secondly present the halachos of challah, bread, the reverse order of the pasuk in Koheles?

The difference between bread and wine is that wine takes little effort to produce -- the juice is already there inside the grape. Bread, however, takes enormous effort to produce. You have to harvest the wheat, mill it, turn the flour to dough, bake the dough, etc. There are a whole host of melachos on Shabbos that we derive from the numerous steps in the process of producing bread. Bread is symbolic of yiras shamayim -- a person has to work on him/herself day in and day out to maintain yirah, and certainly to grow in yirah. It's not an easy task. Wine is symbolic of the connection each and every one of us has b'omek halev to Hashem, a connection that can never be extinguished or destroyed,a connection which is there whether we work on it and want it to be there or whether we ignore it.

Under ordinary circumstances, bread precedes wine. A person has to first grapple with the challenge of building his/her yiras shamayim, but after all that grappling, the end result is that a person realizes that all along they were connected to Hashem b'omek halev -- it was always like wine. But sometimes that doesn't work -- sometimes a person is so down and out that the prospect of engaging in the avodah of lechem is overwhelming; it's too daunting, it seems beyond anything a person is capable of. In that case, you have to start with the avodah of wine. You need to remind a person that no matter how far he/she has fallen, b'omek halev there is still a connection.  Beneath the surface, just like the juice inside the grape, the sweetest taste is there already. That chizuk will be the motivation to once again return to making bread, to putting in the effort to grow and come closer through one's own avodah.

After the cheit hameraglim, Bnei Yisrael felt they were the lowest of the low -- they didn't have the strength to go on. The Torah had to first give the parsha of nesachim and remind them that b'omek halev they were and always will be connected to Hashem, and only then remind them of the mitzvah of challah, of the need for great avodah and growth in yirah.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

tefilos for the meraglim

The theme of tefilah seems to sneak its way between the lines of the story of the meraglim. Moshe davens for his beloved talmid Yehoshua, which of course begs the question of why he did not daven for anyone else if he smelled danger. Kalev takes a detour to Chevron to daven at the kever of the Avos, and Rashi makes the point that noticably missng are the tefilos of the other meraglim.  And yet there is an even larger component of tefilah hidden in the parsha.

The biggest question, the unavoidable question, that one must grapple with in reading the parsha of the meraglim is what was Moshe Rabeinu thinking. Was there any doubt in his mind that Eretz Yisrael was "eretz zavas chalav u'devash?" Surely not. Yet if the purpose of sending spi was purely to discover the best military strategy, why ask them to scout out whether the land is "shmeina hi im razah," whether, "ha'yesh bah eitz im ayin?"

R' Yehoshua of Belz has an interesting insight that brings us back to a gemara discussed in a post way back in 2006 (link1,link2)If you rent a field with payment being a certain number of bushels from your crop, and you agree to grow wheat (for example), if the whole city suffers a flood you owe nothing -- it's like an implicit act of G-d clause (B.M. 106). However, if instead of the agreed upon crop of wheat you plant barley, even if the entire city gets flooded, you still owe the owner payment. Why? What happened to the built-in act of G-d clause? The gemara answers that the difference in tefilah. If the owner and you agree that you will plant wheat, and despite his davening for nothing to go wrong with that wheat crop the field gets flooded, you are off the hook. But if you plant barley, the owner has a right to come back to you and say that he davened for nothing to go wrong with the wheat crop -- had you lived up to the agreement and planted wheat, maybe in fact nothing would have gone wrong! Because you planted barley, his tefilah accomplished nothing and you have to pay.

I ask you -- if the owner of the field knew you were going to pull a switch and plant barely instead of wheat, don't you think he would want the barley to grow so he could collect his due? Don't you think that had he known, just like he davened for wheat thinking you were planting wheat, he also would also have davened for bracha and hatzlacha for barley? In fact, isn't it implicit in the fact that he davened for wheat thinking his sharecropper was planting wheat that he also wants Hashem's bracha for barley if his sharecropper plants barley? Why does he have to spell out the obvious?!

Yet we see a chiddush gadol from this gemara that in fact you do have to spell things out. If you daven for wheat, you stand to gain a bracha on wheat and wheat alone. If you daven for barley, you stand to gain a bracha on barley alone. Words matter. Tefilah is not Hallmark -- it's not just the thought that counts.

The reason why Moshe wanted precise information about Eretz Yisrael, says the Belzer Rebbe, is because Moshe wanted to daven for Bnei Yisrael's success in the conquest of the land.  Had Moshe and Bnei Yisrael had a wrong impression, their tefilos mght be completely off base and ineffective.  By knowing the nature of the land, they could direct their tefilos like precise missiles.  (True, one could be mechaleik between the case of the gemara, where the tefilos were done for the wrong crop, and Bnei Yisrael's situation where they could have still offered general tefilos, but the point remains that tefilah is enhanced by greater specficity.)

Unfortunately it's late and my keyboard is broken, so maybe I'll come back to this post when I have more time and will tie things up. Al regel achas: Were these tefilos a tnai in the battle of conquest being successful, or perhaps the physical battle was just a tnai in these tefilos coming to fruition?  I think perhaps Moshe sent the spies with the hope that the latter would be true,while unfortunately the meraglim took the former view.  Moshe was aware of the danger of this shift in attitude and therefore he prepared Yehoshua in particular with his tefilos, because it was Yehoshua who already served as general while Moshe stood to the side and davened in the war against Amalek - Yehoshua was the physical arm of the army while Moshe was its spiritual heart. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Abarbanel on Miram's complaint

The Abarbanel always seems to have something interesting to say on difficult parshiyos. From the Ramban down to Achronim, everyone is bothered by what the pasuk, "V'ha'ish Moshe anav me'od..." has to do with Miriam's sin of speaking against Moshe and her punishment. Abarbanel explains that the question only arises because we put the punctuation in the wrong place. The usual reading of the pesukim is,"Vayomru," Miriam and Aharon said, "Harak b'Moshe dibeir Hashem...." Did Hashem speak only to Moshe? -- end quotation marks.  New topic: "VaYishma Hashem," Hashem's heard their lashon ha'ra, which is then followed by the enigmatic, "V'ha'ish Moshe anav..."  Move the quotation marks, writes Abarbanel, and you have a completely different meaning. "VaYomru" -- start quotation marks -- "Harak b'Moshe...VaYishma Hashem... V'haish Moshe" -- close quotation marks. The entire contents of pesukim 11:2-3, including "V'ha'ish Moshe anav," are Miriam's words!

There are three possible reasons that Moshe might have separated from Tziporah: 1) Moshe did not reallylike her; 2) Moshe's status as a Navi precluded his having a relationship; 3) Moshe was personally disinclined to have a relationship because he felt he should dedicate himself exclusively to Hashem. Miriam's intent was to show that all three of these excuses were invalid.

1) "Ki isha kushis lakach" -- Moshe, you knew she was a kushis when you married her and had two kids.  Too late to complain about that now. 

2) "Harak b'Moshe... VaYishma Hashem" -- Being a Navi does not preclude having a wife; we are also Nevi'im, Hashem also listens to us, and we remain married.

3) "V'ha'ish Moshe anav me'od?" -- Are you Moshe more humble, more special, than everyone else, that you think you should behave differently than the rest of the world? (The 'hey' of 'ha'ish' is not a 'hey hayedi'ah' but rather is a 'hey' that indicates a question.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

the stigma of not offering korban pesach in the midbar

Rashi writes that even though the opening parsha of Sefer BaMidbar occurred chronologically later than the the parsha of korban pesach discussed in Be'ha'alosecha, the Torah reversed the order and placed the later parsha first.  Why?  There is a stigma attached to the parsha of korban pesach because there was only one korban pesach offered in the midbar -- Bnei Yisrael failed to bring the korban the other 39 years -- therefore the Torah did not want to open the sefer on a negative note.

Tosfos (Kid 37b) explains that Bnei Yisrael neglected the korban pesach all those years in the midbar because they held like the view that the mitzvah of korban pesach applied only after yerusha v'yeshiva, after the conquest of  Eretz Yisrael.  The korban offered in that first year in the midbar was a special hora'as sha'ah command by Hashem.

If so, what is the stigma attached to the parsha?  Bnei Yisrael had no obligation to offer a pesach, so they didn't -- what's wrong?  Tosfos answers that Bnei Yisrael didn't look good because they should have entered Eretz Yisrael right away.  The only reason they spent 39 years in the desert was because of the cheit hameraglim.  

Tosfos shifts the stigma away from a direct association with korban pesach to the failure to enter Eretz Yisrael in a timely manner.  The Maharal, however, stays true to the course and writes that the stigma is directly related to the mitzvah of korban pesach.  True, the korban could not be offered because of the extenuating circumstances of ones in that they had not yet reached Eretz Yisrael, but being subject to ones, having an excuse, even a good one, is just not the same as getting the job done.  Ones is a ptur onshim, an exemption from punishment, but it does not remove blame or stigma entirely.

Seems that the point of contention between Tos and the Maharal is the classic question of whether ones is a ma'aseh aveirah with a ptur or not a ma'aseh aveira.  Tosfos holds that if there is an excuse for not offering the korban pesach, there is no stigma attached with failure -- there is no ma'aseh aveirah.  Maharal, however, holds that there still is wrongdoing even sans punishment. 

The Sefer Maor HaTorah quotes a Chasam Sofer that even though usually we say if an act is not done due to some ones it is not considered k'man d'avid, as if done (the point is actually a machlokes in the Yerushalmi), mitvzos aseh are an exception.  The gemara says explicitly that if one planned to do a mitzvah but due to some ones was unable to, Hashem gives the person schar as if the mitzvah was done.  If so, even if the Maharal is right that usually an ones still is a ma'aseh avira, but here we are speaking about a mitzvas aseh of korban pesach -- why then would the desire to bring a korban not count as if the korban was actually brought?  There are a few possible ways you could answer this...  

Rebbi's humility -- nafka minah l'halacha

Last week I mentioned the gemara (Sota 49) where Rav Yosef said that Rebbi was not the last anav, as he embodied the trait of humility as much as Rebbi did.  At first glance the discussion seems to simply a matter of who has which midos tovos, but there is actually a little more to it than that.  The gemara elsewhere (Sanhedrin 36) writes that one difference between capital cases and monetary cases is that when it comes to judging capital cases, dinei nefashos, the vote among the judges started with the lowest ranking member of the court.  If the senior judge voted first it might prejudice the vote and prevent anyone else from disagreeing, and we want to give the defendant every edge possible when his life hangs in the balance.  Not so in cases of dinei mamonos, where the senior judge did give his opinion first.  However, the gemara tells us that in Rebbi's court even in cases of dinei mamonos the vote always started from the side, from one of the other lesser judges, and never from Rebbi.  Rashi writes that due to his extreme humility Rebbi never wanted to go first.  I would like to suggest that perhaps in Rav Yosef's beis din, given that he claimed to possess as much humility as Rebbi, the vote never started with him either.

selfish suffering

Vayishma Moshe es ha'am bocheh l'mishpichosav ish l'pesach ohalo... (11:10)  

A really nice Chasam Sofer on this pasuk: When a Jew is in pain, he doesn't suffer alone.  His friends come to console him, his neighbors and family come to give comfort and share his suffering.  The sin of Bnei Yisrael here was that each person cried "l'pesach ohalo," sitting by his own doorway, concerned only "l'mishpichosav," for his own immediate family.  When Jews don't feel each others pain, when each person cries only for his own tzaros and his blind and deaf to his neighbor's situation, that's a real tragedy. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Brisker Rav on the meaning of humility

"V'ha-ish Moshe anav me'od."

Was Moshe unaware that he was the greatest of prophets, the greatest leader in Klal Yisrael?  Obviously not.  Humility does not mean living in blind ignorance of one's abilities or accomplishments; rather, it means recognizing that one's abilities and accomplishments are a gift from Heaven.  Humility means divorcing one's accomplishments from one's ego.

The gemara (Sota 49) lists a number of middos that were lost when Rebbi died.  Rav Yosef commented that humility should not be on that list, as he lived after Rebbi and he personified that trait.

Maharasha comments: "Ain derech chachamim l'hispaer u'l'hishtabeyach b'ma'alasam," it is not proper for chachamim to boast and sing their own praises, as the pasuk says, "Ye'halelucha zar v'lo picha," let strangers sing your praises, but don't let them come out of your own mouth. Nonetheless, explains Maharasha, Rav Yosef's comment was justified to ensure that the text of the braysa was correct, etc.

The sefer Bad Kodesh writes that someone came to the Brisker Rav and remarked that he had always been troubled by this statement of Rav Yosef.  How can one claim to be humble yet at the same time boast of one's humility?  Now that he discovered the Maharasha, he had an answer.

The Brisker Rav explained to this individual that he completely misunderstood the Maharasha. There is obviously no contradiction, said the Brisker Rav, between being humble and professing humility, as the truly humble person does not connect achievement with ego -- there is no "I" involved, and hence nothing such a person says constitutes boasting.  What bothered the Maharasha is that even if Rav Yosef was not a stira minei u'bei, even if we grant that there is no contradiction between professing humility and actually personifying that same trait,  Rav Yosef's still seem to fly in the face of the pasuk, "Yehalelucha zar...?"  To this the Maharasha answers the the extenuating circumstance of rectifying the text of the braysa justified Rav Yosef's words.

Monday, June 04, 2012

sotah - a crime of rebellion

The gemara (Sota 7b) derives that a sotah can be tried only in the "supreme court" beis din of 71 people through a gezeirah shava that connects the parsha of sotah to that of zakein mamrei, who we know is tried in a court of 71.  

I would like to suggest that the gemara is not simply a technical limud that tells us the number of judges required, but rather reveals that there is an underlying thematic relationship between the two parshiyos.  Both sotah and zakein marei are crimes of rebellion against authority -- in the latter case, against the authority of beis din; in the former case, against the authority of the sotah's husband.  The parsha of sotah does not use the terminology used for crimes of arayos, "lo tikrivu l'galos ervah," that we are familiar with from other contexts where the Torah discusses forbidden relationships.  Instead, the crime is describes as "ma'alah ma'al b'isha," the sotah has sinned against her husband.

This approach makes for a very patriarchal reading of the parsha.  Whether that troubles you or not (and how to deal with the issue if it does) is up to you (much has been written about the issue) -- I'm just making the observation.

dor rev'i yashuvu

In David Klinghoffer's book TheL-ord will Gather Me In he quotes (p. 15) the following observation from TV critic Michael Medved:
...Accoring to Medved, himself a ba'al teshuvah, you rerely find more than four consecutive generations of secular or Reform J  s.  When a J  breaks with traditional Ju  ian, his children or grandchildren wither will intermarry and raise their own children as non-J or indiffernet Jws, so that the line of the family disappears from the people of Israel -- or they will return to the Ju  ism he thought he helped them escape.  
I now have a different perspective on the pasuk, "V'dor rev'i yashuvu heina..." (That is, if things go right.)

Sunday, June 03, 2012

R' Chaim Volozhiner

14 Sivan is the yahrzeit of R' Chaim Volozhiner.  I saw a parsha sheet that had a bunch of stories about R' Chaim in honor of the occasion, and one of them (for me at least) typified the difference between a chassidishe ma'aseh and a non-chassidishe ma'aseh (or a chassidishe outlook vs. non-chassidishe), with no disrespect to either side.  

Snow was apparently not uncommon in Volozhin and in the days before snow plows and salt trucks a good snowfall meant the city would literally close down, as roads and streets were unpassable.  It was noticed that no matter how had the snowfall, the path to the Volozhiner Yeshiva somehow always remained clear.  Bachurim always had a way to get to the yeshiva to learn.  A miracle!

Had this been a chassidishe ma'aseh, I think the punchline would be that there was a special segulah to Volozhin, a special merit earned by R' Chaim Volozhiner, and because of that the snow drifted elsewhere.  Maybe even the aish of Torah succeeded in melting the snow before it got to earth.

But it's not a chassidishe ma'aseh -- it's Volozhin.  One morning after a snowfall some of the bachurim were up out of bed especially early  and when they peered out of their window they spied a lone figure out shoveling the snow away from the yeshiva.  Who was that lone soul braving the storm to see to it that the yeshiva could remain accessible?  It was none other than the Rosh Yeshiva, R' Chaim.