Friday, November 29, 2013

rotzeh Hashem es yerei'av -- Hashem does ritzuy and reaches out to us

It’s easy to get all caught up in Chanukah and forget there is parshas ha’shavua too.  I want to share a beautiful Zohar and a question. 

The Zohar (link) asks why the pasuk says “Rotzeh Hashem es yerei’av” instead of saying “Rotzeh Hashem b’yerieav.”  The word “es” usually means we are dealing with a transitive verb, yet here b’pashtus the pasuk means Hashem is filled with love for those who fear him – it’s an intransitive verb. 

The Zohar puts a new twist on the pasuk.  The word “rotzeh” here is like the word “ritzuy.”  If you have a breakdown in a relationship with a friend, you have to go out and do ritzuy, piyus, to restore the friendship.  A person can have a breakdown in their relationship with G-d as well.  Rotzeh Hashem es yerei’av” means that Hashem doesn’t wait for the person to come back; he goes out and does “ritzuy” and re-ignites and rebuilds the ratzon within the person. 

The Zohar continues that “Vayiritzuhu min ha’bor” means that in addition to Yosef being physically taken from the prison pit, there was ritzuy and piyus involved.  Yosef had to make peace with what had transpired, he had to overcome the anger and depression at being thrown into that pit and accept it as just another hurdle on his path to greater things. 

I have nothing to add; I just wanted to pass it along because it is a nice thought. 

Now for the question:

 וישלח ויקרא וגו' ר' יהושע דסכנין בשם רבי לוי פתרין היו אותו אלא שלא היה קולן נכנס באזניו שבע פרות הטובות שבע בנות אתה מוליד שבע פרות הרעות שבע בנות אתה קובר וכן אמרו שבע שבלים הטובות שבע מלכיות אתה מכבש שבע שבלים הרעות שבע אפרכיות מורדות בך הה"ד (משלי יד) בקש לץ חכמה ואין אלו חכמי פרעה וחרטומי מצרים ודעת לנבון נקל זה יוסף

The Midrash gives some examples of interpretations of Pharoah’s dreams suggested by his advisors, and applies the pasuk of “bakeish leitz chochma v’ayin” (Mishlei 14:6) to their unsuccessful efforts.  Yosef, however, is “da’as l’navon nakeil,” as his interpretation was correct.

What does this Midrash tell us that we don’t already know from the pesukim?  Surely the details of Pharoah’s advisors misinterpretations are not important, and we also know already that Yosef’s interpretation was right.  What are Chazal adding to our understanding of the parsha and what are they trying to teach us?

Sefas Emes on the miracle of the first day of Chanukah

The Beis Yosef famously asks why we celebrate the first day of Chanukah.  There was enough oil for one day, so the miracle really started from the second day onward. 

The Sefas Emes writes that the eight nights of Chanukah represent the tikun of the seven midos/sefiros that make up the natural world, and the eighth is the l’ma’lah min hateva of the supernatural. 
Every person has a particular midah that is predominant -- some people tend towards chessed; other people tend towards din/geduvah, etc. -- but you can’t serve G-d with one midah alone and no single midah can exist alone.  Every single midah needs to have within it elements and shades of all the others as well. 

Let me give you a very bad analogy.  You may like vanilla ice cream; I like chocolate.  If you look at the ingredients on the containers, it turns out that most of what goes into either one is the same stuff.  You can’t say, “I like vanilla ice cream so get that stuff that goes into the chocolate out of there.”  You can’t make vanilla ice cream without those ingredients – you just need to accentuate the vanilla flavor so it is dominant.  Same with the midos. 

Now we can answer the Beis Yosef's question.  Chanukah is not eight days of celebration; it's one celebration spread across eight days.  If the ability for the menorah to be lit on night 2, 3,… 8, i.e. for the tikun of the midos going down the line for all eight days did not exist, then the menorah would not have been able to be lit on that first night either.  Since every midah/day/candle requires the others to be present as well, the lighting of the candle on the first night presupposes and includes the potential for there to be a miraculous lighting on all the other nights as well.

kavsah ain zakuk lah on erev Shabbos

Just to clarify the previous post a little bit -- Yesh lachkor whether the idea of kavsah ain zakuk lah means a partial kiyum hamitzva is sufficient, or whether it means it is k’ilu the whole mitzvah has been completed already.

The pashtus is that kavsah ain zakuk lah is because a partial kiyum is enough.  Really, your candle should burn longer, but even if it burned 5 minutes instead of 30, Chazal said it’s enough.

However, if you use the lomdus of the Nimukei Yosef that I suggested last post, i.e. it is as if the entire process of burning takes place the second you start the fire, then kavsah ain zakuk lah is not because a partial kiyum is enough, but rather because it is as if everything is done already – you already have a full kiyum the second you light the candle.

There is a machlokes between the Terumas haDeshen and the Taz (673:s”k 9) if your chanukah candles go out before shekiya on erev Shabbos whether or not you have to relight them.  On a regular night of Chanukah, when you light after dark, the kiyum mitzvah happens as soon as you light.  Therefore, kavsa ain zakuk lah.  On erev Shabbos, however, the kiyum mitzvah does not happen until after dark, long after you light the candles.  Therefore, the Taz holds that if you still have time to relight before shekiya, you have to do so – as long as you can make an effort to get in the kiyum, you should.  The Terumas haDeshen disagrees.  Since Chazal said to do hadlakah before shekiya, once you light the mitzvah is done and kavsah ain zakuk lah.  

If kavsah ain zakuk lah means a partial kiyum mitzvah is enough, then it would seem that the Taz is right.  You need to do your best to at least have some kiyum mitzvah get off the ground.  However, if kavsah ain zakuk lah means time or the future action that will unfold (or whatever other formulation you use) is compressed into the initial moment of lighting, then the Trh”D seems correct -- once the hadlakah happens, the kiyum mitzvah that will unfold later counts as if it occurred at that moment already.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

hesber of the machlokes whether kavsa zakuk lah

I told this to my son l'chidudei: the famous Nimukei Yosef in B”K 2nd perek asks how are we allowed to light Shabbos candles if isho m’shum chitzo.  Just like when an arrow hits its target and destroys someone’s property it is as if the shooter went over and smashed that property, so too, when fire burns on Shabbos, it is as if the person who lit the fire is mechalel Shabbos.

The Nimukei Yosef answers that the shooter is chayav from the moment he released the arrow and set it in flight.  It is as if the entire process which will unfold – the arrow’s flight, it’s striking its target, etc. – is all compressed into that instant.  So too when a fire is lit, it’s as if the entire process of burning which will ensue takes place at that initial instant of lighting.  Therefore, the person is not considered a mechalel Shabbos since the candles were lit before Shabbos started.

Based on this Nimukei Yosef we have a hesber for the machlokes by ner chanukah of whether kavsa zakuk lah or not.  The view that holds kavsa ain zakuk lah holds like the maskanah of the Nimukei Yosef – since it is as if everything happened at the moment of lighting, even if the candle goes out afterwards, it doesn’t matter.  The view that holds zakuk lah, that you have to relight if the candle goes out, holds like the hava amina, that every second of burning is like a new act, and therefore, you need the process to finish unfolding in order to be yotzei.
The challenge is to shoot the hesber down (he likes knocking down anything I say anyway : )

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

ben zekunim -- taharah and Chanukah

Ya’aov loved Yosef because “ben zekunim hu lo.”  The Ba’al haTurim writes that “zekunim” is a hint in roshei teivos to the orders of Mishnayos that Ya’akov taught Yosef: Zeraim, Kodshim, Nashim, Yeshuos (Nezikin), Moed.  The obvious question: Seder Taharos is missing?  The Imrei Emes explains that taharah is not something that can be given over and taught – it’s something you have to achieve yourself.

(Taharah = da’as.  You can teach someone a lot of facts, but you can't teach how to apply or reason, how to make best use of those facts.  The 12 middle brachos of shmoneh esrei correspond, says the Sefas Emes, to the 12 shevatim.  The bracha of chonein hada’as corresponds to Yosef, who was able on his own to achieve da’as.)

I was thinking that based on this Imrei Emes we have a new insight into Chanukah.  The Yevanim came and “tim’u kol ha’shemanim.”  The Shem m’Shmuel is medayek that the word “tim’u” implies deliberate action.  It’s not that the Yevanim entered the Mikdash and m’meila things became tamei – things became tamei because the Yevanim they made a deliberate effort to be metamei.   

The cavalry (miracles, etc.) cannot come from outside to the rescue if you have a defect in your taharah – it has to come from inside.  Taharah is achieved; it’s not imposed.  The Greeks thought that Klal Yisrael did not have the spiritual strength inside to do it themselves.  Fortunately, we proved them wrong.

Monday, November 25, 2013

was Reuvain wrong to leave Yosef to go do teshuvah?

1. Rashi quoting Midrash interprets the word “vayashav” in the pasuk “VaYashav Reuvain el ha’bor…” as referring to teshuvah – while Yosef was in the pit, Reuvain was engaged in doing teshuvah for whatever he did or might have done wrong with respect to Ya'akov.  When Reuvain came back to try to get Yosef out, he discovered that Yosef had already been sold into slavery and his efforts to save him were seemingly for naught.

I saw quoted in the name of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that we learn from here that when a Jewish child is in danger, it’s not the time to be thinking about your own spiritual failings and working on your own teshuvah.  Go out and save him!  Had Reuvain not gone off to do his own teshuvah, who knows if he might not have been able to save Yosef.

The Beis Yisrael takes the opposite view.  When a person does teshuvah it elevates not only the individual, but it elevates those around him/her, and even has an effect on the whole world.  Reuvain’s teshuvah was not a distraction from his effort to save Yosef – it was a means to that same end.  Had his teshuvah been complete, the brothers would have given up their plan and he would have been able to bring Yosef home.

At the risk of extrapolating too much from a single issue, it seems that this is not just a machlokes about how to read an isolated Rashi, but is representative of two different world views.  If I recall correctly, the Shem m’Shmuel somewhere quotes a mashal from the Kotzker: a prison warden dropped another poor soul into the dark prison pit which was holding two other prisoners.  One of the two reached out and tried to help the new man cope.  Day after day he tried to show the new man how to eat so he doesn’t spill his food in the pitch black darkness of the dungeon, how to use his spoon to sip the soup, etc. but it was hard going, and what was especially frustrating was that his fellow prisoner offered no help at all.  “Won’t you do anything to help this poor fellow?” he finally screamed in frustration.  “I am helping him,” his fellow dungeon-mate answered.  “The whole time you have been using your spoon to try to show him how to eat in the dark I’ve been using my spoon to dig a hole in the wall and let in some light.”

2.  A very nice vort from the Chiddushei haRI"M: When Yosef chances upon the man, or the malach, who points him in the direction of his brothers, the Torah tells us (37:15), “VaYisha’leihu ha’ish leimor ‘Mah tivakesh?’”  Was the man asking him a question (vayisha’leihu) or was the man telling him something (leimor)?  The Ch. haRI”M explains that the malach knew that Yosef was about to descend into the galus of Egypt and his brothers and father would eventually follow.  The malach was telling Yosef that the key to survival in that galus is to keep asking yourself the question, “Mah tevakeh?” -- What am I really looking for in life?  

The Beis Yisrael suggests that the malach may have been hinting that it’s “mah” -- Mah Hashem Elokecha sho’el… ki im l’yirah… -- that you always need to be searcing for.

Friday, November 22, 2013

beating the yetzer ha'ra with love

1. Earlier in the week I wrote regarding Ya’akov’s tefilah, “ki b’makli avarti es haYarden hazeh” that the word “zeh” conveys a sense of immediacy and presence.  Micha reminded me in a comment that Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabeinu’s prophecy b’ispaklarya hamei’ra, with complete clarity, was characterized by the use of the word “zeh,” as opposed to other prophets, ispaklarya she’aina me’ira, whose prophecy was characterized by the use of the word “koh.”

 Turning to this week’s parsha, we can now better understand the words, “Nas’u m’zeh” that the stranger/angel says to Yosef about his brothers.  The other shevatim could not attain that lofty level of “zeh” that Yosef aspired to.  They ridicule Yosef as “ba’al hachalomos ha’zeh,” the dreamer of “zeh,” something they see as far outside their grasp, but which Yosef was able to attain.

2. Earlier in the week I asked why the Midrash needs to provide other excuses like “Maybe I will be selected to be a korban…  Maybe I will receive nevuah in the middle of the night,” for why Yosef refused the advanced of Eishes Potifar.  The Torah itself says he refused because it would not be right for him to breach the trust Potifar placed in him.  Besides which, the simple fact that it was an aveira should have been reason enough.

Josh M. suggested that the Midrash is highlighting the degree to which one must calculate schar mitzvah and hefsed aveira.  Even though the excuses suggested by the Midrash may seem far fetched, they enter into the equation.

The Rambam writes at the end of Hil Issurei Bi’ah regarding avoiding the yetzer for arayos:

  וירחיב דעתו בחכמה--שאין מחשבת עריות מתגברת, אלא בלב פנוי מן החכמה, ובחכמה הוא אומר "איילת אהבים, ויעלת חן: דדיה, ירווך בכל עת; באהבתה, תשגה תמיד

The Rambam is teaching us that when it comes to fighting the yetzer ha’ra, “Just say no,” is not enough of a strategy.  There has to be some positive good – the Rambam speaks of a positive expression of love – that the desire aroused by the yezter can be channeled into.  I’ll give a crude example: imagine you have a ba’al teshuvah who has been eating McDonalds his whole life.  Yom Kippur, when everyone is starving, is probably not a good day to try to impress upon him the importance of mitzvas kashrus.  Come over to the same guy in the middle of the Shabbos kiddush, when his plate is overflowing with kugel and kishke and cholent, and then talk to him about the McDonalds.  His response then is going to be, “Who needs McDonalds when you have this?”  That’s how to fight the yetzer ha’ra.

“Vayima’ein” was the “just say no” strategy.  It was followed up by a justification of what would be lost by violating the trust of Potifar.  But Chazal knew that there had to be more to Yosef’s victory of the yetzer than that – there had to be positive energy involved as well.  There had to be the “ayeles ahavim” for G-d that the Rambam speaks about.  So Chazal added these other considerations to the picture.  They tell us that Yosef reflected on his being worthy of prophecy, of his being so close to G-d that he could even be selected as a korban.  Those feelings of closeness with G-d, love of G-d, were what enabled him to achieve victory over the yetzer.

3. Yesterday I suggested that Yosef’s reliance on the Sar haMashkim was inappropriate because it was for a selfish end, but Bitya bas Pharoah was not criticized for acting on long odds and trying to save baby Moshe because it was on behalf of another.  Rav Shach in Rosh Amanah cites the gemara in Chulin (and there are many Midrashim to the same extent) that interprets the Sar haMashkim’s dreams as being a portent of the birth of Moshe, Aharon and Miriam, a hint to shalosh regalim, and other such signs that point to the growth and flourishing of Am Yisrael.  (The Netziv writes that “Vayachalmu chalom sheneihen” (39:5) is not referring to the Sar haMashkim and Sar haOfim, but rather “sheneihem” refers to Yosef and the Sar haHashkim/Ofim.  He sees this as the source for Chazal finding a message meant for Yosef and Klal Yisrael in the dreams.) 

Rav Shach suggests that had Yosef’s concern been limited to the fulfillment of the Sar haMashkim’s dreams for Klal Yisrael, then his making every desperate effort to get out of jail and bring them to fruition would have been not only warranted, but would have been a mitzvah.  Yosef’s error was saying, “z’chartani… v’hizkartani,” allowing consideration of his personal plight to enter into the equation.  I think this idea fits nicely with the chiluk I suggested.

4. Lastly, something to think about: many if not most people have a very simplistic view of emunah and think that if you do the right thing by G-d, G-d will in turn do good for you.  Sometimes it works that way, but often it does not.  After Yosef haTzadik passes the unbelievable test of resisting Eishes Potiphar (the Shomer Emunin writes that when someone is faced with temptation and overcomes it, that moment is an eis ratzon!) instead of being instantly rewarded, he instead loses his position and is tossed in prison.   Things seem to take a turn to the worse for him, not for the better.  Why davka after rising to such great heights of tzidkus does Yosef suffer punishment and disgrace?  How can that be the reward for his righteousness?  Something to ponder... maybe more next week on this.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yosef vs. Bitya: when desperate measures are rewarded vs. when they show a lack of faith

Chazal tell us that Yosef was punished and had to spend two extra years in prison because he asked the Sar haMashkim to remember him and try to help him.  Even though a person has to make a hishtadlus to better his/her own situation and not simply sit back and rely on G-d, Yosef’s request smacked of desperation.  Considering the log odds of success in relying on a drunk for help, his actions showed a lack of faith, a lack of confidence (Chazon Ish). 

The Torah elsewhere in Parshas Shemos tells us that when Pharoah’s daughter Bitya came down to the river and saw the basket containing baby Moshe floating by, she stretched out her hand and tried to grab it.  Chazal tell us that there was no way Bitya’s arm was long enough to reach the basket, yet, despite the long odds against her success, she made the effort.  As a result, Hashem performed a miracle and her arm stretched long enough for her to recover the basket and save Moshe. 
In one of R’ Reisman’s parsha shiurim he points out that at first glance these two Chazals seems contradictory.  Yosef is criticized for making a desperate effort; Bitya is rewarded for making a desperate effort.  What’s the difference between the two episodes?
R’ Reisman suggests (and a similar idea can be gleaned from this article) a distinction between hishtadlus in areas of gashmiyus vs. hishtadlus for ruchniyus.  Yosef’s situation was one of physical discomfort.  His escape from prison would improve his material situation.  Given those stakes, the amount of hishtadlus permitted is only what which would otherwise be perceived as “normal.”  How much effort would you make to get a better job, a better house, etc.?  It has to be within the realm of reason, not an act of desperation.  The situation facing Bitya was one of life or death -- Bitya was presented with the opportunity to do the mitzvah of hatzalas nefashos.  In those circumstances, there is no limit to how much effort you should put in, no matter how long the odds are against your success.
I would like to suggest another possible distinction.  Yosef’s hishtadlus was to better his own situation.  In those circumstances, one can be held accountable for being too invested in the situation, for losing sight of what is an appropriate response.   Think of the business owner, for example, who works later every night and every weekend with no break, without stopping to think that at some point success is  b’yad Hashem and the extra weekend at the office is not going to make a difference.   Bitya’s hishtadlus, however, was on behalf of another – on behalf of baby Moshe.  When you are acting on someone else’s behalf, there is not the same danger of getting swallowed up by the situation.  Think of the employee who comes to work every day and clocks his 9 to 5 shift and then goes home.  He has far less invested in the success of the business than the owner, and his effort shows it.  In those circumstances, even when, as in the case of Bitya, one takes a chance with long odds of success, the distance from the situation that comes from being an outside party ensures there is no loss of bitachon involved.

mai chazis d’dama didach sumak tfei -- is your cause more worthy than mine?

I don't want to beat a dead horse, but wanted to follow up on my post from yesterday in light of some other reactions to the same topic. R’ Yitzchok Alderstein is in favor of providing more and continued support to the chareidim who choose not to work, arguing that, “The children are indeed innocent victims. Our reaction in the past as frum Jews has always been to alleviate pain, regardless of blame.” 

I could not agree more that innocent children are suffering due to this terrible situation. HOWEVER, I have to ask, “Mai chazis d’dama didach sumak tfei?” Are the children of those suffering from self-inflicted poverty more deserving of help than children in my own backyard? The yeshivos in my neighborhood need cash. Parents in my neighborhood cannot pay tuition and cannot afford Shabbos meals. These are people, who, as I wrote yesterday, did not ask to be in this situation and most of whom have made every effort to find jobs. But times are tough. It can take months to find a job (been there, done that) and salaries are much lower than in times gone by. These innocent victims of economic downturn surely also deserve our help to get back on their feet.  

The question is not, “Shouldn't we help the poor?”

The question is, “Which poor should we help?”

It would be wonderful if we could alleviate poverty for all and children did not have to suffer for their parent’s mistakes – but we can’t.  If funds are available, then too I join Rabbi Adlerstein’s call to fund more kollelim and yeshivos, to provide more help and support for all those who are in need. But the money is not there!  Unfortunately cuts are needed, and difficult decisions must be made as to how to cope.  And unfortunately, rather than foster much needed and meaningful discussion of where to cut corners, how to spread available resources, how to encourage people to alleviate their own situation and how to provide resources for them to do so, instead, the only talk that came out of the Agudah convention was a demand for more money for an ever expanding number of poor.

Giving tzedaka to person A comes at a direct cost to person B, who is also in need. Our community is getting poorer, not richer. There is only so much wealth that can be spread around, and the more it is spread, the thinner the portion will be. Rabbi Adlerstein, if you have one imaginary dollar to spend, but two people who are in need, what do you propose to do?  Is it fair to ignore the person who has acted responsibly and made their hishtadlus but has not been blessed yet with success and instead give money to someone who has willfully chosen to inflict poverty on himself and his family? 

Rabbi Adlerstein points to the fact that there are 1000 students in Hareidi College as an indication that attitudes are changing, and that we must allow time for the process of change to unfold. But by his own admission, only 1/3 of those enrolled are men. So let’s say there are 400 men currently getting an education that would provide them with skills needed for employment. By comparison, there are about 6000 or so people learning in the Mir, and that is just one yeshiva of many! The change he points to is a mere drop in the bucket and is completely inconsequential in the overall picture.

Rather than prove that change – albeit slow change – is on the way, as R’ Adlerstein posits, the Agudah convention only reinforced the opposite perception. R’ Ephraim Wachsman shlit”a reminded us in a keynote address that Am Yisrael is an “am k’shei oref” – we stubbornly refuse change.  Rabbi Wachsman was not decrying the situation and demanding that we do commit to necessary sociological and educational changes -- to the contrary, he was lauding this stubborness as a virtue and reinforcing committment to the status quo.

The implication that those who do not agree with preserving the status quo want children to suffer in poverty or care less about Torah than others is wrong.  It is precisely because we care so much that we want to see changes made that will enable those who should be learning to be able to do so without starving, that will enable those who should be working to gain the skills to do so, and that will enable out children to grow up in the safe and healthy environment that they need.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

vayima'ein -- did Yosef need to make excuses?

וימאן ויאמר אל אשת אדוניו וגו' יהודה ב"ר אמר בדבר מצוה ממאנין בדבר עבירה אין ממאנין בדבר מצוה ממאנין מאן יבמי בדבר עבירה אין ממאנין וימאן ויאמר הן אדוני וגו' אמר לה למוד הוא הקדוש ברוך הוא להיות בוחר מאהובי בית אבא לעולה לאברהם (בראשית כב) קח נא את בנך אשמע ליך ושמא אבחר לעולה ואפסל מן הקרבן ד"א ויאמר אל אשת אדוניו א"ל למוד הקב"ה להיות נגלה על אוהבי בית אבא בלילה אברהם (שם טו) אחר הדברים האלה היה דבר ה' אל אברם במחזה יצחק (שם כו) וירא ה' אליו בלילה ההוא יעקב (שם כח) ויחלום והנה סולם אשמע ליך ושמא יגלה עלי הקדוש ברוך הוא וימצא אותי טמא

The Midrash puts all kinds of explanations in Yosef's mouth to justify why he turned down Eishes Potifar's advances.  Let's be honest -- some of these excuses are downright flimsy.  "Maybe I will be chosen as a korban olah and this will disqualify me" -- Did Yosef really anticipate there being another akeidas Yitzchak scenario?  "Maybe G-d will appear to me this night and I will be impure" -- is nevuah something that happened so often? 

Why does the Midrash even see a need to make excuses?  Yosef refused -- it was an aveira and the wrong thing to do.  Period, end of story.  Moreover, the pasuk (38:8-9) itself tells us Yosef's justification for refusing.  Yosef's told Eishes Potifar that he could not repay the trust her husband had placed in him by committing such a terrible sin with his wife.  Why does the Midrash have to add to what the pasuk itself tells us?

For now I'm just throwing out questions... 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

not a memory -- a reality

Usually when the Torah uses the word “zeh” it is referring to a specific item at hand, e.g. Rashi writes that when Moshe was told, “Hachodesh ha’zeh lachem,” Hashem showed him exactly what the new moon was supposed to look like.  What did Ya’akov mean when he said, “Ki b’makli avarti es hayarden ha’zeh” – how could he use the word “zeh,” this river, when he was standing nowhere near the Yarden?   
The Sefas Emes answers that Hashem’s chessed was so real to Ya’akov that even though he was not near the Yarden, in his mind’s eye it was as if he was there again.  It was not that he was remembering some event of the past; it was as if Hashem was doing it for him at that moment.

When I saw this Sefas Emes I immediately thought of “Mah nishtana ha’layla ha’zeh m’kol ha’laylos.”  On Pesach night the geulah is so real to us that it’s not like past history, it’s like we are experiencing it right then and there. 

I don’t blame my wife for not looking forward to Pesach yet.  She immediately thought of a closer holiday, namely our brachos on ner Chanukah, “she'asah nisim... bayamim ha’heim bz’man ha’zeh.”  Again, it’s not some distant memory that we are talking about, but it’s like we are there all over again.

an unfeasible solution

At the Agudah Convention (which I have never attended) there was apparently a video and much talk about the economic hardship in Eretz Yisrael.  The solution – please provide more support. 

I don’t get it.  There is only so much money out there.  I live in the Five Towns, a community which is considered well to do.  Our schools are not awash in cash.  There are plenty of parents who cannot afford tuition.  There are people who rely on Tomchei Shabbos to have Shabbos meals.  There are people who are unemployed and underemployed who are barely able to make ends meet themselves.  Most I think are people who do not choose to be in this situation.  Many of them have jobs, are looking for jobs, etc., but still cannot cope with the high price of an Orthodox lifestyle.  The same is true in many, many other communities.
Should the government provide more funding?  Governments need to take from one pocket to give to another.  If taxes are raised, then inevitably someone else feels the pinch.

Where is the extra money supposed to come from to support thousands of people who choose (not who are forced) to rely on outside aid, both government and private, for their basic needs? 
What is especially troubling is the false sense of entitlement that has been created, as if we as a community or the Israeli government owe it to everyone who wants to learn full time to be supported in those efforts, and if we fail or cannot meet those obligations, we are at fault or we are anti-Torah. 

I don’t think there has ever been a period in Jewish history where such a large section of the population has decided full time learning is a career path.  Baruch Hashem that is the case!  We should be thrilled.  We should encourage more people to learn for as long as possible.  But it behooves our community leaders to realize that economically, it is an unfeasible situation.  Baruch Hashem that there are thousands learning in the Mir (not to single it out -- I'm just giving an example).  But there has to be some plan to pay the bills that inevitable come due when you have thousands of people doing nothing other than studying Torah.   A simple question: what's the plan? 
As more and more children enter into the system, the strains will grow even greater.  It's time to come up with real solutions now.

Monday, November 18, 2013

a contrarian view of the Dinah story

Rashi in last week’s parsha quotes from Midrash that Rachel’s death during childbirth was a direct result of Ya’akov’s curse that whoever took the terafim of Lavan should die.  Ibn Ezra (31:32) is very critical of this idea.  He points to the fact that we are told early in Sefer Shmuel that the wife of Pinchas, Eli’s daughter-in-law, died in childbirth when the aron was taken by the Plishtim. Ibn Ezra challenges us: if we are going to point to Ya'akov's curse as the cause of Rachel’s death,  whose curse do we point to as the cause of Eli’s daughter-in-law’s death?

Maharal comes to Rashi’s rescue with a yesod in how we look at the Avos/ Imahos.  You can’t compare, writes the Maharal, a story in Nach with a story about the Imahos.  We all do enough wrong things and our lives are so far from the ideal that we should probably wonder why anything goes right for us, not why things go wrong.  Characters in Nach may have lived far more perfect lives than ours, but even they did not reach the level of the Avos and Imahos.  If something bad happened, its a fair assumption that somewhere along the way some wrong was done.  The same assumption cannot be made about the Avos or Imahos.  To the contrary: our baseline assumption, unless we know otherwise, must be that the Avos and Imahos were models of perfection, free from sin. If we read that something tragic happened to Rachel Imeinu, something that deviated from perfection, it demands an explanation.

Maharal echoes the same idea in Parshas VaYishlach.  Rashi tells us that because Ya’akov hid Dinah in a box away from Eisav, he suffered her being abducted by Shechem (why Dinah should suffer because Ya’akov did something wrong is a good question, but not my topic).  The story of Dinah’s abduction demands a reason – it cannot be a capricious event that just “happened” to Ya’akov Avinu because things just don’t “happen” to the Avos by chance or stroke of bad luck.  If there is a deviation from normal life, it means there was an abnormal deviation or flaw of character that caused events to turn out that way.
The Maharal obviously is far to the opposite extreme of the modern trend of trying to humanize the Avos and Imahos and attribute to them human frailties that we all suffer. 

Since I mentioned the episode with Dinah, I want to just discuss one point with respect to her responsibility for what happened.  Rashi comments on “VaTeitzei Dinah bas Leah” (34:1) that Dinah is connected specifically with her mother Leah because Dinah mimicked Leah’s behavior.  Just as Leah ran out to greet Ya’akov, so too, Dinah ran out into the world to see other young ladies.  The lesson some choose to learn from here is that Dinah was guilty of straying outside the home to see what was going on in the outside world – a lack of tzeniyus – and as a result she got what was coming to her.  Many well meaning Moros end the lesson at this point with the charge, “Let that be a lesson to you young ladies!”

I doubt that those teaching this lesson intend to convey that rape or abduction is the fault of the victim, but that does seem to be the subtext of the message.  They would counter that of course the attacker is at fault, but had the victim not been outside, not been dressed in a certain way, not been hanging out in certain places, things might have turned out differently.  I don’t know if that is a good enough answer (see my wife's post here).

In light of the Maharal, something else should be bothering us here.  Dinah’s behavior was, according to Rashi, a reflection of Leah’s behavior.  If Dinah was at fault in going out, then it means that Leah was at fault as well.  Not only are we being critical of one of the Imahos (and Dinah), but we are doing so for behavior which G-d rewarded: as a result of Leah’s going out and showing her desire to be with Ya’akov she was blessed with Yisachar!  Look at the Chasam Sofer’s  reaction: “Chalilah v’chalilah she'yazkir Leah hatzadekes l’genai… Rachmana nitzlan m’hai da’ata!  …Mevu’ar u’mefursam she’haysa yetziya kodesh l’Hashem v’kacha yetzi’as bitah.”  G-d forbid that we should attribute moral failing to the righteous Leah – may G-d protect us from such ideas!  Just as it is obvious and well known that Leah’s going out was for a holy reason, so too was Dinah’s going out.

I won’t hide from you that if you read the rest of the Ch”S he does assign some blame to Dinah.  However, he does not portray her as some wayward child who was looking for an escape – i.e. a modern American teenager.  That’s not how to view the Imahos or Dinah.  One can have the purest intentions l’shem shamayim, as Dinah did, and still err. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe goes a step further.  As mentioned earlier, Rashi tells us that Dinah’s abduction is a punishment to Ya’akov for his having hid her in a box to protect her from Eisav.  The implication is that he should have allowed Dinah to marry Eisav, as she could have inspired his teshuvah.  We see from here the tremendous power Dinah had to be makareiv others, even an Eisav.  Her going out to see the “bnos ha’aretz” could and should be interpreted as a kiruv mission, similar to the way Sarah and Avraham ran outreach programs.  Rashi draws our attention to the parallel between Dinah and Leah’s behavior not to attribute blame – Rashi already told us that Ya’akov himself, not Dinah, was the one who deserved blame for placing Dinah in a box -- but rather to stress the positive in Dinah’s actions, that just as Leah went out with the purest motives l’shem shamayim for a positive end, so too did her daughter Dinah.
When read in that light, the moral of the story is not never to leave home because of the risks involved or the lack of tzeniyus in doing so, but to the contrary, to utilize one's ability for kiruv and outreach.  The moral failing in the story belongs to Ya'akov for witholding Dinah from Eisav and restricting her ability to make more of a difference in the world.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

heiteiv eitiv imach -- a conduit of goodness

Ya'akov was fearful of his encounter with Eisav despite Hashem’s previous promises of protection.  At the opening of our parsha Ya’akov says, "Katonti m'kol hachassadim," which Rashi explains to me that he worried shema yigrom hacheit, maybe he had sinned and was not worthy.   Yet, he then continues, "V'atah amarta heiteiv eiitiv imach..." reminding Hashem that he had promised Ya’akov protection.  Ramban asks: if Rashi is right that Ya'akov was worried shema yigrom hacheit, then what good is mentioning the promise of "heiteiv eitiv imach...?"  He thought he wasn't worthy of that promise?!

Imagine a guy sitting in yeshiva who has a mussar seder just before ma’ariv.  During that seder he engages in deep introspection and comes face to face with all his flaws, with all his shortcomings; he meditates on where he is now vs. where he should be.  Then he davens ma’ariv – “Refainu… Bareich aleinu…” etc.  How can the same person who spent 20 minutes thinking about how far from his ideals then turn around and start making requests from Hashem?

The question is not a question.  Tefilah has no prerequisites.  You can ask Hashem for anything and everything no matter where you are holding – in fact, that’s exactly what Hashem wants.  Does a child think about what he/she deserves before asking a parent for it?  Of course not.  So too, tefilah allows a person to approach Hashem warts and all, whether deserving or not, and ask for the world.

 Mahral explains that “katonti m’kol hachassadim” is an assessment of reality.

 “Hatzileinu na m’yad achi m’yad eisav…  v’atah amarta heitev eitiv imach” is a tefilah. 

 I would like to suggest another answer to the Ramban’s question.  Many of the meforshim struggle to explain the double-language of “heiteiv eitiv.”  The Tiferes Shlomo writes (he connects it with yichudim - I'm simplifying the point) that  Hashem promised not only that he would do good for Ya'akov, i.e. "heiteiv," but more than that, he promised "eitiv imach," I will do good with you, i.e. through you = “al yadcha” (in the Tif Shlomo’s words).  In other words, Ya'akov would be a vehicle to bring tovah to others.

When a person is by himself, even when Hashem made a promise of tovah to that individual, shema yigrom hacheit needs to be taken into consideration.     

However, when a person is a connected with others and he/she acts as a conduit of tovah to others, i.e. there is an "eitiv imach," through the individual, then apparently shema yigrom hacheit doesn't matter because any tovah Hashem gives is not a gift just to the individual, dependent on his/her personal merits, but is something that is by deifinition going to be shared and spread to all those the individual supports and encounters.

Ya'akov when speaking about himself could say, "Katontim m'kol hachassadim," but at the same time, as a husband and father, as a conduit of tovah to others, he could call on the promise of "heiteiv eitiv eimach" without worrying about being turned back by Hashem.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

a simple proposal to thwart assimilation

The latest PEW study will undoubtedly bring out the usual tired proposals and suggestions on how to thwart the rapid assimilation of large segments of the Jewish community, most of which have been tried before with little to show for the effort. Evelyn Gordon, writing for  Commentary Magazine, has a proposal that is remarkable for its simplicity, yet hits the nail right on the head:  
I’d like to offer a much simpler proposal: Just stop dumbing down Judaism. American Jews overwhelmingly receive excellent secular educations; they are exposed to the most challenging, rigorous, thought-provoking material available in science, philosophy, history, and literature. Yet they rarely encounter Judaism at a level more intellectually challenging than a kindergarten class. And as long as that’s true, Judaism will never be able to compete with the secular world for their attention.
The author goes on the attribute the sustaining power of Orthodoxy to the seriousness which we devote to study. She writes:
But in the non-Orthodox community, Jewish education never comes close to the intellectual rigor of secular studies. Almost every American Jew who has attended a non-Orthodox Hebrew school can attest to this; just last week, the Forward ran a piece by an associate professor, Michah Gottlieb, deploring the lack of opportunities for serious Torah study at his childhood synagogue. My own experience is equally typical: During 12 years of Hebrew school, the numbing boredom was punctured by only two classes that offered comparable intellectual stimulation to my secular public schools–and both were taught by Orthodox rabbis. The difference was that they took classic Jewish texts seriously, insisting that we read, analyze, and debate them with the same rigor I encountered in secular history or literature classes.

The problem is that it’s hard to make the effort to delve into texts when you’ve been constantly told that these same texts reflect no more than the imaginative fancy of misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, superstitious males whose agenda was the preservation of their own power within a hierarchical and patriarchal system.  When you are so busy reforming and reconstructing what you don't like about Torah and mitzvos, it's hard to make an about face and think that there is something there worth paying attention to.  


This is not meant as a political comment as the point has nothing to do with politics.  This past weekend the world came very close OKing an agreement that would inevitably have led to Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.  Only a blind fool (read: John Kerry) would think otherwise.  Amazingly, France stepped in and put a stop to the deal – for now.  But make no bones about it, we are far from out of danger. 

Question: where were we when these negotiations were taking place?

Did I miss the invitation to the tehillim asifa, like the one held a few months ago to protest against drafting yeshiva students?  Did I miss the gathering of 25,000 or more in Manhattan, just as was done then, to protest?  Did I overlook Agudah’s plan to address the issue of protecting Israel’s security at its convention?  Did I overlook the major Jewish organizations calling for each and every one of us to call our representatives to protest any removal of sanctions from Iran before they dismantle their uranium enrichment program?

What irks me is not the silence of so-called political friends of ours.  

What irks me is the silence within our own community.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rachel's special zechus

“Vayizkor Elokim es Rachel” (30:22) – Rashi explains that Hashem remembered Rachel’s having given Leah the special signs that Ya’akov made up with her to prevent Lavan from pulling a switch.  Rachel was unable to stand by idly while her sister suffered the embarrassment of being exposed and rejected by Ya’akov.  In that merit, Rachel was able to conceive and give birth to Yosef.

Maharal asks why Rashi needed to pinpoint this particular zechus as the one which elicited Hashem granting her a chuld.  Rachel was a tzadekes – surely there were many acts of goodness and mitzvos which she did over the years that counted in her favor.

We see an important idea here: sometimes you can have Torah, tefilah, tzedakah, etc., but sometimes only a particular type of zechus can trigger midah k'neged midah the needed response.  

Mahral explains that because Rachel could not tolerate the embarrassment of her sister Leah, Hashem responded in kind and no longer tolerated Rachel suffering the embarrassment of being barren.   Rachel of course had many other zechuyos, but only giving the simanim had the quality necessary to produce midah k'neged midah this result.

I would like to suggest a slightly different twist based on the Ksav Sofer’s explanation of what I found to be one of the more difficult parts of the parsha.  Earlier (30:1-2) the Torah tells us that Rachel in frustration came to Ya’akov and asked him to daven on her behalf.  Rather than respond sympathetically, Ya’akov got angry and told Rachel that he is not G-d and cannot grant her wish.  Rashi (30:2) explains that Rachel argued to Ya’akov that he should daven on her behalf just as Yitzchak davened for Rivka.  Ya’akov responded that the situation was not parallel.  Yitzchak had no children except through Rivka; Ya’akov, however, had other sons through Leah.  The Ramban is already in troubled by Ya’akov’s harsh response, and at least on view in Midrash is unapologetic in condemning Ya’akov for his reaction. 

Ksav Sofer reminds us of a Chazal that we have all heard: if put your own needs aside and daven on behalf of someone else in a similar situation, your own needs will be answered first.  (I think recently there was a whole movement to try to pair people up so that A will daven for B and B will daven for A and both will get what they want.  Of course, the idea behind the Chazal seems to be that you should have sincere empathy for another's needs, not simply use davening on their behald as a means to get your own desires fulfilled.) Yitzchak was willing to forgo asking Hashem for a child – if Hashem made him barren, so be it, he would be accept whatever Hashem dished out.  But Yitzchak could not bear seeing Rivka suffer, knowing that she wanted to conceive.  The Torah makes a point of telling us that Yitzchak’s tefilah (“Va’yei’aser lo Hashem” 25:21), not Rivka’s tefilah, was answered because it was Yitzchak who focused on his wife’s needs and davened on her behalf rather than focusing on himself and his own needs.

Ya’akov had to tell Rachel that the same would not work in their case.  The power of Yitzchak’s tefilah came from his overlooking his own needs for a child and focusing only on Rivka’s needs.  Ya’akov already had children from Leah –- he had no need to surrender or overlook that would cause a tefilah on Rachel's behalf to be accepted.

The approach is a bit pilpulistic, but I think there is a moral lesson here as well. While Chazal formulate the teaching that davening on behalf of someone else gets results as a general rule, I think it has particular significance in this context.  Yitzchak's putting aside his own needs gave him the zechus to have children because what is being a parent all about if not giving up your own needs and wants for the sake of your children?  How many sleepless nights, changes in schedule, agmas nefesh of all sorts, do all of us who are parents suffer for the sake of our offspring?  Forget the general rule – here, the tefilah of Yitzchak for children worked because midah k’neged midah his selflessness was rewarded with parenthood, the ultimate test of selfless giving.

Coming back to the Maharal, perhaps it was not so much helping Rachel avoid suffering embarrassment that elicited Hashem’s response, but rather it was Rachel’s selflessness -- giving up her simanin, giving up her position as first wife, giving up her chuppah for the sake of someone else – that caused her to merit the ability to have a child, because being a giver, surrendering oneself on behalf of another, is the very definition of parenthood.

Monday, November 11, 2013

a modern day Shimon ben Shetach

A Rabbi in New Haven bought a desk on Craig's list and discovered $98,000 stashed in a drawer.  (Don't ask me how someone can forget about $98,000.)  Aviedas aku"m, right?  Well, he returned the money and the kiddush Hashem made the news:

Yerushalmi (B.M. 2:5):  The talmidim of Shimon ben Shetach bought a donkey for their teacher from a non-Jewish merchant and they discovered a jewel on the donkey.  Shimon ben Shetach insisted on returning it. They asked, "But aviedas aku"m is permitted?"  To which is answered, "Is Shimon ben Shetach a barbarian!"

Friday, November 08, 2013

the reason for the name Yis(as)char and how to pronounce it

Public service announcement: Now that we’ve changed the clock sof zman kri’as shema is much earlier, e.g. in NY the zman is now around 9:00 (acc to GR”A), so if you start davening at 9:00, or even 8:45, you are not going to make it.  The M”B (Sha’ar haTzion 241:4) writes that it is better to daven b’yechidus than to daven outside the zman (as is the view of RYBS), but I’m not your Rabbi, so don’t ask me what to do.  I never understood why so many shuls have 9:00 start times, but that’s just me.

I wanted to add one other little idea from the Berdichiver to the discussion we had yesterday about the naming of Yisachar.  The Torah prefaces the birth Yisachar with the words, “Vayishma Elokim el Le’ah…” (30:17)  What did Hashem hear – there was no tefilah on Leah’s part here?  Rashi explains that Hashem “heard” the desire that Leah demonstrated to be the mother of more of the shevatim (R’ Shteiman is medayeik: more shevatim – not simply more children.)  Leah’s tefilah was not a tefilah of words, but a tefilah of action. 

What action is Rashi talking about? 

Lichorah, Rashi is referring to the fact that Leah gave up the dudaim in order to be with Ya’akov.  But that begs the question: how do we know that Leah was in fact motivated l’shem shamayim because she wanted to be the mother of more shevatim?  Maybe she just wanted to spend more time with her husband Ya’akov?

The proof of Leah’s sincerity, says the Berdichiver, is the reason she gave for choosing the name Yisachar.  Leah does not give the reason as “sachor sicharticha,” her hiring of Ya’akov with the dudaim, as that could have been done for any reason.  She instead gives the reason as “nasati shifchasi l’ishi,” her giving of her maid to Ya’akov for another wife.  Had Leah been thinking only of herself, she would never have given Ya’akov yet another wife to occupy his time.  Her actions could only be explained by her being motivated l’shem shamayim to produce more shevatim through the surrogate of her shifcha. 

The gemara (Nidah 31) darshens the pasuk “Yisachar chamor garem” (49:15) to mean that Hashem himself helped out in Yisachar’s conception by guiding Ya’akov’s donkey to Leah’s tent when he came home.  “Chamor garem” – his birth was caused by the chamor, the donkey.  Maharal and others often interpret “chamor” as a hint to chomriyus, materialism.  I would like to suggest that Chazal are trying to teach us that where the motivation is l’shem shamayim, your ruchniyus is already at the goal line, Hashem will arrange for the chamor=chomriyus, for the physical means to follow. 
Perhaps one can even say that it was Leah's l'shem shamayim here that caused sheivet Yisachar to have a special bracha of success in limud haTorah. 

Why do we read the name as "Yisachar" as if it is spelled with a single letter "sin" instead of the double-letter?  Why don't we read it as "Yisaschar?"  Based on the hesber we gave yesterday, that the second letter hints (see Rashbam) to “sachor sicharticha,” it could be that Leah not only avoided giving voice to those words, but she also avoided saying the name in a way that would reveal the hint.  The Da’as Zekeinim b’Ba’alei haTosfos gives a different reason.  In Parshas vaYigash the Torah lists “Yov” among the children of Yisachar.  In Parshas Pinchas there is no Yov listed, but there is a “Yashuv.”  The Da’as Zekeinim explains that Yov sounds like the name of an avodah zarah, so Yisachar gave up a letter sin/shin from his name and added it to his son’s name.  (Is there is a shortage of letters?  Why couldn’t he just add a letter without borrowing it from his own name?  Tzarich iyun).  Based on this hesber, it seems that at least here, in Parshas VaYeitzei, when Yisachar is born, the name should be read as “Yisaschar”, with the double-letter, as at this point he had no son yet and that was his name.  R’ Chaim Kanievski in Ta’ama D’Kra affirms that this was the Chazon Ish’s practice.  I have heard other ba’alei kri’ah have the minhag to read it as Yisaschar (double-letter) through Parshas Pinchas and make the switch from that point onward.  As for those who don’t do this, they must assume it is a kri u’kesiv.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

a lesson in sensitivity -- two sides of the same coin

The Torah tells us that Rachel gave up being with Ya’akov for a night in exchange for Reuvain’s dudaim and as a result of this time Ya’akov spent with Leah, Yisachar was born (30:14-18).  I want to share with you two insights from this parsha that both revolve around the same point: showing sensitivity for others.

The Torah describes how Le’ah went out to greet Ya’akov and proudly declared, “sachor sichartica,” “I hired you to be with me.” (30:16).  If I asked you why Leah named her child Yisachar, I have no doubt that after reading that pasuk you would tell me that it’s because of those words.  However, that’s not the reason, as we read just a few pesukim later (30:18):

Vatomer Leah nasan Elokim es sechari asher nasati shifchasi l’ishi…”

“Leah said, ‘Hashem has given me my reward for giving my maid to my husband…'”

Why does Leah give what sounds like a far-fetched justification for Yisachar's name instead of giving the reason we all anticipated?  R’ Shimon Sofer writes that Leah deliberately avoided mentioning “sachor sicharticha” because she knew that mentioning it would cause Rachel pain.  Imagine how Rachel would have felt, having no children of her own, if she was reminded at the naming of yet another baby of her sister's that she had given up a chance to be with Ya'akov in exhange for flowers!  Leah therefore doesn't mention it, but the Torah spells Yisachar with a double letter sin to hint that there is another reason for Yisachar's name, another schar, the “sachor sicharticha,” that Leah had a right to boast of, but that she would never say openly for fear of hurting Rachel.

When I saw this shtickel it dawned on me that it is the mirror image of the beautiful vort gTorah (who has lots of other nice stuff worth your attention!) postedA few pesukim later the Torah says “Vayizkor Elokim es Rachel” and Rachel finally gives birth.  Rashi writes that Hashem “remembered” that Rachel had given to Leah the secret signs that Ya’akov had made up with her before their wedding to prevent trickery.  Rachel did not want to stand by idly and watch her sister suffer the embarrassment of being exposed and rejected by Ya’akov, so she gave those signs to Leah.

Why is that zechus brought up here?  That happened when Rachel and Leah were first married – this is years later?

GTorah quotes R’Ezra Hartman as explaining that when Leah accused Rachel of trying to take both her husband and her children’s flowers (30:15), Rachel had the perfect comeback.  Rachel could easily have told Leah that if not for her giving away the secret signs, Leah would never have been married to Ya’akov to begin with!  But she doesn’t say anything – she holds her tongue rather than embarrass her sister.

So in one parsha we have Leah swallowing her desire to boast “sachor sicharticha” in order to to prevent Rachel from being embarrassed, and in the very same episode we have Rachel swallowing her perfect comeback in order to prevent Leah from being embarrassed -- one coin, two sides, and a tremendous lesson.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

civic duty

Let me describe what my polling place was like last night: the front door of the City Hall building was broken, so everyone had to enter around back – it really boosts your confidence and appreciation of government when your first impression is a broken door.  Symbolic, isn't it?  Our polling area was manned by four senior citizens, a proportion of about one worker for every voter (at least while I was there).  Each person who came to vote had to give his/her name and be looked up manually in a registration book.  Another worker then s-l-o-w-l-y wrote out each name by hand on another piece of paper along with your address and party affiliation (who knows why they need this).  I guess a duplicate copy was also needed, because the polling worker had a sheet of carbon paper on his pad (I don’t recall seeing that stuff since elementary school in the 1970’s – does my town have a stockpile from back then, or is some company still making this stuff?)  Finally, you are handed a ballot.  Now, NY State has advanced to the point that we no longer enter booths and pull a lever – we have these scantron sheets that are fed into a computer that scans the ballot.  Problem is, the machine coughs back a good percentage of the ballots it is fed.  My wife kept trying to get hers to work and it kept failing.  Same for another gentleman who was there.  There was a nice poll worker who came over to look at her ballot (so much for privacy) and try to get the machine to take it, but even he had to give up and just give her another ballot to fill out. 

My favorite item on the ballot itself was the referendum on whether we approve of a change to the State constitution that would allow casinos to be built, “promoting job growth, increasing aid to schools, and permitting local governments to lower property taxes.”  Yes, that was the exact language used.  How many people will say, “Golly gee, I think I’ll vote no because I’m really NOT in favor of job growth, aid to schools, and lower taxes.”  What a sham.

I think it’s time to thrown in the towel on this whole civic duty thing.  The overwhelming majority of the electorate 1) has little grasp of the issues; 2) is ignorant of basic economics, civics, history; 3) will vote for whoever promises the most goodies. 

Exhibit A:

I was listening to the radio this morning in the car and the interviewer asked someone whether he thought the New Jerseyians who voted to increase the minimum wage realized it would mean they would have to pay more when shopping.  The answer: of course not.  The government can just print some more money, can't they? 

Dear candidate: next election please don't bother me.  Just do einey-meeney-miney-moe and coronate someone.

tefilas arvis reshus

There are two fundamental disputes in hil tefilah that seem to go hand in hand:

1) There is a machlokes Rambam and Ramban whether tefilah is a mitzvah d’oraysa once a day every day (Rambam) or whether tefilah is a takakah derabbanan to be fulfilled multiple times a day (Ramban). 

2) The gemara has a machlokes whether tefilas arvis is reshus or not, i.e. whether the obligation to daven ma’ariv carries the same weight as the obligation to daven the other tefilos. 

Putting two and two together: According to the Rambam, who holds that tefilah is d’oraysa, the first opportunity in the day to fulfill that chiyuv is ma’ariv. It doesn’t seem to make sense to say that ma’ariv, which is potentially a kiyum d’oraysa, would be only a reshus, but other tefilos would be chovah!  The view that holds ma’ariv is reshus seems to only work if you hold tefilah is derabbanan; the view that holds ma’ariv is chovah fits nicely if you holdstefilah is d’oraysa.

In one of his recent Motzei Shabbos shiurim, R’ Yitzchak Yosef pointed out that while the lomdus sounds nice in theory, it's dead wrong. As noted, the Rambam paskens that tefilah is d’oraysa (hil tefilah 1:1):

מצות עשה להתפלל בכל יום

Yet the Rambam also holds that tefilas arvis is reshus (hil tefilah ch3):

  תפילת הערב--אף על פי שאינה חובה--המתפלל אותה, יש לו להתפלל מתחילת הלילה עד שיעלה עמוד השחר.

 Somehow you need to explain how to fit the two together. That’s a homework question.

Why is it that tefilas arvis is reshus as opposed to the other tefilos?

According to one view in Chazal, our tefilos correspond to the avodah done in the Mikdash: shacharis corresponds to the korban tamid done in the morning; mincha corresponds to the tamid in the afternoon; ma’ariv corresponds to the fats and flesh left burning on the altar during the night. I think we can agree that it makes sense for there to be a distinction between teflios that correspond to the korbanos tamid, where there was a mitzvah to offer a korban and sprinkle the blood on the mizbeiach, and ma’ariv, where there was nothing to do other than leave the remaining fats and meats on the altar to burn. 

But Chazal also tell us that tefilos were instituted by the Avos. Avraham instituted shacharis; Yitzchak instituted mincha; Chazal darshen from the pasuk “Vayifga ba’makom” in this week’s parsha that Ya’akov instituted tefilas arvis. According to this view, why is ma’ariv different than the other tefilos?

The Shem M'Shmuel answers by quoting the Midrash on "Tzamah lecha nafshi, kameh lecha besari” that explains that just as Ya’akov’s nefesh thirsted for G-d, so too did the 248 limbs of his physical body. Ya’akov succeeded in obliterating the divide between guf and nefesh. There was no longer within him a dichotomy, a struggle, between physical self and spiritual self – it was all one unit dedicated to avodas Hashem.

This level of avodah is one that only the elite can reach; it cannot be a chovah incumbent upon all.

Rather than see these as two different approaches -- tefilos as representative of avodah in the Mikdash vs. tefilah as an institution of the Avos -- the Shem m’Shmuel suggests that there is an underlying harmony between the views. Avraham and Yitzchak succeeded in worshipping G-d with all their soul; Ya’akov succeeded in worshipping with his entire being. The most essential avodah of all korbanos, including the twice daily tamid, was the zerikas ha’dam, splashing the blood on the mizbeiach. “Ki ha’dam hu hanefesh,” blood represents the soul, spiritual self-sacrifice.   At night, however, it was the flesh and fats, even the physical elements of the animal, that were able to be consecrated and burned on the mizbeiach.   This is tefilas ma'ariv, the avodah of Ya'akov, who was able to unify body with soul in his worship.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ya'akov's aveira lishma

Last week I mentioned the Midrash that says that because Ya’akov caused Eisav to scream over the loss of Yitzchak’s brachos, his descendent Mordechai ended up screaming because of Haman’s decree.  Why was Ya’akov held accountable for causing his brother Eisav to scream, but not for causing his father to panic in fear, “Va’yecherad Yitzchak…?”  The Neztiv answers that Ya’akov was committing an aveirah lishma in order to receive the brachos and an aveirah lishma is permitted only when one has the purest motives and receives no personal benefit or enjoyment.  The gemara (Nazir 23) writes that when Ya’el seduced Sisra in order to kill him it was an aviera lishma, and the gemara still asks how she could do such a thing when she might have gotten some pleasure from the act.  Ya’akov took no pleasure in deceiving his father; however, he did not have any similar qualms about causing Eisav to cry. 

The Netziv writes elsewhere as a general rule that any chiddush that changes the status quo must be lishma (see post here).  Doing an aviera, even for a good purpose, is  certainly a great chiddush; therefore I would suggest that it falls under the same general requirement of lishma that applies to any chiddush.

We also one discussed a yesod from R’ Amiel, who explains that the reason lishma is so critical by korban pesach, even more so than korban chatas, is because pesach celebrates the founding of Klal Yisrael.  When one is starting a new enterprise it is absolutely essential to get every detail right, because if the foundation is lacking, the rest of the building won’t stand.  (It’s already Kislev and Chanukah is coming – R’ Yosef Engel writes that even though tumah hutra b’tzibur, the menorah had to be lit with tahor oil because the first lighting, the act of dedicating the menorah for use, has to be done perfectly).  Yitzchak’s bracha was not just about getting “tal hashamayim u’shamanei ha’aretz,” material good, but it was about choosing who would carry on the legacy of the Avos and build Klal Yisrael.  It was the foundation, and therefore had to be done with the purest intentions.

2) I can’t find the Sefas Emes – Likutim online, but would love to link to it because I think you have to see this one inside.  What’s the idea behind the malachim crying in Yitzchak’s eyes to blind him?  The Sefas Emes highlights the pervious lines in that same Midrash (63:10) that teaches that someone who has a talmid or a son who is wicked is stricken blind.  It seems from the Midrash that this is for the person’s own sake, so that he should not venture outside his home and be the subject of gossip, e.g. “There goes so-and-so whose son is the troublemaker.”  The S.A., however, reads it as a punishment as well.  What the Midrash is telling us is that it’s not just blindness that Yitzchak suffered because he had an Eisav and loved him, but it goes back further -- even the trial of the akeidah was due to this reason!  It’s quite a chiddush (I hope I am not misreading his meaning.  If anyone takes a look and interprets what he says differently, pls comment!)