Monday, December 30, 2013

the removal of Pharoah's ability to do teshuvah

Last week I quoted a Midrash that Hashem sent Moshe to stop Pharoah from davening so as to not give him the opportunity to do teshuvah.  I assumed the Midrash was echoing the idea found in the Rambam (Hil Teshuvah 6:3):

  ואפשר שיחטא האדם חטא גדול או חטאים הרבה, עד שייתן הדין לפני דיין האמת שיהיה הפירעון מזה החוטא על חטאים אלו שעשה ברצונו ומדעתו, שמונעין ממנו התשובה ואין מניחין לו רשות לשוב מרשעו, כדי שימות ויאבד בחטאים שעשה.

Rambam says that as a punishment for repeated transgressions G-d can deny a person the ability to do teshuvah, as we see from the fact that G-d hardened Pharoah’s heart and did not let him repent. 

However, some of the meforshim on the Midrash learn that Pharaoh could not do teshuvah for a different reason.  The Y'fei To’ar writes that because Pharaoh’s cheit was bein adam l’chaveiro, a sin against his fellow man, his teshuvah could not come through an appeal to G-d, but could only come through his asking Bnei Yisrael for forgiveness.

Recall that in Parshas Lech Lecha Avraham was forced to go down to Mitzrayim, where Sarah was taken captive.  Pharaoh had to ask Avraham for forgiveness and he sent him away with riches.  Ramban writes that that episode is ma’aseh avos siman l’banim for the enslavement and release of Bnei Yisrael.  Perhaps the need for Pharaoh to ask mechilah of those he harmed is also part of the process that must repeat itself.

The Koshiglover (Eretz Tzvi, Va'Eira) writes that Pharoah was punished with his bechira being taken away midah k’neged.  After Moshe’s first visit, Pharaoh cracked down on Bnei Yisrael and demanded that they produce the same quota of bricks without being given the straw necessary to do the job.  Bricks without straw is a contradiction in terms – it’s an impossible task to achieve.  Pharaoh was setting up an inevitable pretext to dish out more severe punishment.  The same was now dished out to him.  Moshe demanded that Pharaoh free Bnei Yisrael, but Pharaoh was not given the means to exercise his bechira to do so.  Pharaoh was asked to do the impossible as a pretext to deliver greater punishment.

I would suggest that perhaps it was also Pharaoh’s declaration that he was a deity that contributed to this specific punishment being given.  In the parsha of shiras ha’yam Rashi comments on the pasuk, “Yemincha Hashem ne’edari ba’koach yemincha Hashem tir’atz oiyev,” (15:6) that G-d can use the very same hand he is using to have mercy and save his people to also strike and punish their enemies.  In other words, mercy and justice can exist simultaneously – the law of non-contradiction does not apply to G-d.  Pharaoh was thrust into a position where the law of non-contradiction hit him full force – he was pressed to allow Bn”Y to leave, but was denied the ability to choose to do so.  G-d with a capital G can bypass the law of non-contradiction; Pharaoh, a self-declared god with a little g and no real power, cannot.

Hashem tells Moshe at the beginning of Parshas Bo that the next makkos will be something For Bnei Yisrael to speak about to their children and grandchildren (10:2) and, “v’yedatem ki ani Hashem,” they will now know that G-d is in charge of everything.  What was significant about this makkah, about this point in time, that caused Hashem to make that promise?  Ksav Sofer writes that no matter how incredible the wonder of the makkos, it was always possible for the stubborn to argue that it was just magic or illusion.  However, there is one thing that everyone agrees that a magician cannot control – that is the human heart.  After the complete decimation of the food and water of Egypt, for Pharaoh to still not relent and not release Bnei Yisrael could only be because of yad Hashem.  That is the miracle that will cause “v’yedatem ki ani Hashem.”

The Mabi”T holds that denial of the ability to do teshuvah is a punishment meted out only to aku”m.  However, it is clear that the Rambam disagrees and applies the idea to all sinners, as his example indicates:

 וכן ישראל בימי אלייהו לפי שהרבו לפשוע, מנע מאותן המרבים תשובה, שנאמר "ואתה הסיבות את ליבם, אחורנית" (מלכים א יח,לז), כלומר מנעת מהן התשובה.

That being said, the Sefas Emes reminds us that midah tovah is always greater than punishment.  True, Hashem will slam closed the door on those who repeatedly ignore the opportunity to do teshuvah, but He will also open new doors for those who make the effort to come closer.  Even if it looks like there is no door, Hashem is “ha’posei’ach sha’ar l’dofkei b’teshuvah.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

what if Pharoah listens?

1) Normally history is a byproduct of events.  The Revolutionary War happened for whatever reasons it happened, and now, after the fact, on July 4 we eat hot dogs and watch baseball and remember those events. Sefas Emes explains that when it comes to yetzi’as Mitzrayim, the opposite is true.  “…V’yedatem ki ani Hashem,” (6:7) knowing G-d is not a byproduct, something that comes after the fact as the zeicher -– it is the cause.  Mitzrayim, galus, is hester panim.  If there is “v’yedatem ki ani Hashem,” there is no galus. 

2) Why it is that when Pharoah asked Moshe to daven to Hashem to remove the plague of frogs from Egypt, Moshe complied and did as he was asked?  Why didn’t Moshe just leave it to G-d, or tell Pharoah to daven for himself if he wants the plague removed?  Who ever said it was Moshe’s job to remove the makkah? 

Yesterday I suggested that the power of tefilah is built into nature, just like the force of gravity.  R’ Simcha Bunim m’Peshischa says the same here with respect to power of the tzadik.  There is a parallel between the story of creation and the story of Yetziyas Mitzrayim.  Both events teach us that G-d creates nature and is it’s master; He is not subject to it’s laws.  Yetziyas Mitzrayim is, “sod chidush ha’olam,” in the words of the Kol Simcha.  (The Sefas Emes speaks at length about the parallel between the 10 makkos and the 10 ma'mamaros used to create the world.)  The Torah therefore sets precedent here, at the foundation of creation, for Moshe to act not only as G-d’s messenger to bring the makkos, but also for his having the power to remove them.  The tzadik’s dominion over nature is built into creation; it’s not something that is imposed after the fact.    

3) Moshe argued that if Bnei Yisrael did not listen, “Aich yisma’eini Pharoah?”  (6:12) Rashi explains that Moshe was using logic and making a kal v’chomer: if Bn”Y won’t listen, certainly Pharoah won’t .  The Imrei Emes, however, explains that Moshe was saying to G-d that if Bnei Yisrael refused to listen, then how can he go to Pharaoh – what if Pharoah **does** listen?  How could he create such an embarrassment for Klal Yisrael that they refused to listen, but Pharoah did!  This is the same argument Yonah used when he ran away rather than go to Ninveh. 

4)  The answer to Moshe’s question of “Lamah harei’osa?” is ”Vayidaber Elokim… Ani Hashem.”  What we perceive as Elokim, the midas hadin, is really the midas harachamim disguised in a way that is impossible for us to recognize.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Pharoah's missed "shacharis"

The Midrash writes:

ורבי פנחס הכהן בר רבי חמא אמר הדא הוא דכתיב (איוב לו, יג) וחנפי לב ישימו אף לאחר שהקדוש ברוך הוא מצפה לרשעים שיעשו תשובה ואינם עושין אפילו הם רוצים באחרונה הוא נוטל את לבם שלא יעשו תשובה ומהו וחנפי לב אותן שהם באין ומחנפים בראשונה בלבם הם מביאים עליהם האף באחרונה ומהו (שם שם, שם) לא ישועו כי אסרם אף על פי שהם רוצים לשוב להקדוש ברוך הוא ובאין לעסוק בתפלה אינן יכולים למה כי אסרם שנעל בפניהם כך היה פרעה רוצה לעסוק בתפלה ואמר הקדוש ברוך הוא למשה עד שלא יצא לך והתיצב לפניו:

Pharaoh had finally decided that he would daven to Hashem and really do teshuvah.  Hashem therefore told Moshe, “Hashkeim baboker,” go to Pharaoh first thing in the morning -- interrupt Pharoah by appearing before him.  Don’t let Pharaoh daven.  At some point it is too late to do teshuvah, and so Hashem took the opportunity away from Pharoah.

Why did Moshe have to rush to stop Pharoah from davening?  If Hashem did not want Pharoah’s tefilos, he simply could have not listened and responded!   And so what if Moshe got to Pharaoh first thing in the morning – there was still the rest of the day?

Two of my children are procrastinators.  I once took out of the library for them the book Eat That Frog!: 21 great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done inLess Time by Brian Tracy, but they dilly-dallied over reading it, so it did not make much difference.  The title of the book has nothing to do with culinary matters – it’s a time management strategy.  There are things we know we have to get done, but we really don’t want to do.  Imagine you have a big, green frog sitting in front of you that you have to eat.  You know it’s going to be a miserable experience, but you have to do it.  What would most of us do?  We would put off getting it done.  We would leave that frog sitting on the plate in front of us and ignore it for as long as possible.  We would hope the frog vanishes.  The tasks we find unpleasant are just like that big green frog – we push them off and procrastinate.  Mark Twain said that if the first thing you do each morning is eat a live frog, you know the rest of the day can’t get much worse.  If you tackle the things you are tempted to put off first, the rest of the day goes by much faster and easier. 

Davening and doing teshuvah was Pharoah’s frog.  Pharoah did not really want to do teshuvah, but he knew he had to.  Therefore, Hashem made sure to send Moshe first thing in the morning.  Once Pharaoh pushed the frog out the way, the procrastination process would take over and he would not get back to it.  Human nature would see to it that there would be no davening later in the day. 

Why did Hashem care if Pharoah davened?  The Shem m’Shmuel explains that at that time Bnei Yisrael had no zechuyos to speak of. They needed to rely completely on Hashem’s chessed, on getting a free pass without having earned it. Once the highway of pure rachamim is opened between "upstairs" and our world, then it is opened for everyone – even Pharoah can use it. If Bnei Yisrael’tefilos would be listened to without regard to whether they were up to snuff in piety, then the same standard has to apply across the board and Pharaoh's prayers would get through as well. Therefore, Hashem sent Moshe to stop Pharoah from davening.
I would like to suggest a different answer.  The reason Moshe had to stop Pharaoh is because tefilah is not some miraculous process – it is something built into nature.  Just like if you toss a ball up it falls down because there is a force called gravity that G-d built into the world, so too, if you daven, there are results that come about because that’s the way G-d built the world.  It may not be the results you want, it may not happen immediately – but there will be results. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Moshe's decision to delay his son's milah - pikuach nefesh for a ben noach

The gemara (Nedarim 31) writes that when G-d told Moshe to return to Egypt, Moshe was caught in a quandary.  On the one hand, his son had just been born and needed a bris milah.  He could not do the milah and immediately leave, as that would endanger the child’s life.  He could not delay, because Hashem had commanded him to go to Mitzrayim.  So he left and put off the milah.  That is not why Moshe was punished – he was punished because when he came to an inn, he took care of the check-in and unpacking first before the milah.

The Mizrachi on Parshas Shemos asks: why was the danger to Moshe’s son’s life an excuse not to do milah?  We learn from the pasuk of “V’chai bahem” that, with the exception of three cardinal sins, no mitzvah or aveira is more important than human life, but if not for that pasuk, everything would be “yeihareg v’al ya’avor.”  If so, for a ben noach who does not have the pasuk of “V’chai bahem,” there is nothing, not even human life, that should supersede a mitzvah!

The Parashas Derachim addresses himself to this issue, but I want to share with you an insight of R’ Shlomo Wahrman in his She’eris Yosef (vol 5 - link).  The Rambam writes in Hil Milah:

  קטן שנמצא בשמיני שלו ירוק ביותר--אין מולין אותו, עד שייפול בו דם ויחזרו מראיו כמראה הקטנים הבריאים. וכן אם היה אדום ביותר כמי שצבעו--אין מולין אותו, עד שייבלע בו דמו ויחזרו מראיו כשאר הקטנים: מפני שזה חולי הוא. וצריך להיזהר בדברים אלו הרבה, ואין מולין אלא ולד שאין בו שם חולי: שסכנת נפשות דוחה את הכול, ואפשר למול לאחר זמן; ואי אפשר להחזיר נפש אחת מישראל, לעולם

The Rambam offers a sevara to explain why we postpone milah when there is a danger – the Rambam writes that it is always possible to do milah at a later point, but it is impossible to return a lost life.  We see from the Rambam held that in addition to the din in kol haTorah of pikuach nefesh that we learn from "V'chai bahem," there is a separate din of pikuach nefesh with respect to milah that is learned from sevara. 

Rav Wahrman suggested the Rambam introduced this second source for pikuach nefesh based on R’ Chaim Brisker’s (in Hil Milah) chiddush that there are two dinim in the chiyuv of milah: 1) the chiyuv given to Avraham Avinu that applied to his descendents; 2) the chiyuv milah given at mattan Torah.  When the gemara (Shabbos 136) says “nitna Torah v’nischadsha halacha” with respect to milah it means that there are new chiyuvim that exist post-mattan Torah *on top of* and in addition to the already existing chiyuv given to Avraham Avinu.

The pasuk of “V’chaim bahem” only helps for the post-mattan Torah chiyuv of milah.  For the pre-mattan Torah chiyuv given to Avraham Avinu, we need some other source to justify pushing off the milah, so the Rambam used a sevara.

What’s the makor for the Rambam?  The gemara in Nedraim that we started with that tells us that Moshe (who at that time was a ben Noach like everyone else) pushed off the milah of his son because of pikuach nefesh.

I have two comments related more to the chiddush of R’ Chaim than to R’ Wahrman’s application.  1) The Rambam (Hil Aveil 1:1) uses these same words of “nitna Torah v’nischadsha halacha,” which the gemara applies to milah, to explain why we cannot learn hil aveilus from Yosef’s mourning for Ya’akov.  As we once discussed, R’ Soloveitchik learned that the Rambam there is not using the Yerushalmi’s sevara of “ain l’meidim m’kodem matan Torah.”  My hunch is that RYBS had his grandfather’s chiddush in hil milah in the back of his mind, as R’ Chaim also learns that “nitnah Torah…” does not negate what happened pre-mattan Torah as a source (like the Yerushalmi), but rather simply means another layer was added on top of the existing practice.  2) R’ Wahrman asks how R’ Chaim’s chiddush that the chiyuv of milah that was given to Avraham fits with the Rambam in Peirush haMishnayos in Chulin that spells out that the mitzvos we keep are those given at Sinai, not what the Avos were told to do.  We kicked this idea around before (link, link), so I won’t rehash – I just wanted to point out that he raises the issue.

Monday, December 23, 2013

bitachon and hishtadlus are not two sides of the same coin

At the end of the last post I contrasted the model of bitachon that promises G-d will work things out in a way that is tangibly good for you, i.e. “tov ha’nireh v’hanikar,” as the Lubavitcher Rebbe put in, vs. the Chazon Ish’s view that bitachon means no more than trusting that Hashem is in complete control.  According to the Chazon Ish, G-d will work things out according to His plan, which may or may not fit your plan. 

Someone left a comment (thank you!) suggesting that these two views may be at the crux of the machlokes between R’ Shimon bar Yochai and R’ Yishmael (Brachos35) as to whether one should immerse oneself in learning full time and rely on Hashem to take care of one’s needs or whether one must allow time for work as well.  I assume the idea here is that if bitachon means you can trust that everything will work out well, then if you are a big enough ba’al bitachon, you can quit your job and rest assured that G-d will help pay your mortgage, tuition, and food bill.  But if bitachon only guarantees that G-d is in control, then there is nothing to say that if you quit your job you won’t starve, so better to keep working if you want to eat. 

I was taken by the idea, but don't think it works and wanted to explain why.  The machlokes RSb”Y and R”Y is not about bitachon – it’s about hishtadlus.  Bitachon and hishtadlus are *not* two sides of the same coin.  Whether you hold you have to put in a significant degree of hishtadlus (like R”Y) or can get away with no hishtadlus (RSb”Y), in either case the requirement for complete bitachon and trust that G-d alone will determine the outcome remains the same. 

Chazal tell us that Yosef was a great ba’al bitachon, but at the same time (in the same Midrash!) they criticize his request of the Sar haMashkim to remember him.  Yosef erred in making that type of hishtadlus, but there is no doubt that he had full faith and trust in G-d no matter what the outcome. 

Who has the greater bitachon challenge – the person who goes to work to earn a living, or the person who is torasam u’mnasam?  It’s the person who goes to work.  The person who has no other means of support is forced to rely on G-d, and hence comes to bitachon easily.  “There are no atheists in a foxhole” means that when you have nothing else to rely on, you naturally turn to G-d.  The person who goes to work however can fall prey to the illusion that the effort he/she puts in to their job is what brings them the rewards of money, a nice house, nice clothes, etc.  In truth, they are just as completely dependent on G-d as the person with no job.  The difference is just in the degree of hishtadlus being made, not in the degree of bitachon required. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Moshe's reaction to his killing the Mitzri -- a lesson in bitachon

After killing the Egyptian who he saw hitting a Jewish slave, “Vayira Moshe,” was afraid, and he said, “Achein noda ha’davar – The matter is known.”  The Torah then continues that Pharaoh heard of the incident and wanted to kill him (2:11-15).

Rashi offers two interpretations of “Vayira Moshe”: 1) “k’peshuto” - the plain meaning is correct; 2) Midrash – Moshe was afraid lest the existence of talebearers in Bnei Yisrael be a sign that the people are not worthy of redemption.

Maharal explains that geulah = pnimiyus.  Redemption comes from within, from the depths of a person’s personality/soul that remains unspoiled and untainted having never been exposed to the outside.   People who go around revealing secrets and talking about things that should not be spoken of turn their pnimiyus into chitzoniyus.  There is nothing they hold back inside from which geulah can spring.

Again, on “V’chain noda ha’davar,” Rashi offers two interpretations that parallel his previous comments: 1) “k’mashma’o” – the plain meaning is correct [is there a difference between “k’peshuto” and “k’mashma’o?”]; 2) Midrash – now I know why the Jewish people suffer such harsh persecution.

Moshe of course knew that there was a gezeirah from Bris bein Habesarim that Bnei Yisrael would suffer galus, but until now he did not understand why the severity of their enslavement was so great (taz - Divrei David).

Why does Rashi offer Midrashim when the peshuto or mashma’o of the pesukim works?  What difficulty in the text does the Midrash help address that the peshuto does not?

The answer can be gleaned from the short comment of the Seforno, who writes on “VaYira Moshe” that therefore Moshe took precaution and fled.
וַיִּירָא משֶׁה. וּבְכֵן נִשְׁמַר לְנַפְשׁו וּבָרַח
The Torah is not a modern novel – we don’t usually have explorations of the inner psyche of characters.  If the Torah tells us Moshe was afraid, it does so only as a prelude to explaining some future action, in this case Moshe’s running away.

The Seforno’s comment glosses over the fact that there is an entire half a pasuk between “VaYira Moshe..” and his flight.  Before Moshe runs we first read that “Vayishma Pharoah… vayivakesh la’harog es Moshe” (2:15), Pharoah heard of the matter and set out to kill Moshe.  It was not fear alone which put Moshe on the road to Midyan – it was Pharoah trying to kill him! 

The Midrash avoids this difficulty.  Moshe’s fear becomes significant not as the motivation behind Moshe’s flight, which only takes place after Pharoah hears of the matter, but rather as a source of his understanding of the galus.  (It’s interesting that this one incident involving just two people was enough to shed light on why all of Klal Yisrael deserved such brutality and to cause Moshe to question whether the entire nation was fit for geulah.)

The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likutei Sichos vol 36) tries to explain derech derush how to read the "Vayira Moshe..." according to the k'peshuto of Rashi without jumping ahead to Moshe's flight like the Seforno does.  He develops a yesod in bitachon based on the Chovos HaLevavos, who writes:

 שיהי' מי שבטח עליו בתכלית הנדיבות והחסד למי שראוי לו ולמי שאינו ראוי לו ותהי' נדי­בותו מתמדת וחסדו נמשך לא יכרת ולא יפסק

Bitachon does not mean belief that there are no obstacles to G-d doing as he pleases – that’s emunah.  And it also doesn’t just mean trusting that however G-d works things out, it must be for the best.  Bitachon means trusting that G-d will deliver the goods, “tov ha’nireh v’hanigeh."  If, for example, c'v someone's car is stuck on the tracks and the train is speeding towards them, bitachon doesn't just mean trusting that even if the train hits that must be good because G-d made it happen -- it means trusting that G-d will stop the train or move the car or come to the rescue.  It will be a "tov" in the sense that we all use and understand that word.   
How is that possible?  This type of good outcome sounds like something only tzadikim can bank on, yet bitachon is for everyone?  If even Ya’akov Avinu worried, “shema yigrom ha’cheit,” how can you or I feel confident that we will merit this “tov ha’nireh v’hanigleh?”  What zechus would warrant such a response?

The answer is that it's thee zechus of bitachon itself.  If someone truly places all his trust in G-d bringing about a good outcome, that alone, irrespective of other merits or lack thereof, will bring about and cause the desired result to happen.  Bitachon elicits G-d's chessed. And to the degree that a person is not yet on such a level and lacks such trust, the result is that much less guaranteed. 

Of course we are speaking of very high levels of bitachon when we talk about Moshe, but still, the Torah itself tells us that he was afraid.  On some level Moshe's bitachon fell short of the level of bitachon a Moshe Rabeinu is measured against.  What happened as a result?  Vayishma Pharoah…  Pharoah took notice and set out to kill him.  There is a direct cause-effect relationship between Moshe’s fear and the negative outcome that immediately followed.

I’m always torn when discussing the topic of bitachon.  The Chassidic model, as reflected in this sicha of the Rebbe, inspires confidence that goodness will win out, but it is hard to escape nagging doubts whether such an outlook is realistic. It is easy to take refuge in the Chazon Ish’s view that bitachon is more a matter of belief that G-d is in control, but perhaps that is just an excuse for not rising to the demands of complete trust in G-d. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Yosef's oath to bury Ya'akov in Eretz Yisrael

I try to learn a little parsha with one of my daughters on Shabbos and this past week we looked at the “sugya” of Yosef’s oath to bury Ya’akov in Eretz Yisrael.  Ya’akov asked Yosef to swear, "sim na yadcha tachas y'reichi...," to bury him in Eretz Yisrael, to which Yosef responded (47:30), “Anoci e’eseh ki’devarecha,” I will do as you say.  Ya’akov then again asked Yosef to swear, “Vayishava lo,” and Yosef did so. 

Why does Yosef say, “I’ll do as you asked,” instead of simply doing it, i.e. taking the oath?  The parsha should end off with something like, “Va’yaas kein,” or “Va’yasem yado tachas y’reicho” to swear, as Ya’akov had asked?

The Ohr haChaim answers that Yosef was telling his father that an oath was not necessary.  “I will do as you asked,” even if you don’t hold my feet to the fire and make me swear to it. 

The difficulty with this approach is that it begs the question of why Ya’akov insisted on the oath in the first place (surely he didn’t doubt that Yosef would carry out his wishes?) and how Yosef could second guess that decision.  The Netziv suggests that Yosef may have thought that his taking an oath by “sim na yadcha tachas y’reichi” was disrespectful to his father (see also Targum Yonasan and Peirush Yonasan that elaborates on this idea), but Ya’akov was mocheil.  The Kli Yakar sees a shakla v’terya here about the type of oath: Ya’akov initially insisted on nekitas cheifetz, but after Yosef’s protest, Ya’akov asked simply, “Hishava’a li,” for a less severe oath without nekitas cheiftez, which Yosef acquiesced to. 

I think you can tease out another approach from the Ramban.  Ramban suggests that Ya’akov wanted Yosef to take an oath lest the Egyptians balk at Ya’akov being buried elsewhere or at Yosef’s leaving to arrange the funeral.  The oath gave Yosef ammunition to impress upon the Egyptians the seriousness of the matter.  Perhaps we can read this idea between the lines of the exchange between Yosef and his father.  Yosef, the palace insider, thought he would have the power to carry out his father’s wishes even without the oath in place.  Ya’akov, however, perhaps already sensitive to the impending galus and the loss of stature his children would quickly suffer, saw things differently, and did not trust the favor Yosef found in Pharoah’s eyes to last.  Therefore, he reiterated his insistence on the oath.

The Da’as Zekeinim quotes a Midrash that solves the problem a bit differently and agav urcha teaches a nice lesson.  The Midrash interprets, “Anochi e’eseh ki’devarecha,” to mean that Yosef did as his father had done and asked Bnei Yisrael to pledge to move his bones to Eretz Yisrael for burial.  It sounds like the Midrash is taking the words of the pasuk out of context and introducing this new idea of Yosef’s request, perhaps intending to reinforce the parallel between Yosef and Ya’akov, but I don’t think that’s really what’s going on.  I think the Midrash also means to show that Yosef was trying to impress upon his father that, oath or not, he takes the commitment to bury Ya’akov in Eretz Yisrael seriously.  What better way for Yosef to do that than by revealing that he will in time make the same request to move his own bones.  To pledge or promise to blindly carry out the wishes of a parent is one thing; to demonstrate that you’ve absorbed the values behind that wish and applied them to your own life is even greater.

Like the Midrash, Ksav Sofer sees “ki'devarecha” as drawing a parallel between Yosef and Ya’akov, but with a little twist.  Ya’akov’s insistence on administering an oath showed that he wanted to make every effort possible, to give 110%, to make sure that his request was taken care of.  Yosef responded by pledging to act, “ki'devarecha,” as you, Ya’akov, acted - just like you put in 110%, so too, I will do the same to see your wishes fulfilled.

What the K.S. is saying is that it’s not the oath per se, that motivated Yosef.  What motivated Yosef was  witnessing the effort his father invested.  While nothing is guaranteed, it makes sense that if you want to motivate your children to put their kochos into doing something, e.g. learning, tefilah, chessed, etc., you need to put your own 110%, your own kochos, into those same efforts. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

more on takanos of Moshe and learning halacha from the Avos/Shevatim

1) I don’t think the Rambam in Sefer haMitzvos that I mentioned on Friday:

 הנה התבאר לך שכל מה שתקנו אחר משה נקרא דרבנן

Means to imply that all takanos made by Moshe or even that some takanos made by Moshe (to address GU’s point) are d’oraysa.  A takanah is not a d’oraysa – period. 

So what does the Rambam mean?  In the Rambam’s world there is not a precise either/or split between d’oraysa and derabbanan the way we think of it.  Categories like divrei sofrim and asmachta straddle the fence.  While takanos made post-Moshe Rabeinu are all categorically dinim derabbanan, takanos made by Moshe may fall into this grey area.

The Rambam in Hil Aveilus 1:1 doesn’t say that observing seven days of aveilus is derabbaban – what he says is that it is not d’oraysa, meaning it falls into this grey area I am trying to describe.  While the pasuk that describes Yosef’s aveilus cannot serve as a makor for a din d’oraysa, the very fact that there is a pasuk pushes the idea of aveilus out of the pure derabbanan category into something a little more than that.

Are there nafka minos to the categories and does the Rambam apply them consistently?  I don’t know.  I’m just tinkering with the ideas for now and trying to figure out what the words mean.

2) The Maharatz Chiyus (Brachos 13) asks why the Rambam never mentions the issur of calling Avraham by the name Avram.  He answers by using the principle that halacha cannot be learned from events pre-mattan Torah, and therefore the issur is not binding.  The Rambam’s rejection of Yosef’s mourning as a basis for dinei aveilus would be a proof to this idea. 

Two old posts highlight problems I have with this approach.  1) Link #1.  The Rambam in Hil Aveil does not say “ain l’meidim m’kodem mattan Torah” – he says “nitna Torah v’nitchadcha halacha.”  This is a different principle (see R’ Soloveitchik’s Shiurim l’Zecher Aba Mori vol 2 p. 204).  The idea of having seven days of mourning may historically have started with Yosef.  However, the process of B"D formally ratifying the practice, which made it binding post-mattan Torah, changed its nature.  2) Link #2.  As Rav Copperman writes in his intro to the Meshech Chochma, there is a difference between learning halacha from behavior of the Avos/Shevatim and learning halacha from the formula pesukim use to describe those same events.  The former makes use of historical events as precedent; the latter makes use of the literary formulation used by the Torah.  The principle of “ain l’meidim m’kodem mattan Torah” applies to the use of behavior/history as precedent, not to the use of pesukim.  When the gemara makes a derasha and learns out a din that one is not permitted to call Avraham by any other name, that is based on the words of Torah -- it's not at all the same as learning aveilus from the behavior of Yosef or sheva brachos from the behavior of Lavan.

Friday, December 13, 2013

takanos of Moshe Rabeinu -- d'oraysa?

The Rambam writes in the first shoresh of Sefer haMitzvos:

וכבר התבאר שכל מה שתיקנו הנביאים עליהם השלום שעמדו אחר משה רבנו, הוא גם כן מדרבנן.

And the Rambam reiterates:

הנה התבאר לך שכל מה שתקנו אחר משה נקרא דרבנן

I bolded the key words - "achar Moshe Rabeinu" - so you can't miss it.  The Rambam says that takanos instituted after Moshe's lifetime are all derabbanan, implying that takanos that Moshe himself enacted have the status of a d'orasya.  Why should that be?  Perhaps since "Shechina medabares m'toch gerono" every word uttered by Moshe was as if it came from directly from G-d and therefore has a d'oraysa force.

The Rambam writes in Hil Aveilus (1:1):

אבל שאר השבעה אינן דין תורה, אף על פי שנאמר בתורה "ויעש לאביו אבל, שבעת ימים" (בראשית נ,י): ניתנה תורה, ונתחדשה הלכה; ומשה רבנו תיקן להם לישראל שבעת ימי אבילות, ושבעת ימי המשתה.

The Rambam tells us that the halacha of having seven days is not based on the pasuk that speaks about mourning for Ya'akov, but rather is a din derabbanan based on a takanah of Moshe Rabeinu.

How can aveilus be only derabbanan be when the Rambam told us in SH"M that takanos of Moshe have a d'oraysa status?

a special place in gehenom for Tom Friedman of the NY Times

There had to be a special place in gehenom for Jews like Thomas Friedman who write stuff like this:
Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.  [Bolding added by me.]
Yup, it's all about Jewish power and Jewish money.  The lies of Obama (even Ha'aretz had a recent editorial pointing it out), the threat of a nuclear Iran sponsoring terror, the danger to Israel's security and the security of the entire Middle East, all of this is just hokum to Tom Friedman.

Someone sent me an e-mail recently with some comments on a post I wrote about six years ago.  I’m grateful for the e-mail, but to be honest I was a bit surprised that someone would bother to still read and comment on something I wrote six years ago.  It got me thinking about what someone might discover in the archives here six years from now.  In six years if chas v'shalom have a President Hillary in office, having gotten there with the help of 75% of the Jewish vote and plenty of liberal Jewish dollars, if chas v'shalom Hezbolla, now armed with an Iranian built nuclear device (c"v), is threatening the world, what will think when we look back at these moments in time?  What will be say when we look back at Jewish leaders who sat smiling at a Chanukah Dinner hosted by an American President who, in the words of Amnon Lord, "simply prefers Iran to Israel," and as a result, has emboldened and enabled our enemies?  What will we say at our own silence and lack of protest? 

The Chasam Sofer says that 10 Teves is different from all the other fasts because on this day we are not mourning a churban or tragedy -- we are mourning the siege of Yerushalayim, the threat of churban, the start of the process.  The churban could still have been averted if only we would have taken action. 

Have we learned the lesson of this ta'anis?

I pray none of my nightmares come to pass.  I don't need to self-satisfaction of being able to point to a post like this years down the road just to say, "I told you so." 

In this case, I really would much rather be wrong.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

ain somchin al ha'nes: a metziyus or a din?

The gemara in Ta’anis 5b:

R’ Nachman and R’ Yitzchak were eating a meal together.  R’ Nachman asked R’ Yitzchak to say some words of Torah.  R’ Yitzchak said to wait, as R’ Yochanan taught that one should not speak during a meal lest one choke.  Afterwards, R’ Yitzchak taught in the name of R” Yochanan, “Ya’akov Avinu did not die.”  R’ Nachman asked, “But he was embalmed and eulogized!?”  R’ Yitzchak replied that his teaching was based on a derasha of the pesukim, which the gemara goes on to explain.

What’s the nekudas hamachlokes, the crux of the argument, between R’ Yitzchak and R’ Nachman?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggested the following chakira, which even if you don’t think is pshat in the gemara, is interesting in its own right.  We have rules like “ain somchin al ha’nes,” that we may not rely on miracles, rules that even though “shluchei mitzvah ainan nizokin,” that there is Divine protection afforded those who are engaged in doing mitzvos, but “shechich hezeika sha’ni,” where the danger is not just a matter of chance but is real and present, one is not allowed to take risks.  What do these rules suggest – do they mean:

A)   That there is a world of natural laws apart from halacha, and halacha therefore has to account for the dangers and limits of that world and respect its boundaries; 

B)   Or, is Torah supreme under all circumstances, theoretically unconstrained by the limits of the physical world, but the Torah itself obligates us to consider danger and respect  physical boundaries?

In other words, is "ain somchin al ha'nes" a description of reality, a metziyus, or is "ain somchin al ha'nes" a din?

R’ Nachman held like the first side of the chakirah.  There is a natural world out there with its own rules.  As great as Ya’akov may have been, he was subject to death, as all mortals are. 

R’ Yitzchak, however, held like the second side of the chakirah.  Torah is its own reality; its laws trump all else.  Therefore, if a derasha says that Ya'akov did not die, physical reality cannot dictate otherwise.

(The sicha also connects the machlokes to the context of the seudah conversation - take a look.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

what gave Ya'akov pause before he blessed Ephraim and Menashe

When Ya’akov came to give brachos to Ephraim and Menashe, he suddenly stopped and asked, “Who are these children?”  (48:8)  Rashi explains that Ya’akov felt the Shechina depart because of the future kings Achav, Rechavam, and Yehu, all of whom were idolators, who came from Ephraim and Menashe.  Yosef reassured his father that Ephraim and Menashe were his children.  Rashi explains that Yosef showed his father the kesubah of his wife, and he davened for rachamim.  At that point the Shechina returned to Ya’akov, and he told Yosef to bring them close so he could bless them.

Question #1: What was the hava amina and what was the maskana?  At the end of the day, the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe still produced the evil kings Achav, Rechavam, Yehu.  If that’s what gave Ya’akov pause and prevented his giving brachos in the first place, then what changed?

Question #2: According to Rashi (48:9), Yosef’s tefilah for rachamim had an effect on the outcome.  So why was it only Yosef that davened?  If Ya’akov sensed that something was preventing him from giving brachos to his grandchildren, why didn’t he daven on their behalf?

Once again I have questions but no real satisfying answers (the Shem m’Shmuel discusses the issue, but I don’t understand what he is saying well enough).

So far all I have is this: Ya’akov paused not because in the future there would be evil kings that come from Ephraim and Menashe, but rather because that future forced him to question whether there was something wrong in the present.  Perhaps there was something lurking below the surface, an invisible defect not worthy of bracha, that was invisible now, but whose presence would come out in later generations.

As we discussed once before, a bracha can’t make someone into something he/she is not.  All it can do is help bring out the kochos a person already has inside. 

The resolution of Ya’akov’s dilemma therefore had to come from Yosef himself.  Yosef showed his wife’s kesubah, proving that despite living in a promiscuous society, he was married k’das Moshe v’Yisrael.  Yosef was the one who davened for rachamim on his children, proving his concern and investment in their spiritual welfare.  What will be in the future is kavshei Rachamana, but Yosef showed his father that what was before him in the here and now was fit for bracha.
Anyone have a better approach?

Monday, December 09, 2013

why does Yosef tell his brothers that they are off the hook?

“Now don’t be sad or angry over the fact that you sold me here [to Egypt] because G-d has sent me here to provide for your sustenance.”  (Braishis 45:5)  Yosef is conciliatory, he holds no grudges, but more than that, he tells his brothers that they have no need for remorse or regret, as G-d has arranged for everything they did to work out for the best.

So what?

R’ Leibele Eiger (here) frames the question perfectly (not that he needs my haskama).  Recall that the brothers had incorrectly judged Yosef to be deserving of death.  They threw him in a pit simply to avoid direct bloodshed.  They then decided to let him off and “merely” sell him as a slave.  All this was done because their jealously blinded them to Yosef’s true tzidkus.  So what if G-d intervened and not only thwarted their plan, but turned that plan on its head so that Yosef ended up rising to greatness in Egypt?  So what if Yosef could now use his position to now provide food and sustenance for his family, “ki l’michya shlachani…?”  Had Yosef not been sold, surely G-d would have arranged some other means of the family surviving the famine.  The bottom line remains that the brothers  erred in their judgment and if not for G-d’s intervention would have caused tremendous harm.

How does the fact that there was a positive outcome (that they had nothing to do with) absolve the brothers of the need for remorse, regret, and acceptance of guilt?

Friday, December 06, 2013

how Yehudah forced Yosef to reveal himself

1) Amidst speaking of the pain that the loss of Binyamin would cause Ya’akov, Yehudah mentions “ki avdecha eirav es ha’na’ar,” (44:32, Rashi) that he has stepped forward to speak because he put his olam hazeh and olam ha’bah on the line and guaranteed that he would bring Binyamin home.  Yehudah then goes back to telling Yosef that he cannot return without Binyamin and cause Ya’akov such sorrow.  It seems that Yehudah only uses the fact that he is an areiv to justify his speaking up on Binyamin’s behalf, but he never mentions this as a reason to let Binyamin go.  Forget the pain to Ya’akov -- you would think that Yehudah would demand that Binyamin be set free because otherwise he, Yehudah, loses everything!

We see from this parsha, says the Sefas Emes, that Yehudah was able to completely put aside his own self interest and engage in fighting for Binyamin just to do what is right by Ya’akov.  The old Yehudah who could not let the threat of Yosef’s dreams pass is a personality of the past.  It started to vanish when rather than protect his own reputation, he acknowledged that Tamar’s children were his own; it ended here with a speech demonstrating complete selflessness.
This selflessness is what eliicited Yosef's revealing of himself.  The Sefas Emes doesn't spell it out, but I think the connection is clear: so long as the brothers were acting in any way to protect and/or serve their own interests, Yosef could remain in hiding, protecting his own interests and identity as well.  But when Yehudah stepped forward and acted without any personal negiyos, purely out of empathy for the pain of another, Yosef was forced to respond in kind and abandon his personal hope of his dreams being completely fulfilled and instead, overcome by empathy for their brother's pain, he was forced to reveal himself.
2) We finally come to the conclusion of the drama of Yosef and his brothers, and instead of simchas torah it seems like tisha b’av. “He fell on the neck of his brother Binyamin and cried and Binyamin cried on his neck.” (45:14) Rashi comments that Yosef cried because he foresaw the destruction of the Mikdash, which was built in Binyamin’s portion, and Binyamin cried for the destruction of the Mishkan, which was built in Yosef’s portion.

Why were the brothers crying over the destruction of the Mikdash and Mishkan in what should have been a joyous moment of their reunification?

The Sefas Emes explains that the tragedy of galus came about because there rift between the brothers was not in fact fully healed. Yosef wanted to hold out longer to achieve a complete tikun, but he could not. Yosef and Binyamin therefore cried over the future churban that they knew would inevitably result.

3) Chazal draw a kal v’chomer: if the brothers were so taken aback with shame and remorse when Yosef revealed himself, how much more filled with shame and embarrassment will we be on the day of G-d’s judgment.

The Sefas Emes points out that this is not just some arbitrary comparison, but rather there is an underlying common denominator. Yosef’s revelation proved that all that the brother’s had perceived on the surface –- that they were dealing with some Egyptian viceroy who was playing games with them – was false. It was really Yosef, it was really hashgacha, it was really l’tovah. On the future day of judgment G-d is going to show us that everything in life that we see as negative, as an obstacle to growth, as devoid of kedudah, is really just a disguise, and beneath it all was hashgacha, was tovah, was bracha. G-d is not going to shower the world with new kedusha; He is just going to show us the kedusha that was always immanent.  And then we are going to kick ourselves for not seeing it that way earlier. 
(This is a theme that runs through the Sefas Emes; I think you can probably find it in every parsha. Spirituality is not "out there" somewhere, seperate from the day-to-day reality of life, but is already inside, b'pnimiyus.  It just has to be revealed.)

Thursday, December 05, 2013

ha'ragil b'ner chanukah -- taking chanukah with you every day

In the Leket Reshimos based on the torah of R’ Noson Wachtfogel the mashgiach is quoted as having said that just as there is what he calls the zericha, the rising of the sun of the chag so to speak, meaning an anticipation that builds for the chag, which is reflected in the halacha of learning hilchos hachag 30 days beforehand, so too there is a shkiya to every chag, a setting of the sun, a slow fading of the light of the chag as we move away from it. 

Zos Chanukah is the last chance to grab a bit of chiyus from Chanukah  -- “Zos asu v’chyu,” Yosef tells his brothers -- before it fades away into the distance. 

The Sefas Emes explains that the mitzvah of menorah is “l’haniacho al pesach beiso,” to leave it by the doorway –- the chag moves on, but the menorah needs to be left behind and stick with us.  The gemara (Shabbos 23b) speaks about “ha’zahir b’mezuzah… ha’zahir b’tzitzis… ha’zahir b’kiddush…,” but uses the term “ha’ragil” – not ha’zahir – “b’ner Chanukah” (see Maharasha).  How can you be “ragil” in doing something that lasts for only just over one week?  By taking the spirit of Chanukah with you and making it part of every day.

When Ya’akov meets Eisav he tells him to go on ahead to Seir, as he, Ya’akov, must travel slowly “l’regel ha’melacha u’l’regel hayeladim.”  Rashi writes that we will only get to Seir with the coming of Moshiach and ultimate judgment for Eisav.  We have to wait for the tikun of Jewish history that started figuratively at the head of galus to make its way down to the bottom of the feet, to the "regel."  (Perhaps this is what Yosef meant when he told his brothers, “Meraglim atem.” ) "Haragil b’ner chanulah"  -- the Radomsker explains that ner Chanukah is our tool to get to the regel, that ultimate tikun.  We are right there at ikvisa d’meshicha, the “heel,” and just need to push a little harder.

is there psak on what constitutes hidur

I don’t know why I never noticed, but it’s interesting that the Shulchan Aruch in the dinim of how to light (siman 571)does not mention at all that you can be yotzei with one candle ner ish u’beiso.  The mechaber writes to light one candle on the first night and then add one more on each succeeding night – mosif v’holeich – without mentioning that this is a hidur and not the baseline.    

The Biur Halacha has an interesting chiddush (d”h yesh omrim) with respect to hidur.  The gemara has a machlokes Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel whether to start with one candle and add more each night or start with eight and subtract one each night.  Even though normally the halacha is like Beis Hillel against Beis Shamai, the M.B. suggests that this rule may be true only with respect to debates about ikar hadin, not with respect to hidur.  The sugya continues that Rabbah bar bar Chana saw two elders, one who lit like Beis Shamai, one who lit like Beis Hillel, indicating that there was not a clear resolution.  This is quoted by the RI"F, even though if halacha is like Hillel it has no relevance.  It seems that since we are speaking about a matter of hidur, perhaps Beis Shamai's view is not totally rejected.
I imagine the sevara here is that when it comes to hidur, beauty is in the eye’s of the beholder.  It’s not something that can be formalized as a matter of psak. 
(In a comment earlier in the week GU suggested that the ikar takanah was hallel v'hoda'ah and lighting just provides a context for the brachos. Proof: if hadalakah was crucial, how could there be such a fundamental machlokes between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel about how to fulfill the mitzvah? [By way of analogy, the Ran in R"H asks how there could have been such different views - shevarim, teru'ah, or shevarim-teruah - of how to blow shofar. It is impossible to imagine that there was no tradition of how to do the mitzvah.] In light of the M.B., the proof is a little less convincing.  Perhaps because the debate was not about the fundamental ikar mitzvah, but rather only about a subjective element of hidur, there was room for a divergency of views to emerge based on different perspectives.)

R’ Shach in Avi Ezri writes that the takanah of mehadrin and mehadin min hamehadrin is not rooted in the din of hidur in kol hatorah kulah.  Let me explain with an example: there is a din to take an esrog, and there is an added element of hidur in having  a beautiful esrog.  The person who has a $30 esrog, the person who has a $100 esrog, and the person who has a $175 esrog are all doing the same mitzvah, just each has invested more or less into it.  Ner chanuklah is different.  The takanos of mehadrin and mehadrin min hamehadrin are not just means of adding beauty to the same one takanah of hadlakah.  They are actually three different ways Chazal instituted of being mekayeim ner chanukah, three different takanos if you will.  (He has a number of proofs -- not for now).

I was wondering whether the M.B.’s chiddush would be true if you understand hidur like R’ Shach does.  If the hidur we are talking about is not just a matter of beauty, the icing on top of the cake of the mitzvah, but is rather something  that speaks to the very definition of how Chazal formulated the mitzvah, then shouldn’t we use klalei psak to determine that issue?

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

brachos on hadlakah b'tzibur

The Beis Yosef (671:7) paskens that the menorah should be lit in shul with a bracha.  Given that the gemara does not mention any chiyuv to light in shul, and apparently the lighting is only a minhag, how is one allowed to say a bracha?  The Riva”sh (one of the sources for this din) compares it to saying a bracha on hallel of Rosh Chodesh, which is also only a minhag.  The problem is, as the Chacham Tzi asks, is that the Beis Yosef himself holds that a bracha may not be recited on hallel of Rosh Chodesh because he holds that we don’t say brachos on minhagim.  How then can the Beis Yosef here pasken that one should say brachos on the lighting?

R’ Wahrman z”l suggested that we can use the chiddush of R’ Ya’akov Emden that we have been discussing (here and here) to answer this question as well.  Since in the case of ner chanukah the brachos are part of the definition of the cheftza shel mitzvah, they must go hand in hand with lighting -- a ner lit without brachos is not a ner chanukah.  In the case of other mitzvos and minhagim, the brachos are separate from the ma’aseh mitzvah itself.

The GR”A comments on this din in S.A. that the lighting of menorah is like hallel on leil Pesach, which is said even according to the Beis Yosef in shul with a bracha for the sake of pirsumei nisa (the Rama disagrees and says hallel is only said at home as part of the haggadah).  Apparently the kiyum of pirsumei nisa, even if done only as part of a minhag, warrants its own brachos. 

I once heard from a talmid chacham that the reason we do hadlakas neiros between mincha and ma’ariv in shul rather than wait until after ma'ariv is not simply because if we wait until after ma’ariv everyone will run out (see M.B.), but rather because we need a “shem tzibur” to accomplish pirsumei nisa.  Since ma’ariv is yet to be davened, that collective unit of a tzibur still exists at the time of hadlakah.  However, once ma’ariv is finished and people are prepared to leave, there is no halachic “glue” so to speak that defines the group as a tzibur anymore.  There may be 10 people standing around, but that does not mean they form a cohesive unit called a tzibur. 

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

...v'al hamilchamos

“Al ha’nisim v’al hapurkan… v’al hamilchamos.”  It doesn’t say that we give thanks for winning the war – it just says that we give thanks for the milchamos, for the war itself.  Why are we giving thanks for war?

Rashi writes that Moshe Rabeinu’s bracha of “Bareich Hashem cheilo” given to sheivet Levi was a bracha for the small band of Chashmonaim that managed to stand up to the entire Greek army.

I heard b’shem R’ Dovid Kviat that this is what we are giving thanks for in Al haNisim -- the very fact that the Chashmonaim went to war despite the tremendous odds against them is itself a remarkable show of courage and faith.  Whether they won or lost is secondary; that part is b'yad Hashem.  We are celebrating the fact that they stuck their neck out to stand up for what is right.

more on the unique role of brachos of ner chanukah

The Rambam writes (Hil Chanukah 3:4-5)
  כל שחייב בקריאת המגילה, חייב בהדלקת נר חנוכה; והמדליק אותה בלילה הראשון, מברך שלוש ברכות
The Rambam then goes on to say there is a mitzvah of saying hallel with a bracha, and continues:
אף על פי שקריאת ההלל מצוה מדברי סופרים, מברך עליה אשר קידשנו במצוותיו וציוונו, כדרך שמברך על המגילה ועל העירוב--שכל ודאי של דבריהם, מברכין עליו.
The Rambam tells us not to be troubled by the fact that we say a bracha on the derabbanan of hallel because it is no different than megillah and eiruv where we also recite brachos. 

Why does the Rambam address himself to this issue of how we are allowed to recite a bracha on a derabbanan only in halacha 5 when he speaks about hallel and not in halacha 4 where he speaks about the brachos on ner Chanukah?  Those brachos are also on a takanah derabbanan, and furthermore, the gemara addresses itself to the question in the context of new Chanukah, not hallel!

Secondly, why does the Rambam prove that you can say a bracha on a derabbanan from the examples of megillah and eiruv and not from the case of ner Chanukah which he just spoke about in halacha 4?!

Based on the chiddush we quoted yesterday from R’ Ya’akov Emden, the Rambam makes fits beautifully.  R’ Y.E. suggested that the brachos on ner Chanukah are different than all other brachos is that they serve to define the ner as a cheftza shel mitzvah and not just as a lamp in your living room.  The brachos are part and parcel of the mitzvah of hadlakah, not a separate din. 

Therefore, the Rambam was not bothered by why we recite brachos on ner chanukah.  Without a bracha, it’s just a lamp in your living room – those brachos are a crucial component of the mitzvah.  The Rambam was only bothered by why we can say brachos on other mitzvos derabbanan where the bracha is just an added element.

This also explains why the Rambam used the examples of megillah and eiruv and not ner chanukah to make his case for reciting brachos on all dinim derabbanan.

(I found this diyuk in Rambam in R’ Moshe Brown’s (no relation) sefer Ma’adanei Moshe, but he explains it just slightly differently [he says that there is a kiyum of pirsumei nisa inherent in the hadlakah which must be accomplished by the recitation of brachos], with a nafka minah l’dina, so ayen sham if you are interested. 

G.U. in a comment yesterday also suggested that perhaps the ikar takanah is the hoda’ah through brachos and al hanisim and the hadlakah is just a means to provide a context to that expression.  This is a beautiful sevara that explains a lot of other things as well...)