Friday, January 31, 2014

not just planting trees -- planting emunah

Rashi quotes from Chazal that the atzei shitim wood that was used in the Mishkan came from trees that Ya’akov Avinu had planted when he came down to Mitzrayim.  Ya’akov knew that one day a Mishkan would be built and he wanted to make sure that Bnei Yisrael would have the  material they needed to construct it.

Ya’akov had a lot of other things to take care of when he came down to Mitzrayim.  He had to oversee Yehudah’s setting up a yeshiva.  He had at least one audience with Pharoah.  He reunited with Yosef.  Undoubtedly, then and in the years that followed he also did the things he always had done – he must have been learning, giving shiurim, inspiring his children and grandchildren in their avodah.  Why did he take the time to go out in the fields and start planting trees?  Lechteiach acharai bamidbar b’eretz lo zeru’ah…  Bnei Yisrael are praised for their willingness to leave Mitzrayim and go out to a desert with no food, no preparation, nothing other than their faith in G-d.  Have you ever seen a Jewish family out on a trip without a shopping bag of food and nosh?  This was probably the one time in history that it happened.  G-d provided mon to eat, a be’er to drink from, etc.  If they needed wood, it's fair to assume he would have provided wood as well.  Yes, you could be mechaleik and say that because there was a mitzvah to build a Mishkan they had to prepare mi'din hechsher mitzvah, but still the question remains, why was Ya’akov so concerned about it years in advance?

R’ Avraham Yafen answers that Ya’akov wasn’t just planting trees – he was planting emunah. 

When you are in the midst of a long, harsh galus it can seem like there will never be and end.  Ya’akov could have spoken to his children and grandchildren about the promise of geulah, but let’s be real: even if your Rabbi gave a speech every week that the geulah was coming, who would listen?  Who would take it seriously?  Words, words, and more words.  But imagine if you met your Rabbi at the travel agent booking a one way trip, open ticket, to Eretz Yisrael.  You walk into his house and his suitcase is packed, his furniture sold.

“Rabbi, did you decide to quit?  Are you leaving us? 

“No, I’m still your Rabbi, but I’m preparing for geulah and want to book my flight before all the tickets are snatched up.”

Suddenly it’s real, it's a message you need to take seriously.  Lots of people talked about moshiach coming before the Chofetz Chaim, but the Chofetz Chaim lived with his suitcase packed -- he made it real.  Ya’akov personally went out to plant the trees well in advance of the need for them because he wanted the vision of geulah and the Mishkan to not just be a derasha, a promise, a vision of the future -- he wanted it to be part of the reality that Klal Yisrael would live with.

Adar - good mazal

Chazal tell us that the even though the companions travelling with Daniel did not see the same vision he did, they still reacted with fear because their mazal saw (Meg 3).  Sometimes you can’t explain why you react a certain way – you can’t pinpoint a particular thing you saw, or heard, or give a reason – but something deep inside gets stirred up.  Mazal is that thing deep inside.

Adar is the month in which we do battle with and defeat Amalek.  Who did Amalek attack?  They went after the stragglers who were outside the ananei hakavod.  Amalek is not after the talmidei chachamim, righteous Jews, people who are involved and Torah and mitzvos.  Amalek goes after the guy who feels he has no connection, Judaism is not for him, he is not part of the camp. 

Adar brings with it good mazal (Ta’anis 29b).  Good luck may help you win the lottery, but good mazal is even better, because it means you've won the spiritual lottery.  Good mazal means that even if a person cannot sense it, cannot explain it, cannot even feel it in his neshoma – he’s as blind and deaf to Judaism as Daniel’s companions were to what Daniel saw around him -- still, there is something deep inside that is connected, that is awake.  Amalek can’t win because even stragglers have mazal.

(Based on R’ Tzadok haKohen in Pri Tzadik.)

Thursday, January 30, 2014

building a shul -- mitzvah or hechsher mitzvah?

Our parsha discusses the mitzvah of binyan mikdash.  Is there any mitzvah to build a shul?

The Rambam writes in Hil Tefilah 11:1

כל מקום שיש בו עשרה מישראל, צריך להכין בו בית שייכנסו בו לתפילה בכל עת תפילה; ומקום זה, הוא הנקרא בית הכנסת.

From the Rambam is sounds like building a beis knesses is only a hechsher mitzvah.  If you have 10 people, then you need to set aside a place to daven; however, if not for tefilah b'tzibur, then it sounds like there would be no mitzvah.

Once upon a time we discussed the first Rambam in Hil Beis haBechira:

 מצות עשה לעשות בית לה', מוכן להיות מקריבים בו הקרבנות, וחוגגין אליו שלוש פעמים בשנה--שנאמר "ועשו לי, מקדש"

Here too, the Rambam's language implies that it is the need to offer korbanos that is the driving force behind building a mikdash.  That being said, there is still a mitzvah to build a mikdash independent of the mitzvah to offer korbanos.  In no way is one chiyuv dependent on the other. 

Perhaps with respect to building a shul as well, although the Rambam sees tefilah as the driving force, the building still counts as an independent chiyuv.

One possible nafka minah: According to the Rama that allows amira l'aku"m m'makom mitzvah, can you allow non-Jewish workers to build a shul on Shabbos?  If building a shul is only a hechser mitzvah, perhaps not (Machtzis haShekel on MG"A 276:8).

See Rav Wahrman's She'eiris Yosef vol 5 for more.

does the shulchan aruch define orthodoxy?

The mystery of how they could violate a halacha that is clearly spelled out in the Shulchan Aruch has at least partially been cleared up. At least one of those involved was just emulating the practice of parents. Another one went to a school where the practice was accepted and just decided to continue doing it in a new school. The “Rabbis” in the old school had given an OK to the practice, so why not just continue doing it?

But at the end of the day we have to face facts: the Talmud, the Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and Mapa of Rama clearly rule against the practice. We therefore cannot condone it. By definition, if you want to call your community Orthodox, those are the rules that you have to play by.

As Rabbi Avi Shafran puts it:

The essence of halakha is that discussions and disagreements among different authorities distill over time into codified and universally accepted decisions. The ur-text of halakha in the modern era (using the term loosely) is Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch, along with its appendage “the Mapa,” in which Rabbi Moshe Isserles added glosses, sometimes but not always to reflect normative Ashkenazic law.

I refer of course to the practice of davening well after the latest time dictated by halacha, something I have notice to be quite common in shuls and schools even in so-called “frum” neighborhoods like Boro Park. The fact that a chassidishe yid may have seen his father daven Shacharis at 10:00, may have seen his grandfather daven shacharis at 10:00, may follow a Rabbi who davens shacharis at 10:00, may even be a member of Agudas Yisrael, simply does not change what it says in Shulchan Aruch. The best of intentions, e.g. it takes longer to rouse kavanah, does not change anything. Those involved can no longer be considered Orthodox.

Did you think I was writing about some other topic?

I don’t intend to defend women wearing tefillin, only to show why the argument that “It doesn’t say that in Shulchan Aruch” is an oversimplification. I guess Rabbi Shafran gets credit because at least he read what it says in Shulchan Aruch, unlike this statement, pointed out to me yesterday, made by another Rabbi condoning the practice: The Rema famously discourages it. That is, he does not prohibit it, he just advises against it.” The Rama’s actual words, “mochin b’yadam” means the practice is not just prohibited, but is to be protested.

As for lo tisgodedu and yuhara, let me pose a hypothetical: if I wear techeilis on my talis, can I daven in a shul where no one else wears techeiles? I have never heard this argument made before (if it were true, then any new practice like wearing techeilis would probably never get off the ground), and I’m curious if anyone would defend it. I don't think a newspaper article or a blog post in the place to debate the gedarim of these dinim.

What it says in Shulchan Aruch is not the issue here. This far from the first time a Rabbi has faced a situation where, although the Shulchan Aruch says X, he feels that he can be someich on other views and decide Y given the particulars at hand. The entire corpus of Shu”T literature is filled with similar situations. The principal of SAR wrote that he does not condone women wearing tefillin.  The question he had to grapple with was whether he could allow the practice given the unique situation of girls attending his school who had been doing so anyway.  If push came to shove, would you throw the girls out of an Orthodox school over this issue, or would you call it a sha'as hadechak and rely on views other than those brought in S.A.?  Again, I'm not saying I agree with the response, I'm just explaining (based on my reading of his letter) how I think he saw the issue.  The real question is who has a right to make such decisions; whose judgment can we trust to tell us when something is OK given the circumstances and when something is over the line?

Rabbi Avi Weiss offers the following answer: “There must be an exceptional halakhic personality who affirms the new ruling on the grounds of sound halakhic reasoning.” (Open Orthodoxy: A Modern Rabbis Creed, Judaism, Fall 1997).

I suggest we apply the same standard to this case.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

selling an eved ivri to another owner

Ralbag on last week’s parsha is mechadesh that just as an eved ivri does not pass b’yerusha to other relatives when his master dies, so too an eved ivri may not be sold by his master to some other party.  The master’s kinyan in the eved is non-transferable. 
The one exception to this din is that after the master of the eved dies, the eved is still bound to work for master’s sons.  It seems that this din of “kam tachtav” is not a halacha in yerusha or kinyanim, as that would undermine the Ralbag’s chiddush, but rather means that so long as the owner has a son, it is as if the owner himself is still alive – the son is not a new owner, but an extension of his father’s ba’alus (see Koveitz Shiurim II:12).

Minchas Chinuch asks: the din is that a father cannot pass on b’yerusha rights he has to his ketana daughter.  For example, a father has a right to the earnings of his daughter.  If the father dies, this right does not pass through inheritance to his sons.  If so, based on the chiddush of the Ralbag, a father should not be able to sell his daughter either.  Clearly this is not the case, so your homework is to come up with a chiluk between the two halachos.   

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

halachic vigilantism cuts both ways

I just want to offer one comment on what the principal of SAR, Rabbi Harcsztark, wrote in his defense of his allowing two girls to put in tefillin – link.  Rather than react to this incident or similar ones with knee-jerk condemnation, Rabbi Harzsztark feels his students should respond differently: "That when they see something different, even controversial, before deciding in which denomination it belongs, they must first take a serious look at the halakha and ask their Rabbi whether there is basis for such practice?"

I could not agree more.  However, is there not also a responsibility to seek out the advice of Rabbanim and talmidei chachami before taking the initial action that would constitute at the least a breach of community norms, if not halacha?  The girls in SAR did not ask Rabbi Harcsztark what to do before deciding to put on tefillin.  The issue apparently came up after the fact, when their inclusiveness in the minyan became an issue.  If am not debating which is the greater wrong, but one surely cannot criticize others for vigilante halachic “justice” while at the same time condoning or sanctioning halachic vigilantism within one’s own community. 

 A number of years ago there was some controversy over something an Orthodox Rabbi did in his capacity as a representative of the community in an interfaith setting.  Rav Asher Weiss has a shiur on the issues involved, which was printed up, and I distinctly recall the opening, where he opined that whatever the result of the halachic analysis – whether that Rabbi was right or wrong in what he did – he should have certainly asked someone greater than himself first before taking action. 

Kal v’chomer: if this is true of that Rabbi in question, someone with many years of experience as a community leader and a Rav, is it not also true of teens who barely know right from left in avodas Hashem?  Is it not also true of other laypeople?

And one comment on what another Rabbi has written (link) about this issue.  Quote: "In other words, what are the stakes here? And why are they being presented as so great? What is going to happen if a few women wear tefillin? What’s the dire consequence that we must avoid at all costs?"

The issue here is about more than doing or not doing a particular mitzvah.  B’mechilas kvodo, framing the issue that way strikes me as sheer obtrusiveness.  The reason this is a controversy is because condoning women wearing tefillin amounts to condoning a philosophical worldview that acknowledges egalitarianism as a virtue that supersedes minhag, community norms, even halacha itself.  “Where there’s a Rabbinic will, there’s a halachic way,” as one well known advocate of this philosophy sums it up, means that halacha is maidservant to the values that we dictate, rather than the other way around.  Whether those putting on tefillin intend it or not or whether those who sanction their actions intend it or not – that’s the impression being created. 

In his discussion of R’ Soloveitchik’s view of women’s prayer groups, Rav Meyer Twersky (link) quotes the Shu”T Melamed l’Ho’il regarding tnei b’kiddushin:
I will say one more thing which to my mind is exceedingly important . . . if we who are zealous for the word of God will imitate the heretics to negate the institution of gittin and halitsa by means of conditional kidushin, even if we would say that it is being accomplished in a permissible fashion, nevertheless what will the reformist rabbis say: behold those Orthodox [rabbis] have conceded that their laws are no good and the temper of the times cannot tolerate them . . . and they have thereby conceded that the temper of the times is mightier than antiquated laws. And what can we possibly say in response? Is there, God forbid, a greater desecration of God's name? Consequently in my opinion conditional kidushin should not be instituted under any circumstances.

I don’t worry about what the reformers will say – I worry about what impressionable teenagers will say.   

the psul of "ne'evda bo aveira"

Last week I brought up R’ Yosef Engel’s safeik of whether mitzvos that are time-dependent, e.g. Shabbos, Yom Kippur, etc. are considered issurei gavra or issurei cheftza.  One of the proofs was the gemara in Brachos 53 that says that a candle lit by a ben noach on Shabbos cannot be used for havdalah because chilul Shabbos was done with the candle.  Even though a ben noach has no mitzvah of shemiras Shabbos – there is no chovas hagavra – the candle being lit still disqualifies it because Shabbos is an issur cheftza (see that post for more). 

The Chelkas Yoav in his discussion of esrog hamurkav (O.C.32:6 d”h yatzasi) uses the same gemara a bit differently.  What if a ben noach grafted together a lemon tree and an esrog tree – can that fruit be used for the mitzvah of esrog?  Lichorah it is a machlokes haposkim between the Levush and Shach.  The Levush paskens like the view in Chazal (which seems to be well supported in Rishonim) that even a ben noach is not allowed to graft together different species of trees.  Therefore, an esrog hamurkav is disqualified because “ne’evda bo aveira,” something that comes about through an issur is disqualified for mitzvah use.  The Shach, disagrees and holds that there is no issur of grafting for a ben noach, so such an esrog would seem to be acceptable.

Not so fast says the Chelkas Yoav.  We see from Brachos 53 that even if something is not assur for a ben noach, since the same act is assur for a yisrael, it is considered ne’evda bo aveira and is disqualified from mitzvah use.  Even if the Shach is right that a ben noach is allowed to graft an esrog and lemon tree together, since a yisrael cannot, the fruit cannot be used for a mitzvah.

According to the C.Y. the reason a candle lit on Shabbos by a ben noach cannot be used for havdalah is not a din in hilchos Shabbos because Shabbos is an issur cheftza.  It’s a din in ne’evda bo aveira – anything which if done by a yisrael would be an issur cannot be used for a mitzvah purpose even if the act was done by a ben noach.

Friday, January 24, 2014

common sense laws / Divine laws -- or both

Rashi comments that the additional “vav” in “V’eileh hamishpatim…” that connects our parsha with the previous one teaches us that just as the earlier mitzvos were given at Sinai, so too were these mitzvos.  What’s the hava amina to think otherwise?  Do we need to be told for each and every mitzvah that this one also was given at Sinai?

It seems that the reminder is necessary here because the bulk of the parsha discusses civil law.  You might think that religion is all about ritual, about ceremony, but laws like not stealing, respecting someone’s property, etc. – that’s not religion, that’s common sense.  Kah mashma lan….

What’s the kah mashma lan lesson to be learned here?  The simple pshat is that the Torah is telling us that civil law is not just rooted in common sense, but is also Divine.  That is why, as Rashi also tells us, you can’t go to a non-Jewish court even if they were to use the same rules and arrive at the same judgment as a Beis Din.  And that also explains why Moshe had to be specifically told (Rashi explains) that it was not enough to just review these laws with Bnei Yisrael a few times until they knew the basic facts, but rather the logic and reasoning behind every law had to be explained as well.  Moshe ordinarily needed no extra encouragement to teach Torah, but in this case one might have thought emphasizing how much sense the laws make comes at the expense of their appearing less Divine.  Hashem therefore told Moshe not to worry and to just teach (Sefas Emes).

But there is another way you can learn the kah mashma lan (also in Sefas Emes, in the Likutim).   Not that you might have thought these laws are just common sense and therefore not Divine, kah mashma lan that the laws are in fact Divine, but rather you might have thought these laws are common sense and therefore not Divine, kah mashma lan that your common sense and reason is also Divine.  The only difference between parah adumah, for example, and not stealing, is that in the former case G-d has not opened up your brain to the possibility of understanding the law but in the latter case He has.  

The philosophical question of whether something is wrong because G-d made a law saying so or whether G-d made laws to stopg us from doing wrong doesn’t get off the ground according to this approach.  The question presupposes a false distinction between what G-d declares and what we know innately, but in truth, there is no “I” that knows not to steal if not for the fact that G-d made me so.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

despite the best intentions

“I looked down at my arm and at first I was so confused,” she says. “But it felt so Jewish… I felt different in the way I was davening (praying).  After I took them off, there was this mark. All day, I was just staring at the mark on my arm and I felt so connected… this is what davening is about.”

SAR recently made the news for granting permission to two high school girls to wear tefillin for davening, and, not to be outdone by his modern orthodox colleagues in northern Manhattan, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein said in an interview that were he to revisit the issue (which came up at Ramaz in the ‘90s) he would certainly be matir. 

The quote above,  which appeared in the Times of Israel (link), is from Eden Farber, a modern orthodox female teen from Atlanta who wears tefillin.

First off, I’m concerned for Ms. Farber’s health.  If you wrap your tefillin so tight that there is a mark on your arm all day, I think you may be in danger of causing self-inflicted cardiac arrest due to your circulation being cut off.

But in all seriousness… There is something positive to say about this: I wish I felt like Ms. Farber every morning when I put on tefillin.  I wish davening with my tefillin also made me feel so “connected,” so “Jewish.”  Maybe putting them on every weekday for years and years dulls your mind to what it’s all supposed to be about.  So thank you Ms. Farber for the wake up call. 

I think the difference between SAR, Ramaz, and myself is that if my 12 year old daughter were to tell me that davening is not the same for her because she doesn’t get to wear tefillin like I do, I would ask her just who she is kidding.  At 12 you don’t know what davening means, you don’t know what tefillin means, you don’t know anything about Judaism and haven’t even begun to think seriously about avodas Hashem.  (I don’t know if I’ve even begun to understand anything about these things at my age.)  If at 12 years old you don’t feel “connected” or “Jewish” in your davening it has very little to do with whether you are or aren’t wearing tefillin. 
But I get where these schools are coming from. So many kids are OTD, are not interested, are ambivalent about Torah and mitzvos, that when a kid expresses what sounds like sincere interest in doing something more, there is a rush to embrace and encourage it in any way possible, even to the point of arguing for what would be a chiddush at least in practice if not in theory (and I'm not debating those points).
Do we trust teens?  Of course not! -- at least not completely.  We call their judgment and maturity into question all the time when we set limits, when we say no to their doing things that seem right to them but that we know will lead to trouble, when we tell them to be home at a certain time and to act in a certain way, even though they plead and cry that they know better.  Why then if a teen says that wearing tefillin seems the right thing to do for her should we suddenly toss out a Rama and centuries of tradition and jump to give the practice our approval, in Rabbi Lookstein's case before even being asked?  What happened to telling them that what may seem right, what may look right, what may feel right, is not always right or in fact good for them?

I disagree with those who question the motives and sincerity of the teens or the schools in this case or other cases where individuals take on mitzvos or roles that are usually reserved for men.  How can anyone presume to question what is in another person’s heart? 

That argument completely misses the point.  It is in spite of the sincerity of those involved, in spite of their good motives and intentions, in spite of their wanting to be more “connected” and more “Jewish,” that when something is wrong al pi halacha or is wrong as a matter of public policy, we must disallow it.

That’s a very hard pill to swallow and a hard lesson to learn, but one that is critical to creating a true connection with Hashem, one that is larger than one's own wants and desires.

af hein ha'yu b'oso hanes -- kiddush, matzah, 4 kosos, etc.

There is a teshuvah from the Mahara”m m’Rotenberg (I’m not such a baki – R’ Ovayda z”l quotes it in Yechaveh Da’at 2:65) that asks why we need the hekesh of zachor to shamor to obligate women in the mitzvah of kiddush – why not say they are obligated because of af hein ha’yu b’oso ha’nes?  We say in kiddush that Shabbos is zecher l’yetzi’as Mitzrayim and women also experienced the nes of being taken out of Egypt.  The Mahara”m m’Rotenberg answers that “oso hanes lo shayach l’kiddush.” 

Before getting to what he means by the answer, it’s clear from the question that the Maharam m’Rotenberg held that the sevara of af hein can create a chiyuv d’oraysa.  By way of contrast, Tosfos (Meg 4b) explains that we need to learn that women are obligated in the mitzvah of matzah from a hekesh to chometz because af hein can create only a chiyuv derabbanan, not d’oraysa.  Tosfos gives another answer as well (see also Tos Pesachim 108), perhaps because other ba'aleu Tos. disagreed and held like this Maharm m'Rotenberg.  

It sounds like what the Maharam m’Rotenberg means by his answer is that although there is a chiyuv to mention yetzi’as Mitzrayim in kiddush, yetzi’as Mitzrayim is not the mechayeiv of kiddush – Shabbos is the mechayeiv.

Rav Soloveitchik independently developed the same idea in a letter to his father (quoted in the Igros haGRI”D, Hil Chanukah).  Why is it that if one has only enough funds for either kiddush or ner Chanukah, ner Chanukah takes precedence because of pirsumei nisa [see Shu”T Avnei Nezer #501] –- is there not also an element of pirsumei nisa in reciting kiddush and mentioning yztei’as Mitzrayim?  RYBS answered that although kiddush may incorporate a kiyum of pirsumei nisa in that yetzi’as Mitzrayim is mentioned, pirsumei nisa it is not the mechayeiv of the mitzvah.  Only the mitzvos of 4 kosos, ner Chanukah, and mikra megillah share that quality.

This sevara answers Tos question as to why we cannot use af hein to create a chiyuv of achilas matzah.  Achilas matzah may incorporate a kiyum of pirsumei nisa in that it reminds us of the nes of yetzi'as Mitzrayim, but the mechayeiv of the mitzvah is not pirsumei nisa. 

hand gestures of lomdus

This article in Wired reports that researchers observed and cataloged seven specific hand gestures were used repeatedly by members of academia in lectures and talks.  Want to look smart?  Make sure to use these gestures when you speak.  You can learn them all using this website.

Someone needs to catalog the appropriate hand gestures for use in learning.  A sevara said stam just doesn’t have the same force as a sevara while sweeping one’s hand in an arc downward and then upward with one’s thumb raised.  (I hope you can picture what I mean.)  If you want to look like a lamdan, make sure to use the appropriate arm, hand, and thumb motions.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Oh Canada - Prime Minister Harper's speech to Knesset

Here is a link to the speech the P.M. of Canada gave before the Knesset, which is worth reading in its entirety.  So rare is it these days to hear a leader who "get's it,"  who understands why it is important to stand with Israel and who sees through the lies spread about our country and our people.  It's not just about strategic alliances or technological benefits.  "Let me repeat that: Canada supports Israel fundamentally because it is right to do so."  Sadly, I doubt we will ever hear a speech like this from the current occupant of the White House or the Secretary of State.

"And so we either we stand up for our values and our interests here, in Israel, stand up for the existence of a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state, or the retreat of our values and our interests in the world will begin."

Thank you Prime Mininster Harper.

melacha on Shabbos -- issur gavra or issur cheftza

It's interesting (to me at least) that posts that involve lomdus draw more attention than posts on the parsha.  The latter are easier to write, but maybe the "market" is already too saturated with parsha stuff.  I've also noticed that the medium of blogger is slowly fading away, but I can't bring myself to use google+ or facebook yet, so I'll keep plugging away here for now.  So, on to some lomdus... : )

As reported in the parsha sheet “Divrei Siach,” R’ Chaim Kanievsky was asked whether it is preferable to take a longer route walking to one’s destination on Shabbos  to avoid seeing car traffic or whether it doesn’t matter, as the cars are being driven by non-Jews.  R’ Chaim answered that it is better to avoid seeing the cars.  His proof is from Brachos 53, where the gemara says that a candle lit by a non-Jew on Shabbos is not usable for havdalah, but a candle lit for a sick person is usable because it was lit b’heter.  You see from the gemara that even though a non-Jew has no mitzvah to keep Shabbos, his/her lighting of the candle is still considered an act of chilul Shabbos which renders the candle unfit for use.

When the Chofetz Chaim visited the big city of Warsaw and saw chilul Shabbos the first time, he trembled.  The next time he saw it, he felt less moved.   The Chofetz Chaim remarked that from his own experience he now sees how quickly we become desensitized to aveiros.  You may not be the one driving the car on Shabbos, but seeing the chilul Shabbos, even if done by an aku”m, has a tremendous effect on one’s appreciation for the holiness of Shabbos kodesh. 

The issue the question posed to R' Chaim raises is already discussed R’ Yosef Engel in a number of places.  There are Achronim who view all time-centric issurim as being issurei gavra.  For example, they argue that food on Yom Kippur is not inherently assur in the same that bacon is assur.  Bacon is a cheftza of issur; food on Yom Kippur is a cheftza of heter, just there is an issur that prevents the individual from eating.  R’ Yosef Engel is not convinced, and he uses this gemara from Brachos 53 to prove his point.  A non-Jew has no chovas ha’gavra to observe Shabbos.  Nonetheless, the melacha done by him/her is considered a cheftza of issur, and therefore the candle lit by the aku"m can’t be used for havdalah.  In the case of the car traffic, again, there is no issur gavra obligating the non-Jew to keep Shabbos, but the melacha done may still be a cheftza shel issur.

One could argue that perhaps Brachos 53 is a unique din in hilchos brachos and not indicative of the nature of issurei Shabbos. However, what I think is the stronger objection is that this approach can lead to a tartei-d’sasrei contradiction in terms.  A non-Jew is not only not obligated to observe Shabbos; he/she is prohibited from observing Shabbos.  Let’s say John Smith has not done any melachah this Saturday.  On the one hand his lighting a fire under those circumsances would be considered a mitzvah, because otherwise he would be in violation of the ben-noach issur of shemiras Shabbos, but at the same time the same lighting would be a cheftza shel issur.   How can the same act be both?   R Yosef Engel therefore suggests that this may be a unique din by havarah.  A non-Jew who needs to do a melacha to avoid chilul Shabbos should choose something other than lighting a fire, as that act is classified as chilul Shabbos for everyone, Jew and non-Jew alike.

The Pireki D”R’ Eliezer writes that when Adam haRishon saw fire on Motzei Shabbos he said the bracha of borei me’orei ha’eish.  The implication is that Adam haRishon did not light a fire on Shabbos itself.  R’ Yosef Engel in Beis ha’Otzar writes that this does not prove that Adam observed the Torah before it was given as the Avos did.  The Midrash is speaking about the melacha of lighting a fire, and that melacha in particular may be categorically classified as chilul Shabbos no matter who is doing the lighting.

Friday, January 17, 2014

R' Elyashiv on what Yisro heard that made him leave home

VaYishma Yisro (18:1) – Rashi explains that Yisro was motivated to come and join Klal Yisrael because he heard about the splitting of Yam Suf and the battle with Amalek.  What was it about these particular events that caused Yisro to pack his bags and leave home? 

Ksav Sofer explains that Yisro had originally been confident that the faith he arrived at independently, through critical inquiry, could never be swayed. Yet, after Yisro saw how Bnei Yisrael, who had witnessed first-hand the miraculous hashgacha pratis of Yam Suf splitting, in short time became rebellious and lax in their dedication to Torah to the point that Hashem allowed Amalek to attack, he was forced to change his mind.  If those who saw miracles with their own eyes could fall so quickly, what chance did he have, living alone in Midyan surrounded by idolators? 

I wanted to share with you a different answer I saw quoted in the name of R’ Elyashiv.  When Moshe directed Yehoshua to select soldiers to fight Amalek, he used the expression, “Bechar lanu anashim.”  Even though Moshe was far greater than Yehoshua, he spoke to Yehoshua like an equal and made it sound like a joint effort between them.  Rashi quotes from Chazal that from here we learn that one’s student’s honor should be as dear as one’s own.  Chazal also tell us regarding the splitting of Yam Suf that the vision seen by the lowest maidservant was greater than that seen by the navi Yechezkel.  We learn from these episodes that the lowest person on the totem pole has the potential to be as great as the highest prophet; the student deserves as much honor and respect as his teacher.  Yisro heard and saw that Judaism does not discriminate; being a ger or a servant or some other “nobody” doesn’t mean anything when it comes to avodas Hashem and the respect each individual deserves.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

multitasking doesn't work -- even if you are Moshe Rabeinu

Yisro told Moshe (18:14) that it’s not right for him to sit all day judging the people while they remain standing, waiting to see him.  Rashi writes that Yisro interpreted the situation as a slight to the kavod of Klal Yisrael.  Moshe responded that he had no choice, as the people came all day “lidrosh Elokim.”  Again, (18:17) Yisro replied that “lo tov hadavar,” that it’s not right and something needs to be done.  It sounds like Yisro is going back to square one, echoing the same complaint that Moshe already tried to respond to – we’re going in circles.  What was the shakla v’terya here?

Ksav Sofer explains that Yisro originally saw the long line of people who came to be judged by Moshe and thought that court was in session like this all the time.  In truth, this was a one-time occurrence.  Rashi tells us that this was the day after Yom Kippur, right after Moshe come down from Sinai, and there was a long backup of cases waiting.  However, Moshe acknowledged that even without the backup of cases, there would still be a long line of people waiting, as they did not just come to him for judgment, but they came “lidrosh Elokim,” for brachos and tefilos and other help (see Ramban).  Moshe Rabeinu was telling Yisro that he wasn’t just the Av Beis Din of the community – he was the Admo”r as well.  If so, argued Yisro, all the more reason to get help.  Even if you are as great as a Moshe Rabeinu, multitasking doesn’t work – you can’t wear multiple hats, do multiple tasks, divide your attention between different things at the same time, and accomplish them all well.

(Side point – the meforshei Rashi ask: Rashi 18:13 writes that it is impossible for court to have been in session all day, from morning to night.  Chazal tell us that a judge who judges truthfully even for one hour gets credit as if he spent the whole day, morning to night, learning Torah.  If so, why was Yisro so adamant that Moshe would wear himself out?)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

"pen yenachem ha'am birosam milchacha" -- the war between the Plishtim and Bnei Ephraim

The opening of Parshas Beshalacha tells us that G-d did not want to lead Bnei Yisrael through the land of the Plishtim lest they see war and turn back in fear.  Why does the pasuk refer to, "birosam milchama," seeing war, instead of fighting war?  And why was G-d so concerned about Bnei Yisrael's reaction to war with the Plishtim when they would face Amalek in battle anway?  Chazal's interpretation of a few pesukim in Divrei HaYamim sheds a completely new light on what's going on here.

Divrei HaYamim (I 7:20-22) tells of a battle between the inhabitants of Gas, which we know was a Plishti stronghold, and the children of Ephraim.  The pasuk uses two ambiguous phrases in describing who was fighting and what caused the war: 1) “Hanoladim ba’aretz,” who were born in the land – Rashi and others explain that the inhabitants of Gas were familiar with the land, since it was their place of birth, and were able to therefore ambush the descendants of Ephraim who were newcomers.   Radak explains that the phrase refers to the Bnei Ephraim, as we will explain.  2) “Ki yardu lakachas es mikneihem,” because they were down to take their cattle -- it’s unclear whether the people of Gas took the cattle from the bnei Ephraim, or vica versa.  As a result of the deaths of his children, Ephraim suffered inconsolable grief, and his brothers were unable to comfort him (the pasuk echoes the phrase used with respect to Ya’akov Avinu’s mourning for Yosef). 

When did this story take place?  We know from the end of the Sefer Braishis that Yosef had grandchildren, i.e. descendants of Ephraim, who were born in Egypt.  Radak writes that the Navi therefore tells us that this episode did not happen to those children of Ephraim born in Egypt, but rather to others, “ha’noladim ba’aretz.”  Yet, it cannot be referring to Bnei Ephraim born in Eretz Yisrael, as the simple reading of “noladim ba’aretz” suggests, as that would mean that Ephraim himself entered Eretz Yisrael, and we know that with the exception of Yehoshua and Kalev, no one who left Egypt entered Eretz Yisrael.  Therefore, writes Radak, it must refer to some episode that happened while Bnei Yisrael were travelling in the midbar.  This would mean that Ephraim himself was one of those that left Egypt, which is incredible in itself.

The Da’at Mikra quotes from the interpretation of R”Y HaChassid on Sefer Shmos that describes how the shevatim maintained what sounds like feudal estates in Eretz Yisrael even after they had already gone down to Mitzrayim.  The residents of Gas and others farmed the land in Eretz Yisrael and paid taxes to the shevatim. This was what led Pharoah to worry “v’nosaf gam hu al sonainu v’nilcham banu,” that there would be a cross-border war and Bnei Yisrael would side with the enemy since their property and investments were still tied up in Eretz Yisrael, not in Egypt.  The servitude started when Pharoah forced the taxes paid to the shevatim to be diverted to his own treasury.

Chazal (Sanhedrin 91, also in the targum to Divrei haYamaim) have a different view than Radak, and this brings us back to the pasuk in Beshalach.  Chazal teach that a contingent of the Bnei Ephraim miscalculated the duration of galus by 30 years and tried to escape from Mitzrayim early.  They made their way to Eretz Yisrael where they were cut down in battle by the people of Gas.  When we read in Parshas Beshalach that “no nacham Elokim derech Eretz Plishtim… ki amar Elokim pen yinachem ha’am birosam milchacma,” it does not mean that G-d did not lead Bnei Yisrael through Plishti territory lest they turn back rather than face the Plishtim in battle.  After all (as many meforshim ask), the people were able to face Amalek in battle – why not the Plishtim?  What the pasuk means is that when the people would see the war that had occurred in the past, i.e. the graves and remains of the Bnei Ephraim who had fought the Plishtim and suffered a horrendous loss, then they would lose heart and want to turn back.  
On a final note, the Taz in Parshas Va’eira asks a question that is perplexing.  Rashi (6:16) writes that the shibud Mitzrayim did not take effect so long as so long as one of the shevatim was alive.  If so, how could Ephraim have still been alive during the galus?  He answers that Ephraim prophetically saw what would happen and mourned long before the events actually occurred.  My wife suggested a much simpler answer: when Chazal say the shevatim died before the galus started, they mean Yosef and his brothers, not Ephraim and Menashe.  Rashi cites the pasuk of “Vayamas Yosef v’kol echav,” which clearly refers to Yosef himself. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

the parsha of mon and the capacity for chiddush

Bnei Yisrael did not know what to make of the mon until Moshe gave them instructions.  Zeh hadavar asher tzivah Hashem liktu mimenu ish l’fi ochlo…” (16:16).  When Bnei Yisrael went to gather the mon, they discovered that everyone ended up with equal portions, no matter how much or how little they collected.  The Torah then continues, “Vayomer Moshe aleihem, ‘Ish al yoseir mimenu ad boker…’” (16:19), Moshe commanded them not to leave over mon until the morning.

Why is there a separation between that first command given by Moshe of “liktu mimenu ish l’fi ochlo…” and the second command not to leave leftovers until the next day?  Why not lump all the instructions together?

The Ohr haChaim later in the parsha (16:22) says an interesting chiddush.  When Moshe gave the first instructions the Torah says clearly “Zeh hadavar asher tzivah Hashem,” but when relating the second set of instructions it just says, “Vayomer Moshe…”  These second instructions were not Hashem’s words, but were Moshe's.  This second command was a product of Moshe's own deductive reasoning.  Since a new portion of mon fell every day, Moshe felt that there was no reason to horde one day’s supply and save it for the next day.   

When the people disobeyed, the pasuk describes their sin as, “V’lo sham’u el Moshe,” the people did not listen to Moshe.  It was Moshe’s charge that they violated, not G-d’s command. Nonetheless, the punishment was no less dire.  Miraculously, the leftover mon became spoiled and wormy.  Even though G-d did not tell them not to leave over the mon or warn of any consequence for doing so, the fact that Moshe declared this to be the halacha caused the mon to spoil.  Hashem ratified Moshe’s sevara and treated it the same as if He had given the tzivuy.

I was thinking that maybe this is what Chazal mean when they talk about “lo nitna Torah elah l’ochlei ha’mon.”  Maybe I’m misremembering, but I don’t recall an earlier instance in the Torah where someone is mechadesh a halacha based on the koach of sevara and it becomes a cheftza shel Torah.  Built into the parshah of the mon is a hint to the capacity of Klal Yisrael to be mechadesh in Torah.

chatzi shiur on bal yera'eh

The first Mishna in Beitzah has a machlokes Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel as to what the shiur is for chametz and se’or with respect to the issur of bal yera’eh u’bal yimatzeih.  Many Achorinim (e.g. Sha’agas Aryeh) ask what the whole debate is about.  Assuming chatzi shiur is assur m’doraysa (machlokes R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish), then no matter how small the piece of chametz, there is an issur d’oraysa of keeping it around.  The usual nafka minah between having a shiur of issur vs. having a chatzi shiur is only with respect to malkos (there is no onesh on a chatzi shiur).  However, when it comes to bal yera’eh u’bal yimatzeih, that nafkah minah doesn’t apply.  Even on the full shiur there is no malkos, as the issur of bal yera’eh is a lav she’ain bo ma’aseh as well as a lav hanitak l’aseh (the mitzvah of tashbisu).    So l’mai nafka this machlokes with respect to the shiur? 

It could be that this is the clincher that proves (as many Achorinim hold) that the whole din of chatzi shiur only applies to issurei achila and not to other issurim.  We need to know what the shiur for bal yera’eh is because there is no din of chatzi shiur.

But many Achronim don’t hold that way.  So what how do you deal with this gemara?

Monday, January 13, 2014


I took a count of the number of ads for Pesach resort vacations I saw recently in a Jewish newspaper and stopped when I got past 20.  I was just on a “fum” website and was immediately hit with a pop-up ad for “Shabbat in Cancun.”  Mind you: some of same places running these ads won’t run an ad or article with a picture of even a modestly dressed woman because, after all, “hatzne’a leches,” we have standards of tzniyus, but running ads for decadent luxury resort vacations is somehow OK.  (My wife recently blogged about a book that mentions a Rothschild who had an entire separate Pesach house.  Perhaps that’s the next level of escalation.)

I guess if you make a million dollars a year, blowing a few tens of thousands on Pesach is really not a big deal.  It’s a matter of proportion.  But then I start to think that judging by the number of these programs, there must be plenty of millionaires in our community (baruch Hashem!), and I start to wonder why are our yeshivos all struggling for cash.  There is obviously something wrong with my hashkafos because every one of these programs has a litany of Rabbis offering lectures and shiurim and daf yomis -- not only do they approve, they participate. 
I've posted about this in the past and realize it is a lost cause.  The trend is to offer more luxury to the kosher consumer, not less.  My hunch, though, is that you won't find someone who knows Ketzos sitting on a beach in Cancun -- it's a delusion to think you can live in both worlds. 

a good type of hunger

In Parshas Eikev the Torah describes all the wonderful things that Hashem did for Bnei Yisrael in the desert, among them, “Va’yi’ancha va’yarivecha vaya’achilcha es haman….,” that Bnei Yisrael felt hungry and Hashem sent the mon to feed them.  Why does the Torah include the fact that Bnei Yisrael suffered hunger in this context?  The Torah is singing the praises of the idyllic state of existence in the midbar and listing the miracles that happened there.  We understand why getting the mon belongs on that list, but why is the hunger that preceded the mon falling mentioned there? 

The Sefas Emes (link) finds an answer in the contrast between two different episodes of complaint mentioned in our parsha.  The first episode was that of the bitter water: Bnei Yisrael came to Marah and could not drink the bitter waters found there.  They complained to Moshe, asking what they were supposed to drink.  Hashem told Moshe to throw a certain tree branch into the water which sweetened the water (15:23-25).  The second episode was that of the man: Bnei Yisrael left Eilim and came to Midbar Sinai on the 15th of the second month.  The people then complained, “Had we died in Egypt we would at least have had flesh to eat and been satisfied with the bread we had.   Now that you took us into this deser we will die of hunger” (16:1-3).  In the first episode, the reason for complaint is clear.  The Torah opens the parsha by telling us that the water was bitter and the people had nothing to drink.  In the second episode, the Torah provides no introduction that would justify the complaint of hunger.  All we are told is that in the second month the people reached the Sinai desert – there is no mention of a lack of food, no mention of any other want.  Why did the people suddenly start complaining?

The Rishonim (e.g. see Ramban) struggle to find some hint in the parsha that would explain what the people lacked, but the Sefas Emes understands that the people in fact lacked nothing.  The tables were filled with food, the canteens were filled with water.  The problem is that you can have every material thing in the world that you need and still be starving.  The Navi Amos (8:11) tells us that one day there will be a hunger and a thirst not for food or drink, but a hunger to hear the dvar Hashem.  That’s the hunger the people were complaining about.

While slaves in Egypt the people were happy with regular food and drink, with bread and meat.  Their hunger was one of material want and physical need. However, after experiencing a yetzias Mitzrayim, a splitting of Yam Suf, after being uplifted and carried by Hashem, that same food and meat were not enough.  The people realized that there was more to life than dreaming of having a good steak dinner.  They wanted spiritual food to go with their spiritual existence.

Vayi’ancha va’yarivecha…”  The ability to feel this type of hunger, which in turned merited their receiving the mon, is itself one of the great wonders of life in the midbar.

Hashem is “masbi’a l’kol chai ratzon,” a provider to all according to want.  If all you are want in life is a good steak dinner, if that’s the food that charges your batteries and makes you happy, then that’s the food Hashem will provide.  But if you want something more, if you hunger for spiritual nourishment and not just for something to put in your belly, then Hashem will respond in kind and fill those wants as well. 

Update: Another look at those pesukim of "Vayiancha va'yarivecha..." from my wife's uncle, R' Ezra Shochet:

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Thursday, January 09, 2014

Yosef and the war against Amalek

Moshe delegated the task of leading the war against Amalek to Yehoshua.  Chazal explain that it was apropos that a descendent of Yosef, who the Torah quotes as saying “Es haElokim ani yarei,” should battle Amalek, who the Torah describes as “Lo yarei Elokim.” 

Obviously there must be more to Yehoshua being chosen than a play on the words yarei yarei.  All of the shevatim were yirei shamayim -- just because these words did not come out of their mouths does not mean their character was lacking.  So why were Yosef and his descendants alone charged with leading the war against Amalek?

Ksav Sofer answers that, as we discussed in the past, war against Amalek has to be waged l’shem shamayim.  When we fight Amalek it must not be done out of animosity or hatred, but rather simply to fulfill “milchama l’Hashem,” for Hashem’s honor alone. Yosef surely had motive, means, and ample opportunity to take revenge against his brothers for their crime of selling him into slavery.  Had Yosef wanted to be vindictive, he certainly could have justified his actions.  Yet Yosef put aside his personal feelings and chose not to lash out at his brothers.  Any pain he caused them was done l’shem shamayim to see the dreams/prophecy foretold to him fulfilled.  It was this quality of selflessness, the ability to put aside personal feelings and act completely l’shem shamayim, which made Yosef and his descendants the best candidates to carry out this "milchama l'Hashem" against  Amalek. 

Where did Yosef get that quality from?  I think it came from his mother Rachel, who put aside her own desire to be Ya’akov’s wife and gave the simanim to her sister Leah to spare her the embarrassment of being rejected by Ya’akov when he realized that Lavan had switched their places.  Rachel gave away everything l'shem shamayim; her children inherited that quality.

Perhaps there is another reason Yosef was chosen as a foil for Amalek.  Amalek was among the offspring of Timna.  Chazal (Sanhedrin 99) tell us that Timna was a princess who came to the Avos and wanted to convert and join Klal Yisrael, but the Avos rejected her.  She therefore went to Eisav and ended up marrying Elifaz, Eisav’s son, and giving birth to Amalek.  Timna was pushed away from the family of the Avos and the result was Amalek, “lo yarei Elokim.”  Yosef was pushed away by his brothers, but rather than abandon his yiras shamayim, he only grew stronger, “es haElokim ani yarei.”

After the battle ended Moshe erected a mizbeiach which he called “Hashem Nisi,” G-d is my miracle.  Ksav Sofer asks why Moshe erected an altar on this occasion alone – why did he not do the same after leaving Mitzrayim or after the splitting of Yam Suf? 

Ksav Sofer answers that the victory against Amalek was not an overt, supernatural miracle like the plagues or the splitting of the sea.  For all intents and purposes it looked like any other war between two armies.  Moshe therefore built a mizbeiach and named it “Hashem Nisi” to publicize the fact that miracles do not always come in supernatural garb.  For a rag tag “army” of just escaped slaves to stand up to a full scale surprise attack by an enemy dedicated to their destruction was also indeed nothing short of miraculous. 

I would like to suggest that Moshe’s actions go hand in hand with the selection of Yosef’s sheivet to lead the war.  Yosef’s outward appearance was that of an Egyptian viceroy.  He probably dressed Egyptian, he certainly spoke Egyptian, and he was able to move in the highest strata of Egyptian society, yet inside burned the neshoma of “es haElokim ani yarei.”  The war against Amalek on the surface looked like any other war, but below the surface it was a “michama l’Hashem” involving hashgacha/nes.  According to the Netziv, the entire objective of Amalek is to blind us to the hasgachas Hashem, to prevent us from seeing the many miracles that surround us every day.  Yosef’s message is to look below the surface.  Even if you don’t see a thunderbolt shoot down from the sky or the sea split, Hashem is still there working miracles behind the scenes.  Finding those hidden miracles is how we defeat Amalek.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

why does the aino yode'a lishol get the same answer as the rasha?

We all know from the haggadah shel Pesach that in giving the mitzvah of sipur yetzi’as Mitzrayim the Torah addresses itself in four different ways to the paradigmatic “four sons.”  In speaking to the son who is “aino yode’a lishol,” who cannot or does not ask, the haggadah uses the same pasuk from Parshas Bo (13:8) of “V’higadta l’vincha…” which Rashi tells us alludes to the answer to the wicked son.  Why does the son who cannot ask deserve the same response as the rasha, the son who openly rebels?

Ksav Sofer answers that the haggadah is warning us that chinuch needs to start on the ground floor, before a child is even old enough to ask.  If not, an “aino yode’a lishol” is a rasha in waiting.

I love the Maharal in Gur Aryeh here.  The “aino yode’a lishol” is not a two year old who is too immature to know how to ask and is not a simpleton who can’t ask.  The “aino yode’a lishol” is the person who is simply too disinterested and/or distracted to be bothered to ask.  In other words, he/she is your typical American Jew.  What sin is he/she guilty of that warrants a response akin to that given to the rasha?  Answer: the sin of apathy. 

It’s a sin to go through life without asking questions, without pausing to wonder and think about our lot as individuals and as a community. 

zechiras yetzi'as Mitzrayim - zman gerama

My son is such a R’ Ovadya Yosef admirer that he bought one of the new biographies (this is the only gadol biography I think he owns) called Abir HaRo’im that came out after R’ Ovadya’s passing.  In a footnote towards the end of the book there is a story about a meeting that took place on Pesach between R’ Ovadya and another Rav whose name I apologize for not remembering (the truth is that I am not familiar with many of the names of talmidei chachamim mentioned in the book due to my ignorance of the sefardi world).  In the Torah discussion that took place between them, R’ Ovadya asked why we need the derashos of “ymei chayecha – l’rabos ha’yamim” and “kol – l’rabos ha’laylos” that we are familiar with from the haggadah shel Pesach.  Why could the pasuk not simply have said “l’ma’an tizkor… b’chayecha,” and we would assume (why not?) the mitzvah of zecheiras yetzi’as Mitzrayim applies 24x7? 

The talmid chacham who R’ Ovadya was speaking to answered by pointing to the Sha’agas Aryeh’s chiddush that even though zechiras yetzi’as Mitzrayim applies both by day and at night, it is still classified as a mitzvas aseh she’hazman gerama because the mitzvah done by day is an independent chiyuv from that done at night.  In reality, there are two separate kiyumim that apply in two distinct time periods that happen to run concurrently.  Based on this, we understand why the pasuk uses two derashos.  Had the pasuk said “l’ma’an tizkor… b’chayecha,” it would imply that there is one mitzvah that applies 24x7.  By giving us a derasha to teach us the mitzvah during the day and a separate derasha for the mitzvah at night, the pasuk teaches that they are in fact two separate kiyumim and the mitzvah is zman gerama.  (R’ Ovadya apparently got a lot of simcha from the teirtuz – as I hope you do too.)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

430 / 400 / 210 years -- how long in galus Mitzrayim?

U’moshav Bnei Yisrael ashed yashvu b’Mitzrayim shloshim shanah v’arba me’os shanah.” (12:40)

The pasuk seems to say that the Jewish people dwelled in Egypt for 430 years, yet, we know that this simply cannot be true.  Rashi does the math and adds up the number of years Moshe’s grandfather Kehos lived, the number of years Amram lived, and the number of years Moshe himself lived until the exodus and the number is far short of 430. 

Rashi addresses the problem by explaining that the pasuk is not telling us the number of years the Jewish people lived in Egypt, but rather the number of total years spent in galus, in lands other than their own.  Compare the structure of our pasuk with that in Devarim (2:14): “The days which we travelled from Kadesh Barne’a until we crossed Nachal Zared were thirty eight years…”  The Jewish people did not spend 38 years travelling from Kadesh Barne’a to Nachal Zared -- what the pasuk means is that 38 years elapsed from the start of the journey until they reached Nachal Zared (Ramban).  Here too, the number 430 sums up the total time elapsed in galus, not the total time spend just living in Mitzrayim.  (See Ibn Ezra as well.)

Yet all is still not well.  Avraham Avinu was told that “Ger yi’hiyeh zaracha b’eretz lo lahem v’avadum v’inu osam arba mei’os shanah,” (Brashis 15:13).  There was a promise and prophecy given to Avraham that his decedents would suffer 400 years of persecution and servitude.   However you work out the technical discrepancy of 30 years between that promise of 400 years and the 430 years mentioned in our pasuk (see Ramban), the more fundamental question is that the slavery and persecution did not go on for 400 years.  The Jewish people may have been strangers without a homeland yet, as Rashi explains, but there was no “v’avadum v’inu osam,” no slavery until they got to Egypt.    
Ramban in Braishis (15:13) writes:
זה מקרא מסורס, ושיעורו כי גר יהיה זרעך בארץ לא להם ארבע מאות שנה ועבדום וענו אותם, ולא פירש כמה ימי העבדות והעינוי
In other words, Ramban juggles the clauses in the pasuk.  The 400 years is the duration of the “ger yi’hiyeh zaracha” promise of being strangers.  It is not connected with the clause that immediately precedes it of “v’avadum v’inu osam” promising slavery and persecution.

Ksav Sofer in our parsha interprets the pasuk psychologically.  The Avos were not persecuted or enslaved, but they lived with the knowledge that their children would be.  Although the gezeirah did not apply to them personally, each one of the Avos felt the pain that would come to the future generations.  They psychologically were in Mitzrayim, even if physically the avdus had not yet begun.  Because they anticipated the galus and empathized with the suffering their children would endure, the 400 or 430 years are counted from their lifetime, shortening the time their children would spend in actual servitude (He concludes: "v'zeh peirush mechudash v'nifla.")
Parents worry about their children; they anticipate suffering happening even before there are real problems and concerns.  The pain they feel sometimes serves as a substitute or tempers any real punishment that the midas ha'din may have in store, and it happens often without our even realizing it.