Thursday, April 20, 2017

welcome to the big leagues

Isn't it amazing how people descend on supermarkets like a swarm of locusts and buy out every crumb of chameitz as soon as Pesach is over?  It defies rational explanation.  I expect to eventually see someone setup a tent on Central Ave in the 5 Towns on chol ha'moed so they can camp out in front of the pizza store to be first on line to get that first pie after Yom Tov.  Anyway, welcome back everybody!

"Yom ha'shmini," the day the opening of our parsha focusses on, was one of the greatest days in history.  Chazal (Shabbos 87) tell us that the day had 10 crowns, i.e. there were 10 reasons why the day was special, from it being the day on which creation happened to it being the day in which the mishkan was inaugurated and Aharon began serving as kohen gadol.  It was opening day x10.  Yet Rashi writes in Yisro (Shmos 24:9) that Nadav and Avihu were really chayav misa back then for improperly gazing at Hashem's presence (whatever that means) but Hashem let the cheit go until our parsha so as to not disrupt the joy of kabbalas haTorah.  "Yom ha'shmini," as joyous and great as it was, could be marred by Nadav and Avihu's death, but the simcha of Torah cannot be disturbed.  There is no simcha as great as the simcha of Torah.

During the 7 days of milu'im Moshe brought korbanos on behalf of Aharon and his children.  Among them was a par offered as a chatas, which was meant, explains Rashi (Shmos 19:1), as a kapparah for cheit ha'eigel.  In our parsha we read that on yom ha'shmini Aharon himself offered the korbanos, and among them was an eigel offered as a chatas meant, as Rashi (9:2) explains, as a kapparah for cheit ha'eigel.  Didn't we do that already?  Why did Aharon need to bring another chatas for kapprah for cheit ha'eigel when korbanos had been offered for that purpose during the milu'im?   

Maharal in Gur Aryeh answers (not exactly in these words) that it's like a minor league player who is the talk of the triple A league, but then makes it to the majors and finds his ability questioned on the back pages every time he has a bad game.  Those very same back pages of the newspaper had only the highest praise when he was in the minors, so what changed?  The answer is simple: welcome to the big leagues.  Stepping up to the next level invites greater scrutiny and demands greater accountability.

The Midrash darshens "u'Pharoah hikriv" by Yam Suf (why hitpa'el?) that we just read at the end of Peach as telling us that Pharoah's pursuit of Klal Yisrael inspired them to teshuvah more than any words of mudsar or chastisement could have done.  But what was Klal Yisrael doing teshuvah for?  They had just come from offering korban pesach, doing milah, experiencing yetzi'as Mitzrayim, not from any wrongdoing (see Imrei Emes)?  Perhaps the point is the same: davka because they were now free from Egypt, free from the environment that dragged them down to sin, Klal Yisrael had a greater responsibility to introspect and improve further.  Climbing to the next level does not absolve one from obligation -- it creates greater obligations.

"Yom ha'shmini" was a different league from the 7 days of milu'im.  Kapparah that may have sufficed in the past now needs to be re-examined and taken to another level.

I have the old edition of the Maharal at home and that's how I understood the point when I read it, but then I saw in Rav Hartman's footnotes in the new edition that he understands it a bit differently.  Maharal holds that there are certain pivotal moments in Jewish history.  Just as we hopefully want to seize those moments for good, the yetzer ha'ra works even harder than usual to thwart us and turn those moments sour.  That's why we find that during what should have been a time of spiritual greatness, matan Torah, there was a cheit ha'eigel.  Precisely because there was such positive energy, there was a counterbalancing of explosive negative energy that the yetzer marshaled to thwart us.  So too, at the time of "yom ha'shmini," because this day was a pivotal moment, an extra kapparah was needed so as to not have a recurrence of an eigel situation.

Perhaps this sheds light on why Moshe reacted with anger when he saw what he thought was an error being made and korbanos being disposed of and not eaten after Aharon and his sons became aveilim.  R' Simcha Zisel of Kelm puts it in context: Aharon has just lost his sons; his other children have lost their brother.  Even if they were in error in disposing of the korbanos, wouldn't it be understandable given their grief?  Did they deserve to be questioned so harshly?  Yet the greater context is that this is a one time pivotal moment in Jewish history, a day that can never be duplicated.  Evil lurks waiting to once again spoilt the show.  As sensitive as he was to his brother's and nephew's plight, Moshe was also sensitive to history hanging in the balance.  

Speaking of auspicious days in Jewish history, this is a great article by Shmuel Sackett. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

why no minachos of chameitz

It is very hard to make time to go through these parshiyos properly when there is so much to do for Pesach.  Kabbalists say there is some powerful tikun that can be accomplished if you sweat when baking matzah.  I don't understand such ideas, but I do understand that you can accomplish a lot of you sweat while cleaning for Pesach. 

The Netziv (2:11) has a nice explanation of why you can't bring a korban mincha that is chametz.  The Ohr haChaim at the beginning of Parshas Tazria quotes a Tanchuma that records a conversation between R' Akiva and Turnusrufus.  Turnusrufus was bothered by why we have a mitzvah of milah -- if G-d made us araleim, then why should we tamper with his creation?  R' Akiva responded by asking Turnusrufus whether he thought a stalk of wheat was better than a loaf of bread.  It's a rhetorical question -- of course we all prefer to eat the bread.  G-d gave us the world to perfect, to improve, to mold.  We are supposed to turn the wheat into bread.  In the process, we ourselves grow.  For our purpose, what's important is the example the Midrash uses of man's work making a difference -- the baking of bread.  A whole chunk of meleches Shabbos, the paradigm of what creative work is all about, is devoted to the steps of siddura d'pas, the labor involved in making bread.  In a similar vein, the Midrash and Yerushalmi (43a in the Vilna ed, see Ridbaz there) explain the machlokes R' Nachman and Chachamim whether the nusach ha'bracha is "ha'motzi lechem min ha'aretz" or "motzi..." is not just a technical grammatical issue, whether the word "motzi" is past tense or not (as the Bavli explains), but is l'shitasam as to whether the tree Adam haRishon ate from was a loaf of bread.  R' Nachman holds that in gan eden bread literally grew on trees -- man didn't need to work to produce it; therefore, you can saw "motzi," past tense, because at the time of creation G-d, not man, made the bread.  Chachamim hold that we need to use the future tense because, as the gemara in Kesubos tells us, it is only in the time of future geulah that this bracha of bread growing on trees will be realized.  In the here and now, however, in between gan eden and the future geulah, the only way we can get that bread is if we put our own effort = hishtadlus into making it.  The Netziv on our pasuk tells us that this requirement of histadlus is inversely proportional to the level of ruchniyus a person is on.  The closer a person is to holiness, the less hishtadlus is needed.  In gan eden and when geulah happens, when we are really close with G-d, there is no need at all for our baking bread.  So too, when you come to the Mikdash, writes the Netziv, that's not the place to bring your bread.  "Adam ki yakriv" -- when we bring korbanos, we reach back in history to imitate like Adam haRishon (see Chasam Sofer) in gan eden, when bread grew on trees, and when it didn't need to come from us.

Pesach is such a special time that for a week we put aside our baking bread, our hishtadlus, and we let G-d take care of everything. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

the difference a comma makes

1. Rashi 26:15 writes that the atzei shitim used to make the mishkan came from trees that Ya'akov Avinu had planted in Egypt which Bnei Yisrael took with them when they left.  R' Ya'akov Kaminetzki in Emes l'Ya'akov explains that what Ya'akov Avinu planted was not trees for wood -- in the 210 years (which had the potential to be 400 years) until they left Egypt Bnei Yisrael could have managed to find some other wood to take.  What Ya'akov Avinu planted was hope.  To simply tell Bnei Yisrael that one day there would be a geulah would not have made much of an impression.  To take action, to plant in anticipation of the geulah, showed them that it was real.  (The lesson for us in that simply talking about the beauty of Torah is not enough.  We have to act on that belief and live it.)  

Ibn Ezra at the beginning of Terumah challenges Rashi based (among other things) on a pasuk from our parsha.  The Torah writes, "...v'chol asher nimtza ito atzei shitim l'chol milechas ha'avodah hei'vi'u."  (35:26)  The term "nimtza ito" means the wood belonged to those people.  It was theirs and they were donating it of their own accord -- it wasn't something that Ya'akov had prepared beforehand just for use in the mishkan.

It sounds like the machlokes Rashi and Ibn Ezra revolves around where to place the comma in the pasuk.  Ibn Ezra read it like this: "...v'chol asher nimtza ito atzei shitim," whoever has wood, COMMA, "l'chol milechas ha'avodah hei'vi'u," brought it for the holy work.  Rashi, however, may have read it like this: "...v'chol asher nimtza ito atzei shitim l'chol milechas ha'avodah," whoever was entrusted to keep with them wood that was meant to be used [as designated by Ya'akov] for the mishkan, COMMA, "hei'vi'u," they brought it.

2.When there was no longer a need for donations for the Miskhan, the parsha tells us that an announcement went out, "al ya'asu od melacha."   When the people heard that, "va'yikaleh ha'am mei'havi," the people stopped bringing donations.  Meforshim (see Seforno, Rashbam, Chizkuni) are medayek that the announcement did not say not to bring anything, but rather not to make anything.  Ksav Sofer explains this based on the din that hazmanah lav milsa hi, designating an item for some use has no halachic effect unless some action was taken in making the item or in using the item for that purpose (see Sanhedrin 47).  It's only if something was made for the sake of the mishkan that it would become assur; therefore, the call went out to stop making things.  The people understood on their own that this meant nothing new was needed, and so they stopped bringing as well. 

I'm a little confused.  True, hazmanah lav milsa, but there is another din of amiraso l'gavoha k'mesiraso l'hedyot, that pledging something for hekdesh use makes it the property of hekdesh.  Had something been brought to the mishkan, even if not made for use there, wouldn't it become property of the mishkan by virtue of amiraso l'gavoha?  Shouldn't the people have been told to stop bringing things lest the extra become property of the mishkan by virtue of amiraso l'gavoha?

P.S. Apologies for not getting to respond to comments on last week's post.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

a sin worse than cheit ha'eigel

The Ohr haChaim (32:1) writes that the Torah only alludes to the murder of Chur by the eigel worshippers, but spells out in great detail all aspects of the cheit ha'eigel itself because the story of cheit ha'eigel is not about the tragedy of sin, but rather is about the possibility of redemption.  Chazal (A"Z 4b) tell us that if the community sins they should remember the cheit ha'eigel, as it teaches us the possibility of communal teshuvah.  The sin of Chur's murder was never atoned for, and so, rather than leave the blot on the record of Klal Yisrael, the Torah only alludes to it in passing.  Klal Yisrael did do teshuvah for the cheit ha'eigel, and therefore the Torah makes it the focal point.

"Ra'isi es ha'am ha'zeh v'hinei am k'sheh oref hu" -- can there be a more damning statement than that?   The Ishbitzer (in Beis Ya'akov), however, turns the statement on its head.   The navi (Chavakuk 1:13) tells us that G-d is "t'hor einayim mei're'os ra v'hibit el amal lo tochal."  G-d cannot bear the sight of evil; he will not look at it.  "Ra'isi es ha'am ha'zeh," G-d tells Moshe that he sees Bnei Yisrael -- despite their sin, he still is looking at them.  Their essence is still pure.  Again, the story the Torah is telling us is one of redemption. 

Coming back to Chur (and if someone can explain why he deserved to die, please leave me a comment), the gemara (Sanhedrin 7) explains that it was the sight of his being killed by the mob that led Aharon to make the eigel.  "Im yei'hareig b'mikdash Hashem kohen v'navi," the murder of a kohen and navi together (true, Har Sinai is not the mikdash and the avodah had not yet been given over to kohanim -- see Maharasha) together are unforgivable.  Aharon thought that with Chur the navi killed, if he protests against the mob and they kill him, it's all over.  The eigel was in this case the lesser of two evils.

Why is that so?  Why is killing a navi and kohen together a more heinous crime than even idol worship?  Maharasha explains that the kohanim are the teachers of Torah and the nevi'im convey the dvar Hashem.  They are the bearers of the mesorah.  It is one thing to have a mesorah and to do wrong, even to the point of idolatry.  It's a far worse thing to completely destroy and eradicate that mesorah. 

So the people sin, and Moshe comes to the rescue with his tefilah.  "Zechor l'Avraham l'Yitzchak ul'Yisrael... v'kol ha'aretz ha'zos... etein l'zarachem v'nachalu l'olam."  Moshe calls on the zechus of the avos, and refers specifically to G-d's promise to grant Eretz Yisrael to them and their children for eternity.  Why would that promise carry weight after the people had sinned?  The Avos were always worried "shema yigrom ha'cheit" and they would prove undeserving -- wasn't Moshe worried that the cheit ha'eigel may have made the people undeserving?   See Seforno, Netziv, and perhaps one could argue that Klal Yisrael as a whole can never be completely undeserving as a nation (see R' Tzadok in Pri Tzadik on the parsha of the bris bein ha'besarim).  R' Yonasan Eibshitz says a beautiful yesod to answer his question.  He writes that it's only in Eretz Yisrael that we can truly come to be zocheh in Torah.  That was the purpose of promising the land to the Avos and their descendants.  Moshe was telling G-d that since the Jewish people have not yet come into Eretz Yisrael, since that promise was yet unfulfilled, how then can he blame Klal Yisrael for their wrongdoing?  How can he hold them accountable for a breach of Torah when all they have learned is the Torah of galus and have not yet experienced the real thing?

Baruch Hashem, we are on the road to getting back to the real thing and need to take advantage.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

why purim is an eis ratzon

Why is Purim an eis ratzon for tefilah? 

Some explain that it's based on the din that requires us to give charity to whoever asks for it on Purim, no questions asked.  When we approach G-d with our hand outstretched, he has to give also, no questions asked.

Rav Shteinman offered a different reason.  Drive around any neighborhood on Purim and you see people giving gifts of mishloach manos to friends and neighbors.  You see money being given to poor people.  You see yeshiva bochrim collecting for one institution after another.  When Jews express such love for each other, says R' Shteinman, when Jews are willing to help one another, it's no wonder that G-d is happy and is willing to listen to us.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

assorted ideas on zachor and Purim

1. The Shem m'Shmuel (5677) notes that the instructions for war in the haftarah are all expressed in the singular, e.g. G-d tells Shaul, "leich v'hikisa es Amalak...," "va'yomer Shaul el ha'Keini" to leave the area, "va'yach Shaul es Amalek" as the war begins.  Shaul is blamed for sparing Agag; Shaul loses the throne.  It's all about Shaul, with almost no attention paid to the nation as a whole and their sin in not finishing off Amalek. 

"V'atah titzaveh es Bnei Yisrael v'yikchu eilecha shemen zayis zach..."  Why, asks Ramban,  doesn't our parsha use the the simpler formulation of "tzav es Bnei Yisrael..." that is found so often in the Torah?  R' Shimon Sofer (Sha'arei Simcha) reminds us (as we've discussed before) that the menorah represents the light of Torah; the squeezing of the oil is the ameilus of learning.  The way to convey the light of Torah to others and encourage them to bring their own light into the world is by living a life of Torah oneself.  "Atah titzaveh" -- embody the ideal in yourself, and others will follow.

Had Shaul truly embodied the hatred for Amalek that Hashem expected, then the nation would have risen to the challenge of defeating their enemy (see Sefas Emes 5646 for a little deeper insight.) 

2. Rav Amram Gaon (quoted in the Hag. Maimoni at the end of Hil Megilah) holds that one should not recite al ha'nisim in ma'ariv of Purim night because it cannot be said until after one has heard the megillah.  Why should al ha'nisim be different than ya'aleh v'yavo, which we recite in ma'ariv as soon as Yom Tov or Rosh Chodesh starts?

My son suggested that while the chiyuv to say ya'aleh v'yavo stems from the kedushas ha'yom of yom tov, the chiyuv to say al ha'nisim stems from a requirement to make a zecher of the nes itself.  Therefore, until one has read megillah and reminded onself of what the nes is all about, one has no chiyuv to say al ha'nisim.

(What about on Chanukah?  R'av Amram Gaon does not say that you have to wait until after hadlakas neiros to say al ha'nisim?  My son suggested that the chiyuv of hadlakas menorah is different than the chiyuv of reading megillah.  Lighting is a commemoration of the miracle, but it doesn't tell the story of the miracle.   That is unique to megillah.)

3. Every detail of the megillah is necessary to tell the story of the nes, writes the Sefas Emes.  Each snapshot of history and dialogue included in the megillah is like a puzzle piece that, when combined with all the other pieces, gives us the full picture. 

We read in 2:11 that, "B'chol yom v'yom Mordechai mis'haleich lifnei chatzar beis ha'nashim," that every single day Mordechai would visit the woman's court to check on Esther and see how she was faring.  Every day!  My mother would love it if I called her every day, but I am remiss in doing so more often than not.  It's a nice thing to do.  It was nice of Mordechai to check up on Esther every day.  However, is this really necessary to know in the grand scheme of the whole story?  Ok, so maybe I learn a musar haskel to call my mother more often, but why is this important to the story of the megillah?

The answer comes next chapter: "Vaye'hi k'amram eilev yom va'yom..."  Every single day Mordechai had to answer the same question: "Why don't you bow to Haman?"  When are you going to give in and do what everybody else does.  Every day!  This is the important part of the story, the issue that will push Haman into hatching his plot and reveal Mordechai as a tzadik. Explains the Sefas Emes, it's only someone who realizes the value of every single day showing concern for others, someone who each and every day takes the time to care for someone like an orphaned girl all alone trapped in the king's palace, those who have no one else to care for them, it's only that person who can rise to the challenge each and every day of answering Haman and his advisors. 

4. The Aruch haShulchan proves that to fulfill having a "mishteh" you have to wash and eat bread from the fact that when Lot made a "mishteh" for his visitors, the pasuk tells us "matzos afah va'yocheilu," he baked matzah/bread for them to eat.  I would have thought the opposite was true -- since the pasuk has to go out of its way to tell us that he served bread, mistama the word "mishteh" does not include that.  But what do I know.

5. Chazal tell us that if a someone happens to drop money and a poor person picks it up, the person gets credit for fulfilling the mitzvah of tzedakah (see Rashi Ki Teitzei 24:19).  The giver may have not even wanted to give away anything, but it doesn't matter, since apparently the kiyum mitzvah of tzedaka is measured based on the to'eles, on the end result of the poor's needs being met.  The act of giving is just a means to an end; therefore, whether done intentionally or unintentionally, it's all the same.   

What about matanos l'evyonim?  Is it the giving which is critical, or is the end result of someone receiving a gift?  Nafka minah: can you mail a check beforehand that will arrive in the poor person's mailbox on Purim?  Do you have to do the act of giving on Purim day, or is all that matters the fact that the poor receive the gift?

The Ritva (Meg 7) writes that on Purim one doesn't have to be careful who one gives to -- whoever asks for charity, gets -- because the funds distributed on Purim are not for the sake of charity, but rather are for the sake of bringing simcha.  In other words, even if the recipient turns out not in truth not to be poor, that's not your concern, because even though the to'eles of the mitzvah of tzedaka was not met, the goal of giving money on Purim is not tzedaka but simcha.  R' Noson Gestetner proves from here that unlike tzedakah, the mitzvah of matanos l'evyonim is not measured by the result, but rather is all about the act of giving. 

I don't understand his proof from this Ritva.  Maybe matanos l'evyonim is in fact about the result, but the result we look for is not whether the needs of a poor person have been met (like the mitzvah of tzedaka) but rather the result we are looking for is whether we have made someone happy.

6.  The gemara (18a) says that no one really knows what "achashderanim bnei ha'ramachim" (Esther 8:10) are.  Rashash on the spot says that there has to be some peshuto shel mikra here and so he suggests that "achashderanim" means the people of a place by that name, which he identifies a "Astarchan" in Russia.  Any idea what place he is referring to?  (I am reminded of the riders of Rohan when I read these words, and if you don't know what I am talking about, good for you.)

7. "Chayav inish l'besumei..."  The gemara tells us that when the Torah was given there was a beautiful fragrant odor of spices, besamim, that filled the world.  On Purim, we reaffirm our kabbalas haTorah and once again, writes the Sefas Emes, the fragrance of Torah fills the air.  

"Akatei avdei Achashveirosh anan," we are sill under the rule of Achashveirosh, the gemara says, and therefore there is no hallel on Purim.  Even after all was said and done, after the defeat of Haman, Jews were still in galus.  But, says the Chasam Sofer, this gufa is why Purim is so filled with simcha.  The Purim miracle proved that even in the darkness of galus, Hashem was there watching out for us.  Chazal writes that wine was created for the sake of nichun aveilim, as it allows one to put aside one's troubles.  Chasam Sofer in his derashos says that this is why we drink on Purim.  Put aside the galus, forget the tzarah, put aside the "akatei avdei Achashveirosh anan," and remember that despite all that, Hashem is still there to help.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

the mishkan embassy

An amazing vort from R' Shmuel Birenbaum: among the items collected for the Mishkan were precious stones to be used in the choshen.  The Torah calls these stones "avnei milu'im" (25:7) because, as Rashi explains, they were used to fill the holes that they were set in.  Why would the Torah focus on the fact that these stones served as filler instead of focusing on their inherent precious value and beauty?  We see from here, answered R' S Birenbaum, that true value comes from being able to make something, or someone, whole.  

The idea I have below is admittedly half-baked and probably needs some work. 

The gemara (Kesubos 62) writes that when Rebbi's son was getting engaged, he made a deal with the in-laws that he would learn for 12 years before the wedding.   The kallah then passed in front of the chassan, and after he saw her, he said, "How about we make it 6 years?"  The kallah came by again, and he said, "How about we first get married and then I go learn?'  He was a little embarrassed by the change of heart, but the shverr said to him not to be concerned, as Hashem did the same thing.  When we crossed Yam Suf, the plan was "tivi'eimo v'sitaeimo b'har nachalascha," that we will come to Eretz Yisrael, and only then "mikdash Hashem konenu yadecha," we would get a Mikdash.  However, as we read in our parsha, Hashem decided to speed things up and give us a Mishkan while we were in the midbar.

Hashem doesn't change his mind like an anxious chassan.  What was the hava amina here and what's the maskana?

The Yismach Moshe quotes a Midrash that writes that when Klal Yisrael said na'aseh v'nishma, Hashem responded by giving them the command of "v'yikchu li terumah."  What's the connection?  According to Ramban, the revelation of Torah that took place at Sinai continued in the Mishkan, and we find many parallels between the two.  Just as people had to keep their distance from Sinai, so too, no one could enter the Mishkan if not for the sake of avodah.  Moshe was called to ascend Sinai; Moshe heard Hashem calling to him from the Mishkan.  The Midrash opens our parsha with a warning of "ki lekach tov nasati lachem torasi al ta'azovu" -- the purpose of the Mishkan was to be a Torah center.  Therefore, Hashem originally presented the plan to Klal Yisrael for the Mishkan to be built only after they had time to spend immersed in learning Torah, growing in their love for Torah.  By the time they reached Eretz Yisrael they would be ready.  Klal Yisrael, however, rose to the occasion, and by saying "na'aseh v'nishma" they demonstrated that they loved Torah already -- there was no need to wait. 

I would suggest a slightly different twist.  The gemara in Brachos writes that R' Yochanan wondered how there could possibly be old people in Bavel when the Torah promises that the bracha of "l'ma'an yirbu y'meichem," of long life, would be given "al ha'adamah asher nishba Hashem l'avoseichem," only in Eretz Yisrael.  The gemara answers that those people blessed with long life earned that reward because they came to shul on time for davening.  How does that answer the question -- bottom line, they are not living in Eretz Yisrael?  The meforshim quote another gemara that teaches that the shuls and batei midrash of chutz la'aretz will, in the time of geulah, be transported to Eretz Yisrael.  In other words, the shuls and batei midrash of Bavel were, in potential, "al ha'adamah asher nishba Hashem l'avoseichem."  Just like when you are in a foreign country, if you enter the embassy of your home country, you are on home soil, so too, when one enters a shul or beis midrash one is breathing "avira d'Eretz Yisrael."

Perhaps this is what the gemara in Kesubos means.  Originally Hashem presented the plan for the Mikdash as something that could be built only in Eretz Yisrael, not simply, like the Yismach Moshe suggests, as a delay tactic to give people time to acquire a love ofTorah, but because "KI mi'Tzion teitzei Torah" -- it requires geographically being in Eretz Yisrael to truly absorb Torah.  However, when Klal Yisrael declared "na'aseh v'nishma," the proved that like the old people of Bavel, a taste of the "avira d'Eretz Yisrael" could be felt in chutz la'aretz as well, and Torah could find a home in an "embassy" there.