Monday, January 23, 2017

netziv's creative pshat in the parsha of the burning bush

Sometimes a pshat hinges on reading a single word in a way that you never thought of before.  A great example in the Netziv's interpretation of the burning bush (3:1-3).  He raises two difficulties with the text.  First, the nitpicky one: "Ha'sneh ainenu ukal" -- why does the pasuk say "ukal" instead of "ne'echal?"  Second, the more striking one: we are told that the bush was "bo'er ba'eish," but then we are told that Moshe went to see "madu'a LO yiv'ar ha'sneh."  Was it "bo'er" or was it not "bo'er?!"

We won't get to Parshas Mishpatim for a few weeks, but maybe you remember the source for the nezek of shein from Bava Kama: "Ki yaveir ish sadeh or kerem v'shilach es b'iro u'bi'er b'sdeh acheir..." (22:4)  The pasuk there is talking about an animal that grazes is someone else's field and consumes the what is growing there.  We see the word "bo'er" doesn't just mean to light on fire and burn -- it can also mean to swallow up and consume.

The Netziv ingeniously suggests that what Moshe saw was a bush that was "bo'er ba'eish," that was consuming, i.e. extinguishing the fire that was burning within it.  It was the reverse of the natural order.  Normally, it's the fire that consumes the wood as it burns -- here, the wood was consuming the fire.   

Maybe, thought Moshe, the fire was simply running out of fuel and that's why it was going out.  But no!  "Ha'sneh ainenu u'kal," the wood was not consumed, i.e. there was still fuel for the fire.  How could it be, wondered Moshe, that "lo yiva'ar ha'sneh," that the fire was dying out without it having consumed the remaining fuel wood of the rest of the bush?  How could it be that the decrees of the Egyptians would diminish and eventually go out while there was still a Jewish nation left for the Egyptian to oppress?  That, of course, is the question Hashem would answer in the following pesukim.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

the real goal of the exodus from Mitzrayim

Hashem appears to Moshe in our parsha and tells him that he is going to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt and take them to Eretz Yisrael, a land of milk and honey (3:8)  Hashem then tells Moshe to tell the people that the sign/proof that is the fact that Bnei Yisrael will come and worship Hashem on the very mountain that Hashem appeared to Moshe on (3:12).

R' Moshe Tzuriel in his Derishas Tzion asks two simple questions: 1) If Moshe is giving a sign to establish his bona fides and get everyone onboard with Hashem's plan, shouldn't it precede the events of yetzi'as Mitzrayim?  What good is the sign of "ta'avdun es haElokim al ha'har ha'zeh" if it happens only after the exodus is complete?  2)  How can "ta'avdun... al ha'har," kabbalas haTorah, all 613 mitzvos, be just a sign, while the one mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael be highlighted as the goal of the entire redemption? 

R' Ya'akov Emden asks a similar question with respect to the nusach of birchas ha'mazon.  We begin "nodeh lecha" by thanking Hashem for "eretz tovah u'rechavah," for Eretz Yisrael, and only later in the bracha give thanks for "al torascha she'limadtanu," for Torah.  We received the Torah 40 years before we got to Eretz Yisrael -- shouldn't our thanks for it come first?  Isn't Torah the primary thing we should be giving thanks for?

R' Ya'akov Emden answers that coming to Eretz Yisrael may be just one mitzvah and may chronologically have happened after matan Torah, but in terms of tachlis, in terms of defining our purpose and goal, it takes precedence over all else.  If the purpose of Judaism was just to learn Torah and do miztvos, we could have gotten on very well in Mitzrayim doing 612 mitzvos and learning Torah once the burden of slavery was removed.  But that's not what Hashem wants from us.  He wants us to be a nation, which means living in our own country under our own sovereignty.  That's the goal.  Ramban (VaYikra 18:25) writes that the ikar kiyum of all mitzvos is only in Eretz Yisrael.  What we do in chutz la'aretz is just to keep us practice until we can return to the ideal.  Therefore, we first give thanks for Eretz Yisrael, and then go into the details of everything else.  

When Moshe told Bnei Yisrael the sign of "ta'avdun es haElokim al ha'har ha'zeh," it was not designed to prove to them that they would leave Egypt -- it happened too late for that.  It was a sign meant to inspire them to the real end goal -- to come to Eretz Yisrael.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Purim in January!

I am always short of time so its only occasionally that I get to post a rant on current events, but I would really be remiss if I didn't at least mention that baruch Hashem this year we get an extra opportunity to celebrate Purim.  No, it's not a leap year with two Adars -- what it is is an election year, and that means in two days we will finally be rid of the modern day Achashveirosh and Haman all rolled into one, namely, Hussein Obama.  It's Purim in January! 

We will finally be rid of the man who brought us the Iran deal, Obamacare, tons of debt, a record number of people on food stamps and gvt assistance, a record number of people who have dropped out of the workforce, a record number of consecutive quarters with less than 3% GDP growth, hundreds of thousands of dead in Syria, and I can go on and on.  A man who did more to damage America at home and abroad than any other President in my lifetime, including Carter, y'mach shemo, another anti-Semite Jew hater. 

And for those who continue to applaud Democrats like Schumer, a man who called himself "Shomer Yisrael," but then spent weeks thinking about how to vote on the Iran deal, only to in the end not raise a rally cry against It, a man who supports Keith Ellison, another Democrat anti-Semite, I have to ask: ad masai? 

But little disappointments like that can't cast a damper on the upcoming holiday.  B'sha'as chedvah, chedvah. 

I just had to do a little post on this to share the simcha. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Yosef's shtar eirusin

When Yosef brings his children to Ya'akov for a blessing, the parsha tells us that Ya'akov asks, "Who are they?"  (48:8)  Rashi explains that Ya'akov saw Yeravam and Achav coming from Ephraim, and he saw Yeihu coming from Menashe, and he did not want to bestow a blessing that would trickle down to such evildoers.  (Parenthetically, we see that the potential for bracha to be misused by those who are evil outweighs all the good that might come from the tzadikim in Ephraim and Menashe's offspring who could use the bracha properly.) 

Yosef responds to his father, "They are my children..."  Rashi explains that Yosef showed his father the shtar eirusin and kesubah, his marriage contract.

What kind of answer is that?  Ya'akov is bothered by the fact that his great...great grandchildren will be resha'im, so Yosef shows him a marriage contract? 

The Kozhiglover points out that although Chazal tell us (Sanhedrin 90) that Yeravam and Achav have no portion in the world to come, the "Dorshei Reshumos" disagree.  The Kozhiglover (and R' Tzadok haKohen as well) explains that the "Dorshei Reshumos" were able to detect a "roshem," some mark and spark of goodness and yahadus, where all others just saw evil.  There is always something left, some faint remnant -- a Jew is never lost.

Where does that inextinguishable spark come from?  We say every morning when we put on tefillin, "V'eirastich li l'olam..."  Hashem has betrothed us forever.  Hashem is eternal, and so the bond he has with us is eternal. 

This, says the Koshiglover, is the shtar eirusin that Yosef showed his father -- the shtar of "v'eirastich li l'olam."  The keubah he showed his father is the Torah that we got "b'yom chasumaso," as the Mishna (end of Ta'anis) calls ma'amad Har Sinai.  Yosef was from the school of the Doreshei Reshumos, who held that despite the great evil of Yeravam and Achav, there still remains a core of eternal goodness within.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

how can Ramban argue on Chazal - what is the "true" meaning of the text?

I wanted to write a fuller post about this issue, but haven't had time, so I figure better a chatzi shiur than nothing at all.

The Ramban at the end of VaYigash (47:18) tries to reconcile Joseph's interpretation of Pharoah's dream, which called for 7 years of famine, with the events at the end of the parsha, which seem to indicate that the famine ended after only two years (as is Rashi's position quoting Chazal).  If the famine indeed ended, wouldn't that call into question Yosef's prediction and advice?  Ramban offers three possible solutions:

1) The famine ended completely in Egypt, bas Chazal teach, but it continued in Canaan and the surrounding areas;

2) The view of the Tosefta: the famine temporarily ended in Egypt after 2 years until the death of Ya'akov, after which it resumed for another 5 years;

3) Ramban's interpretation al pi peshuto: the famine ran for seven consecutive years as Yosef had predicted, and the events in the parsha are speaking about the final two years of famine.

R' Friedlander in Sifsei Chaim (Pirkei Emunah u'Bechira vol 2 . 261) asks the following question: the famine lasted either 2 years or 7 tears -- it couldn't have been both.  The two views are mutually exclusive.  Ramban and Chazal are arguing on a matter of metzi'us, a matter of historical fact.  If Chazal, as Rashi quotes, and as the Tosefta teaches, tell us that the historical fact is that the famine lasted only 2 years, how can the Ramban contradict Chazal and tell us that it lasted 7 years?   

In other words, when the pshat and the derash contradict as to what happened -- matters of fact -- either one or the other is true.  How  can we disregard what Chazal teach us is the TRUTH in favor of some other interpretation?   If Torah she'ba'al peh gives us the facts, what license do we have to argue?

I'm surprised that R' Friedlander makes no mention of the fact that his rebbe, Rav Dessler, addresses this very same question in a letter printed in Michtav M'Eliyahu vol 4 letter 31 (post on it here). 

Be that as it may, his answer in a nutshell is that we have to distinguish between the way the Torah expresses itself, what I would call the signon, and the true meaning of what is being said.  The TRUE meaning is of course what Chazal tell us the text means.  However,  the Torah deliberately expresses itself in a way that suggests other meanings because those other meanings have value for us as well.  For example, when we are told to put tefillin "bein einecha," the TRUE meaning of those words is not between your eyes, as that is not the proper place for tefillin.  But we need to appreciate that the pshat does mean between your eyes because that also teaches us a lesson -- the ideas contained in tefillin should be before our eyes, i.e. in our minds, always.

Two points: 1) It works well for the tefillin example, but I don't see how this approach resolves the Ramban; 2) More importantly, I hesitate to say it, but I don't really think the  pashtanim understood things this way.  My impression (e.g. see hakdamah to Ohr haChaim) is that the pashtanim understood that they did have license to argue with Chazal as to what the meaning of the text is.  They understood that Chazal are suggesting a possible meaning to the text, but not THE meaning, at least as it applies outside the realm of halacha. 

Developing this idea would take a lot longer to do than I have time for now, so that's it for the chatzi shiur.  A mareh makom to the idea to think about.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

rejoicing in the midas hadin

The Torah tells us that one his way down to Mitzrayim, Yakaov stopped to offer korbanos "Elokei aviv Yitzhak," the G-d of his father Yitzchak (46:1).  Why did he single out Yitzchak?  Why not "Elokei avosav," or "Elokei Avraham v'Yitzchak?"  (see Rashi)

Yitchak represents the midas ha'din.  Ya'akov had suffered for so many years and through so many sorrows, the culmination of which was the loss of Yosef.  He was certainly familiar with din and mishpat.  Suddenly he discovers that Yosef is alive, that he is a leader in Egypt, that the family will be safe.  What he had seen as punishment had in fact been rachamei Shamayim.  Suddenly, he has a completely different perspective on what din is all about, and so he turns, "l'Elokei Yitzchak," to offer korbanos in appreciation for that midas ha'din, which was really rachamim in disguise.  

The Navi tells us "Tzom he're'vi'i v'tzom ha'chamishi..." will become days of "sason v'simcha," days of rejoicing.  Chasam Sofer (Toras Moshe, end of Vayigash, d"h "v'yiten") explains that it doesn't mean that Hashem will take away the fast days and we will forget all about them and that's why we will be happy.  It means that the fast itself will bring us rejoicing.  So long as we fast and pray, so long as Hashem inspires us to fast and pray, it means we have a connection to Him.  That connection itself is a sign of rachamei Shamayim, that we are not forsaken even amidst the galus.  Like Ya'akov Avinu, we will one day look back and give thanks and celebrate even the midas ha'din.

 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

the unspoken argument

1. The Midrash writes that Ya'akov should have been brought down to Egypt in chains, but Hashem didn't want to do that to him; therefore he caused Yosef to be brought to Egypt in advance and Yaakov then went willingly, to meet his long lost son.

What did Ya'akov do to deserve to be brought in chains?  Why did he deserve that punishment?

Like we saw last week, sometimes what looks like a bug is really a feature.  Sefas Emes explains that the holiness of Ya'akov was so great that it could not be contained or be placed in a spot like Egypt.  It would be like trying to connect the wiring in your house directly to the power station -- you would blow up the entire house.  You need transformers to reduce the power step by step along the way so that it can be contained.  This is the chains that the Midrash is referring to -- "transformers" that would modulate the holiness of Ya'akov step by step.  But that's not how it happened.  Thanks to Yosef being there, Ya'akov was able to come into Egypt in one step.  The kedusha of Ya'akov was able to be preserved in full force even in the darkness of galus. 

2. Yehudah's plea for mercy for Binyamin culminates with his telling Yosef, "How can I possibly return without the lad [Binyamin] and have to witness the pain of my father?"  (44:34)  Similarly, earlier in his speech, Yehudah says that "nafsho keshurah b'nafsho," his father's soul was bound up with Binyamin's; Ya'akov was liable to die should he lose Binyamin.  It is Ya'akov's pain which is the focal point of Yehudah's entreaties. 

Two weeks ago I quoted from Chazal that Yehudah was punished for putting his olam ha'ba on the line should he fail to bring Binyamin home.  Even saying such a thing with conditions attached is deadly serious!  It was only Moshe Rabeinu's tefilos on Yehudah's behalf that undid the decree.  So why does Yehudah barely mention this in his plea?  Why does he bring it up only in passing, as a justification why he more than any other brother was doing the talking (Rashi 44:32)?  You would think the potential loss of his own olam ha'ba would be of central concern to Yehudah.

Had you asked me I would have said that maybe Yehudah, thinking he was addressing an Egyptian viceroy, might have figured that the loss of olam ha'ba would not have made much of an impression on an Egyptian.  The truth though is that Egyptian culture was very much concerned with the fate of souls after death.  They may not have known what olam ha'ba is, but the concept would not have been completely foreign.

The Sefas Emes (5640) answers that this missing argument of Yehudah's -- what he failed to say more than what he did say -- is what caused Yosef to reveal himself.  Years ago these same shevatim had seen Yosef as a threat to themselves, and they acted to preserve their own standing at the expense of their father's pain.  Now, Yehudah was concerned only for his father's pain, ignoring his personal concerns.  If Yehudah could put aside his personal plight and focus only on the needs of his father, was it too much to ask the Viceroy to do the same and put aside his own claims to Binyamin for the sake of another's welfare?  These are shevatim who have been cured of their past sin.

ha'od *avi* chai - is MY father still alive?

When Yosef revealed himself, "Ani Yosef -- ha'od avi chai?" the shevatim were too stunned to answer.  Chazal see this as a model of how we will react when G-d reproves us on the day of judgment.  If the great shevatim could not answer the reproof of their brother, surely we will be struck dumb when G-d reveals the truth of what we should have done with life to us. 

Chazal refer to Yosef's words as reproof, rebuke, but the meforshim struggle to see how that description fits.  Yosef didn't give his brother's a musar shmooz and tear into them.  To the contrary, he just revealed who his is as a statement of fact.  R' Chaim Shmuelevitz in the Sichos Musar suggests that this is what real reproof consists us -- a revelation of truth that undermines all false assumptions.  Imagine a scientist who constructs an elaborate theory as to how and when species X went extinct.  You can argue from today till tomorrow whether the theory is right, but if someone walks into with a living specimen of species X, all bets are off.  That's tochacha.  The brothers theorized that Yosef would amount to no good.  "Ani Yosef" -- I am Yosef the tzadik, even though I have been in Egypt.  You declared my Torah extinct and my religiosity extinct, but here I am. 

The Netziv points out that Yosef asks, "Ha'od *avi* chai?"  -- Is *my* father still alive.  Yosef was telling the brothers that although Ya'akov was the father of the entire family, he had a unique relationship with each one of his children.  To think that getting rid of even one brother would make no difference -- after all, there were 11 others -- missed that point.  How could *my* father continue to live absent that special relationship all these years?

Rav Charlap (the son of Rav Y"M Charlap)  says an amazing pshat in this pasuk.  He suggests that it is not speaking about Ya'akov at all.  We know that when the brothers came to Egypt, they did not recognize Yosef, but he was able to recognized them.  This was by Divine design in order so that Yosef would be able to bring about the fulfillment of his dreams.  Yosef, however, did not know that.  He wondered the entire time how it was possible that his brothers could be around him and fail to recognize him.  After all, Rashi tells us (37:2) that he resembled their father Ya'akov Avinu!  Yosef wondered to himself whether he had lost his yiddishe panim, the dmus d'yukno, the spiritual resemblance to his father.  Perhaps he had been influenced too greatly by Egyptian society.   When he now reveals himself, he asks his brothers, "Ha'od avi chai," is the semblance to my father that I left home with still alive within me?  Do I still look like one of the shivtei K-h, like Ya'akov Avinu? 

At this point there was no longer a need for Divine intervention to keep up the charade, and so the mask was off.  The brothers now saw in the face of Yosef that this was indeed their brother, that he still retained the resemblance, spiritually as well as physically, so their father.  They could not answer, "ki nivhalu mi'panav," because they were astounded at his face, the face they now recognized.