Thursday, August 10, 2017

earning our own reward

V'haya eikev tishme'un es hamishpatim ha'eileh v'shamar Hashem Elokecha lecha es ha'bris v'es ha'chessed asher nishba l'avosecha.

Our parsha opens by telling us that if we observe the commandments, specifically mishpatim, then Hashem will fulfill his promise made to the avos and give us the brachos that follow.

If we are doing what we are supposed to, then shouldn't we deserve reward based on our own merits and actions, not because of the promise made to the avos?  (The Sefas Emes explains that the word v'haya, which always connotes simcha, appears here because Hashem has tremendous simcha when a person earns his own reward and doesn't receive gifts based on someone else's merit.)  Zechus avos is invoked when we have no other merits of our own to call on, not when we are doing everything right?

Maybe you can answer that question by way of another question.  Last week's parsha ends with the pasuk, "V'shamarta es ha'mitzvah v'es ha'chukim v'es ha'mishpatim..."  Meforshim are bothered by the fact that that pasuk lists off multiple categories of mitzvos -- mitzvah, chukim, mishpatim -- while the pasuk that opens our parsha refers only to the one category of mishpatim.  Why the difference?

Perhaps the point of our parsha is that even if we are not exactly doing what we are supposed to -- we are only fulfilling the logical laws of mishpatim that make sense to us, but are not on target with all the mitzvos and chukim -- nonetheless, Hashem will reward us because in addition to our own actions, we have zechus avos as well.

es Hashem Elokecha tira - l'rabos talmidei chachamim = community building

The gemara tells us that Shimon ha'Amsuni was able to darshen every single "es" in the Torah, but when he got to the pasuk, "Es Hashem Elokecha tira," "pireish," he could not go further.  R' Akiva, on the other hand, darshened even that "es."   It explained it as coming "l'rabos talmidei chachamim," to include havin awe of talmidei chachamim  (Pesachim 22)

When Shimon ha'Amsuni encountered the mitzvah of yirah, he thought the way to fulfill it was "pireish," through prishus=separating from the world, from the community, and digging inward to achieve self perfection.

R' Akiva, on the other hand, thought just the opposite.  One can achieve yirah by "l'rabos talmidei chachamim," by building the community, increasing the number of people involved in Torah and learning Torah.

Why was it R' Akiva in particular who was able to arrive at this insight?  R' Meir Shapira of daf yomi fame explained that R' Akiva early in life before he came to learning had an intense hatred for talmidei chachamim.  The Rambam writes that the way to correct a midah is to go to the opposite extreme.  Therefore, R' Akiva more than anyone else came to an intense love and appreciation for talmidei chachamim and their influence.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

T"u b'Av -- a feminist holiday

The gemara at the end of Ta'anis tells us that the two biggest yamim tovim for Klal Yisrael were 15 Av and Yom Kippur.  On those days the girls would go out into the fields and dance and the boys would come and find their shidduch (simple solution to the shidduch crisis).  The girls who had money would say, "Marry us for our money," the girls who had yichus would say, "Marry for yichus!" and the girls who had nothing would say, "Marry l'shem shamayim and then afterwards give us gold jewelry."

We all know why Yom Kippur is a special day, and the gemara gives a hosts of reasons why 15 Av was a special day, among them that on that day the dor ha'midbar stopped dying for the sin of cheit ha'meraglim.  But why were these days in particular the days set aside to make shidduchim?  What does finding a girl to marry have to do with the nature of these days?

Secondly, what does the gemara mean when it tells us that the girls who said to get married added, "And buy us gold jewelry!"  It seems incongruous with the call to act "l'shem shamayim."  Were the girls who said that being disingenuous and just needed a way to snatch a boy when they had nothing else going for them?  Do we really have to be that cynical?   It's strange that the gemara even bothers add this line about gold when it has nothing to do with the shidduch itself.   Maharasha writes that it's just a "milsa b'alma," but maybe there is more to it.

There were two major sins that Klal Yisrael committed en route to Eretz Yisrael: 1) the sin of the cheit ha'eigel = abandoning G-d; 2) the sin of the meraglim = abandoning Eretz Yisrael.  There was one group of people, however, who did not involve themselves in either sin -- the women of Klal Yisrael.  By the cheit ha'eigel the women did not willingly turn over their gold jewelry to their husbands to make the golden calf.  When it came time to apportion Eretz Yisrael, it was the Bnos Tzelafchad who demonstrated their love of the land and demanded a portion. 

Yom Kippur is the tikun of the cheit ha'eigel.  On that day Hashem gave us the second luchos, a second chance after the first were broken by Moshe in response to the eigel. 

T"u b'Av is the day the dying of the generation of the midbar stopped.  It brought closure to the cheit ha'meraglim.

For the women who needed no tikun, these days are "feminist" holidays -- days when they could boast of their superiority.  Not holidays of modern feminism, where women want to be men, but Torah feminism, when women can be proud of their own stellar achievements.  On these days the women reach out to their male counterparts and call, "bachur, sa na einecha," lift up your eyes and look at the madreiga we reached!   These are days of shidduchim because on these days the bachurim reach out to find partners to help bring up their level of ruchniyus. 

The conclusion, "Adorn us in gold jewelry," is not just an aside, but is part of the whole message, explains the Sefas Emes in Likutim.  The women could boast that they deserved to be adorned with the gold that they did not turn over to the eigel, the gold that we men so eagerly surrendered for avodah zarah.

When we lost Eretz Yisrael and the Mikdash and went into galus, we lost T"u b'Av.  We lost the tikun for the cheit ha'meraglim.  All that is left is Yom Kippur, the tikun for the cheit of avodah zarah.

Maybe a reinvigoration of T"u b'Av is something to look forward to as we get closer to geulah.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Ki tavo'u lei'ra'os panay -- coming to be seen

Ki tavo'u lei'ra'os panay, mi bikesh zos m'yedchem r'mos chatzeiray? 

Yishyahau haNavi, in the haftarah of Shabbos Chazon, says to those people coming to the Beis haMikdash, "Who needs you here?  What business do you have trampling through the Mikdash?"  When you come to make aliya la'regel on the three regalim, it's all for naught.

That's the gist of what the pasuk means, but that first phase is difficult. If the pasuk means to speak about coming to see Hashem in the Mikdash, it should say "liros panay."  If it means to speak about being seen by Hashem, it should say "lei'ra'os lifanay."  What's "leira'os panay?"  It's like a grammatical hodge-podge that makes no sense.

You can ask the same question about the pasuk in chumash that talks about aliya la'regel.  "...Yera'eh kol zechurcha es pnei Hashem"  Here too, if it means to see Hashem, it should say "liros;" if it means to be seen, it should say "lifnei Hashem?

There is an amazing Alshich that you can find in the Maros haTzov'os on Shmuel I 2:11 that I will save you some trouble looking for -- in your standard edition with the Malbim it's printed on the bottom of the page all the way in perek 22.  You don't make aliya la'regel "liros," to see G-d, because that's impossible -- G-d has no face.  The reason to make aliya la'regel is to be seen.  But, says the Alshich, it's not "lifanei," but rather "es panay."  There is a Zohar that tells us that the faces of tzadikim are called "apei Shechinta," the face of the Shechina.  You want to see G-d's face?  Look in the mirror.  G-d wants us to be tzadikim -- he wants us to be able to look in the mirror and see his face, his reflection there.  

On a previous 9 Av I posted a pshat that the greatness of Moshe Rabeinu, "temunas Hashem yabit," is not that he looked up to the Heavens and saw G-d like no other navi, but rather that when Moseh Rabeinu saw a simple Jew in Klal Yisrael, that was for him "temunas Hashem yabit."  Moshe Rabeinu saw the pnei Hashem in every Jew he met.  That's a navi, a manhig, the greatest of great (see the Netziv on that phrase).

The word "es" in Tanach often means the same as "im," with.  The mitzvah of aliya la'regel is "yera'eh kol zechurcha" -- to be seen, but in order to stand before Hashem and be seen, you have to come "es panay" = im panay, with MY face, with Hashem's face reflected in our own.  You want to have a Beis haMikdash and be able to walk in its halls?  First ask yourself when you walk down the street do people say there goes the pnei Hashem, there goes a reflection of kvod Shamayim.  

This is what Yishayahu was telling Klal Yisrael.  We were given a mitzvah "leira'os panay" -- to come to the Mikdrash so that our faces, our "apei Shechinta," can be seen by Hashem.  But if we don't behave the way we are supposed to, if our faces are indistinguishable G-d forbid, from the faces of the nations around us, then "Mi bikesh zos m'yedchem r'mos chatzeiray?"

My daughter this afternoon sent the picture below from Yerushalayim Ir Ha'kodesh where she has the zechus of spending the summer: 

There were mobs of people by the kosel, by the makom mikdash.

I got this picture a short while after getting home from finishing kinos, which closed with the kinah of the Bobover Rebbe written for the Holocaust.

Do you think any Jew who lived through the horrors of the war would have imagined that just 70 years later we would have hundreds of Jewish youth gathered on 9 Av in our Jewish homeland, standing by the kosel under a Jewish degel, protected by Jewish soldiers, so that they could learn Torah and sing ani ma'amin in that makom kadosh? 

We live in times of such great opportunity, such great potential, but when you read the news that is always so filled with machlokes and tragedy it is easy to lose sight of what we have achieved (or maybe I should say what Hashem has given us) and where we are headed.  Of course we are still in galus, and it's still 9 Av, and we have what to mourn, but we also need to recognize chasdei Hashem.  One day I am sure that we will not just be standing outside the walls of the kosel, but on top of the mountain as well.  That's probably as unbelievable to most people today as dream of standing by the kosel would have been to someone 70 years ago.  Yet here we are.  But the navi is clear: it has to be "leira'os panay," to come to be seen by Hashem because we reflect in our faces, in who we are, in how we act, his greatness.  That's what we have to work on.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Eichah esa livadi -- complaint or compliment?

1. The ba'al korei usually reads the pasuk "eichah esa livadi..." in this week's parsha using the sad Megilas Eichah tune instead of the usual tune for krias ha'Torah.  The tune "attunes" us to the fact that 9 Av is coming, and links the complaint voiced by Moshe about his burdens with the mourning cry of Yirmiyahu. 

But was Moshe in fact complaining?  Was be bemoaning his burdens?

R Meshulam Dovid Solovietchik points out that you get a very different impression from the Midrash.  The pesichta to Eichah (#11) uses pesukim in chumash to contrast what should/could have been how we lived in Eretz Yisrael with what became of us during the churban as described in Eichah.  For example, the midrash writes that had we been zocheh we would be reading "shalosh pe'amim ba'shana...," the pesukim describing aliya la'regel, but now we are read, "darkei tzion aveilus..."   The midrash ends by saying had we been zocheh, we would be reading, "eichah esa livadi," but instead now we read "eichah yashvah badad." 

According to the midrash, "eichah esa livadi" is a positive, something to celebrate.  It shouldn't be read in a tune of mourning, but rather in a tune of jubilation.

This is not just fanciful derash.  Ramban interprets the pasuk "al derech ha'peshat" that Klal Yisrael was not burdening Moshe with trivialities.  Moshe's burdens were "torchachem" = teaching Torah, "masa'achem" - davening on behalf of those in need; "rivchem" = paskening dinei Torah.  Moshe was overworked because he had to keep giving shiurim, saying tefilos for Klal Yisrael, and involving himself in shaylos.  These things demand time and energy and work, but they are great things.  Ha'levay every community should keep its Rabbi busy saying shiurim, davening, etc. 

2. When one reads the story of the meraglim presented in our parsha one gets a sense that ikar chaseir min ha'sefer.  We are told (1:25) that the meraglim brought back fruit and said, "Tovah ha'aretz..." and next thing you know the people are refusing to enter the land.  Why?  There is nothing mentioned in the meraglim's report as recorded here that would cause the people to have second thoughts.  And why indeed is nothing mentioned of the slander of the meraglim, their report that the land was unconquerable and uninhabitable?  Finally, why rebuke those present now, in year 40, those who were about to enter the land, with past history of their forefather's mistakes?

Maharasha (Ta'anis 29) highlights one additional difference between the account in our parsha and that of parshas Shlach that is the key to the puzzle.  The story in Shlach records that the spies returned and reported, "el Moshe v'el Aharon v'el kol adas Bnei Yisrael" -- it was a public referendum, and the reaction to the report was public outcry.  In our parsha, the Torah writes, "va'teiragnu b'ohaleichem," the crying was in private, in the tents of individual families.

Maharasha explains that the two parshiyos are addressing two different sins.  The adults in the community heard the negative report of the spies and responded with public protest, as recorded in Shlach.  They then went home, and what do you think they said to little Yankel or Sarah when they were tucking them into bed that night?  Imagine the scary bed time story about what would happen if Moshe carried out this crazy plan of bringing them to Eretz Yisrael!  Imagine the dinner conversation with the older kids listening in and participating.  "Va'teiragnu b'ohaleichem" -- our parsha is about the sin of the crying of the families, those who had not heard the spies report directly, those who had no reason to think anything other than "tovah ha'aretz," but who nonetheless, fell into despair based on false news and false reports that they heard.  The sin of thinking "b'sinas Hashem osanu," G-d hates us, G-d forbid, is not mentioned in Shlach -- that was not part of the public outcry, but was part of the private reaction based on second hand reports.  It was the reaction of the generation that now stood before Moshe, mature, grown up, but still perhaps living in the shadow of that past experience of their youth.  You cried "bechiya shel shinam" -- a cry of sinas chinam, hating G-d because of the mistaken impression that he hates you; therefore, this night of 9 Av in the future will be a night of destruction because of sinas chinam that caused the churban ha'bayis.

I'm struggling a bit figuring out how Maharasha fits certain pesukim into this approach, but be that as it may, the takeaway I think is that what was said "b'ohaleichem" is as significant as what is said in public.  We have to inculcate in our homes a love of Eretz Yisrael.  Hopefully we will be zocheh to get there ourselves one day, but even if not, we want out children to want to be there.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

no place to run

The Midrash opens Parshas Masei by telling us that although many great people -- Ya'akov, Moshe, David -- had to flee from their enemies, throughout our 40 years of travel in the desert not only did we not have to flee from enemies, but we didn't even have to run away from the snakes and scorpions.

Earlier this month we discussed yet again the famous Ohr haChaim, based on the Zohar, that says a human being, being a ba'al bechira, poses a greater threat than an animal because a human being can decide to act as he/she pleases irrespective of G-d's plan, but an animal is basically a robot.

Our Midrash seems to contradict that view, as it implies (...not only did we not have to flee from enemies, but we didn't have to flee from animals either...) that the snakes and scorpions posed a greater danger than human enemies. 

I paraphrased the Midrash in order to convey what I think is its simple meaning, but if you read it carefully, the words suggest a deeper meaning.  Sefas Emes points out that it does not say that we did not have to flee from danger, but rather "lo hinachti eschem livro'ach," G-d did not let us flee.  It's not that we encountered no danger in the desert.  On the contrary, the desert was filled with dangers.  G-d, however, did not let us run away from them.  We were forced, with his help, to face down the threats.

All of life's challenges are there to being us closer to G-d.  Sometimes a person davens that Hashem deliver them from needing a refuah, a shiduch, employment, etc. and Hashem enables them to escape the situation of need -- the person is able to flee from danger.  But there is another way to come closer to Hashem when faced with an obstacle.  "Min ha'meitzar karasi K-h" -- a person can find Hashem from within the dire straits themselves.  Rather than escaping the situation, the person can discover that Hashem is right there with them in their suffering, in their sorrow, in their needs, and that itself gives them the ability to overcome.  "Bein ha'metzarim" = "Min ha'meitzar..."  We are hedged in with no way out, no place to run.  "Lo hinachti eschem livro'ach."  But "imo anochi b'tzarah," Hashem is here with us, and an appreciation of that truth is itself a way out.

On a completely different topic...  has anyone else noticed the numerous ads for various events, some of which do benefit worthwhile organizations that this post should take nothing way from, that are basically exercises in gluttony?  Each one boasts of bigger and better meats prepared by various  "master" barbequers (how hard is it to throw some food on a grill?  Even I can do it!),  hand rolled cigars (I kid you not), scotch tasting, etc. etc. 

Maybe I don't like it because my subconscious is bothered by the fact that I never get to go to one of these things, but I just can't square in my mind things like this with concepts like kedusha and tahara.  You want to do something like this in your own backyard -- be my guest.  But is this what you want associated with yeshivos?  With community mosdos?  You can't even put a woman's picture in a yeshiva journal because it somehow is beneath our lofty standards of kedusha, but stuff like this goes? 

I don't understand it, but there is much in life I don't understand. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

do we have to ask Hashem to keep his promise?

V'lo chilisi es Bnei Yisrael b'kinasi...  If not for Pinchas taking action, that would have been it -- end of the story, sof pasuk, full stop, G-d forbid.  Jewish history would have ended a mere 40 years after we were freed from Egypt.  How do you wrap your mind around such a pasuk?  Is such a thing even conceivable?  Just a few days ago on 17 Tamuz we read Moshe's plea for mercy after the cheit ha'eigel.  There too, Hashem threatened to start again with a Bnei Yisrael 2.0, but Moshe davened, "zechor l'avadecha... asher nishbata lahem bach," and reminded Hashem of his promise to make Bnei Yisrael a great nation and give them Eretz Yisrael.  Rashi explains "nishbata lahem BACH": G-d did not place his hand on a whatever to take an oath.  G-d took an oath on Himself.  Just like G-d is eternal and unchanging, so too, his promise is eternal and unchanging.  There is no possibility of an end for Bnei Yisrael or a 2.0  So what does our parsha mean?

And what if Moshe had not davened, "zechor... asher nishbata lahem bach?"  Would the promise be any less binding?  Do you have to pray in order for G-d to fulfill his promise?

There is one circumstance that seems to allow for Hashem to break his promise.  In parshas Vayeitzei Hashem promises Ya'akov Avinu that his will protect and sustain him in his travels.  Ya'akov responds, "Im y'hiyeh Elokim imadi... v'nasan li lechem le'echol u'beged lilbosh," etc."  It sounds like Ya'akov is uncertain whether Hashem will fulfill his promise, and he is davening for it to come true.  Why the uncertainty?  Chazal answer: shema yigrom ha'cheit.  The simple pshat in that answer is that Ya'akov did not doubt G-d -- Ya'akov doubted himself.  Ya'akov was worried that perhaps he would prove unworthy of G-d's blessing due to his sins, and if so, G-d would be off the hook and not have to keep his word.

R' Leibele Eiger, however, says a chiddush: G-d's word is a reality; his promise in unbreakable.  It is going to come true no matter what.  "Shema yigrom ha'cheit" doesn't mean that G-d has an out.  "Shema yigrom ha'cheit" means that instead of the promise coming true m'meila, Hashem will have to intervene and cause the person to have a hisorerus to once again become worthy of the promise being fulfilled. 

One of my favorite pieces in the Ishbitzer is his interpretation of "terem nikra'u v'ani e'eneh, od heim m'dabrim v'ani eshma."  If G-d responds "terem nikra'u," before we even call out to him, them what's the "od heim m'dabrim...?"  He responded already before our dibur!?  The Ishbitzer answers that "terem nikra'u" means Hashem responds by giving us the hisorerus to pray and call to him.  He gives is the inspiration we need!  Then, once we start davening, he listens to our prayers. 

R' Leibele Eiger is telling us that either we will be inspired and deserve G-d's promise, or he will inspire us and cause us to have a hisorerus and thereby deserve it.  Either way, it will always come true.

Now we understand why sometimes there is a need for tefilah even though Hashem has made a promise.  Tefilah is the hisorerus that Hashem awakens in the nation, or even in a single individual speaking up on the nation's behalf, that makes keeping the promise possible, that makes keeping the promise worth doing, even when all seems lost. 

We have it all backwards, says R' Leibele Eiger.  It's not that Pinchas took action, "heishiv es chamasi," and therefore, "v'lo chilisi es Bnei Yisrael b'kina'si," and if not for that, all would be lost.  Rather, "v'lo chilisi es Bnei Yisrael," Hashem promised never to destroy us, and therefore, He inspired a Pinchas to take action, "heishiv es chamasi."  Pinchas was a tool in Hashem's hands so that the promise could be kept.

(Because Hashem used him as a tool, he gets the reward of shalom. To me it seems a little difficult to get this to fit the Midrash of "b'din hu she'yitol secharo," but you have to say some explanation for that Midrash anyway.)

There will always be a Moshe in every generation, a Pinchas, a Ya'akov Avinu.  There will always be someone to bring us back, to plead on our behalf, a tool Hashem uses to bring us inspiration so we are never completely lost.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

what the three weeks really are about

1) R' Zalman Melamed writes here:
Every year, as the Three Weeks (of mourning over the Temple’s destruction) approach, people ask me all sorts of questions relating to the nature of mourning: What is and is not permissible in kindergartens? Can movies be watched? Fieldtrips? Swimming?

All such questions pertain to mourning practices, but nobody ever asks about what sort of paths should be followed to achieve repentance during these days!
2) For those who like remazim:

"Yizal mayim m'dalav..." Bilam said.  The Megaleh Amukos writes that the shem Hashem of adnus has 4 letters, and if you spell out each letter, e.g. aleph = aleph, lamed, pei... you end up with 12 letters.  These 12 letters  correspond to the months of the year, i.e. aleph will be Nisan, lamed = Iyar, etc.  It comes out that Tamuz and Av are the letters daled and lamed.  This, says the Igra d'Kallah is what Bilam's blessing hints at: the bitter tears of "dalav," our daled-lamed of Tamuz and Av, should be transformed into sweet flowing waters of rachamim.