Thursday, February 23, 2017

The gemara (Brachos 6) tells us that Hashem's presence is there when 10 people come together to daven, when 3 sit for a din torah, when 2 learn together, and even when one person is learning alone.  Asks the gemara: if Hashem is there for one, then certainly he is there for 2 -- why does that have to be spelled out?  To which the gemara answers that  two get the additional bonus of their good deed being recorded in the "sefer ha'zichronos," so it deserves mention above the reward for one.  Asks the gemara: once we know that is true of 2, it goes without saying it's true of 3 -- why spell it out?  The gemara answers that I might have though that a din torah is "shlama b'alma," just a negotiated settlement to make peace, a way to iron out civil disputes, kah mashma lan that "dina nami havi torah," the administration of civil justice is also torah, and Hashem therefore is present. 

I think this gemara is a good introduction to parshas Mishpatim, the parsha more than any other devoted to civil law.  What the gemara seems to be saying is that for us there is really no such thing as civil law, i.e. as google defines it, law "concerned with private relations between members of a community rather than .... religious affairs."  That's "shlama b'alma."  Mishpatim are torah too, as nothing for us is devoid of religious meaning.  

I recently saw a Rabbi write in response to the OU policy statement on women rabbis that in his shul the woman rabbi [or whatever she is called] would give the derasha that Shabbos as an act of "sacred civil disobedience."  I thought that was a funny expression.  Can you have "civil disobedience" when the issue is a matter of religious law? 

Anyway...

The Midrash (30:11) writes that Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael in the morning, but it was only in the evening, "erev," that mishpatim were given.  What's the significance of morning vs. evening here?

The Sefas Emes in last week's parsha asks a great question: Yisro said to Moshe that if he, Moshe, is the only judge in Klal Yisrael, he is going to wear himself out, as the people are standing and waiting for him "min boker ad erev," from morning till evening (18:14).  Rashi comments: it's impossible that Moshe sat in judgment that long [see Sifsei Chachamim].  The pasuk uses that expression, "boker at erev," to echo the words of creation, "va'yehi erev va'yehi boker," to teach us that a judge who sits and judges honestly even for one hour gets credit as if he participated in the creation of the world.  If that's what the pasuk means, says the Sefas Emes, then what was Yisro so concerned about?  Moshe wasn't there literally all day-- it's just a figure of speech! 

Explains the Sefas Emes (5635), "boker," when the sun is rising and everything is bright and fresh, alludes to clarity.  "Erev" is when things are mixed up (ta'aroves = mixture) and muddled.  A judge has to take the ideal abstraction of law, which is so clear and refined, and apply it to the messy muddle of contradictory facts and stories that come before him.  A judge has to act as the bridge between "boker" and "erev."  Whether you are sitting on a case for an hour or for months, makes no difference -- spanning that gap is hard work.  That's what Yisro was so concerned about.

This explains why Moshe didn't come up with the idea of appointing judges himself.  Moshe saw everything with perfect clarity -- nothing was ever muddled in his eyes.  "Kol aliyosav b'hashkama" -- the literal meaning is that he always ascended Har Sinai in the morning; the figurative meaning is that when Moshe approached the law, Har Sinai [yikov ha'din es ha'har], it was always morning, "hashkama," "boker," a time of clarity.  There was no gap in his eyes that needed to be spanned. 

The Ishbitzer in Mei HaShiloach writes that coming from Parshas Yisro into Mishpatim is like going m'igra ramah l'beira amikta, from the heights of a mountain to the depths of a pit.  In other words, it's going from boker to erev.

Our Midrash perhaps reflects the same idea.  Torah was given in the morning -- there is clarity in abstract principles.  Mishpatim are for the evening, when two ba'alei din are standing before the judge offering competing versions of events, competing versions of truth and justice.  Suddenly the truth is not so clear.

The Beis Ya'akov of Ishbitz goes a step further and writes that the true test of whether Parshas Yisro has been internalized only comes this week when we read Mishpatim, when the ideal principles are tested in the real world.

One last point -- were it not Parshas Shekalim we would be reading machar chodesh this week.  Since I will probably forget to link to it the next time that comes up, let me give you the link now to a vort on the haftarah  from R' Meir Bloch, the Telzer R"Y, that R' M Sorotzkin said in his hesped for R' Moshe Shapiro, at the 7:00 minute mark:



Thursday, February 16, 2017

why couldn't G-d answer the angels himself?

The Torah always puts the mitzvah of kibud av next to the mitzvah of Shabbos: you have it in the aseres hadibros in our parsha, you have it in the second dibros, you have it in Parshas Kedoshim - "Ish imo v'aviv tira'u v'es shabsosei tishmoru."  What's the connection?  Chidah in Nachal Kedumim explains that on Shabbos one has time to learn in greater depth.  When one is mechadesh in Torah on Shabbos it causes one's parents who are in the next world to be rewarded with a crown to wear, a special spiritual boost.  Shabbos thus provides the opportunity to fulfill kibud av even when one's parents are no longer here.  In keeping with that idea, please learn the divrei Torah for this Shabbos l'zecher nishmas my father, whose yahrzeit will be this upcoming week.  

The gemara (Nidah 70) writes that the people of Alexandria in Egypt sent 3 questions of derech eretz to R' Chanina ben Gamliel: how to become smart, how to become rich, and how to have good kids.  (We would all love the answers to those too, right?)    The first question was how to attain chochma, to which R' Chanina answered that the key is to spend a lot of time in yeshivah learning.  They replied that this can't be it, as a lot of people tried that and have not been successful.  R' Chanina responded that there is another ingredient needed as well: you have to daven.  The gemara concludes that you need both factors, both yeshiva and davning, and one without the other won't work.

The second question was how to get rich, and R' Chanina answered that the key is to spend a lot of time doing business (GR"A takes that out!) and to do so honestly.  Again, the people of Alexandria argued that a lot of people tried that and failed, and again, R' Chanina told them there is another ingredient necessary: tefilah.  The gemara here too concludes that you need both ingredients together.

The third question was how to have "banim zecharim," and R' Chanina told them that the key was to marry a good wife and to act with tzeniuyus.  You can guess the rest of the shakla v'terya at this point : )

I have a one simple question.  If the answer to each question was that you need X + tefilah, why didn't R' Chanina say that?  Why did he give the people of Alexandria only half the recipe at first, and only when they pressed the point and complained that the recipe did not work did he reveal to them that they needed to daven as well?  

The Maharal in his Derush al HaTorah says a fantastic yesod (in Tif Yisrael he says a different answer) that is worth knowing even if you don't think it explains R' Chanina's answers.  The gemara famously tells us that when Moshe went up to get the Torah, the angels complained and asked what this human being is doing up in Heaven, in their place.  Mankind does not deserve Torah and should stay back down on earth.   Moshe Rabeinu was afraid of what the angels might do to him, but Hashem responded that Moshe should just hold on to His throne and answer them, which he did.  Maharal asks: why did Hashem put Moshe on the spot and tell him to answer the angels?  Moshe was there on Har Sinai only because Hashem and told him to come up the mountain to get the Torah.  This was Hashem's plan -- why didn't Hashem answer the angels himself?!

Let me put the Maharal's answer in contemporary terms.  A guy or girl might go out on a date because their parents think the boy/girl would be a good match, their rebbe or morah thinks the boy/girl is a good match, their friends think the boy/girl is a good match.  But when that boy or girl is standing under the chuppah, if you ask him/her what they are doing there, oy va'voy if all they can say is, "My mother/father/rebbe/morah/friend thinks this is a good match."  If they can't say, "I can't think of how I can live without Bas Ploni/Ben Ploni; without him/her my life is incomplete," then l'fi anyiyus da'ati there is something very wrong.  When you are under the chuppah, no one else's sevara works to explain what you are doing there. 

"Yom chasunaso," explains the Mishna in Ta'anis, is the day of mattan Torah.  When the angels came to ask Moshe what he was doing there, no one else could answer that question.  G-d himself can't answer that question for him!  If you want to be mekabeil the Torah, the answer has to come from you.  Torah is the key to achieving perfection, but unless YOU first feel imperfect, lacking, incomplete, without it, you don't really deserve it. 

There are a lot of kids who sit in yeshiva listening to their rebbe drone on in shiur, totally bored out of their minds, feeling like it's a jail sentence.  If you ask them, "What are you doing here?" the answer these kids will give probably will have to do with where their parents want them to go, what is expected, lack of other choices, etc.  They don't feel like they would be missing anything by not being there.  You can't be mekabeil Torah unless you feel like you are missing something without it. 

Getting back to R' Chanina, I think the gemara deliberately left tefilah off the list of ingredients.  R' Chanina wanted the people coming back feeling, "We've tried everything you said and it hasn't worked for us."  He wanted them to acknowledge that their best efforts were not just goof enough.  Until they felt that there was something more needed beyond what they could muster on their own, until they felt their efforts were incomplete without it, they weren't ready for tefilah. 

So when you sit in shul and listen to Parshas Yisro, the question to ask yourself is, "What am I doing here?"  Hopefully the answer is not about your neighbors, your husband/wife's expectations, your kids, or your social position.  Hopefully it's about how you find fulfillment and where you find fulfillment.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

hungry for mon

A little halacha to start:

Chazal (B"K 82) tell us "ain mayim elah Torah" and darshen the pasuk in our parsha, "Vayeilchu shloshes yamim v'lo matzo mayim," as an allusion to the takanas Nevi'im (the Rambam says it was a takanah made by Moshe himself) not to go three days without public Torah study.  We therefore lein on  Shabbos, Monday, and Thursday.

Aruch haShulchan (135:5) says a chiddush that if for whatever reason the wrong parsha was leined on a Monday/Thursday, there is no need to do a makeup.

ולפי זה נראה לעניות דעתי דאף על גב דבשבת אם טעו וקראו סדרה אחרת דוודאי חוזרין וקורין הסדרה הזמנית, מכל מקום במנחה ובשני וחמישי כשטעו וקראו פרשה אחרת, מסדרה זו או מאחרת – אינם צריכים לחזור ולקרות. דכיון דאינה עולה לקריאת הציבור, שהרי בשבת הבא יקראוה מחדש, ולא נתקן אלא כדי שלא יהיו שלושה ימים בלא תורה, ומשום יושבי קרנות – ולכן בכל מה שקראו יצאו ידי חובתן. ואפילו אם נזכרו באמצע הקריאה נראה לעניות דעתי דמה שקראו – קראו, והמותר יקרא במה שנצרך היום לקרות. 

It seems like there are two parts to his argument: a) we will hear the whole parsha anyway on the upcoming Shabbos; b) the takanah of leining on Monday/Thursday is very different from the takanah of leining on Shabbos.  You have to read a specific sidra each Shabbos, but during the week the crucial point is that Torah be read publicly at least once every three days -- what you read is not important, so long as you read something. 

Is the idea of not going three days without hearing Torah the geder of the takanah, or just the reason behind instituting leining on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbos?  A possible nafkah minah might be the question of what to do if leining was missed on a Monday (quoted in Ah"S 135:7).  If the geder of the din is to avoid a three day gap without Torah, then maybe leining should be made up on Tuesday, which would avoid the gap.  On the other hand, if the takakah designated Monday and Thursday as leining days, then there are no makeups.  Avoiding a three day gap is why the takanah was made, but does not define its parameters. 

Secondly, a little machshava thought:

Did Bnei Yisrael, coming right off kriyas Yam Suf, really think that Hashem was going to starve them in the desert?  That they would not have what to eat, and had to complain to Moshe for food?

The Sefas Emes teaches that a person can have all he/she needs to eat and yet still be hungry. 

Baruch Hashem, I see in the newspapers ad after ad for Pesach hotels and vacations, but so many people who have so much these days are so dissatisfied with life.  They have an endless hunger for more and more and are never filled up.

We know the navi tells us that at the time of redemption there will be a hunger, but not a hunger for food or drink, but a hunger for the dvar Hashem.

Bnei Yisrael had food, but they wanted more than gashmiyus food to fill their bodies with -- they wanted food that would also be dvar Hashem.

"Posei'ach es yadecha u'masbi'a l'kol chai ratzon" -- the Midrash notes that it doesn't says that Hashem is masbi'a with ochel, food, but rather Hashem is masbia and fulfills people's ratzon, desire.  If your ratzon is just for a good meal, Hashem can give you that, but if your desire is for the dvar Hashem, then He will give so much more.

That's why Parshas Eikev, in describing what Hashem did for us in the desert, the Torah tells us, "va'yi'ancha va'yarivecha va'ya'achilcha es ha'mon," Hashem made us hungry and then gave us the mon to eat.  Why does the parsha mention the hunger?  That was the complaint, the problem.  The pasuk should just tell us the wonderful thing Hashem did to solve the problem!

Sefas Emes answers that in this case, the problem was itself a bracha.  By all rights we should have been happy to just have enough food.  But we weren't.  We had a hunger and desire for food that also would be dvar Hashem.  That hunger could only be satisfied by the mon.

The Ch haRI"M teaches that on Tu B'Shevat it's decided what chiddushei Torah one will gain during the upcoming year.  In other words, Tu B'shevat is not about filling up on dried fruits (or fresh fruits).  It's about being hungry for Torah, for Eretz Yisrael, for ruchniyus things. 

Thursday, February 02, 2017

teaching others for your own sake

The purpose of the makkos, says the Torah, is "l'ma'an tisaper b'oznei bincha u'ben bincha," so that we will relate what happened to our children and to our grandchildren, "v'yidatem ki ani Hashem," and to know that Hashem is the One in charge (10:2)  Seforno comments that "v'yidatem" means so that YOU should know, whereas the beginning of the pasuk, "l'ma'an tisaper," is speaking about what future generations will know. 

Isn't that backwards?  Shouldn't the "v'yidatem" come first, i.e. don't you need to understand the lesson yourself first, and then "l'ma'an tisaper," you can give it over to your children and their children?

The lesson here between the lines is that teaching our children Torah is not just something we need to do for their sake -- it's something we need to do for our OWN sake.  Teaching others is a tnai in our own understanding and yediya.  The best way to solidify your own beliefs is to express them and try to impress them upon others, especially those who matter most to you, like your own children. 

Moshe told Pharoah that the terrible plague of grasshoppers will be something that, "lo ra'u avosecha v'avos avosecha," the parents and grandparents of the Egyptian people had never before seen. (10:6)   Why didn't the Torah just say that there was never something like this before in Egypt?  Why stress specifically that their parents and grandparents had never seen anything like it?

The Sefas Emes (5644) quotes a Zohar that when a child gets married, even if c"v his/her parent has passed away and is in gan eden, the parent's neshoma is allowed to go down to the world to be at the chuppah with their child.  The same is true on the opposite side of the coin as well.  When the Egyptians were punished, the neshomos of their parents and grandparents were sent out of gehenom to be with their offspring on earth.  The parents and grandparents of the Egyptians had never seen such grasshoppers in their lifetime -- but now, they were going to see it.

Maybe this is also part of what the Torah is telling us by putting "v'yidatem ki ani Hashem" at the end.  A person may have already passed into the next world, but because they fulfilled "l'ma'an tisaper," because their children and grandchildren continue to grow in Torah, then through "b'ra mizakeh aba," they too are their vicariously sitting alongside their children and grandchildren in the beis medrash, reaping "v'yidatem ki ani Hashem" in greater measure.      

On a final note, last week I posted my wife's query whether a place that women meet in for davening has kedushas beis knesset.  Aruch haShulchan 154:7 writes:

 וכן בית הכנסת של נשים – יש עליה קדושת בית הכנסת, כיון שהנשים מתפללות שם.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

nevuah that's guaranteed

My wife asked me the following question, which I don't really know the answer to: there is a group of women who get together regularly to daven shacharis together and say tehillim.  Does the place that they daven have the din of a beis knesses? 

My wife had a hava amina that since there was no minyan, it could not be a beis knesses, but I don't know if the two ideas go hand in hand.  You can have a minyan held even semi-regularly in a place that does not have the status of a beis knesses (in some communities where people live far from shul there are something Friday night minyanim in people's homes), so why can't you have a place that has the status of beis knesses but has no minyan?  It's just the other side of the same coin. 

Any thoughts?

Turning to the parsha, the sefer Nesivei Chaim raises the following question: The Rambam in peirush hamishnayos writes that if a navi says something good is going to happen, you can take it to the bank -- Hashem will never go back on that promise.  (The Meshech Chochma quotes this in a number of places which I posted about already here and here.)  In the beginning of our parsha, Hashem tells Moshe to tell Bnei Yisrael that he will bring them to Eretz Yisrael, "V'hai'veisi eschem el ha'aretz..." (6:8)  Based on the Rambam, that promise should be irrevocable, guaranteed 100%.  Yet, that promise was in fact never fulfilled.  The generation that left Egypt (at least those over 20) all died in the desert and never made it to Eretz Yisrael.  Doesn't that contradict the principle the Rambam sets out?  (See Ohr haChaim, Ibn Ezra, Seforno)

Rav Elezri answers by quoting the Rambam's reasoning for his principle.  How can you tell a true prophet from a false one?  Simple: a true prophet can make claims that are 100% guaranteed.  The Rambam's principle serves as a check against doubt and as a means of testing the veracity of nevuah.  

Such a test and check may be necessary for all other nevi'im, says Rav Elezri, but not so for Moshe.  "V'gam becha ya'aminu l'olam," the Torah promises.  Belief in the prophecy of Moshe is a cardinal tenant of our faith.  Therefore, since no check against doubt is needed, there is no guarantee of every promise spoken by Moshe coming true.

I think you can make the same argument with a slight twist.  In our parsha, Moshe complains to Hashem that if Bnei Yisrael did not listen to him, surely Pharoah will not listen either, "v'ani aral sefasayim," not to mention that he also has a lisp.  Why does Moshe bring up his lisp here?  Didn't he already make the argument in last week's parsha, and Hashem had already responded that he gives the power of speech and will help Moshe.  Why are we revisiting the same argument all over again?

The Techeiles Mordechai, R' Schwadron, explains that Moshe was unique in that "Shechina m'daberes b'toch grono," it was as if G-d was speaking from his mouth.  Moshe thought this was the help Hashem would give to overcome Moshe's lisp.  However, there is a downside to this type of help.  The Rambam's principle only works for a promise made by a navi, not a promise made by Hashem himself. 

Moshe thought that if Bnei Yisrael could ignore him, it must be because he is guilty of some cheit, and that cheit is interfering with the message.  If so, perhaps Pharoah would not listen.  Perhaps the geulah itself would be in jeopardy.  "Ani aral sefasayim" -- the words aren't my words, thought Moshe -- they are G-d's words.  Therefore, the Rambam's principle that guarantees the words of a navi will come true doesn't apply, and who knows what will happen?

So maybe this is also why the Rambam's principle does not apply to the promise of "V'hei'veisi..."  When Moshe made that promise, it was not words of a navi that Bnei Yisrael heard, but rather it was "Shechina m'daberes m'toch grono." 

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.