Thursday, November 26, 2015

Boundless chesed

In Parshas Vayishlach Yaakov declares "katonti mikol hachasadim" [I'm diminished from all the kindness] and then requests that Hashem save him from Esav.
My grandfather asks, if Yaakov pointed out that his merit is already diminished, how does that help build his case to get Divine help for salvation?  If he is relating in terms of din there are no grounds for requesting anymore. However, as the relationship is one of chesed, there is no set cap, and he can ask for more chesed.

Along the same lines, we say in the prayer of Nishmas, "ad hena azarunu rachamecha velo azavunu chasadecha, veal titeshenu Hashem Elokim lanetzcah" [until now your mercy has helped us and your kindness has not left us, and don't leave us Hashem, our G-d forever] for there are no boundaries to what flows from chesed.  

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Friday, November 20, 2015

Leah's Thanksgiving

Here's a connection between this week's parsha and the upcoming event next Thursday. What is a Jewish Thanksgiving? We learn that from Leah.

Leah named her first three sons for how she perceived her relationship with her husband, Yaakov. But when it came to her fourth son, she named him Yehudah, expalining, "hapa'am odeh es Hashem" this time I will thank G-d. This is considered a tremendous thing by Chazal. In Brachos 7b it record that R' Yochanan said in the name of Rav Shimon bar Yochai that from the day that Hakodesh Baruch Hu created his world there was not a single person who thanked Him until Leah did with "hapa'am odeh es Hashem."

My granfather points out that on the same page of the Gemara Rav shimon ben Yochai is quoted as saying that from the day that that Hakodesh Baruch Hu created his world there was not a single person that called Him that Hakodesh Baruch Hu created his world there was not a single person [master] until Avraham came and called Him Adon.  

The commentaries explain that until Avraham came along, people said that Hashem left His world after he created it. Like the Daoists, they believed that he set everything up to operate on its own according to the laws of nature but that He doesn't relate to it directly. Avraham's use of the name Adon made it know that not only did he create the world but that He is also its Master who is aware of and responsive to what goes on in it.

According to this, we have to understand what Leah added by acknowledging her gratitude. Isn't it implied in the term Adon that we acknowledge that we receive all from the Maste of the world?  That was already established from the days of Avraham Avinu.

My grandfather suggests that what she added was the gratitude that we should express after receiving, pointing out that Hashem is the one who gives, and that's the idea of such statements of appreciation.

Human nature doesn't always see it that way, as he explains with reference to an explicaton of a passage in Brachos 35b. R' Levi Rami said, it is wrtiten "la'Hashem har'aretz umloah" [to Hashem is the land and all that fills it] But it also is written "Hashamayin, shamayimn laHashem, veharetz nathan livney adam" [The heavens above are for Hashem, and the land He gave to the sons of man] He said it's not a contradiction; the first part refers [things like food we eat] before the blessing, and the second to the situation after the blessing.

Human nature, though, can suggest another interpretation. Before the bracha, that is before a person get what he wants, knowing that the land and all within it belongs to Hash, one prays to receive. However, after that bracha, that is after receiving what one wants, a person says in his heart, veharetz nathan livney adam, thinking kochi veotzem yadi asa li et hachayil hazeh.

In other words, what Leah did was counteract that tendency to forget about acknowledging Hashem's role when things go the way we want them to.

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Friday, November 13, 2015

Toldos: Torah reveals motivations

The Torah records that Yitzchak loved Esav ki tzayid bepiv  because the product of the hunt was in his mouth. He extra affection born of gratitude to the son who supplied him with food.

My grandfather comments as follows: Without a doubt, Yitzchak our father had many lofty and spiritual reasons to explain his preference for Esav over Yaakov. But the Torah text states that, ultimately, this was the what motivated him, in spite of all the reasons he could provide. That is the proof to hashochad yaver eyney chachamim [bribes will blind the eyes of wise men]. Likely Yitzchak would be most disconcerted by reading in the Torah that his love for Esav was ki tzayid bepiv.

The footnote on this refers to the Midrash about 3 people in TaNaCh who might have acted differently if they had realized their actions were recorded:
R’ Yitzchak said: When a person does a mitzvah, he should do it with all his heart… Had Reuven known that Hashem would record [in the Torah] that he had saved Yosef from his brothers, he would have carried Yosef back to his father on his shoulders! Had Aaron known that Hashem would record in the Torah, “And he will see you [Moshe], and he will be joyous in his heart [without jealousy over Moshe’s appointment as leader of Israel], (Shemos/Exodus 4:14)” he would have come out to greet him with dancing and drums… Had Boaz known that Hashem would record in the Torah that he gave Ruth grain, he would have fed her fattened calves. [Rus Rabbah 5:6]

The text of my grandfather's commentary continues with a connection to chet hameraglim  and chet Korach. They had achieved a very high spiritual level amid the dor dea, and it is certain that they startied out with lofty reckonings to do what they did. Nevertheless, there is no contradiction to what Chazal and the commentaries of pshuto shel mikra say that they were swayed by ego and the desire for honor.  They were, in effect, bribed, and bribes blind the vision of wise men. The Torah recognizes the primary motivation that is within their souls and so it reveals it in the narrative as the root cause.

The footnote says this is along the lines of the rule that the Torah speaks about elyonim and hints betachtonim. The root of everything is its spiritual manifestation.  

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Thursday, November 05, 2015

In retrospect: Chaye Sarah

When Eliezer recounts his experience in discovering Rivka, he provides her family with the full background of his mission. In telling the story, he says when Avraham charged him to find a wife for Yitzchak, he warned him that under no circumstances was he to be taken out of Eretz Yisroel. Eliezer raised the question of the bride-to-be not wanting to leave her home, and put in terms of "oolay lo telech haisha acharay" [perhaps the woman would refuse to follow me]. The word for perhaps there is written with a missing vav so that it may be read elay [to me], Rashi explains that Eliezer had a daughter of his own that he hoped Yitzchak would marry, and that's what is signfied by the Freudian slip of elay. Understanding that personal motivation, Avraham assured him that his son with his blessed status would not be marrying his servant's daughter whose status is the opposite of his, for ayn arur medavel bevaruch.

Here's the thing: the text doesn't show Eliezer saying elay in the record of his conversation with Avraham as it happened. We only see it in the narrative Eliezer presents after the fact. My grandfather offers this explanation: at the time that Eliezer had that conversation with Avraham he did not feel that hope that was buried in the depths of his soul that his master would consent to a connection of marriage between their children.   However, now after it became clear that Hashem made him successful in his quest just as Avraham promised him, he is able to recognize and register he doubts he ha when he spoke with Avraham before setting out and that they were motivated by the secret desire of his heart -- the hope that Avraham would consent to the union. He was not even cognizant of that desire at the time he expressed the possibility of not succeeding in Avraham's plan. But now it became clear to him, and that's why the word oolay here is written elay.

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Sarah's internal laughter

If Sarah laughed, why did she deny it?
The qusestion was brought up in a number of places on Divrei Chaim, including:

Now we'll take a different perspective that my grandfather presents. His interepretations of Vatisachek Sarah bekirba [Sarah laughed within herself] signifed that Sarah was herself unaware of the laughter that arose within. It was not just inaudible but unconscious.

It was only in the depths of her soul that there arose some glimmer of doubt about the truth of what the angels said because acharey baloti hayta li adena [after I've grown old/worn I've become rejuvenated]. In this interpretation, leymor [saying] does not signify a quote but the reason. Sarah would not have said  say those words at all. which is why it doesn't say vatomar. The sentence is the reasoning behind a laugh rather than one that was actually spoken.  Sarah didn't even feel the incredulous laugh that only registered deep inside her.

Accordingly, my grandfather finds the Targum Unkuloos appealing, for it translates Hayipaleh meHashem davar not as "Is anything too wonderful for G-d," but as "Is anything hidden from G-d?" Even the subconscious laugh that was hidden to Sarah herself was revealed to Hashem.

He cites the Or Hachaim and Kli Yakar who follow a similar direction about the declaration of nothing being hidden from Hashem, though they do not insist that Sarah was unaware of the laughter in the same way. The Kli Yakar's take is that her fear prevented her from letting the laughter out, though she still knew that she felt it.

Now for another point
Why was Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt?
There are some answers associated with actual salt that she asked her neighbors for to bring their attention to the guests. My grandfather has another take, though. He says that salt can only be eaten along with something else. It doesn't qualify as food on its own. In the same way, Lot's wife had no merit on her own and was only able to be saved when she was linked with her husband. When she put herself on her own, so to speak, by daring to look back, she lost that protection and turned into what she essentially was.

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Lech Lecah: a different type of nisayon

As Chazal tell us, Avraham avinu was tested with 10 nisyonos. That number includes the opening commandments in this week's parsha, "Lech lecha."  As Rashi explains, the lecha means letovatcha, for your own good. My grandfather raised the question, if so why is this called a nisayon? Being told to do something for your own benefit hardly seems to be a test of faith.

His answer is that the test here is the challenge to do the action because of the command in spite  of the tangible benefit it will bring. In that way, it is like the command to eat on the 9th of Tishrei, which is said to be as great as fasting on Yom Kippur. It is so when one's motivations are pure -- fulfilling the command even when there is personal pleasure involved.

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Thursday, October 15, 2015

What's so bad about chamas?

As I said in last week's post, Dvar Yehudah: parsha points from my grandfather, I'll try to select something from the sefer for each parsha. On Noach, he makes a point about what doomed the generation of the Flood. The text say, "vatimaleh ha'aretz chamas" the land was filled with chamas, wich is sometimes translated as robbery. Why then is the usual term of gezel not used? This was a particular type of robbery, a form of shoplifting that was below the legal bar for criminal prosecution, as it was taking something of very little monetary value -- what would cost less than a pruta, according to the Midrash Rabbah. 

Consequently, the person who was stealing considered it permissable and had no regrets for wrongdoing. And there's the rub,the feeling that one did nothing wrong when one has. That's what we see in the contrast between the first king of Israel, Shaul, and the next king who was chosen for the royal dynasty, David. When Shaul was chastized by Shmuel for having spared the sheep and Agag, he insisted he had not done wrong. In contrast, David didn't attempt to justify himself when Nathan told him he had sinned and immediately admitted that he was at fault.

My grandfather identifies that same kind of dynamic at work in the first sin recounted in last week's parsha. When G-d asks Adam if he ate of the forbidden tree, he responds, "haisha asher natata imadi hee nathna li min haetz vaochal." Bereishis Rabba  reads the last word as the future tense, indicating not just "I have eaten," but "I will eat."   That kind of defiance indicates no regret or even recognition of wrongdoing. And that is the real problem -- the failure to recorgnize one's sin, the first step toward teshuva.

I would add that we see this in addiction. The first step is for the addict to recognize that he has a problem. Only then can he resolve to fight his natural inclination to indulge his addiction. When one is in denial, though, and insists that he's fine just the way he is, he is bound to sink even lower. The same holds true with any moral failing, as well.

It was chamas even more than the other areas of immorality that sealed the fate for that generation because it represented that acceptance of breaking moral boundaries with impunity. "I'm not doing anything that I could be prosecuted for, and so I have done nothing wrong," With that kind of complacency, there is no hope for improvement.