Friday, August 19, 2016

Keeping the mitzvos

In Parshas Vaeschanan, we have the aseres hadibros presented for the second time. Within, two mitzvos are juxtaposed, that of keeping the Sabbath and that of honoring parents. Both add the phrase,  כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוְּךָ, stressing as Hashem as commanded.

My grandfather suggests "al derech hadrash" that the stress for these tow is because they may be be perceived as actions that one does for his own inclination. It's nice to take a day off each week even without a religious motivation to do so. Likewise, it is a socially acceptable thing to honor one's parents. That is why it stresses that one keeps this commandments because they were commanded. Our motivation should be observing the mitzvos in the vein as what Chazal said about kosher observance.  One should say, "Yuck, pork is disgusting!" Rather he should say, "It is appealing, but I have to abstain because it is forbidden to me."

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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Last Laugh

This blog was first posted on The Times of Israel under the same title

You probably have heard some variation of this stereotype.  How many times does an Englishman laugh at a joke? Three times: first when he hears it, again when it is explained to him, and the third time when he gets it.
What is striking is not just that that he laughs in public when he doesn’t get the joke but that he laughs again when he still doesn’t get it. It is only after some time as elapsed that he finally understands what is funny about the joke and laughs for the last time. 
We are in the same situation as the Englishman. We put on a laugh, so to speak, when we affirm, “It will be good.” But we likely feel the difficulties and the pain of the here-and-now more than the promise of a bright future. That is the state of galut [exile].  We are doing the equivalent of laughing without really getting the joke because we feel it is expected of us, and we come to expect it of ourselves.
In contrast, when we arrive at geula [redemption] we will not just know this as an abstract truth but really feel it. That’s why we say (Psalms 126)  Az yemaleh schok pinu [then will our mouths be filled with laughter]. Like the Englishman who finally gets the joke, all will become clear and we will realize that all out worries and concerns have disappeared like so many unsubstantial dreams in the face of the revelation of reality as good.  That’s the quality of the last laugh.
We have just passed through the period known as the Three Weeks during which we focused on galut. Now we are in the Shiva denechmta -- the seven weeks during which we read Haftorot [sections of the Prophets that correspond to the Sabbath Torah readings] that deliver the comfort found in the promise of redemption.
The laughter associated with that comes through in the account of the contrast between Rebbi Akiva’s reaction to the ploughed Temple Mount and that of the other sages in Makkot 24b:

Another time, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Yehoshua, and Rabbi Akiva were ascending to Jerusalem. When they came to Har haTzofim [Mount Scopus], they tore their clothes [a sign of mourning]. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. They started to cry, but Rabbi Akiva was laughing. 
The other sages said to him, “Why are you laughing?“
He said to them, “Why do you weep? “
They replied. “The place about which was written (Numbers 1:51) ‘and the non-Kohen that approaches shall be put to death’ is now a haunt of foxes. Should we should not weep!”
He replied, “That is why I laugh. It is written (Isaiah 8:2) ‘and I will take unto Me faithful witnesses to record, Uriah the priest, and Zechariah the son of Yeverechyahu.’ 
“Now what was the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was during the period of the First Temple, and Zechariah was during the period of the Second Temple. Rather, the verse was making the prophecy of Zechariah dependent on the prophecy of Uriah. Regarding Uriah, it is written, (Michah 3:12) ‘Therefore for your sake shall Zion be plowed.’ Regardi

Monday, August 15, 2016

Breaking bread with G-d

The lechem hapanim  was a specially shaped form of matzah – for all the bread (with the exception of the shtey halechem to be discussed) used in connection with Temple serviceswas unleavened. It was placed on the shulchan [a shelved table] in the mishkan and the Mikdash every Friday and  consumed by the kohanim on the rotation as soon as the batch was replaced the following week. Though the lechem hapanim was a form and so was manmade, it was sustained by a miracle (not preservatives) that kept it fresh and warm for the duration of an entire week. So the lechem hapanim  epitomizes a a synthesis of human and Divine endeavor. 

Recognizing that form of partnerhsip is what offerings are all about. Though we know that G-d the Creator is the ultimate Maker of everything, what we offer are things that we have worked on. G-d  gives us the raw materials, and human beings add value through labor, working to cultivate crops, domesticate animals, and then complete all the tasks inherent in food preparation.  
 Bread in particular epitomizes human creativity. See It doesn't grow ready like raw wheat; it requires human labor to grow, gather winnow, and grind the grain. Then one has to knead it into a dough and bake it to finally produce bread. 

Indeed, the human condition after the sin of Adam is defined as bezeat apecha tochal lechem  בְּזֵעַת אַפֶּיךָ תֹּאכַל לֶחֶם. (Bereishis 3:19). (See Adam is told that he would not just be sustained by what grows on its own but would have to labor for his bread.  

What we do in making our offerings to provide sustenance for the kohanim is that we show that we recognize that even what appears to be the fruit of our own labor is due to what is granted us by G-d. It is the opposite of the assertion of kochi veotzem yadi asa li eth hachayil haze. That's why the 3 regalim are also harvest festivals. We come with the joint product of G-d's natural products and our manmade one as we  break bread with  G-d.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Place association

The name of the last book of Torah and the first parsha it contains comes from the second word in  it, a reference to the words that Moshe spoke to his people at the end of his life. Rashi explains why it used the term devarim.

These are the words: Since these are words of rebuke and he [Moses] enumerates here all the places where they angered the Omnipresent, therefore it makes no explicit mention of the incidents [in which they transgressed], but rather merely alludes to them, [by mentioning the names of the places] out of respect for Israel (cf. Sifrei). אלה הדברים: לפי שהן דברי תוכחות ומנה כאן כל המקומות שהכעיסו לפני המקום בהן, לפיכך סתם את הדברים והזכירם ברמז מפני כבודן של ישראל:

My grandfather asks, why the allusive approach? Multiple times in the Torah we see that Moshe rebuked Bnai Yisrael directly. My grandfather suggests an answer based on another Rashi 2 verses later: 

יהי בארבעים שנה בעשתי עשר חדש באחד לחדש:מלמד שלא הוכיחן אלא סמוך למיתה. ממי למד, מיעקב שלא הוכיח את בניו אלא סמוך למיתה. אמר, ראובן בני, אני אומר לך מפני מה לא הוכחתיך כל השנים הללו, כדי שלא תניחני ותלך ותדבק בעשו אחי. ומפני ארבעה דברים אין מוכיחין את האדם אלא סמוך למיתה, כדי שלא יהא מוכיחו וחוזר ומוכיחו, ושלא יהא חבירו רואהו ומתבייש ממנו וכו' כדאיתא בספרי. וכן יהושע לא הוכיח את ישראל אלא סמוך למיתה, וכן שמואל, שנאמר (ש"א יב, ג) הנני ענו בי. וכן דוד את שלמה בנו:

And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month [… Moses spoke]: This teaches us that he rebuked them only a short while before his death. From whom did he learn [to do] this? From Jacob, who rebuked his sons only a short while before his death. He said, “Reuben, my son, I will tell you why I have not reproved you [for your shortcomings] during all these years: So that you would not leave me and join my brother, Esau.” And for four reasons, one should not reprimand a person except shortly before one’s death: So that one should not rebuke and again have to rebuke him, so as not to cause his friend to feel ashamed when he sees him; etc. These appear in Sifrei . And similarly, Joshua rebuked Israel only shortly before his death (cf. Joshua 24:1-29), and so, Samuel, as it is said, “Behold, testify against me” (I Sam. 12:3) and so, also, David rebuked his son Solomon only shortly before his death (see I Kings 2:1-10). 

For this reason, Moshe does not rebuke them explicitly for the sins of the places here, for he had already rebuked them openly at the time.  Here there is only an allusion suggested by the association with place but not a direct rebuke that would repeat what had already been delivered.  My grandfather also cites Midrash Rabba 1:5 that says G-d said to Moshe that as Yisrael accepted his rebuke upon  themselves he has to bles them. That he blessed them in verse 11: " יֹסֵף עֲלֵיכֶם כָּכֶם אֶלֶף פְּעָמִים וִיבָרֵךְ אֶתְכֶם כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר לָכֶם
[ May G-d] add to you a thousandfold as many as you are, and may He bless you, as He spoke concerning you!" indicates that they had already accepted rebuke. 

Tisha B'Av program in Far Rockaway

Note: in spite of the instructions, people do tend to bring their own chairs. There are a few low chairs there, but they get taken up by the early arrivals.  Also note: there is no suggested donation required.

Achiezer Community Resource Center and Yeshiva Darchei Torah invite the men and women of the community to a special Kinos program.
Mourning and Meaning
Absorbing the Message of Tisha B'Av
 Tisha B'Av 5776
Sunday, August 14th, 2016
Beginning with Shacharis at 8:15am and followed byMincha at approximately 1:30pm
At Mesivta Chaim Shlomo
211 Beach 17th Street in Far Rockaway
 (Parking available in Beach 19th Street parking lot)
The recital of Kinos will be interspersed with Divrei Hisorirus from:
Rabbi David Ashear 
Author, The Living Emunah Series
Rabbi Dovid Bender 
Rosh Kollel Tirtza Devorah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah  
Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn 
Noted Author and Lecturer 
Rabbi Shlomo Mandel 
Rosh HaYeshiva, Yeshiva of Brooklyn
Rabbi Zevi Trenk  
Menahel, Mesivta Chaim Shlomo
Please bring your own Kinos.
Please do not bring lawn chairs.

For more information please email

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Friday, August 05, 2016

The division of cities of refuge

The last parsha in Sefer Bamidbar  includes instructions about setting up the cities of refuge for those who kill unintentionally. What is striking is that three cities are mandated both for Israel proper and for the section on the east, which only accommodated 2 1/2 tribes. Rashi deals with that question (34: 14)
14You shall provide the three cities in trans Jordan and the three cities in the land of Canaan; they shall be cities of refuge.ידאֵת | שְׁלשׁ הֶעָרִים תִּתְּנוּ מֵעֵבֶר לַיַּרְדֵּן וְאֵת שְׁלשׁ הֶעָרִים תִּתְּנוּ בְּאֶרֶץ כְּנָעַן עָרֵי מִקְלָט תִּהְיֶינָה:
the three cities: Although there were nine tribes in the land of Canaan, and here [across the Jordan] there were only two-and-a-half, He equalized the number of their refuge cities, because Gilead had many murderers, as it says,“Gilead, a city of workers of violence, who lurk to shed blood” (Hos. 6: 8). - [Mak. 10a, Sifrei Massei 6]את שלש הערים וגו': אף על פי שבארץ כנען תשעה שבטים וכאן אינן אלא שנים וחצי, השוה מנין ערי מקלט שלהם משום דבגלעד נפישי רוצחים, דכתיב (הושע ו, ח) גלעד קרית פועלי און עקובה מדם:

My grandfather quotes the above and the Ramban who starts his explanation by citing Rashi as well and then saying that even though the cities were meant for those who were only guilty of manslaughter and not of murder, intentional murderers would act with cunning to present themselves as guilty of the lesser crime and go to the cities of refuge. The Ramban says that he is astounded at the stated problem of the equation for the number of cities, though. There were an additional 42 cities of refuge due to the Levi cities serving as such: 36 in Israel proper and another 6 to the east.

My grandfather points out that there is some different between the Levi cities and the designated cities of refuge, for the halacha is like R' Yehudahs that in the 42 cities the Leviim received rent, though not in the 6. Consequently, the split still shows a disproportionate number of designated cities of refugees per capita for the east, which is explained by the greater incidents of bloodshed there.

He suggests an answer that he later found in the Divrei David.  The need for more cities of refuge in a place where there is a higher homicide rate is due to the fact that anyone who killed someone -- whether intentionally or unintentionally -- would run to a city of refuge. [Later it would have to come to light if the killer had witnesses who can attest to the status of murder or manslaughter.]

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

The covenant of peace for Pinchas

After Pinchas kills Zimri and Kozbi, Hashem declares (25: 11-12):
11Phinehas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen has turned My anger away from the children of Israel by his zealously avenging Me among them, so that I did not destroy the children of Israel because of My zeal. יאפִּינְחָס בֶּן אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן הֵשִׁיב אֶת חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת קִנְאָתִי בְּתוֹכָם וְלֹא כִלִּיתִי אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּקִנְאָתִי:
12Therefore, say, "I hereby give him My covenant of peace. יבלָכֵן אֱמֹר הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת בְּרִיתִי שָׁלוֹם:

On the name, Rashi says, 
Phinchas the son of Eleazar the son of Aaron the kohen: Since the tribes were disparaging him, saying, Have you seen the son of Puti, whose mother’s father [Jethro] fattened (פִּטֵּם) calves for idols, and who killed a chieftain of an Israelite tribe? For this reason, Scripture traces his pedigree to Aaron. — [Sanh. 82b, Num. Rabbah 21:3, Mid. Tanchuma Pinchas 2] פינחס בן אלעזר בן אהרן הכהן: לפי שהיו השבטים מבזים אותו, הראיתם בן פוטי זה שפיטם אבי אמו עגלים לעבודה זרה והרג נשיא שבט מישראל, לפיכך בא הכתוב ויחסו אחר אהרן:

My grandfather points out that, undoubtedly, the tribes knew that Pinchas was the grandson o f Aharon. Their point in naming him for his mother's father was to relate his actions to that side of the family. The declaration here confirms that his actions stemmed specifically from his father side, the trait of Aharon HaKohen. 

He reference the Sforno who says on the Parashas Vayechi,48: 16  "וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק Yaakov names his father and grandfather but not Terach and Nochar because the righteous are not linked to the name of their wicked ancestors. The opposite is true as well.  As it says in Sanhedrin  52a that wicked people are not linked to their righteous fathers but to their wicked ancestors. Accordingly, what Yaakov expressed in his blessing was that his granchidlren be worthy of being linked to their righteous ancestors. 

My grandfather then suggests that this is what underlies the promise of  בְּריתִי שָׁלוֹם. Shalom is the outstanding characteristic of Aharon who was ohev shalom verodef shalom [a lover and pursuer of peace]. Pinchas' action in this case was truly for the sake of true peace for klal Yisrael, to prevent disunity of the nationand to establish peace among the people and between them and Konenu, for the name of Hakodesh Baruch Hu is Shalom.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The whole is greater

For Parshas Balak, I’ll share two pieces from my grandfather’s sefer because one is very short.
Yaakov and Yisrael
When Bilam prophetically blessed Benei Yisrael, he included an exclamation that is incorporated into daily prayers (24:5): Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishkenotecha Yisrael. How good are you tents Yaakov, your dwelling places, Yisrael. The doubling here is poetic, but it also has to be significant, as the Torah does not typically use the device of kefel hainyan bemilim shonot. My grandfather suggest that Yaakov is the name for the people of Israel in galus [exile]. For that reason the living quarters ascribed to Yaakov are tents, which are temporary dwellings. Yisrael refers to the people of Israel on their own land, which is why it uses a different terms that connotes greater permanence.

Not the whole picture
Earlier in the parsha, of course, Bilam was making his best effort to curse Bnei Yisrael, trying to set up a vantage point from different places. The text in  22:41  says he set up where he could see katzeh ha’am [a section of the nation].  He did not have a view of the entire nation from that vantage point, but only a part of them. 

The Ramban explains that Bilam sought a place from which he could see the people whom he wished to curse. But he could not see the entire encampment because they were too spread out. The tribes set themselves up in four groups of three, one in each four directions of the compass. Balak suggested that even if he can’t get a vantage point from which all the people would be visible, he can take a partial view to curse those who fall within his sight. When they shifted from one to the other, Balak reasoned that it is possible that there were righteous people in the sections that they saw whose merit prevented the curse from being uttered.    

According to the Psikta Zutra, though, Bilam did succeed in getting a vantage point from which he had a view of the entire nation.  He reads the text as “vayar misham ketzeh ha’am, klomar kol ha’am mikatze” [he saw from that place, from that corner, all the nation]. That contrasts with the view from the vantage points that follow, which only allowed a partial view that Balak takes him to as descibed in  23:13
יגוַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו בָּלָק לְךָ נָּא אִתִּי אֶל מָקוֹם אַחֵר אֲשֶׁר תִּרְאֶנּוּ מִשָּׁם אֶפֶס קָצֵהוּ תִרְאֶה וְכֻלּוֹ לֹא תִרְאֶה וְקָבְנוֹ לִי מִשָּׁם {Balak said to him, "Come with me to another place from where you will see them; however, you will see only a part of them, not all of them and curse them for me from there.}

That is why there the view is described as efes katzehu to indiciates that it is one from which he cannog obtain a comprehensive view -- vechulo lo tireh.  Balak reasoned that the entire nation would have special protection due to zchus avos. However, that merit of the whole would not necessarily extend to a part.

Consequently, Balak was either resigned or hopeful, depending on which interpretation one follows. According to the Ramban, the real goal was to get all in view, one that was not possible. So Balak said what amounts to, if we can’t get all the targets, we can  at least get some of the enemy in the range of fire of the cures. But according to Psikta Zutra it was possible to see them all, but the defenses of the whole with full merit of zuchus avos would render the encampment impregnable. Therefore, he suggests that taking them in sections would be a better strategy.

My grandfather points out that in addition to the zchus avos for the entire nation, there is also the positive impact of seeing Mi keamcha Yisrael goy echad ba’aretzt.” When one is struck by that, it is impossible to curse them. However, it is possible to consider the possibility of  cursing the lowly ones on their  own, and that is signified by the term efes katzehu.

Reasoning from the general to the particular, my grandfather suggests the same principle applies to Chazal’s injunction in Pirkei Avos “vehevey dan eth kol ha’adam lekaf zchus” [give all of man the benefit of the doubt in judgement].  The kol is a reminder to take a comprehensive picture – not just of the bad. When we see the bad alone, it is difficult to find anything positive to apply to judgement. But if we see the whole of the person and his behavior in general, we can find a way to extend the benefit of the doubt for the particular bad deed that needs it.