Friday, September 23, 2016

Understanding comes from doing

In Parshas Kit Tavo 29:28

And you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them, in order that you will succeed in all that you do.
 

ח
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית הַזֹּאת
וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם לְמַעַן תַּשְׂכִּילוּ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר תַּעֲשׂוּן:

My grandfather points out that in addition to the meaning of being successful in this context, what is also indicated by  תַּשְׂכִּילוּ is the meaning from the root SChL, referring to the brain, or understanding in this case. That is, if you keep the words of Torah, you will merit to understand them.

It is impossible to truly understand Torah without living it. Accordingly he understands what Chazl said in Yevamos 109b on the verse, in Vaethchanan 5:1 וּלְמַדְתֶּם אֹתָם וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם לַעֲשֹׂתָם: velimadetem otam ushmartem la'asotam learn them and observe them to fulfill them.  On that, they say, all that are doing are also learning; all that are not doing are not learning.  kol sheyeshna beasiya yeshna belemida, kol she'eyno beasiya ayna belimda." 

He then refers to what he has said on that theme before, one of those observations on na'ase venishma I transcribed here: 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Keeping quiet is usually a good idea

In reviewing this past Shabbos' parsha, I was struck by the verse that deviates from the standard command or even a warning about consequences to give a simple piece of advice. That's in 23:23:
If you refrain from making a vow, you'll avoid sin וְכִי תֶחְדַּל לִנְדֹּר לֹא יִהְיֶה בְךָ חֵטְא

This is very much like the type of advice one finds in Koheleth (or Qoheleth if you prefer). As in 5:5-6 טוֹב אֲשֶׁר לֹא תִדֹּר מִשֶּׁתִּדּוֹר וְלֹא תְשַׁלֵּם
אַל תִּתֵּן אֶת פִּיךָ לַחֲטִיא אֶת בְּשָׂרֶךָ וְאַל תֹּאמַר לִפְנֵי הַמַּלְאָךְ כִּי שְׁגָגָה הִי 

Shlomo seemed to know that the wise man is careful about his words and doesn't promise what he can't deliver. (It goes without saying that anyone who runs for office must be lacking in such wisdom.) The Torah itself doesn't typically include that kind of advice in its accounts of mitzvos. One usually has to infer that something may be a bad idea, as in the juxtaposition of the eshes yifat toar to the ben sorrer umoreh  in our same parsha.

Related post: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2016/09/earthly-and-heavenly-justice.html 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Earthly and Heavenly Justice


Pashas Ki Tetzeh includes one of the more mysterious commands, that of the execution of the rebellious son בֵּן סוֹרֵר וּמוֹרֶה  As Rashi explains, he is killed for his end [as he will come to commit violent crimes even though he not committed them yet]. This raises the problem of how to reconcile a punishment based on a prediction with what we see elsewhere in the Torah?

Accordingly, my grandfather cites the Sifsey Chachamim's question of how this fits with what we learn out about Yishamel about whom it say ba'asher hu sham (Berishis 21: 17) on which Rashi says that he ws judged according to his deeds at the time rather than what he [or his descendants] would be doing in the future. However, in the case of Yishmael, he had not at that point doine anything that indicated a connection to a future intention of killing the children of Israel through thirst. And the Heavenly court does not judge according to one's future. On the other hand, there is a mitzvah on the earthly court to judge the wicked according to their futures.

My grandfather finds that the suggestion that the earthly court has to be harsher than the Heavenly one fits with what the Tosfos say in Brachos 7a on the account of R' Yeshoshua ben Levi's foiled attempt to curse the Sadduccee. The conclusion was that it was wrong to try to harm him because of injunctions for mercy. They include It is written: "And His tender mercies are over all His works." And it is further written:"It is not good for the righteous to punish."

Tosfos comment that even though the rule of moridin velo ma'alin applies to Sadduccees and the mosrin, that's only for human judges. That does not apply for death in the hands of Heaven.
My grandfather says there appear to be some difficulties with this because many sins are punished by Heaven if not punishable in court. Consequently, much study is necessary to truly understand the Tosfos. The editorial note at this point reminds us of the fact that the Heavenly court only punishes someone above age 20, which would indicate a kind of leniency over the earthly one.



My grandfather then suggests that the particular situation described for R' Yehoshua is one in which he felt personally vexed by the Sadduccee. In such a situation, when it is a private wrong, the greater virtue is to forgive. My grandfather explains that we'd have to assume that there was no public harrassment, for it there were, it would be forbidden for a Talmid Chacham to allow an attack on his honor for which he is enjoined to be nokem venother kenachash (Yoma 22, Yoreh Deah 243). There is a distinction here between private and public action. It is laudable to forgive private vexation. But if the Sadduccee poses a threat of infecting others with heretical inclinations, then the directive is moridin velo ma'alin -- not out of motivation for one's individual honor but for the honor of Heaven and to remove a public danger.

Related post: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/10/dvar-yehudah-parsha-points-from-my.html





Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Rosh Hashana Reboot

This piece was first posted on Times of Israel
What does it mean to start a New Year? Is it merely a matter of opening up a new calendar at some arbitrary date?  Dealing with my cars drained battery provided me with some insight about rebooting ourselves for the New Year.
I drive a Toyota Sienna that was born the same year as one of my children. It’s well into its teens by now, but still going OK for my fairly short local driving needs – except when it refuses to start. In the past, I’ve had the problem blamed on the cold or too infrequent little driving. But now I know it’s something else.
About a year ago, the car would lose power a bit at rest and be completely drained out if I left it for three days or longer. I was told that the battery was still good; the car just needed to be started more often. I got so tired of finding the car dead when I needed to go somewhere that I opted to replace the battery. Just after restarting the car with the new battery, I saw the “power door” light go on. I made sure to close it tightly and then had no problem for many months afterwards.
During the summer, I wasn’t driving very often, and one day the car failed to start. I got it boosted, and then the “power door” light went on. I re-closed the door, and thought I was set because the light did not appear when I turned the ignition off. But a few days later, again, the car didn’t start.
By now I had figured out that the car’s sensors weren’t marking the door as closed even after I cleaned all the contact points and the frame. That tiny bit of sensor alert drained enough power away that the car wouldn’t have enough to restart the car after a couple of days. Re-closing the door manually over and over again didn’t solve the problem because it didn’t alter the sensor reading.
As this was really a problem with an electronic component rather than mechanics of the car, it required the same type of fix one uses for a computer: a reinstall and reboot. Researching the experience others had with the same type of car showed that to be the case, and then I realized that the battery replacement had fixed the problem not due to the battery itself but due to the fact that a battery switch always entails a reinstall and reboot.
If this ever happens to you, remember this fix: detach the battery, wait a minute or so, reattach it, start the car, and then close the door a few times. Though the reboot and reinstall are what clear the setting to make the fix work,  you still have to be sure to have to take the preliminary and follow up steps to be sure you’re addressing the problem.
I thought about this experience and then realized that the reinstall and reboot is not just for computers. It’s for getting ourselves spiritually back in the zone. That is the idea of a New Year: a spiritual reboot.    The computer’s reboot helps clear the old cache, and our New Year gives us a refresh that allows us to take leave of what’s keeping us back so that we can move forward unhindered.
Like the car’s fix, getting our spiritual reboot takes some effort. That’s why we don’t just wait for the first day of Tishrei to think about the New Year but plan and prepare for it in advance. We focus our attention on what we want to change and take the necessary preliminary steps—like clearing any dirt that may be blocking the door. There’s also the  follow up – paying close attention to the door when we want to be sure it’s closed – that we do in the days following Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur. The trick is to use the power of the Rosh Hashana reboot to get spiritually refreshed and then focus on keeping on track for our goals in the New Year.

Friday, September 09, 2016

The ends do not justify the means

One of the verse in Parshas Shoftim is a call for a high standard of justice (16:20)
כצֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ 
My grandfather suggests a reason for the repetition of the word tzedek [justice]: the means, as well as the ends, have to be just. On should not compromise standard on the means in the name of a just end. He quotes Mishei 3:17: "Deracheyah darchei noam vechol nethivortheya shalom" with a gloss on nethivotheyha - its paths that bring one ultimately to pleasantness have to have the quality of shalom [peace]. 

My grandfatther cites  the Mishna Peah 8:9 that quotes this verse: "If a person pretends to be blind or disabled in order to receive charity to which he is not entitled, he will ultimately become the thing he pretended to be, as per Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” He explains how it fits with his take on the means being held to a standard of justice, as well as the ends. The person who pretends a disability may deserve charity because he is lacking money. But he resorts to fraud to get it. So even if the ends are valid, the means are not, and that is what is disallowed under the injunction of the verse here.

Related post: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/10/dvar-yehudah-parsha-points-from-my.html



Friday, September 02, 2016

Hearing the voice as well as the words

In Parshas Re'eh, we are enjoined: (12:28)
Keep and listen to all these words שְׁמֹר וְשָׁמַעְתָּ אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה 
My grandfather refernces the Ohr Hachaim's interpretations which includes this take on the juxtaposition of keeping and listening: if you wish to understand the truth of Torah, you have to keep the mitzvos. In other words, the acceptance of mitvos is a prerequisite for intensive Torah study. 

In a similar vein, my grandfather says, he has explained Chazal's take of na'ase venishma, [we will do and we will listen] which prompted the exclamation, Mi gila livni raz zeh [who revealed this secret to my children?] That is because the na'ase is the condition for the nishma. Without a commitment to the mitzvoss, it is impossible to plumb the depths of the Torah's secrets. How lofty is the spiritual level of Yisrael that they were able to reveal this secret!

Further on in this Parsha 13:5, it says וְאֶת מִצְו‍ֹתָיו תִּשְׁמֹרוּ וּבְקֹלוֹ תִשְׁמָעוּ  [keep His mitzvos and listen to His voice]. Again, the shmira preceeds the shmia. Rashi and Ramban there interpret  וּבְקֹלוֹ תִשְׁמָעוּ  as referring tothe voice of the neviim [prophets].
My grandfather suggests another extension on the interpretation of listening there as an obligation to keep not just the mitzvos that are stated explicitly but also to walk bederech hachaim, that is to live according to da'as Torah, what it is possible to discern to hear from the kol [voice] even if the words are not expressed.  [This concept is often expressed in terms of being true to the spirit as well as the letter of the law.]The same can be applied to the first verse we quoted here. 

Related post: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2015/10/dvar-yehudah-parsha-points-from-my.html


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Kethuba

It's read at every Jewish wedding to form a disruption between the erusin  and the nesuin. It's also the document that the bride receives and must retain in her possession for the duration of her marriage. Basically, it's a contract that delineates the husband's obligation to support his wife and the sum of money she must be paid in case of divorce. True, that sounds very utilitarian and not really romantic, so here's something more to associate with the kethuba.


The kethuba begins with the day of the week on which the marriage takes place. It also begins with the letter beth . In Made in Heaven: A Jewish Wedding Guide, (Moznaim Publishing, 1983) Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan (p. 107) points out that the first letter of each kethuba is the same as the first letter of the Torah. Just as the Torah attest to the bond between G-d and His people, the kethubah documents the bond between husband and wife. I would add to that what our Sages say about the beginning of the Torah fits in well with that observation. The Torah begins with the same letter that begins the word bracha [blessing]. As the second letter of the alphabet, the letter beth also stands for two. It is necessary to expand beyond the singular in order to come to a state of blessing. (The Maharal explains that the association is not arbitrary but inherent in the meaning of blessing,) The concept is most apt for a marriage in which two people come together in an event of blessing, highlighted by the sheva brachos [seven blessings].