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.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Dvar Yehudah: parsha points from my grandfather

Torah: it's not the same old thing

My uncle, Ezra Schochet, compiled some of the notes my grandfather, R' Dov Yehudah Schochet Z"L wrote into a sefer called Dvar Yehuda. I'll try to share some. The following piece is particularly appropriate for the beginning, as it reflects on the constant renewal we have in accepting Torah each day.

The 31st verse of the first chapter of Bereishis refers to "yom hashishi" [the sixth day]. My grandfather cites the Chazal (Footnote citation identifies the source as both Avoda Zara 3a and Midrash Tanchumah) that says, im Yisrael mekablim, if Yisrael accept [the Torha, the world will endure]. He points out that it does not use the future tense, to say "if Yisrael will accept" but the present tense. That indicates that the acceptance of Torah has to be constant., as it says (Midrash Lekach Tov Devarim 6, 7) "that they should be each and every day new in your eyes as if you received them that very day from Mount Sinai."

Likewise, in the blessing on Torah, we say ... at the end, "noten haTorah" giver of the Torah in present tense, for the Torah was not given in the past but is constantly given to us afresh.

Friday, October 02, 2015

The blood moon over the sukkah

An unusal addition to benching occurs solely on the holiday of Sukkoth. We add in "Harachaman hu yakim lanu eth sukkath David hanofales" Why do we refer to the sukkah of David to indicate a return to the kingdom rather than beis [the house of] David? In the shiurim prior to the holiday, Rav Goldwicht explained that when a house is taken down, it is a ruin and is not rebuilt so much as a replaced. The house that is built on the site of the previous house is a new house, not the same one. In contrast, a sukkah is always called a sukkah. It is still called that even when it is down and folded. When it is put back up, it is not a new structure but the same sukkah.

It's the same concept we see in the renewal of the moon, which is why we say, "David melech Yisroel chai vekayam" during kiddush levana.   It's always the same moon, though sometimes it is in a waning state, or even in an eclipsed state as it was on the first night of Sukkoth this year. But it is still there, and we know it will re-emerge.