Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Women in Moshe's Life

I don't have much to relay on this week's parsha, so I'll share some thoughts I've jotted down in the past about some women who played a significant role in the Exodus we commemorate each Pesach. There are four specifically, which is a nice correspondent number for the Seder, in which we drink four cups of wine and mention the number four as standing for the four Immahos in the song that beings "Echad mi yodeah" [Who knows one?]. 

Speaking of mothers, let's start with Moshe's. Her name, Yocheved, signifies that her face mirrored the ziv hakavod. That is to say that the divine glory shone in her countenance, much like her the face of son, Moshe, which radiated with divine light after he received the Torah.Yocheved was a woman of great accomplishment.

 According to Midrash Hagadol, she is commemorated in Aishes Chayil as one who “set her mind on a field, acquires it and plants a vineyard from the fruits of her labors” (31:16). It was because of her that Israel was able to be called the vineyard of the Holy One Blessed Be He. Yocheved not only planted but cultivated, and the fruit of her labor is nothing less than the Jewish people. She is identified as Shifra, one of the midwives who feared G-d more than an the all-powerful ruler of Egypt and flouted Pharaoh’s decree to prevent the birth of any male children (Sota11b). Because she risked her own life to save the children, she merited to be the mother of Moshe who would redeem her people. Both as the savior of others and in daring to bring her own son into her world when all baby boys were to be thrown into the Nile, she was aided and encouraged by her daughter, Miriam.

Moshe's sister, Miriam was a prophetess who had a vision of her brother saving his people. She served as a midwife, known as Puah, side by side with her mother, played a pivotal role in her family’s life. Her verse from Aishes Chayil is “She girds her loins with might and fortifies her arms” (31:17). The Midrash Hagadol explains, “Miriam told her father when he divorced her mother, ‘Your decrees are harsher than Pharaoh’s. He decreed on the boys, and you have decreed both on the boys and girls. He is wicked so it is doubtful if his decree will hold or not, but you are a righteous man, so your decree is bound to hold. That is not all, but I have seen [through prophecy] that in the futures there will come from you the savior of Israel.’ Immediately, he remarried his wife. But when she gave birth to Moshe and had to throw him in the Nile, her mother slapped her face and said, ‘Now where is your prophecy?’ Immediately, ‘his sister stationed herself at a distance’ (Shmos 2:4).

She stationed herself to see the outcome of her prophecy, for she maintained her faith in her vision even when all odds were against her. Her parents had done what looked like the sensible thing. They separated to set the example for others to avoid the heartbreak of drowning the baby boys. In contrast, Miriam believed in a positive future and celebrated its fruition by leading the women in the song of Shiras Hayam. In addition to the two names already mentioned, Miriam bore other names that reflect her merit. She was called Ephrat because her people paru veravu [were fruitful and multiplied] as a result of her actions. She was also called Achrachel because the women went out achareyha [after her]. (Shmos Rabba 1, 17). She affirmed that her people will not only survive but merit redemption, and she took personal responsibility for seeing that vision through. Thus she is counted, along with her two illustrious brothers, among the three “good providers” that sustained Israel (Taanis 9a). She also merited to be the mother of the precursors to David and so was awarded with the household of the monarchy. Miriam utilized her roles of daughter, sister, and midwife in the service of her people. Her unwavering faith made her worthy of other roles, as prophet, leader, and the mother of kings. What Miriam saw when she stationed herself with a view of the Nile to see how her prophecy would come to be was the daughter of Pharaoh approach. 

Batya (or Bitya) is the name the daughter of Pharaoh takes when she leaves the idolatry of Egypt for the one G-d of Israel. The verse from Aishes Chayil that is associated with Batya is “She rises while it is still night and gives provisions for her household and the allotted fare to her maids” (31:15). The Midrash Hagadol elucidates, “she saw with the Holy Spirit that it is destined for her to raise the savior of Israel. So in the evenings and morning she would take her maids to stroll by the Nile. With Moshe, the Holy One Blessed Be He gave what she had requested and she rejoiced a great deal.”

Though Moshe actually had a number of names, the Torah always refers to Moshe by the name given to him by his adopted mother and no other. The name merits that distinction as a reward for the chessed [lovingkindness] of Batya (Shmos Rabba 1, 26). Batya saved Moshe’s life and brought him up as her own. She gave a name to her adopted son and was rewarded with a name to show her own adopted relationship with G-d. “The Holy One Blessed Be He said to Batya the daughter of Pharaoh, ‘Moshe was not your son, yet you called him your son; you’re not my daughter, but I call you my daughter,’” (Vayikra Rabba 1,3) for her name literally means daughter of G-d. Thus she merited to be called the daughter of her adopted Father, much like Serach, who is always referred to as “bat Asher,” though in fact she was his step-daughter. Like Serach, Batya merited to enter Gan Eden free of the pains of death.

Of course, Moshe did not stay with his adopted mother and had to flee from Egypt when the king sought his execution. In his exile from there, he found his wife, Tziporah. Tziporah, is not one we normally associate with redemption from the enslavement of Egypt, for she never even stepped foot there, according the textual account (though there is a Midrash that identifies her as the twin sister of none other than Moshe's adopted mother, for both girls were themselves adopted, one by the king and one by one of his advisors, Yithro). But without her, Moshe would not have been fully equipped for his tasks in confronting Pharaoh.
The staff Moshe used is used in bringing about the makkos was no ordinary piece of wood. According to Yalkut Shimoni (Shmos 168) the staff was not manmade but formed by G-d Himself. When Adam was expelled from Gan Eden, he took it with him. It was passed on to Noach then to Shem and his children. It then passed to Avraham, who gave it to Yitzchak. Yaakov then took it when he fled to Aram and took it with him to Egypt where he bestowed it on Yosef. Subsequently, it made its way Reuel the Midyanite. When he left Egypt, he took it and planted it in his garden. He challenged the suitors of his daughter, Tziporah, to remove it. No one was able to remove it until Moshe arrived and pulled it out, proving himself worthy of Tziporah.

Subsequently, she proved herself worthy of him, too. Her father had some misgivings about the match when he discovered Moshe’s outlaw status in Egypt, and so cast his prospective son-in-law into a pit. Tziporah sustained him by bringing him food over a period of ten years. At the end of that time, she suggested to her father that they have a look at the prisoner.When he found Moshe alive, he was astounded at the miracle and took him out. They then married and had two sons.

Afterwards, there was a second opportunity for Tziporah to rescue her husband. When Moshe was attacked by an angel, she realized what was called for, circumcised her infant son and so saved the life of the man who was to lead Israel out of Egypt. The circumstances of the rescue resonate with the verses of Yechezkel that we quote as we recite the Haggadah: “And I said to you in your blood you shall live.” This is said twice, and Chazal [our Sages] explain it to refer to two types of blood: that of milah [circumcision] and that of the korban Pesach.. The former was a prerequisite for the latter. And we see Tziporah performing milah  on her infant son, as her husband sets off on his task of leading his people out of bondage and into G-d’s service with the Pesach offering.

These four women in Moshe's life, certainly, were distinguished in their great spiritual achievements. The women in that generation are the ones who are credited with the geula [redemption]. Chazal observe that it was in the merit of righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from Egypt.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Tzav: The merit of direct participation

As I said last week, unfortunately, there are no divrei Torah from my grandfather for several parshios in Sefer Vayikra, so I will try to fill in when I could with other  relevant insights.

For this week I'll relate part of what I heard in the shiur given by Rav Goldwicht on Monday night.  Among the sources he cited was the the famous debate between Turnus Rufus and R' Akiva recounted in  Midrash Tanhuma Tazria 5:
Turnus Rufus posed the question, "Whose works are superior, those of God or those of man?" R' Akiva answered unequivocally: "Those of man are superior." Turnus Rufus persisted: "But look at heaven and earth, can man make their like?" Rabbi Akiva disqualified that argument by pointing out a type of apples and oranges flaw there: "Do not draw on what is above human experience and control, but rather on that which is within our range."Then they got to the crux of the issue when Turnus Rufus asked, "Why do you circumcise?" R' Akiva saw that coming, as he replied, "knew you would ask this question, and so I anticipated you by declaring that human works are superior to those of God."  Rabbi Akiva then brought him sheaves of grain and rolls and said: "The former are the works of God, the latter of man. Aren't the rolls preferable?" 
  [Some accounts of this interaction end here, for the point has been made that the purpose of human beings is to improve on nature by application of intelligent design to work what is given into something better. But, in fact, Turnus Rufus did not concede the point so easily, and the debate continues.]
Turnus Rufus persisted: "If He requires circumcision, why is the child not born that way?"
 Rabbi Akiva replied: "Why indeed, does the umbilical cord come out with him and he is suspended by his navel and his mother cuts it? He is not born circumcised because the Holy one Blessed be He has given the commandments for the purpose of refining our character through them. This is why David declared: 'The word of the Lord refined'" (Psalms. 18:31).
Rav Goldwicht's focus here was on the work done by man in order to participate in creation, improving on the natural product. We do that by turning wheat into flour and then baking it into rolls. We also do that in altering the body from the natural state in circumcision, a necessary step in our tradition just as cutting the umbilical cord is for just about all human births. Hashem leaves us something to do to be active participants in creativity and improvement.There is also a particular merit in doing the activity directly, even when it seems to be menial work.

[I'm reminded here of the Gemaras that gave accounts of rabbis who did work to prepare for the Sabath themselves.  According to Shabbos 119b, Rav Chisda would slice vegetables; Rabbah and Rav Yosef would chop wood; Rebbi Zaira would light the fire; Rava would salt the fish; Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok would clean the house, and would bring out all the pots and dishes needed for Shabbos, putting away all those that were not needed for Shabbos.
If I were so bold, I'd also refer to that kind of merit coming into play for Pesach. See]

However, that was not among Rav Goldwicht's points. The connection he drew was the contrast between the Mishkan, which was never destroyed, and the two Temples, which were. The Sforno presents the concept of what merits endurance in his commentary on Pekudei on the words, Atzey shittim omdim standing cedar trees. It's written in the present tense to indicate they remain standing forever. The Mikshkan never fell into the hands of Israel's enemies.  That is in contrast to the first Temple that fell to Nevuzaradan.  There are four key merits for the endurance of the Mishkan. 
1. It is  Mishkan haeduth and contains the luchos haeduth.
2.It was arranged by Moshe's order.
3.Aharon's son Itamar was in charge of the Leviim who had charge of it.
4. Betzalel the son of Uri, the son Chur was the architect, and all the craftsmen involved in making it were, likewise, notable people.

In other words, the work of gathering, melting, molding, connecting, building, etc. was not outsourced abroad or passed on to immigrant workers. It was done directly by the Jews themselves. On the other hand, when Shlomo set out to build the Temple, he did import workers from outside and let them do the work of building. Consequently, even though the Temple had the presence of the Shchina and some of the merit associated with the Mishkan, it lacked that eternal quality. That evidenced even before it fell in enemy hands by the fact that it required maintenance for cracks and such.  In the second Temple, there was even less, as the Ark and the luchos were not even there. It was orderd by King Koresh, and Ezra could not find Leviim for the work.  Plus, again, there was foreign labor -- the Tzidoonim and Tzurim -- involved. It, too, came to be destroyed.
Only the Mishkan created out of direct participation endures forever.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Purim: Countering the confusion of correlation and causation

Unfortunately, there are no divrei Torah from my grandfather for several parshios in Sefer Vayikra, so I will try to fill in when I could with other  relevant insights.  So here's one on a central lesson of Megilas Esther.

One of the most common logical fallacies is that assumption of  post hoc, ergo propter hoc [after this, therefore resulting from it].  You can skip the Latin and just refer to the confusion of correlation with causation. We see this kind of error all the time; it's at work, for example, in attributing particular conditions that present in children in the toddler years to vaccines.  But what has that got to do with the story of Purim?  

The story begins with a royal feast with even Jews in attendance, and that, according to  Chazal was the real cause of the decree against them that only came to light years later when Haman's orders went out around the empire. At a recent lecture, Rabbi Manis Friedman explained that the Jews were guaranteed kosher food and kosher wine, and so they came to the feast, thinking there can be nothing wrong under such conditions. But that alone was not their error. Their true error was assuming that Achashverosh's concession to their religious practices indicated that he was a friend to them. That was the source of their hana'a [enjoyment] in the feast, the sense of security of being in league with the king. So they had to learn the lesson of al tivtechu benedivim [do not trust in nobility] but only in G-d. That connection is the only real cause of Jewish survival.

The way the story transpired, though, it would appear that connections were the salvation. Weren't the Jews saved as a result of having a Jewish queen who influenced her husband to intercede on behalf of her people?  I believe (this is my building on what Rabbi Friedman presented) that this situation was set up precisely to effect a true tshuva for the miscalculation the Jews made before. Though Esther did intercede, she was serving as an instrument. That's something Mordechai makes perfectly clear in urging her to go to Achasheverosh despite the real danger of losing her life in coming to the king without a summons from him. From the fourth chapter
13And Mordecai ordered to reply to Esther, "Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king's house from among all the Jews.יגוַיֹּאמֶר מָרְדֳּכַי לְהָשִׁיב אֶל אֶסְתֵּר אַל תְּדַמִּי בְנַפְשֵׁךְ לְהִמָּלֵט בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ מִכָּל הַיְּהוּדִים:
14For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father's household will perish; and who knows whether at a time like this you will attain the kingdom?"ידכִּי אִם הַחֲרֵשׁ תַּחֲרִישִׁי בָּעֵת הַזֹּאת רֶוַח וְהַצָּלָה יַעֲמוֹד לַיְּהוּדִים מִמָּקוֹם אַחֵר וְאַתְּ וּבֵית אָבִיךְ תֹּאבֵדוּ וּמִי יוֹדֵעַ אִם לְעֵת כָּזֹאת הִגַּעַתְּ לַמַּלְכוּת:

He's not telling her "You're our only hope," but just the opposite. He's telling her she has the opportunity to act as the agent of salvation, but she shouldn't think that it's all up to her. If she goes the route of self-preservation now, she would lose the opportunity for herself. Consequently, somoene else will arise to save the Jew. Saved they will be, but if she doesn't step in, she may lose her own life and that of her family's.

I've seen commentators who suggest that Esther's next move was actually designed to get the Jews not to rely on her. She invited Haman along to the party so that they will think that she doesn't regard him as her own enemy. The whole idea was that the Jews had to not put their trust in her or any other person but in their relationship with G-d. Esther also asked for that directly in requesting that everyone join in the 3 day fast prior to her approach to the king. The real cause of  the turnabout of the decree was a spiritual turnabout. When that happened, the decree against the Jews was abolished in the metaphysical reality and that translated into the physical realm with permission granted to fight back and defeat our enemies.

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Double vision: from churban to Geula

כאאֵ֣לֶּה פְקוּדֵ֤י הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ מִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָֽעֵדֻ֔ת
On this verse, Rashi comments: 

המשכן משכן: שני פעמים, רמז למקדש שנתמשכן בשני חורבנין על עונותיהן של ישראל:

The word “Mishkan” (Tabernacle) shares its root with the word mashkon, collateral. Thus, our Sages[1] teach us that the repetition of the word Mishkan in our verse hints to the two Temples that were destroyed “as collateral” from the Jewish people.

Rashi then explain the words  מִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָֽעֵדֻ֔ת
ny citing the Midrash  that the designation “Mishkan of testimony” refers to the Mishkan as testament that God relents to the Jewish people,[3]forgiving them even though they have sinned.

My grandfather questions how the two go together. One stresses the double discussion, while the other indicates a sign of forgiveness.  He then quotes the famous account of R' Akiva's unexpected laughter from Makkot 24b
Again it happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, RabbiJoshua and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed.
They asked: "Why are you laughing?"
He responded: "Why are you weeping?"
They said: "A place [so holy] that it is said of it, 'the stranger that approaches it shall die,' and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn't weep?"
He explained: "That is why I laugh. For it is written, 'I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses--Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.' Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was [in the time of] the First Temple, and Zechariah was [in the time of] the Second Temple! But the Torah makes Zachariah's prophecy dependent upon Uriah's prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: 'Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; [Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.]' With Zachariah it is written, 'Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.'
"As long as Uriah's prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah's prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah's prophecy will be fulfilled."
They replied to him: "Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!"

My grandfather explains, accordingly, the essence of the mishkan was testimony on Israel's chosen status,that G-d chose to have His shechina reside among them. However, if chas veshalom they sinned, there is no place, so to speak, for the shechina to dwell among them. Consequently, there is destruction, for G-d spent His judgement on sticks and stone. Nevertheless, there is still the possibility of teshuva and to regain the presence of the shechina just as it did in the mishkan.  And it is absolutely certain that in the future, Yisrael will do teshuva (as per Rambam Hilochos Teshuva 7:5) and then the shechina will once again dwell among them. As R' Akiva pointed out, the churban itself attests to that certainty.

Related post:

Friday, March 04, 2016

When plans backfire

Ever have a plan that backfired? I just experienced that this week. In my case, it was a relatively minor loss that resulted from leaving for Friday what I could have done on Thursday and then finding that the job was no longer available. This was purely monetary, but for in some cases putting off something can have profound ramifications with the loss recorded for all eternity.

Rashi's comment on the verse about the nesi'im's contribution is to quote Rav Nathan: "What did the princes see that drove them to donate for the dedication of the altar in the beginning but not for the mishkan?  Their plan was for the general population to bring whatever they can and then to bring whatever was missing. However, as the people brought everything, there was nothing left. So the princes brought the shoham stones as their personal contribution."

My grandfather observes that the letter missing from the word nesi'im here is a yud, the smallest letters that hints at humility. That is to indicate that the nesi'im had intended to have the mishkan attributed to their names, for a mitzvah is attributed to the one who completes it. In this case, they were missing zrizus for the mitzvah and so a letter was missing from their names. Consequently, they learned zriszus  and came to donate for the mizbeach at the beginning.

Related post: