Showing posts from September, 2016

From speech to deed via the heart

The expression hearts and minds has become a cliche. But in the Torah there is more profound connection that extend to three parts: hearts, speech, and deed.

Early on in Parshas Nitzavim  we get directions about atzvah that we are assured is not far from us (30:11),:
כִּי הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם לֹא נִפְלֵאת הִוא מִמְּךָ וְלֹא רְחֹקָה הִוא

 A few verses later (14), it is said to even be very כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ: us, in our mouths and hearts.
כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ

My grandfather cites the Ramban's explanation of the mitzvah in question and offers some of his own insight. I won't cover the entire piece but focus on the part in which he addresses the Ramban's take on this as referrring to kol haTorah kula. (The other view is that it refers to the mitzvah of tshuva).
My grandfather ask, according to the Ramban's take, why refer to what is in your mouth בְּפ…

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.

חוּשְׁמַרְתֶּם 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 b…

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 …

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 co…

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 g…

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 d…

Hearing the voice as well as the words

In Parshas Re'eh, we are enjoined: (12:28)
Keep and listen to all these wordsשְׁמֹר 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 …