Friday, October 27, 2006

3 Days in the Desert

The Gemara (Bava Kama 82a) explains that we read the Torah Mondays/Thursdays so we don't go 3 days without water, just as Bnei Yisrael claimed they could not do in the midbar (Shemot 15:22). Perhaps one would question that given the right conditions we know people can indeed go more then 3 days without water. That brings us to the realization that Bnei Yisrael were in the desert when they launched their complaint with the conditions there limiting life without water to 3 days. As that is the basis for establishing Torah readings every 3 days forever, we also must realize that we exist in less then optimal Torah learning conditions.
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Monday, July 31, 2006

6 Days for Moshiach

As opposed to the Medrash (Shemot Rabba 25:121) that offers a way to bring Moshiach as everyone keeping one Shabbat properly, the Bavli (Shabbat 118b) states that Moshiach will come if two consecutive Shabbatot are kept properly. The requirement for two Shabbatot is critical. The difference between 1 Shabbat and 2 is the difference between an emotion and an integration. If someone has a spritual experience, they may be able to reach close to HKB"H at that moment, but after it passes, they are back where they started. Exponentially different is if that experience is able to effect the individual such that the person changes and becomes one who can consistently have that connection. In order to bring Moshiach this way, we must show Him that we don't relate to Him and His Mitzvot positively and then drop them; we must change who we are during the interim week between the 2 Shabbatot and only then will we have truly brought ourselves to the Geulah.
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Monday, March 13, 2006

ימי משתה ושמחה

Rava said: “One is obligated to get so [full from non-alcoholic grape juice]* on Purim that he cannot tell the difference between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordekhai.” (Megillah 7b)

*Original version censored. This is a family publication.

When Mordekhai and Esther first laid the groundwork for the holiday of Purim, what motivated them to include this component? The Megillah clearly states that it was due to the influence of the first consumer or grape products in history, Noach.

ביום שלשה עשר לחדש אדר ונוח בארבעה עשר בו ועשה אתו יום משתה ושמחה

“…on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. And Noach, on its fourteenth day, made it a day of drinking and happiness.” (9:17)

Noach had reason to be happy, as ever since the flood, he had taken personal responsibility for making sure that the animals on his ark were able to settle down and lead well adjusted lives. He had been pleased to see that one of the larger animals succeeded in becoming king of Persia and Media, as it is written:

בחדש הראשון הוא חדש ניסן בשנת שתים עשרה למלך אחשורוש הפיל פור הוא הגורל לפני המן

“In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the 12th month of King Achashveirosh the elephant, pur was the lottery before Haman…” (3:7)

Further proof that Achashveirosh was an elephant can be found here:

ויאמר המן אף לא הביאה אסתר המלכה עם המלך אל המשתה אשר עשתה כי אם אותי

“Haman said, ‘the nose did not bring Queen Esther to the party that she had made for the King, but rather me.’” (5:12)

Clearly, Achashveirosh only had room for one person to ride on his trunk at a time, and Haman was bragging that he had been chosen for this honor, even over Achashveirosh’s own queen.

Anyway, Noach was so glad to see his powerful Persian pachyderm come to his senses at the end of the story that he prevailed upon Mordekhai and Esther to institute mishteh, which is what he knew best.

The only question that remains is why this is not enough, and we are also obligated to have a meal on Purim that includes bread. This may be a commemoration of the privileged position that bakers held in the legislative process of the Persian Empire:

כי כתב אשר נכתב בשם המלך ונחתום בטבעת המלך אין להשיב

“For writing that was written in the name of the king and a baker, with the ring of the king, may not be revoked.” (8:8)
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Thursday, December 15, 2005

Yonaton Kohn - Notes on Vayishlah

And he commanded them, saying, "Speak this way to the way to my
master, to Esav, 'So says your servant Jacob, I have lived with Lavan
and I have delayed until now. And I have had ox, donkey, and sheep,
servant, and maid; I sent to tell my master, to find favor in your
eyes'" (32:5-6).

Why does Jacob see it necessary to instruct his servants to address
Esav with the appellation 'master'? Is this simple flattery, the
insincere wording of a man desperately seeking to deceive his brother?
Apparently, this is not the case. Jacob is so serious about his
perception of Esav as his superior that he even describes Esav to his
servants as 'my master'. Although Esav will never hear the exact
instructions that Jacob offers his emissaries, Jacob feels strongly
that they must know he sees his older brother as his master. What is
this all about, and where does it come from? Rashi (verse 5) notes
that Jacob's address is driven by his fears of Esav's enduring hatred.
When they were last together, Jacob assumed Esav's identity and
preempted his bid to receive Isaac's blessing. It would appear that
from the outset of the story, Jacob is intent on letting Esav know
that the coveted blessing (27:28-29) has not come to fruition.
Isaac's blessing was composed of three elements; 1) divinely ordained
bounty, from the 'heavenly dew' and the 'fats of the earth', 2)
mastery over his brother, who will bow to him, and 3) those who curse
him will be cursed, and those who bless him will be blessed. Jacob's
conduct to his brother is an attempt to show that this blessing has
not been fulfilled. Rashi points out that his wealth is in livestock,
cattle, and servants, but not the 'fat of the land' or 'heavenly dew'.
And by referring to Esav as his master, Jacob demonstrates that he
does not see himself as his brother's lord in any manner.
When Jacob learns that his brother is set for a reunion with a force
of 400 men, he fears the worst. In his desperate preparations, he
sends hefty animal gifts to his brother and prays for divine
protection. And then, the night before they are to meet, Jacob is
left alone in the dark of night to struggle with an unidentified man
(32:25). The man's declarations, and Jacob's responses to them,
indicate that the 'man' is really an angel. Rashi relays Tradition's
view, that this is Esav's angel. The context of this midnight
wrestling match (as well as the way that it is treated by the text)
support this identification of the angel. Jacob is consumed with his
fears of confronting his brother, and the story ends with Jacob
raising his eyes to see his actual brother approaching before him.
But this episode is not merely a prelude to the encounter between the
long- estranged brothers. The description of the physical struggle
between Jacob and the angel itself is most striking. "He saw that he
could not [overcome] him, and he touched the [side] of his thigh; and
the [side] of Jacob's thigh was split whilst he wrestled with him" (v.
26). The verse declares that one of them strikes the other's thigh in
an attempt to defeat his opponent. But it is not clear who is
inflicting the blow. What is clear is that Jacob suffers an injury in
the struggle. Either the angel wounds Jacob, or Jacob himself is
wounded when he makes his move (note 1).
Finally, after a long battle, the angel tells Jacob that he must be
released; and Jacob insists that he bless Jacob before he will allow
the angel to leave (note 2). When the angel asks his name, and he
tells him that it is Jacob, the angel informs him that his name will
cease to be Jacob and will become Israel instead. When Jacob asks his
name, the angel asks Jacob why he wants to know; he blesses Jacob and,
presumably, disappears. Jacob realizes that he has been through a
kind of divine encounter, and he meets the sunrise with a limp. What
has transpired?
Before Jacob is to meet Esav, he relives the events that have
precipitated the profound rift between the brothers. The two grew up
in their parents' home as co-equal heirs to a burgeoning religious
heritage, princes in a promised kingdom. And while each one had the
favor of one parent, neither had a clear advantage over the other.
"He saw that he could not overtake him." So Jacob sought the upper
hand, slipping into the role of Esav and taking the blessings that had
been designated for him. But in the process, he suffers injury. He
cannot fight the battle without incurring damage himself. His act, so
antithetical to his ethics and his nature, precipitate suffering and
harm upon his self. And even if this drastic action is necessary,
even if his mother tells him to take the blessings and the situation
called for the transgression, it is still a transgression.
Esav's angel demands that he confess and repent. When Isaac asked
Jacob his name, he lied and declared that he was in fact Esav. But
Jacob regrets his lie, and now he tells the angel who he really is.
He is Jacob, and he will take no more than what is designated for
Jacob. To this, the angel responds with the affirmation that such
integrity is the stuff of a man even greater. With this noble and
humble concession, with the realization that his soul is tainted,
Jacob earns an even greater name. He shows that while he has mastery
in the human realm, while he knows that he had to lie, he has mastery
in the divine realm as well; he knows that it really was a lie. And
this allows Jacob to receive yet another blessing, a blessing begot
with honesty.
This is the enduring message in the prohibition to eat the sirloin
meat, the meat of the thigh. The Torah explains that this prohibition
is linked to the injury Jacob suffers in this very struggle. What is
the connection? Jacob's pursuit of the first blessing came at a
price. He received his father's blessing and, in the same action,
brought pain and suffering upon his brother Esav. Jacob cannot go on
enjoying his blessing without the realization that he has hurt his
brother. His triumph necessitates the concession of his own personal
pain, his own limp. So too, any meat that the Jew eats comes at a
heavy price. An animal has given its life for the Jew to eat, and the
Jew cannot lord over the fallen beast with total ownership and
dominion of every piece of the animal's flesh. He may not consume all
the meat; he must withhold from the sirloin and solemnly recognize
that even his food comes at the price of some suffering. Even in
success, a Jew is obligated to heed the suffering that has come to
others. And sometimes, he must pay for this suffering.
After the climactic moment of Jacob's realization, he meets his real
brother. The Torah reports that he greets Esav with prostration, the
same bow that the stolen blessing has promised to Jacob. And finally,
Jacob does not allow Esav to leave without pressing him to accept "my
blessing that has been brought to you" (33:11). Jacob is sure that he
returns the blessing that is owed to Esav.
In conclusion, Jacob denies that the stolen blessing has brought him
great fortune. And as the moment for their fateful encounter
approaches, Jacob's encounter with the angel teaches him that he must
do more than simply wipe his hands clean of profit. He must
acknowledge and come to terms with the heavy price for his deeds. In
the end, it is this honest and humble reflection that really earns
Jacob a new name. It is through this deed that he reconciles with his
brother and proves mastery of both the human and divine realms.

(note 1) There are many pronouns in this account, and the verse is
particularly ambiguous about the details of the encounter. Radaq
suggests that the whole thing may be a dream, but a forceful dream
that is accompanied by physical injury. Alternatively, some have
suggested that Jacob is not struggling with an angel but with an
element of his own self. Similarly, it is unclear who asks leave of
whom and perhaps even who demands the blessing. In any case, the
story certainly reflects enormous tension and apprehension within
Jacob, and the results of the tussle are clear enough. Jacob is hurt,
and he receives a blessing.
(note 2) Rashi suggests (v. 27) that Jacob is asking for Esav's angel
to concede his rights to the blessing.

Read the full Chiddush...

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Yonatan Kohn - Notes on Vayetze

This week's reading begins with Jacob fleeing his parents' home, knowing that his twin brother is set on murdering him at some future time. His father Isaac instructs him to go to Padan Aram, the place where Rebecca was raised, so that he may find a wife there. Nevertheless, Rebecca has made it quite clear (Genesis 27:44-45) that Jacob is running for his life. More than running to somewhere, he is running from home. And this is evident from the Torah's emphasis that Jacob leaves Be'er Sheva and goes to Haran. Inasmuch as he does set out for Haran, his journey is equally motivated by escape for escape's sake. And Jacob is very lost.

Throughout his early travels, until he arrives in his uncle's home, the Torah demonstrates that Jacob is a lonely traveler without bearings or specific destination. Before he even reaches the border of his homeland, Jacob has a strange vision and prophetic dream. As the Torah records (28:11), "And he reached the place, and he slept there for the sun had set, and he took of the stones of the place and put [them] at his head. And he lay in that place." After all the details the Torah provides about the early journeys of Abraham and details some of the prominent places in Kena'an, the anonymity and ambiguity of Jacob's setting are striking. Jacob's location is described as "the place" six times within the story, as Jacob is even unaware of the place's name (28:19).
In the dream, Jacob sees a ladder that extends from the earth to the Heavens; he observes that angels are "ascending and descending" it. Rashi notes (28:12) that the ascending angels are those assigned to escort Jacob within the borders of the Promised land, and those descending are those charged with protecting him outside the land. But here, too, the ascent of the local angels precedes the descent of the remote angels; Jacob is uprooting himself before he embarks on his journey. And in this encounter, Gd repeats to Jacob the same assurances that He has offered his father and grandfather before him. The promises closely resemble blessings to Isaac as he heads to Gerar (Genesis 26 3-5). And yet, whereas Isaac, like his father before him, is told where to live (26:2), Gd tells Jacob that He will accompany wherever he will go (28:15). And though Gd is to be with him, Jacob has less direction* as he turns to the road than his fathers had before him.
Jacob's isolation is highlighted and heightened by an encounter with some local shepherds. Jacob ventures to engage the local men in friendly conversation, hoping to determine his whereabouts and perhaps procure some assistance.
"Jacob said to them, 'My brothers, from whence are you?'
They said, 'We are from Haran.'
He said to them, 'Do you know Laban son of Nahor?'
They said, 'We know.'
He said to them, 'Does he have peace (i.e. is he well)?'
They said, 'Peace. And behold Rachel his daughter comes with the sheep'" (29:4-6).
Though Jacob persists in attempting to speak with them, they refuse to engage him in conversation. They answer his questions blankly, not speaking 'to him', and tersely. There isn't even so much as an exchange of names. Though Jacob has initiated conversation, they remain pronouns, anonymous and distant strangers. Likely flustered and emotionally spent, Jacob reacts to seeing his cousin with overwhelmed emotion. He shoos away the unfriendly shepherds and tends to his uncle's sheep, then kissing Rachel** and weeping. In describing the interaction (28:9-12) between Jacob and Rachel, the Torah carefully points out their names consistently, instead of describing 'he' and 'she.' Here, Jacob finds a context for himself and a sense of attachment to another.

After all, as the verses note many times, Rachel is Laban's daughter. It is in his house that she learns the proper and gentle way to treat others. Again, in marked contrast to the shepherds at the well, Laban runs out to greet Jacob and hugs him and kisses him, ushering him into the home. Laban, as a member of Abraham’s extended family, has learned the basics of kindness and the quality of giving.
Still, it should be noted that Laban’s apparent kindness has a certain superficial quality to it. Haameq Davar notes that he ‘hugs to him’ and ‘kisses to him’; Laban’s embrace is sort of proffered and not shared. It is impersonal and cold. And when Jacob comes in to Laban’s house, he tells him ‘all of these things.’ But the Torah does not say exactly what Jacob tells Laban, because the Torah is reflecting Laban’s listening skills. He has not heard a word that Jacob has said. Later, Laban proves himself fundamentally duplicitous and backsliding, and for this Tradition criticizes him harshly. Ultimately, he is a complicated, if not confused person, who sometimes does things right.^ The danger in dealing with Laban is precisely that; it is impossible to discern the true intentions behind his kind exterior.
Ultimately, what befalls Jacob again resembles what befell his father before him. The grace Rachel shows in embracing a stranger immediately recalls Rebecca's behavior when Abraham's servant came looking for Jacob's mother so many years before. And in this context, Jacob begins to lay his part of the foundations of the people of Israel.

* ..."If Gd will be with me and will watch over me on this path that I go..." (28:20). Jacob is to travel a path to an undetermined destination. The Torah continues that "Jacob lifted his legs and went towards the land of the children of the East" (29:1). Though this appears to be just another name for his original destination, Padan Aram, (see Genesis 10:30) the vague name and orientation- the land of the children of the East- denote a far less specified goal and destination.

** Seforno notes that Jacob feels compelled to explain to Rachel that he is her cousin so that she should not be alarmed by the kiss of a complete stranger. Were he not her cousin, it seems that the kiss would be inappropriate. It seems that kissing a cousin, however, was permitted without compunction before the Torah was given to Jacob's family. Still, though Jacob's kiss is evidently a greeting expressing familial kinship, it is curious that he would be so forthcoming and unreserved as to kiss a young woman whom he has never before met (even before introducing himself!). Therefore, it may be possible to explain his greeting in a wholly different manner. Just before Jacob 'kisses' Rachel (v. 11), the Torah explains that he tends to the sheep- giving them drink (v.10). The word there is *vayashq*; when he 'kisses' Rachel, the Torah uses the word *vayishaq*. The juxtaposition of these two words, whose letters (vav, yod, shin, quf) are identical, should not be overlooked or ignored. Perhaps Jacob does not kiss Rachel at all; rather he relates to her through his act of tending to the sheep and initial greeting in such a way that has the emotional import of a kiss. Considering his journey's duress and knowing that his whole journey may have been largely meant to allow him to marry her (Laban's daughter), it may be that Jacob reaches out to her in such a way that is the emotional equivalent of a kiss.

^ Consider Ohr HaChaim's remarks when the Torah first introduces Laban, Rebecca's brother (24:29). To him, the Torah introduces Laban in the manner deserved by the righteous (here Laban is showing being protective of his sister, in the presence of a suspicious stranger). The Torah's treatment of him, originally positive, reflects his own penchant for putting up a good facade. Note in this vein verse 30:27 as well. Laban tells Jacob, “I have divined, and Gd has blessed me on your behalf.” Rabbi Yehuda Halpern (formerly a member of the Gruss kollel) made the brilliant observation that this verse shows Laban’s basic nature, unsure where he is religiously and quite confused. On the one hand, he recognizes Gd’s blessing; on the other hand, he adheres to his idolatrous and pagan divination.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Channukah and the Desert

There is a well known question as to why the miracle of Channukah is celebrated 8 days (instead of 7) if there was enough oil for 1 full day (in fact, there is an entire book providing 101 answers). One of the answers is that the oil was not all poured the first day; knowing they needed 8 days worth, the Kohanim decided to dole out 1/8 of the oil each day. The fact that the 1/8th lasted for the whole zman made even the first day a miracle. The question of whether the Kohanim should have only put in an eighth that first day is the same issue discussed by the machloket between Rabbi Akiva and Ben Petura concerning limited water for 2 in the desert. Ben Petura who felt the 2 should split the water, relying on HKB"H to make sure the fraction lasts the day would tell the Kohanim to only use 1/8 each day. Rabbi Akiva who felt we can't rely on a miracle and therefore we need to do what is certain, even if not ideal, would have told the Kohanim to use it all the first night to ensure there was at least 1 full day.

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Explanation of Absence

In originally starting Chiddushim, I ejoyed that blogging didn't require any regularity in contributions since Chuddshim come when they do. However, I do feel you deserve an explanation for such an extended absence. Briefly, I apologize for my several month absence; BeKitzur, since Binyamin Ze'ev was born in February, my wife matched for her Residency in Cleveland so we had had a few months to research and buy a house, followed closely by the preiod of acutally moving into the house and unpacking/cleaning/being exhausted. I have also found that Chiddushim come mroe readily when I have several different Sedarim going on and that took some time to setup as well. I have started a daily Kollel Boker at the Young Isreal of Great Cleveland in conjunction with the Torat Tzion Kollel. Bli Neder I hope to get back into the groove of blogging.

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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bringing Ketanim to Mikreh Megillah

Shiur this morning was on the minhag of bringing ketanim (less then Gil Chinuch) to shul for Mikreh Megillah. Sources are available here.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Yonatan Kohn - Political Statement

Tomorrow, Thursday, March 17, two of the former Chief Rabbis of Israel have called upon the public to join together in a (half) day of prayer and fasting, as the Israeli government votes to approve a budget whose conditions include the uprooting of Jewish families from their homes in Gaza. It behooves us as Jews, of every religious, political, and ethnic stripe, to take to heart the weight and import of such action.
It is antithetical and abhorrent to fundamental Jewish values to ignore the crisis that confronts the Jewish people as a Jewish government waits to remove Jewish towns and expel people from the homes and lives that they have built with their own blood, sweat, and tears. And even if the current situation mandates such drastic action (a position to which I do not ascribe), one cannot but acknowledge that we have indeed suffered greatly and are truly desparate if we have come to this.
At the very least, we owe it to the Jewish people to make the Gaza crisis a part of our consciousness. At the very most, perhaps we owe it to the Jewish people to pray for them, to unify, and to go beyond ourselves in some way to help. Many people in Israel speak sincerely and passionately about the horrifying prospects of civil war, only if the issues are so important and so frought with emotion. We cannot ignore it, and it is at our peril that we choose not to think about.
The security guard sitting at the computer behind me has spent hours and days making posters and sending emails to Jews all over the world to try and get them to take notice. May his efforts bear us fruits in the pursuit of peace.
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Friday, March 04, 2005

Yonathan Kohn - Notes on Vayaqhel

“And Moses assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel and he said to them, ‘These are the matters that Gd has commanded to do them. Six days work shall be done, and on the seventh day, it will be for you holy, a Sabbath of Sabbaths for Gd; any who does labor on it [that day] will die. Do not ignite a conflagration in any of your settlements on the day of the Sabbath’” (35:1-3). The very next verse, already a new paragraph in the Biblical text, reads, “And Moses said to all the congregation of the Children of Israel, saying, ‘This is the matter that Gd commanded to say*’” (35:4).

1) What is meant in the first verse by the clause “to do them,” when it would seem that it the verse could have ended where it was? 2a) What is more problematic is that upon close examination, it does not seem that Moses is actually commanding anything. Moses declares that the seventh day will be the holy Shabbat, but this seems to be self-generating. In fact, the notion that Shabbat comes automatically, without the active participation and declaration of the people, is the subject of a great deal of discussion. As opposed to the calendar system, the months upon which the order of the Festivals is established, the Shabbat’s position is unaffected by the renewal of the moon. At the end of the sixth day of every week, Shabbat begins by itself. 2b) It is true that Moses issues the pronouncement that the violator of the Shabbat will incur a death penalty, and he delivers the prohibition to light a fire on the Shabbat. But there is no positive commandment, no instruction to do anything active. It is then only more confounding that the Torah affixes this strange qualifying clause, “to do them.”
A number of commentators (Nahmonides and Ibn Ezra are prominent among them) note emphatically that the phrase “these are the matters” refers only to the commandments that come after this passage; they insist that “these matters” are the commandments surrounding the construction of the Tabernacle. There are, however, two problems with this suggestion. 1) The Talmud (Shabbat 70a) understands that “these matters” refer to the 39 categories of labor prohibited on Shabbat. 2) If this refers to the Tabernacle, why does the Torah interrupt with the note about Shabbat? To this, they answer that this mention of Shabbat is meant only to clarify that Shabbat may not be violated even for the construction of the Tabernacle, which is itself Gd’s will and commandment. However, the question still stands because the subsequent verse repeats the line, “This is the matter that Gd commanded to say,” and in using the singular “matter,” it becomes clear that one of the “matters” in v. 1 must be part of the commandment of the Shabbat.
Therefore, perhaps one could understand the term “to do them” radically differently. In Hebrew, the words are *laasot otam*. These could also be taken as, ‘to make them.’ In other words, these commandments, ordinances and pronouncements, are issued to Moses to pass on to the people for the purpose of making the people, for the purpose of helping them to construct themselves. What are these ordinances? One is the declaration of Shabbat; Gd declares that Shabbat is the seventh day, and those who recognize it will learn about the sanctity of time. Those who construct a community in which the violation of Shabbat is understood as a capital crime have internalized the message of sacred time.
Of course, this commandment is twinned with the commandment to construct the Tabernacle, whose essence embodies the sanctity of space. This continues the theme of the Tabernacle outlined in Exodus 25, where Gd tells Moses that the people should construct a Tabernacle so that ‘I will dwell among them.’ Gd says He will dwell among them rather than in the Tabernacle, because the construction of the Tabernacle allows Gd a place among the people themselves, who have matured and developed through building a sanctuary for Gd in space. When man appreciates the importance of distinction, of sanctity, of the disciplines of both space and time, he is empowered to make himself. **

* It is noteworthy that this verse redundantly repeats the word *leimor*, which can be translated as the introduction to a quote or the infinitive ‘to say.’ The translation above is based on Rashi’s rendering of the verse, his attempt to present the plainest meaning of the text. It may be possible to tease out more from this particular wording, but the present discussion will make no such valiant attempt. Any ideas from the readership would be welcome.
** This essay is partly influenced by R SY Zevin’s piece on this week’s Torah reading in his book Ltorah UlMoadim. In addition, R Soloveitchik explores at great length, in a number of essays and lectures, the importance of sanctity of time and sanctity of space and the relationship between the two.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Shalom Zachar Dvar Torah

My remarks at the Shalom Zachar Friday Night (many of the sources can be found in the Shalom Zachar shiur below):
The Taz quotes the Drisha as saying the reason behind the minhag of Shalom Zachar is to be Menacheim Avel to the baby on the Torah that he lost based on the Gemarrah in Nidah (30b). The Trumos HaDeshen is the first to call Shalom Zachar a Seudas Mitzvah. The Rema in codifying the Terumot Hadeshen adds in 3 key words "Nichnasin Etzel HaTinok" which would imply if the baby was not home yet there would be no point to the Shalom Zachar. This goes well with the Drisha's explanation since if we are trying to be Menachem the baby, he would need to be there. Additionally, the chick-peas commonly found at a Shalom Zachar are there because they are round (not exactly round, but OK...) symbolizing life like we find an egg by the Seudah Mafseket before Tisha Be'Av.

However, the Drisha's explanation seems incorrect in practice. A Shalom Zachar is certainly treated as a happy occasion, and called a Seudat Mitzvah. Additionally, public displays of Aveilus are forbidden on Shabbos and we go out of our way to have the Shalom Zachar on Shabbos.
The Maharal explains that the "Ner Daluk Lo Al Rosho" in the Gemmarah in Nidah is the Neshama of the Ubar. When the Malach touches him on the filtrum, he is infusing the child with the Neshamah (hence the location of the touch - Vayipch Be'Apav Nishmat Ruach Chayim). Any Torah learned without the Neshama is worthless once the Neshama comes in and hence is lost. I would suggest the Maharal feels that Torah has a Din of Ta'aseh Velo Min Ha'Asui with the Neshama and must be aquired after the Neshamah comes in. What comes out is that the act of the Malach is to be celebrated and not mourned as it lays the foundation for real aquiring of Torah.
That being the case, the Shalom Zachar can be seen as a celebration of the Malach's act. If so, why the requirement to have the boy home? I would further suggest that the function of the Shalom Zachar with it's Divrei Torah and Singing is a support group to the newborn. Look at all of us who have started with nothing like you and listen to the Torah we have aquired and the Dveykus we have with HKB"H. Hence, we wait until Shabbos to have it since the more people able to attend, the more support there is for the nolad.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Mazal Tov!

Shiur this week was cancelled as Devorah gave brith to our second son on Motzai Shabbat! IY"H the Shalom Zachar will be 9 PM and the Bris will be after 8:30 Shacharis on Sunday morning at Lower Merion Synagogue.

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Yonatan Kohn - Notes on Terumah

In a formulaic Torah reading that outlines the instructions for designing the Tabernacle and its major components, Gd tells Moses with precision and thoroughness exactly what he must do to fashion the structures of the Tabernacle building and all of its ‘furnishings’. The rare textual deviations in such a disciplined, systematic description jump out at the careful reader.

In her book of Scriptual studies, Nehama Leibowitz notes that the instructions for the building of the Ark are particularly conspicuous. Whereas the commands issued in the reading are dominated by the singular second-person form (*v’asita*, *v’tzipita*, *v’yatzaqta*- and you shall make, you shall cover, you shall cast, et. al.), the commandment to build the Ark is introduced with the plural third-person form, “And they shall make.” What’s more, whereas the Altar and the Table (see R’ S.R. Hirsch) both describe the need to form poles with which to carry them, it is only with regards to the Ark’s poles that the Torah orders that they are never removed. Though the poles are described as necessary “to carry the Ark by them” (25:14), which is hardly a frequent necessity or constant consideration, these poles must never be separated from the sacred Ark. Finally, it is only with regards to the Ark that Gd instructs Moses to plate both the outside and the inside with gold.
It would be telling at this point to recall the unique position the Ark holds in the Tabernacle. Of all the pieces of the Tabernacle, it is the Ark whose commandment is issued first. More significantly, it is to be the locus of all of Moses’s prophecy in the capacity of national guide and leader. “And I will be fixed [to meet with] for you there, and I will speak with you from above the cover, between the two cherubs, that is upon the Ark of the Testimony [concerning] all that I will command you, [for] the Children of Israel” (25:22). That this place, above the Ark, is to be the point of origin for Moses’s inspiration seems linked to the Ark’s role as Ark of the ‘Testimony.’ This title is clearly related to the earlier verse, “You shall place in the Ark the Testimony that I shall give you” (v. 16). What is meant by the term Testimony, and how does it influence the Ark’s central spiritual position in the Tabernacle?
Though the nation as a whole plays no specific role in its physical construction or design,* they do play an integral role in shaping the spiritual place of the Ark. It is only through their involvement with the Ark that it endures, that it bears a message, that it holds significance. For this reason, a natural condition of the Ark is that it is always positioned to be carried, even when at rest. Even while the Ark sits dormant and untouched, in its remote sanctum behind the Curtain, the poles must be in place at its sides. The Ark serves its purpose properly only when it is in touch with, accessible and reaching out to, the people who are expected to bear it and the message that it represents.
Rashi understands that the term Testimony refers to the written Torah. The Torah testifies to an ongoing and enduring relationship between Israel and Gd. But a testimony is meaningless if there is no one to receive it. The very name Testimony reinforces and underscores the necessity of an open relationship between the people and the Torah. And this also explains why the Torah emphasizes that Moses is to receive prophecy from that place. “And I will be fixed [to meet with] for you there, and I will speak with you from above the cover, between the two cherubs, that is upon the Ark of the Testimony [concerning] all that I will command you, [for] the Children of Israel.” Gd’s influence flows most freely when the people of Israel, in companionship and brotherhood (one of the symbols of the cherubs), live upon the foundations provided by the Torah. It is for this reason that the Ark must be inlaid with gold from with and without; the lives that the people must lead outside the Ark, among themselves and in the interpersonal realm, must reflect the pristine and pure values of the theoretical and exclusively spiritual Torah.

* The Torah states explicitly that Betzalel made the Ark (37:1), and the same language and expression are used with regards to the other furnishings as well.

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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Shalom Zachar/Nekevah

Shiur this week was on the minhag of Shalom Zachar and the lack thereof of Shalom Nekevah. Sources (once again in the new format) are here.

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Monday, February 07, 2005

Yonatan Kohn - Notes on Mishpatim

After the clouds dissipate and the last echoes of the thunderclaps die away, the Children of Israel awaken to discover that they have experienced a national revelation. They are left to consider that Gd has appeared to them and, through His servant Moses, issued them commandments and engaged them in an eternal contractual covenant. And in the aftermath of this most monumental of moments, Gd tells Moses, “And these are the laws that you shall place before them” (Exodus 21:1). In concluding the account of events at Sinai, the Torah relates how Gd instructs Moses to present the people with a broad range of commandments. As a necessary capstone for the convocation, the people must learn the practical details of their new agreement; it is only through the observance of the commandments that Israel may fully realize the invocation, “You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (19:6).

And one would naturally expect that, just as the Decalogue before it, this list of commandments should begin with a unifying commandment whose meanings and implications reverberate throughout all the ensuing commandments. One would expect that the first commandment would be a cornerstone of faith and duty. It is, therefore, perplexing and confounding that the Torah begins its list of laws with the obscure law of the ‘Hebrew servant’, a law whose particular minutia have no apparent connection to the laws that follow it. What are the fundamental theological principles of the ‘Hebrew servant’, and why does this commandment precede all the other civil laws?
Of course, in order to best understand the laws of the ‘Hebrew servant’, it is necessary to fully explore the nuances of this commandment and the language with which the law is written.
“When you acquire [purchase] a Hebrew servant, six years he shall work; and in the seventh, he shall depart to freedom freely. If he will come with his body, with his body he shall leave; if he is a husband to a woman, his wife will depart with him. If his master will give him a wife, and she will bear him sons or daughters, the woman and her children will be for her master, and he will depart with his body. And if the servant says decidedly, “I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not depart [to] freedom.” And his master will bring him to the judges, and he will bring him to the door or to the doorpost; and his master will pierce his ear with a piercing tool, and he shall serve him eternally” (21:2-21:6).
The following issues merit further consideration. 1) It is striking that the Torah describes acquiring a ‘Hebrew servant’ even before describing how one becomes a ‘Hebrew servant’.* 2) Why does the Torah use the conspicuous moniker ‘Hebrew’, rather than ‘Israel’ or some other equivalent term? 3) Why is his loyalty rewarded with having his ear pierced?** What is so bad about his desire to remain, and why is the ear piercing an appropriate consequence?
The challenge of Exodus is well documented, and we have explored it before here. Gd sent Moses and Aaron to convince Pharaoh to release the people, but He also instructed His emissaries to animate a numb and despondent nation, whose spirit and creativity was lost in bondage. Before they were released, Pharaoh knew the people as the Hebrews (*ivrim*)- descendants of transgressors (*’over*). But the slaves banded together and asserted an active belief, repudiating the local culture and earning redemption, thus becoming Israel. This was a feat of confidence, of empowerment, of independence and ethical pro-activity. Only through Israel’s achievements could they emerge from slavery, could they emerge free.
When the Israelite commits an act of theft in a context of exaggerated poverty and desperation, he regresses back to the state of servitude and servility. He demonstrates that he is still a slave to his impulses, that he has no choices, and that he can survive only through crime.^ He has made himself a slave, wholly subject to others’ control and whims. Note the Torah’s description- he comes in with nothing but his body, his physical person. There is no other significant and individual property, and there is no spirit. Similarly, the Torah begins its description with the owner, “When you acquire a Hebrew servant…” There is no mention of the servant choosing to be sold; all is done with or without his abandoned consent. His role is completely passive, though this passage in the Torah is all about him. But when he leaves, when he goes to his freedom, then the language focuses on his departure. The owner does not release him; only he can decide to assert his freedom, even after the term of six years.
Despite his mentality, why does the Torah fault him if he chooses to remain? At the end of the day, the Torah says, perhaps he will declare that he loves his master, his wife, and his children. Certainly, loving those around you, particular your family and those who provide for you- this is appropriate and laudable. Still, his statement indicates that he loves the totality of his life as it is. He finds comfort in the conditions of his life, something that transcends the individual elements and the individual players around him. This is far from laudable- he finds comfort in belonging, in irresponsibility and dependence. By now, he should have learned to desire his freedom. Worse yet, perhaps he is so absorbed by the details of comfort and love that he has forgotten the larger context and the fact that his own life is hardly a life at all. Perhaps he wants to stay because he loves everyone, but he has forgotten to consider his own state.
The Talmud (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 22b) notes that this servant ignores the divine declaration that Israel is to serve Gd, and not to serve His servants. His ear is pierced, because he did not hear the divine charge.^^ But the Talmud goes further- the servant’s ear is pierced next to the door or the doorpost, precisely where Israel smeared the blood of the Paschal offering. This act, rejecting Egyptian paganism, was one of two major acts that demonstrated Israel’s maturation and readiness to leave Egyptian servitude. His decision to stay with his master, to remain a slave, demands the drawing of new blood at the doorpost.
Ultimately, this is why the law of the Hebrew servant comes before all the other laws. Israel accepts the Torah only through rejecting the lives they led in Egypt. The nation must accept and assume independence and responsibility. They must assert control over their own lives and declare that they will make decisions, rather than submitting to comfort and/or desperate circumstances.

* This is outlined in 22:2; one who is unable to pay restitution for stolen goods is sold for his theft. Alternatively, one might sell himself when faced with utter destitution (Leviticus 25:39).
** Don’t get too excited. I remember discussing this once with someone- maybe my brother Elie- and he thought that the piercing was in the lobe of the ear, making it convenient for the servant to install an earring. When I asked my teachers, I was informed that the piercing was most definitely in the upper part of the ear, right in the middle of the cartilage. In such a spot, there is minimal convenience for decoration and jewelry, and maximal discomfort. By the way, though this is pure speculation, I suspect that very few men in history had their ears punctured in this context. First off, how many men were convicted of stealing something under circumstances in which they could not afford to repay the damages- to the extent that they were to be sold into servitude? Second, of that small minority, how many servants elected to stay in servitude after the requisite six-year period?
^ Theft is one way to become a Hebrew servant. The other route is through the decision to sell one’s self. When one is sold in this way, though he does not commit theft, he also demonstrates slave mentality. He is completely despondent, and he willingly sacrifices his independence. He has shunned every other avenue of income, including less desirable work and turning to charity funds. The active decision to become inactive is the ultimate statement of despair.
^^ This notion requires further exploration. What designates the ear as responsible for accepting Gd’s wishes? Isn’t the heart just as culpable? Couldn’t arguments also be made for the other limbs or sensory organs?

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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Personal Requests

Shiur this morning was on adding requests to Shmoneh Esrei. Sources, in a new widely usable format, are available here.
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Friday, January 28, 2005

Yonatan Kohn - Notes on Yitero

"Jethro, priest of Midian, father-in-law of Moses, heard all Gd did for Moses and for his nation Israel, for Gd took Israel out of Egypt" (18:1). Having heard of the miracles performed for the fledgling nation, Jethro comes, escorted by Moses's wife and two sons, to greet Moses in the shadow of Mt. Sinai to investigate and celebrate these supernatural wonders. What did Jethro hear that so moved him? The midrash Yalqut cites three opinions. R Joshua says, "He heard of the war of Amaleq and came." R Elazar the Moda'ite says, "He heard of the giving of the Torah* and came." R Eliezer says, "He heard of the splitting of the sea and came." It is quite possible that Jethro heard of all these miracles. If so, what is the source for dispute in this midrash? Keli Yaqar suggests that all opinions agree that Jethro heard of all the miracles, as the verses indicate. They debate only what causes Jethro "to come" (each opinion uses this term in his explanation) with Moses's wife and sons. What motivated Jethro to actively reunite Moses with his family?

According to R Joshua, Jethro heard of the war of Amaleq. Jethro's family was connected to Amaleq (as is evident from a later Amaleq battle account, Samuel I 15:6), and as the conflict of Israel vs. Amaleq was to be an eternal war (17:16), Jethro sought to protect his family from becoming an enemy of Israel by association. Thus, his efforts to reunite Moses with his family were firmly rooted in the desire to establish familial ties and loyalties between Moses and Israel and his own people.
R Elazar the Moda'ite explains that Jethro heard of the giving of the Torah. Jethro understood that just Israel was commanded to separate from spouses before they accepted the Torah (19:15), the constant prophet Moses had seen fit to separate for a long period. Therefore, Jethro brought Moses's wife back to him to live with him- as befits man to live in a family-centered home.
R Eliezer suggests Jethro came after hearing of the splitting of the sea. Moses had formally divorced his wife, and according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) unifying a separated (according to Keli Yaqar) couple is "as difficult" as the splitting of the sea. The Talmud's analogy likens the reuniting of a separated couple to the splitting of the sea. Because a couple's bond is a natural one, like the bonding of bodies of water, their supernatural separation is fierce and resolute. Yet when Jethro saw that it was Gd's will that they should be reunited, their match should be successful, like the calm of combined waters. Jethro originally feared that after a legal divorce, it would be impossible to reconnect and live together again in harmony. However, after he heard of the splitting of the sea and the natural and complete restoration of the waters' original flow, he understood that even a separated couple could be reunited happily. Jethro's push to reunite Moses with his daughter Zipora was thus rooted in the hope and belief instilled by the miracle of the splitting- and subsequent calming- of the sea.

*Both Rashi (to 18:13) and Nahmonides (to 18:1) cite the Rabbinic Tradition that Jethro's visit may have been after the divine Revalation at Sinai, outlined later in the reading, based on a series of other verses. They also present other possibilities. Why the Torah may have changed the order of these events may be based on thematic considerations relating to conversion and the Sinai experience.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Important New Seforim

This morning a new set of Seforim arrived for sale in America (it has been on sale in Eretz Yisrael for a month or so). The 6 volume set contains Harav Avigdor Nebenzhal's recording of Harav Shlomo Zalman's Hasagot and Buirim on the Mishna Berurah. While I have not yet seen the sefer, it is my understanding that the Hasagot appear as a running commentary on the page of the Mishna Berurah in a newly typeset (and laser printed) edition. It is available from Feldheim although not via their website yet. These seforim should become the new halachic standard, much like the Mishna Berurah and Aruch Hashulchan were before it.
With the set now in hand, thanks to some expedited Feldheim delivery, I see that the content has changed somewhat since I saw the original manuscript many years ago. The commentary, called BeYitzchak Yikarei, is actually Harav Nebenzhal's comments on the Mishna Berurah. A large chunk of the time, he does quote from Harav Shlomo Zalman, but the rest is his. Additionally, there is a fantastic Shut section at the end of the last volume with hundreds of short Q/A, such as: "Seperate women's minyanim are forbidden because of Bechukoteihem Lo Telechu of Reform Jews."

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

שם שם לו חק ומשפט

Often, מדרש אגדה is meant to highlight an idea that is "between the lines" of the Biblical text itself.

We are told (מכילתא, brought in :סנהדרין נו) that three sets of commandments were given at מרה:

  1. דינים

  2. שבת

  3. כיבוד אב ואם*

    * It's been suggested the version of רש"י in חומש is due to a copyist mistaking the abbreviation כ"א (i.e. כיבוד אב) for פ"א (i.e. פרה אדומה).

Perhaps the underlying concepts of all three of these sets of laws can be learned from the story that happened at מרה.

  1. It was wrong for בני ישראל to rush to judgement of משה and God based on an initial observation (the lack of water). The "other side" had to be allowed the chance to present its case. This is the lesson of דינים.

  2. Everything that God does for us, even miracles, is built into the Creation. A "natural" solution like throwing a tree into the water is possible because God provided for everything when he created the world. This is the lesson of שבת.

  3. When בני ישראל were helpless on their own, God ("אבינו שבשמים") provided for them. In gratitude for this care, we owe Him our respect. This is the lesson of כיבוד אב ואם.

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Friday, January 21, 2005

Yonatan Kohn - Notes on Beshalah

Though this week's Torah reading (13:17-17:16) is best known for its dramatic Song of the Sea (15:1-15:19), spontaneously sung by Israel upon their salvation from Egypt when Moses parts the raging waters of the Reed Sea, I have noticed that I always find myself drawn to other events in the parsha. In particular, I find myself always poring over the stories of a fledgling nation, a whining nation that believes itself to be helplessly abandoned and doomed to die in a daunting barren desert. But, in what might equal a kind of show of solidarity with my ancient predecessors, I have found these episodes trying and overwhelming. Not that I am an Egyptian slave, run to the ground with backbreaking labor, or that I am charged with the task of painting my doorposts with blood- no, I am simply struggling to tease out the inner meanings and themes of dozens of Biblical accounts. In short, I confess that despite my determination and persistent efforts, I concede that I know far less than I purport to know, certainly far less than I would like to know. And though I am sure that there are answers to every question, I certainly do not have them.

While Moses and Aaron are entrusted with the task of extracting Israel from the clutches of meekness, despondency, apathy, and spiritual and emotional lethargy, all of which are conditions of the Egyptian slavery, Israel's role in the Exodus process is admittedly a passive one. As each supernatural catastrophe succeeds its fellow in terrorizing Egypt, the future people of Israel seem to be little more than observers. Until the very end, one gets the impression that Moses engages Pharaoh in a battle of titans, while the Children of Israel watch with starry eyes from a safe distance in the harbor of Goshen. Just before they are expelled once and for all, the Children of Israel are told to perform the (partially) sacrificial order of the Paschal offering. And while this commandment demands a remarkable show of bravery and confidence, in that Israel is instructed to make a public show of the slaughter of the sheep, a sacred object of Egyptian worship, Israel is otherwise silent while the natural world that they know seems to implode around them.*
So it should come as no surprise that the people's will is unstable, that at the first sign of trouble they are of the conviction that their lives are in peril and that the whole Exodus has been for naught. As they stand before the sea with the formidable Egyptian army swiftly bearing down upon them, the people of Israel remind Moses that they were opposed to the whole enterprise from the very beginning, that it would be better to serve Egypt than to do in the desert (14:12) . Moses soothes the people and again prays to Gd before he is told to take his staff and split the sea. And as more wonders and miracles unfold before the eyes of the nation, as they are miraculously saved from the torrents of a warring army and a raging sea, it would seem that they achieve the ultimate apex of spirituality. "They believed in Gd and in Moses His servant" (14:31).
But this state of extraordinary spiritual consciousness is to be short-lived. When the dust clears and the celebratory singing dies down, Israel sets off into the barren wilderness on what is to become a 40 year journey. The Torah reports:
“And Moses led the Israelites away from the Red Sea, and they went out into the Shur Desert; they went three days in the desert, and they did not find water. They came to Marah, and they could not drink water from Marah, for it [was] bitter (*marim*); therefore, [it] called the place Marah. The people complained of Moses, saying 'What will we drink?' And he cried out to God, and He showed him a tree, and he cast [it] to the water, and the water sweetened; there He gave him a statute and a law, and there He tested him.** He said, 'If you heed the voice of Hashem your Gd and do what is straight in His eyes, heed all His commandments and observe all His decrees, then all the affliction that I placed on Egypt I will not place upon you, for I am God Who heals you' “(15:22-15:26).
In the first of a series of three thematically related episodes, the Children of Israel wander aimlessly into the desert and despair when, after several days, they can still find no drinkable water. Their complaints lead Moses to pray, and Gd leads Moses to miraculously change the water to make it drinkable. And then the Torah makes a number of inaccessible, apparently unrelated comments. The nature of the ‘laws’ that Gd gives the nation needs further study. Similarly, the meaning of the phrase ‘and there He tested him’ is far from certain. Finally, the reference to Gd as healer seems somewhat out of place, in the absence of plague-like conditions and without defining the commandments that the people are expected to observe. We will return to these issues shortly.
The Torah continues:
“And they came to Elim, and there were twelve springs of water and seventy date palms; they camped there by the water. They traveled from Elim, and the entire community of the Children of Israel came to the Sin Desert, that is between Elim and Sinai, on the 15th day of the second month after they had left Egypt. The entire community of the Children of Israel complained of Moses and Aaron in the desert. The Children of Israel said to them, 'If only [lit. ‘Who would give’] we had died by God's hand in Egypt, where we sat by the pot of meat as we ate bread to satisfaction- for you had to bring us out to this desert, to kill this entire community by starvation!' And God said to Moses, 'Behold, I am raining down for you bread from the sky, and the nation will go out and gather each day’s [ration] on its day, so that I will test it [the nation] to see if it will walk by My Torah or not. On Friday, they will have to prepare what they bring [home], and it will be twice as much as they gather every day.' Moses and Aaron said to all the Children of Israel, '[It will be] evening, and you will know that God took you out of the land of Egypt. And [in the] morning, you will see God's glory in [that] he has heard your complaints against God; and what are we that you should complain against us?' Moses said, 'When Gd gives you in the evening meat to eat and bread- in the morning- to satisfaction, as God hears your complaints that you complain against Him; and what are we- your complaints are not against us, rather against God.' And Moses said to Aaron, 'Tell the entire community of the Children of Israel ‘Come close before God, for He heard your complaints.' And it was as Aaron spoke to the entire community of the Children of Israel, they turned toward the desert, and behold, God's glory appeared in a cloud. And God spoke to Moses [to say further]. 'I have heard the complaints of the Children of Israel; speak to them, saying, 'In the afternoon you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be satisfied with bread; and You will then know that I am God your Lord' ' “(15:27-16:12).
Here, Israel is confounded by the lack of meat. As before, the people are concerned that their destiny in the desert is ill-fated, and that their deaths are imminent and inevitable. And as before, Gd answers their pleas and delivers the necessary provisions. However, this episode demonstrates heightened tensions. As the people’s patience grows thinner, the scope of their protest widens, and their rhetoric grows more antagonistic.
One more incident follows this pattern.
“And entire community of the Children of Israel traveled from Sin Desert to their travels, by the mouth of Gd, and they camped in Refidim; and there [was] no water for the nation to drink. And the nation quarreled with Moses, and they said, ‘Give us water, and we will drink’; and Moses said to them, ‘Why would you quarrel with me, why would you test Gd?’ And the nation thirsted there for water, and the nation complained of Moses and said, ‘Why this- taking us out of Egypt to kill me, and my children, and my cattle in thirst?’ And Moses cried to Gd, saying, ‘what will I do for this nation- they would soon stone me!’ And Gd said to Moses, ‘Pass before the nation and take with you of the elders of Israel, and your staff with which you struck the Nile you should take in your hand and go. Behold, I stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike at the rock, and waters will come from it, and the nation will drink; and Moses did so by the eyes of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place ‘Masa and Meriva’ (* Trial and Quarrel*) for the quarrel (*riv*) of the Children of Israel and for their trying (*nasotam*) Gd saying, ‘Is Gd among us or not?’” (17:1-17:6).
Israel again faces a shortage of water, and they erupt in a confrontational dispute. Moses is so startled by the people’s belligerent bickering that he feels his life is being threatened. And again, Gd instructs Moses just how to placate the people and provide for their needs.
It would be informative to note other similarities between these three episodes. In each episode, the Torah is sure to mention the location of the event. In the first and last, the names of the places derive from among the events that took place there. Marah is so named because of the bitter waters, a natural condition of the place. And Masah and Meriva is so named because of the dispute that erupted there. The Torah does not explain the sources for the name Sin Desert or Elim, but perhaps these names have thematic bases here as well. Sin seems to be related to Sinai, the place best known as the location of the communal revelation at which Israel received the Decalogue (the ‘Ten Commandments’). Sin is not quite Sinai, as Israel demonstrates that they are still unprepared for major revelation. Still, the events here generate their own small-scale revelation, as the people witness Gd’s glory in the cloud, and they come to know that ‘I am YKWK their Gd.’ And Elim, literally ‘greats’, may be related to the 70 trees and the 12 springs there. Rashi explains that the 70 trees correspond to 70 elders (Psalms 90:13 likens the righteous to the date tree), and the 12 springs correspond to the 12 tribes. The implication is that Israel comes to recognize the greatness of the elders and to appreciate the uniqueness of each tribe in Elim, and this is how it gets its name.^
In connection with each of these events, there is also a mention of trial (*nes*). As Gd tests the people and measures their fortitude of belief, they irreverently test Gd and try to determine whether they can indeed trust Him. One wonders if this also lends another meaning to the final episode in the parsha, in which Israel wages war against Amaleq. In the aftermath of the battle, which is itself fought with the struggles of belief and religion as much as it is with physical opposition, Moses builds an altar that he names ‘Gd is my (*nes*)’. The simple definition there is ‘Gd is my flag’ or ‘Gd is my banner,’ but in light of these other episodes, there may be overtones of trial. This would mandate further exploration.
Most importantly, each of these episodes deals with the basic trust that Gd wants to foster among the people. And Abravanel suggests that there is no indication of Gd becoming angry with the people in any of these events, because the people act naturally and as expected. But this is a trust that needs to be built. Rashi suggests that the ‘laws’ Gd delivers at Marah include some explanation of the laws of the Sabbath. And indeed, the laws of the manna are delivered in close concert with a certain philosophy of the Sabbath. Man must prepare for the Sabbath, and he will receive nothing new on that day. A man must not ‘leave himself’ on the Sabbath, i.e. he may not draw upon external resources on the Sabbath. At the end of any given period, he may only glean from that which he has prepared; when the seventh day falls at the end of the six days of labor, he may only garner benefit from his own work. Of course, that means that man may not create anew on the Sabbath, he surrenders himself completely to the elements on that seventh day. On this day, he may recognize that he is in fact always vulnerable to the elements. And this is the message of the three episodes.
In the first episode (Abravanel explains similarly), there is no indication that the people have actually run out of water. One can presume that they have come into the desert prepared. It is simply that they anticipate running out of water, that they fear for the future. This is why for the first three days, they do not even complain. But it is when the promise of a future source of water turns out bitter, they start to wonder what they *will* drink in the future. They wonder if the whole desert is totally devoid of drinkable water. And the message they receive is simply to perform Gd’s will, and they are assured that Gd will render any water drinkable, that they have providence and provision. The commentators note that just as Gd has turned the Egyptian water to blood, He makes undrinkable water sweet and drinkable.
In the second incident, the people again seem to have what they need. They have come from some oasis in which there was fruit and there were wells, and presumably they have brought sufficient dates with them again into the desert. (Alternatively, Hizquni suggests they are still eating from the bread they took with them in exiting Egypt.) There is no indication in the verses that they are starving. But Elim- as Rashi indicates- is also a spiritual place. (The name Elim, of course, is related to the word for ‘divine’.) And it is when Israel leaves this place (the Torah writes (*vayis’u*), the word ‘traveled’ appears in the plural- the people decide to leave Elim, as opposed to the earlier travel specifically instigated and led by Moses), when they move away from spirituality, that they discover themselves to be in a barren desert. They speak to Moses and Aaron ‘in the desert’. Though the reader is well aware that the people are in the desert, the Torah emphasizes this point to show that the complaint stems from a spiritual wasteland. And as they are in the desert, they see no future prospects for food and again complain for the future. They are not hungry! But they fear, and they complain. This is worse than the first incident, because they do not even see prospects for future nourishment. At least in the first case, they saw water. In the worst scenario, they could have had even this water. But here there were no prospects. This is when Gd shows them that they must totally rely upon Him, that He will provide enough food every day for every day, but only enough food. Their future is not in their hands- they must learn to trust that Gd will produce for them even when their seems no possible source, when they can do nothing themselves.
But some of the people are frightened again, when they are rendered totally vulnerable and dependent. At least, until now, there was a sense of movement and progress. When, as the Torah describes, they ‘camp’ at Refidim, they sense that they are again left to the elements. It requires the paramount trust when they begin to fear that they may never again come to a place of civilization or even another desert oasis. They now have no chances whatsoever of finding water for themselves. And while they have had water until now, this is the first time the Torah says explicitly that they are thirsty and that the supplies of water have been exhausted. More significantly, their fear represents a spiritual weakness more than the natural consequences of a desert reality. Gd never abandons them, and no one dies from the hunger or the thirst. But they lose their faith again, and Tradition explains that this is why the place is called ‘Refidim’, because they ‘loosened or ‘weakened’ (*rafu*) their hands from the Torah.’ As an antidote, Gd instructs Moses to draw water from the rock- the rock at Horeb. And Horeb is, of course, the place in which Moses later receives the Torah. The waters that he produces, therefore, come from the wellsprings of faith. And Israel’s thirst is ultimately quenched only when they give themselves up to ultimate faith in Gd.

* Midrash Shemot Raba (17:3) notes that Israel is redeemed from Egypt solely on the strength of the Paschal service and the performance of circumcision. The significance of these two commandments has been discussed elsewhere (ask me for notes to Bo).

** The use of several pronouns makes it hard to pinpoint the subject of the verse.
^ The events in this episode seem closely linked to the episode in Numbers 11. It would even seem that the two events are simply two accounts of the same event, except that the Torah indicates that the event recorded in Exodus happens within the first 45 days of their leaving Egypt, and the event in Numbers seems to take place one year later. A greater analysis is needed, but the Numbers account seems focused on the role of distinct individuals and sub-communities within Israel, and the Exodus account takes its perspective for the purpose of exploring the struggles of a burgeoning system of belief. In any case, the place described in Numbers 11 is named both ‘Tavera’ (Burning), related to the conflagration that took place there and burned the sinners and ‘Qivrot HaTaava’ (Burials of Desire) because of the tragedy that befell the people as they lusted for lush foods. If the places are indeed the same, then the place of the second incident we are discussing in Exodus also has a name that stems from events that took place there.

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Sunday, January 16, 2005

Yitgaber K'Ari

Shiur this morning was on the halachot governing the first moment in the morning when we awaken. Sources are avilable here.
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Sunday, January 09, 2005

Kedusha of a Niggun

Shiur this morning was on wether a niggun without the words still retains the kavannah behind its origina or not. (Lengthy) Mekoros are available here.

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Yonatan Kohn - Notes on VaEra

Even a brief examination and perusal of this week's reading reveals a startling and confounding phenomenon. After the enslaved and cowed children of Israel complain to Moses that his lobbying has increased their workload and worsened their lot, Gd instructs Moses to persist in trying to convice them that Gd has remained loyal to them and will fulfill his antiquated promise to redeem them from bondage. But the people are emotionally and spiritually numb to his encouragement, burdened and disheartened by slave labor and flat routine. Gd then reminds Moses of his duty on the second front- he must procure Pharaoh's release of the people. A discouraged Moses continues his flat refusal and disbelief of his ability to speak to Pharaoh, and Gd continues to insist that this is Moses's charge, albeit with Aaron's assistance. What is most striking, however, is that Gd acknowledges from the outset that Moses is quite correct in his appraisal. Pharaoh will not listen to him- his heart will be hard, and he will refuse to concede to reason and the pressing needs of a whole populace tormented by supernatural retribution.

"And Moses spoke before Gd saying 'Behold the children of Israel did not hear me; how will Pharaoh hear me, while I am of uncircumcised lips?' (Exodus 6:12)"
Gd answers Moses's distress on both counts, regarding Pharaoh and Israel itself: "Gd spoke to Moses and Aaron and he commanded them concerning the children of Israel and Pharaoh, king of Egypt, to send forth the children of Israel from the land of Egypt" (6:13).
Note the contrast of, and common course for, the strongest man in the realm and the community of the weakest people. Israel is at the bottom of Egypt's social structure, a despised and manipulated foreign people, a people of broken spirit and no independent free will. Pharaoh is the singular supreme lord of the powerful nation, the usurper of all its power. And yet Moses and Aaron are to convince both parties together, with the same sweeping action. It is no more important to convince the king than it is to convince the least of his subjects.
In any case, the Torah's narration of the mission, now poised to enter an active stage filled with plagues and wonders, warrants close examination and scrutiny. After the Torah surveys the prominent present and future leaders of the people (a section that requires much explanation, 6:14-26) and presents Aaron and Moses as the select individuals deemed worthy of this monumental mission, Gd again repeats the command that Moses must approach Pharaoh. And Moses repeats his fear- "I am of uncircumcised lips; how will Pharaoh hear me?" Gd counters that in fact Pharaoh will not hear him, that He will himself have to take Israel out of Egypt. Here, Moses does not repeat his conviction that Israel has not heard him, and Gd does not repeat His commandment that Moses must convince the people. Why? And why must Moses persist in addressing Pharaoh, even if it is already clear that he will not hearken to the message?
Perhaps Moses calls himself one of 'uncircumcised lips'- which Rashi understands to connote something blocked, his lips are locked by some obstruction- because the people have not yet heard him. Moses sees his mission to Pharaoh hampered by his lack of support from the very people for whom he lobbies. If they are not invested in their salvation, he reasons, how can he convince Pharaoh to release the people?
But Moses's concern regarding his 'uncircumcised lips' may reflect an ever greater impediment. At the beginning of Exodus, the Torah describes a new king rising above Egypt. He does not 'recognize Joseph', and he cancels all of Joseph's decrees. (Pharaoh repeals a decree mentioned in Rashi (41:55), by which Joseph had commanded Egypt to circumcise themselves.) Though Moses, according to Tradition, was born circumcised, he was raised in Pharaoh's home. Thus he describes his speech, his manner, as uncircumcised. He was raised in the home of the heathen king, and he is alienated from his natural people. How seriously will the people take this idealist, something of a hermit, an eccentric raised in the palace and exiled to Midian, where he was an isolated shepherd? The people presume that he does not understand their plight fully, even if he is well-intentioned. And Pharaoh himself picks up on Moses's distance from the people, his extreme familiarity with Egyptian royalty. He does not see Moses as connected to the slaves; he is an Egyptian prince, one of 'uncircumcised lips.' And for this reason, Pharaoh has no reason to take Moses seriously. Thus Gd assures him that Aaron is with him; Aaron has been with the people all along. Moses thus understands that the with the people beside him, with his lips 'circumcised' and unhindered, he might succeed in convincing Pharaoh. But he is not yet there, and he is concerned.
Thus Gd asserts that Moses need not convince Pharaoh; he needs to do his personal utmost. Ultimately, achievement and success are dependent upon Gd's intervention and conducive circumstances even more than they depend upon human efforts. Gd says that, ultimately, He will take Israel out of Egypt. What is necessary of Moses is that he tries, and, in doing so, he can win over the hearts of the people.

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Thursday, January 06, 2005

פרשת וארא – Didn't We Read this Story Already?

Sometimes, the תורה will tell the same story from two points of view. Everybody recognizes that this is the case with the first two chapters of בראשית, whose accounts of the Creation cannot possibly be interpreted as having taken place sequentially. I believe that we may be looking at something similar in our פרשה.

פרשת שמות told the story of the enslavement of בני ישראל and how משה רבינו came to be a leader and messenger of God. It seems that this story ends with ו:יב, slightly into פרשת וארא. The story that starts after that, and continues throughout the next few פרשיות, is the story of the circumstances that led פרעה to have to come to grips with God's power and mastery of the world, and eventually led him to let בני ישראל go.

I believe that the appearance of משה and אהרון before פרעה that is described in ז:י-יד may be the very same event described in ה:א-ד. The fact that פרעה got mad and stopped providing straw is part of the first story, as it explains how the slavery got as bad as it did. The fact that פרעה saw the miracle of the תנין is part of the second story, as it was his first taste of God's power.

I say this because the instructions that God gives to משה in פרשת וארא sound like instructions for a first visit, and don't make so much sense if משה has already been to see פרעה in a different visit. ז:א-ה sound a lot like what was said at the burning bush. The story of משה and אהרון going to בני ישראל first, which we read about last week, can now be skipped, since it is not relevant to the story of פרעה's encountering God. In ז:ח-ט, they are told to appear before פרעה, and given signs to perform in case פרעה asks for them. It seems unlikely that פרעה would ask for signs on a second visit rather than on a first visit. Also, given that the signs were to be shown only at the initiative of פרעה, it seems that משה and אהרון would not be bringing any new message that they hadn't already told פרעה.

This is just a loose theory, and there are undoubtedly many questions that need to be answered. Any feedback would be most welcome.

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Is Weekday Morning Davening Too Long?

Made you look! I realized that on blogs that have some of each, social commentary posts tend to draw more attention than posts about
הלכה. But now that I got your attention...

If you find yourself asking the question in the above subject line, perhaps it's because you're looking at your watch during davening. If so, perhaps you're wearing it under the straps of your תפילין. Is this permissible?

A simple glance at the רמ"א in שו"ע או"ח כז:ד, (which is taken from תשובות הרשב"א סי' תתכז), would suggest that it is.

It seems to me, though, that perhaps the רשב"א and the רמ"א are following the position of the רא"ש (see שו"ע או"ח כה:יא), who holds that the primary מצוה is to have the תפילין in place, and that winding the straps around the arm is secondary, and should be done after putting on the תפילה של ראש. It would make sense to assume that given the absence of an explicit disagreement, the רמ"א agrees with the מחבר on this issue.

The משכנות יעקוב (see כח-כט) deduces from the words of the רמב"ם and the רי"ף (IIRC; I don't have a copy available now) that they disagree, and hold that the winding of the straps is also a primary part of the מצוה. Indeed, R' Hershel Schachter records in נפש הרב (p. 105) that because of this, the practice of R' Soloveichik was to wind even the שין around the hand before proceeding to the תפילה של ראש.

The most common practice nowadays is to wind the straps around the arm (although generally not to make the שין around the hand, as per the ארי) before putting on the תפילה של ראש. If this practice is, in fact, because of a concern that the הלכה does not follow the רא"ש, and these windings are part of the primary מצוה (as משנה ברורה כה:לח assumes), then perhaps consistency would require avoiding a חציצה between these windings and the arm.

Cross-posting disclosure: This post is based on one that I wrote to mail-jewish last week.

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

Mourning with the Mourner

Sadly, the subject of this post was הלכה למעשה for me this past week. I'd like to dedicate it to the memory of my paternal grandfather, Max Cohen, מלך בן ישראל עוזר הלוי ז"ל, who left this world on י"א טבת תשס"ה.

The הלכה, ostensibely following the חכמים (in the ברייתא brought on
:מועד קטן כ) is that "כל שמתאבל עליו מתאבל עמו." When a person for whom one would mourn (based on one's family relationship) is in mourning, one mourns with that person (with the exception of one's spouse, whom one joins in mourning only when it is for his/her parents).

Already from the time of the ראשונים, it was customary not to practice this in full. The assumption is that the requirement was only out respect for the mourner, and the mourner can choose to waive this requirement. Nowadays, since the accepted custom is to waive the requirement, we can assume by default that the mourner has done so. All that remains is the custom, recorded by the תרמת הדשן (in שו"ת סימן רצא) as the practice of the גדולים of Austria, and codified (שו"ע יו"ד שעד:ו) by the רמ"א, for the mourner's relatives to observe certain שלושים-like restrictions until the first שבת after the burial.

Nonetheless, some analysis of this הלכה in its original form can help shed light on views of how it should be observed in its modified form today. The רמב"ן writes (תורת האדם - שער האבל - ענין קרובים המתאבלים) that though the custom in his time was already not to observe this at all, מעיקר הדין, the mourner's relative should observe most mourning practices even outside the mourner's presence. He reconciles this with the position of חכמים in the ברייתא mentioned above, by saying that the אבל would still be conscious of his relative were coming into the house freshly bathed with clean clothes, or putting on his leather shoes to leave the house, so even some of the relative's activities outside the house are considered to be "in the presence" of the אבל. However, if we can say that the רמב"ן had a מסורה for how the הלכה was to be implemented, but not neccesarily for the source, then a simpler explanation would be that it reflects the position of רבי עקיבא in that ברייתא. (Is it feasible that one could apply the rule of "הלכה כרבי עקיבא מחביריו" here even though the חכמים are not mentioned by name?)

For חכמים, this הלכה reflects the relative's relationship to the אבל, for whom it is not conducive to a state of mourning to see those closest to him going on normally with life. For ר' עקיבא, on the other hand, it reflects the fact that the second-degree relative, too, had a family relationship with the deceased, and it gives expression to the grief that he, too, feels over the loss.

One "נפקא מינה" for us is whether we accept the addition (יו"ד שעד:ה) by the ב"ח of attendence at festive meals to the list given by the תרומת הדשן of restrictions that are still observed nowadays. Another one would be whether any restricitons at all should be observed if the second-degree relative will not be seeing the אבל at all, and certainly if the relative who "linked" him to the deceased is on longer living.

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Thursday, December 30, 2004

And Moshe Emerges

In Chapter 3 of Sefer Shemot, Moshe first encounters HKBH. Note pesukim 3 & 4; Moshe says "Asurah Na Ve'Er'eh" and HKBH only speaks with him "Vayar HKBH Ki Sar Lir'ot." Moshe must first leave behind something to be able to see and connect. What is was the Moshe left behind is open for discussion...
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Friday, December 24, 2004

Yonaton Kohn - Vayehi

Further bolstering Chiddushim's content, we welcome the addition of Harav Yonatan Kohn's weekly Parsha drash, straight from Eretz Yisrael.

"And Jacob lived in the land of Egypt seventeen years; and it the days of Jacob, the years of his life, [were] seven years and forty and one hundred years. And the days for Israel to die approached, and he called to his son, to Joseph, and he said to him, 'Please, if I have found favor in your eyes, please place your hand beneath my thigh; do with me kindness and truth, please do not bury me in Egypt” (47:28-29).

One is immediately stricken by the desperation with which Jacob appeals to his son, speaking to him in the language of a supplicant subordinate and not a father. While Jacob can simply tell his son that this is his wish, he presents his instruction as though it were a favor of which he is not unquestionably entitled. In the way that he addresses his will to his son, Jacob stands in stark contrast to his father and grandfather.

When Abraham sends his servant on the mission to find a wife for Isaac, Abraham instructs his servant, 'Please place your hand beneath my thigh. And I will make you swear by Gd, Gd of the Heavens and Gd of the land….' While Abraham binds his servant to a similar oath, he makes it clear that the servant is expected to comply with his instructions. He informs the servant that he will make him take an oath, and he outlines his wishes in the manner that one would expect that a master instructs his servant. Conversely, Jacob addresses his son with the formal and humble petition, "If I have found favor in your eyes…" What’s more, it is amazing to see that Jacob asks Joseph ‘please’ three times. Does Jacob really need to ask his son if he has 'found favor' in Joseph's eyes? Does Jacob need to prove himself to his son? Is it necessary for him to so thoroughly humble himself?
And this is not even to mention the fact that Gd has already promised that He will surely raise Jacob out of Egypt (46:4);* even if Jacob is asking Joseph to perform Gd's promised will, Jacob should speak with the confidence of one who has a divine assurance. One would expect Jacob to carry more surety that he will indeed be carried out of Egypt.

“And I will lay with my fathers [i.e. I will pass on]- lift me from Egypt and bury me in their burial; and he said, ‘I will do as per your word.’ And he said, ‘Swear to me,’ and he swore to him; and Israel bowed at the head of the bed” (47:30-31).

As Jacob plans for his own death, which he senses is imminent, the Torah calls to our attention that he has lived in Egypt for 17 years. The Torah’s standard epitaph includes a description of how many years the deceased lived, but it does not usually indicate how long the individual has been in a specific location. Therefore, when the Torah says that Jacob has reached 147, the additional comment about his time in Egypt must raise eyebrows. It is now 17 years after Jacob met with Pharaoh and told him, “Few and poor (* ra’im*, lit. evil or bad) were the days of my life” (47:9). It has been 17 years since Jacob told Joseph, “I will die this time after I have you’re your face, for you are still alive” (46:30). After Jacob expected to die, when it seemed that his life had come full circle, when he had reached closure, he lived another 17 years. He had spoken to Pharaoh as though his life were already over, but he was mistaken.
How Jacob knows he is dying is not entirely clear. His vision has begun to deteriorate, but it seems that he is not really deathly ill until after he tells Joseph to bury him in Kena’an. We might guess that he has a divine indication or a premonition, though there seems no textual evidence to determine conclusively how he knew. Still, Jacob is alive, and he remains alive long enough to impart final advice to each of them. Consequently, this line at the beginning of the reading- this note about Jacob’s age- is not an epitaph at all. Rather than the Torah editorializing, it is Jacob who realizes that he has reached the age of 147. And a reflective Jacob realizes that he has been in Egypt for 17 years.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch explains Jacob’s strange exchange with Pharaoh (please see 47:7-10). Pharaoh, impressed by Jacob’s stature, asks him how many were the days of his life’s years. He is sure that Jacob has made the most of many days, rather than letting the days and years pass by. And Jacob, humbled by life’s experienced, answers that he has not lived as many days as his fathers before him. Indeed, he has ‘dwelled’** for 130 years, but the days of his actual life, the days of vibrancy, have been regrettably few. Jacob laments his inadequacy when measured against his forebears.
What is it that so saddens Jacob? Why is he so convinced that his life has been so bereft? He prepares for his death in Egypt, sent into Exile to live out his last days. His fathers before him died in Kena’an and were buried there, but he is destined to demise in a foreign land.
When, years later, Jacob realizes that death truly is imminent, he is humbled once again. While he originally thought that he had finished his life’s calling in reuniting with Joseph, he now realizes that another 17 years have passed with his son. He lives 17 years in Egypt, though the *days of his life* should number 147. The last time Jacob had thought his life’s mission was complete, the last time he was prepared to settle down into tranquility and passivity, was when he first brought his family into Kena’an (37:1). He had ambitions at that time, Rashi notes, to relax through his final days. He hoped to settle in Kena’an, the land of his fathers. But the verse refers to Kena’an as the place of his fathers’ *dwelling.* Jacob did not appreciate that even his fathers’ lives were somewhat transient, that they could never afford a mentality of relaxation. And the Torah notes that when Jacob wanted to settle in Kena’an, permanently and finally, his son Joseph began to have dreams that would ultimately bring about hatred and estrangement from the family. At the time, the Torah notes that Joseph was 17 years old (37:2).
Therefore, after Jacob’s second 17 years with his son, he begins to wonder where he stands with his son. He starts to believe that maybe he is responsible for his son’s alienation, and he needs to reaffirm that his son is still loyal to his fathers’ tradition. After all, Gd has told Jacob that 'Joseph will extend his hand over your eyes.' It is only Joseph, now clearly the most powerful of Jacob's sons, who can help Jacob to peace when he dies. It is only Joseph who can carry the torch.
Just as Abraham before him tells his servant to make an oath on his circumcision, Jacob demands this of his son. Joseph's oath, like that of Abraham's servant, is not a trivial commitment. The task being undertaken is as sacred as the circumcision- the task is itself a necessary objective for the continuity of Abraham's tradition. Jacob needs to discern that Joseph is loyal, and Joseph’s loyalty alone can assure Jacob’s place alongside his fathers. It is for this reason that Jacob so delicately and humbly asks Joseph to bury him in Kena’an, not to allow his legacy to be interred forever in the Egyptian sand.

* Relating a tradition from the Jerusalem Talmud, Rashi comments on that verse that Gd’s promise to draw Jacob out of Egypt is specifically a reference to his burial in Kena’an.

** Jacob uses the Hebrew root *gr* to describe the total days of his life. This word is used to connote temporary residence. Please note the usage of this term, in contrast to other terms of life and residence.

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Sunday, December 19, 2004

Shmoneh Esrei's 3 Steps

The topic for shiur this morning was inspired by my recently sprained ankle which impeded my ability to take the steps prior to and following Shomneh Esrei. Sources are available here.

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Public(?) Fast Days

What is the status of the fasts of י"ז תמוז, ג' תשרי, and י' טבת nowadays?

We see a number of disputes regarding the laws and customs of these fasts:

  1. ספרדים formally announce these fasts in shul on the previous שבת, and אשכנזים do not (שו"ע או"ח תקנ:ד).
  2. אשכנזים read a הפטרה at מנחה, while ספרדים do not.
  3. While the prevelant custom is to permit eating in the morning before dawn as long as one went to sleep with the stipulation that he was not accepting the fast, the מהר"ם is doubtful that this stipulation works.
  4. Some ראשונים hold that the fasts end at sunset, while others maintain that they end later, at nightfall.

I think that these disputes may all reflect two different approaches to these fasts.

Based on זכריה ח:יח, we learn (:ר"ה יח) that in a time of peace (understood as when the Temple is standing), these are days of joy, and in a time of persecution, they are fast days. In a time of neither peace nor persecution, such as nowadays, "if they so desire, they fast, and if they so desire, they don't fast."

The רמב"ן and the ר"ן point out that these are all inherently full תעניות ציבור, with all 5 of the restrictions that we observe on ט' אב and יום הכיפורים in force in a time of persecution. It's just that when כלל ישראל accepted to observe these fasts nowadays, we said, "we desire -- but only to a certain extent. We'll obstain only from eating and drinking, and only during the daytime." The ריטב"א and ריב"ש, on the other hand, see these days as "communal תעניות יחיד" (oxymoronic as that sounds), on which, in recognition of the events that led the נביאים to institute תעניות ציבור on these days in a time of persecution, we all observe individual fasts (with all of the usual leniencies of individual fasts).

The דברי יציב raises the question of whether the provision of a situation of neither peace nor persecution was part of the original תקנה of the נביאים. I think that the first approach above assumes that they are, so our observance of a fast on these days, even with its leniencies, is a partial קיום of "if they so desire, they fast," and of the original תעניות ציבור instituted by the נביאים. The second approach, on the other hand, might note that the verse from זכריה only addresses a case of them being either full fasts or days of joy, and assume that the question of what to do in a "regular" era was only addressed later. "If they so desire, they fast" means that the nature of the day is not covered by the תקנת נביאים at all, but individuals may choose on their own to observe a fast on this day (and our מנהג is that every individual should make this choice).

How these two approaches are reflected by the 4 disputes listed at the top of the post will be saved for the comments, if anybody's reading...

May our individual and communal introspection this עשרה בטבת help us to be זוכה to celebrate it next year as a day of ששון ושמחה.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Hello, World

  1. Thanks to Matt for inviting me on board!

  2. My impression is that most people's computers are able to display Hebrew without a problem, so I'd like to use it for Hebrew terms in my posts. Here's a test sentence: עכשיו הזמן לכל אנשים טובים לבוא לעזרת מדינתם. Let me know if you can't read that, and I'll switch to transliteration.

  3. No, I'm not really a rav.

  4. It's possible that I will have more open questions than actual chiddushim, but I hope that you, dear readers, will be generous enough to share your thoughts.

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Monday, December 13, 2004

LeHashkicham Toratecha

So, as expected, the crazy travel surrounding the interviewing process has left Chiddushim neglected. Not to worry. In the spirit of Channukah, Rav David E Cohen of Teaneck has stepped forward to become a contributor to Chiddushim to help pick up the slack. Baruch Habah!

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Yaakov's Superpowers

In Parshat Veyetze, we see that Yaakov's guf is not bound by it's limits, but rather is very much effected by his emotions. The obvious instance is in 29:10 where he sees Rachel and is inspired to pull of the well covering all by himself. Additionally, just a few pesukim earlier, in 29:1, "Vayesa Yaakov Raglav" Rashi comments that he was so happy that his legs carried themselves, once again the same attribute of his guf being governed by his emotions.

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