Monthly Archives: June 2014

Why Teshuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah?

Another thought on doing mitzvot for the zechut  of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali’s return.  Everyone knows that teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah make up the triumvirate that cause harsh decrees to be rescinded.  Why?  Rabbi Mosheh Lichtenstein suggested in a sicha yesterday that all of these three emphasize our awareness that we are vulnerable. When we do Teshuva, we focus on the fact that we have done wrong and reflect on that.  We admit our mistakes, recognize that we don’t have a right to demand God to help us, but we hope that by admitting then humbly, God will act mercifully with us.   Regarding tefillah, our admission that we need God’s help is definitional.  As Ramban says, the paradigmatic prayer, that which he admits is biblical, is tefillah b’eit tzara, prayer in times of distress.  The Rav suggested that even the position of Rambam, that tefillah is a biblical mitzvah every day is based on the notion that man is always vulnerable.  As for tzedakah, we admit that not only does man need God, but man needs other people.  When we recognize that we need God and others, we develop a closeness that itself provides a basis for God to have mercy on us.  We also grow in the process which is also significant.  As I mentioned yesterday here, the Netziv suggests that any mitzvah we do with this recognition is a legitimate way of beseeching God.   As a reminder, there are many projects encouraging learning for the zechut of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad, such as this joint project here.  Another one of my friends, Ari Lamm, has started one which can be accessed here.

Learning Torah to Bring Back Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali

It has been amazing to see how many learning, chesed, tzedakah, and tefillah projects have popped up in the last several days for the zechut that the three boys return home safely (such as this one started by a friend of mine, Jacob Bernstein: here). Even without the zechut of the specific mitzvot, the unity of Klal Yisrael itself is no doubt powerful.

It did remind me of an issue that appears in Rishonim and Achronim. The Gemara in several places (Bava Batra 10b, Rosh Hashanah 4a, Pesachim 8a) records that one who gives tzedakah so that his son will live is a tzadik gamur. This seems to contradict the well-known Mishnah in Avot of Antignos Ish Socho (1:3) who says that we should always serve God not for the purpose of reward. Continue reading Learning Torah to Bring Back Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali

Intellectual Property: When Halacha Has to Deal with New Categories

It is always fascinating to see how poskim deal with issue, concepts, and categories that are new to Halachic discourse. They have many options at their disposal – they can integrate them, ignore, them, or find precedent to explain why they are not new at all. One telling example is the question of intellectual property and copyright law. Classically, Halacha recognized ownership of tangible objects. The paradigm of stealing was the case of a weapon being stolen out of someone’s hand. Ideas were not owned. Even more than that, it was often acceptable to copy others ideas – it was a sign of respect. For example, the fact that a large majority of Chiddushei HaRashba and Ritva copy the Chiddushim of the Ramban is a sign of the prominence of the Ramban, even when they don’t cite him directly.` However, when the outside world started recognizing a notion of intellectual property, poskim had to decide how to respond. Continue reading Intellectual Property: When Halacha Has to Deal with New Categories

Why Shavuot Deserves a Feast

The Gemara in Pesachim 68b records the machloket between R. Elazar and R. Yehoshua whether one should celebrate Yom Tov by splitting the day in half – half for God and half for man, or one can choose either or – either through eating and drinking or by learning and davening. However, there are three exceptions, where all agree you must eat and celebrate – Purim, Shavuot, and Erev Yom Kippur. Purim is understandable, as it is a day of physical celebration (now is not the time to explain why this is so, and see below for an alternative explanation). Erev Yom Kippur, the Gemara in several places records that it is an obligation to eat on Erev Yom Kippur, and eating then makes it like one fasted on the ninth and tenth of Tishrei. [There are positions who read this differently – such as it is as if you fasted on Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av (Knesset HaGedolah) or Tisha B’Av and Asara BiTevet (Amarkol) – both cited in Eliyahu Rabbah Orach Chaim 604:4.] Many positions are suggested for this in Rishonim – either because you need to prepare for Yom Kippur, or this is the “Yom Tov meal” of Yom Kippur, or this is the Simcha for the anticipated atonement of Yom Kippur. (See for example Shaarei Teshuva 4:8-10.) As for Shavuot, the Gemara says that one must celebrate by feasting because it is the day the Torah was given. Why should this be a reason to eat? Shouldn’t it be a reason to learn?

Many explanations have been offered, but I want make two points that are not classically made:

The Rokeach argues that we are really celebrating the fact that God forgave our sins on Shavuot – parallel to some of the postions suggested by Yom Kippur above. This is derived from a Yerushalmi that notes that the Korbanot on Shavuot do not include the word Chet, sin. The Yerushalmi and Rokeach are below:

תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת ראש השנה פרק ד הלכה ח


 ר’ לעזר בי ר’ יוסה בשם ר’ יוסי בר קצרתא בכל הקרבנות כתיב והקרבתם וכאן כתיב ועשיתם אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא מכיון שנכנסתם לדין לפני בראש השנה ויצאתם בשלום מעלה אני עליכם כאילו נבראתם בריה חדשה ר’ משרשיא בשם ר’ אידי בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטא ובעצרת אין כתיב חטא אמר להן הקדוש ברוך הוא מכיון שקיבלתם עליכם עול תורה מעלה אני עליכם כאילו לא חטאתם מימיכם:


ספר הרוקח הלכות שבועות סימן רצה


לא מצינו שלמי ציבור כי אם בעצרת על כן אסור להתענות ביום עצרת אפילו אם היה מתענה בכל יום כדאמר בפסחים בפ’ אלו דברים (דף סח) מר בריה דרבינא יתיב כולי שתא בתעניתא לבר מעצרתא ופוריא ומעלי יומא דכיפורי. עצרת יום שניתנה בו תורה וכו’. על כן צריכין ישראל לשמוח שמוחל הקדוש ברוך הוא עונותיהם דאמרי’ בירושלמי דראש השנה בסופו ר’ משרשיא בשם ר’ אחא בכל הקרבנות כתיב חטאת ובעצרת לא כתיב חטאת. אמר להם הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל מכיון שקבלתם עול התורה עליכם מעלה אני עליכם כאלו לא חטאתם מימיכם.

Rabbi Herschel Schachter (B’Ikvei HaTzon 39:11, pages 272-3), basing himself on a Ramban argues that we learn from Kabbalat HaTorah itself that receiving the Torah requires a celebratory meal, as we find that after they saw God they ate and drank. He further argues that this is the reason we must celebrate on Purim – because Chazal say that we reaccepted the Torah (Shabbat 88a) [This is also confirmed by a girsa of the Geonim who link Shavuot and Purim for this reason]. Lastly, he argues that at some level, a wedding is a personal Kabbalat HaTorah, and that is the basis for the obligation to celebrate at a wedding. [See his support from Pesachim 49a that says that real simcha is only when a Talmid Chacham marries a woman who is of his stature – indicating the centrality of Torah to this celebration.]

There are many other perspectives, but these are some which are less cited.

Chag Sameach!