Monthly Archives: October 2014

The Rainbow in the Clouds

Over Shabbat Rabbi Amnon Bazak spoke in shul about the image of the rainbow as the sign of the covenant between God and mankind. I found his idea very insightful, so I’m sharing it here.  He suggested that in fact it is not the rainbow that is the symbol, but rather the rainbow in the clouds.  Throughout Tanach the image of the keshet, the bow, as well as the image of arrows are described as God’s weapons.  Clouds symbolize protection/cover from the Divine presecnese.  Thus, he suggested, that the sign of the covenant is God’s weapon embedded in the cloud – which represents God withholding of his punishment.

He wrote up a longer version of it on the VBM – the relevant paragraph is below:

אמנם ייתכן שהקשת מבטאת הפסקת לחימה בדרך שונה במקצת. המילה קשתאינה מופיעה בפרשה בגפה. בכל שלוש הופעותיה היא סמוכה למילה ענן‘, וצירוף זה – הוא הוא אות הברית: “אֶת קַשְׁתִּי נָתַתִּי בֶּעָנָן וְהָיְתָה לְאוֹת בְּרִית בֵּינִי וּבֵין הָאָרֶץוְהָיָה בְּעַנְנִי עָנָן עַל הָאָרֶץ וְנִרְאֲתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת בֶּעָנָןוְהָיְתָה הַקֶּשֶׁת בֶּעָנָן וּרְאִיתִיהָ לִזְכֹּר בְּרִית עוֹלָם“. הווה אומר: לא הקשת גרידא היא אות הברית, כי אם נתינתה בענן. הענן משמש במקרא ככיסוי, כגון לכבוד ה‘ (“וַיִּשְׁכֹּן כְּבוֹד העַל הַר סִינַי וַיְכַסֵּהוּ הֶעָנָן שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים[שמות כד, טז]), לכפורת (“וְכִסָּה עֲנַן הַקְּטֹרֶת אֶת הַכַּפֹּרֶת אֲשֶׁר עַל הָעֵדוּת וְלֹא יָמוּת[ויקרא טז, יג]) ולמשכן (“וּבְיוֹם הָקִים אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן כִּסָּה הֶעָנָן אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן[במדבר ט, טו]). נתינת הקשת בענן מסמלת אפוא את כיסויהּ – אות להפסקת אש‘, כמו השבת חרב לנדנה: הקבה מכסה אחד מכלי מלחמתו ומתחייב שלא להשתמש בו עוד.1 כשיעלו עננים לשמים ותיראה הקשת בענן, סימן הוא שהקשת עודנה מכוסה, ולא תשמש עוד כנגד כל בשר.2

1דומה שכך יש להבין גם את המדרש הזה: ” ‘והיתה הקשת בענן וראיתיה‘ – כי דרכתי קשתי והבאתי עליה מבול, אבל מעתה ראיתיה שלא דרוכה” (פסיקתא זוטרתא [לקח טוב], בראשית ט‘, טז). נתינת הקשת בענן משמעה שהקשת נתפסת כלא דרוכה“.

Nachat Ruach: The Right of Religious Experience? (And Some Comments about Dancing with Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah)

Is there a “right to religious experience”? This was the question Rabbi Aryeh Klapper posed in the context of Halacha and disabilities this past summer. I was supposed to give a shiur on this topic at the Summer Beit Midrash, but due to the situation here in Israel, our flight was delayed and I never made it to Boston. However, I gave the shiur recently, (here) and I hope it sheds some light on that question. At the end, I will make some comments about women dancing with the sefer Torah on Simchat Torah, just to frame the issues a bit.

I noted first that it is general difficult to speak about rights in the context of Halacha, a system built around obligations. However, I noted that the Gemara was aware that pastorally it is not always effective to reject any claim to desire for unjustified religious experience on the basis that there are no rights in Halacha. As an example, I mentioned the famous story about Hillel, Shamai and the Ger who wanted to be the kohen gadol. Shamai, upon hearing the demand, threw out the potential Ger. Hillel accepted him, but led him to understand why he could not be the kohen gadol (“even the king of Israel would be put to death for trespassing in the Mikdash”), and enabled the Ger to enter the Jewish people and accept the limitations that were placed on him. Both Hillel and Shamai take as a given that limitations are placed on people’s religious experience, but only Hillel understands that one has to be sensitive and smart when explaining this to people. For this he is praised and Shamai critiqued.

There is, however, one concept that may indicate a measure of “right to religious experience” – nachat ruach. The Gemara in two places records that although women are not obligated to do semicha on korbanot, they were permitted to according to some positions to allow for nachat ruach – to make them happy. The Gemara then has two stages. In the first, the Gemara assumes that semicha did not need to be done with full force. If it had, then women could not do it without an obligation as that would have been meilah, illicit use of kodshim when they leaned on the animal. The second stage assumes that semicha does require full force, but assumes that women did a pseudo-semicha. The Gemara seems to have allowed it despite concerns of marit ayin. 

Continue reading Nachat Ruach: The Right of Religious Experience? (And Some Comments about Dancing with Sifrei Torah on Simchat Torah)

Some thoughts on Yom Tov davening

Seemingly, davening on special days should reflect our primary experience of the day. As such, on Shabbos we say “mekadesh haShabbos”. Similarly, on Rosh Chodesh we say “mekadesh Yisrael veRashei Chadashim”. On Rosh HaShana we both name God as king of the world and name the day (Yom HaZikaron, its biblical name) and on Yom Kippur we not only name the day and proclaim God king of the world but also celebrate his forgiveness. As such, one might have expected that for the Shalosh Regalim (Pesach, Shavuos and Sukkos) we would name the day at the end of the bracha in davening, the most important part of the bracha. However, we don’t. Instead, we have a generic label for all three holidays which seems to proclaim their sameness, not their uniqueness. Furthermore, the entirety of the davening for these three festivals seems the same. While we do (twice) name the specific festival we are celebrating, the wording of the prayers doesn’t distinguish between them at all. Why is this? It would seem that the primary of experience of Yom Tov (which our davening should reflect) is just that, a Yom Tov.

An interesting test of this premise could be the Gemara in Eiruvin 96a. There the Gemara states the (normative) opinion of Rabbi Akiva that one is exempt from the Mitzva of Tefillin on Shabbos and Yom Tov because Tfillin is an os, or sign (according to the Rid it is a sign that we keep the mitzvos) and so too Shabbos and Yom Tov are an os (from God to us). The Tosafos there ask whether this applies to Chol HaMoed because it features a very limited probation on melacha as well as the mitzvos which characterize the festival such as eating matzah or sitting in the Sukkah. They prove from a Gemara that seemingly there is no such exemption on Chol HaMoed. Seemingly, if these mitzvos were sufficiently a sign so as to preclude the need for the sign of Tefillin they would be more prominent in our davening as well. As such, it would seem that they form only a secondary layer to our experience of Yom Tov.

It should be noted that the Behag and the Zohar both state that Tefillin should not be worn on Chol HaMoed seemingly contradicting my analysis. Also I think that what I wrote here explains nicely the reason why Chol HaMoed our only mention of the chag features its particular description, either Chag HaMatzos or Chag haSukkos. On Chol HaMoed our primary experience of the festival is really through its own unique mitzvos and not through any issur melacha, and as such, that is what our davening reflects. Just some musings from Yom Tov

Sleeping in the Sukkah – The Primary Part of the Mitzvah?

Many people think about eating in the Sukkah as the main mitzvah, probably because the minhag (as Shulchan Aruch notes in Orach Chaim 639:8) is to only make the Bracha when eating.  This is based on the position of Rabbenu Tam who claims that the “primary dwelling is eating”, which seems to be is meant to be a comment about berachot rather than the nature of living in the Sukkah.  Nevertheless, some people think that eating is the central mitzvah.  However, the simplest understanding of the Gemara is that the mitzvah is not to do a series of actions in the sukkah, but rather to live in the took – teshvu k’ein taduru.  As such, eating is just one part of living.  The Rambam rules that one makes a bracha every time one enters the sukkah, making it clear that eating has no special status, even on the level of brachot (leaving the first night aside).

However, it should be noted that the Leket Yosher citing the Terumat HaDeshen claims that the primary mitzvah is sleeping in the sukkah.  For this reason he claims that one cannot sleep in the sukkah on Erev Chag so that people will sleep l’teavon – desire to sleep (as if a nap has ever made me want to go to sleep less on a Yom Tov…).  This is both novel because it puts sleep front and center, and because of the obligation to desire to live in the sukkah, parallel to the one does not eat matzah erev Pesach so that he will desire matzah.  These points are highlighted and developed by R. Menachem Kasher in Divrei Menachem 4:24 (here).  The previous responsum deals with what else is prohibited on Erev Chag (or why things are not prohibited according to most poskim).

Yes, there are many halachic suggestions as to why most people, at least in Chutz LaAretz don’t sleep in the sukkah, but the simplest understanding of the Gemara is that one must, and, as the Leket Yosher notes, it may be even more important than eating.  (This provides an interesting explanation for why the Gemara says one can snack but not nap out of the sukkah, even though both acts are arai –  though the Gemara provides another reason.)

Anyways – just some pre-Chag thoughts.  Chag Sameach!

Mental Illness in Halacha and Rav Asher Weiss on OCD

Reading the teshuvot of Rav Asher Weiss is amazingly thrilling and comforting. The breadth of his knowledge, the strength of his arguments, his common sense, and his deep sensitivity shine through, making it clear that our generation has at least one amazing posek who will help us navigate the halachic issues that arise for many years to come. I spent a recent shiur (here) analyzing his teshuva in the second volume (#134) written to a Talmid Chacham with OCD. I used this shiur to explore how Halacha has come to recognize mental illness.

Classically, Halacha only recognized mental illness is very limited circumstances. For example, when psychological issues affected one’s physical well-being, we allowed breaking Shabbat to calm them down. This is the basis for all the things we are allowed to do for a woman giving birth to bring her yishuv hadaat. Similarly, Halacha has a category of shoteh, of someone who is simply not culpable because they are deemed legally insane. However, it is hard to find indications of poskim dealing with mental illnesses per se.

Yet, especially in the Charedi world, one sees a total acceptance of this, especially when it comes to OCD. Continue reading Mental Illness in Halacha and Rav Asher Weiss on OCD

More on Two Days of Yom Kippur (Hebrew)

After I gave shiur on keeping two days of Yom Kippur (here and here) I discovered some new sources.  As Yom Kippur approaches quickly, I don’t have time to write them up, but I will post the Hebrew summary that I sent out to the Kollel Gavoah (the punctuation at the end of each paragraph is on the wrong side wordpress seems not to process English and Hebrew at the same time…).

מצאתי שני ראשונים שלא הלכו בדרכם של תוס’, רשב”א, ריטב”א וכו’.  הבעל המאור הסביר שלוי יצא באמצע אלול אבל שמע שהם רצו לעבר החדש.  זה דומה לשיטת הטורי אבן שבעקרון זה היה בעיה בעדות.  אבל, שיטתו מוזרה, כי בזמן שקדשו על פי ראייה, ב”ד לא קבעו מראש אם החדש היה מלא או חסר…

המאור הקטן מסכת ראש השנה פרק א – ארבעה ראשי שנים [דף א עמוד א]

[דף כא ע”א] וההוא עובדא דלוי דאיקלע לבבל בחדסר בתשרי מסתברא שבתוך חדש אלול יצא לוי מא”י והיו ב”ד נמלכין לעבר את החדש ולפיכך לא רצה להעיד עדות שלימה כי שמא חזרו בהן והאי דקאמר להו לא שמעתי מפי ב”ד מקודש לישנא דמתני’ נקט למימרא להו כדתנן שבהן שלוחין יוצאין כדפירשה אביי בגמ’ ואין המעשה מתיישב עלי לפרשו בענין אחר זולתי מה שכתבתי שאמר עמד שם לוי כל חדש אלול וראה שלא קדשו החדש בזמנו בידוע שהיה מעובר ועל מה גמגם בעדותו.

מצאתי בפירוש הרמב”ם למסכת ר”ה (יש לנו רק כמה קטעים מפירושו של הש”ס אבל בדף הזה יש)  הוא חידש שלוי לא העיד להם שב”ד עיברו את החדש אלא שעברו השנה.  כלומר, זה היה אמצא מרחשון והוא בא והגיד להם שהיו חייבים לצום כי היום היה באמת י’ תשרי!

באוצר הגאונים נמצא שרבא צם שני ימים של תשעה באב, ולא יו”כ, כי אף פעם לא היה תקנה לשמור שני ימים של יו”כ.  זה מאד דחוק בסוגיא, אבל כנראה הם חשבו שהוא צם שני ימים של תשעה באב כי עיקר שריפת הבית היה בעשרה באב (הערה של אלכס).

מה שטענתי בדברי הרשב”א שיש כח משני לב”ד בחו”ל נמצא בספר תרועת מלך סימן לט’.  הוא מציע שהב”ד בחו”ל פועל מדין שליחות של ב”ד בא”י, אבל רק במקרה שהם לא יודעים בברור שהם מתנגדים להם.  לכן, אם לוי היה מעיד, היו צריכים לצום פעם שניה.

 שלמה הזכיר לי שהגרי”ד (אגרות הגרי”ד עמוד פד) מיישם את חידוש המפורסם שלו בענין קידוש החדש בסוגיא זה.  הגרי”ד הציע שכח ב”ד לקדש החדש בא מתפקידם כמייצג של כלל ישראל.  בזה הוא מסביר איך לקביעת החדש ע”י חשבון יש כוחו של ב”ד – כי זה גם נעשה ע”י כלל ישראל.  הגרי”ד התקשה בדברי התוס’ (כי גם הוא סבר שלמרות חידושו, יש לב”ד בירושלים סמכות מיוחדת בענין קביעת החדש), אבל כתב שמה שיוצא ברור מתוס’ הוא שגם לכלל ישראל כולו יש הכח לקבוע החדשים, ולכן אפשר לומר על יהודים בבבל “אתם אפילו שוגגין…”.  אבל, נדמה לי שעדיין צריך מה שאמרתי לגבי כח משני לב”ד בבל להסביר את זה, כי כמו שציין הגרי”ד בעצמו, אפילו לשיטתו יש מעמד מיוחד לב”ד הגדול.

הגרי”ד גם מוכיח מהסוגיא הזו שיש צורך בעדות פורמלית ולא רק ידיעה כדי לקדש את החדש.

A Yom Kippur Thought from C.S. Lewis

For a little bit of a different kind of post…

It is well known that when asked to suggest a sefer of mussar, Rav Lichtenstein suggests The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, a brilliant book in which one demon instructs his nephew how to successfully tempt human beings.  Each chapter is a letter in which Screwtape highlights human failings, which his Wormwood is supposed to take advantage of, but, the readers, are supposed to be wary of.  For a bit of pre-Yom Kippur reading, I reread one of my favorite passages in that book – the first chapter.  There he notes that in the modern world, the easiest way for people to be lost (or acquired by Screwtape’s “Father Below”) is not to distort or corrupt them, but rather to distract them.  We are actually pretty good and seeing what we are doing wrong, as long as we don’t forget to think.  As I noted a few days ago, the Meiri claims that the purpose of the Yamim Noraim is to force us to set aside some time to do introspection.  Life is busy, and every day we have a million things going on, not to mention emails, calls, texts, facebook comments, tweets, you name it to respond to.   Continue reading A Yom Kippur Thought from C.S. Lewis

Two Days of Yom Kippur

In the Kollel this week, I gave a shiur on a topic that appears as a side point in the beginning of Masechet Challah (1:1 in the Yerushalmi), but is relevant to this week – namely why we generally do not keep two days of Yom Kippur (as we do by all other Chagim), and why some people did.  The shiur and sources are available here.

I will not go into all the details, but I want to mention one position that I did not develop there.  I noted that it seems to be that many of the Rishonim who kept two days of Yom Kippur seemed to have done so as an expression of general piety, rather than actually as an expression of Yom Kippur (a claim made most forcefully by Professor Ephraim Kanarfogel, who first showed me the prevalence of this minhag in Ashkenaz and the implications it has).  This fits well with the minhag recorded by the Rokeach to fast throughout the Aseret Yimei Teshuva.  The Tashbetz Katan even notes that keeping two days of Yom Kippur could only become binding if one kept it as two days of Yom Kippur and not if he kept it because he always fasted anyways.  This implies that were at least some people who fasted on what would be day two of Yom Kippur as an excuse to do what they were inclined to do anyway.  Continue reading Two Days of Yom Kippur