Category Archives: Hashkafa

Korach, Kohanim, and the Chashmonaim

After the 250 men who challenged Moshe and Aharon are killed by the heavenly fire, Hashem instructs Moshe to have Elazar take the pans used in the test of the Ketoret and make a cover for the Mizbeach.  The goal is so that others will not be “like Korach and his congregation.” Continue reading Korach, Kohanim, and the Chashmonaim

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And Introduction to Halachic Pluralism – The Introduction to the Tanya

The introduction of the melaket to the Tanya (who was the author but he chose to publish in anonymously) explains the reason why he chose to put the sefer out. In truth, he writes later (in the part we will not discuss) that he did so because the letters which constitute the Tanya had already been published widely but the published versions contained mistakes and therefore he felt that he needed to set it right. This is supported also by the haskamos at the beginning of the sefer. However, before he explains that detail, he explains why he felt these were things which needed to be published at all, let alone in a scrupulously correct text.

הנה מודעת זאת כי מרגלא בפומי דאינשי בכל אנ”ש (אנשי שלומנו) לאמר כי אינה דומה שמיעת דברי מוסר לראייה וקריאה בספרים שהקורא קורא לפי דרכו ודעתו ולפי השגת ותפיסת שכלו באשר הוא שם ואם שכלו ודעתו מבולבלים ובחשיכה יתהלכו בעבודת ה’ בקושי יכול לראות את האור כי טוב הגנוז בספרים אף כי מתוק האור לעינים ומרפא לנפש

The Tanya starts with a statement that books are inadequate for teaching because they rely on a certain level of background knowledge and ability to understand in advance. They can then build on that base. On the other hand, they allow for knowledge to be widely disseminated. Here he is only talking about mussar which can be found in Sefarim but I think that this is a more expansive comment as well will see presently.

ובר מן דין הנה ספרי היראה הבנויים ע”פ שכל אנושי בוודאי אינן שוין לכל נפש כי אין כל השכלים והדעות שוות ואין שכל אדם זה מתפעל ומתעורר ממה שמתפעל שכל חבירו וכמו שארז”ל גבי ברכת חכם הרזים על ששים ריבוא מישראל שאין דעותיהם דומות זו לזו וכו’ וכמ”ש הרמב”ן ז”ל במלחמות שם בפירוש הספרי גבי יהושע שנאמר בו איש אשר רוח בו שיכול להלוך נגד רוחו של כל אחד ואחד וכו’. אלא אפילו בספרי היראה אשר יסודותם בהררי קודש מדרשי חז”ל אשר רוח ה’ דבר בם ומלתו על לשונם ואורייתא וקב”ה כולא חד וכל ששים רבוא כללות ישראל ופרטיהם עד ניצוץ קל שבקלים ופחותי הערך שבעמינו ב”י כולהו מתקשראן באורייתא ואורייתא היא המקשרת אותן להקב”ה כנודע בזה”ק הרי זה דרך כללות לכללות ישראל ואף שניתנה התורה לידרש בכלל ופרט ופרטי פרטות לכל נפש פרטית מישראל המושרשת בה הרי אין כל אדם זוכה להיות מכיר מקומו הפרטי שבתורה: והנה אף בהלכות איסור והיתר הנגלות לנו ולבנינו מצאנו ראינו מחלוקת תנאים ואמוראים מן הקצה אל הקצה ממש ואלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים לשון רבים על שם מקור החיים לנשמות ישראל הנחלקות דרך כלל לשלשה קוין ימין ושמאל ואמצע שהם חסד וגבורה וכו’ ונשמות ששרשן ממדת חסד הנהגתן גם כן להטות כלפי חסד להקל כו’ כנודע וכ”ש וק”ו בהנסתרות לה’ אלהינו דאינון דחילו ורחימו דבמוחא ולבא דכל חד וחד לפום שיעורא דיליה לפום מה דמשער בליביה כמ”ש בזה”ק על פסוק נודע בשערים בעלה וגו’:

Here we see that although the primary interest is the mussar potential in sefarim, he presents us with a model for pluralism in Torah in general, including an explicit discussion about machlokes in halachah. Why do people disagree about halachah? Because the way in which individual Jews connect with Torah in the abstract leads them to different manifestations of the same principles. It is important to note that this is based on a particular understanding of Torah which is that the general principles do not inform the details. Rather, the details need not reflect at all on the principles in a way which I personally can perceive. Many thinkers assume this to be true (the most famous is of course the Rambam). Because the Torah in the abstract contains a system known as a specific mitzvah, but different people perceive it differently, they will arrive at sometimes radically different conclusions which are all true. It should also be noted that this is not the same as a perspective that says that each thinker perceived only part of the mitzvah and therefore their different perspectives can be combined into one unitary whole. The advantage which this perspective holds is that it allows not merely for different perspectives, rather it allows for those which are mutually exclusive without saying that our perception that they are mutually exclusive is inaccurate or incomplete.

This lies in sharp contrast to two other perspectives. The Chinuch in his mitzvah 78 states as follows:

ספר החינוך מצוה עח 

ומשרשי מצוה זו, שנצטוינו בזה לחזק קיום דתינו, שאילו נצטוינו קיימו התורה כאשר תוכלו להשיג כוונת אמיתתה, כל אחד ואחד מישראל יאמר דעתי נותנת שאמיתת ענין פלוני כן הוא, ואפילו כל העולם יאמרו בהפכו לא יהיה לו רשות לעשות הענין בהפך האמת לפי דעתו, ויצא מזה חורבן שתעשה התורה ככמה תורות, כי כל אחד ידין כפי עניות דעתו. אבל עכשיו שבפירוש נצטוינו לקבל בה דעת רוב החכמים, יש תורה אחת לכולנו והוא קיומנו גדול בה, ואין לנו לזוז מדעתם ויהי מה, ובכן בעשותינו מצוותם אנו משלימין מצות האל, ואפילו אם לא יכוונו לפעמים החכמים אל האמת חלילה, עליהם יהיה החטאת ולא עלינו. וזהו הענין שאמרו זכרונם לברכה בהוריות [דף ב’ ע”א] שבית דין שטעו בהוראה ועשה היחיד על פיהם, שהם בחיוב הקרבן לא היחיד כלל, זולתי בצדדים מפורשים שם.

The perception here is that of course Chachamim can makes mistakes in Torah and say things which are categorically not true, and for all that we really on their words because without that behaviour the system could nto survive. Everybody would simply do whatever they wanted however a united body of Jews with (more or less) united practice would not exist. The allowance for a plurality of views here is not because we think they are all equally correct, it’s because all of them have an equal chance of being correct, but in truth only one can be right.

חידושי הריטב”א מסכת עירובין דף יג עמוד ב 

אלו ואלו דברי אלהים חיים. שאלו רבני צרפת ז”ל היאך אפשר שיהו שניהם דברי אלהים חיים וזה אוסר וזה מתיר, ותירצו כי כשעלה משה למרום לקבל תורה הראו לו על כל דבר ודבר מ”ט פנים לאיסור ומ”ט פנים להיתר, ושאל להקב”ה על זה, ואמר שיהא זה מסור לחכמי ישראל שבכל דור ודור ויהיה הכרעה כמותם, ונכון הוא לפי הדרש ובדרך האמת יש טעם וסוד בדבר.

This sounds like all the different shitos which comes up are partly true. They each are true in of themselves but fail to capture the entire truth. You need to understand it all to get to the truth. This is as opposed to what we saw in the Alter Rebbe that each of the shitos accurately portrays the truth and the details are the result of a modification necessitated by that person’s individual inclinations, understanding and experiences.

A Channukah Message – Culture and Rhetoric

The Mishna in Succah 51a-b describes the happiness of the Simchas Beis HaSho’eivah. In response, the Gemara raises the general glory of the Beis HaMikdash and then begins to praise the Beis HaKnesses in Alexandria:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סוכה דף נא עמוד ב 

גמרא. תנו רבנן: מי שלא ראה שמחת בית השואבה לא ראה שמחה מימיו. מי שלא ראה ירושלים בתפארתה לא ראה כרך נחמד מעולם. מי שלא ראה בית המקדש בבנינו לא ראה בנין מפואר מעולם, מאי היא? – אמר אביי ואיתימא רב חסדא: זה בנין הורדוס. – במאי בניה? – אמר (רבא) +מסורת הש”ס: [רבה]+: באבני שישא ומרמרא. איכא דאמרי: באבני שישא כוחלא ומרמרא. אפיק שפה ועייל שפה, כי היכי דלקבל סידא. סבר למשעיין בדהבא, אמרו ליה רבנן: שבקיה, דהכי שפיר טפי, דמיתחזי כאדותא דימא. תניא, רבי יהודה אומר: מי שלא ראה דיופלוסטון של אלכסנדריא של מצרים לא ראה בכבודן של ישראל. אמרו: כמין בסילקי גדולה היתה, סטיו לפנים מסטיו, פעמים שהיו בה (ששים רבוא על ששים רבוא) כפלים כיוצאי מצרים +מסורת הש”ס: [פעמים שהיו שם ששים רבוא כיוצאי מצרים ואמרי לה כפלים כיוצאי מצרים]+, והיו בה שבעים ואחת קתדראות של זהב כנגד שבעים ואחד של סנהדרי גדולה, כל אחת ואחת אינה פחותה מעשרים ואחד רבוא ככרי זהב. ובימה של עץ באמצעיתה, וחזן הכנסת עומד עליה והסודרין בידו. וכיון שהגיע לענות אמן – הלה מניף בסודר, וכל העם עונין אמן. ולא היו יושבין מעורבין, אלא זהבין בפני עצמן, וכספין בפני עצמן, ונפחין בפני עצמן, וטרסיים בפני עצמן, וגרדיים בפני עצמן. וכשעני נכנס שם היה מכיר בעלי אומנתו ונפנה לשם, ומשם פרנסתו ופרנסת אנשי ביתו.

The Gemara starts by stating, similarly to the Mishna that one who did not see the happiness of the Mikdash during the Succot celebrations has never seen happiness. It then continues to state similarly that if one has never seen the glory of Yerushalayim has never seen glory and one who has never seen the beauty of the Mikdash has never seen beauty. Afterwards, the Gemara states in the name of Rabbi Yehuda that if one has never seen  the twin towers of the synagogue of Alexandria one has never seen the glory of the Jews. It then describes the glory of the shul at some length.

אמר אביי: וכולהו קטלינהו אלכסנדרוס מוקדן. מאי טעמא איענשו? – משום דעברי אהאי קרא לא תוסיפון לשוב בדרך הזה עוד, ואינהו הדור אתו. כי אתא, אשכחינהו דהוו קרו בסיפרא ישא ה’ עליך גוי מרחוק. אמר: מכדי, ההוא גברא בעי למיתי ספינתא בעשרה יומי, דליה זיקא ואתי ספינתא בחמשא יומי, נפל עלייהו וקטלינהו.

In the end Abaye asserts that this was all destroyed by Alexander the Great. Hashem used him as a vehicle of divine justice for the sin of returning to the land of Egypt, and it happened while they were (seemingly righteously) reading from the Torah a pasuk which predicted exactly that event. This depiction is difficult to understand. How is it that Alexander the Great destroyed the synagogue in Alexandria, a city which was completed after he died (and was named after him)? The tiny town which existed there before hand could not have possibly had such a large Jewish community. What does Abaye intend by this comment?

If we look at the Gemara it describes a glorious shul, however, the shul is described as a Greek building. It is a Basillica (a Roman public building used for court sessions). It contains within it catedras (meaning thrones) and it was named with a Greek word. These were people who were very assimilated in the local culture. Furthermore,  they had undertaken this process of assimilation in a place where they were not allowed to live. They weren’t just passing through, they were truly living there, it was their home. That is what destroyed them. If they had not depended so totally on the surrounding culture, and thus taken themselves permanently back to Egypt maybe it wouldn’t happen to them. Alexander the Great did this to them because he brought them the culture which they then attached themselves to. The point is not that he is directly responsible. The point is that he brought them the idea set they thought they could unite with Torah which told them the opposite and this was the result (that is the meaning of the fact that they were destroyed while reading psukim which foretold their fate).

Avodah and Accepting the Yoke of Heaven – Different Paradigms

The first Mishna of Maseches Berachos (which is the first Mishna of Shas according to our tradition) starts by stating the time at which Keriyas Shema should be said at night (when the first three stars appear in the sky). The Gemara immediately asks two questions:

  1. how do we know that we are obligated to read Keriyas Shema at all?; and
  2. why is it that with regard to Keriyas Shema we are told first about the obligation of Keriyas Shema at night but for the berachos which are said before and after, we are told about the day obligations before those of the night.

The Gemara gives two answers:

  1. the passuk in Keriyas Shema states “beshochbecha uvkumecha” so night time for Keriyas Shema comes first, and then since we have started talking about the day we continue in the berachos of the day before returning to talk about the berachos of the night; and
  2. the psukim speaking of the creation of the world always put night before day when speaking of the day therefore night comes before day in general in Halachah (Tosafos there state that the second part of the first answer, that we then simply continue talking about daytime prayers is obviously necessary here as well because otherwise we should have continued the berachos of night).

It is the second answer that I would like to talk about. It is not totally accurate that the Halachah always assumes that the night comes before the day. In the world of sacrifices we assume that the day comes before the night; we both eat the sacrifices (often) and finish the burning of sacrifices the night after and that is not considered for these purposes a separate day (Tosefta Zevachim 6, 15). Furthermore, in the fifth perek of the Maseches Berachos we hear first about the prayers which come in the morning first, and only afterwards afternoon and night (Mishna Berachos 5, 1). The difference for davening is easy to explain, since the obligation for davening is partially derived from the obligation for sacrifices (Gemara Berachos 26b) so it makes sense that the obligations would be expressed in this sense differently. However, that does not explain the basic difference between these different institutions. Why is it that instead of the simple and seemingly sufficient local answer for why the Mishna was expressed the way it is, the Gemara chose a far more global answer, and what does that teach us about the nature of Keriyas Shema as an obligation?

I heard from Rabbi Dr Avi Walfish once that the relationship between kodesh and chol is a central topic of perek Oso Ve’es Beno in Chullin. There we find the following Mishna:

משנה מסכת חולין פרק ה משנה ה

יום אחד האמור באותו ואת בנו היום הולך אחר הלילה את זו דרש שמעון בן זומא נאמר במעשה בראשית (בראשית א) יום אחד ונאמר באותו ואת בנו (ויקרא כב) יום אחד מה יום אחד האמור במעשה בראשית היום הולך אחר הלילה אף יום אחד האמור באותו ואת בנו היום הולך אחר הלילה:

He explained this Mishna based on that contention. There was a need to explain that Oso Ve’es Beno would apply to the general day of creation and not the specific day of sacrifices since the entire world of shechitah seems to derive in large part from the world of sacrifices. This time is the time of the creation of the world. The time depicted here is cosmic. On the other hand, the time of sacrifices where the night follows the day is human time, it is the time of human experience. We experience a day not as night and then daytime but as the time from when we get up in the morning until when we go to sleep at night once it is already dark. In human experience the night follows the day.

If the time of Keriyas Shema is determined by cosmic, objective time, a statement is made. Keriyas Shema is a reaction to the cosmic order. When one sees the wonderful world that G-d has created, that He rules over, the natural reaction is to proclaim His  kingdom and accept the yoke of His service. That is the very essence of Keriyas Shema (Mishna 2, 2). On the other hand, sacrifices are not necessarily an instinctive reaction to the creation of the world. They are crucial precisely because they have a certain artificial feel. Not only is the initial, instinctive, awestruck reaction important. The follow-up, the continuation, which will of necessity be contrived, must also occur. Without that, the initial reaction will not have staying power. This then, is the task of davening. First we express our awe at G-d’s creation, and then we follow up with the hard work of maintaining that sense of awe for the rest of the day.

Me’Inyana de’Yomah in the Daf Today

Today in the daf (in the Mishna) there is a disagreement between two Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi HaGlili. The Mishna relates their different opinions about the cities given over to the Leviim:

משנה מסכת סוטה פרק ה משנה ג
בו ביום דרש רבי עקיבא (במדבר ל”ה) ומדותם מחוץ לעיר את פאת קדמה אלפים באמה וגו’ ומקרא אחר אומר (שם) מקיר העיר וחוצה אלף אמה סביב אי אפשר לומר אלף אמה שכבר נאמר אלפים אמה ואי אפשר לומר אלפים אמה שכבר נאמר אלף אמה הא כיצד אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה תחום שבת רבי אליעזר בנו של רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר אלף אמה מגרש ואלפים אמה שדות וכרמים:

If we look in Rashi on this Mishna:

רש”י מסכת סוטה דף כז עמוד ב 

מגרש – רחבה פנויה מזריעה ומבתים ומאילנות לנוי העיר להיות לה לאויר ואלפים לא הוזכרו לתתן ללוים ולא נאמרו אלא ליציאת תחום שבת.

Rashi is saying that according to Rabbi Akiva the Leviim would not have been required to perform any agriculture themselves. Instead, they would rely on what others would give them (presumably maasros). Presumably he understood this from the famous passuk in Parashas Korach:

במדבר פרק יח 

(כא) וְלִבְנֵ֣י לֵוִ֔י הִנֵּ֥ה נָתַ֛תִּי כָּל־מַֽעֲשֵׂ֥ר בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לְנַחֲלָ֑ה חֵ֤לֶף עֲבֹֽדָתָם֩ אֲשֶׁר־הֵ֣ם עֹֽבְדִ֔ים אֶת־ עֲבֹדַ֖ת אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד:

It would seem that the point for him is that the Jews will supply Leviim with their food and therefore there will be no need for agriculture. After all, if most of the Jews are farmers and they each give one tenth to the Leviim (and there are presumably less Leviim than any other tribe), then they should have more than enough food. There was no planning for a time when this might not happen (alhough I think it’s interesting to wonder how this would have worked in the Northern Kingdom).

On the flip side, Rabbi Eliezer here is saying the opposite – of course there was a plan for a rainy day. Even if the Jews were meant to support the Leviim, the Leviim were not left helpless.

I think the relevance of this issue to the modern concern with Haredim is obvious. Should we support the bnei Torah among us and let them just sit and learn and serve Hashem for all of us and thus raise the spiritual lives of us all to greater spiritual heights, or should we assume that it is important (either morally, see the Rambam, or practically) that everyone take responsibility both for their spiritual life and their physical survival. We learnt (again in daf yomi) not long ago about a Yisachar Zevulun relationship. At what level is it a desirable institution? I don’t know how to apply all this (especially as it seems to be a disagreement), and I acknowledge the difference between Talmud Torah and Avodah in the Mikdash (though it can go either way), but I think it should be a part of the discussion.

Pirsumei Nisa as a State of Being

Pirsumei Nisa, the publicizing of the miracles God did for us, stands as the central value of Purim. Classically Keriat HaMegillah, the reading of the Megillah, is understood to be the prime instrument by which we broadcast God’s kindness that permeates the Purim story, albeit covertly. The Gemara invokes this notion to explain why reading the Megillah should take precedence over other mitzvot.1 While there are many other mitzvot hayom, the Megillah seems to take center stage, at least when it comes to ensuring our message reaches our audience. However, properly understood, this principle will be seen to manifest itself in a far more fundamental way. Continue reading Pirsumei Nisa as a State of Being

My Jokes are Funnier than Yours… When I Choose to be Funny

Yesterday (here), I noted that R. Zeira seems to have had a biting sense of humor that he used to enable himself to do introspection, as well as to direct mussar at others. I later remembered, however, that there is more than meets the eye in R. Zeira’s exchange with R. Yirmiyah. The Gemara in Berachot 31a cites from R. Yochanan in the name of R. Shimon bar Yochai that it “is forbidden to fill one’s mouth with laughter in this world” – that is until the time of Moshiach. The Gemara even notes that Reish Lakish never filled his mouth with laughter after hearing this!

However, it seems that not every member of Chazal was equally convinced by this prohibition. Specifically, R. Yirmiyah and R. Zeira disagreed – R. Zeira took this particularly seriously and R. Yirmiyah – not as much. R. Yirmiyah made it his life’s mission to make R. Zeira laugh – or at least that is how Rashi understands the following Gemara: Continue reading My Jokes are Funnier than Yours… When I Choose to be Funny

Magical Donkeys, Mussar, Introspection, and Humor

One phrase that is often pointed to as a proof of “yeridat hadorot”, the inevitable decline in spiritual stature as time marches on, is a line that appears in Shabbat 112b. In the context of praising R. Yochanan, the Gemara remarks that either “he was not human” or “he is the [ultimate?] human”. R. Zeira then adds “if the earlier generations were like angels, then we are people; if the earlier generations were people, we are donkeys.” This is classically taken as a mixture of praise our forefathers and mussar for us. However, as R. Aryeh Klapper has convincingly noted, this Gemara has a fare bit of humor mixed in as well. The Gemara continues that if we are donkeys “we are not like the donkeys of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa and Pinchas ben Yair, but rather like other donkeys.” This alludes to two stories in Shas, one in which one donkey refuses to eat food which has not had terumah and maasrot properly taken, and the other where the donkey refuses to eat when stolen and ends up being freed and returns home (perhaps related again to tevel, though different version are quoted). Rabbi Klapper notes that if one imagines someone getting up to give this as a mussar shmooze, while the point will get across, it will also elicit a laugh. “We are donkeys – and not special donkeys…” To start with mussar and then tell long stories about bright frum donkeys is a way to ensure they everyone knows you are speaking partially tongue in cheek. Take the mussar, but not too hard. Continue reading Magical Donkeys, Mussar, Introspection, and Humor

Does Majority Rule Apply Outside of Halachic Issues?

In the past (here and here) we have discussed the machloket between the Shach and Bach (both in the Kelalei Psak of the Shach- Yoreh Deah 242) whether the rule acharei rabim lehatot applies only to cases of Beit Din or to all cases of pesak. The Shach argues that anything that has been ruled on by a majority of poskim throughout the generations becomes binding pesak and cannot even be invoked in a shaat hadechak. The Bach disagrees, arguing that only in Sanhedrin, where there was a formal vote, can we invoke rules of rov.

Both R. Yaakov Emden and R. Yonatan Eibshitz notes that practically the Shach is impossible to implement, as we have no way of knowing how many sefarim have been lost, how poskim have rules orally, etc, making it impossible to reach a rov. Continue reading Does Majority Rule Apply Outside of Halachic Issues?

Is It Worse to Sin on Shabbat than During the Week?

Is it worse to do an averiah on Shabbat than during the week? The Chofetz Chaim (in the Hakdama) famously claims that doing an aveirah in the Mikdash or shul is worse because it is shows a lack of mora mikdash. Not to mention that there are numerous sources that suggest that mitzvot and aveirot are more serious when done in Eretz Yisrael (or only count there). Would the same be true of one violated the sanctity of time by sinning? This question arises in a discussion in a Yerushalmi in Demai (4:1, I discussed it in a shiur: here). Normally, when one has Demai, produce received from a Am HaAretz who we are not sure gave Maasrot, one cannot eat from it without separating Maaser again, and you cannot believe the Am HaAretz if he claims he already gave it. However, on Shabbat, the Mishna rules that you can ask the Am HaAretz and he will be believed. The Gemara suggests two rationales for this – either Kavod Shabbat or Eimat Shabbat. Kavod Shabbat means that as we want people to have food to enjoy Shabbat, we have leniencies that make it easier to have food. Eimat Shabbat means that we assume the Am HaAretz is afraid to lie on Shabbat, so we will believe him. Rashi in Ketubot 55b offers the first explanation (he calls it Oneg Shabbat). Tosafot offer the second. The Yerushalmi itself assumes that you need both, and the only question is which reason is primary (see there for how it plays itself out). At any rate, the issue I was wondering about is whether Eimat Shabbat indicates that it is actually worse to do aveirot on Shabbat? The Rambam and others assume not – the notion that it is worse to sin on Shabbat is just a helpful misconception that unlearned people have that allows us to be assured they are telling the truth. Other Rishonim assume that even unlearned people wouldn’t assume that. Rather, as there is a unique connection between Maasrot and Shabbat, as once Shabbat has passed one can no longer snack (eat arai) from produce without being mafrish Terumot and Maasrot, they think it is worse to lie about Maaser on Shabbat. Continue reading Is It Worse to Sin on Shabbat than During the Week?