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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Veering to the left and to the right

Rav Moshe Tzuriel Shlit”A has a beautiful piece on the Inyan of עשה לך רב or appointing a Rabbi for yourself. It is a wonderful article and should really be studied in its entirety (you can view it here). I just want to bring a portion of what he writes about a midrash that is often misinterpreted:

The Torah says (דברים יז, יא):

לא תסור מן הדבר אשר יגידו לך ימין ושמאל

You shall not deviate from that which they tell you to the left or to the right

Rashi bring the Sifri on this pasuk: (ספרי קנד)
אפילו אומר לך על ימין שהוא שמאל, ועל שמאל שהוא ימין, וכל שכן כשאומר לך על ימין ימין, ועל שמאל שמאל

Even if they say to you about right that it is left, and about left that it is right. How much more so when they say to you about right [that it is] right and about left [that it is] left.

This Rashi has led many people to make the mistake that we must follow a posek in halacha even if his position can be challenged from sources in the Gemara or in the early rishonim. This attitude is often called “Emunat Chachamim” or “Ase Lecha Rav.”

In truth, Rashi’s words (and the pasuk) only apply regarding the Sanhedrin and not a single rav in a particular generation. This is what the Ramban says on our pasuk:
שנשמע לבית דין הגדול העומד לפני השם במקום אשר יבחר בכל מה שיאמרו לנו בפירוש התורה

That we should listen to the high court which sits before Hashem in the place that He shall choose in all that they tell us in [their] interpretations of the Torah

This is also the pshat in the pasuk which says (Devarim 17:8) “and you shall rise and go up to the place that Hashem shall choose.” The Gemara on this pasuk says (ע"ז ח ע"ב) “This teaches that the location is key.” It is also important to note that the principle that Rashi brings does not appear in the Babylonian Talmud. What is amazing is that the Jerusalem Talmud actually teaches the exact opposite of the Sifri (הוריות א, סוף א):
יכול אם יאמרו לך על ימין שהוא שמאל ועל שמאל שהוא ימין, תשמע להם? ת"ל 'ללכת ימין ושמאל' (עד) שיאמרו לך על ימין שהוא ימין, ועל שמאל שהוא שמאל"

Could it be that if they tell you that right is left and left is right, that you will listen to them? [Thus the pasuk teaches:] “To go right and left,” [that is,] until they tell you that right is right and left is left.

Rav Yosef Nathanson Zt”l point out on this Yerushalmi (בהערות ציון וירושלים, שם) that this Gemara is against Rashi’s teaching. Also, the Rambam brings this Yerushalmi as halacha regarding whether someone knowledgeable in a topic is allowed to follow the majority of the Sanhedrin when he believes they are wrong (שגגות יג:ה):
הורו בית דין לאכול חלב הקיבה כולו, וידע אחד מן הקהל שטעו ושחלב הקיבה אסור, ואכל מפני הוראתן, שהיה עולה על דעתו שמצוה לשמוע מבית דין אע"פ שהם טועים, הרי זה האוכל חייב חטאת קבועה על אכילתו ואינו מצטרף למנין השוגגים על פיהם".

If the court instructed to eat all of the fat of the intestines, and someone from the congregation knew that they made a mistake and that the fat of the intestines is forbidden [but he still] ate based on their instruction since he thought that there is a mitzvah to listen to the court even when they are mistaken; then the one who ate is obligated to bring a sin-offering because of his eating and he does not join in the count of those who mistakenly sinned due to the instructions of the court.

Thus we have a psak halacha that is explicitly against the words of Rashi. The Rambam’s halacha is based on a Gemara in Sandedrin (90b) and thus both the Babli and Yerushalmi contradict the Sifri that Rashi brought and we are forced to say that Rashi was bringing the sifri as a Peirush, not as a psak. (This is what the Beit Yosef wrote on the matter in the name of the Rashba, או"ח סי' י' ד"ה ולענין הלכה)

There is another proof that can be brought from the Gemara against the method of those who actively follow Rashi. In Bava Batra (130b-131a) Rabba said to two of his students that when his halachic ruling comes before them and they have a disagreement with his words that they should come and ask him about it. But if a question arises after he has passed away, they should not rip his ruling since, maybe, if he were alive he would explain his position. However, they should not learn from that ruling regarding similar matters since “a judge only has what his eyes perceive.” It is explicit in his words that one should not rule like a Rav when there is a strong challenge to his opinion until they come and ask other sages to explain properly the position of the Rav. This is what the author of בני יששכר wrote in his book סור מרע ועשה טוב (ס"ק צ"ז ).

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The value of peace

Rav Kook shared with us in his letters his soul's response to machloket. I found it inspiring and I hope you do also:

"Thank G-d, I myself do not enjoy very much when people praise me, nor do I get upset or very angry when they degrade me. Praise to His blessed name, my constant involvement in the study of mussar and the esoteric teachings of our holy Torah has generated this trait within me... My only salvation and desire is to bring joy to people and to fulfill [the following verse] to the best of my ability: 'Those who fear You [G-d] shall see me and rejoice (Tehillim 119:74)" (Iggrot I, p. 42)

"Behold, I am a man of peace, and I pursue peace even in places where most people would not think it could be found. But that is my characteristic, especially since I come from the seed of Aharon, to whom the covenant of peace is entrusted." (Iggrot I, p. 168)

Translation from An Angel Among Men (p. 167)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Kiruv Post

The Mishna in Avot says (3:22):

Anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, to what is he likened? - to a tree whose branches are numerous but whose roots are few; then the wind comes and uproots it and turns it upside down; as it is said: (Jeremiah 17:6) 'And he shall be like an isolated tree in an arid land and shall not see when good comes; he shall dwell on parched soil in the wilderness, on a salted land, uninhabited.' But one whose good deeds exceed his wisdom , to what is he likened? - to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous; even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place; as it is said: (ibid 17:8) 'And he shall be like a tree planted by waters, toward the stream spreading its roots, and it shall not notice the heat's arrival, and its foliage shall be fresh; in the year of drought it shall not worry, nor shall it cease from yielding fruit.'

The Maharal makes a tremendous point on this Mishna (Derech Chaim pg. 157 London ed.):
Thus, when a person has more wisdom than his deeds, then he enters a level to which he is not prepared and therefore, the extra Torah that he has beyond the value of his deeds are to him as poison. As Chazal taught (Yoma 72b): 'If he merits, the Torah is an elixir of life. If he does not merit, an elixir of death.' Because the Torah needs to be appropriate to him. Thus he tends towards emptiness, and when an opposing force approaches him, he, [the person], becomes totally empty. [This is as] we already clarified, that the deeds of a person are considered the root and the essence of that person, and according to [the strength of] the roots, it is appropriate [that he acquires] wisdom which is analogous to branches.

This is a tremendous idea. Instead of Torah being a prerequisite to proper deeds, the proper deeds become the groundwork for proper Torah learning. When I first learned this Maharal, I immediately thought of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Zt"l approach to kiruv. The Rebbe emphasized over and over again that the proper approach to kiruv is to convince Jews to perform fundamental mitzvot. The learning would come later when the Jew is self-motivated to learn but performance of mitzvot is the main goal.

This is in diametric opposition to the approach other kiruv organizations take. Most of the kiruv world first tries to convince people of the Truth of the Torah and once they are convinced, teach them how to perform fundamental mitzvot. According to the Maharal's understanding of this Mishna, such Torah can be poison to these souls who are not prepared to appreciate its teachings.

This is something that is critical to our understanding of what Torah is. Torah is not just a bunch of data that we must integrate into our minds. Torah is G-d's wisdom that we must incorporate into the very essence of our spiritual and physical being. The physical parts of our world can only become prepared for the Torah through mitzvot which sanctify our physical bodies.

There is much talk in the blogosphere regarding the shortcomings of contemporary kiruv. Perhaps the problem with the common approach to kiruv is that it tries to enter the person through the mind instead of through the soul. When a Jew is exposed to true and sincere avodat Hashem, it affects them at their very soul. A soul that is lit by mitzvot begins to develop a sensitivity to the Truth of the Torah. This sensitivity is not based on the person's rational faculties. Rather, the person accepts the Torah as True through a sixth spiritual sense; a sense that perceives the Truth of the Torah in a manner similar to the way a person is aware of their own self. Such acceptance of Torah is not subject to rational challenges nor can it be proved nor disproved. Rather, such Emunah exists in a realm that is above reason. A realm where rational challenges are not ignored but neither do they challenge the foundation of the person's spiritual life. When tough questions come up, such a person can be much more comfortable with a wait-and-see approach whenever satisfactory answers are not readily available.

May we all merit to see the age when the “earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9) and the forces of doubt will be no more.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The miracle of Chanukah

Probably the most famous vort told over on Chanukah is the Beit Yosef's question regarding the 8 candles. The Beit Yosef asks why we commemorate 8 days when there was enough oil in the jug for 1 day. The first day, the oil burned naturally, thus the miracle was only the 7 days after the first and we should only commemorate 7 days of miracle. Almost every achron has their own answer to this question. I wanted to know if everyone can give as many answers that they have heard and we can collect them into one long post.

I will start by giving 2 that I learned over Shabbat.

Rav Kook Zt"l in his chiddushim on Shulchan Aruch gives 2 answers:

  • The extra day was added as a gzeira to protect people from the Issur DeOraita of creating a model of the Menora in the Beit Hamikdash. If the festival was only 7 days, people would make candelabras with 7 arms and therefore transgress a Torah commandment so chazal extended the holiday to protect people from this transgression.
  • The 1st day was miraculous as well. The Greeks had such hate for Jewish worship that they ransacked the entire Beit Hamikdash. The fact that even a small jug of oil escaped their attention is a miracle in and of itself.

Nu, what else do you guys have?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Rav Goren Zt"l

Since the 24th of Cheshvan is the Yhartzeit of Rav Shlomo Goren Zt"l, i wanted to relate a small historical story regarding his role in the defense of Jerusalem in the war of Independence.

Rav Herzog, upon a request from the commanders of the Army, sent Rav Goren to the Rabbinic leaders of Meah Shearim and the surrounding communities in order to convince them that the Yeshiva boys should work on Shabbat to dig tunnels against invading tanks. Rav Goren convinced almost all of the Rabbis (an exception was the Brisker Rav who refused to help the war effort in any way and labeled the secular Zionist as rodfim) and almost all of the yeshiva boys in Meah Shearim were recruited to the war effort (working even on Shabbat). The results of this tunnel were of note. The Sunday following Shabbat the tanks attacked. 2 tanks flipped over due to the tunnels and the rest retreated.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Klal Gadol BaTorah

Rav Kook writes (Orot, p. 169):

The trait of openheartedness - to include the whole world, all of humanity - belongs to Avraham. When it comes from recognition of the special stand of Am Yisrael, and from that flows a love of all people, that is praiseworthy, like Avraham, the father of many nations.

This point is made in a different fashion in Ein Aya (Chap. 5, 74):
One cannot love the collective unless he first loves every individual; therefore "Love your neighbor as yourself" is the basis of the Torah and the rest is just commentary.

Actually, there is an argument in the Gemara regarding which teaching the whole Torah can concentrated into: (BR 24:7)
Ben Azai said "This is the book of the generations of man," (Bereishit 5:1) That is the major principle in the Torah. Rabbi Akiva said "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Vayikra 19:18) This is the major principle.

Ben Azai obviously stresses that the main mission of the Torah is to benefit all of humanity. Rabbi Akiva stresses that the main mission of the Torah is to create a perfect moral society internally, within our own nation.

It seems that Rav Kook makes peace between these two opinions. He sees love of all humanity as a positive force in the world, an essential part of our mission. However if such a love comes before love of our own nation, it becomes a corrupting force. True love of humanity must flow from love of the Jewish people. Perhaps Rabbi Akiva was not arguing with Ben Azai but rather modifying his statement.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Polls

While polls can often mislead, recent polls show the following realistic breakdown for the next Knesset:

Avoda 25
Kadima 30
Likud 20
NRP + NU 20
Shas 10

What this implies is that if the RZ and the chareidim were to join forces on one list, then there is a realistic chance that the religious would run the country. Why is this not happening? How can we expect anything of the non-religious if we can not find unity among those who share faith in the Torah?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Metzuveh VeOsseh

Masecket Kiddushin (ל"א ע"א) relates a story regarding Rav Yossi. Rav Yossi was blind and therefore possibly exempt from many mitzvot. He used to say that he would throw a big celebration if anyone would prove conclusively that the blind are exempt from the Mitzvot. Rav Yossi held at this point that someone who does the commandments voluntarily is greater than one who is commanded. Once he heard the drash of Chazal that one who is commanded and performs the commandments is greater than one who does so voluntarily, he exclaimed that he would throw a celebration if anyone proved conclusively that the blind are obligated in the mitzvot.

The Rishonim and Achronim all have different takes on why one who is commanded and performs commandments is greater. The tosefot and the ritva (תוס' עבודה זרה דף ג' ע"א, ד"ה "גדול", בריטב"א בקידושין שם) say that the reason is psychological. People have a natural aversion to authority. As soon as one is commanded, they have an immediate desire to assert their own independence and thus they have a greater evil inclination to overcome than those who perform mitzvot voluntarily.

Several other rishonim (ריטב"א בשם הרמב"ן, תוס' הרא"ש, דרשות הר"ן, דרוש השביעי) explain that the advantage of being commanded is that on top of doing an act that is intrinsically good, you are also fulfilling the will of the King. This means that those who are commanded are performing an act that is essential to the functioning of the world. If the act was not essential then it would not have been commanded.

This second explanation in the rishonim fits perfectly with the Maharal’s explanation of the famous midrash in masechet Shabbat (פח ע"א) where Hashem suspends mount Sinai above the heads of the Jewish people and forces them to accept the Torah. The Maharal explains that this is to teach that the Torah is not in the realm of "choice", an addition to natural life. Rather the Torah is an essential component of the world and without it, life can not continue in a normal fashion.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Middot Chassidut

Here is another very important letter from Rav Kook translated by Rav Bezalel Naor:

I see in any youth who comes, seeks, asks, and speaks of his confusion the likeness of a precious stone, onyx or jasper, destined to be set in the gates of Jerusalem

  • many matters of philosophy cannot be fully understood if one's emotions are not also adequately prepared
  • We must understand life according to two standards: how it is and how it ought to be.

    By the grace of God, 21 Menachem Av 5644.

    To my beloved friend, delightful and pleasant, imbued with understanding and knowledge of the awe of God, sharp-witted and learned, our teacher, Rabbi Moshe Seidle, may his light shine, and in all that pertains to him, shalom.

    Your precious words gladdened my heart while I sat in the pleasant fields of the settlement of Rechovot in Judea with the view of the Judean hills before my eyes, and was inspired as I contemplated the glory of God that crowned us here in ancient days and that will continue to crown us with his benevolence in days to come, as his words are not unfulfilled. Indeed, we must prepare ourselves with the spirit of God for our glorious future, with the spirit of knowledge and the light of God, which will have the power to unite all the flourishing forces in our nation and ready us for a healthy and perfect life, life which will be an example for all the nations of the world in their strength and courage, and in the glory of their holiness and grandeur so that we then will be able to fulfill the mission befitting the nation of Israel in the land of Israel. This is impossible except by combining all the good found in the lives of both the fathers and the sons, in such a manner that not only will the good in one way of life not oppose the good of the other way, but that both sides will also strengthen and exalt one another. This is the principle of returning the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to the fathers. These are the thoughts which occupy me, and thank God that everything I believed outside this land about what needs to be done for the good of our nation and our land is in keeping with what I see here in our holy land, inspired by a spirit of purity which will invigorate all actions, so that we may say, "O house of Jacob, come, and let us walk in the light of the Lord."

    And here, I was thinking of the thirst for the word of God, taking in our generation the form of a fainting thirst. Only in the most fortunate and those closest to holiness has this disease of thirst not turned longing into revulsion. I know, without a doubt, that only to the extent that we spread the work of God and the light of the Torah in a language known to those with parched thirst, will our might increase. Thus will we be fit to wear our splendor and the raiment of our glory, and deserving redemption and salvation, as we return to God and his holy word in love, a love born of recognition and understanding. "And from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him, if you seek with all your heart and all your soul." And this request made with one's entire heart and entire soul can not be fulfilled except after the removal of all the darkness of confusion which blocks the light of Israel, so that it cannot be revealed in its majestic splendor. Only when we recognize our own value, the merit of having the spirit of God upon us, only then will our sublime might return to us and [enable] us to know how to live in our holy land after all the many difficult trials [God] imposed on us to teach us knowledge and wisdom. For this reason, I see in any youth who comes, seeks, asks, and speaks of his confusion the likeness of a precious stone, onyx or jasper, destined to be set in the gates of Jerusalem: "And I will make your windows of rubies, and your gates of beryl, and all your borders of choicest stones. And all your children will be taught of the Lord, and great will be the peace of your children."

    Therefore, all my longing and desire is that our talented youth should study, first to gain familiarity [with the texts] and then in depth, the ethical and philosophical part of the Torah, the Torah of the heart, compiled in concise principles by the pious one in his book. This study imparts ever-increasing enlightenment if time is set aside for it, an hour or two every day, sufficient for the acquisition of a proper outlook and inner sensitivity for the ethical and philosophical part of the Torah. This study makes the spirit gentle and delights the soul, until one finds oneself ready and able to inquire and examine, filled with courage and strength, for "the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?" Occupation with laws of dei’ot in the Torah bears fruit so that the debate, explanation, examination, and innovation in these topics will become common to all talented youth, as it is already, thank God, (well-versed] in the practical parts of the Torah. This will be beneficial in that even the practical side of the Torah will be heightened and broadened.

    For this reason, when I saw your comments on the study of Torah thought, with the questions you presented me, I was happy and thanked God that my voice has not been a voice calling in the wilderness, and I hope that "many will run to and fro, and knowledge will be increased.’’ But I think it best to remind you of the need to proceed gradually —in other words, to acquire proper proficiency in any work of ethics that comes your way, the simpler ones first, because they all come from the hearts of great scholars, wise and most pious, and many matters of philosophy cannot be fully understood if one's emotions are not also adequately prepared. That is why the Torah is also called a poem, as it is called an obligation. For this reason one needs to call on the help of that special strength to feel the words of the living God, which are clear only to a pure heart, and this demands the moral (side of the Torah], which deals not so much with [philosophical] inquiries, as with establishment of the soul on its inner foundations. But one should not stop [there] but go on to philosophical inquiries]. "Let us therefore know, let us follow on to know the Lord; his going forth is as sure as the morning and he shall come to us as the rain, as the latter rain that waters the earth. "

    This brief comment completed, I turn to your wise remarks. Even though these and similar questions have been asked in previous generations, they need further clarification in ours. But the content of this clarification must he to raise the intellect to wider concepts, the purpose of both practical and theoretical antitheses, and with a truer, more generalized view the light of truth is revealed, making specific answers for every detail unnecessary.

    Know well, my friend, that when a person takes up a particular investigation or study, he must always prepare himself, as much as it is within his power to do so, to be intimate with the matter under study, and if possible to familiarize himself with the concept to the point where he feels it as [part] of himself, his soul and the depths of his emotions for if he does not make use of this capacity he will lack the major one of the necessary conditions for the quest of truth. Therefore, when we turn ourselves to the study of how to understand the Ways of righteousness hidden in the light of the Torah, which includes the vision of reality in relation to human morals, theoretical and practical, personal and general, social and political, from beginning to end, we need first of all the desire to discover the truth, to integrate the visions of life, each according to its power. In other words, [we] must not view moral levels according to the particular state of a special generation, but rather in accordance with the value needed to establish this moral [state] in practice, in accordance with its own [rules] and with the chain of events growing out of it, to the end of time, so that its effect will always be beneficial and enlightening. This process must be done in carefully measured steps. If, in a particular period of history, the attribute of mercy is overabundant, more than is necessary for the [desirable] outcome of the distant future, harmful and destructive forces will arrive in its wake, sometimes greater than those of an apparent injustice. From this you should understand that, although we are not in any way permitted to neutralize [our] sense of justice, and the laws resulting from them, in relation to our current actions, in accordance with those same visions manifesting themselves in our emotions in the present, we must not depend on them as if they were "what is above, what is below, what came before and what will come after." We must understand life according to two standards: how it is and how it ought to be. The absolute [standard of] righteousness is always fixed at the point where life should be, while the [standards of] passing righteousness, more in line with present deeds, are built on the point where life actually is. The great and divine Torah can not be anything but a delightful vessel that directs and structures life for its proper state. But you must be careful not to think of these two dimensions as independent of each other, they are connected as are the successive horizons [seen] by the wayfarer on his distant path.

    Know also that the developing powers of goodness and light emanating from the Torah are balanced between their derivation from the [coercive] power of law and judgment, and from the goodness of the heart and internal consensus in the absence of coercion, even that of the conscience. This is the reason we always attach the covenant of the forefathers with the most essential principles, and the covenant of the land of Israel is also derived both from our inheritance from them and from our acceptance of the Torah. Since our forefathers kept the [laws of] the Torah by their own free inner choice, it is desirable that this quality play a large role in morality. This is the idea behind the hidden aspect [of-goodness], manifested particularly in midot chasidut and as actions above and beyond the letter of the law, for if these were set down as obligations of the law, they would have obscured its eternal guidance from being a beacon to all generations and a light to the gentiles, according to their widely varied spiritual levels. That aspect of morality which must rise out of charity and the love of righteousness must always be the greater part of general positive morality [Torah and the commandments], just as the open air is in comparison with buildings and the cultural activities in them, so that it is impossible not to reserve a large role for it. That which is added by good intention and the spirit of giving must be [counted as] midot chasidut, and if these exalted virtues were set as fixed obligations, the harm suffered by humanity would be immeasurable. Only that which is most essential for present physical and moral life, and which, when weakened, harms the roots of the future, becomes law, and it is written: "He who is commanded and acts is greater than he who is not commanded and nevertheless acts.’’ But that which reaches the essence of good, spreading like a dew of resurrection for future days, without harming by its softness and gentleness the entire goal of the future ascension [of the world] — this has the merit to be designated an act of charity and lovingkindness. Acts above and beyond the letter of the law will be of great benefit when man's heart of stone turns into a heart of flesh. For this reason, these acts in excess of the law must remain [voluntary], and as the level of man rises, pious deeds will spread from the domain of the individual to that of the masses, becoming a trait of the entire nation: "and all thy children shall be taught of the Lord.’’

    Regarding war, it was not possible that, at a time when every one of our neighbors were wolves in the night, Israel alone would not fight, because they would then have gathered and destroyed, God forbid, the remnant of the nation. On the contrary, it was vitally necessary to evoke fear in the savages, even by ruthless means, but with the aspiration of bringing mankind to its proper state, but without proceeding too quickly. Be aware also, that the social laws were lenient, not pressuring the spirit of the nation to piety because [piety] would then have become routine and mandatory, and the Torah's purpose is that the mind be ruled by love and benevolence.

    This is the reason underlying the Torah's leniency in the laws of war. The elimination of idolatry is in keeping with Israel's general mission; and in any case this matter was handed to the courts, for the examination of the moral quality of each particular cult, since not all cases are identical. Because of our many sins, and the lack of practical application, this matter has not been expounded to us in detail from the time we lost our national spiritual strength, [and thus it will remain] until God, blessed be he, returns to us our crown of glory, may it be soon in our days.

    As for corrupt ideas, man must overcome them with the power of his mind. Nevertheless. if he is unable to do so, we have the right to compel him not to discuss these matters with others, since these [ideas] bring ruin to society. If he heeds this, he will by himself come to recognition of the truth. Understand that the Torah juxtaposes the topics of "he who blasphemes the name of the Lord," "he that kills any man," and "he that kills a beast." This implies that corrupt thoughts are not only a Corruption of the mind and morals, but a matter of the corruption of society as well.

    I also want to clarify what you wrote concerning my words about the non-observant. My intention is that we explain to them the irrefutable [fact], witnessed by experience that the nation's survival until now has been due to the performance of the commandments. It is not possible that the nation and its spirit can survive without the fulfillment of the Torah, but even if we were, for the sake of argument, to accept their mistaken view, they cannot claim much experience to weigh against ours. Thus to threaten the existence of the nation, by their own words dear to them, is evil and folly. One who realizes, even by way of rational reasoning, that there is a spiritual existence, and that it is impossible for anything evil and corrupt to come to any good, will understand that whoever lifts his hand against our national survival, be it in passion or by plan, is partner to the most destructive evil-doers. I do not, nevertheless, reject the claim in their favor that many of the misguided of our generation are for all intents and purposes coerced to think as they do, because of the corrupt ideas [prevalent today] and the lack of proper influence to help them steer a straight path. May the Lord enlighten our darkness in his kindness.

    I began writing this letter in Rechovot, when your letter reached me, and then I became distracted [with other matters] until after Rosh Hashanah, which passed with God's help. When my brother Shmuel Chana, long life to him, came, I was reminded [of the letter] and quickly hurried to complete it. Read my words well, and I hope you will find what you sought. And please write everything, and do not leave out your wise observations, because youth, which raises heartfelt questions, is very dear to me. I hope at the proper time to explain further and more clearly, with the help of God, blessed be he.

    I close with a new year's blessing and with much love. May God, blessed be he, bring you success in his Torah as well as in his awe, and broaden your understanding to know his holy name. May you be successful in all matters, as befits your precious soul, and as your beloved friend, who wishes your joy, from the holy land.

    Humbly yours,
    Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook

  • Sunday, November 20, 2005

    Connecting Heaven and Earth III

    Rav Kook writes:

    'תלחש לי סוד ההויה כולה: חיים לי יש קח נא קח, ודור יקום וחי ישיר ליופי וחיים, ועדנה בלי די יינק מטל שמים'.

    'All of existence whispers to me a secret: Life I have, take, please take. A generation shall rise and all living will sing for beauty and life; unlimited delights will be received from the dew of the Heavens'

    I am taken with the term "dew of the Heavens." Unlike rain, we consider dew to symbolically come from the Earth (I know that is not scientifically true, but it is how our senses perceive it). A time will come when all will realize that everythong that comes from the physical world really has its roots in the Heavenly spheres. This realization will be an integral part of our spiritual redemption and is truly the only path to a complete spiritual life.

    Different bracha on techeilet?

    Rav Kook Zt"l in his chiddushim on Shulchan Aruch sites a difference of opinion in the Achronim regarding what is the correct bracha on donning tzitzit. On opinion holds the correct nusach is בְציצית with a sh'va while another holds that the correct nusach is בַציצית with a patach.

    Rav Kook suggests that perhaps the nusach is actually dependant on whether we have techeilet or not. the nusach with a patach implies the Hei HaYedia which means THE specific tzitzit that was commanded in the Torah. The sh'va nusach is when there is no techeilet and we are still commanded to put tzitzit on the four cornered garments we were even though it is not the full command of tzitzit in all of its details.

    Friday, November 18, 2005

    Casualties of legitimate war

    Rabbi J. David Bleich writes (Contemporary Halakhic Problems, Volume 3, Preemptive War in Jewish Law, p. 277):

    "Not only does one search in vain for a ruling prohibiting military activity likely to result in the death of civilians, but, to this writer's knowledge, there exists no discussion in classical rabbinic sources that takes cognizance of the likelihood of causing civilian casualties in the course of hostilities legitimately undertaken as posing a halakhic or moral problem."

    The article in the link also brings the opinion of the Maharal:

    Still, why is war unique? Why does war create a shift in moral axioms? Maharal, Gur Aryeh, Bereishit 34:13 sees war in the context of the nation. As an individual, one person may not be responsible for the actions of another and, therefore, ethically protected from suffering because of the other’s actions. However, Maharal contends that as part of a nation, in war this individual is subsumed under the group. He/she, thus, halachically shares the fate of the group, even if he/she is personally not responsible for the actions of the perpetrator. This is an example of the shift in moral axioms that is part of war. But this case may also serve to help elucidate the nature of this shift. In war, we see the nation, not the individual. Similarly, in war, it may be that we assert the value of the broad principle and not the specific morality of each detailed case. With a declaration of war against terrorism, a general goal to eradicate this evil becomes paramount notwithstanding the cost in lives.

    Personal Experiences

    One thing I love is a good story. One of the things that often divide believers from skeptics is how we relate to our experiences. Where the believer will see the Hand of G-d, the skeptic will see coincidence. Where the believer will see Devine punishment the skeptic will see bad luck.

    I wanted to share a personal story with everyone. I used to work in the city and as is common in cities parking is a big problem. So I used to rent a parking spot about a 5-10 minute walk from my office. In order not to waste the walking time, I used to bring a little Kehati Mishna and learn during my little walk. One day I was learning the Mishna in Middot (1:2) that describes the inspection of the guards in the Mikdash:

    "The person in charge of the Temple Mount would inspect each and every guard post with lit torches. Any guard who was not standing and did not respond to 'Shalom Aleicha' would be recognized as sleeping and get tapped with a staff. [If the staff didn't work, then] he had permission to set [the Guard's] cloak on fire."

    As I was reading this Mishna, a homeless man passed me on the street and said in a loud voice "Shalom Aleicha." I was floored. I have seen this man almost every day and he never said a word to me. To me the message was clear. Wake up and start paying more attention to the 'Mikdash' that is your life. Guard it and make sure that you continue to function in a spiritually healthy fashion.

    I wanted to know if anyone else has personal stories they would like to share. I feel they strengthen the spirit and enrich life.

    Thursday, November 17, 2005

    Can you fire a teacher?

    There is a machloket in the Gemara (בבא בתרא כא ע"א) between Rava and Rav Dimi regarding whether you are allowed to fire a teacher when a better teacher comes along. Rava holds that this is forbidden while Rav Dimi not only permits it but appears to require hiring the new teacher.

    Rashi explains the machloket as follows: Rava believes that the new teacher will become haughty by the firing of the first and not teach well due to his sense of job security. Rav Dimi holds that the second teacher will try even harder because he will fear that the first teacher will challenge his standing in the community so he will try extra hard to earn a good reputation. Both Amoraim, according to Rashi, are only concerned with the performance of the new teacher but see no intrinsic reason not to fire the first teacher.

    The Gemara goes on to explain that even Rava holds that if the first teacher is incompetent, then you may fire him even without warning. The reason Rava gives as to why you may fire the first teacher is that it is 'a loss that can not be returned'. Rashi and Tosefot disagree as to what this means. Rashi holds that the false ideas that were taught and entered the students' heads can never be retrieved. Tosefot argue that the time wasted on teaching the children false ideas can not be returned.

    The Shulchan Aruch (יו"ד רמה ס' יח) paskens like Rav Dimi that a teacher may be fired if a better one comes along. The Rambam (שכירות י:ז) seems to pasken like Rava.

    The question that arises is whether all this applies to all teachers or only a Torah teacher. It seems that according to Rashi, we would apply this to all teachers since a wrong idea is 'stuck' in the students' heads even if it is not a Torah idea. According to the Tosefot, however, there might not be a din of Bitul Zman when it comes to secular studies.

    Any ideas?

    The Nature of a Miracle

    I was discussing with someone in the Beit Midrash the Rambam's explanation of Miracles in Moreh Nevuchim. The Rambam basically argues that Hashem integrated into nature all Miracles that would ever be needed in the world and that a miracle is basically part of the natural system of the world.

    I pointed out that many Rishonim and Achronim disagree with the Rambam on this point. There is one Achron that agrees, however, and ironically it is the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov taught, just like the Rambam, that there is no divide between the natural and the miraculous realm. Instead of integrating the miraculous into the natural, however, he integrates the natural into the miraculous.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2005

    We are all brothers

    From An Angel Among Men (Pg. 434-435):

    During Rav Kook's tenure in Jerusalem, R. Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld served as the Chief Rabbi of the Eidah HaChareidit. In contrast to the Rav's deep love for the young pioneers, who toiled to rejuvenate the barren land, R. Sonnenfeld was very wary and critical of them.

    A close associate of R. Sonnenfeld once came to the Rav's house to discuss current events. In the middle of the conversation, the visitor remarked: "I recently heard a brilliant idea from our master, R. Sonnenfeld, Shlita. In all of Scriptures, we find the word nachnu [a shortened form of the word anachnu, meaning 'we'] only twice: In parashat Matot (BaMidbar 32:32) it says, We [Nachnu] shall cross over armed [chalutzim - which can also mean pioneers]; and in the Book of Eichah (3:42) it says, We [nachnu] have transgressed and rebelled. This hints to the fact that the secular pioneers currently building the Land are considered sinners who rebel against the word of G-d."

    Upon hearing these words, Rav Kook's face turned pale, and he exclaimed in an angry tone: "You go tell my distinguished friend, R. Yosef Chayim, that there is a third verse which tips the scales in favor of the chalutzim. It says in beReishit (42:11), We [nachnu] are all sons of one man. This implies that all Jews are descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov; and the merit of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs stands by their side. Therefore, we must hope that the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael will protect the pioneer builders of our Land, despite the fact that they have - due to prevailing circumstances - temporarily moved away from the rock from which they were hewn (Yeshayah 51:1)

    Torah LiShma

    From Orot HaTorah (Chapter II, translation by Rav Bezalel Naor):

    1. The wisdom of the torah is the divine revelation, according to His will, which comes from our striving and studying. Every Torah student actualizes the Torah which lies latent in his soul, and certainly the light which is created by the Torah’s connection to this soul is not to be compared to the light created by her connection to another soul. Therefore one is literally proliferating Torah by one’s learning, and since G-d desires that Torah be proliferated, the correct intention is to study out of one’s love for the great light which is the revelation of G-d’s existence, that it wax and wax . . .

    4. One of the ways of studying Torah for its sake, is with the intent to enrich the Jewish People with great spiritual powers. The more the light of Torah, its love and respect, increase in the heart of one Jew, the stronger and more powerful becomes the nation. The individual soul of this person becomes enhanced and more whole, and sends forth branches and roots . . .

    5. When we study Torah for its sake, we perform a kindness with the Jewish people. How? The spirit of the nation is strengthened through the Torah, which is the essence of the spirit of the nation. Every individual who studies Torah reveals new powers in the soul of Israel through the spiritual nourishment which he receives from Torah. (on the other hand) all weaknesses which develop in the spirit of Israel, have their source in abandonment of Torah.


    I just read a wonderful vort from the Chazon Ish on Rael Levinsohn's new blog:

    "'Your eye shall show no pity on them (Deuteronomy 7:16). We learn that Israel acted against its merciful nature [since otherwise this command would not have been necessary]. Even though the seven nations were despicable as a result of their abominations and had declared war on Israel after being asked for peace, the natural pity and forgiveness in the hearts of the people of Israel overcame them, and they acted only because of God's command — not as, heaven forbid, those who take pleasure in war and aggression." (Chazon Ish, Teharot, 299a)

    Tuesday, November 15, 2005

    On Smicha

    Rav Shaul Israel in Amud HaYemini has a long and beautiful analysis of the halachas of Smicha and the renewal of the Sanhedrin. I will bring here some of the issues he discusses. (Much of this is taken from a series of shiurim Rav Yosef Carmel put together based on the thought of Rav Shaul Yisraeli Zt"l)

    The Rambam write in Mishne Torah (הלכות סנהדרין ד:יא):

    If there is only one person in the Land of Israel who can give Smicha, then he sits two others next to himself and gives Smicha to 70 [sages] all at once or one after the other. After that, himself and the 70 [sages] can establish a Sanhedrin and give smicha to other courts. It seems to me that if all of the sages in the Land of Israel agreed to appoint judges and to give them smicha, then the smicha is valid and they can judge Dinei Knassot (monetary fines) and also have the authority to give smicha to others. If what I say is true then why did the sages express distress over the possibility of smicha ending and Dinei Knassot being forgotten? [They were worried] because Israel is dispersed and it is impossible that all will agree regarding reestablishment of smicha. If you have one person who already received smicha, you do not need everyone's agreement and that one person can judge Dinei Knassot for everyone since he received smicha from a beit din. This issue needs to be decided.

    There are several difficulties with this Rambam. For one, he does not seem to have a source in the Gemara (he says "It seems to me"). See following post regarding our ability to pasken like the Rambam without a source in the Gemara. Further, the Rambam himself seems to doubt his own halachic solution to the problem of smicha ending with "this issue needs to be decided." The Rambam also attempts to explain why his solution was never used but his argument that gathering the sages together was impossible needs further explanation. Could it be true that such a project would be logistically impossible?

    The Rambam deals with some of these issues in his commentary on the Mishne (סנהדרין א:ג):

    I think that if there was agreement from all the sages to appoint a person in the yeshiva and make him the head, that as long as this occurs in the Land of Israel as we explained before, then that same person can establish a yeshiva and will have smicha and have the ability to impart smicha to whomever he wishes. For if you do not say this, then the re-establishment of a Sanhedrin will be impossible since you [otherwise] need every one of them to have smicha without any doubt and Hashem has already promised to return of the Sanhedrin when He said "I will return your judges as in earliest times." Now, if you say that the Mashiach will appoint these judges even though they do not have smicha, then this is contradicted, since we have already explained in the introduction to our book that Mashiach will not add to the Torah nor remove anything from it. Not from the written, nor from the oral Torah. I think that the Sanhedrin will return before the revelation of the Mashiach and this [reestablishment] will be one of the signs [of Mashiach] that "I will return your judges as in earliest times, and your counselors as at first and then you will be called city of justice." This will without a doubt happen when Hashem will ready the hearts of men and they will increase good-deeds and their desire for Hashem and His Torah will grow and their integrity will increase before the coming of Mashiach as is explained in the verses.

    If you bear with me I will bring another passage from the Rambam's commentary on the Mishne (בכורות ד:ג):

    Know that the concept of an expert is of one who has Smicha. That is, a person who has been tested and tried and found to be of great wisdom. If those who tested and tried him were a Beit Din, he has the status of "Mumche Beit Din" (Expert of the court). If on the other hand, he became publicly famous for his wisdom without the testing of the Beit Din, then he is called a "Mumche LaRabim" (Expert of the public).
    And even when he has smicha from a beit din, he can not allow the eating of a firstborn until the Beit Din gives him explicit permission to do this and say to him that he can permit the firstborn cattle through a "moom". And we already explained in the beginning of Sanhedrin that a Beit Din does not mean any court but rather one that has Smicha in the Land of Israel, whether it has a tradition of smicha or it was established through the agreement of the Jews in the Land of Israel to appoint [an individual] as head of the Acadamy. This is because [only] the Jews in the Land of Israel are called a congregation and Hashem has called them the entire congregation even if there were only ten of them. And we do not worry regarding anyone from outside of the Land as we explained in Horayot...

    What we see here for the first time is the introduction of a new concept, that of the mumche/expert. What is the difference between a musmach and a mumche? The gemara in Sanhedrin casts some light (Sanhedrin 13b):

    What is the smicha of the elders? Rabbi Yochana said: Smicha is to call them Rabbi (Rashi) ... Rav Acha to son of Rabba said to Rav Ashi: Do we give semicha using our actual hands? (that is to say, do we actualy have to physically place our hands on the person receiving the smicha?) [Rav Ashi] answered him: We give them smicha through a name, we call them Rabbi, and we give them permission to judge fines. (Rashi - since it is written 'Elohim' which implies expert judges, and these are Smuchin)

    In other words, the concepts of musmach and mumche are overlap. If we combine this with the Rambam above, we can understand the difference between a Mumche Beit Din and a Mumche LeRabim. A Mumche Beit Din is simply an expert who has been tested and approved by the Beit-Din. There are two components to his authority, his wisdom and his received status. Now lets analyze another Halacha of the Rambam (סנהדרין א:ה):

    Any city that does not have at least two great scholars - One who can teach in all areas of the Torah and one who knows how to hear and knows how to ask and answer. We do not convene a Sanhedrin [in such a city] even if it has thousands of Jews [living in it].

    Rav Shaul Israeli Zt"l learns from this that if two such sages exist, then they can include a third of lesser wisdom to rule with them. This is actually an explicit halacha in the Rambam (סנהדרין י:ח). This is difficult since we know the high standards that one needs to meet in order to sit on a Beit Din, much less a Sanhedrin. But according to what we explained above we can understand the Halacha. The Rambam in the beginning of Moreh Nevuchim explains three meanings of the term 'Elohim' (This is the term from which we learn the Halachot of Judges). The first is its Holy use and we pronounce it Elokim. The second is a judge and the third is a ruler or leader. In other words, the second meaning of the word can only be achieved through acquiring Torah wisdom. The third can be achieved by receiving authority from those who can bestow authority. Thus a Beit Din can confer the status of 'Elohim' even on one who is not of the proper criteria in and of himself. This is really the whole nature of Musmach vs. Mumche. The Musmach is granted authority and has an added status of leader.

    Now that we understand the meaning of Smicha, we can also understand why we can only renew Smicha in the Land of Israel. Rav Israeli explains that this criteria is not only geographic but rather one of authority. The ability to enforce law is what allows Jews in the Land of Israel the ability to renew Smicha and it is only in the Land where our sovereignty is legitimate. Governmental authority coupled with sages of great wisdom are the two conditions necessary for the renewal of Smicha and these two things together are only possible to achieve in the Land of Israel.

    What I have brought here is only a short review of the Rambam's shita regarding the renewal of Smicha. This is by no means a complete treatment of the topic. I will try to write more about it in another post. I hope that this sheds a little light on some of the issues involved in the renewal of Smicha.

    Monday, November 14, 2005

    On Vengeance

    Someone commented to me that the desire for revenge is not a healthy one. This is only partially true. Like all midot, revenge has its proper place in life. When it comes to our enemies, revenge is an important tool that must be used to restore the Honor of Heaven. The Jewish people are Hashem's representatives in this world. Those who seek to hurt us, seek to hurt the Kingdom of Heaven. I will just bring a few sources to show that revenge in its proper place (against our enemies or the wicked) is a great thing:

    Chazal say (Brachot 33a):

    ... Is revenge truly a great thing since it was put between two [names of Hashem] "Hashem is a vengeful G-d"? He answered: "Yes, in its proper place it is a great thing."

    Rashi comments on this gemara: "In the place where revenge is needed, it is a great thing."

    Chazal interpret this very verse as describing Moshe Rabbeinu's desire to see vengeance before he dies (תנחומה מטות ד): "Moshe yearns to see vengeance against the Midianites before he dies and requests from Hashem that he should see it with his eyes."

    Chazal use this episode to teach a general lesson about the place of vengeance in Jewish life (ספרי מטות קנז): "'And Hashem spoke to Moshe to say: Take the vengeance of the children of Israel from the Midianites ... And Moshe spoke to the nation to say: Prepare for yourselves people for an army and they will be on Midian to deliver Hashem's vengeance on Midian.' (במדבר לא:א-ג) This is to tell you the praise of the righteous that they do not depart from the world until they avenge the vengeance of Israel which is the vengeance of He Who created the world.

    The vengeance of Israel IS the vengeance of Hashem!

    Chazal say this even more explicitly in a different place (ספרי בהעלותך פד): "'Rise Hashem and your enemies shall disperse and your haters shall flee' (במדבר י:יד) Is there truly anyone who hates the Creator of the world? This comes to teach that anyone who hates Israel is as if he hates Hashem." Also see (ספרי מטות קנז): "You are not avenging the vengeance of human beings, rather the vengeance of Hashem."

    Chazal further spell out the parameters of vengeance on the verse that teaches us the prohibition of vengeance against fellow Jews (תו"כ קדושים ד): "'You shall not take revenge or harbor resentment against your brothers' (ויקרא יט:יח) but you take revenge and harbor resentment against others.

    There is a double standard. One for Jews and one for gentiles (I am sure chazal did not advocate random acts of vengeance against random gentiles. However, when an entire society sets up the Jewish people as its enemy, then that whole nation becomes the enemy of Hashem.)

    Of course there is another side to this coin. regarding those who forgo their honor and forgo revenge it is said (Yoma 23a): "Those who are insulted and do not insult, who hear their disgrace and do not respond ... on them the verse says 'and those who love [Hashem] are like the coming of the sun in its strength.'" When the impetus for revenge is personal. When the Honor of Hashem is not what is at stake, then a person should overcome his personal, selfish desire for revenge.

    Rav Kook Zt"l in his chidushim on shulchan aruch (O"H 1:1), distinguishes between a intrinsically good midah and a midah that is not intrinsically good but can be used at times for good purposes. The first kind is something we are interested in acquiring at the root of our being. The second, however, is a midah we do not want to integrate into our soul but rather keep outside and use when it is necessary. Vengeance of course, must fall into this second category. Personal revenge can cause tremendous evil in the world. It is only a society that is sensitive of the Honor of Heaven that can safely implement it without causing itself damage.

    There is more, of course. (eg. Pinchas, Pesel Micha, Shimshon) I just wanted to demonstrate that revenge is not considered a universally evil concept in Judaism. On the contrary, it can be source of great Kidush Hashem when implemented against the wicked in the world. As David Hamelech writes in Tehilim (58:11): "the righteous man shall rejoice when he sees vengeance; he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked."

    Sunday, November 13, 2005

    The Pains of Redemption

    The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98b) describes the hardships know as the "birth pangs of Mashiach". Three amoraim - Ulla, Rabba, and R. Yochanan - were so frightened of these hardships that they prayed "Let [Mashiach] come, but may I not see him." Rav Yosef, however, disagreed. He says "Let him come, and may I merit to sit in the shadow of his donkey's dung!"

    Rav Kook Zt"l explains in his famous letter to the Ridvaz (Igrot Raiya 555) that the three amoraim were not worried about the physical hardships but rather of the spiritual troubles that would befall the Jewish people on the eve of the coming of the Mashiach. He did not want to see so many Jews leave the path of the Torah and adopt heretical ideologies. As the Gemara describes in Sotah (49b) "Cutzpah will increase; a daughter will stand up to her mother and a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law; the youth will insult the elderly; the kingdom will turn to heresy." To any Jew who is sensitive to the spiritual mission of Israel, this will be almost too much to bear.

    Rav Yosef, however, as usual looks for the inner meaning in everything. The donkey symbolizes materialism (חמור - חומר), a departure from spiritual qualities. The dung represents sins, the waste-product of a materialistic outlook. Rav Kook points out that the "material", unclean/kosher donkey has a special inner holiness. It is the only unkosher animal whose firstborn is holy. It can be redeemed. Rav Yosef wanted to sit in the shade of the donkey's dung because he realized that where there is shade, there must be light.

    Yitzchak Rabin

    Dovbear has a selected reading from Yitzchak Rabin. I tool the liberty of integrating my comments into the text:

    We are destined to live together on the same soil, in the same land.

    My version says: "They are a nation that will dwell alone and not be counted among the nations"

    We, the soldiers who have returned from battle stained with blood, we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes, we who have attended their funerals and cannot look into the eyes of their parents, we who have come from a land where parents bury their children

    But we can look into the eyes of the children of the Jews we killed in cold blood when I commanded the attack on the Altalena. Also we don't really care so much about the victims of terror that will suffer from all the weapons and training we will give you.

    we who have fought against you, the Palestinians - We say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: Enough of blood and tears. Enough.

    Enough of your blood and tears, that is. You can still kill us as much as you like and we will just continue to give you our land.

    We have no desire for revenge.

    Yes we do.

    We harbor no hatred towards you.

    Yes we do.

    We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, to live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men.

    I guess we forgot the whole Malchut Hashem bit. What is the point in establishing a 3rd rate version of America in the Holy Land. If that is what I wanted, I would just live in America.

    We are today giving peace a chance, and saying again to you: Enough.

    And you better take it because I had to bribe several Knesset members to get this suicide pact through our "democratic" institutions.

    Saturday, November 12, 2005

    Looking for academic reverence

    Gil posted a link to a couple of posts (I, II) Joe Schick wrote about the cultural divide between the MO and UO communities. I would like to comment of one aspect of this divide that I believe is also the most significant one.

    As is obvious from the content of this blog, I am what some might call a chassid of Rav Kook Zt"l. I feel that Rav Kook's writings saved me spiritually and my soul is bound with both the style and content of his writings. To truly appreciate Rav Kook, you must read his writings in the original Hebrew. It’s not that the ideas themselves can not be communicated in English, but rather that the text speaks on two different levels, the idea and the spirit of the idea. The first is fully translatable; the second requires the rhythm and poetry of the Hebrew to touch the cords of your soul and is simply not adaptable to English.

    A few years back I came upon a series of books that translate Rav Kook's work into English. The translator was Rav Bezalel Naor who has dedicated much time to exposing the English speaking world to the work of Rav Kook (see his site here). I was at first somewhat offended by the translation. It was not that I believed the author misrepresented the thought of Rav Kook, he was mostly right on. It was the style. I felt the style of the English was academic and irreverent. On some subconscious level, I felt that Rav Kook's work deserves to be written about with awe and trepidation. The English, however, was cold, academic, and objective.

    I want to be clear that I am not here to criticize Rav Naor, C”V. On the contrary, I highly recommend all of Rav Naor's books to anyone who wants an intro to the thought of Rav Kook but has a hard time with the Hebrew text. It occurs to me, however, that what I felt in this particular case is what UO Jews usually feel when they are exposed to academic scholarship. Even if a particular article has nothing that is objectionable, the style is often offensive to one's religious sensitivities.

    The religious world values the Holy and the profound. The academic world, however, values objectivity and rationalism. These values are not mutually exclusive but nonetheless are rarely found together in the same place. I believe that this is also the basic dividing line between the MO and the UO.

    The MO often poke fun at the reverence shown to Rabbanim in the UO world. Such formalisms as putting Shlit"a or Zt"l after the name of a great Tzaddik are not greatly valued. The halachas to Kibbud talmidei chachamim are often ignored. Standing up when a Rav walks within 6 feet is rarely done. These are all acts of reverence that try to imbue in the community a certain sensitivity for the Holy in life.

    In the UO world, attempts at detached or academic reasoning are often frowned upon. The very act of removing one's mind from the context of the Holy is seen as, at best, a dangerous endeavor. Objective analysis that does not serve the spiritual goals the community has set for itself is seen as pointless. This is perceived by the MO as hiding from difficult truths and or as willful ignorance.

    I do not know how we can bridge this gap but it is pretty clear to me that we must. Academic tools can greatly increase the kavod HaTorah in this world. At the same time, MO communities need the instinctive appreciation of the Holy that the UO can impart.

    Friday, November 11, 2005

    Binding Heaven and Earth II

    From Orot HaTorah (chapter 1, translation by Rav Bezalel Naor):

    “Written Torah and Oral Torah”

    The Written Torah we receive through the highest, most expansive channel in our soul. We feel from it the living, general light of all existence. Not the spirit of the nation created this great light – but the spirit of G-d.

    In the Oral Torah we begin the descent to life. We sense that we receive this light through the second channel of the soul, the channel which approaches practical life. We feel that the spirit of the nation molded the Oral Torah in its distinct image. Here the Torah of G-d and the Torah of Man converge. And these two lights make a complete world, in which heaven and earth kiss.

    Suggestion box

    I am still a beginner in this whole bloging thing. I wanted to get feedback from the readers. What kind of topics do you like? Are long posts read? What causes you to comment? Any suggestions on how to improve are welcome.

    Thursday, November 10, 2005

    Atchalta DeGeula

    One of the biggest opponents of categorizing the state of Israel as the beginning of the redemption was the Lubavitcher Rebbe Zt"l. In a wonderful pamphlet called "HaMedina HaYehudit" written by Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Bergman, the Rebbe's position is analyzed and challenged from earlier sources. I will bring parts of this pamphlet here in loose translation:

    The Rebbe held that perceiving the state as a stage in the redemption goes against an explicit Halacha in the Rambam. The Rebbe repeated this idea in many different forums at many different times (עיתון כפר חב"ד, גליון 1012 ערב ר"ה התשס"ג עמ' 84-94).

    One of the Rebbe's main arguments was that the Rambam set up the explicit order of the Geula in Hilchot Melachim. It seems from a simple reading of the Rambam that the first stage of the redemption must be the appointment of a king. Without a messianic king, we can not say that the redemption has begun. Here are the words of the Rebbe Zt"l in one of his letters (אגרות קודש, כרך טז, עמ' רטז):

    Here are the words of our great teacher, the Rambam, in his book Mishne Torah in regards to the return to Zion:

    a. In the future, the messianic king will rise and restore the Davidic monarchy to its former state, and build the temple, and ingather the exiles ...


    d. And if a king from the house of David would rise who is learned in Torah and performs Mitzvot like his ancestor David, according to the written and oral Torah. And this king will force all of Israel to go in [the Torah's] path and will also fight Israel's wars, then this person is potentially the Mashiach. If he succeeded and built the Temple and ingathered the exiles then he is definitely Mashiach.

    The preciseness of the Rambam's language in Mishne Torah is well known as is the preciseness in the order of his words. Thus, the order of the redemption according to the ruling of the Torah is: First a king will rise and restore the monarchy, then build the Temple, and the gather the exiles. ...

    There are several answers to the Rebbe's arguments. I will bring two.

    Can we pasken like the Rambam without an explicit source in Chazal?

    The Rosh writes regarding the Rambam's mishne Torah (שו"ת הרא"ש כלל לא ס' ט):

    Mistaken are the ones who derive rulings from the Rambam when they are not knowledgeable in Gemara, to see from where [the Rambam] learned his rulings ... thus a person should not rely on his reading of the Rambam when it comes to psak unless he can find support in the Gemara.

    Many poskim quote this Rosh as halacha (ריב"ש ס' מד, יד מלאכי כלל כ. הסמ"ע בהקדמתו לשו"ע חו"מ). There is an opposing view that can be found in the Shoel VeNishal (שו"ת שואל ונשאל ח"ה יו"ד ס' א) who says the halacha is not like the Rosh. He agrees however that when the din is not explicit in the Rambam but must be learned through the exactness of the Rambam's words, that we do not rule in accordance with the Rambam unless we have a source in the Gemara. The Rebbe's reading of the Rambam requires a careful reading of the Rambam and therefore needs a source in Chazal in order to be established as Halacha.

    I do not know of any source in either Talmud for the Rebbe's understanding of the redemption process. On the contrary, such an understanding goes against several sources in the Gemara:

    1. The Gemara in Megilla (17b) describes the stages of the Geula. This Gemara was also brought down in a halachic source (בית יוסף או"ח ריח). According to the Gemara, the redemption begins with wars, then flowering of the land and the ingathering of the exiles and only in the end of this process does the Mashiach come. The Gemara is explicit that wars precede the coming of Mashiach and calls these wars "Atchalta DeGeula".

    2. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98) gives signs to recognize the era of the redemption. The signs do not include a king but rather the flowering of the land.

    3. The Yerushalmi in Maaser Sheni (פרק ה) says: "Rabbi Aha says, that is to say that the building of the Temple will precede the monarchy of David." And on this Yerushalmi wrote the Shaagat Aryeh: "These words of the sages are trustworthy for us. May the Merciful One cause us to merit the building of the Temple and the era of Mashiach."

    4. The Tosefot Yom Tov (מעשר שני ה:ב) wrote: "The Temple will be built before the monarchy of David is established and we will find that until the Monarchy of David, our enemies will still have a little power over us, just like it was in the time of the second Temple.

    Thus, without any clear indication in the Talmud for the Rambam's psak we must follow the Rosh and conclude that the halacha is not like the Rambam in this case.

    Is this the actual pshat in the words of the Rambam?

    Everything we have said so far assumes that the Rebbe's understanding is the only one there is in the Rambam. It is not clear however that the Rambam meant the passage at hand to be a definitive halacha. In chapter 12 of Melachim (הלכה ה), the Rambam writes the following:

    All these matters and things related to them, no one will know until they occur. These are hidden concepts from the prophets and even the sages have no clear tradition regarding these issues except through there textual methodologies. Because of this [the sages] argue regarding these issues. In any case, the order and specifics of these events are not of critical importance to our belief system (עיקר בדת).

    While the Rebbe's understanding is of course a legitimate one that has is own sources, mainly in later midrashim and in the Zohar. It must be understood that there is no Halachic necessity to believe in this particular type of redemption. I will end with the words of the Chafetz Chaim written to his son in the year 5656 when there was a great awakening among our nation regarding the return to the land:

    ואפשר שהוא אתחלתא דקיבוץ גלויות, הוא קודם ביאת המשיח
    It could be that this is the beginning of the ingathering of the exiles which precedes the coming of Mashiach.

    Wednesday, November 09, 2005

    Keren HaYesod

    [DISCLAIMER: The letters in this post were written at a time when all organizations that actively settled the land of Israel were not religious. Keep in mind that today there are many organizations that work towards the settlement of the land while keeping the Torah Kala KaChamurah]

    In a post on Hirurim, in the comments section, It was reported that Rav Kook Zt"l was called a Rasha Gamur C"V for supporting the Keren HaYesod (an organization at the time that raised money for the settlement of Jews in the land of Israel). Here is an exchange of letter between several Chasidishe Rabbanim in Europe and Rav Kook on this exact matter (from An Angel Among Men, pg 495-499):

    With G-d's help Mar-Cheshvan, 5686, Warsaw

    To our dear friend, the famous gaon, outstanding scholar etc., our glorious teacher and master, R. Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook shlita, Chief Rabbi of the Holy City of Jerusalem, may it be rebuilt and established speedily in our days, Amen.

    We heard that Your Brilliant Honor has denounced the fact that we do not encourage [our followers] to support Keren Kayemet LeYisrael and Keren HaYesod, and that we actually warn them not to contribute to these funds. We hereby wish to inform Your Honor of our opinion [on the matter]. We believe that we have an obligation to settle Jews in our Holy Land on the foundation of our holy Torah and religion. Now, the vast majority of people who donate to these funds, even the freethinkers, want the sacred Yishuv in the Holy Land to rest on the foundation of our holy Torah and the restoration of our religion. Thus, since the money collected by these funds helps support sinners and public desecrators of our religion (as is well known), and since G-d fearing Jews do not head these organizations to make sure that the assistance goes only to the families of observant Jews - craftsmen and laborers who follow the Torah - we cannot support those who desecrate all that is holy to the Children of Israel. Besides which, this is considered stealing from the public [because the money does not reach the intended recipients].

    Therefore, we ask Your Honor, as well, to stand in the breach and help repair this vital fence. We ask you to arouse [the heads of these funds] to [accept] our words - uttered in truth from the depths of our heart - and [convince them] to assist only religious, Torah-observant settlers of our Holy Land, in order to increase the glory of Heaven and the glory of Israel. We are sure that, with God's help, the merit of the Torah and its commandments will stand by us, the children will return to their borders, and we will be privileged to see the Temple in its rebuilt state and our Holy City of Jerusalem in its beauty, speedily in our days. Amen.

    Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter (Gerrer Rebbe)
    Rav Meir Yechiel HaLevi of Ostrovtza
    Rav Mordechai Yesef Elazar Leiner
    Alter Yisrael Shimon of Minsk

    Rav Kook's response was as follows:

    With G-d's help The Holy City of Jerusalem, 21 Kislev, 5686

    To my beloved friends, the brilliant and pious rabbis, heads of the thousands of Israel, our holy teachers and masters, R. Avraham Mordechai Alter, R. Meir Yechiel HaLevi, R. Yosef Elazar, and R. Alter Yisrael Shimon, shlita,

    I received your holy letter in proper [time], and I wish to tell Your Holy and Brilliant Honors (shlita) sincerely that I would never, G-d forbid, denounce the holy traits of the great Torah leaders of our time, the likes of whom I hope will increase in Israel. As for me, I believe that it is a great mitzvah for every Jew to donate to Keren HaKayemet, because redeeming portions of the Holy Land from Gentiles and bringing them under Jewish ownership is undoubtedly a great mitzvah, one that all Jews must support with all their strength. And if more such funds arise, it is a mitzvah to help them all, because - due to our numerous sins - most of our holy soil is in the hands of strangers, and our eyes languish all day long for every cubit and handbreadth that is held captive in the hands of foreigners. Obviously, when it comes time to settle [Jews in the Land], we must strive with all our might to ensure that everything is done according to the ways of Hashem, in keeping with the Torah and its commandments. But as long as we are engaged in transferring the land from foreign hands to Jewish ones, we are obligated to help.

    However, regarding Your Brilliant and Holy Honors' request that I, too, issue a statement inspiring others to help only those who follow the Torah and our religion: allow me to explain briefly to Your Exalted Honors why this is a very difficult matter. Firstly, according to the laws of our holy Torah, some of the people who fail to observe the Torah and our religion (due to our numerous sins) are, nonetheless, far from the category of those whom we have no obligation to sustain. They dwell in Eretz Yisrael and work hard to cultivate the soil of Israel and prepare it for settlement. If we withhold their support, they are likely to die of starvation, G-d forbid. How, then, can I say that these people should be denied support?

    Secondly, [even if I were to fulfill your request], one would listen. [Our Rabbis'] statement "Even if a Jew sins, he is still a Jew" is so familiar to the masses who donate [to this cause] that they would completely ignore our request to distinguish between one recipient and another, especially when [the pioneers] are engaged in settling the Land, upon which all Jewish eyes focus.

    Furthermore, I constantly try to befriend those who are estranged from Judaism, those whom the exile has caused to stray from the path of G-d (due to our numerous sins). Through cords of love and brotherhood, many people come closer to holiness, or at least do not become more rebellious. If I become their enemy now, depriving them of their sustenance, they, too, will become my enemy and drift even further away, G-d forbid. How can we possibly cause so many Jews to stumble with our own hands?

    Besides this, we clearly see that the expansion of Jewish settlement in Eretz Yisrael - even though some places are inhabited by people who are far from perfect in our holy Torah - has caused, and continues to cause, religious, G-d fearing Jews to come and settle in the Land, where they keep the Land-related mitzvot in holiness and purity. Moreover, [before the pioneers came] many places were dangerous to traverse because of snakes and scorpions, and because of thieves and highway robbers hid out in desolate locations, waiting to attack passersby. It was also dangerous to dwell in certain places because of the poisonous swamps that developed in the Holy Land during its years of desolation. All of this kept Jews away. But now, thanks to the great work of the pioneers, the snakes and scorpions have been eliminated, the malaria-infested swamps have been turned into healthy, inhabitable areas, the highway robbers no longer have a place [to roam], and whoever travels through Eretz Yisrael does so in safety, thank G-d. Thus, the efforts of these inferior people have greatly benefited proper, Torah-observant Jews, allowing them to settle in the Land of Israel. How, then, can we arise and oppress those who have caused, and continue to cause, so much good for the entire Yishuv, when they are building the foundations upon which the settlement of proper, G-d fearing Jews rests?

    Therefore, I tend to think that we are not permitted to discourage any Jew from engaging in the great mitzvah of settling and building the Land Of Israel. Rather, we must do much more to encourage faithful Jews to come quickly to the Holy Land with their wealth and possessions, to settle and build the Land. At the same time, we must treat the other settlers in a pleasant manner and guide them with words of peace, so that they may come closer to Torah and fear of G-d. This will truly increase the glory of Heaven and the glory of Israel, as Your Holy Honors (shlita) desire with all your pure hearts and souls.

    I sign with a blessing, anticipating imminent redemption and salvation, in accordance with your exalted desire and the intense desire of your friend [myself]. Best wishes to Your Holy Torah Personages from the holy mountain of Jerusalem,

    Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook

    Tuesday, November 08, 2005

    Magen Avraham

    In his perush on the bracha "Magen Avraham" (The protector of Avraham), the Alter Rebbe Zt"l has a tremendous chidush.

    He asks why in the world Avraham needs a Magen? Rashi on the brit bein habetarim (בראשית ט"ו:א) brings the midrash (ב"ר מד:ה, פדר"א פכ"ז) to explain that Hashem is reassuring Avraham. Avraham was worried that he would be punished for the souls he killed in the war against the 4 kings, so Hashem is promising to "protect" (Magen) Avraham from punishment and promises him great reward. The question still remains, however, why this should be the way we end the bracha of the avot, the very beginning of our prayer to Hashem?

    The Alter Rebbe answers that a person need protection from the extreme type of chesed that Avraham exemplified. More than that, the whole world need protection from such chesed that transcends the normal boundaries of balanced middot since it does not even have the slightest component of Din. With chesed alone, we are incapable of fulfilling our task in the world: 'לתקן עולם במלכות שד-י' (to perfect the world through the sovereignty of G-d).

    In the words of the Alter Rebbe (תורה אור - לך לך):

    דהנה אברהם הוא בחינת חסד גדול עד מאד וכולם טובים בעיניו והוא רק טוב ולכן אמר 'לו ישמעאל יחיה לפניך' - אבל באמת אין מהראוי לעשות כן. דהנה בביאת המשיח צריך לבער כל הרע מן העולם ואם יתנהג העולם בחסדו הגדול של אברהם לא היה העולם יכולים לבא למדרגה של משיח'

    Since Avraham is the archetype of tremendously great Chesed and all people are good in his eyes and he himself is all "good." This is why he says "O that Ishmael might live before you!" (בראשית י"ז:י"ח) [Avraham concentrates on the good in Ishmael exclusively]. But in truth, such behavior is not proper. Because with the coming of Mashiach there is a need to uproot all evil from the world and if the world will behave in accordance with the great Chesed of Avraham, it would be incapable of reaching the lofty level of Mashiach (the messianic age).

    The Gosse debate

    After GH started calling people who believe in Gosse's theory names in a series of obnoxious posts (the first one is here), I was going to write a defense of Gosse but R' Gil beat me to it.

    There is a great debate going on in GH about this. I think Gil summarized it best:

    To sum up, GH's problems with the Gosse theory are as follows:
    • That is not how we understand God as acting.
    • It has no basis in our mesorah.
    • It raises serious issues with regard to rational discourse since it resorts to arbitrary 'trump' reasons.
    To which I respond:
    • As on my original post, I don't think that anyone can make a solid argument on this.
    • As above, neither is your explanation nor any other that reconciles Torah with science. So what?
    • That it doesn't fit into your preconceived notions doesn't mean that it is wrong. It's kind of like you're screaming "No fair!" Too bad. This isn't dodgeball (as an aside, who can name the five D's of dodgeball?) and we aren't kids.

    Monday, November 07, 2005

    Thoughts of Penitence

    The following story is recorded in An Angel Among Men, pg 130-133:

    Dr. Nachum Arieli recalled:

    The Rav (Rav Kook) and my father studied the Talmud together at a set time every day ... The Rav made it his practice never to lock the doors of his house, not the front door nor the door to his study. His home was open to visitors day and night, with no set reception hours... Yet, in this "open house" the door to the Rav's study was locked a few hours every morning. It was an immutable rule. This was when the Rav would study the Talmud with my father.


    On one of those wonderful days the two scholars forgot to lock the door to the Rav's study. They were so absorbed in their studies that they failed to notice that the door had opened and Eliezer Ben-Yehudah [the "father" of modern Hebrew] had entered. When they finally noticed him, neither said a word. Ben-Yehudah, however, began asking the Rav numerous questions on linguistics, [in search of] the origins and explanations of words. The Rav was like a perennial spring, deciphering the origins of words based on sources from both the revealed and esoteric portions of the Torah. It seemed as if he was scanning the lines of text right before his eyes. He wove ideas and words together like one of the world's foremost philologists, until Ben-Yehudah's questions ceased. The Rav still had more to say, but once the questions stopped, the Rav contained himself. He had only one more thing to say: "Mr. Ben-Yehudah, perhaps the time has come for you to repent?" Ben-Yehudah replied, "Perhaps." He said no more; with that he took his leave.

    The two scholars returned to their studies as if nothing had happened, like a rock thrown into the sea. The rock creates a hole in the water, causing it to rise like a fountain, but then the water returns to its original state, as if nothing happened.

    This whole episode occurred on Friday morning, the second day of Chanukah, 5683. That very evening, ten to fifteen hours after his meeting with Rav Kook, Eliezer Ben-Yehudah died. My father claimed that Ben-Yehudah's response - "Perhaps" - had the status of "thoughts of repentance," which are considered like actual repentance (see Kiddushin 49b).

    Sunday, November 06, 2005

    Land for peace

    I once heard a prominent Gush-Etzion Rabbi claim that we know land-for-"peace" agreements are Halachicly viable since in Sefer Melachim, Shlomo HaMelech A"H gives Hiram 20 cities in the Galil.

    The verses in question are the following (מלכים א ט:י-יג):

    וַיְהִי, מִקְצֵה עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, אֲשֶׁר-בָּנָה שְׁלֹמֹה, אֶת-שְׁנֵי הַבָּתִּים--אֶת-בֵּית יְהוָה, וְאֶת-בֵּית הַמֶּלֶךְ. חִירָם מֶלֶךְ-צֹר נִשָּׂא אֶת-שְׁלֹמֹה בַּעֲצֵי אֲרָזִים וּבַעֲצֵי בְרוֹשִׁים, וּבַזָּהָב--לְכָל-חֶפְצוֹ; אָז יִתֵּן הַמֶּלֶךְ שְׁלֹמֹה לְחִירָם, עֶשְׂרִים עִיר, בְּאֶרֶץ, הַגָּלִיל. וַיֵּצֵא חִירָם, מִצֹּר, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-הֶעָרִים, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן-לוֹ שְׁלֹמֹה; וְלֹא יָשְׁרוּ, בְּעֵינָיו. וַיֹּאמֶר--מָה הֶעָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַתָּה לִּי אָחִי; וַיִּקְרָא לָהֶם אֶרֶץ כָּבוּל, עַד הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה.

    (Translations by Machon-Mamre) And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the two houses, the house of the LORD and the king's house-- now Hiram the king of Tyre had furnished Solomon with cedar-trees and cypress-trees, and with gold, according to all his desire--that then king Solomon gave Hiram twenty cities in the land of Galilee. And Hiram came out from Tyre to see the cities which Solomon had given him: and they pleased him not. And he said: 'What cities are these which thou hast given me, my brother?' And they were called the land of Cabul, unto this day.

    The same story is re-told in Divrei HaYamim but here Hiram is the one giving the cities to shlomo (דברי הימים ב ח:א-ב):
    וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת-בֵּית יְהוָה--וְאֶת-בֵּיתוֹ. וְהֶעָרִים, אֲשֶׁר נָתַן חוּרָם לִשְׁלֹמֹה--בָּנָה שְׁלֹמֹה, אֹתָם; וַיּוֹשֶׁב שָׁם, אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

    And it came to pass at the end of twenty years, wherein Solomon had built the house of the LORD, and his own house, that the cities which Hiram had given to Solomon, Solomon built them, and caused the children of Israel to dwell there.

    There are two problems with these passages. For one, there is a Commandment against giving Gentiles a foothold in the land, much less handing over entire cities. Second, how do we resolve the contradiction between the passages. The Abarbanel, in his commentary on Melachim offers the following resolution:
    It is very difficult how Shlomo could have sold 20 cities, thus diminishing the size of his kingdom and giving the land over to gentiles against an explicit Command.

    Thus, I think that Shlomo ... after he established his kingdom, saw fit to give to Hiram cities from the Galil, not so that those cities should become subservient to Hiram and not so that he (Hiram) should be master over them and thus subjugating the Israelites living them to the king of Zur, since if he would have done this, he would have been transgressing a Command of the Torah. Rather nature of [Sholmo's] present was that from those cities, [Hiram] would collect the wheat and the oil that Shlomo owes him. Thus the produce would be Hiram's while the sovereignty would be Shlomo's...

    Now Hiram went out to appraise these cities to see if they were capable of producing the amount Shlomo had given him and 'and they pleased him not', since it seemed to [Hiram] that they would not produce so much wheat and oil. Thus he called them 'Eretz Kabul' which means - land that does not give fruit as Chazal interpreted it (שבת נד ע"א). Thus the present was paid in produce and not land.

    According to this it is easy to understand the discrepancy in the verses. At first Shlomo gave Hiram the produce of the cities in question. Later when Hiram appraised the land and was not satisfied, he gave the cities back.

    Even if we were to read the verses the way the Rabbi from Gush Etzion intended, then we would have to conclude that Shlomo sinned in this episode. In the end, we just don't learn Halacha from Nach.

    Saturday, November 05, 2005

    Ape men

    I was learning Midrash Rabba today. The midrash says (B"R 23:6) that after the generation of Enosh started worshiping avoda zara, 4 things changed in the nature of the world. One of those things is that the facial features of men became ape-like. The mefarshim on the midrash explain that this means that they lost their tzelem-elokim, they lost their human quality. Apes are described by the mefarshim as being an intermediate level between cattle and man.

    I guess chazal did not really have a problem with us coming from monkeys. My question is, when was the tzelem elokim restored? my guess would be that it was restored with the covenant of Noach but the topic needs some more iyun.

    Thursday, November 03, 2005

    Binding Heaven and Earth

    "There are situations where the physical world is so developed that the light of God dims. There is a certain momentum that drives society for some time even as the value of life slowly disappears. When there is no spiritual yearning, the society loses its nature. Individual desire and demand take preference over social harmony, until the society reaches depression and disillusionment and all order is reversed." (Orot, p. 103)

    The story of the tower of Bavel is the story of a forced relationship. Human beings trying to define the terms of their relationship with Hashem. The midrash (B"R 38:6) says that this generation saw things only in scientific terms. "Every 1656 years, the heavens collapse. Lets build a support system to prevent further collapse." In other words, they thought that God is part of a physical system that they understood. He was just another component in their physical existence.

    This type of understanding of the world led to tremendous social evil. The midrash relates (Pirkei D'R Eliezer 24) "If a man fell off the tower, they did not notice. If a brick fell, they started crying saying 'when will we find another brick like that one?'" Without a spiritual component, human life is never worth more than the physical goals of the society. The brick is worth more than the builder.

    In their effort to fuse Heaven and Earth physically, they corrupted the very foundations of their society. Ironically, their plan worked in a way. Hashem, kivyachol, comes down to earth in order to punish them (Bereishit 11:7). A connection was made but only to teach the generation a lesson. G-d ends up initiating contact on His terms. The lesson is simple, we connect Heaven and Earth not by building a physical structure to reach Heaven. Rather we must learn to access Heaven here on Earth. Hashem gave us a soul, a mission, a path to follow in the physical world. We must build a spiritual building in the physical world, not a physical building in the heavens.

    You put your right foot in ...

    The shulchan aruch (O"H 2:5) writes that when one takes off their shoes they should start by taking their left shoe off first. This is true for both a right handed and left handed person since the issue at hand is the respect the Torah gave to the right (The ritual of the metzorah involves applications to the right toe and thumb [Taz] and the avoda in the Mikdash is only kosher with the right [Aruch HaShulchan]). The Aruch HaShulchan points out that it is a honor to a limb when it is dressed, so we want to keep the right side with the shoe as long as possible.

    Maran HaRav Kook Zt"l writes in his chiddushim that this din is different when we take off our shoes in order to perform a mitzva. When the purpose of taking of the shoe is a mitzva, then it honors the right to be the first. Thus Rav Kook paskens that when taking off shoes for birkat Kohanim, the right shoe should be taken off first. The same goes for erev Yom Kippur. This is not the case, however for an avel or on erev Tisha Be'Av. These mitzvas are not happy ones and thus it would not be proper to honor the right with a mitzva of mourning.

    Hiddur Mitzva

    Rav Zevin Zt"l writes in his book "Ishim VeShitot" a story about Rav Chaim Brisker Zt"l:

    Rav Chaim acquired 2 etrogim for Sukkot. One was from Eretz Israel, kosher, but not mehudar. The second was from Korpo, it was mehudar, but there was a safek as to whether it was murkav or not. Rav Chaim pondered which to use for the mitzva and tested his students using his dilemma. At first it seems that we should take the vadai kosher etrog from Eretz Israel and only then take the mehudar etrog since the hidur is secondary to the mitzva itself. Rav Chaim said the opposite in the name of his father. You should first take the mehudar one and then the definitely kosher one. If the first etrog is kosher, then he fulfilled the mitzva with hiddur and if the first one is pasul, then he still fulfilled the mitzva with the second etrog. If he first takes the kosher etrog then he will definitely not fulfill the mitzva with hiddur. Once he fulfilled the mitzva with the first etrog, he can not fulfill it again.

    There is a general question among the rishonim, as to whether the din of hiddur in an etrog is its own command or is it a component of the mitzva of arba minim. It seems from this story that Rav Chaim held that hiddur is a component of the mitzva, otherwise you can still fulfill the mitzva of hiddur after you have fulfilled the obligation of arba minim.

    Hiddur mitzva actually applies to all of the commandments. It teaches us that it is not enough to perform the mitzvas in a technical fashion, but we must make the mitzvas a vehicle for an intimate relationship with Hashem. We must do the mitzvas in such a way that shows we appreciate them. We must show Hashem that we are grateful for the opportunity to be agents of His Will and that we want nothing more than to be faithful and loving servants.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2005

    Bar Mitzva for Gentiles

    After much time wasted in the comments section, back to some meaningful bloging.

    Rav Shlomo Fisher, Shlit"a brings up an interesting question. Does a gentile have a concept of a bar-mitzva? In other words, at what age is a gentile obligated in the 7 Noahide laws?

    Rav Fisher quotes the chatam sofer (Y"D 317) who writes that every gentile is obligated in the Noahide laws from the age at which they reach intellectual maturity. Based on the Chattam Sofer, both the Ohr Sameach and Rav Yitzchak Elchana Spektor write that a Jewish child who has reached intellectual maturity but is not yet bar-mitzva, is obligated in the 7 Noachide laws. While it is true that the child is excluded from any punishment for the 7 laws, he is nonetheless obligated in keeping them.

    Rav Fisher brings another proof to this effect from a Gemara in Ketuvot (11a). The gemara says that a minor who is going through a conversion process is brought to the mikvah based on the da'at of the beit din and when he grows up and becomes bar-mitzva, he can protest his conversion if he wishes. The question arises as to age what point can he possibly protest. Before his bar-mitzva, the protest is meaningless and after, it is too late. The tosefot Rid explains that the point at which he can protest is between the age at which he reached intellectual maturity and his bar-mitzva.

    Should I appologize?

    Several people have contacted me and said that my post about MO blogs was offensive. I can honestly say I did not intend it to be an attack on Modern Orthodoxy (I know too many wonderful people who consider themselves MO to make such generalizations about a whole community) or for that matter on any particular individual. I was just questioning some aspects of these blogs that caught my attention and whose cause I wanted to understand better.

    I think the main points of my post are factually true. Many of these blogs express very strong opinions while supplying very few sources. I think it would also be hard to deny that there is an anti-UO and anti-Kiruv tendency that exists on many of these blogs.

    My question is. Should I apologize for writing something that I feel is factually true (and I feel that I wrote it for toeles) when my post obviously offended several people?

    In self defense

    Jewropean wrote:

    "As whether there a mitzva to establish a king, I strongly recommend you learn some Nach."

    Dovbear retorted:

    "Silly Jewropean. Torah True Yeshivisha Know-it-alls don't learn Nach. They leave that for the ladies. Mabey Mrs. Chardal can set her hubby straight."

    Here are some points:

    • I have never attended a Yeshiva so I don't think I can be called yeshivish.
    • I learn Nach every day.
    • We don't pasken from Nach.
    • The mitzva to establish a king is well known and is an established halacha (Rambam, melachim 1:1):

    שלוש מצוות נצטוו ישראל בשעת כניסתן לארץ--למנות להם מלך שנאמר "שום תשים עליך מלך" (דברים יז,טו), ולהכרית זרעו של עמלק שנאמר "תמחה את זכר עמלק" (דברים כה,יט), ולבנות להם בית הבחירה שנאמר "לשכנו תדרשו, ובאת שמה" (דברים יב,ה).

    I will admit that this is a mitzva that can not be fulfilled without a Sandedrin, but it is a mitzva. (Actually establishing a sanhedrin is also a mitzva, but that is for another post)

    All joking aside. Why do these blogsters resort to ad-homonym attacks so quickly? Is it so hard to formulate arguments from sources other than from your gut-feelings?