Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Deeply Moving

I haven't written in a while, but I just came across something that moved me. A Jew named Ronen Levi Yitzchak Segal, a commenter on various blogs, has a large number of Youtube videos that he made. In these videos, he looks into the webcam and answers questions posed to him by email. His answers contain a certain simplicity and heartfelt property that I think all rabbis would do well to cultivate, though Ronen is not a rabbi. I have watched a few of these videos, and his calm, quiet manner and gentle responses (though I do not agree with all he says) leave a deep impression on me. From the comments there and on his Facebook page, it seems that he touched many people.

Ronen died in April, and when I read that, I was shocked. It is a call to action for me and all of us still alive, that this gentle, kind man was able to make such a mark on this world with a few videos on Youtube. I learned many things from him.

Check his pages out if you have an interest: http://www.youtube.com/user/ronennachman770

חבל על דאבדין -- It is such a shame to have lost such a powerful voice for God. May our world learn from him, and may we all merit soon the coming of the redemption.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Coming of Age in Avraham's Tent

The book of Bereishit is a book of family. The subjects of father, mother and child, filial responsibility, parenthood and inheritance -- spiritual and physical -- are featured as central themes of the first fifth of the Torah. At the end of Vayera, the Torah presents its reader with two clearly connected stories, which, through subtlety and hints, reveal the roots of geo-political realities for centuries to come. The two stories are separated only by the flimsiest of pretexts; the episodes are the story of Yishmael's deportation, and the tale of Yitzchak's near sacrifice.

The parallels between the two episodes are many and multi-layered, found in both the language the Torah employs, as well as the imagery and details of each story:

  1. In both events, a cherished and beloved son is sent out of Avraham's tent, seemingly never to return.
  2. Both include a seemingly completely passive actor (a son), and an active parent.
  3. In each (21:14, 22:3), וישכם אברהם בבקר, Avraham rises in the early morning to dispense with a distasteful task.
  4. In both tales, the passive child is literally about to die.
  5. In both passages (21:17, 22:11, 16), a מלאך, a heavenly angel, protests the death.
  6. Both stories have the angel of heaven revealing to the active parent something which he did not see before, but now sees (a well for Hagar in chapter 21, and a ram for Avraham in 22).
  7. Each episode ends with a blessing of the child as the source of a great and numerous nation.
  8. Both end with hints at a suitable marriage for the passive child (now a man), and thus a way for the blessing to be actualized.
Clearly, the Torah wanted these two passages to be read together, to be compared, and most importantly, to be contrasted. So, what differences are evident in the tales?
  1. In the Yishmael story (ch. 21), Avraham protests Sarah's demand of deportation initially, and only agrees when God commands it. In the Yitzchak episode (ch. 22), there is no scriptural evidence of Avraham's protest.
  2. In ch. 21, it is the women who take active roles in the events, while in ch. 22, Avraham does so.
  3. In ch. 21, Hagar, in her anguish over the deterioration of her son's situation, shows selfishness in casting him away so that she "not see the death of the boy". In stark contrast, even in the most trying time for the father-son relationship, Avraham and Yitzchak's relationship is twice described as the most intimate, filial, loving relationship, יחדיו -- they are sublimely, simply, "together".
  4. The word גוי, "nation" is used in ch. 21 to refer to Yishmael's future nation-offspring, while in ch. 22 the word is used only to describe the other nations, those not from the seed of Avraham.
  5. The angel in ch. 21 is a מלאך אלקים. The name of God used here traditionally signifies Lord of judgment, strictness and nature. In ch. 22, it is מלאך ה' -- the name of God is the personal God, That of mercy, loving-kindness and intimacy.
  6. In ch. 21, the ending blessing is given directly to Yishmael. However, in ch. 22, Yitzchak does not receive any direct blessing. Rather, it is given to Avraham.
What are we to make of these two events? The following theory is not an exhaustive explanation of the above comparisons. There are certainly endless themes and points of contrast here that may be plumbed. However, I would like to present my first thoughts, and leave the comparisons and contrasts as food for further thought.
It first strikes the reader that these episodes are really coming-of-age stories. In both, a passive child is transformed into a man with a divinely-mandated destiny. It is important, therefore, that the two children be passive initially. However, by the end of the story, each child is prepared for marriage. Marriage is the threshold of majority; when Yishmael's mother chooses a wife for him (21:21), he is invested as a grown man, ready to fulfill his destiny. And at the end of the Yitzchak tale, the lineage of Betuel, and Rivka his daughter, is seen by the Rashi as the oblique reference to Yitzchak's being mature for marriage. Finding appropriate wives, Yishmael and Yitzchak are ready to begin their Godly destinies.
However, these destinies are widely divergent. One will become the unique vessel through which God fulfills His promise to His beloved Avraham. The other will bring forth twelve princes of the desert (17:20), living and dying by the ethos of the sword (16:12). This point is brought to light by the difference in the stories regarding the final blessings (difference #6). Yitzchak's blessing is given to him indirectly; Avraham receives the blessing from God, and this blessing as a matter of course devolves upon Yitzchak. This is evident because the blessing is immediately followed by the marriage of Yitzchak. כי ביצחק יקרא לך זרע -- In Yitzchak you will have "seed" (21:12). The Torah is quite exact in its choice of terms in the blessing of ch. 22: "כי ברך אברכך והרבה ארבה את זרעך ...וירש זרעך...והתברכו בזרעך". In this blessing (22:17-18), the term for the progeny is "seed", reflecting the fact that the blessing currently being given to Avraham will only be fulfilled through his "seed" -- previously identified exclusively as Yitzchak.
On the other hand, Yishmael's blessing is given directly to him, through no intermediary. Indeed, in the eyes of destiny, Yishmael is a new man, a man without a father, a man who carries no previous tradition into his future.
This distinction is evident in the diction of both blessings. Whereas Yishmael is blessed to be a גוי גדול, Yitzchak's blessing (through Avraham) states that through him, גויי הארץ, the nations of the land, will be blessed. The word for "nation" that tells what Yishmael will become is precisely the same word used to tell Avraham and Yitzchak who will be blessed by them, and who is considered outside of their chosen group. Yishmael is a גוי, he is a nation amongst the nations of the world, and set apart from the זרע הנבחר.
In the same vein, the God that saves Yishmael is אלקים -- God of strict, natural justice. It is the God that does not judge Yishmael on future actions, but באשר הוא שם, in what he is now. This is quite different from being saved by the loving, intimate and merciful ה', who saves Yitzchak. Indeed, the blessings and methods of salvation continue to delineate between the divergent futures of these two sons of Avraham.
Perhaps these divergent futures are necessary products of the parenting exhibited during the coming-of-age crises. Yishmael is fatherless in his story -- he has been exiled by his father. (Indeed, he returns (according to the midrash) only to bury his father with his brother, and to demonstrate that he has no part as a chosen son.) His mother exhibits callousness and selfishness. The pain of watching her son wither away is too much for her, and she casts him away from her, the distance of an arrow's flight (21:16). Her callousness develops her son and his descendents into men who place themselves at odds with other men, and at odds with the Jewish spark (Yishmael is seen by Rashi (commenting on Zecharia 6:1) as the final exiler and oppressor of Israel). Perhaps to underscore how deeply the parental instinct of Hagar has impressed itself upon Yishmael, a mere four verses after she casts him away, the same bow and arrow is employed in 20:20 to describe Yishmael's weapon of choice. Yishmael's mother and her persona make him unfit as a son of Avraham.
On the other hand, Yitzchak, as pointed out earlier, is imbued by Avraham, his parent, with tremendous love and kindness, even when obeying God's most seemingly harsh commands. Together, intimately, father and son scale a mountain, and together, just as intimately, they descend it, and the son is invested not only with his destiny, but with his inner character.
(To further drive home this dual, inter-generational relationship, a parallel can be found in the fact that this is not Hagar's first exile from Avraham's home. In ch. 16, she leaves leaves to escape Sarah's abuse. The cycle seems to be repeated in Yishmael, although in his case, the exile is divinely justified, whereas in Hagar's case, it is not. On the other hand, Avraham is also commanded to self-exile himself (parallel to Hagar) from his father's home. He does so, and thus provides prental precedent for Yitzchak's sacrifice event.
Ultimately, in a social setting where birthright and inheritance are of extreme importance and fought over vehemently, it was important for God's plan to leave no uncertainty as to which son bore the noble title of "Son of Avraham". The coming-of-age denouements related in our parasha show how God defined each child with their destiny, and set them on their often-opposing paths for subsequent history. In this light, we understand well the Torah's decision to tell, in 25:6, of the sending away of Avraham's subsequent children. As with Yishmael, they needed to be unequivocally denied the option of supplanting or even joining Yitzchak as the physical or spiritual inheritor of Avraham.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Vayera and Providence

The Ralbag (late-13th C - mid-14th C) was a great talmudist and halachist. He is perhaps remembered best, however, for his commentary on the Torah. To the modern and traditionalist views, the Ralbag's commentary is quirky; he believed in astrology, and yet had non-conventional views on Heavenly omniscience, because of philosophical considerations. His commentary to the Chumash is a very interesting read, for its diversity of thought and divergence from other Jewish thinkers.

It is the Ralbag's habit, after explaining the story verse by verse and conceptually, to list a number of "benefits" that are to be reaped from the passage. Some are character-building, and some are philosophical lessons. In the story of Lot and Sodom, Ralbag finds a philosophical lesson regarding the nature of Divine Providence. This lesson explains the method through which God affects providential salvation1 of humans.

The Ralbag states (עמ' קלח בהוצאת מוסד הרב קוק): "It is unbecoming of Man to neglect his own safety, [and rely] exclusively on the protection of God. Rather, he should be very diligent, for God causes his deliverance through man utilizing the best method available to protect himself. This is one of the tools with which God's providnece is completed: when a person is notified of the evil that will befall him...God provides salvation when [the man] tries to distance that evil in any possible way. And for this reason, Lot was commanded to quickly run, not look back or rest, until reaching the place where his salvation would be completed. If he did this, he would escape; if not, the evil would befall him."

Essentially, Man's own efforts to insightfully and wisely defend himself against danger through the natural means at his disposal is a part of the providence through which God protects those deserving of protection. This idea is crystallized by the Ran in his eighth essay (דרשות הר"ן, עמ' שיט בהוצאת מוסד הרב קוק). In discussing one method through which God protects people from dangers that crop up in life, he writes: "God places in the hearts of those who do His will the idea to do actions which by their nature protect them from damage from the system of the universe [luck, chance, uncertainty, call it what you will]." (This is also the view of the Ibn Ezra, as mentioned in a footnote to this page.)

In other words, the very insights we often have in a time of danger -- which path to take, what to say -- these ways that we extricate ourselves from perilous situations, are part of God's providential protection. What we see as our proactive stance and willingness to do our utmost to help ourselves are, in reality, a critical element of Divine assistance. (Perhaps this is what Rambam meant when he wrote (in his Letter on Astrology, translated here) that the destruction of the Jewish State around 70 CE was a result of the Israelites spending time learning astrology, instead of focusing their efforts the study on war- and states-craft. In the light of the above discussion, perhaps this missallocation of intellectual resources was God's providence removing its protective shield from Judea, leaving them open to attack and destruction.)

It is interesting to see how our sages of centuries past viewed the philosophical issues with which we still grapple. I am not sure that Ralbag would see God's Providence in only the terms set out by the above-quoted passage, and am certainly not sure that I see it only in these terms. Part of religious life is to experience God and His providence personally. This leads away from the "how" of Divine providence, which is an abstract philosophical challange, to the concrete affirmation of our lives as a part of the Divine plan, no matter the exact mechanism we can envisage that God used to alter the course of events. To experience the latter is life changing, to say the least.

And so this short post is not at all meant to limit the "acceptable" answers to this and other philosophical questions, but to widen the scope. Considering these issues will, I hope, motivate us to think deeply about modern Man and God -- to reference our intellectual history (which often had different philosophical assumptions than we do today), and blaze trails where novel ideas can be of assistance. I pray that this ultimately allow us to see God's interest and intimate involvement in our lives more clearly each day.

1 For other discussions of Divine providence that we have had here, search the blog for the term 'Providence'.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

False and True Leadership

I wish to juxtapose two passages, from two very different leaders that the Jewish nation has produced. Suffice it to say, one demonstrates false leadership, while the other demonstrated honor, bravery and dignity, dying for the Jewish cause. Let us mourn for him who has been lost, and learn from the failures of him who remains. חבל על דאבדין ולא משתכחין...

Ehud Olmert, former PM of Israel (currently defendant in a number of criminal suits):

"We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors. "

Rabbi Kahane (God avenge his blood), approximately 15 years earlier:

"We are weary? We are weary of having to serve in the army each year to defend our state? How much would a Jew in Auschwitz have given for the opportunity to see a Jewish army, a Jewish tank, a Jewish plane – and with what joy he would have agreed to serve each year in a Jewish army of a Jewish State, created so as to help guarantee that never again will there be an Auschwitz for its Jewish citizens!

Peace? Of course we want peace. Who does not want peace? It is not the monopoly of the guilt-ridden and self-hating hypocrites, the artists and intellectuals (sic) of the left. We all wish peace; we all fervently pray for peace. We all look for the day when the nations shall beat their swords into ploughshares. But, meanwhile, as they continue to have swords with which to destroy us, let us not be so mad as to wave ploughshares.

Give up land. For “peace” that the “poor Palestinian” is prepared to grant us? The ultimate peace of the dead? Are we mad? The ones who launched four wars of aggression against Israel and lost for wars of aggression, dictate terms to us? The ones who launched four wars of aggression and a thousand terrorist attacks, who slew thousands of Jews, and who lost – now present us with demands? They insist that we, who won, give up land? Let the Arab aggressors and murderers learn a very basic rule of life: Losers lose. Winners win. Losers and especially losers who launched wars of murderous aggression, do not dictate terms. Aggression is not a game in which one attempts to wipe out innocent people, loses and then returns to “Go”. No, aggression is a gamble and if the aggressor loses – let him know the full bitterness of his reality – that he has lost. Then, perhaps, he will think deeply and carefully before embarking on another adventure. For let the “poor Palestinian” know in every fiber of his body, that he had best leave well enough alone. Let him accept a peace that will see him establish a state of his own in Jordan, if he can do it. For should he be so foolish as to begin another murderous war of aggression, let him be certain that that which he still possess in Jordan will be ours too.

Land for peace? By all means. The Jews who were the victims of countless efforts to destroy them and who are the rightful owners, will keep the land and be prepared to graciously give the murderous Arabs, peace."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Noah and Self-Control

When Adam and Chava sinned in their first hours in the garden of Eden, it was a sin of passion. The allure and promise of a fruit that would make them into gods was something that they could not resist. And with this sin, the seeds of mankind's ultimate failure are sown. Cain kills Hevel in a fit of passion, and history spirals downward. Humanity seems controlled by its baser instincts, with desire and passion in control.

On Noah's release from the ark, the Torah talks of God's resolution to never destroy all of mankind again. "ויאמר ה' אל לבו..." "God said to his heart...." The sages (quoted by Rabbi Hirsch) point out that whenever a biblical figure who is a model of virtue speaks in his heart, it is in this mode 'to his heart'. In contrast, when evil men do so, it is בליבו, in his heart. In this first post-diluvian proclamation by God, the very wording is a lesson to humanity: make sure that your heart-seated passions are not the decisors of your actions. Let your emotions be subservient to the intellect.

This lesson is repeated in the three brothers. Shem, model of intellect, and Yaphet, representing aesthetics and beauty, the noble elements of our passions, are told by Cham, symbolic of the base passions, that their father has shamed himself. Noah's reaction is to curse Cham and make him the slave to Shem. Yaphet is blessed, but dwells only within the tent (the parameters and limits) of Shem.

The three brothers are embodied in every human being. We all have base passions, noble desires, and an intellect and spirit. It is our task in life to enslave our base passion to our intellect. Even our noble aesthetics must be tempered and used only within the limits that our intellect must set; otherwise, it is easy for the Yaphet that is within us to lead us to Cham. Our intellect is subservient to God's will, and allows us to use it to bring out the good and decent in all our other attributes.

This idea was articulated by Plato as well, in book  four of the Republic. The soul, says Plato, is triumverate, composed of three parts: the appetitive, the rational, and the spirited. The appetitive is the source of the base desires of mankind and society. The rational is the seat of wisdom and drives towards truth. The spirited is the source of "higher" desires, such as (platonic) love, honor, and victory. The ideal man has the rational controlling the appetitive with input from the spirited. The platonic republic contains these on a macro level: the king-philosopher is the rational, the auxiliary class (made up of soldiers and enforcers) is the spirited, and the worker class is the appetitive. By correctly applying the mastery of the one over the other, with the assistance of the third, individual and society can find the best way forward for private and public life.

(One distinction between the Republic and the Jewish ideal is the the purpose of society. According to Plato, society is a necessary tool to find the best result for each individual. Society is not an end in and of itself. However, the Jewish ideal is a nation, a כלל, serving God, in which the individual and the collective each have purposes and importance in and of themselves. Humanity is of a dual nature, as an individual and as a group, and each purpose provides sustenance to the other, and allows the completion of the other within itself. A Jewish society is nothing without individuals, but a Jewish individual is very little without his כלל.
There is nothing more noble than a person whose intellect controls his urges. In contrast, there is nothing more ignoble and pathetic than the opposite. And, looking back at a life mis-spent, nothing seems easier than to have lived it correctly. In The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene (an English playwright) tells the tale of a priest who lives a life guided by his passions. As he stands before a firing squad, "He felt only an immense disappointment because he had to go to God empty-handed, with nothing done at all. It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-restraint and a little courage. He felt like someone who has missed happiness by seconds. He knew now that at the end there was only one thing that counted - to be a saint."

As we look back at our actions, it seems so petty, a little self restraint and a bit of courage were all that it would have taken to turn a sinner into a saint. This sentiment is an echo of the talmud (Sukah 52a): לעתיד לבוא מביאו הקב"ה ליצר הרע ושוחטו בפני הצדיקים ובפני הרשעים, צדיקים" נדמה להם כהר גבוה ורשעים נדמה להם כחוט השערה, הללו בוכין והללו בוכין, צדיקים בוכין ואומרים היאך יכולנו לכבוש הר גבוה כזה, ורשעים בוכין ואומרים היאך לא יכולנו לכבוש את חוט השערה הזה" At the end of days, God will slaughter the evil inclination before the righteous and sinners. It will seem to the saints as a high mountain, and they will cry [in joy] and marvel how they were able to conquer such a mountain. On the other hand, it will seem like a hairs-breadth to the wicked, who will lament that such a small distance they were unable to go in order to be good.

Those who place their desires and passions at the service of their intellect will ultimately see how easy it would have been to do good. On the other hand, the righteous will remember the hardships over which they prevailed to control their urges.

Self-restraint is something that seems easy to have in retrospect, and yet, at the point of struggle, can be the hardest thing to attain. It may be even harder to maintain the belief that we can repent and re-arrange our lives after years of sin. However, every breath we breathe is testament to the fact that Hashem has not given up on us, and we have no right to resign ourselves, either. May we all succeed in our individual and national struggles against the evil inclination.

Friday, October 16, 2009

There's a Fly in my Soup!

Disclaimer: As in all halachik discussions on the internet, what appears below should not be taken as a ruling, but as discussion only. Please discuss any practical applications with an orthodox rabbi.

In honor of my fifth rabbanut bechina in about 10 days:

In the halachot of food, insects are particularly hard to defend against, since they are small they often show up in the most unexpected places. Insects furthermore carry the distinction that if eaten whole, they encompass multiple infractions, or לאוין.

If an insect falls into a cup of juice, one may immediately remove it, and may continue to drink (although practically, one may wonder where the insect may have been, and what disease it may carry). This is because the taste of the forbidden insect did not transfer into the food or drink. However, in a situation where the offending insect falls into cooking liquid, or is steeped in liquid for 24 hours (see SA YD 105:1), the situation is more complex. Here, we assume that taste has transferred (as happens during cooking), and therefore, the taste of the forbidden insect has been diffused throughout the cooking. In a case like this, one may only eat the food once the insect is removed if there is sixty times the forbidden taste (approximated by volume of the offending insect) in the food (ששים כנגדו). However, there is a more subtle case, where the food is hot but not cooking on the fire. This discussion will center around a fly in soup, and the worm that is often placed in a bottle of tequila.

Normally, an item is considered cooked with another item if it is brought to a temperature at which a hand is burnt, or if it steeps (כבישה) in it for 24 hours. The later authorities discuss the temperature "at which a hand is burnt" or יד סולדת בו. The פתחי תשובה brings two opinions (105:2), that it is either heat that would burn a baby's stomach, or that which makes it impossible to hold a vessel. He says that the practical reality is that people rely on the second opinion, which is approximated at 120o F (see the Star-K site).

Once the soup is placed in a bowl, however, it is considered in a כלי שני and thus not capable of cooking. However, the Rashba posits that even though it does not cook, it still transfers taste (מפליט ומבליע) and so it can still create forbidden mixtures. In this case, the soup with the fly may be forbidden even after the fly is removed, since the taste of the fly is considered by Rashba to have transferred into the soup (כדי קליפה, only into a thin layer surrounding the food). However, the Shulchan Aruch (105:2) only rules stringently as the Rashba in an ideal situation (לכתחילה); practically, if the accident has already occured, he allows one to behave as if a second vessel, a כלי שני does not pose the problem of flavor transferral. The ש"כ goes further and says that most authorities rule that כלי שני presents no problem whatsoever.

In addition to this reasoning permitting the soup in a bowl after the removal of a fly, even a pot on the fire could be permitted in the case of a fly falling in. In YD 104:1 (which rules like Rava in ע"ז סח:), we read that mice, flies, ants and other things that are disgusting to everyone, would be considered in essence things that give off a bad flavor (נותן טעם לפגם). In this sistuation, the requirement of sixty times the forbidden amount is unneeded, since that is in place only to ensure that the benefit from the forbidden part is imperceptible. So, you could remove the fly and eat the rest of the soup, even if the fly fell in while the pot was on the fire.

(This reasoning is restricted by a caveat: if we are dealing with beer or vinegar into which the forbidden item fell, even if the item is something that is essentially disgusting, they may, in these media, somehow enhance the flavor. In this case, we would need sixty times the forbidden item after it is removed in order to permit the soup.)

At the end of 104:3, the Shulchan Aruch rules thus, and permits these disgusting things, even if they are dissolved and mixed so completely as to make it impossible to remove them. However, we are required to do the best we can to remove them, like straining the soup before serving it. This issue is brought up again in 107:2. While the Rema there permits as did the Shulchan Aruch, the Bach quotes the שערי דורא who is strict and forbids it. The ש"כ mentions there are many who forbid.

And so, if the fly is visible or locatable, remove it. Otherwise, the Shulchan Aruch and Rema both would permit the soup. If the item is removed, and the soup has more than 60 times the forbidden item, everyone would permit.

The Aruch Hashulchan says its not reasonable to assume that a fly would be so mashed and dissolved by regular cooking as to permit it simply by being lost, according to the Shulchan Aruch and Rema. Therefore, how can we allow eating the soup? The same question applied in their days when the flour was full of bugs (as opposed to today, when there are so few bugs in our packaged, expiry dated flour, that you do not have to sift if the flour is not passed its expiration date and it has been stored safely).

The Aruch Hashulchan says that when something is completely lost in the soup, and is bad-tasting, it is completely unimportant, and therefore you can eat it. Otherwise, one might still say that the cooking according to Shulchan Aruch does dissolve even ants(which most would disagree with), or that it is only permitted if one sees a wing or something, to ascertain that it has been mashed.

Thus in the final analysis, a fly in soup (on the fire) must be removed. If it is, or it is mashed and dissolved (or even just lost according to the Aruch Hashulchan), it is permitted even without sixty times the forbidden item's volume of permitted matter (ששים כנגדו). According to the Bach's stringency, we would still require sixty. And if the fly has fallen into a כלי שני, then the circumstance is one of בדיעבד, and it is permitted after the fly is removed.

Now, in the case of a worm in liquor (as is common in bottles of tequila), the question is, what is the worm's purpose? Is it there to add flavor or coloring? Chardal, my resident alcohol expert, claims that the worm in tequila is simply for show. He says that "while it does not harm the taste of the liquer, it also does not enhance it. Frankly, no one can tell the difference between tequila with a worm or without one (assuming it is the same quality base tequila)."

If the worm had been there to enhance the flavor or look of the drink, certainly, we would need sixty units of permitted matter for each unit of forbidden matter, after removing the worm. However, we may be sure that the taste is still there, since the worm is in the bottle to demonstrate that the liquor is flavored (as is traditional) with that worm. Therefore, even if there is sixty in the bottle, it would not help, because either 1) the one worm is enough to give its taste to that bottle or (more likely) 2) the liquor was steeped in enough worms to make it taste, and the worm in this bottle is just for show. Either way, the liquor certainly has the taste of the worm. (This ignores the possibly relavent fact that if the worm is מעמיד, that it makes up an integral part of the liquor making process, then a מעמיד of איסור is not ever בטל (See end of YD 87).

However, in light of Chardal's insight into alcoholic bevarages, the worm does not add flavor. However, even in this situation, the Shach (based on the הגהות אשרי) forbids the mixture even when the forbidden does not add taste, unless there is a measure of sixty units of permitted volume for each unit of forbidden volume, and of course, requires the forbidden item to be removed. Thus, if the tequila can be proven to never have been in a situation where the tequila was less than sixty times more in volume than the number of worms, the tequila may be allowed if the worm is removed. (See the Rama, who may be lenient and allow something of neutral taste contribution to be removed and בטל without ששים כנגדו.) Of course, all this applies only if the tequila itself is kosher. The only issue under discussion here is if the worm forbids otherwise kosher tequila.

Again, the above is not meant as ruling, but as discussion only. Please discuss any practical applications with an orthodox rabbi.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Kohanic Gene

A number of years ago, researchers delighted the Jewish world by discovering that the Y-chromosome of Jewish kohanim points to one unique ancestor. The Y-chromosome is, of course, passed patralinially, and thus can serve as proof of familial relation for males.

The science is fascinating. However, I never felt that the purported religous implications claimed by some were strong at all. Throughout history, there were undoubtedly families who were priestly who, over years of secularism and the pressures of the exile, forgot their lofty status. Certainly, there were also families that accidentally or not, took on the kohanic traditions mistakenly. It seemed too pat, and worked out only too well, that all kohanim tested seemed to point to one ancestor. Support for this reservation can be found in the mishna Midot 5:4, where the Oral Law records the fact that the Jewish High Court had to sometimes sit in judgement on questions of priestly lineage, and would attempt to clarify a family's status: a man who was found to be an authentic Kohen would wear white, and one found to be unpriestly wore black. Furthermore, in Eduyot, 8:7, Rabbi Yehoshua states that in the times of the redemption, Eliyahu the prophet will not come to confirm or deny the legitimacy of families accidentally mixed, but only to do so regarding families that attempted to mix themselves in with higher station willfully. (See Kehati's commentary here that expressly includes the kohanic honor as one of the items that this statement includes.) For all these reasons, the kohanic Y-chromosome was never much more than a curiosity to me. I found the underlying science much more compelling and fascinating than the religous implications.

Today, I have learned that my reasoning to be less than impressed was well-guided. New research seems to agree that there was not one ancestor for the kohanim, but a number of ancestors. Those who feel this to be a blow to the authenticity of the Torah's narrative would do well to remember the line of thought I mentioned in the previous paragraph. For if in 2008, a (for example, reubenic) family is erroneously assumed to be kohanic, they would be, in the eyes of the study, full kohanim, just as authentic kohanim would be. Thus, when the study looks at the Y-chromosomes of true kohanim and faux kohanim that they assume to be true kohanim, they would find that some of these Y-chromosomes trace back 3000 years ago to kohanic roots, and some to reubenic roots. However, because the study in 2008 does not know that the reubenic Y-chromosome is being mistaken for kohanic, it will assume that both Y-chromosomes have equal claim to kehuna, and thus conclude that there are multiple ancestors for the kohanic tribe. This is not a deficiency in the genetics or the science, but an epistemological deficiency; we simply cannot guarantee that everyone who claims (even in good faith) to be a kohen, is indeed a kohen!

Of course, it does not matter when the error was introduced; whenever this occurred, the Y-chromosome of the "new kohen" would automatically join the genetic pool of "known kohanim" and wait patiently to be discovered.

(It is important to note that people who are halachikally Jewish can still come from differring Y-chromosome branches, since Judaism has always accepted converts, even at the time of the Exodus. However, converts could never become kohanim, as this was strictly a birthright.)

Thus, the new study should not at all be seen in any way as denying or disproving the Torah traditions. It is however interesting to note that, "Cohanim Y chromosomes from both Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jewish communities, is virtually absent in non-Jews..."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Fascinating Find

Coins depicting the image of a man with the name "Joseph" have been found in Egypt, according to a Cairo newspaper. While the Jerusalem Post quotes the significance of this find as "countering the claim held by some historians that coins were not used for trade in ancient Egypt, and that this was done through barter instead," it seems that this find has another dimension of significance: it is further outside confirmation of the Biblical narrative.

Shabbat shalom and G'mar Chatima Tovah!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vayelech: Personal and National Teshuva

In this week's haftarah for Vayelech, Hoshea exhorts the Jewish people to return to God. "שובה ישראל, עד ה' אלקיך כי כשלת בעווניך...אשור לא יושיעינו" Return, O Israel, to God, for you have failed in sin...[say] Assyria will not save us..." (Hoshea 14:2) The prophet tells the Jewish nation how to repent: say that the great powers of the world will not save us, and abandon idolatry, and return to God. What is the connection between Jewish return to God and an admission that we have no one else to rely on?

Perhaps the answer lies in the psychology of repentance. Throughout our lives, we encase ourselves in protective layers of posessions and alliances. As social beings, we find protection from the elements and from enemies in the comforting warmth of the Group. We have amassed great wealth, prestige and honor, and these things serve us as security blankets. It is a poor man who finds himself penniless, and even worse indeed is one who finds himself without friends and a social position to rely on.

While these things are a normal and healty part of the human condition, they can become a person's worst enemy. One may allow his possessions and position to shift his understanding of his own vulnerability. When we have nothing, we realize quickly that it is God upon whom we must ultimately rely. However, the things we surround ourselves with and the social positions we attain make it very easy to hide this truth from ourselves. We become enamoured by ourselves, and feel that our position dictates that we are untouchable, protected by our peers, and so forth. This makes it very hard for a person to see God in his own life. The religious experience of knowing God as the beginning and end can be dimmed. This makes it very hard, indeed, for a person to repent sins. Sins may become permitted (as the Talmud says) in our own minds, after committing them, and seeing no immediate reprecussions. An aura of invincability can easily descend, making us rely on our stature as a sign we are always (and perhaps by definition) doing good. Teshuva and true closeness to God is a forgotten relic of a less prosperous time.

Into this atmosphere, Hoshea speaks: In order to cleave to God, we must first divest ourselves emotionally from the things and positions we rely on. We must come before God in a kittel, in a burial shroud. We must remember that we carry none of our prestige and wealth with us to the court of God, but our good deeds and our bad deeds. This divistement allows us to realize who we really are, and is the first step to repentance. Viewing ourselves truly, and not through the rose colored glasses of our own egos, is foundational to Teshuva. And so, Hoshea tells us to admit that nothing we rely on is really reliable -- we come before God with ourselves, plain and simple. We can only rely on Him.

In a larger sense, the message of Hoshea is aimed not at the individual alone, but at the nation of Israel. For each year, we repent as a nation. What is the first step to re-build the fractured relationship our nation has with God? Admission of reliance. Reject the nations you rely on for support, alliances and economic prosperity. Internalize that it is from God that Israel succeeds or fails, and based on our fulfillment of our national obligations to Him. Understand that, אשור לא יושיעינו, the superpowers will not save us, but God will. (In an interesting twist of history, the letters of אשור correspond to the Latin letters of A-S-U-R, which make up the letters of both the USA and the USSR, driving home the poin doubly, that the world powers, the superpowers, are not to be relied upon by Israel.)

The flip-side of this message can be found in our parasha: if we cannot rely on them, who can we rely upon? "Be strong and brave, do not fear or balk before them, for Hashem, your God, it is He that accompanies you, he will not forsake you!" (Deut. 31:6) When we rely on God, we will find victory, security and happiness.

The message is clear: on an individual and on a national level, we are to divest ourselves of perceived external protection and support, for these things only allow us to grow distant from God, and sell us the lie that we can rely on others, not only on Him. By renewing our covanent with Him, personally and nationally, may we merit a year which is better, a year in which the safety, happiness and security of each Jew and the nation as a whole is clearly, obviously, unmistakeably, in the hands of God.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Concept of War

When we read the beginning of כי תצא, we may find ourselves asking a very basic question: What is the purpose of war? Though they are obviously towards the bottom of the preferred list of ways to resolve conflicts, the Torah teaches that there are wars which are actually required, מלחמות מצווה. The understanding that war is not something that can always be avoided is one which demonstrates to us truths about the pragmatism of the Torah, and the way in which we are to navigate our imperfect world.

In an imagined perfect world, it can be reasonably assumed that the violence and horrors of war would be absent. Idealized attempts at utopia-building, such as Marx's Communist Manifesto, commonly included the cessation of war as part of their vision. Why does the Torah not outlaw war? The answer to this question can be found in a letter written by Rabbi Kook (אגרות הראי"ה חלק א' אגרת פט עמוד ק pointed out at Rav Kook Torah), where he wrote that it would have been impossible that, at a time when the surrounding nations were wolves, the Jews would unilaterally abstain. The nations would quickly form an axis that would destroy the Hebrew people. On the contrary, says Rabbi Kook, it was imperative that the Jews act mercilessly, to deter the threats around them.

Rabbi Kook here makes an important point: the Torah is not some abstract ideal which has little relation to the world in which it is placed. Rather, its purpose is to teach humanity how, from within the realia of that world, to slowly, step by step, bring about its perfection. It would be disastrous for humanity if any nation chosen to bear the Torah's truths were to be extinguished immediately upon observance of those truths. And so, the Jews are to make use of war, as bad as it is, when necessary to survive, and continue in their task of bettering the world.

The Torah, however, has a different view of what war morality is. There are five values which the Torah supports that may come in conflict with general western ideas. 1) Mercilessness: As Rav Kook writes above, a war must be fought with ferocity. Mercy has no place on the battlefield. As Rashi states on the words כי תצא למלחמה על אויבך, it is not on our brothers that we go to war, who would have mercy upon us. It is rather on enemies, who will not have any mercy. In order to win, we must be willing to be the same. 2) Motivation: Warriors need to be ready to do what is necessary with willingness and resolve. Ehud Olmert is quoted as saying, "we are tired of fighting, we are tired of winning". As Rambam makes clear in הלכות מלכים, this attitude is defeatist, giving the strong and victorious the attitude of the defeated. The Olmertian attitude is described in Yeats' The Second Coming: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity." This is no way for good to triumph. Good must be more motivated, filled with more intensity than evil. 3) Civilian losses: We must be willing to allow enemy civillians to die. The enemy civilian in a time of war is not differentiated from the enemy combatant. Jewish morality sees the value of life in Jewish soldiers. The '90's concept of טוהר הנשק, purity of arms, resulted in numerous Israeli casualties in Lebanon because terrorists dressed as women to fight, throwing the Israelis off guard. 4) Independence: Jewish war must be fought with faith in God and our own right, not with reliance upon external powers. As the prophet exhorted Egypt, יען הייתם משענת קנה, since Egypt provided Israel with an ostensible ally (who later abandonded the Jews), she is cursed. While alliances upon equal footing are sometimes beneficial, total reliance on anyone but ourselves and God is  wrong and will only lead to failure. 5) Enemy population: The enemy population may not be allowed to remain in areas that are Israeli territory. Those that do, become thorns in our eyes and sides.

When Israel maintains these Jewish values of war, peace can prevail. However, when Israel neglects them, two things immediately happen: 1) Israel, by being merciful to the evil, ends up being evil to those who are merciful. Nothing is more clearly and example of this than the permissive attitude of the Israeli Government in the years before 2005 towards rocket attacks from Gaza, which led to the criminal Gaza Evacuation. 2) Israel teases its enemies by allowing them to think that they have never been fully beaten. Thus, the enemies continue conflicts for decades that should really last weeks. The Biblical story of Shaul and Amalek is a perfect example of this, in that Haman came from the Amalek King's union the night before he was killed by Sh'muel.

The sixth Jewish value in war is that of purity: once the battlefield is left, the warriors spend 7 days outside normal society to divest themselves of the negative traits needed in war. Mercilessness is replaced again by mercy, might by flexibility, gentility and empathetic kindness.

Today, we may feel that we find ourselves no nearer to the goal of world perfection and peace. I once read a book review in the New York Times, in which the author claimed that twentieth century was the bloodiest ever. Indeed, the greek term for a perfect world, 'utopia' (coined by Thomas More), also derives from οὐ, "not", and τόπος, "place", in other words, a place that is imaginary, and will never exist. In light of this, what is our job? The answer of the Torah is a pragmatic one: accepting the need for the grime and blood of war, maintain our morality while within it. The laws of אשת יפת תואר and beseiging an enemy city are some examples of this. In holiness, we go out to the camp of war.

We also ensure that the negative traits of character needed in war such as cruelty, anger and hatred never become naturalized characteristics. Kindness, empathy, love, gentleness, these are the characteristics that make up our persona. The others are like armor that is put on in times of need and removed at the earliest opportunity. In holiness we wage war, and in holiness we leave the field of battle, immediately divesting ourselves of the negative traits.

In a larger sense, this view of "war as clean as practically possible", is one which guides our path throughout our lives. For as Rav Neriyah has said, "we live in a world of בדיעבד." From the moment we are born to the moment we die, from morning to night, we are met by constant choices. We often must choose between two unappetizing options. It is in these situations where we often demonstrate our committment to the abstract ideals of Torah. In frustration at something, do we react calmly at the child who has just tracked mud into the house, or do we lose it? These kinds of questions are also applications of מלחמת מצווה. By fighting our baser desires and knee-jerk reactions, we conquer ourselves, and go to personal mini-war in holiness, as it were.

(Rav Soloveitchik makes another point in a similar vein. He says that, as a people constantly surrounded by other cultures, we often bring home יפת תואר, beautiful things and concepts from outside. Our job, as Rav Hirsch writes in his essays on education, is not to reject them out of hand, but to sublimate that which is good into our service of God. We take good, after studying it and assuring ourselves that it is indeed good, from any source.)

However, another aspect of war is that it fulfills an important purpose in our world. Rabbi Kook in Orot (המלחמה א) writes that war stirs the powers of Messiah. Just as a pressure cooker can cook in a short time things that would take hours in a conventional oven, so does war produce unnatural pressure in the world which allows change and upheavals at a faster rate than under normal circumstances. Borders shift and nations wrest from one another victory and status. God utilizes these changes to re-position geo-political realities that further the process of global redemption. When the general shake-up and pandemonium settles down, the stillness of punch-drunk adversaries leads to a renewed interest in true peace.

Thus, military upheavals may move the world in the direction God desires. As opposed to the greek "utopia", Judaism sees world harmony not only as possible, but as an inevitable teleological event. Yeshaya prophesies that in the end of days, the nations of the world will recognize God. The Temple will be a focal point for world spiritual strivings, and the inhabitants of our globe will beat their swords and spears to agricultural implements. At this time, the perfection of the general world and individuals will be accomplished slowly and incrementally, without the need for war.

So war is inevitable in our imperfect world, and it can even serve an important positive purpose. We may hear in today's headlines the drumbeats of tomorrow's war; we are quite cognizant of the dangers. We may wonder, how will the redemption ever be completed?

We can be strengthened in our faith in God's ultimate game-plan as was Rabbi Akiva. While his friends wept at the destruction of the Temple, he rejoiced and saw the fulfillment of the negative prophecies as a guarantee that God would eventually fulfill the fortellings of good. While danger still exists, we know that there is, in the not-distant future, a time when the world will, indeed, live in peace, with no need for the ravages of war. God and truth will reign supreme, and Man will serve Him in unity. It will be a time when the most destructive of forces will be used to build, when swords will be used to till the soil. Through the present haze of the battlefield upon which we still struggle, we hear the voice of God, promising that the redemption is no pipe-dream. Work towards it; wait for it; expect it. In the words of our הפטרה, "Though the mountains crumble and the valleys disintegrate, my loving-kindness for you, Israel, will never falter, says the Merciful One."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Response to Neve Gordon's Op-Ed

I am planning to begin blogging regularly again this week. However, I felt so outraged after reading an op-ed in the LA Times, that I composed this as a response:

In Response to Neve Gordon's Op-Ed piece, here.

It is tragic and dangerous when a member of Israel's supposed intellectual elite joins forces with the Jewish State's enemies. It is painful for Jews around the world to witness such overt self-hate. And yet, readers of the Los Angeles Times were treated to such a display in the above-mentioned op-ed. As a Jew who sees the situation through less simplistic lenses, I offer this response to Neve Gordon.

1) Your article ignores the history that led to Israel's control over the West Bank. As you know, Israel accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1947 and declared Statehood over a land they had returned to after 2000 years. The Jews accepted a severely reduced amount of land than what had been promised by the British, and it excluded the West Bank. Israel was immediately attacked by more than 5 Arab armies, and over the next decades, was attacked three more times. In each of these wars publicly planned by the Arabs to "throw the Jews into the sea", Israel beat back their aggressors. Israel came to control the West Bank (historically part of ancient Israel) after the Six Day War.

In ignoring the way in which Israel came to the West Bank, you erase any moral highground that belongs to the defensive victor in a war. Israel's old "Aushwitz borders" (to quote Abba Eban, a leftist who, unlike you, had some sense) were redrawn to provide the fledgling State reasonable natural frontiers across which to defend itself. Israel's wars have all been defensive, and this is an important point which you neglect. There is no moral equivalence between the Israeli assumption of the West Bank and an offensive land-grab. To imply that there is is a dishonest play into the hands of Israel's enemies.

2) Your article states that there are only two options, one is a one-state solution with Arabs and Jews granted full and equal rights, and the second is a two-state solution. I am sorry that a university professor is victim to such a fallacy as the false dilemma you present. In reality, there are other options, many of which are part of a vigorous discussion within Israel today. As was the case in the separation of India and Pakistan, a transfer of populations is only one of a number of other options, in which the Jews transferred from Arab lands in the past 6 decades would be traded for a future transfer of Arabs to those lands. An important point to mention is that all suggestions of transfer voiced in Israel include fair renumeration to Arab families for property left in Israel. This is something which was not done when Jews were forcibly transferred from their homes in Arab lands.

3) Finally, the climax of your op-ed piece is a subscription to a Palestinian initiative to isolate Israel by way of boycott. This odious suggestion from a Jew to the world, to marginalize and isolate the Jewish State does indeed, as you point out, smack of anti-semitism, and in your case, self-hate. However, I wish to point out the hypocrisy of your position. You do not call for boycott of Hamas or Fatah or the PA, all of which routinely, as you know, in their own broadcasts to their population, advocate armed terror against the Israeli civillian population. It is common for PA television to broadcast children speaking of their desire to be "martyrs" (Arab double-talk for "terrorists"). You do not call for a boycott of Iran or Syria. You do not speak out against any other world evils. You choose, rather, to focus all your public, international voice against your own country and people, who are defending themselves against increasingly deadly and existential dangers including terrorism and nuclear annihalation.

You have turned the victim into the aggressor, ignoring history and morality. In doing so, you have weakened the State of Israel and the the Jewish People. You have opened a door for other anti-semites by joining forces with the Palestinian boycott anti-semites; after all, they gleefully reason, if a Jewish University Professor from Israel can agree with it, it must be acceptable.

And so, shame on you. In a fit of emotional frenzy, you have sold your pen and your soul to your enemy.

Thank God Israel and the free world do not rely on the likes of you to fight evil.

In light of the above, I call for another, Israeli initiative, and I hope it is more successful than yours will be. I call for your ouster as a tenured professor at Ben Gurion University. The people of Israel should not have to pay your salary, as you poison the minds of students with your self-loathing.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blessing on the Sun

In Sh'mot (24), the Torah tells us of the Jewish people's preparation for the revalation at Sinai. The midrash states that the Jews were not content with the plan that God transmit to Moshe the teachings, and he in turn teach them. "רצונינו לראות את מלכנו," we desire to "see" God, as it were. Indeed, the revelation took place with God speaking to the people directly. The midrash describes the mass expiration of the nation, and only after God ceases to speak do they become re-animated.

This event stands distinct from the midrashic interpretations at the end of parashat Tzav. The Torah says (8:36), "Aharon and his sons did all the things that God commanded by the hand of Moshe." Torat Kohanim notes on this: "ששים ושמחים לקבל מפי משה כשומעים מפי הקדוש ברוך הוא," they were happy to receive the teachings from Moshe as if they had heard them directly from God.

What changed? Why is it that the Jews are suddenly satisfied, indeed, joyful, over hearing the teachings through Moshe? By examining a rare occurence that is coming up this year, perhaps we can come to a deeper understanding of these midrashim.

This ערב פסח is special, because it coincides with the day that, according to tradition, the Sun is aligned with earth in exactly the same way it was on the day it was created in Genesis. This happens, according to the Jewish calendar, every twenty-eight years, and we say the blessing of עושה מעשה בראשית to commemorate it. However, it is a fact that this twenty-eight year cycle does not truly describe the astronomical reality. So why is it that we celebrate this, essentially a non-event?

Rabbi Eisen, in a class delivered in Jerusalem this year, explained that the mysteries of creation and the Divine manner of running the world are hidden from us. He gives an analogy: one may look inside a pot, and see precious stones and other treasures shimmering before him. He may then be told that what he is admiring is nothing other than the intricately painted lid of the pot. So the Torah shows us not necessarily an ontological truth, but a working-reality truth. It is truth in that it is the foundation of the way that God expects us to interact with the world around us. As the midrash states regarding the story of creation, we are unable to plumb the depths of God's infinite wisdom in creation, and so the Torah concealed with, "In the beginning". The very narrative of creation is a screen behind which the ontological truth hides, inaccessible to us.

Taking Rabbi Eisen's point further, the precision and truth of the twenty-eight year cycle is the precision and truth that the Torah chooses to reveal to us: it is a working truth, and is eminently valuable to us -- for it describes the way God wants us to interface with creation. Ontological truth is not what we need (or can even attain in many circumstances).[1]

This is the strength of the Oral Torah. The Yerushalmi (Pe'ah 2:4) states that "the words of the Sages are preferred to the Written Torah". This is because the Torah of the Sages is the practical concretization of the abstract Written Law in this world. And since Man is finite, he is unable to perfectly undestand many actual truths; however, he is able to come to a working truth, and it is this truth that God cherishes, for it represents Man coming forth, struggling against the darkness, closer to Him. And thus, when we bless on the sun this coming Wednesday, we are in essense celebrating the value, validity and importance of the Torah of the Sages.

Perhaps now we can better understand the two midrashim with which we began. At the foot of Sinai, the people naiively believed that they could plumb the depths of ontological truth: they wanted to "see" God. However, after experiencing the life-ending combustion that results from such an interaction with the Divine, they understand that for this world, the Torah of the Sages (represented by Moshe's transmission of God's word), the working truth, is sufficient, and to be cherished. It is then that, at the consecration of the Tabernacle in our parasha, they joyfully accept the words of God through Moshe, as if they had heard these words from God himself. The lesson of Sinai is internalized.

[1] In truth, this is taken further: Halacha concerns itself with scientific accuracy, but only as one of many considerations when rendering a decision. Far greater weight is given to social concerns, and the ease of perpetuation of a specific halacha (the whole idea of גזרה שאין הציבור יכולה לעמוד בה, that some otherwise valuable rabbinic enactments are abandoned when it is clear that the public would be unduly stressed to keep them, is a demonstration of this point). The calendar created around a 28 year cycle is the best possible calendar for human beings: it is accurate enough to not impact the correct seasons of the festivals for many millenia, and yet it is short enough to be remembered by human beings. A halacha that falls out once every 150 years is not practical. And yet, ברכת החמה, the blessing on the sun, would become just such a halacha if any greater accuracy were attempted by the creators of the Hebrew calendar. In short, for finite Man, halacha creates a realistic, practical framework, and that trumps ontological truth. For finite Man, the twenty-eight year calendar is the best possible calendar. And this is the aim and focus of the Torah.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fate and Destiny

In Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck describes the depression-era migration of Eastern share-croppers and their families to the West. Beset by troubles, the Joad family breaks a connection-rod in their truck, and visit a scrapyard to find a replacement. There, they meet an unkempt man who has only one eye. He does not even try to cover up the socket of the missing eye with a patch. He bemoans his situation: he cannot find a wife, for, who could like someone like him? he cannot find a better job, for, "Ain't so easy to get a job --not for a one-eye' man." The junkyard man presents a totally miserable life, with no hope for rehabilitation.

On the other hand, Tom Joad has undertaken the obligation to see his family to California to find work. The Joad farm was foreclosed, and they were cheated out of many of their expensive farming implements. Grandfather died on the road, and they buried him themselves. However, hope does not die. The Joads actively work towards a better future for themselves.

When Tom meets the man at the junkyard, he listens. Finally, he says, "Now, look-a-here, fella. You got that eye wide open...Ya just asking for it. Ya like it. Lets ya feel sorry for yaself. 'Course you can't get no woman with that empty eye flappin' aroun'...I knowed a hump-back...Make his whole livin' lettin' folks rub his hump for luck...an' all you got is one eye gone."

In קול דודי דופק, Rabbi Soloveitchik details two possible modes of the human condition. Man can either exist in the mode of fate, or he can rise to that of destiny. Fateful Man is one who lives in depressing reaction to the things that occur around him. He is an object -- events happen to him, and he does not initiate them. He lives trapped in the reality of "It is against your own will that you live." (Avot 4:29) When tragedy strikes, he cries out in pain and anguish, at the edge of the dark abyss of human reason. He cannot undestand the "why", and so retreats into a shell of pain and loneliness.[1]

The second possible dimension of life is that of a Man of Destiny. This Man is a subject -- and active initiator of events in the world around him. While it is true that "It is against his will that he is born and dies" (ibid.), Man of Destiny changes the interlude between those two events to, "By your own free will do you live". Although life may serve hardships and suffering, this Man chooses to overcome everything, and knows that what does not kill him will only succeed in making him stronger. Life is transformed from forced to motivated, from muted to resplendent with purpose.[2]

In brilliant color and authenticity, Steinbeck's characters fulfill these two opposite roles. The junkyard man is Rav Soloveitchik's classic Man of Fate. He as been dealt an ugly hand. What does he do with it? Nothing. He does not even attempt to hide his disfigurement, or keep himself clean. He wallows in his own filth and misery, taking perverse delight in how repulsive, rejected and lonely this makes him. He sees the happiness of others not as an offer of hope for himself, but as a teasing mockery of what he has become.

Tom, on the other hand, has his share of troubles as well. However, he views them as stepping stones on a path to a better life. He hears of the jobs out West, and decisively acts to bring himself that success. He takes the things that life doles out, and does his best to build for those around him, and for himself. He even remarks on other cripples, and how they use their disability to their advantage! Tom berates the junk-man for not following in their paths.

At one point, the junk-man seems to see the glimmer of destiny through his goggles of fate. He asks, "ya think a fella like me could get work? Black patch on my eye?" He sees the power of Tom's way, and wishes to come along. Tom calls, as he leaves the scrap-yard, "See ya maybe in California." The Man of Fate has been brought to the sweet waters of Destiny and has been given permission to drink. And yet, the junk-man is a tragic figure, for he is not able to lift himself out of his fateful misery. He "watched them go, and then he went through the iron shed to his shack behind. It was dark inside. He felt his way to his mattress on the floor, and he stretched out and cried in his bed, and the cars whizzing by on the highway only strengthened the walls of his loneliness." Steinbeck demonstrates how hard it can be to rise out of darkness of fate and into the breaking dawn of destiny.

And it is hard, indeed. However, precisely during the month of Nissan, our Torah teaches that each of us is ennobled with the ability to live a life of purpose and destiny, and we must actively choose to do so. As Rabbi Hirsch points out, the whole exodus story is a monumental lesson that fate does not have power over us. By any normal course of events, a nation of slaves that has been subjected to such ordeals as the Jews in Egypt would have remained in bondage, perhaps disappearing as the centuries passed. The story of the plagues and the subsequent redemption, demonstrate clearly that God is actively and immanently involved in human events. Fate was no match for God's active shift of human history. In the same way, fate is no match for the free will God has embedded within each of us. Only because we have free will, and Man's activities are not predetermined, can positive and negative commandments be binding, and can one be moral or immoral. Mired in sin or sadness, pain or depression, there is no situation in which the free will of humans cannot find a way to be active, to grow from suffering and promote a closer relationship with Hashem.

The Exodus which we re-live each year is a foundational message that our actions and reactions are not pre-determined, but fully controllable by our free will. May we, this Pesach, continue to transform our lot from slavery to our passions and fate, to the happy freedom of those who live motivated, free-willed lives, physically and spiritually.


[1] In truth, there seem to be two modalities to the Man of Fate: 1) Man needs to understand the whole of the divine calculus that encompasses theodicy. It is impossible for finite man to fathom the intricacies and complexity of the ways of God, and so this modality is destined to failure. Man cannot completely fathom God, and so he will come away unsatisfied and unrequited. 2) Man rejects the fundamental theory that there is sense to the occurrences in the universe. In the face of pain and suffering, this modality throws up its hands in anguish, sensing a cold, unfeeling universe, instead of a loving, immanent Creator. Both of these relate to Man of Fate, for their conclusion is the same: there is no Divine calculus, and nothing is balanced; justice is a cloud of smoke, and dissipates in the face of reality.

[2] Also here, there exist two streams that reinforce each other: 1) Man understands that although a full reckoning of Divine calculus is beyond his ken, he can understand the “why” as it relates to his field of activity: he can search his ways and return to God. “נחפשה דרכינו ונחקורה ונשובה עד ה'.” He may not understand all of the complexity, but what relates to him, he can fathom, and act to stem. 2) By divine order, Man also fights suffering and evil, to root out evil. This second halachik response to suffering is, paradoxically, the attempt to uproot it from the world. Man sees as his imperative, after gleaning purpose and lessons from suffering, to alleviate the evil of this world, and thus participate in God’s work.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Awe from Afar

The mishkan seems to contain a paradox. On the one hand, its purpose is ultimately, "that I may dwell in them". God establishes the reason of the mishkan not for Him, rather, as a conduit through which the Divine presence may permeate the settlement of the Jewish people. Each home, each heart, is filled with the sublime shechina when the mishkan is in service. The Holy of Holies contained keruvim, a visual metaphor of God's love for the Jewish nation. On the other hand, as the holiest place on earth, the mishkan (and Temple after it) had very strict rules which made it a fearful place to be. Touching the holy Ark was forbidden, and the high level of formality forbade sitting when visiting. Even a well-intentioned deviation from the prescribed method of service would warrant death, as Aharon's own sons demonstrated. The paradox of intimacy and formality, love and awe, fills our understanding of the mishkan with tension.

This paradox exists in our relationship with God in general. The first building block of Jewish thought is God's absolute infinite oneness. However, as finite, complex beings, our understanding of Him and the attributes we perceive, as it were, are varied. A fundamental dialectic in our relationship with God is his distant glory on the one hand, and his intimate nearness on the other. Not only are these two philosophic modes, but, at times, individuals can feel the warmth of his nearness, "ואני קרבת אלקים לי טוב" (Tehilim 73:28), and at other times, we recognize the infinite gulf between us, "ואלקינו בשּמים". Who has not felt Hashem as near as a father at some times, setting things up just so, in times of joy, and ennabling us to continue in the face of tremendous suffering, when things are hard? Who has not turned to Him in tears, as to a parent? And yet, we all know the awe of a King, and tremble in trepidation when the chazzan sings the un'tane tokef, of God's judgement, on Rosh Hashanna. We are constantly in a state of flux between the two poles of immanence and transcendence.

But how are we to interact with these distinct human realities vis-a-vis God? The Kedushat Levi relates them to the two primary modalities of feeling, those of love and awe. Awe (yirat Hashem) is active when we consider our relationship to the transcendent Creator of the world. Awe is our reaction to Hashem's Kingship, His distance. It is this mode that produces fear and respect towards the all-powerful, all-knowing, extra-temporal Source of all being. Rav Levi Yitzchak sees an expression of this in God's command to Moshe and the elders to come closer, and yet, "prostrate yourselves from afar" (Sh'mot 24:1). There is a limit to our ability to approach, and we kneel before God's glory.

On the other hand, love (ahavat Hashem) is in mind when we consider the animating spirit that God's breath instills in His creations. He is our father, the one we go to for help and comfort. That intimacy bourne of an immanent, parental bond is one which inspires us to dependency, reliance, and ultimately, to love of God.

Love and awe are different aspects of the same God. Hashem does not change, and yet our perception of Him at various moments does. Because our minds are finite, they see things in a compartmentalized way. However, Love and awe are not mutually exclusive. Our service of Hashem takes the dialictic and merges it. The very act of prostration from afar that Moshe and the elders do is preceeded by "ascending towards God". In the mishkan, closeness and distance rule together. We must, to the best of our abilities, strive to relate to God at once as our most intimate relationship, and yet, still, understand that this closeness cannot begin to bridge the abyss between us and our Creator. Even in our closeness, our ascension onto the mountain, we are still insurmountably far from Him, and bow meekly before that glory which we cannot begin to understand.

The way we relate to the mishkan mirrors the way we relate to God Himself. Perhaps this is part of the lesson the mishkan teaches. We know that each shul, indeed, each Jewish home, is a מקדש מעט, a small Temple. By taking the lessons from the Temple and mishkan, and applying them to our communal and private resting places for the shechina, we can bring the immanence and transcendence of the shechina into our every-day lives.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

חקירת סוגיא בשבת ה.: זריקה

ה. ר' יוחנן בענין זריקה והנחתה: הגדרה

זריקה יותר מד' אמות ברה"ר הינה תולדה דהוצאה. לכן, כמו אביה, היא צריכה עקירה והנחה המיוחסות לאדם הפועל, העושה את המלאכה. כמובן, זריקה שונה מהוצאה, כי אע"פ שהעקירה נעשתה בפועל, ההנחה מתבצעת ממילא, בלי הנחה פועלת (אקטיבית). על אף זאת, נחשבת הנחה זו הנחה המיוחסת לאדם הפועל מספיק כדי להחשב להנחה שמחייבת אותו במלאכה. (דבר זה מוכח מלשון הגמ' ורמב"ם, עיי' ניסוחו בהל' שבת, פרק י"ג הלכה י"ג.)

עוד דבר שחשוב לזכור: ד' על ד' זה נחשב מקום אחד בהלכות שבת, ולכן, אולי כאשר אנו מדברים על מקום והנחה במקום, סטייה של פחות מד' לא נחשב מקום אחר, אלא נחשב אותו מקום.

יש גרסא אחרת, אבל קודם נתעסק בגירסא שלפנינו.
ר' יוחנן אומר ה' מימרות בה. בחצי השני של העמוד:

1) ידו של אדם חשובה כד' על ד' אפילו היכא דלא אחשביה.
2) זרק חפץ ונח בתוך ידו של חבירו, חייב הראשון (בגלל 1).
3) עמד במקומו וקיבל החפץ, חייב הראשון.
4) עקר ממקומו וקיבל, פטור הראשון.
5) אדם אחד זרק, עקר וקיבל החפץ, ר' יוחנן שואל אם הוי כאדם אחד (וחייב) או שני בני אדם (ופטור). השאלה היא האם שני כחות באדם אחד כאדם אחד או שני בני אדם.

אפשרויות בהגדרת המקרים שבגמרא:
מקרים 2, 3 ו4 לא מדוייקים, וצריכים ביאור. מה בדיוק קורא במקרים? יש כמה אפשרויות:

א) אדם המקבל עמד עם כף יד פתוח ונפל החפץ עליו, ולא סגר את ידו.
ב) אדם המקבל עמד עם כף יד פתוח ונפל החפץ עליו, וסגר ידו לשמרה.
ג) אדם המקבל עמד במקומו, והושיט ידו ולקח את החפץ מהאוויר.
ד) אדם המקבל עקר ממקומו ולקח את החפץ מהאוויר.

כמובן, א' מתייחס ל2, וד' מתייחס ל4. אבל האם 3 מתאמת דרך אפשרות ב' (ואז ג' זה כבר כמו 4) או ג' (ובמקרה זה ב' כמו 2)?

כדי לענות על שאלה זו, צריכים אנו להבין מה החילוק המדוייקת המחלקת בין 3 ל4.

אפשרויות בהבנת החילוק המחלק בין 3 ל4:
a) זה ענין של אחשביה: אתה צריך להחשיב את היד למקום הנחה, ואם לא תעשה כן לא יהיה הנחה. זה ענין מיוחד ליד, וזה למה שב3 אתה חייב, כי החפץ נח (תוך ד' או) במקום שהחשבת שיהיה מקום להנחתו. אבל ב4, אין אחשביה ולכן לא חייב. אפשרות זו לא עובדת, כי כל חידוש 2 בגמרא זה שלפי רבא ור' יוחנן, אע"פ שלא אחשביה, עדיין יד נחשב ד' על ד'!
b) זה שאלה של הנחה השייכת לאותו אדם שעשה את העקירה. כאשר ההנחה מיוחסת לעוקר, יש לנו מלאכה שלמה הנעשית ע"י אדם אחד. אבל אם נחשב ההנחה לשל המקבל, אז לא יהיה חייב הראשון. וב3, החפץ מונח ממניע ומכוח הראשון (אולי כי נח תוך ד' ממקום שנתכוין) ולכן חייב, משא"כ במקרה 4.
c) השאלה היא האם החפץ סוף סוף נח במקום (או תוך ד') שהתכוון הזורק מקודם. הנקודה המכריעה פה זה כוונת הזורק. בגלל שההנחה לא כ"כ מיוחסת לעקירה בכלל בזריקה, כי זה פאסיבי, לכן צריכים שהיתה מחשבתו, דהיינו, כוונתו, למסלול (trajectory) הזה.
d) אפשר להגיד שונה מc, שזה רק שאלה של פוטנציל בזריקה, שלא קשור לכוונת הזורק. אם נעשתה הפוטנציל אז חייב, ואם לא, פטור. זה מאוד דומה לb ולדעתי זהה לזה.

עתה נבדק את שיטות הראשונים ונגלה אם אפשר להחליט על האפשרויות האלה מדבריהם המדוייקים.

שיטת רש"י:
ב4, רש"י מסביר שפטור בגלל ש"לא עביד הנחה". על אף שדבר זה אולי משמע שאין הנחה בכלל, מיד בא הד"ה (שמפרש את הסיבה לחייב ב5) הבא לבאר: "הא עבד עקירה והנחה". במקרה שאדם אחד זורק ורץ ותופס, וודאי שיהיה חייב (זה ההווא אמינא של הגמ'), כי הוא עשה עקירה והנחה. מוכח משורה זו שוודאי וודאי, אע"פ שנעקר ממקומו ותופס, עדיין נחשב הנחה. לכן, מה שאמר רש"י בהסבר לפרש ב4 זה וודאי בא לומר שלא עביד הזורק הנחה, אלא ההנחה מתייחסת לאדם השני.

עכשיו, בד"ה הבא, שמבאר למה יש הו"א שיהיה פטור אדם אחד אם זה כשני בני אדם, כותב רש"י:
i) דהוו להו שנים שעשאוה,
ii) דכיון שלא הניח החפץ לילך עד מקום הילוכו ולנוח, אלא רץ אחריו ועכבו,
iii) הויא ליה עקירה קמייתא בלא הנחה.

למה רש"י מתעקש לומר שרץ אחריו ועכבו?

הסיבה היא שכאשר אנו מתעסקים במלאכה אחת שיכולה להיעשות ע"י אדם אחד, ועשאוה שניים, הם פטורים (עיי' ג.). לכן רש"י צריך להסביר למה אדם אחד שרץ ותופס מעצמו יהיה פטור, הלא זה אדם אחד! לכן רש"י מסביר שכאשר יש לאדם אחד שני מעשים, שני כוחות, והמעשה השני (כוח השני) היא סותרת למעשה הראשון, אז זה כשני בני אדם, ופטור, כי העקירה קמייתא שהתבצעת ע"י האדם היתה בלא הנחה שיכולה להתייחס לעקירה. ההנחה מתייחסת לכח השני ולא הראשון! ולכן צריך רשֲ"י להגדיר את מקרה 5 כיירוט, כדי שיהיה הו"א של פטור – כי אם לא, ההנחה נובע ישירות מהעקירה, וזה וודאי חייב.[1]

הסבר זה ברש"י עובד יפה עם הסבר b שלנו מקודם, ואז החילוק בין חייב לפטור יהיה בין ג' לד'.

(בעייה עם רש"י זה שהגמ' מתעקשת לומר הוי כשני בני אדם דמי ופטור, והרי רש"י אומר בלי כל הכינויים, שזה זהה לשניים שעשאוה, לא כשניים שעשאוה. אבל תוס' עוזר לנו להבין גם ברש"י שההשוואה היא לא במקרה, אלא בדין, הדין זה של שניים שעשאוה.)

שיטת רבינו חננאל:
תוספות מזכירים את שיטת ר"ח, ומצביע לגירסא אחרת שיש לו. לר"ח, מקרה 5 זה מנוסח כך: אדם אחד זרק, עקר וקיבל החפץ, ר' יוחנן שואל אם הוי כאדם אחד (ופטור) או שני בני אדם (וחייב). השאלה היא האם שני כחות באדם אחד כאדם אחד או שני בני אדם.

גירסא זו קשה, כי בהבנות שלנו עד כה, "כשני בני אדם" היה תמיד סיבה לפטור, כי המלאכה מיוחסת לשניים, וזה סיבה לפטור! לכן, ר"ח (לפחות לפי מהלכו של תוס' תוך דברי ר"ח -- ברמב"ן נראה שזה לא כ"כ פשוט) רואה את מקרה 5 כמקביל לא ל4 (כמו שתמיד הבננו בפשטות מהגמ' וגם בבירור משיטת רש"י), אלא 3[2]! דהיינו: אם זה כשני בני אדם, זה זהה למקרה שבו אדם אחד זורק, ואדם שני עומד במקומו ומקבל את החפץ. (רעיון זה בר"ח ברור מדברי תוס' אשר כתבו ש"הכא נמי, כי קבלה הוא עצמו ולא חטפה מהילוכו -- ליחייב.") לא כמו שהבהיר רש"י, שהזורק עצר את החפץ תוך אווירו (ii), אלא שהגיע למקום ששם ינוח החפץ מבחינת המסלול, ועמד שם לקבלו. במקרה כזה, הראשון חייב. למה? הבה נבדק בלשון ר"ח ונראה.

על 3, ר"ח אומר: "כגון שזרק לחבירו, חייב, בזה שנעשית מחשבתו." ברור שלר"ח, סיבת ההלכה במקרה 3 היא שנתקיימה מחשבתו של הזורק. דהיינו, אנחנו לא מעוניינים בהנחה עצמה (b), וגם לא בפוטנציל של הזריקה (d, אם אכן d שונה מb), אלא בכוונת, במחשבת הזורק והגשמת רצונו.

לפי זה, יוצא שהנחה אולי אפילו לא דין בכלל בזורק! אלא זה היכי תימצא שכוונת הזורק יתגשם. (ובאמת, בנקודותיו על פירוש הרמב"ן, אומר כן הרב פישר.)[3]

אז לפי כל האמור, במקרה 5, צד החיוב סיבתה, לר"ח, היא שנעשתה כוונתו. אע"פ שנעשה ע"י שני בני אדם, זה לא פוגם בכוונה שהתגשמה, וזהו עיקר החיוב במלאכת זורק. ועל צד הפטור, אם הוי כאדם אחד, ר"ח מסביר שזה סתם כמושיט מידו אחת לידו אחרת, אע"פ שעבר ברה"ר, לא משנה לנו. עכשיו נבאר את עניין זה.

בהסבר ר"ח למה אם הוי כאדם אחד, יהיה פטור, ר"ח אומר: "לא נעקר ממקום זה והונח במקום אחר, אלא מקום העקירה הוא מקום ההנחה." כל המעשה של הזזת חפץ נעשית באותו מקום[4]. איך אפשר להבין רעיון כזה שאע"פ שחפץ נזרק ועובר למקום אחר, עדיין נחשב כאילו שהוא באותו מקום אשר ממנו נזרק?

החתם סופר נתפס בשאלה זו. הוא שואל למה בעירובין צח:, תוס' מצטטים ר"ח שאומר שאדם שעומד במקום אחד, ומעביר חפץ מצד אחד לצד שני, ומניחו מחוץ לד' אמות שהיה החפץ קודם, חייב. תוס' עונים, אתה חייב כי היד עובר וזז ומניח חפץ חוץ מד' אמות, לכן היד לא נחשב מונח כל הזמן אגב הגוף שלא זז. חת"ס אומר שברור שתוס' רואים הבדל בין המקרה שם למקרה שלנו, אבל מה ההבדל בין שם לכאן?

להסבר לשאלה המרכזית הזו בשיטת ר"ח, יש שני זרמים שבאמת מורים על אותו ענין. אבאר את שניהם:

דרך א': ברה"ר, אדם יש לו כעין רשות שלעצמו, וזה, ד' אמות, שהם "מקומו" של אדם. מחוץ לעירוב תחומין, יש לאדם ד' אמות לשימוש גופו, ידיו ורגליו. בתוך רה"ר, עדיין יש ד' אמות לאדם שהם שייכים לו, ואם אדם מוליך ומביא חפצים תוך ד' אמות שלו כל היום כולו, לא עשה מלאכה. כאשר עובר אדם את הקו האדום ומעביר דבר חוץ לד' אמות שלו, הוא כאילו מעביר מרשות לרשות, וחייב משום מעביר ד' אמות ברה"ר.

כמובן, אנו לא סופרים את ד' אמותיו של אדם כל הזמן, כי הם תמיד משתנים. אדם המהלך ברה"ר, יש לו כמין עיגול של ד' אמות הזזות בתמידיות אתו, והוא עומד בנקודה המרכזית בה. אבל, כאשר אדם מתחיל לטלטל משהו, עכשיו הוא הגדיר את תחילת מקום ד' אמותיו. עכשיו שנושא משהו, כאילו שהקצה של ד' אמותיו נהדקות ארצה, והוא מהלך מקצה ד' אמותיו עד תחילת רה"ר (קצה הסופי של ד' אמותיו). הד' אמות קובעו ע"י מעשה זה של העברה שהוא עושה, וכשהוא עובר את הסף של ד' אמות, עבר על איסור דאו'.

אבל, כאשר אדם זורק חפץ באויר, אז כשהוא מהלך ברה"ר, הד' אמות לא נהדקות ארצה, כי אין לו חפץ ביד, ואין סיבה שהד' אמות לא ימשיכו לזוז בתמידיות איתו. כאשר עומד שוב במקום השני, הד' אמות הם אותם ד' אמות אשר היו כאשר הוא זרק ועקר את החפץ. אע"פ שמבחינת הקרקע, הם אמות שונות, לגבי הגברא, לגבי מלאכת הזורק השייכת לו, הם אותם הד' אמות. וזה בדיוק השאלה, האם הד' אמות זזים אתו, וזהים לאיפה שהתחיל לזרוק, או לא? זה ספק ר' יוחנן.

ליתר ביאור, נסביר בדרך אחר, עם מילים קצת שונות, אבל הרעיון הוא שווה. כאשר חפץ נמצא בידו של אדם, יש לו מציאות דוּאַלְית:
א) נחשב מונח על הגוף/יד הזה, ו
ב) נחשב מונח ברשות אשר בו נמצא הגוף/יד.
מעשה זריקה מקיימת עקירה מן הגוף ותחילת ההולכה מקיימת עקירה מן הרשות בו נמצא הגוף.

במקרה שלנו, החפץ נזרק מן היד ונתפס ביד אחר. כיוון ששני הידיים שייכים לאותו אדם, אפשר להתעלם מן העובדא שהאדם זז, כי החפץ נעקר מן הגוף ואח"כ נח שוב על הגוף. החפץ למעשה נשאר באותו יד ממנו יצא. לכן זה כאילו לא זז. לעומת זו, כאשר האדם זז בעצמו, ועובר ברה"ר, אי אפשר לחלק את היד מן ההעברה ברה"ר, ולכן, זה עבר ד' אמות ברה"ר וחייב. העקירה עוקרת מן הקרקע ומניחה שוב על הקרקע.

שיטת חכמי ספרד:
כאשר למדנו את שיטת ר"ח, היה ברור מתוס' וגם היה הגיוני שר"ח משווה בין מקרה 5 למקרה 3. אבל דבר זה לא מוסכם לכל הראשונים.

הרמב"ן בפירושו לדברי ר"ח מזכיר את המהלך בה נקט תוס', ולא דאיק לו. הוא מתקשה כי אם החפץ עבר עד מקום אשר היה הולך להיות נח על פי הזריקה הראשונה, איך אפשר להגדיר את זה כשני כוחות? הרי הכח המעשי אשר ביצע את כל המלאכה, כח אחד היא! נכון שחייב הזורק, אבל איך אפשר בכלל להגדיר את זה כשני כחות באדם אחד? זה כח אחד באדם אחד!

על כן מביא הרמב"ן אפשרות שנייה בהסבר המקרה לפי ר"ח, דחוקה מאוד: "כגון שקיבל בעקירה ממקומו", שהחפץ נעצר על ידו קודם שהגיע למקום אשר היה מגיע על ידי המעשה הראשון. עכשיו מובן היטב איך אפשר להיות הוא אמינא שהמעשה מוגדר כ"שני כוחות". ושאלת ר' יוחנן היא: האם המקרה הזה למקרה של (בלשון הרמב"ן) "שני בני אדם דמי, בעומד ומקבל"? דהיינו, בצד זה של שאלת הגמ', הרמב"ן משווה את 5 למקרה של אי-יירוט (מקרה 3), "דהא, עקירה והנחה תרוייהו מכחו אתו". סיבת החיוב במקרה 3 זה שההנחה נובעת ישירות מן מעשה העקירה, אז הם כנעשו ע"י הזורק , ולכן חייב. במקרה 5, בגלל שיש רק אדם הפועֵל אחד, זה רק יכול להיות שני כחות אם מדובר ביירוט. לכן מדובר ביירוט, וזה שני כחות, והם נעשו ע"י אדם אחד, ולכן חייב. מורם מכל זה, שיש שני מוצרכים לחייב: 1) שהמעשה ייעשה ע"י שני כחות (וזה נותן הוא אמינא של פטור), וגם ש2) שני הכחות הללו ייעשו ע"י אדם אחד. עד כאן דעת הרמב"ן, ורשב"א גם כן כותב כמעט אותם המילים.

עכשיו, לצד השני של שאלת ר' יוחנן: "או דילמא, כאדם אחד דמי", ואומר הרמב"ן: "שעשה עקירה ולא הניחה במקום אחר דפטור, והכא נמי, ההנחה לא נעשית מכחו הראשון". רמב"ן בפירוש מתנגד לדברי ר"ח, שהוי כמושיט מימינו לשמאלו, או עקירה זוהי מקום ההנחה. הרמב"ן מסביר שבגלל שההנחה לא נעשית מכח העקירה, שמא זה שווה למקרה בו עשה אדם עקירה ולא עשה הנחה, כי ההנחה באה מכח אחר לגמרי. ע"י זה, מצרף הרמב"ן עוד תנאי לחיוב בזריקה, 3) שההנחה תהיה תוצאה ישירה של העקירה. ושאלת הר' יוחנן בגמ' היא: האם תנאי 3, זה רק במקרה בו מדובר בשני בני אדם, ולכן יש סיבה טובה לחלק את המלאכה, אבל במקרה 5 שמדובר באותו זורק לאורך כל המלאכה, אין צורך בתנאי 3, ולכן הוי כשני בני אדם וחייב, או דילמא, אפילו במקרה 5, יש צורך בתנאי 3 ולכן הוי כאדם אחד ופטור.[5]

כמובן, הבנה זו בגמ' דחוקה. לכן מסיים רמב"ן ב"יש לרש"י ז"ל פירוש אחר טוב מזה [הפירוש שהסברנו באריכות לעיל], אבל אין הגירסא מודה לו." רמב"ן מתאבל על זה שאין בידו גירסא שיכולה לכלכל את שיטת רש"י, ולכן עומד בדוחקו. לעומת זו, הרשב"א, אחרי כל הענין, מוכן לקבל את שיטת רש"י כיותר נכונה, ואומר בפשטות, "רש"י פירש...וכן עיקר."
[1] המורם מנקודה זו, שרש"י לפי צד "כשני בני אדם", מצריך הנחה הנובע ישירות מן העקירה כדי לחייב. זה מייצר מלאכה או מעשה אחת.
[2] ברור מהרשב"א שכך הוא קורא את תוס', כי הוא (ואריאל העלה קושי זה לפני שראינו את זה ברשב"א) מעלה כקושי בשיטה זו שלפי הסבר זה, המילה "עקר" ב4 שונה במשמעותה מכוונת המילה ב5. ב4, הכוונה ליירוט (interception), ובמקרה 5, הכוונה זה לתפיסה במקום אשר היה מגיע החפץ מלכתחילה. זה לא כ"כ קשה, כי במקרה 5 יש צורך בריצה כי מדובר באותו פועֳל, והמילה היחידה שהגמ' יכולה להשתמש זה "עקירה", שהוא זז ממקומו, ולכן המילה לא מתכוונת ליירוט. אבל ב4, יש שני בני אדם, והמילה "עקר" משומשת במובן מנוגד ל"עמד במקומו" שבמקרה 3.
על אף זאת, הבאנו לדיון אפשרות נוספת בהבנת תוס' בשיטת ר"ח (ואולי אפשרות זו היא תהווה תשובת תוס' עצמו לטענת הרשב"א), שלא כרוכה באי-עקביות במובן המילים: תוס' משנה בהבנת מקרה 4 ולפי ר"ח, מבין את המקרה כמקרה אשר בו אין יירוט. אם כן, למה הדין שונה מ3 ל4? ההסבר הוא ש3 זה מקרה אשר בו התכוון הזורק שהתופס יתפס, ולכן חייב כי נעשית מחשבתו. אבל ב4, מדובר איך שהזורק התכוון שהדבר יגיע לקרקע במקום מסויים, וקדם התופס ועשה שהחפץ ינוח באותו מקום, אבל במקום להיות נח על הקרקע, נח החפץ על ידו, ולכן לא נעשית מחשבתו של הזורק, ופטור הזורק. המורם מכל האמור הוא שבמקרה 5, צד "כשני בני אדם" חייב כי אדם שזורק לעצמו, בוודאי מתכוון שהחפץ יגיע למקום אשר בו תפס, ושיגיע לידו. לכן, חייב הזורק אי הוי כשני בני אדם (כי אם כאדם אחד דמי, אז זה כמעביר מימינו לשמאלו, כמו שנפרש להלן).
[3] באמת, יש שלש דרכים להבין את מקרה 5 בדברי ר"ח, ורק הראשון מוכח שאין הנחה ענין בדין זורק.
1) זרק החפץ לאדם מסויים, והוא עקר, קידם וקיבל את החפץ במקום מוקדם יותר מאיפה שהיה החפץ נח טבעית. לפי אפשרות זו, אכן אין הנחה חשובה במקרה זורק לר"ח, כי הראשון לא עשה הנחה כלל, ועדיין חייב.
2) התכוון שהחפץ ינוח במקום מסויים, והתופס בא ומגיע למקום המסויים הזה, וקבל. כל מה שהשתנה ממחשבתו של הזורק זה שעכשיו במקום להיות נח על הקרקע, החפץ בידו של אחר. ובגלל שנח במקום שהתכוון, חייב, כי נעשת מחשבתו, וגם הנחה שלו נעשתה, כי התופס לא עשה מעשה יותר מלהיות כמו קרקע, וההנחה מתייחסת לזורק. זה לא כ"כ נראה מדברי ר"ח, במיוחד ש ר"ח משמע (בדבריו ש"כגון שזרק לחבירו חייב בזה שנעשית מחשבתו") שזריקה ליד מישהו שונה מזריקה לקרקע, וכל סיבת חיוב של ר"ח זה שנעשית מחשבתו, ולא שהיה פה הנחה (שזה רק היכי תמצא שיהיה מלאכה).
3) הצהיר על כוונתו לזרוק לראובן, אבל חטא, וראובן נעקר כדי שמחשבת הזורק תיעשה. גם לזה שייך השאלה ששייכת לעיל.
למעשה, בגלל גירסת ר"ח, שאם 5 זה כשני בני אדם, זה סיבה לחייב, נאלצים אנו ללכת על דרך הבנה הראשונה, כי אם באמת נאמר שהנחה זה חשוב למלאכת הזורק, אז קשה עד מאד להסביר למה השוואה לשני בני אדם יהווה סיבה לחייב. אולי זה הסיבה שבאפשרות השנייה שלו, הרמב"ן מודה שהמהלך של רש"י זורמת ביותר נחת, אבל מה יעשה, הגירסא שלפניו (שהיתה גירסת ר"ח) לא משתלבת כלל עם שיטה כמו שיטת רש"י.
[4] אע"פ שר"ח משמע מפה שחשוב הנחה, וכמובן, צריכים הנחה כהיכי תמצא שיהיה פה מעשה מלאכה (כי בלי זה, אין מלאכה שמחייבת בשבת). אבל ההנחה זה לא העניין המחייב, החשוב כאן, כי מוכח מלשונו קודם שלא, וההנחה פה זה משמש דרך להסביר שכל המעשה נעשית במקום אחד. לא הכוונ ה שיש צורך הלכתי להנחה לר"ח. נדגיש פה בלי להתמקד על זה, שיש שינוי בין ר"ח לתוס' שמצטטו. לעומת ר"ח, תוס' אומר "ופטור, דהוי כמו שנותן מימינו לשמאלו -- דאע"פ שהעבירה ד' אמות, פטור."
[5] המילים של הרמב"ן, "שעשה עקירה ולא הניחה במקום אחר", אם לא היינו יודעים את המשך דברי הרמב"ן, היו מורים על שיטתינו בדברי ר"ח מלעיל, שלא היה הנחה במקום חיוב, אלא באותו מקום בו עקר הזורק את החפץ, ולכן פטור. רשב"א באמת משמע כן, ואין לו המשך כמו שיש לרמב"ן שהורס הבנה כזו. דברי הרשב"א: "באותו מקום שנעקר – ממנו חזר ונח, הלכך פטור." מכח זה, נאלצים אנו להניח שהיה שיטה מוקדמת ממנו גם הרמב"ן וגם הרשב"א שאבו את דבריהם, ושיטה זו הזכירה את דברים אלו ש"עשה עקירה ולא הניחה במקום אחר". (כמעט מוכח מדבריו של הרשב"א שהיה שיטה מוקדמת שהרמב"ן ורשב"א מצטטים, מזה שרשב"א מצטט את הרמב"ן בתחילת דבריו, ואז אומר את הדברים החשובים האלו בשם יש מי שאומר.) רשב"א (וגם תוס' ור"ח) היו מוכנים לקבל חידוש מחודש זה כמו שהוא (וכמו שהסברנו לעיל), אבל רמב"ן לא היה מוכן לקבל זו, ולכן נאלץ להסביר כמו שדחק במשך דבריו, ש"הכא נמי ההנחה לא נעשית מכחו הראשון".

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Purim Torah and Hebrew Slang

There is a relatively recent vernacular occurrence that I have noticed Israelis use. It has annoyed me as a distortion of the Hebrew language. Often, I hear Israelis (especially work-men and repair-men) say, "אני יעשה את זה" or "אני יתקן את זה". Of course, the proper grammatical construction would be "אני אעשה" or "אני אתקן". It assails the ear to hear the third person being used instead of the first!

However, I believe that I have found a valid source for this seeming linguistic malformation. The fathers of modern Hebrew made sure to use Biblical Hebrew as their guide as much as possible. It must be that the slang of modern Hebrew is also rooted in the Bible. After an exhaustive search, I found the source and root of this alleged grammatical inconsistency! The book of Tehilim 38:14 says, "ואני כחרש לא אשמע, וכאילם לא יפתח פיו". The parallel structure of this pasuk implies an equation between אשמע and יפתח. This demonstrates to us that one can use the third person as a valid reformulation of the first.

(Of course, during any month but Adar, I would simply say that this perversion of correct Hebrew is a result of the yud sound of אני blending into the alef sound of future tense first person and, over time, becoming future tense third person.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Keruvim and Fear of Heaven

Aside from the k'ruvim that were formed upon the holy ark, there were another set found in the mishkan. On the screen that seperated between the heichal and the holy of holies, exquisitely woven images of k'ruvim faced outwards, towards the ark, menorah and shulchan, comprising Man's domain within the house of God. What is the significance of these k'ruvim? Whereas the golden k'ruvim intently protect the aron (as discussed in a previous essay, they represent the Jewish people bearing and guarding the Law throughout history), the woven ones do not. Why do they direct their gaze outward instead of in, towards the holy of holies? Finally, the tapestry is made of the high cloths that are common in the mishkan: White, red, purple and sky blue. However, the gold thread that is so common in the clothes of the Kohen Gadol is missing. Why?

Rav Hirsch provides the key to the secret of these k'ruvim. If one were to stand within the heichal, he would see the table of show-bread to the north. This symbolizes the material success that arises naturally for a nation which, with brotherly love and care for one another, faithfully keep the laws of God. On the south, the menorah casts the light of Torah and intellectual success. In the direct center, the holy ark contains the source of these national and individual benefits, the word of God. When the Jewish people take the lesson of the golden k'ruvim seriously, truly bearing and preserving the word of God throughout the generations, they find themselves possessing all the spiritual and material blessings that flow from it. It is over all this good that the woven k'ruvim guard.

The colors of thread that are used in the weaving of the tapestry are also meaningful. The white is the pure vegetative element of the world. The red wool, dyed from the blood of worms, represents the animal element, while the regal purple wool represents the highest callings and elements of mankind as humans. The sky blue wool represents as it does in the tzitzit the Godly spark that was placed in humanity. Man contains all of these elements within his personality, and their use together represents the harmonious use of all our faculties for the higher purpose within the ark. When humanity uses its strengths thus, Heaven showers upon it the riches of the menorah and the table, the spiritual and physical successes. Thus, these k'ruvim which look out over Man's domain within the heichal represent Divine Providence, the hashgacha of God, bestowing the multi-faceted reward upon a nation that uses all its faculties for Divine commands.

However, one golden thread is left out. Heaven showers all blessings forth, including the blessing of continued use of vegetative, animal, human and Godly facets in God's service. The only thing left out is the golden thread, that most noble moral force of Man: fear of Heaven. "All is in the hands of Heaven, except fear of Heaven." The grace of God leaves this fear of God and awe of his commands as a constant test, a constant labor, left only for Man. This constant free-willed re-affirmation to this foundation of foundations ensures that Man continues to reap reward for a task that is still in his domain alone to choose.

And so, the k'ruvim, the heavenly bestowers of grace and kindness upon this earth, leave the final touch, the golden thread, constanly in our hands. Our success or failure is our decision, to enter the house of God on earth, or to turn away at the last minute. This missing gold thread is that which we constantly, each day anew, provide.

Is Spiritual Height a Measure of Piety?

It is second nature for most religious people to assume that when one does G-d's will, he becomes more spiritual, i.e., he rises in spiritual attainment (מדרגה). We usually assume that spiritual height is a measure of our closeness to G-d, and thus, of our fulfillment of His will. This seems to hold in many areas of life. However, in the extremes, this thesis seems to unravel, and our tasks in this world become uncomfortably subjective.

In Megilla 16b, the talmud relates two conflicting enumerations of those men who left Bavel to found the second state of Israel. In the first, Mordechai is counted fifth. Twenty-four years later, he is mentioned sixth in the list. The talmud finds this puzzling, and Rav Yosef posits the reason for Mordechai's demotion: "the study of torah is greater than life-saving..."

This passage does not sit right. Mordechai was seen as less spiritually complete because he occupied himslef with protecting Jewish lives while he could have been learning? We know that anyone who saves a Jewish life, is as if he saved an entire world (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:9). Also, we are commanded not to stand by our brother's blood (Lev. 19:16). So how can it be that Mordechai was lower spiritually after seemingly fulfilling G-d's will on a large scale?

On this troubling passage, Rashi says that "...because of this [his work on behalf of the Jewish People], Mordechai's status was lowered in the eyes of the sages." (Emphasis mine.) Perhaps this is the key. In the eyes of the sages, in the eyes of Man, Mordechai was on a lower spiritual level1. In the simplistic calculus of humanity, he spent less time concerning himself with the study of torah (which, after all, is כנגד כולם), and dealt with the nitty gritty aspects of the world around us. He dealt, in the parlance of the בית מדרש, with חיי שעה, temporal concerns, and neglected חיי עולם, the eternal torah (see Shabbos 10a). Thus he lost ground to his study partners, who did not leave the study hall, and who thus reached high spiritual levels.

A person, it turns out, can be a צדיק חוטא. One can constantly concern himself with the spiritual climax of Torah, and while developing himself spiritually, miss (חטא) his actual job in this world. To use an analogy, one can cheat on his taxes, and become more wealthy. Similarly, one can cheat on his tasks in this world (for example, by not saving lives when he can), and dishonestly gather for himself higher spiritual attainment (by studying torah during the time he saved).

In Pesachim 50a, (the same?) Rav Yosef visits the next world. When he returns, his father asks him to describe what he saw. He answers, "I saw an upside-down world, those who are high here, are low there, and vice-versa." His father said, "You saw the true world, and this one is inverted." Perhaps his statement from Megilla is an example of what Rav Yosef saw in Pesachim. Not only are the rich here sometimes lowly there, and the poor here, on a high level there, but Rav Yosef is making a deeper point, as well. Spiritual giants that we see in our world, may have gained their spiritual height deceitfully, and thus, they will be made low in the world of truth. That is a world where G-d, who insight and knowledge is perfect, judges people not only by how much spiritual currency they have, but, more importantly, by how (and why) they attained it.

(This idea is further supported by the Talmud (Menachos 98b) where Reish Lakish derives from Moshe's breaking of the לוחות that, "פעמים שביטולה של תורה זוהי קיומה", sometimes in order to uphold the Torah, we must neglect it.)

It is relatively simple to know what G-d wants us not to do. סור מרע, keep from evil, is pretty straightforward. It is the עשה טוב, the 'actively do good' that is so tricky. We must be self aware and cognizant of the totality of our situation in this world, in order to choose the right action instead of simply a good action. We must realize that right is subjective, and what is right for everyone else may not be right for me. We must not allow herd mentality to affect our service of G-d in this world. May we resolve to follow the path of Mordechai and do right, not just good.

Update (18 April 2010): See the Maharal in Derech Chaim page 66, where he says something very similar: Derech Chaim.

Update (24/12/2012): See the final paragraph here.


1 See Taz, YD 251, note 6.