Friday, December 14, 2012

Literary Devices Serving Moral Messages

Chapters 37, 38 and 39 of Genesis contain early episodes of development in the lives of the sons of Ya'akov. In 37, the reader is introduced to the sons of Ya'akov as active protagonists. The scene is one of envy as the elder brothers begrudge Yosef his favored position in their father's heart, and hate him for what they interpret to be ambitious dreams. When the brothers get a chance, they plot to kill their younger sibling, eventually heeding the advice of Yehuda to sell him, instead, as a slave. His coveted cloak and all that it symbolizes is dipped in blood and brought to Ya'akov, who, upon recognizing it as Yosef's, descends into depths of depression from which no one can redeem him. In chapter 38, our introduction to Yehuda is developed further in his partial estrangement from his family. He commits an indiscretion with his daughter-in-law, who has tricked him into thinking her a common harlot. Yehuda saves her from the death sentence with which her resulting adulterous pregnancy would normally be met, when he admits that it was he who impregnated her. In chapter 39, then, a previously passive Yosef develops his own active role: he turns down the temptations of the master's wife, netting himself an undeserved stint in prison. His virtuosity rewarded at every turn makes the best out of each tragedy that befalls him, and Yosef eventually ends up viceroy to the Egyptian Pharaoh. These stories contain some of the most morally reprehensible tales of the patriarchs, as well as some of the most uplifting. From a literary perspective, the tales are tightly coupled by choice of diction as well as thematic parallelism. Taken together, they demonstrate the contrast between the two personalities of Yehuda and Yosef, and the ethical maturation of Yehuda, progenitor of princes and kings in Israel.

Both chapter 37 and 38 involve trickery. In the aftermath of Yosef's sale, the brothers dip his special coat in blood, and bring the bloody tatters to their father in feigned innocence (37:32): "הכר נא, הכתונת בנך היא אם לא", "please try and recognize this: is it the cloak of your son?"1 Now, the brothers (almost certainly led by Yehuda) know very well that this indeed is Yosef's coat; they dipped it in blood themselves. Their plan is to manipulate their father's emotions by controlling the information he possesses. (Indeed, the midrash has the elder ten brothers binding heavenly and earthly beings in an oath forswearing revelation of the sale of Yosef. Such was the extent to which they are willing to go to keep the truth from their father.) The brothers justify this dishonesty with the belief that their actions are unavoidable: they have sinned, yes, but the end justifies the means; Yosef was planning to supplant them, they reason, and so he must be removed from the equation.

Parallel to this, in the next chapter, Yehuda is now on the receiving end of trickery. Tamar dresses as a harlot and Yehuda turns to her. She demands collateral for future payment, and Yehuda gives her his seal, staff and cloak, personal items that identify him2. When word spreads that Tamar has become pregnant out of wedlock, Yehuda, as her father-in-law and honored son of Ya'akov, is asked what should be done with her. In accordance with standard codes of law at the time (such as the Code of Hammurabi3), he demands her death. Tamar, as she is being led to her execution, reveals the deception and brings her plan to its climax when she produces Yehuda's personal items and demands almost mockingly, "למי החותמת והפתילים והמטה האלה", "to whom do these...belong?" (38:25) In accordance with Hammurabi, the husband has the authority to commute the adulteress's sentence, and this is an authority probably extended to Yehuda as surrogate male-guardian (as she was in between levirate marriages to his various sons). He rescinds the death sentence, admitting publicly that she has bested him and "she is more righteous than I". Tamar thus sins, but expects the ends to justify the means, and she unknowingly completes the saga begun with Yehuda's betrayal of his own father.

In both these episodes, personal articles are used to identify supposedly (to a bystander in the story) unidentified protagonists, though the reader knows through omniscient narration that those who offer up the articles for identification are far from innocent. Yehuda knows exactly whose bloody cloak he is showing his father, and Tamar knows precisely whose seal and staff she is displaying to those gathered to watch her execution. The dramatic effect of the parallel thematic activity here binds the stories together: it is Yehuda's wronging of his father and brother that brings upon him the shame and sin of the Tamar episode.

Furthermore, the stories exhibit an inverse relationship which highlights the character differences between Yosef and Yehuda. While Yosef suffers punishment and trouble that is undeserved, Tamar is pardoned from deserved punishment. Yosef has done little to deserve the years of pain and suffering to which his brothers destine him, and even less to deserve the prison sentence he receives at the hand of Potiphar, but Tamar indeed has enticed a man and committed adultery (in a manner). Additionally, Yehuda gets by the whole incident with only public shame, but no standard punishment for the taking of a betrothed woman. Yosef appears morally superior to his older brother; he suffers in silence the abuse heaped upon him, while Yehuda behaves selfishly, denying his father the knowledge that his cherished son is still alive.4

If the thematic elements were not enough, the two chapters are cinched together by word choice. In the climax of both stories, the words הכר נא, please identify, are used (37:32, 38:25)5. This phrase is not found anywhere else in the entirety of the Bible. We have noted in earlier discussions (here and here) the importance of words that link concepts and stories in the Torah. The singular use of הכר נא in such close proximity, and the fact that the same term is used in both stories to demonstrate a cynical trick being played, certainly relates the two stories and supports the thesis that the events of 38 are a punishment for Yehuda's and his brothers' behavior in 37.

However, Yehuda's shame in the Tamar story is not only retribution for his behavior, but is also evidence of the process of his moral growth. For if we take Yehuda's life as presented by B'reshit, we note three main encounters that act as epoch-defining episodes in Yehuda's life. The first and second we have already examined in detail, but now let us view them through a moral lens. In the first encounter, chapter 37, Yehuda initially agrees with his siblings that Yosef must be killed. However, when he sees a convoy of Arab merchants, Yehuda demonstrates his first step in moral growth: why kill him, if we can sell him and just as surely be done with him? Yehuda's moral superiority to the other brothers is limited: he does not deny their sentiments that Yosef must be done away with. His objection is to active fratricide. He is not above deceiving his elderly father, either, and perhaps only realizes the treachary of it all when a similar deception is played upon him, by Tamar.

And it is in the second encounter, chapter 38, where we find Yehuda taking another step in his moral progress. Whereas in 37, he was willing to lie to his father so that his guilt not be known, in 38, Yehuda admits a shameful truth in public, in order to save Tamar's life. Initially, in verse 23, Yehuda wants to pay the harlot immediately, פן נהיה לבוז, lest it be a shame to us. Rashi explains that Yehuda wants to ensure that no prostitute publicly call for his payment, since this would be shameful to him. And yet, when Tamar reveals her accomplice, Rashi comments that she was careful not to accuse Yehuda in public, and rather hinted to him that he was her accomplice by showing him the seal and staff: לא רצתה להלבין פניו...אמרה אם יודה מעצמו יודה ואם לאו ישרפוני ואל אלבין פניו. "She did not want to embarrass him...she thought, 'if he admits it, he admits it, and if not, I shall allow them to burn me, but I will not shame him publicly'." It certainly took a good deal of moral fiber for Yehuda to be willing to admit the truth and accept the accompanying humiliation. He could have easily ignored her, and allowed the execution to take place, never to hear another word about the matter. Perhaps the Yehuda who tricked his father in 37 might have done this, but not the morally maturing Yehuda of 38. He publicly concedes his sin and absolves Tamar of her punishment. This is Yehuda's growth from brutish to honorable, from lowliness to dignity.

Finally, in our third encounter with Yehuda, in chapter 44, we read the aftermath of Yosef's deception of his brothers in Egypt. Yosef demands that only Binyamin remain behind and serve for life as punishment for robbing the palace. Yehuda again is presented with a moral choice: he can go back to Cana'an, and again tell his father that a cherished son is no longer (as he in fact did in chapter 37), or he can stand up and do what is right no matter the personal cost. Yehuda is given the chance by Yosef to correct the mistake of decades past, and in verses 33-34 he meets the challenge, offering himself as a slave in place of his youngest brother. He places his own family, life and aspirations upon the altar of his father's happiness. He thinks as the leader of a larger group, the nation of Israel, instead of as the egotistical and petty brother from years past. In doing so, he shows Yosef and the audience how far he has come morally, and demonstrates why it is that his tribe is chosen to rule the future Israel.

Thus upon close readings of the episodes of Yehuda's life, it becomes clear that his moral progress is carefully mapped. While Yosef seems to have few moral flaws, what comes naturally to him comes with great difficulty and expense for Yehuda. And from this, readers may glean a valuable lesson: some people are born morally great, and others must work hard for years to attain such stature, but lack of such greatness in one's natural inclination is no reason to give up on it. In Yehuda's footsteps, those of us whose ethical nature must be carefully trained may find encouragement in the fact that it is precisely he who is chosen to forbear the dynasty of Israel's monarchy. Hard work and struggle are no shame; on the contrary, they provide meaning and deeper value to those who overcome natural tendencies to ascend the ladder of integrity.

1Embedded in this seemingly innocuous request hide the brothers' true feelings: Yosef is referred to as "your son". The reason for his siblings' enmity towards him is encapsulated precisely and subtly in this description. It is because you, father, made us feel as though he was your only son, your cherished one, that we went to the extremities that we did; it is because of Yosef's ambitions to be the only bloom from which the future of the Abrahamic covenant would blossom, that we did away with our brother. Because Ya'akov and Yosef allowed the brothers to feel as though they believed that only Yosef was Ya'akov's son, the excluded brothers plotted to begin with. Not "is this the cloak of our brother," or, "is this the cloak of Yosef," but "is this the cloak of your son." The word בנך here, your son, evokes an earlier use of the term, when God commanded Avraham to bind Yitzchak. There too, there were more than one brother. There too, בנך, your son, is used, to signify that the lad under discussion is the only true heir to the father. And so, when the brothers say בנך here, it echoes the בנך, יחידך (Gen 22:2) of Avraham - your son, your only heir.

2The seal in ancient Mesopotamia, for example, was a personal item that was marked with etchings, and could be rolled in clay or ink to to impress one's unique signature to documents or items. It was often worn pinned to a cloak, and was an item of pride. As for the cloak, פתילך is translated thus by Rashi.

3See the code online, here, §129.  Traditional rabbinic exegesis has Yehuda presiding over a Jewish court, and deciding the law in accordance with Torah law for a daughter of a priest who sins. However, there are a number of problems with this position, whose answers do not seem entirely plausible. First of all, how could Yehuda preside over any case (especially a capital one) to which he was a נוגע בדבר, related to a party involved? This is the  classic situation requiring a judge to recuse himself from the case.

Secondly, even if we were to ignore the first question, and assume that this case did indeed come before a court including Yehuda as a judge, then the judgment is wrong. In Jewish law, levirate marriage, or yibum, is only valid, indeed, permitted, between the widow and one of her brothers-in-law. The father-in-law would never be permitted to take a daughter-in-law in as wife, which would be against the biblical injunction (Lev. 18:15).  Thus, if indeed the judgment were to be conceived in Torah-law parameters, Tamar would still be subject to punishment (and Yehuda to atonement for inadvertent sin)  for her actioins.

On the other hand, if taken in the context of ancient Near-Eastern law, this criticism falls away. For the levirate laws of the surrounding cultures allowed any male relative to act as surrogate husband for a widow. Thus, while Tamar waits for Yehuda's third son, Shela, to come of age, she is bound to Yehuda's household as a betrothed woman, a betrothal that could technically apply to Yehuda as well, as a male relative of the first two dead sons. So, at the start, when the people of Tamar's town find her pregnant and assumed adultery, they and Yehuda are technically  justified by the laws of the time (and by Torah law, as well) to demand her execution. However, when the fact comes to light that it is Yehuda who was Tamar's accessory to impropriety, Torah law and Near-Eastern law would differ: according to Torah law, it would make no difference that Yehuda was the man who impregnated Tamar, the situation would still be one of adultery. But according to the surrounding culture, it is a crucial difference: impregnation by an unrelated man would be adultery, but with Yehuda, it would simply be a consummation of the levirate act.

Finally, a question might be put forth to our thesis: if Yehuda, as the Code of Hammurabi allows him, simply pardons Tamar as he had the power to do, then why does he have to admit the embarrassing detail that it was he who impregnated her? He can pardon her for any or no reason! The answer reveals further the moral growth of Yehuda. Had he simply used his position to forgive her transgression, her twin sons would still be mamzerim, illegitimate, and Tamar would still carry the stain of her actions forever. Almost certainly, she and her sons would be forsaken by Yehuda's family, and Ya'akov's clan. Their rejection would have been a moral hypocrisy of epic proportions. The new Yehuda of chapter 38 would not allow this to happen. He would rather suffer his own humiliation than allow another to suffer undeservedly, and this is his moral superiority over the Yehuda of chapter 37, who, in an effort to hide his misdeed, allowed Ya'akov to suffer for many years. His willingness to hold himself accountable allowed Tamar and her sons to become a natural part of the Jewish people, and indeed, the twins are counted amongst Yehuda's legitimate offspring.

In general, the rabbinic position has been that to a lesser or greater extent, the stories of Genesis can be read in the context of Torah law. Certainly in chapter 38, a less dogmatic approach seems more plausible, and better demonstrates the moral growth of Yehuda. This should not be seen as a rejection of the rabbinic exegetical enterprise, but as an alternative in this episode which may be more historically acceptable, and contributes greatly to the moral and ethical teachings that are the express purpose of the first book of the Torah.

4In fact, there is another parallel, this time from chapter 38 to 39. While in 38, Yehuda strays and commits sexual impropriety. Although Tamar sets him up, in the sense that she dresses as a prostitute and stands on the road, other than this, she does not seduce him. It is Yehuda in his full free will who allows his eyes to stray, and commits what is certainly a moral failure (if not an outright sin). This is to be contrasted with the episode related in chapter 39, where Yosef is continuously and resolutely seduced by the wife of his master. Even under such intense pressure, and while so far from his family, he is able to keep his father's image in his mind and resist the extreme temptation before him. This temptation is doubled in that his rejection of Potiphar's wife was not only a rejection of a seductress, but additionally a crisis point in his employment: Yosef probably knew that his saying no would result in the irony of being labelled an attempted rapist, being thrown in prison (or worse), and a total loss of everything for which he had worked so hard these past years. That he was able to walk away under such duress surely demonstrates Yosef's moral constitution, the purity of which is contrasted with Yehuda's low behavior with Tamar.

5After noting this unique diction, I saw that Victor Hamilton also notes it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Israel's Two Wars

In Israel today, there are two wars going on, and each one has its own goals, tactics and results, and it is conceivable that the tactics of one may act against the other's interest.

I explain: war A is the physical one. It's cause is incessant rocket fire and other cross-border violence perpetrated against Israel. War B is the PR one - an abstraction of sorts - it is less "real" than the rockets but also important, since in our geo-political reality, it matters what other nations think. Let us look at each one in isolation, and then examine their convergence in the real world.

The physical war: Essentially, this goes back to the partition plan and the Arab refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist. The historical justification to our establishment in the Middle East is attacked by Negationist history - cynically and purposefully revised against historical evidence - to deny the facts. This battle is fought in many spheres, from the audacious denial of Holocaust to the philistine destruction and removal of artifacts attesting to 3,000 year old Jewish presence on the Temple Mount. While the PLO switched tactics in the '70's, and instead of announcing its plans to liberate all of Israel, discussed peace and a Palestinian State in pre-1967 borders, they never changed their open and honest plans described in their Arabic speeches - talking of the destruction of the State of Israel. What this all leaves Israel with is a hostile de-facto city-state on its southern frontier which is dedicated, not to statehood, but to the destruction of Israel. If we step back for a moment to a decisive (though ill-conceived, from the viewpoint of Israel's security) point in history - the Disengagement from the Gaza Strip, this all becomes quite clear. Israel took away any logical or defensible reason for the Gazans to assault Israel: their stated goal of "liberating Gaza from the oppressive occupation" (or as a friend calls it, the neo-colonialist argument), and yet still Gaza chose to ignore the well-being of their population and the building of their society, and rather used their new-found independence to attack Israel, now from up close - using the newly destroyed Jewish towns in the northern part of the strip as a base. At this critical point, there was no more rationale for attacks on Israel, unless one is willing to take the Gazans at their word: their purpose is not to liberate Gaza or the West Bank or even Jerusalem, but to destroy Israel.

Now, Israel is in a situation where their ability to fight back is hampered: they have left the alleyways that were otherwise supervised by the IDF, to the terrorists. Hamas controls a clandestine flow of materiel and explosives and uses them to fight Israel. And here we have another element, that of euphemism and newspeak or double-think - for when we say "fight Israel", we do not mean what most countries do - nor what most countries consider valid war. We mean attacking primarily civilians - the killing of civilians to sow terror - a war crime by the Geneva Convention. And yet, the world glosses over this unimportant point - and considers this a war. (The Geneva Convention and war crimes are only trotted out when Israel apologizes for inadvertent civilian casualties.)

And so, Israel must fight back. It is its most basic requirement, above and beyond any rhetoric, for a government to protect the security of its citizens. If a government that taxes citizens without representation was seen as self-evidently deserving of rebellion, how much more so if a government was to abdicate its responsibility to security? The response is far from excessive - and again we fall into the pitfall of double-think (by suggesting the concept we make it a real consideration): since when is any army concerned with proportionality when it is fighting a war? The objective of war is to win; in this case, to bring security to Israel's civilian population. The objective is not to do so while only using proportional methods! Heaven forbid if Hamas were to ever possess the capacity to be "excessive" to Israel – does one think anyone would call on Hamas to behave "proportionally"? Does one think Hamas would listen? Were any of the 5 7-army wars of annihilation fought against Israel since its inception proportional - masses of troops in the millions against a nation with less than 600,000 soldiers? 

Beyond this, the world forgets that Israel is not fighting a recognized country. (Again, it is fascinating how, as Whorfianism claims, language employed defines the categories through which we think - by calling them militants instead of terrorists we lose part of the foundation of our justification to fight them.) The only thing internationally recognized about the Hamas government is that its status as a terror organization. When a terrorist admit publicly in Arabic that its purpose is to destroy you, you don't act with proportion, you destroy them. The fact that they hide amongst civilians and therefore bring upon their population death is their fault, not Israel's. It would be a false morality indeed (not to mention against the ethics of the Torah) for Israel to place a higher premium upon Gazan civilian life than its own citizens'.

From all this, it is clear that from the physical war's perspective, we must go all-out. Israel has a moral responsibility to its citizens to protect them, and not one of their lives can be sacrificed for the PR war, to which we will now turn our attention.

The PR war: From this perspective, each side ignores the truth value and validity of the historical, social and religious nature of the conflict, and tries to impress with sound bites, pictures and video. And here is where "world opinion" holds such sway, for the primary purpose of the PR war is to turn international sympathy to one side or the other. And we must recognize that international sympathy is rooted in western liberal ideology. The problem with this ideology is that it accepts no ethical absolutes, and dogmatically avoids passing judgment upon the relative morality of one side versus the other. Essentially, since WWII, the liberal ideology has hinged upon the proposition that "the underdog is always the victim, and always to be helped". The amoral idea caused liberals to be supportive of Jews as they limped out of the gas chambers. The world saw David as caught between two Goliaths, one being Hitler, the other, a numerically overwhelming Arab world seething with blood-lust for the remnant of Israel. However, as soon as Israel demonstrated an ability to protect themselves and provide themselves, thank God, with security, by the sword if necessary, the Arab world shifted the focus from tiny Israel in a sea of Arab hate, to expansive Israel bullying small and weak Gaza. The world was happy to allow David to [I just had to take a break and run to our safe room, we had a siren with multiple booms following] become Goliath, it simply shifted its reference point.

And so, Israel is fighting a losing battle on the PR front. The fact that militarily Israel is powerful makes the liberals forget the justifications for our military might - that our "right" came before our "might", because they never really cared about the justifications. They only supported us when we were the underdog. Israel is at pains to show itself as the underdog currently, though it truly is, because the Iron Dome limits Israeli casualties, and our military boasts of knowing where all Hamas leaders are make us seem invincible. These things are beside the point. The point should be: does Israel have the moral right to exist? If affirmative, then Hamas is the aggressor completely, and the world must support Israel's destruction of Hamas. If negative, then not. However, liberal world opinion does not concern itself with that question in any real way, and instead side-steps it, and asks, but why should Israel sow such destruction upon a weaker enemy? This question, when asked without the moral judgment component of “who is right?” leads the liberal world to support Hamas, the perceived underdog. 

But how, one might ask, is Hamas winning the PR war? The answer lies in the international news media, who have bought the new Palestinian David vs. Israeli Goliath, hook, line and sinker. While there are plenty of images of wounded and damage on the Israeli side, these are under-reported. On the other hand, the pathetic images from Gaza are over-reported. Furthermore, the background is left out so that the viewer of the media is left with a stilted picture of what happened. The victims are used twice: once as human shields to protect the Hamas, who do their warfare from heavily populated areas, and again as props in the PR war, when their dead bodies are displayed to the world as evidence of Israeli heavy-handedness.

The liberal media is so notoriously against Israel that it essentially ignores the terror that Hamas commits against its own people for the sake of keeping the "Israel as the aggressor" story fresh. For example, yesterday, Hamas shot a number of people and dragged their bodies through the streets, as punishment for "aiding Israel". Did the NY Times publish these images? How about girls being killed for being raped (a capital offense in Gaza’s society)? No. How about the very real problem that western girls who go to "help the Gazans" or "Free Free Palestine" face, that of rape by the hands of Gazans? The international solidarity movements hush these complaints up, and tell the girls not to report these rapes, for they will "damage the cause"? Essentially, the liberal media has chosen sides - it has chosen Hamas, and they are willing to white-wash its sins for the "greater good". 

So, while Israel valiantly tries to get its story out there, it will never be as loud as the story the liberal media allow the Hamas to publish. Israel can mitigate this by being clear, concise, and to the point. Israel can voice insistently that there is evil and there is good, and Hamas is evil. They can publish the above stories, and let the world know. But the sad fact is that as long as Israel wins in war A, it will never win war B, since the liberal deck is stacked against them.

(Israel may decide as well to recognize an incontrovertible fact: the enemies of Israel and the Hamas sympathizers will continue to blame, berate and demonize Israel for even the lowest level self-defense. In this case, with the PR battle so imbalanced, Israel may calculate that it might as well do its best to truly intimidate the enemy into submission in as extreme a way as necesary, since the negative PR is almost certain, anyway.)

And so, Israel must choose: should we win the PR battle, or defend ourselves militarily? It is probable that it cannot win both at the same time. And if so, Israel's first responsibility is to its physical security. The response Israel is displaying is not excessive, it is necessary to remove the attack capabilities of an enemy that refuses to commit to the most basic rules of war. And talk of a cease fire damages Israel tremendously in that it reduces the perceived necessity of the military air-strikes.

Israel can do much to improve its PR campaign, and I hope they do, but I recognize that very few people in the world have not already taken a side in this conflict, based not on justice, but on liberal emotion.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Not in Heaven

The Meshech Chochma, in explaining the verse ושב ה' אלקיך את שבותך ורחמך, quotes rabbinic exegesis found in the Yalkut (brought in slightly different language in Yerushalmi Makot 2:6): "They asked Wisdom, 'what should happen to a sinner?' Wisdom answered, 'the one who sins shall die.'" Wisdom is the characteristic of pure Justice, untempered by Mercy. According to Wisdom, one who sins has forfeited his right to life by acting against the will of his Creator. However, as the rabbis teach regarding the story of creation, although God first thought, as it were, to create the world with strict justice, very quickly it became clear that the world could not survive on this attribute alone, and so God included an aspect of mercy, of loving-kindness, to allow the world atonement and survival.

The rabbis continue: "They asked the Torah, 'what should happen to a sinner?' And Torah answered, 'he should bring a sacrifice and find atonement.'" This is the classical form of forgiveness found in the Books of Moses. A sin committed requires expiation through the symbolic and educational lessons of the offerings in the Temple. The חסד, the loving-kindness, and רחמים, mercy, of God's word to Man allows for a way for sin to be forgiven. No mention of any transformation of the sin into anything different, not even mention of the sin being erased, is made. Atonement through sacrifice does not contradict any legal logic: a person may make good on his misdeeds in the proscribed manner, thus averting punishment for them. This is akin to a person who stole returning the object he stole, making further punishment unnecessary.

However, the midrash does not stop here. It continues: "Came the Holy One, Blessed Be He, and he said, 'let the sinner repent, יעשה תשובה, and it will be atoned for him.'" This is the part of the midrash that the Meshech Chochma aimed at. ושב ה' אלקיך את שבותך ורחמך, it is God himself who comes towards Man and presents a new concept: that of repentance. A person may have no ability to bring a sacrifice, and yet he may still achieve forgiveness through sincere repentance.

But what is it about repentance that is so special that it is an innovation, a חידוש, so to speak, of God's? How is it that it is not attributed to the Torah, and it must be God that comes along and suggests it? Furthermore, what type of distinction is this midrash drawing between God and the Torah? Surely, אורייתא וקודשא בריך הוא חד, God and the Torah are a unity in a certain sense! How can we distinguish between them in their approach to the sinner?

Perhaps an answer can be found in a passage of Talmud (Nedarim 62). There, Rabbi Elazar says, "עשה דברים לשם פועלן, ודבר בהם לשמן", explaining, do your good deeds for the sake of God's name, in the name of God. But all your learning, your give and take in Torah study, do it in the name of the Torah itself." Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (in נפש החיים) explains the distinction: when you learn Torah, do it for the Torah itself, to know and understand, to add lessons and analysis." Rabbi Chaim is saying, לא בשמים היא, this Torah is not in Heaven. Though it comes from God, it is in the hands of Man now, and God gave over its exegesis and interpretation to the human intellect and mind. Even if God were to send sure signs that the correct interpretation is one way, the rabbis, through their intellect, are the arbiters of Halacha. God gave the Torah into the hands of Man now, and relinquished the interpretive authority over it to us. Now, according to the normal human logic, even one infused with the Godly decision to judge our world with mercy (רחמים), and not only by the strict yardstick of justice (דין), a person cannot undo what is done. A sin committed is one that must be atoned for, but cannot be erased. It certainly cannot be turned into a good deed. The best the Torah can do, within reason, is provide a pathway to atonement.

And even so, God says, I can transcend reason, I can sidestep the rational judgment of human reason. If a person comes towards Me in sincere repentance, sorry for his actions and sublimely desirous to reconnect his fractured relationship with Me, I can make the impossible happen: זדונות נעשות לו כזכויות - even the worst sins become virtues. God can turn back the clock, and not only erase the bad, but make it good! This is possible when a person seeks out an immanent relationship with God out of love. This is why the suggestion of God, as brought down in the Yalkut, is specifically related to the verse ושב ה' אלקיך את שבותך ורחמך - since it is specifically God, creator of the world, who can abrogate all reasonable reaction to sin, can transcend the need for atonement, and, overnight (see יד החזקה הל' תשובה ז:ז), recreate a loving bond between the sinner and God.

Friday, September 14, 2012


Jewish sources include many different theories of teshuva. One that is particularly apropos to modern times is that expounded by Rav Kook, in his 1925 work Orot Hateshuva. In addition to discussing the benefits of teshuva, Rav Kook points out some of its potential pitfalls, which are instructive and worthy of mention.

Rav Kook says that repentance repairs the fundamental will, a will which comprises the depth of a person's very life. It is not the superficial will, but that essential will which forms the foundation of an autonmomous living (ch. 9 § 1). It is not hard to see that the will Rav Kook refers to is synonymous with the will described in Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation. It is a proto-fundamental will which comes before thought, before reason or logic. This will establishes the psyche as separate and apart from the otherwise all-engulfing will of the universe. It is this will, this ego, essentially, that stakes out the possibility of an independent, free personality. Without it, man fades into the general cosmic will, a will that Rav Kook obviously identifies with the will of God.

Because of this, the will's essential characteristic is pride. Without Man's pride demanding of himself recognition as an autonomous being, he would not be independent, free or creative, since without a sense of his own value, he would regress into stagnation, recognizing no benefit he can bestow upon the world. As the author of the Tanya states (פירוש למגילת אסתר): "Anyone who begins to serve is impossible without the use of the crude characteristics, in that he must set himself up as a 'someone', an ego, that indeed must serve God."  In other words, a being that has no persona of his own, no ego, no 'crude' characteristic of pride at all, feels that he has nothing to offer the world, or even to offer God, as it were, in serving Him. Such a being cannot serve God. It is only when a person feels important enough to have a right to exist as an autonomous entity that he can affirm that his work on earth is pregnant with meaning and makes a difference.

In light of this, what is teshuva? Rav Kook explains that the word, meaning "return", is the return of the fundamental will to its healthy desire, to first stand autonomously, and then set as life's goal the will of  God and the perfection of the world.  Through the abhorrence at sin and regret over the distancing of oneself from the stream of God's will, a person corrects his foundational will, and returns, in deed. Thus, in place of the dischord between a person's pride-will and God, he reconnects himself and his will to the life-flow from God.

Of course, pride comes along with danger. The danger is that a person might place himself too high upon the rungs of importance, and lose his humility, which is necessary in order to subjugate  himself to the will of a Higher Power. This is one danger inherent in the teshuva process.

Additionally, another danger lurks in the paths of repentance: that a person might fall prey to depression. In ch. 9 §5, Rav Kook points out that the penitent must ensure that the feelings of sadness and regret only apply to the bad, and not the good. Thinking thoughts of repentance can remind a person of the existential tragedy and almost certain failures inherent in their sojourn in a mortal body: אין צדיק בארץ אשר יעשה טוב ולא יחטא. These themes can evoke regret and inaction - not just in the evil that a person commits, but also in the good. Angst can cause a surrender to fate - better that I not exist, better that I not act, better that I do nothing, though this means I do no good, rather than act, and also do bad. The penitent may end up regretting all actions, even the good ones. This is a danger against which teshuva must defend. The path of active duty is certainly fraught with dangers, but "לא אתה בן חורין להיבטל ממנה", we must not abdicate our duty.

It is for this reason, says Rav Kook (ibid. §10), that immediately after the High Holidays, the calendar brings us to Simchat Torah, the celebration of active service of Hashem in joyful communion. Teshuva must limit its resignation and sadness to the bad, and allow us to still fill ourselves with motivation and alacrity to continue in upright, positive service of God.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


The deep emotions that swell within the heart after reading about a life filled with self-sacrifice, commitment and dignity should be more than transitory. We must try as hard as possible to come away from such an examination reaffirming our desire to live valuable, useful and meaningful lives. I have just finished reading a collection of Jonathan Netanyahu's letters, Self Portrait of a Hero. It is easy to feel the pride and happiness of a young man, soldiering for the first years of his adult life, but this light-hearted feeling melts into the melancholy of a life cut short, of a person of value who was taken from his nation all too soon. The depth of his thought, the nobility of his soul, will live on in those who read this book and allow themselves to be affected by it. Two main thoughts strike me amongst many note-worthy aspects of Yoni.

First, I point out the development of his feelings towards the land of Israel. Obviously from the beginning, Yoni drank from his father's brand of Zionism, influenced by Jabotinsky. However, at the start, Yoni's passion about the army seems commonplace; though he writes with a maturity beyond his young years, his thoughts center around the excitement of being a soldier, and, along with his comrades, becoming an effective fighting unit. However, as time goes on, through his time at Harvard and his experiences during the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, Yoni develops a deeper appreciation for why he fights, and this appreciation keeps him in the army past when he would have stayed otherwise. He writes about his understanding that the IDF needed good officers such as him (p 173). He also sees this as a national responsibility, that our nation's homeland be defended against its enemies. He could not see himself returning to civilian life while Israel needed its reserves called up.

Yoni did not live in a dream-world; he saw many deficits in Israeli society, and sometimes wrote about his memories of the US with longing. He wished his homeland would develop the type of economic and entrepreneurial spirit common in the US. It is a shame that he did not live to see these ideas blossom in Israel in the late 90's. However, he was committed to Israel's security ahead of his own comfort. This continually deepening feeling of responsibility towards his people and homeland is instructive.

This leads into the second aspect of Yoni that is so important, and I think it is representative of Israel as a country and a people, in general. Yoni stands as a metaphor for the entire people of Israel. He constantly writes, piningly, of his desire to go back to school and finish his degree. However, every time he brings it up, he follows it up with the realization that at this critical point in Israel's security situation, how can he leave his men and the army? In a peaceful reality, Yoni would have been a scholar or some other highly educated person. But he had to constantly put this aspect of his personality and desires to the side, to wait for the future possibility of peace. He placed the needs of the country over and above his own fulfillment.

Israel, struggling to develop and maintain a viable economy, an innovative medical community, and a unique culture, persistently must do so with both arms tied behind its back. How many more medical breakthroughs, how many more Nobel Prizes, how much more robust an economy, would Israel have, if its gargantuan military budget could be used elsewhere? Israel's full measure of self-actualization and self-expression is constantly hampered by its need to, with the setting of the sun each and every evening, ensure that it is not destroyed by its enemies by the dawn of the next morning. Yoni's letters intimate this existential struggle, the eternal Jacobian wrestling match with the angel of Esav, always defending our existence, and never allowed by the world to lay to rest the question of its very right to live. Yoni lived a life stunted by military necessity - he did not revel in it, he suffered it, and met it with pride, proud to be a Jew defending Jews in Israel. He left behind many many plans, things he wished deeply to do, but did not, in order to make sure Israel would survive.

Yoni was dealing with a personal crisis of sorts in the weeks immediately before the raid on Entebbe where he died. The men who were with him speak of a peaceful calm that seemed to hold him, and some said that he seemed to know he was not going to come back. Perhaps the realization that he could never fulfill his personal dreams with full peace of mind, as long as the fate of Israel hung in the balance, led him to an ironic peace during this last fateful mission.

And thus, a nation of farmers, scientists, doctors, scholars, and manual laborers continue to struggle, forced to take up the rifle and defend what every other nation on earth takes for granted: the right to exist.

May his memory be instructive to us, and a blessing to our people. יהי זכרו ברוך, ה' יקום דמו.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Baruch Dayan HaEmet

Rav Elyashiv has passed away. This is a tremendous loss for the Jewish people. May his death be an atonement for our nation.

המקום ינחם אותנו בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים.

May God comfort us, amongst all those who mourn Zion and Jerusalem.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Peace and Conflict

הנני נותן לו את בריתי שלום- God grants the special covenant of peace to Pinchas. This is a special kind of peace, the peace of Aharon the high priest, as evidenced by the fact that this covenant brings Pinchas into the special family of Kohanim. Hillel and Shammai implore us all to be such students of Aharon – chasing peace. What kind of peace can be so special, so powerful, as to be a foundational attribute of the holiest of men? What is it that makes it an appropriate corollary, that once the gift of peace is bestowed, it is naturally followed by the gift of priesthood?
Rav Kook writes in Ein Ayah that there are two conceptions of peace. The first is selfish: opposing viewpoints recognize that the best way for each to achieve the most desirable general result is to come together in unity. Two people, two groups, two nations have competing goals. These goals draw them into conflict time and again. After a while, each side recognizes that in order to further its goal most successfully, it is desirable to end the open hostility and come to an agreement with the opposing side. This is not true unity, for in it, each side maintains that their personal gratification is the most important goal. The perceived unity is of a social-contractual nature. Peace is attained often by denying differences and highlighting commonality. The post-modern concept of “narrative” allows us to pay lip service to opposing viewpoints, but in reality, it subterfuges the truth or falsehood of these viewpoints, positing instead that all positions have value as formative of opinions and principles, and we must therefore appreciate them all. So often peace-making is less about truly finding truth and bringing both sides to an appreciation of justice, but rather the practical path of least resistance - the road-map of the pragmatist. And yet, despite these weaknesses, sometimes, this is the best we can hope for.
However, there is a deeper kind of peace. When two sides recognize a common set of fundamental beliefs, and both set as their task, not their own success, but the larger picture – the success of this higher goal, then each of them can put aside their own selfish purposes and work harmoniously for the completion of their shared meta-principle. When we recognize the word of God and his commands as the larger goal towards which we strive, our co-operation takes on a truly united character. Instead of a social contract, what now defines our society is a true community, a group of people truly working toward a goal, not of individual self-gratification, but of fraternal service of a higher purpose. Far from denying or minimizing the items about which we disagree, we see the benefit in the opposing view in the furtherance of God’s purposes in our world. We support the opposing view, recognizing its importance in the larger scheme. This is the concept of כלל ישראל, the community of Israel. The רמב"ם in his פרוש המשניות on בכורות ד:ג states, "בני ארץ ישראל הם הנקראים קהל".
One of the most satisfying aspects of Rav Kook’s teachings is his naturally evident love for humanity. This results in Rav Kook’s axiom that every part of humanity has an element of good that can be included in a holistic view of the world. Rav Kook’s philosophy has a place for every philosophical trend – indeed one of his greatest students, Rav David Cohen, wrote extensively on the necessity for each hashkafic trend in its time, and the special contributions each gave to a unifying world-view that culminates, slowly, in the messianic redemption of the world. Rav Kook’s way of thinking brings true שלום, consonance, to wildly opposing views, with a historically conscious eye on how these views ultimately strengthen each other and their ultimate goals of Godliness – לתקן עולם במלכות שקי.
When we come into conflict with others, and do our best to attain the kind of peace where both sides recognize the higher values involved, and strive to fulfill them, we are following Aharon in his love and quest for this more desirable, harmonious peace.It is this peace that is deserving of special mention.

It is also clear now that the blessing of peace, a true implementation of this idealized peace that Rav Kook describes, results naturally in the gift of priesthood. For the high priest was nothing if not an embodiment of the collective people of Israel. Upon his breast rested the multi-hued stones representing the various streams and diversity of the children of Israel. However, all are contained in the golden frame. The כהן הגדול could not choose to represent his family or his tribe: he represented the people, in all their variations, to God on high.
In masechet Avot, there are two statements that sound similar, but seem at first glance to be talking about opposite ideas. The first is in chapter four, where Rabbi Yochanan says that any assembly that is for the sake of heaven is destined to survive. But in chapter five, the rabbis teach that any argument that is for the sake of heaven will live on. These statements seem to speak of opposing things, so which is it: is it agreement or argument that survive if they are for the sake of heaven? Furthermore, it is understandable that the mishna would teach us this about machloket. Divisiveness is usually bad, and so one would expect it to not stand eternal. The lesson is that there are arguments that are beneficial, and do gain eternal value. But agreement? What negative aspect could there be to agreement that would necessitate the Mishna telling us that some agreements survive? And additionally, what agreements do not survive? What could possibly be bad about agreement?!
With Rav Kook’s teaching as a guide, we can understand very well. Rabbi Yochanan and the Rabbis are both teaching, from different perspectives, the same lesson. That activity which you see as argumentative, if acted upon for the right reasons, actually is peaceful – it brings about peace. Of course, the flip side of this is that if agreement is simply reached for pragmatic reasons, without submission to a higher cause as a common goal, then eventually the peace-makers will diverge, and the agreement they worked on will dissipate.
It is this type of peace, says Rav Kook, that is destined to flourish. In fact, the mishna in Avos teaches that this is the type of peace that flourishes out of argument for the sake of heaven, typified by disagreements of Hillel and Shammai. It is telling that precisely these men, Hillel and Shammai, are the ones who together teach their students to be of Aharon’s students, recognizing and desiring peace, the ideal peace, that which does not down-play differences, rather highlights them in the happy recognition that the opposing view also serves Hashem, and has a place in our world-view. Indeed, Hillel and Shammai, despite fundamental disagreements about what constitutes fitness for marriage, continued to marry their children to each other.
It is this type of machloket which allows Halacha the flexibility and organice dynamic qualities that allow it to remain ever-fresh in a world of decaying, dead legal systems. Rabbi Berkovits makes this point in his discussion of Da’at Yachid, the minority viewpoint, in his book Not in Heaven. Recording minority views and recognizing their legitimacy, even as they may be rejected from standard Halacha, maintains these views for the time in which the judges or rabbis of the generation will decide that these views, in light of new circumstances, need to be brushed off and utilized, This saves rabbinic, halachik Judaism from the pitfalls of rigidity, of what Berkovits refers to as rabbinic Karaism.

When the ideal peace replaces pragmatic armistance, when our world joins in recognition of the higher ideal around which we must all rally, and whose goals we will work to further in brotherly love, we will merit the blessings of the redemption, וכל בני בשר יקראו בשמך.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rejected Cross Currents Comments

Time for another installment of comments I posted on Cross-Currents posts, that have (as of yet) not been approved:

Post: Nachal Charedi

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

No one claims that blazing trails is easy, כל התחלות קשות. Nachal Hacharedi is new. As you say, mistakes happen in any system, and especially in a new one, it is the trail-blazers’ stubborn determination that makes or breaks its viability. If the army is flooded with 20,000 boys like your son, these issues will quickly be overcome.
However, I think your conclusion that, My next child has already gotten their army exemption, is the wrong one. If our commitment to the ideals you and your son obviously share is overridden by an individual bad experience (ignoring the fact that there are numerous others who came out with markedly different experiences), we belie those ideals, and will never succeed at the goal.
Instead of protesting against and rejecting Nachal Hacharedi, charedim (and all Israelis who care) should be protesting your son’s experience. When the army realizes that mistakes will not be swept under the rug, they will make doubly sure that your son’s story is not repeated.

Post: Plesner Committee

Your comment is awaiting moderation.
Nor can the lack of physical danger in national service be the distinguishing factor. Chareidim do not claim that their blood is redder, or that they have some special exemption from risking their lives in defense of the Jews of Israel.
Of course they do – (if not they would be in the army!) – they claim that as Talmidei Chacham, they have no need for natural protection, and therefore are not required to contribute to support of the protection (רבנן לא בעי נטירותא, see Bava Batra 7b). The fact that (at the very least) this does not apply in our current situation, and, de facto, the haredi world implicitly concedes this, does not affect their talmudic support for their position.
The proof that they feel they are special is in a later part of R Rosenblum’s essay. He writes: The IDF will encounter little communal resistance to the expansion of chareidi combat units under the aegis of Netzach Yehuda, as long they remain voluntary.
Why should haredim be volunteers while the rest of us are drafted? The haredi demand for a different set of standards certainly demonstrates their special opinion of themselves.
Contrary to popular opinion, chareidim do not deny the necessity of an army. Most can conceive of situations in which every able-bodied yeshiva student would pick up arms. But there is no threat that could ever induce anyone in learning to pick up a paintbrush.
You can’t just “pick up arms”. A modern army cannot hope to win without thorough training. If you can conceive of a threat, you need to make sure you are ready to fight if it ever becomes a reality – not go to Lishkat Hagiyus on the day hostilities break out.
No one is telling haredim to do national service (although it would seem that a better understanding of the larger picture might mitigate or even preclude the disdain held for non-combat societal necessities represented by “picking up a paintbrush”). Perhaps R Rosenblum should exert some energy convincing the haredi leadership that Netzach Yehuda is the way to go. Then, we can have a draft for most, and exemption for the elite intellectuals (which might easily be expanded to the elite of the universities as well, so that true innovation and scholarship might be unhindered there as well as in the beis midrash), and a truly incorporated society – not where everyone is the same (who wants that?!), but where all kinds of Jews shoulder the same national responsibilities with a sense of pride and unity.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

When A Chatzitzah Requires Re-immersion

בשאלת חציצות למיניהן, מתי יוצרות חיוב לחזור ולטבול

דברַי להלן מובאות כעיון, ואין להשליך מהם מסקנות הלכתיות מעשיות אלא בנוסף להתייעצות עם מורה הוראה.


במסכת עירובין (ד:), נלמד מהפסוק "ורחץ את כל בשרו", שלא יהא דבר חוצץ בין גוף הטובל לבין המים. ר' יצחק מסביר שדבר העומד על בשר הטובל המחסה את רוב הגוף (או השער), וגם מקפידים רוב האנשים עליו (כדברי הרא"ש שבטלה דעתה אצל כל אדם, ולא כדברי הבית יוסף ברמב"ם שתלוי בדעתה), מהווה חציצה מדאוריתא. אבל אם זה רוב ולא מקפידים, או מיעוט וכן מקפידים, זה רק חציצה מדרבנן.

מובן שאם אשה טבלה בדרך אשר בו היה חציצה, מדאוריתא או מדרבנן, אנו נחייב אותה לחזור ולטבול שוב, אפילו עברו ימים, או אפילו היתה עם בעלה כבר. זה משום שבלי טבילה הלכתית, האשה עדיין בחזקת נדה. גם אם רק מדרבנן היה חציצה, אנו נחייב אותה טבילה שנית, כי מדין דרבנן, לא עלתה לה טבילה, ועדיין היא בחזקת איסור (אף אם זה רק איסור מטעם דין דרבנן). אם תחזור לטבול, תברך שנית, אף אם החציצה היה מדרבנן.

וכן פוסק השולחן ערוך ביורה דעה, קצ"ח:א. מוסיף הרמ"א שעדיין, לכתחילה, לא תטבול אפילו בדברים שלא חוצצים, גזרה אטו דברים החוצצים, וזה על פי השערי דורא. הט"ז אומר שאף לרמ"א, בדיעבד עלתה לה טבילה, כי לא גוזרים גזרה לגזרה בדיעבד. יוצא שבדבר שאין הקפדה, וזה מיעוט, לא צריכה לחזור ולטבול, אע"פ שלכתחילה לא תטבול כך.


אמרנו לעיל שרעיון "מקפדת" היא, להלכה, אף אם האשה הזאת שלפנינו לא מקפדת, אבל רוב נשים כן. המושג היא, "בטלה דעתה אצל כל אדם". אבל מו"ר הרב קדר זצ"ל כותב שאם זו רוצה דווקא את הדבר (למשל גידול ציפורניים), אז היא לא תהיה נכללת במושג, כיוון שיש לה דעת הפוך מנשים האחרות. לכן, אשה אשר דוקא רוצה משהו שרוב נשים לא רוצות, או אף מקפידות, יוצרת לעצמה מציאות חדשה, כי היא דווקא מקפידה - אבל מקפידה באופן חיובי ולא שלילי. מזה יוצא שאשה אחת, שטובלת בחציצה שמהווה מיעוט, ואינה מקפדת, רק לא משנה לה, ההלכה רואה את זה כאילו מקפידה, משום שרוב נשים היו מקפידות, ולכן בטלה דעתה אצל כל אדם, וצריכה לחזור מעיקר הדין, אפילו אחרי כמה ימים, כמו שהסברנו בחלק א'. אבל אשה אשר דוקא רוצה בדבר זה, לה, לא יהווה הדבר חציצה מדרבנן, ולא תצטרך לחזור ולטבול. ראוי לדבר על ליבה כדי שתנהג כמנהג נשי ישראל שנוטלות ציפרניהן, אבל אי אפשר למנוע ממנה לטבול עם הדבר הזה, אם היא לא רוצה להורידו.


לאור האמור לעיל, ננתח רמ"א בעייתי בסעיף כ. השולחן ערוך שם פוסק שציפורן גדולה מהווה חציצה על עצמה, כי היא מגוף האדם. רק נקרא חציצה אם יש בצק או צואה מתחת לציפורן. השערי דורא אומר שאם שכחה לגזוז ציפרניה, אינו חוצץ אם לא היה בהן לכלוך, אבל מכל מקום טוב להחמיר ותטבול פעם שנייה משום שאי אפשר שלא יהיה שם טיט או משהו.

סיבת השערי דורא להחזירה לטבילה היא פשוטה: זה מאוד קשה להיות בטוח שלא היה לכלוך. לכן, אם אפשר, נחמיר ותטבול שוב. כנראה לפי השערי דורא, זה שהיתה מתכוונת לגזוז ציפרניה ושכחה לא יוצר חציצה, כי חלק מהגוף לא מהווה חציצה אם הוא לא מדלדל (עיין סעיף כ"א). כל הענין הוא רק שקרוב הדבר שהיה שם חציצה כי קשה להיות בטוח במקום כה צר במקרה כזה, שמוכח מזה שהיתה כוונתה לגזוז ורק שכחה, שלא ניקתה יפה. לכן, טוב להחמיר לטבול שוב. אם רק שכחה, אזי בטח לא ניקתה תחת הציפורן כראוי (כמו אשה שדווקא רוצה את הצפרניים ארוכות היתה עושה) ולכן קרוב הדבר שהיה חציצה. גם אפשר לדייק מהשערי דורא שכאשר חוזרת לטבול שנית, הוא לא אומר שחייבת לגזוז הצפרניים קודם (כמו שהרמ"א רומז, ראה לקמן), אלא שתטבול שנית בפשטות. זאת אומרת, אחרי ששכחה, ושמה לב ששכחה, היא יכולה או לגזוז, או לנקות היטב - ואז אין בעייה של טיט. כל הבעייה לשערי דורא עם טיט תחת ציפורן ארוכה זה שאם כיוונה לגזוז ולא עשתה כן, אזי קרוב הדבר שלא ניקתה יפה, ולכן אולי היה טיט. יכולה לתקן פגם זה או ע"י או ליטול את הציפורן, או לנקות יפה, אם דוקא רוצה את הציפורן גדול. ואז, תטבול שוב מחומרא.

אבל לא כן הרמ"א. הרמ"א אומר שמאחר שכבר נהגו ליטול הצפרניים, אפילו אם צפורן אחת נשאר בידה וטבלה, צריכה טבילה אחרת, וכן נוהגים. הש"כ מביא שדעתו של הרמ"א לא מבוססת על השערי דורא (כי הרמ"א מצריך טבילה, והשערי דורא רק מזכיר לחומרא, וגם שמשמע מהרמ"א שצריכה קודם הטבילה השנייה לגזוז ציפורניה), אלא על הראב"ן, הפוסק נגד השולחן ערוך ודעימיה, ואומר שצפרניים ממש חוצצות כיון שעתידה ליטלן. הש"כ פוסק כרמ"א על פי הראב"ן, שאפילו יום המחרת, אפילו היתה עם בעלה צריכה לחזור לטבול אם יכולה. (הט"ז שלומד את הרמ"א כפוסק כשערי דורא רק מחמיר שתחזור אם יכולה אם לא היתה עם בעלה. ראוי גם לציין שהראב"ן שיטת יחיד, ולכן השו"ע לא פוסק כמותו.)

מה שקשה מכל מה שאמור בש"כ זה, זה שלפי הכללים שהגדרנו לעיל, אם רואים את הציפורן כחציצה, כמו שהש"כ קורא את הרמ"א, אז זה מיעוט המקפדת, אז למה לא נחייב את האשה לחזור ולטבול אף אם לא יכולה? דהיינו, היא לא יצאה ידי טבילה מדרבנן, אז שתחזור לטבול! (לט"ז, לא קשה, כי אפשר להבין שחוזרת לטבול רק כי היא לא בדקה טוב מתחת לציפורן, כדעת השערי דורא, ולכן רק צריכה לטבול שוב מטעם חומרא שלא עיינה בבית הסתרים, ואע"פ שבית הסתרים אם לא עיינה עלתה לה טבילה, כאן קצת יותר חמור כי קרוב הדבר שיש שם משהו חוצץ, עיין קצ"ט:ח-ט. לט"ז ולמרה"ם לובלין, לא תחזור לטבול שוב אם כבר היתה עם בעלה, אף אם עבר הלילה (מהר"ם).) אז למה לש"כ לא נחייב אותה לטבול?


להסבר, נראה לי שיש לחדש שהרמ"א כאן מחדש רובד נוסף לרבדים שהזכרנו עד עתה. עד עתה, אמרנו ש:
- אם זה חציצה דאורייתא, צריכה לחזור ולטבול. (פשוט)
- אם זה חציצה דרבנן, אף אם היא לא מקפדת, בטלה דעתה אצל כל אדם, וחוזרת. (פשוט)
- אם זה חציצה דרבנן, ורוב לא מקפידות, והיא כן, בטלה דעתה ולא חוזרת. (רשב"א)
- אם זה דבר שרוב לא מקפידות, אז לכתחילה לא תטבול, אבל מדיעבד יצאה, ולא חוזרת לטבול. (רמ"א, ט"ז)
- אם זה דבר שאע"פ שרוב מקפידות, יש לה הקפדה חיובית, אין אומרים בטלה דעתה. לא חוזרת, ואף לכתחילה אם היא מתעקשת. (יביע אומר ור' קדר)

עתה, נוסיף שלרמ"א, יש עוד רובד: אם זה מיעוט ורוב לא מקפידות מטעם נוי, אבל מטעם מנהגי טבילה, בנות ישראל קיבלו על עצמן לעשות כן, והיא מעוניינת להצטרף למנהגיהן, רק היה טעות ומשום איזה סיבה, זה לא עבד, בזה, צריכה לחזור, והש"כ מוסיף, אם אפשר. זה לא חיוב גמור, כי זה לא בקטגורית מקפידות מעיקר הדין, אבל זה מספיק כדי ליצור צורך לטבילה שנייה, אם אפשר. ואולי הרמ"א משווה את הרובד החדש הזה למקפדת ממש, ולכן לרמ"א, כל דבר שבנות ישראל יקבלו על עצמן ייהפך לצורך טבילה שנייה, אבל הש"כ מסביר שלדעתו לפחות, זה לא באותו רמה כמו חציצה מדרבנן, ולכן רק חוזרת לטבול אם אפשר. (קיימת גם האפשרות שהש"כ מסביר את הרמ"א ולא מוסיף.)

כמובן, רובד זה צריך להיות מוגדר, כי לא כל דבר שנשים מורידות יכול להיכנס ל"נהגו בנות ישראל". כנראה הרמ"א ממעיט את תוקף הרובד הזה ורק משתמש בו בציפורניים, היכא דהראב"ן עצמו אמר את זה. כמובן, הרובד הזה רק קיים אם קיימת התנאי של הראב"ן, שעתידה ליטל את הציפרניים. לכן אם לא היה לה כוונה זאת, דהיינו, יש לה כוונה נגדית לגדול ציפורניה, לא שייך דין זה של הרמ"א.

(אחר כתבי דברים אלו, עיינתי בכתבה של ר' אריה מנדלקורן, בו הוא מסביר את הסוגיה בעיון, ומסביר את הש"כ ברמ"א כך שזה פשוט חשש לציפורן גדולה שחוצצת לדעת ראב"ן. לפי זה, למה כתב הרמ"א "נהגו בנות ישראל"? כנראה לפי הרב מנדלקורן, עצם הנהגת בנות ישראל זה מוכיח שחששו לראב"ן, ולכן, כותב הרמ"א שנכון לנהוג כך. דהיינו, זה לא רובד חדש ברמ"א, אלא פשוט שבנות ישראל נוהגות כן בגלל שהראב"ן כתב כן, אז לכן, מסתמא זה עומד ליגזז, במיוחד אם שכחה, ולכן תחזור לטבול. אני לא שלם עם זה, כי יוצא א"כ שהמניע לבנות ישראל לנהוג כן הוא השיטה של הראב"ן. אבל זה לא כל כך מסתבר, כי הראב"ן רק אמר דבריו "כיוון שעתידה ליטלן", אבל אם לא עתידה ליטלן, לא אמר דבריו. אם כן, עצם זה שהראב"ן אומר שהציפורן מהווה חציצה אם עתידה ליטלן, לא יכול ליצור מצב שנחייב טבילה שנייה אם שכחה. צריך סיבה אחרת, כמו טעם מנהגי טבילה, כדי ליצור מנהג, עליו יחול דין הראב"ן. בין כה, לא יוצא נ"מ בינו לביני לדינא, כי אני מגדיר את הרובד החדש הזה דווקא בדבר שבו אמר הרמ"א, נהגו בנות ישראל - שזה אך ורק צפרניים.)

דברַי לעיל מובאות כעיון, ואין להשליך מהם מסקנות הלכתיות מעשיות אלא בנוסף להתייעצות עם מורה הוראה.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Emergence of Ethical Man


I finished reading Rabbi Soloveitchik’s Emergence of Ethical Man on Shavuot, and have just completed a reading of Dr Hazony’s essay on the book. I was surprised, as was he, at the tremendously innovative (or not, as RYBS might contend) attitude the book takes towards naturalism, and its seeming implicit rejection (or at least severe de-amplification) of the supernatural1. It is part of Dr Hazony's thesis that Emergence of Ethical Man presents an exclusively naturalistic view of mankind's place in the created world, one that eschews the need for the supernatural aspect. I will point out later why I disagree with this.

It is also worth noting that my deep-seated hesitations to taking this book as true to the opinions which Rabbi Soloveitchik held and taught were dispelled at least somewhat by Hazony’s well-placed treatment in the fourth section: he points out correctly that nothing in Rabbi Soloveitchik’s other published writings contradicts what he wrote here, and provides testimony from a close confidante who seems to support this as being the Rav’s view throughout life. Additionally, Halachik Mind seems to have been written before Emergence was, and it may well be as Hazony suggests that this work is a continuation of that one. In that case, perhaps RYBS had the time to revise and prepare for publication the manuscript that became Halachik Mind, but did not have the leisure before his death to give the same polish to Emergence. Furthermore, I have been told that Rabbi Soloveitchik specifically mentioned this manuscript amongst the ones he wanted his family and students to publish.


As I mentioned above, I would take issue with one crucial aspect of Hazony’s thesis. He reads the book as a total rejection of the supernatural. However, I do not believe that Rabbi Soloveitchik's book supports such an interpretation. Allow me to demonstrate where we diverge with a few specific examples.

1) Dr Hazony writes: “If the biblical concept of man offers immortality only through the merger of one’s living consciousness with the unending life of one’s people, what kind of salvation or redemption can man hope for? Clearly, the Bible does not offer the individual salvation through the redemption of one’s soul in a transcendental world. What then?"

It is not clear RYBS rejected the individual's salvation through redemption in a transcendental world. In fact, he seems to uphold both. He says (p 176) that, "The first concept of immortality as coined by Judaism is the continuation of a historical existence throughout the ages. It differs from transcendental immortality...yet metaphysical immortality is based upon historical immortality. Whoever does not identify himself with the historical ego and remains on the natural level cannot attain immortality. The first conquest of death takes place in the realm of history."

It seems that RYBS does not replace the concept of transcendental immortality with historical immortality. Rather, he sees the latter as a prerequisite for the former. It is not that the former is false or even unnecessary, but that historical immortality is first, and is the gate-way to immortality of the transcendental kind.

2) Hazony says: "What we see in the exodus from Egypt is not the failure of the natural world to function according to physical law, but rather the remarkable possibility that the natural world can, at times, act in accordance with the dictates of the moral law."

RYBS's quoted passage explicitly states an active role for God. He may be acting through nature, but He is acting nonetheless. The miracle is not simply a blind confluence of the natural and the ethical, or a happenstance elevation of nature to the ethical realm, but God acting through nature, and for the purpose of guiding providential history forward. In essence, RYBS seems to hold, as Maimonides does, that the miracle is not in the natural event, but in the timing of that event, which enables meta-historical results. As Hazony himself quotes from Emergence, "God would have been instrumental in a natural children’s plague…. [But o]n the night of Passover he appeared… as acting along historical patterns…. Miracle is simply a natural event which causes a historical metamorphosis. Whenever history is transfigured under the impact of [natural] cosmic dynamics, we encounter a miracle."

3) Dr Hazony indicates: "… naturalist ones such as those we find in Maimonides’ Guide and Soloveitchik’s Emergence of Ethical Man"

Though it is tempting to group RYBS's Emergence with Maimonides, so doing ignores the fact that, in the Code, Maimonides is explicit in his need for תחיית המתים and other supernatural occurrences. I only point this out because, according to Hazony's argument, RYBS does not contradict his naturalistic Emergence in his other works. However, Rambam does, and I think this would preclude the association of the two masters in this matter.

4) Finally, a completely naturalistic take on mankind seems to preclude events such as prophecy, and the giving and receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai. Indeed, Rabbi Soloveitchik does not deny that there exists such a paradigm. Even as he describes prophecy as a charismatic bond between giver and receiver, he does not deny that the essential, supernatural, element of this bond is the divine order: "That is why God tolerates no intrusion by society upon His befriended Abraham...The human being acting under divine orders is portrayed as a forsaken person whose only friend is God." (p 152)

With regard to revelatory experience, RYBS writes (p 187), "The voice coming forth from the burning bush and Moses' resistance symbolize the clash of the thesis with the antithesis. The final reformation of Moses embodies the synthesis of redemption." It is clear that this "coming forth" is a supernatural occurrence to which Man is susceptible, even in the naturalistically leaning Emergence. It is indeed mankind's highest step to be capable of immanent discourse with God. Further (p 184), Rabbi Soloveitchik describes Moses' role as "The angelic role - that is to say, the role of agent". An angel may simply be an agent of God, but Moses' task as such propelled him into the realm of the supernatural, with "divine power" delegated to him. This would also seem to be at odds with Dr Hazony's thesis.


Certainly, Emergence presents a unique and important viewpoint, and one that deserves more reflection and study. Hazony’s article zeros in on some of the more notable and revolutionary aspects of the work, and points out how monumental these points may be to modern-day Jewish philosophical ambitions. There is value in a commitment to a religious-philosophical system which is complete within the here-and-now, and which gives adequate meaning to life in the world which we experience, with less resort to the supernatural. However, it is important to note that Rabbi Soloveitchik does not deny the element of the supernatural; he merely downplays it. In this respect, he follows the lead of thinkers such as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (see Dayan Grunfeld's Introduction to Horeb, p 37), who held that the unique message of Judaism is not one of metaphysical speculation, but down-to-earth activity within the real world, and the raising of the natural to the status of the ethically commanded.

1 Certain parts of the book itself left me unconvinced. In particular, Rabbi Soloveitchik's read of the Gemara in Sanhedrin 90b (pp 176-177 in Emergence) struck me as ignoring the subject matter of that passage, ie, תחיית המתים, the revival of the dead, and treating the passage as discussing immortality. This explication is a misreading of the passage.

The Talmud states (Soncino translation): "How is resurrection derived from the Torah? — As it is written, And ye shall give thereof the Lord's heave offering to Aaron the priest. But would Aaron live forever; he did not even enter Palestine, that terumah should be given him? But it teaches that he would be resurrected, and Israel give him terumah. Thus resurrection is derived from the Torah."

The obvious meaning of this passage (and the similar one regarding Avraham) is that since the corporeal, actual Aharon was not alive at a time when he could receive terumah, the verse would only be fulfilled literally if a time comes when Aharon is revived, and lives in Israel.

This passage speaks of revival of the dead, not immortality. Rabbi Soloveitchik reads it metaphorically at best, understanding "resurrection is derived from the Torah" as "immortality is indicated in the Torah", and applies his understanding of historical immortality to it. He undoubtedly takes the passage away from its true meaning.

To be sure, Rabbi Soloveitchik's understanding of the verses may make more sense than the Talmud's, and be less forced. Indeed, he mentions it earlier in the book. I myself am drawn strongly to his explanation of the verses as discussing historical Aharon and historical Avraham, as opposed to the individuals. However, it is clear that this explanation is at odds with this Talmudic passage; the passage itself does not bear Rabbi Soloveitchik's interpretation.

However, whatever my concerns with this deconstruction and its removal of the plain sense of the Talmudic passage, it is clear that RYBS emphasizes immortality through historical identification, over transcendental life-after-death.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Anti-Pagan Motif in B'reshit

I am reading Moshe Greenberg's translation of Yehezkel Kaufmann's work, Religion of Israel. Part of Kaufmann's thesis is that the Jewish Bible contains within it a strong anti-pagan polemical element. I have found an excellent example of this motif in the aftermath of Avraham's battle against the four kings. I hope to be able to verify the following (someday, when I have more time), but in the meantime, I leave it as a strong possibility.

A curious literary dance occurs as Malki Zedek, the king of Shalem, priest to El Elyon, comes out to greet Avraham. The Torah emphasizes the god of Malki Zedek three times in three sequential verses, as El Elyon, translated roughly as god-most-high:

"Malki Zedek, king of Shalem, brought bread and wine (he was priest of El Elyon); He blessed him and said, 'Blessed be Avram by El Elyon, founder of heaven and earth; and blessed is El Elyon, who delivered your enemies into your hands,' and offered a tithe of everything." (Gen. 14:18-20)

The Torah first describes the king as priest to El Elyon, and twice, the king himself blesses Avraham in El Elyon's name. Now, the midrash identifies Shalem with Jerusalem, and Malki Zedek with Shem, son of Noah. Additionally, El Elyon is identified as an appelation for God, the God of the Bible. 'Shalem' is actually present in the name ירושלם, Yeru-shalem, and, as this is the most imporant city-state in Canaan, the association seems to work well.

However, the matching of El Elyon with the Jewish conception of God seems less convincing. For, one short verse later, Avram responds: "'I raise my hand to God [the tetragrammaton], El Elyon, founder of heaven and earth...'" If it were true that Malki Zedek's 'El Elyon' refers to the same God as that of Avraham, what need would Avraham find in repeating verbatim, in the same conversation, the preamble of Malki Zedek? Avraham seems to be correcting a mistake; he seems to be making a point pregnant with theological significance.

'El', while used as a general name for any god in Semitic languages, was also the proper name for the chief god of the Canaanite pantheon (citation). With this fact in mind, it becomes quite possible that this primary god would be the special representative and protector of the most important city-state of Canaan. Thus Malki Zedek, as king of Shalem, would become closely associated with El Elyon (literally, El, the most high god), as high priest of El Elyon's cult. In line with Malki Zedek's statment, El was seen as the god who fashioned heaven and earth. (In general, pagan mythologies view the world as being created by a god who fashions it out of one of various primordial materials (depending on the specific myth). Paganism is essentially a monistic world-view in which both gods and mankind function under an overarching backdrop of a spiritual-mystical rule-set which functions autonomously within matter, separate from gods and man. Kaufmann defines paganism as, "...the idea that there is no supreme divine will that governs all. The rule of the gods is ultimately grounded on the mysterious forces that inhere in matter, in a realm which lies outside them." (Religion of Israel p 32) The gods are controlled by fate and magic, operating directly upon the fabric of the universe, which is outside the realm of the gods. Monotheism breaks with this view by positing the Creator as one who functions completely independently and is in total control of everything.)

If we accept the foregoing, it becomes evident that Malki Zedek (whom we will no longer identify with Shem, obviously), after seeing the victory of Avraham, comes as high priest of the most high god of the land, to praise his god and, through him, Avraham. He declares that the victory stemmed from the aid and divine influence of El Elyon, a proper noun, literally the name of his patron high god.

Avraham immediately understands Malki Zedek's speech as praise for the pagan cult of El Elyon. Avraham recognizes the friendliness and brotherhood extended by Malki Zedek, but also the implicit and explicit invocation of the pagan dogma. He transforms this moment into yet another chance to gain a victory in his war against idolatry and his evangelism of monotheism in the form of the one God. Immediately notable in Avraham's speech is that he qualifies the name of the deity, pre-pending to it the name of the Abrahamic God. He says, 'I swear not by the proper noun, not by the god named 'El Elyon', but rather by the tetragrammaton, the God who is the creator of everything, and the only God. I use the term 'El Elyon' as an adjectival phrase, describing the only God - the God who is highest over everything, and who is (in the words of Kaufmann) subject to no powers that transcend him.'

Avraham's critique is subtle, precise and appealing. In just a few words, it sums up an entire world-view, and at the same time, provides an eloquent example of the general anti-idolatry motif in the book of B'reshit.

However, this lesson is not a simple one. Even the father of monotheism at times struggles with it, so steeped is the world around him in paganism. For in the very next chapter, 15, Avraham learns from God himself the lesson of God's complete control over the fabric of the universe.

Before discussing the content of chapter 15, it is important to recognize by what right we relate two separate chapters, divided by אחר הדברים האלה, ostensibly a division and mark of a new topic. Upon closer examination, however, the end of chapter 14 and the beginning of chapter 15 are linked linguistically by the use of the Hebrew root מ.ג.נ. Malki Zedek uses this root in 14:20 in the piel form when he declares that El Elyon 'delivered - מיגן' Avraham's enemies into his hands. In 15:1, God uses it in the qal form to assure Avraham that God 'protects - מגן' over Avraham. This root appears only one other time in all of the Torah, in D'varim. Its use in such close proximity in our chapters, four short verses apart, with only the vowelization differentiating the two divergent meanings, is undoubtedly meant to link the two chapters and events in a reader's mind. (This is a literary technique used by the Torah to couple divided narratives, as we discussed here.)

While bemoaning his childlessness, Avraham says to God, "What can you give me? I go childless..." (v 2). It seems almost as if Avraham is resigned to a world in which he is doomed to be barren. Avraham describes his lack of progeny as a passive fate. It is not necessarily God who has decided that he be without, but perhaps the fateful realm above the pagan deities. In the next verse, Avraham recants somewhat, evidently remembering his monotheism, saying, "to me, You have not given seed." Avraham admits that God is the source of the curse. However, he still does not make a request that God change his fate; he still accepts as a fact that he will not have children. Perhaps he does not yet recognize that God can change this. His despair places Avraham in a depressed, myopic state, and these verses exude gloom.

They dynamic, active and all-powerful God shakes Avraham out of his melancholy. In verse 5, "God took him outside, and said, 'look to the sky and count the stars!'". God calls Avraham to an active role, and in doing so, dispels the notion of blind fate actively running things against a passive deity or man. Avraham's depression and belief in fate is tied by the midrash to paganism: God castigates Avraham: "צא מאצגננותך - Leave your astrological divinations!" Perhaps through your pagan tools to divine your fate, you see that you are destined to be without children. However, I am God, in total control of the world, and I promise you children as numerous as the stars of the heaven!

Thus the beginning of chapter 15 acts as a fitting end to the story in chapter 14. Connected by a rare Hebrew root, the stories beg to be read together. And what is the message of chapter 15? That even Avraham, he who reached monotheism on the strength of his intellectual powers alone, still struggles with the vestiges of the pagan creed on an emotional level. It takes God to arouse him out of his attempts to divine the future through magic and omens. It takes an actual experience, an actual encounter with God, to cleanse the pinnacle of mankind of traces of idolatry. Perhaps even if we accept R' Saadia Gaon's opinion that the truth can be reached by reason alone, we are left with the emotional dimension of man that can only be set completely straight by revelation.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Against a Submissive Attitude in Torah Learning

Since a post at Cross-Currents, extolling the idea that the rishonim were on a higher plane than we are, spiritually and scholastically, and that anyone who does not submit to them, but dares to imply that we have the capacity to decide between them or judge their opinions, is no longer engaged in תלמוד תורה. This precipitated a heated debate, mostly moderated. Ultimately, a misreading, by the editor, of the original points of the author led me to realize that perhaps the editor realizes the fact that we may and should disagree when necessary with rishonim and acharonim, and that although the original poster held one idea, the moderating editor held one much more inline with the sources, and simply wanted to clarify that disagreement should be done with respec?t (something I believe most ideas are entitled to).

However, it is probably useful to have localized some germane quotes for future reference. The following are some quotes by Torah giants indicating that disagreement and even rejection of earlier sources is desirable in Torah discourse.

Rav Kook (Orot Hakodesh pp. 537,547):

“תורת ההתפתחות, ההולכת וכובשת את העולם כעת, היא מתאמת לרזי עולם של הקבלה, יותר מכל התורות הפילוסופיות האחרות…אנו מוצאים בו את העניו האלקי מואר בבהירות מוחלטת…וזאת היא עליתה הכללית, ששום פרט לא ישאר חוצה, שום ניצוץ לא יאבד מהאגודה, הכל מתוקן לסעודה.”

And then, in 2:24 (pg 647): “כל אותן ההרצאות והדרכים המביאים לדרכי מינות הם בעצמם ביסודם מביאים, כשמחפסים את מקורם, לעומק אמונה יותר עליונה, ויותר מאירה ומחיה, מאותה ההבנה הפשוטה שהאירה לפני התגלות הפרץ…ובזה הגודל האלקי מתפאר, וכל המגמות האמוניות מתאשרות ביותר, ומקום האמונה, הבטחון, והעבודה האלקית מתרחב…ויש בשכלולו של האדם ארת עצמו ואת עולמו גם כן כדי להעלות מדרגות, הרי הוא עושה בזה ממש את רצון קונו. והמעלה הרוחנית המתעלה מעל כל מתראה היא ליותר מרכזית ביסוד ההויה…וכל ערכי המוסר מתעלים בעילוי אלקי…”

Rav Kook (Shemona Kevatzim 3:8):

"ועם זה לא נעלמה ממנו גדולתם של הראשונים, ואפיסתנו לעומתם, ואנו אומרים, אם הראשונים כמלאכים אנו כבני אדם. אבל האם על מלאכים עצמם, עם כל הודאתנו בתקפם וחוסן קדושתם, גדלם ואימתם, “וגובה להם ויראה להם”, וכי עליהם עצמם אין אנו באים בכח הסוד, והאגדה בכלל, להתגדר ולומר, שמה שלא יוכלו להגיע אליו עם כל כבודם, אנו מגיעים אליו עם כל שפלותנו? החשבונות שונים הם. יש לנו עילוי של הליכה ושל בחירה, של התקבצות הדרגות השונות בחטיבה אחת, לגבי מעמד של עמידה, של הכרח, של טפוסיות מיוחדה למקצוע אחד, שאנו מרשמים את המלאכים…. כמו כן בחשבונות אחרים לא יעכבונו ראשונים. אם אנו באים למגמה, שמסיבות נמנעה מהם, בין שהיא שכלית בין שהיא מוסרית, אמונית או לאומית, וכבודם וגדלם, ומיעוט ערכנו וקטננו, במקומו מונח, אבל לא נפסוק משום כך מכל שאיפת עליה שרוחנו הומה אליה, ושיד הזמן מורה אותנו שהננו יכולים לתופסה. שם ד’ אנו קוראים בהתגלות החיים והרוח שבכל דור ודור, ופגם הכתוב כבודו של צדיק בקבר מפני כבודו של צדיק חי…"

"אבל על כל פנים החשבון מתמצה, שההשתפלות שלנו לעומתם לא תבטלנו משאיפות רוממות ערך, ודליגה על גביהם, נגד האלילות הרוחנית, שהרבתה לה אלילים מכל דרי מעלה. ואנו הננו עולים בגאותנו ואומרים, מי לי בשמים. רק האמת המולטה, רק הגודל לבדו, רק המקוריות בעצמה, רק עז אלהים, דורשים אנו ונדרוש. כמו כן בחשבונות אחרים לא יעכבונו ראשונים. אם אנו באים למגמה, שמסיבות נמנעה מהם, בין שהיא שכלית בין שהיא מוסרית, אמונית או לאומית, וכבודם וגדלם, ומיעוט ערכנו וקטננו, במקומו מונח, אבל לא נפסוק משום כך מכל שאיפת עליה שרוחנו הומה אליה, ושיד הזמן מורה אותנו שהננו יכולים לתופסה …"

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (Epistle 34):

"זאת היא תפיסת הגאון החסיד על ספר ליקוטי אמרים ודומיו, אשר מפורש בהם פי’ ממלא כל עלמין ולית אתר פנוי מניה כפשוטו ממש, ובעיני כבודו היא אפיקורסות גמורה לאמר שהוא ית’ נמצא ממש בדברים שפלים ותחתונים ממש

הנה עיקר העלאת מ”ן זה של העלאת נצוצין לא נזכר אלא בקבלת האר”י ז”ל בכללה, ולא במקובלים שלפניו וגם לא בזוהר הק’ בפירוש. וידוע לנו בבירור גמור שהגאון החסיד ז”ל, אינו מאמין בקבלת האר”י ז”ל בכללה, ושהיא כולה מפי אליהו ז”ל."

Ramban (Introduction to Rambam's Sefer Hamitzvot):

" לראשונים תלמיד, לקיים דבריהם ולהעמיד, לעשות אותם לצוארי רביד ועל ידי צמיד, לא אהיה להם חמור נושא ספרים תמיד. אבחר דרכם ואדע ערכם. אך באשר לא יכילו רעיוני אדון לפניהם בקרקע אשפוט למראה עיני. ובהלכה ברורה לא אשא פנים בתורה. כי י"י יתן חכמה בכל הזמנים ובכל הימים. לא ימנע טוב להולכים בתמים"

Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits (Towards A Renewed Rabbinic Leadership):

"We may go still further and say that Jewish knowledge can even be deepened today, firstly through our ability to point out previously unseen significance in Jewish conceptions by contrasting them with related ideas in non-Jewish thought; and secondly by applying to the study of the traditional literature of Judaism modern methods of research."

(I add the following in a paranthetical comment, since it is a possible explanation of the Kuzari's words, which he does not make perfectly explicit. In the Kuzari (5:2), Rabbi Yehuda Halevi states:

"לא אנהג על דרך הקראים, אשר עלו אל החכמה האלקית מבלי מדרגה"

I believe his point here is that the Karaites treated the Torah as given once, and completely static, unchanging. They rejected the notion of an oral Law, תורה שבעל פה, repudiating the very concept of a Divine Law that is revealed through the creative power of Rabbinic authority, in evolutionary stages. Rabbinic Judaism holds differently from the Karaites. Rabbi Berkovits makes this point in Not in Heaven (p 139), stating:

"In essence, R Abraham [son of Rambam] was warning against a new form of Karaism, against becoming Karaites of the written-down Oral Torah.")

Rav Soloveitchik (Emergence of Ethical Man, p. 6):

"It is certain that fathers of the Church and also the Jewish medieval scholars believed that the Bible preached this doctrine. medieval and even modern Jewish moralists have almost canonized this viewpoint and attributed to it apodictic validity. Yet the consensus of many, however great and distinguished, does not prove the truth or falseness of a particular belief. I have always felt that due to some erroneous conception, we have actually misunderstood the Judaic anthropology and read into the Biblical texts ideas which stem from an alien source. This feeling becomes more pronounced when we try to read the Bible not as an isolated literary text but as a manifestation of a grand tradition rooted in the very essence of our God-consciousness that transcends the bounds of the standardized and fixed text and fans out into every aspect of our existential experience. The sooner Biblical texts are placed in their proper setting - namely, the Oral tradition with it's almost endless religious awareness - te clearer and more certain I am that Judaism does not accent unreservedly the theory of man's isolationism and separatism within the natural order of things."

ביאור הגר"א לספר משלי ו:ג

אם אין אני לי מי לי...כלומר שאם אין אני אחשוב בשבילי, מי יחשוב בשבילי?

The Gra, as quoted by his student R' Chaim in חוט המשולש, סימן י"א:

שלא לישא פנים בהוראה אף להכרעת רבותינו בעלי השולחן ערוך...בתורה דכתיב בה אמת, בלתי אל האמת עינינו.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin in רוח החיים, א:ד:

הלימוד נקרא מלחמה...ואסור לו לתלמיד לקבל דברי רבו כשיש לו קושיות עליהם, ולפעמים יהיה האמת עם התלמיד...כי מלחמת מצווה היא...ולא לישא פני איש, רק לאהוב את האמת.