Pesach, Matzah, Maror

AishDas’s motto is lifted from the motto of HaOlim, founded by Dr. Nathan Birnbaum which existed from the 1910s through the 1930s, ending with the decimation of European Jewry.
Da’as, Rachamim, Tif’eres” — Knowledge of G-d coming from an intimate relationship with Him, mercy toward others, and harmony of mind and emotion. The idea is an understanding of the three pillars upon which the world stands, described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2).

Torah is the study of Torah. It is the shaping of the mind and personality. In the ideal, the Torah one learned is inseparable from the rest of his thinking; so that even his choice of an end table for his living room is affected by his Torah self. The Alter of Slabodka once heard a student boast about having completed all of gemara. His retort, “It’s not how many times you go through sha”s, it’s how many times sha”s goes through you!” Tif’eres.

Avodah is service of G-d. It’s having a relationship with Him. Seeking His Will, and to express that Will in the world. The same biblical term for knowledge is used for marital intimacy. Da’as.

Gemillus Chasadim, supporting others through kindness and generosity, can not only be an activity. It must flow from empathy, from maternal-like care for another. Rachamim.

Shim’on haTzadiq is teaching us that the world stands on three things because all human activity centers around how he acts in three relationships: with G-d, with other people, and internally with himself. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

Therefore, the g-dly Tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.

After that he says “on avodah”…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him….

With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.

You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus
chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

Rabban Gamliel requires we mention and explain three things in order to fulfill the mitzvah of the seder: Pesach, Matzah, uMaror.

Pesach is described as “zevach pesach hu — it is a praise-offering of pesach.” There is no avodah clearer than that of the beis hamiqdash, and the pesach is in praise of our Creator, an expression of our awareness of His Grandeur. Da’as.

Rabban Gamliel says that matzah as something we eat because “lo hispiq betziqam — there wasn’t sufficient time for their dough to rise”. A lesson in zerizus: haste, alacrity and zeal. Matzah is also a lesson in anavah, modesty, not being “puffed up” like normal bread. It is “lecham oni — the bread of affliction”. And last, in its guide as “lechem oni, she’onim alav devarim harbei — ‘oni‘ because we answer ‘onim’ over it many things”, it teaches us to find these ideals in learning Torah. The perfection of one’s internal self. Tif’eres.

Last, we each maror because “vayimararu es chayeihem — they embittered their lives”. Maror is sharing the pain of another. Rachamim.

And so, Rabban Gamliel is not only requiring that we relate the mitzvos of the evening to the telling of the story of the exodus, but he is making that retelling an all-encompassing experience. The exodus gave us a mission to support the world on all three pillars, torah, avodah and gemillus chassadim.

But there is one difference… Pesach, matzah, maror are in a different order - avodah (relating to G-d), Torah (self-refinement), then Gemilus Chassadim (in how we relate to others). Describing a flow downward.

First we connect to the Source of all good, by eating the qorban Pesach which shows our trust in Him and an inviation to “eat off His table”, so to speak. Then we eliminate all of our selfishness, our ulterior motives and other goals that could get in the way, as we can find modeled in our matzah. We make ourselves into conduits of that good to His Creatures. And finally we feel the pain of others in the taste of our maror and share what we received from G-d to help them through their suffering.

And more than that, we find that it’s maror that gets dipped in charoses.  Charoses poses a paradox. On the one hand, the Rambam writes, “The charoses is amitzvah from the Sofrim, as a commemoration of the mortar that they worked in in Egypt.” (Laws of Chaomeitz and Matzah 7:11). Charoses represents mortar, slavery.

On the other hand, contemporary recipes for charoses are to make it sweet. Sephardic, Ashkenazic and Yemenite recipes have few ingredients in common, yet they all use a sweet mixture (see also Pesachim 115b, which warns against losing the bitterness of the maror under the sweetness of the charoses).

(The sweetness of charoses is discussed at more length in this earlier post.)

Charoses doesn’t represent the bitter servitude of Par’oh, but the sweet, voluntary yoke of heaven. We eat is with maror, which does represent the bitter slavery, and give it the appearance of that servitude to bring to mind the contrast. Charoses, like being a “servant of the Holy One” has a surface layer, an appearance of the mortar of slavery. But experientially, it’s very different. Or, as King David wrote, “טַֽעֲמ֣וּ וּ֭רְאוּ כִּי־ט֣וֹב יְהוָ֑ה, אַֽשְׁרֵ֥י הַ֝גֶּ֗בֶר יֶֽחֱסֶה־בּֽוֹ׃ — Taste and see that the Hashem is good; happy is the man who takes refuge in Him. ” (Tehillim 35:9, said in Shabbos and holiday Shacharis)

Maror gets charoses because the ultimate purpose of life is not our self-refinement or our cleaving to the Divine, but our utilizing them to aid those in need. In fact, neither of these can be defined without knowing what a person’s function is, and therefore how we measure refinement, and what it is G-d does for creation that we can contribute to ourselves. It is through giving G-d’s Good to others that we cleave to Him, reflect His Perfection, and achieve our own.

Why the Middle Matzah?

So, I was asked in the middle of the second seder: Why do we break the middle matzah for Yachatz? Is there some significance to it being the middle matzah?

Here was my off-the-cuff answer, I wonder if it has any truth:

This thought leverages ideas I developed in two earlier posts Bilvavi part I, and part II. Then, I was exploring the question why so much of the Torah describes the Mishkan, which existed for such a short part of Jewish History. To summarize what I wrote then:

There are three aspects of the soul that comprise a person’s individuality: nefeshruach and neshamah. These ideas are developed in numerous ways, the following is that of the Vilna Gaon in his “Peirush al Kama Agados”, and leverages the Maharal’s understanding of the three pillars R’ Shimon haTzadiq identifies in Avos 1:2.

Nefesh: This is man’s connection to the physical world. Through it, we share that world with other people, and work together to address our needs. It is thus holds both the drive for physical comfort and pleasure as well as the ability to relate to other people.

Neshamah: A person’s presence in heaven, his connection to a higher calling, sanctity, and the A-lmighty Himself. If that calling is harnessed to serve some baser instinct, one is left with idolatry. On the other hand, as we say upon waking up in the morning, “My G-d, the neshamah which you placed within me is pure” — the neshamah itself is an image of the Divine, never sullied.

Ruach: People carry entire worlds in the space between their ears. In there they have models of what is going on outside of them, they plan and imagine outcomes and concepts. The ru’ach is the will that chooses between the conflicting callings and therefore also the egotism that is driven to see that desire be done.

Three aspects, each living in a different world, and enabling a different kind of relationship.

And similarly, the gemara in Yuma 72a (and explained by Rashi ad loc) identifies three crowns given at Sinai. Each is a perfection of one of these relationships, and each is represented by one of the crowned utensils in the Mishkan: The shulchan, the table with its showbread, sport the crown of kingship, organizing the interpersonal and showing the communal need to provide for everyone. The crown of Torah is “worn” by the aron, containing the luchos and with the manuscript of the Torah between its carrying rods. The golden mizbeich, upon which the incense was burned to provide its intangible offering had the crown of priesthood, of connection with the Divine.

The Mishkan and Beis haMiqdosh had three more, uncrowned, vessels. Outside was the kiyor (washing vessel), which was used to wash the dirt of this world off the kohein’s feet. Next to it, also outside the sanctuary building was  the larger Brass Mizbei’ach where most of the Avodah was performed. The menorah, like the aron, represents wisdom. “For a mitzvah is a lamp, and the Torah its light.” (More detail in the posts specifically on this topic.) The uncrowned utensils represents navigating the challenges and opportunities of the three domains, while the crowned ones represent the ideal relationship each domain enables.

Notice that in both sets of three, the symbol of the nefesh is placed in a holier location than the other two. The shulchan and the golden mizbeiach are in the outer room, the aron — in the Holy of Holies. The kiyor and large mizbeiach are outdoors, the menorah — inside. Even though the neshamah is our presence in heaven, our spirituality, it is the ruach where our holiness truly resides. The neshamah is a recipient of holiness; the ruach, the will and power to consciously decide, which creates holiness in true imitation of G-d.

Perhaps we can say something similar in understanding the three matzvos. In is the ruach, torn between our spiritual and animal callings which is broken. Perhaps we can view the crack where the middle matzah is broken is where the two collide; Rav Dessler’s “battlefront” between conflicting desires which force the need for conscious deliberated. This is where free will truly resides. Hopefully, a person moves this front such that more and more good is beyond it, requiring no struggle to be performed.

And so we break the matzah into two uneven pieces, and use the bigger one for the afiqoman. Because our service should be with the middle matzah, that which makes us in the “image of the Divine”, and with the purest of our intentions, which we hope is the larger “half” of our selves.

Units of Measure

Pesach-time it’s common for people to start discussing how much matzah and wine one is obligated to eat, so why should I be any different?

What are we trying to compute?

The definition of eating in numerous contexts requires a minimum quantity of a kezayis (like [the volume of] an olive [including the pit]). This measure, like most halachic measures (shiurim), is halakhah leMoshe miSinai. Usually, that’s literal — “a law [given] to Moshe from Sinai”. Sometimes it’s more idiomatic, meaning more like “[as certain as] a law…”

Rav Chaim Volozhiner famously holds that the term is prescriptive — a kezayis is defined by the size of an olive as they are in your place and time. Which implies that there is something particular about olives that define what it means to eat.  Well, it’s one thing to say G-d gave us, or Chazal decided, a shiur that happens to be the volume of a typical Second Temple era olive. But if it’s actually tied to the drift in olives sizes, so that the point is related to the olive… In a society where olives are a staple, I could see saying that whatever your local olive is, that’s what you general consider “akhilah“. But why would this still hold in RCV’s 18th (or early 19th) cent Volozhin? So I’m stymied by the idea.

But it would help explain what most people remember as common practice, of taking far less matzah than the range of theoretically derived kezeisim. Unfortunately, there is another explanation…. In the 18th century, matzos got thinner. This is around when the Ashkneazi cracker-style matzah began. We decided it wasn’t safe to exclude kneading time from the 18 minutes — what if the person gets tired and pauses? So, the whole process got rushed, and we moved to a thinner, more quickly baked matzah. Then the matzah machine was introduced, even more thinning the matzah. Some point along the way, all that was left was crust — a cracker. But in any case, the eye gets fooled by this. Two very thin matzos will register to your eye as as “thin sheets”, but one could be twice as thick as the other, and it would a sheet of only half the area to make of the volume of a kezayis. So, it could be the matzos got thinner faster than the estimate of the kezayis kept up with it.

Another reason why even the Chazon Ish’s large kezeisim could be possible is that Israeli fruit shrank in size (and declined in quality) drastically in the late tannaitic era. Y-mi Pei’ah 7:3 33a would place it around the time of the Hadrianic persecutions. (Note this is not about their mythic past, nor all that different than Palestinian experience trying to farm the same land as Gush Katif did. It may be exaggerated, but it’s unlikely to simply be medrashic metaphor.) The kezayis was decided before the Temple was destroyed, and well before Hadrian harasha. With that in mind, even the CI’s shiurim are possible. Olive pits found at Masada or Betar wouldn’t reflect the huge olives we had at the time we started talking about kezayis.

The positions cited at the two ends of the normally discussed range of values for shiurim are products of very different approaches. The Chazon Ish, following the Noda biYhudah’s general approach, deals with the question in purely theoretical terms. If they reach empirically unrealistic conclusions, they quickly invoke the notion that breeding or nutrition changed the size of the average forearm, or the egg, or the olive. R’ Chaim Naeh also invokes theory, but his shiurim are typical values used in practice in the communities of Jerusalem in his day. This is similar to a difference of approach often pointed out between the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan. The Mishnah Berurah more often ends up in more stringent rulings because he considers all positions equally. The Arukh haShulchan, however, reads more as an explanation of the theoretical underpinnings of the rulings accepted in Lithuania in his day (with a few exceptions where the Arukh haShulchan disagreed with accepted practice).

Personally, I do not see any reason why today’s kezayis must necessarily be the same as chazal’s was, even if kezayis was descriptive of a particular set volume (and unlike RCV). I presume halakhah is constitutional; ie what those with legal authority interpret it to be. It is a process, it is supposed to evolve. (In an extreme case: Ezra and his court required tubes running into the altar to receive libations, meaning that in their era, Shelomo’s altar woudn’t have been kosher!) So perhaps a kezayis is what the theoreticians and common practice say is a kezayis, regardless of whether the historical measure was recaptured.

A New Way to Compute a Historical KeZayis

All that aside, here’s my own suggestion for how to compute a historical kezayis.

On one of the sides of the presumed Even Shesiyah, the rock under the Dome of the Rock, there are two holes 43.7 cm apart, and there is a niche in it that is 131 cm = 3 x 43.7 cm long. Two slabs of rock used in the eastern wall are 2.6 m long, six times 43.3 cm. And these, I am told, are only a few of many many examples. The repeated use of multiples of a particular unit suggests that it’s a standard unit of measure. Or, that an ammah is 43.5 cm +/- 2 mm.

At the end of Hizqiyahu’s Water tunnel, dug during the first Beis haMiqdah, is a plaque by the diggers telling us of the moment diggers from both ends met, “and the water flowed from the source to the pool for 1,200 ammos“. The actual length of the tunnel was given various values by archeologists, but with more recent tools (Gitt 2001), it was measured as 525m. Which comes to 1,207 of our even-shesiyah-amos long. (Well within rounding and measuring error. An amazingly on-target number, actually. Even the longest estimate I found, 537.6 m length given in 1870, would be within rounding to the nearest hundred.)

But, for much of the construction of the Second Temple, the ammah was overestimated by 1/2 etzba (see Pesachim 86a), ie by 25/24, as the workmen wanted to err on the side that would avoid accidentally short-changing the sacred (me’ilah). And in a small underground room under the north east corner of the current platform, the recurring unit of measure is 42.8 cm. If it weren’t for the Water Tunnel, it might have implied that the 43.5 cm length was the overestimate, not the ammah. As it is, I have no explanation. (Perhaps it was from a different era, with a different halachic ammah? Perhaps it’s because the rationale about me’ilah only applies to measures of construction material, and not the foundation on the rock?) Despite this problem, the convergence of both archeological indications of the ammah seems compelling to me.

Well, there is a way to convert from an ammah to the volume measures used in the seder.

An etzba is 1/24 ammah, and a revi’is, the measure of wine one’s cup must hold (and one must drink most of the cup), is 2 x 2 x 2.7 etzba’os, or 10.8 cubic etzba’os. So, we get an etzba is 1.81 cm, and a revi’is would be 64.3 cc (= 2.17 floz).

A kebeitzah is 2/3 of a revi’is, and a kezayis is either 1/2 or 1/3 of a kebeizah. So, a kezayis would come to either 14.2cc or 21.4 cc (.483 fl oz or 0.725 fl oz), depending on that dispute. Since matzah is deOraisa, it is customary to use the larger measure. Which you use for maror, which is rabbinic if there is no Pesach offering, is a matter for discussion with your rabbi.

Above I argued that perhaps the commonly cited range of values should be more halachically binding than historically determined ones. To give you an idea of where the values I just suggest sit in comparison to that range:

ComputedRambamR Chaim NaehR Moshe FeinsteinChazon Ish
Ammah43.5 cm45.6 cm48.0 cm54.0 cm57.6 cm
Revi’is64.3 cc75 cc86.4 cc130.6 cc149.3 cc
Kezayis21.4 cc< 15 cc25.6 cc43.5 ml49.8 cc

So, while the Temple Mount based numbers are slightly lower than accepted range, they are not unrealistically so.

R’ Mordechai Willig reports that matzah weighs half of water, so that 21.4cc would weight 10.7 gm. This is much like the Sepharadi practice of using weight as a more accurate proxy for kezayis than guessing at volume of a thin sheet, but Sepharadim take the very conservative estimate of assuming matzah weighs as much by volume as water (1 cc weighs 1gm), when experimentally we find it’s about half.

I do not feel comfortable recommending anyone follow these numbers, though. It needs far more review by people who understand the archeology and posqim who understand the halakhah better than I do.

Why give?

If we look in the Torah at verses that describe our obligations to give or loan to others, it is common for them to conclude with “I am your G-d”. For example:

וְכַרְמְךָ לֹא תְעוֹלֵל, וּפֶרֶט כַּרְמְךָ לֹא תְלַקֵּט; לֶעָנִי וְלַגֵּר תַּעֲזֹב אֹתָם; אֲנִי ה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם.

Do not totally glean your vineyard, and the fallen [fruit] from your vineyard do not gather up, they should be left for the poor and the stranger, I am Hashem your G-d. (19:10)

Similarly the pasuq whose conclusion Rabbi Aqiva considers the Torah’s most fundamental rule

לֹא תִקֹּם וְלֹא תִטֹּר אֶת בְּנֵי עַמֶּךָ, וְאָהַבְתָּ לְרֵעֲךָ כָּמוֹךָ, אֲנִי ה

Do not take revenge and to not bear a grudge to the people of your nation, and you shall love your friend as yourself, I am Hashem. (v. 18)


מִפְּנֵי שֵׂיבָה תָּקוּם, וְהָדַרְתָּ פְּנֵי זָקֵן; וְיָרֵאתָ מֵּאֱ-לֹהֶיךָ, אֲנִי ה.

Rise before the elderly and honor the face of an old man, and you shall feel awe/fear from your G-d, I am Hashem. (v. 32)


כְּאֶזְרָח מִכֶּם יִהְיֶה לָכֶם הַגֵּר הַגָּר אִתְּכֶם וְאָהַבְתָּ לוֹ כָּמוֹךָ, כִּי גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם: אֲנִי, ה אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם.

Like a native from among you shall be the stranger who lives among you and you shall love him like yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d. (v. 34)


וְלֹא תוֹנוּ אִישׁ אֶת-עֲמִיתוֹ, וְיָרֵאתָ מֵאֱ-לֹהֶיךָ:  כִּי אֲנִי ה, אֱ-לֹהֵיכֶם

Do not cheat one another, and you should have awe/fear of your G-d, for I am Hashem your G-d. (25:17)

A naive read might be that we are being asked to give to others specifically because Hashem is commanding us to. However, the primary value, Rabbi Aqiva tells us, is “ve’havta lerei’akha kamokha – loving our neighbor as yourself.” And the Alter of Slabodka taught from this pasuq that just as we love ourselves naturally, not because it’s a mitzvah, so to our love and its expression to others should not be from an attitude of “because G-d said so”. As I wrote in the past, Rav Wolbe [Alei Shur vol II pg 152] quotes the Alter of Slabodka’s treatment of this question:

“Ve’ahavta lereiakha komakha — and you shall love your peers like yourself.” That you should love your peer the way you love yourself. You do not love yourself because it is a mitzvah, rather, a plain love. And that is how you should love your peer.

To which Rav Wolbe notes, “This approach is entirely alien to frumkeit.” The frum person is the one who makes sure to have Shabbos guests each week, but whose guests end up feeling much like his tefillin — an object with which he did a mitzvah. A person acting out of frumkeit doesn’t love to love, he loves in order to be a holier person. And ironically, he thereby fails — because he never develops that Image of the Holy One he was created to become. The person who acts from self-interest, even from the interest of ascending closer to G-d, will not reach Him.

The first word in the commandment to loan to another Jew in need without interest is picked up by numerous commentators:

אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה אֶת עַמִּי, אֶת הֶעָנִי עִמָּךְ, לֹא תִהְיֶה לוֹ כְּנֹשֶׁה, לֹא תְשִׂימוּן עָלָיו נֶשֶׁךְ.

If you lend money with My nation, with the poor who are with you, do not act like a creditor to him, do not place interest upon him. (Shemos 22:24)

Why the “im — if”? We know from Devarim 15:8 that lending is obligatory, so why is it phrased as though it’s conditional. Rashi, following the Mekhilta, simply says that “im” here means “when”, not “if”. The Ibn Ezra says that lending is conditional, because only few people can afford to perform this mitzvah.

But the Maharal takes an approach which is likely one of the Alter’s sources. In Gur Aryeh, his commentary on the Rashi ad loc, he writes:

For if a person would fulfill these dictates because he is obligated to fulfill the decrees of the King, this would not be the desire of God, for God wants man to fulfill the commandment out of his own desire to do so …

Indeed, if a person would do these three acts out of a sense of being commanded to do so by the King, unwillingly, this would not be something of which God could be proud….

If someone would loan money because he is commanded to do so, it would not be a mitzva, as the mitzva of providing loans must be performed out of the desire of a good heart, as it is written (Devarim 15:10), “and let your heart not feel bad.”

Further, the terms used for others in these mitzvos emphasize our unity. Throughout Vayiqra 25, the recipient is “akhikha – your brother”.

כִּי-יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ, וּמָכַר מֵאֲחֻזָּתוֹ

If your brother declines in wealth and sold some of his property … (v. 25)

The pasuq that describes the specific mitzvah of tzedaqah:

וְכִי-יָמוּךְ אָחִיךָ, וּמָטָה יָדוֹ עִמָּךְ

If your brother declines in wealth and his means [lit: hand] fail with you … (v. 35).


And if your brother who dwells with you grows poor and is sold … (v. 39)

And if a sojourner or stranger grows wealthy with you and your brother who dwells with him grows poor and sells himself to the stranger … (v. 47)

So then how to we understand our initiial observation, the frequenecy with which Hashem concludes these mitzvos with the words “I am Hashem”?

Rav Shim’on Shkop, in his introduction to Shaarei Yosher, explains the mitzvah of tzedaqah as follows (available in full here, and these sections with more of my commentary here and here):

Similarly it is appropriate to think about all the gifts of heaven “from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land” (Bereishis 27:38) that they are given to the Jewish people as a whole. Their allotment to individuals is only in their role as caretakers until they divide it to those who need it, to each according to what is worthy for him, and to take for himself what is worthy for himself.
וכן ראוי להתבונן על כל מתנות שמים מטל שמים ומשמני הארץ שהם נתונים לכלל ישראל כולו, והתחלקותם להיחידים הוא רק בתור גזברות, על מנת שיחלקם לנצרכים, לכל אחד כחלק הראוי לו, וליטול לעצמו כפי חלקו הראוי לו.
With this idea one can understand how charity has the effect of enriching the one who performs it, as the sages say on the verse “‘aseir ta’aseir – you shall surely tithe’ – tithe, so that you shall become rich – shetis’asheir” . Someone who is appointed over a small part of the national treasury who does a good job guarding at his appointment as appropriate will be next appointed to oversee a sum greater than that, if he is not promoted in some other way. If they find a flaw in his guard duty, no fine qualities to be found in him will help, and they will demote him to a smaller task. Similarly in the treasuries of heaven which are given to man. If he tithes appropriately, he satisfies his job of disbursement as he is supposed to conduct himself according to the Torah, giving to each as is appropriate according to the teachings of the Torah, then he will become wealthy and be appointed to disburse a greater treasure. And so on, upward and upward so that he can fulfill his lofty desire to do good for the masses through his stewardship of the treasury. In this way a man of reliable spirit does the will of his Maker.
ועל פי דעה זו יובן סגולת הצדקה שמעשרת את בעליה, כמו שדרשו חז״ל על הכתוב “‘עשר תעשר’ – עשר בשביל שתתעשר” (תענית דף ט.), שכמו שהממונה על אוצרות הממשלה באוצר קטן, אם ישמור תפקידו כראוי אז יתמנה להיות גזבר על אוצר גדול מזה, אף אם לא יצטיין במעלות אחרות, ולהיפך, אם יתגלה חסרון במשמרתו, לא יועילו לו כל מעלות שימצאו בו, ויורידוהו למשרה קטנה מזה, כל כך באוצרות שמים הנתנים לאדם, אם מעשר כראוי ממלא תפקיד הגזברות שלו כראוי ליטול לעצמו כפי דרכי התורה, ומחלק למי שראוי כל כך על פי הוראת התורה, אז יתעשר ויתמנה לגזברות על אוצר גדול מזה וכן הלאה למעלה למעלה, למען יתקיים רצון העליון בהטבת הכלל על ידי שמירת האוצר, ובזה איש נאמן רוח עושה רצון קונו יתברך.

We can pick out two aspects to the motivation Rav Shimon for tzedaqah. First, all wealth is from Hashem, and therefore we should be disbursing it according to His Will. Which means sharing with those who don’t have. This is what Hashem reminds us by reiterating that He is our G-d.

Second, all of us are parts of a whole. There is an inherent calling to share with ones bretheren. As the Rambam often phrases a duty between two people in his Seifer haMitzvos, “one part should do for another part”. A person is happiest when his right hand shares with the left. Similarly, the Jewish People, or humanity as a whole.

So the “ani Hashem” is not “because I, the Creator, commanded it”. Rather, “because I, Hashem, provide for all, and unify all under a common mission. And therefore what I give you is part of My giving your brother as well. And your sharing with him is part of what I give to you.”

Raba Got Up and Slaughtered Rav Zeira

Rava’s position in the gemara is famous:

רבא מיחייב איניש לבסומי בפוריא עד דלא ידע בין ארור המן לברוך מרדכי

Rava obligated people to drink on Purim until he would not know between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordachai”.

- Megillah 7b

This is the law as recorded in the Shulchan Arukh (O”Ch 695:2) , although his other work, the Beis Yoseif, does explore other opinions. Those who can’t believe that it could possibly be Jewish to get that drunk offer other explanations. E.g. the Rambam’s position is that one should drink until they fall asleep, at which time they are unaware of the distinction between Haman and Mordachai. The Mei’iri maintains the literal meaning, but warns that the obligation not to make a fool of oneself and of the Torah overrides this obligation; it only applies to people who can maintain self-control.  The Rama (O”Ch ad loc) writes that the obligation is simply to drink more than usual.

Another possibility which sets the required amount of drink quite low is offered by the Marahil, who notes that in gematrai, “arur Haman” and “barukh Mordachai” are equal, both come to 502. The Maharil suggests that the obligation is to get too drunk to do the math.

Along similar lines, I would point out that the distinction that is to get blurred isn’t between Haman and Mordachai, but between cursing Haman and blessing Mordachai. Between knowing when to attack evil and when to build good. Which is pretty hard to know even when sober!

But what happens in all these explanations to the words of the gemara?

What is often omitted is the rest of the discussion of this obligation. The gemara continues:

רבה ורבי זירא עבדו סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי איבסום קם רבה שחטיה לרבי זירא למחר בעי רחמי ואחייה לשנה אמר ליה ניתי מר ונעביד סעודת פורים בהדי הדדי אמר ליה לא בכל שעתא ושעתא מתרחיש ניסא

Raba and Rabbi Zeira made a Purim meal together. They got drunk. Raba got up and slaughtered Rabbi Zeira. The next day, [Raba] begged for [Divine] Mercy, and [Rabbi Zeira] came to life.

A year later, [Rabba] said to him, “Come, master, and we will make a Purim meal together.”

He said to him, “Not every time will we experience a miracle.”

A cautionary tale, Rava’s is not the final word on the subject.

There are some hints that more is going on here. Rabba’s name means “large” or “great”. “Zeira” is Aramaic for “young” (c.f. Hebrew “tza’ir“) or “small”.

Rav Elyakim Getzel Levitan, the Maggid of Brisk, (cited in Kehilas Yitzchak by R Yitzchok Reitbard, in Pirchei Nisan to Parashas Mikeitz) cites a number of sources to show the personalities of these two amora’im. (R’ Levitan says that Chavos Yair 152 speaks about this. I didn’t have a chance to look it up, and I wanted to post this before Purim. Kehilas Yitzchak directs us to Hagahos R’ Shaul Katzenelenbogen, Berachos 30b, which is printed in the Vilna Shas. it’s worth looking up.)

Shabbos 30b says that Rabbah would begin every shiur with a milsa dibedichusa, a humorous and entertaining thought. As for R’ Zeira, Niddah 23a has R Yirmiyah trying to cheer him up, and Sanhedrin 59b has R Avahu calling him by the name of a bird with a mournful dispoition.

In addition to the sources provided by the Maggid of Brisk, there is also a story in which Rabbah makes a man (presumably a golem) and sends it as a gift to R’  Zeira (Sanhedrin 65b). When Rabbi Zeira spoke to it and it wouldn’t answer, R’ Zeira realized it was made by a sage and told it to return to dust. In another gemara (Berakhos 57a), we are told that Rabbi Zeira moved to Israel from Bavel after being told in a dream that his sins were forgiven. First he took efforts to forget the Babylonian mode of study. Then R’ Zeira went in such haste, “to obtain a blessing denied Moshe and Aharon”, he crossed the Jordan by foot without taking the time to change out of his clothes!

To generalize, then, the gemara draws Rabba as a cheerful teacher who tried to share his joy of life with his students, as well as with R’ Zeira. Rabbi Zeira, at least at the time Rabbah knew him in Bavel, as a sad person (perhaps he lived in the shadow of belief that he was an undeserving sinner).

One was “Rabba – Great” the other “Rabbi Zeira — the smaller rabbi”.

Perhaps a reference to the ideas of Gadlus haMochin and Qatnus haMochin. (Hat tip to Dr Alan Morinis for introducing me to these concepts. Any mis-presentation, though, would be due to my trying to understand the ideas while coming from a fundamentally different upbringing. As you shall see, my presentation draws from my YU-based upbringing, and is therefore not necessarily loyal to the more chassidic worldview from which is comes.)

Gadlus haMochin, literally: Greatness of Mind, is the entire mindset that breeds self-confidence, security. In Modern Orthodox parlance, it is Adam I — the last element in Bereishis ch. 1′s description of creation, ready and confident that he can recreate the world and conquer it. Qatnus haMochin is more Adam II. The Adam of chapter 2 is lonely and seeks companionship, reaches out in need to the A-lmighty. Gadlus haMochin strives to understand G-d, Qatnus haMochin is the intimate experience of Him that comes so readily in times of trouble. Gadlus serves through ahavah and yir’as haRomemus (love of G-d and awe of His Greatness), qatnus through yir’as ha’onesh and yir’as hacheit (fear of punishment or fear of the failing of the sin itself). Returning to Rav Soloveichik’s language — advance and retreat. “Yes I can!” and “Yeah, but…”

Rabba served G-d through gadlus hamochin, constantly looking at the joyous possibilities. Rabbi Zeira, at least in Bavel, served through qatnus, through caution, taking each step as though looking for possible land-mines. (Perhaps this is why Rabbi Zeira took efforts to forget his former mode of thought as part of his aliyah to Israel.)

Think of the worse curse we can think for someone. In the weekday Amidah we curse those who slander and work against the community. Who thereby endanger other Jews. (Actually, the earlier version was against apostates;
but many historians believe that in both cases the reference was to the early Christians who were willing to endanger the rest of us in order to endear themselves to the Romans. Not that it helped keep them from being fed to the lions.)

So here we are, cursing turncoats and apostates, and what’s the horrible fate we foresee G-d meting out to them? “And for the informers, let there be no hope.”

There is a famous notion in the gemara “nichnas yayin, yatza sod — wine enters, secrets (or: the foundations) go out” (Eiruvin 65a). Rabba drank wine, and out came his fundamental cheerfulness. Rabbi Zeira drank wine, and he got enmired in hopelessness.

Rav Zeira imbibed wine, and out came his fundamental pessimism. He lost hope. He was slain.

Taanis 22a tells the story of how Rav Beroqa of Benei Chuza’a (perhaps: from among the seers) would go to the market of Lapat and meet Eliyahu haNavi. One time he asked the prophet if anyone in the market was deserving of the World To Come. The prophet said no. (Rabbi Aqiva Eiger understands this gemara to mean that none were deserving before going through the trials and atonement of death.)

In the course of other encounters, Eliyahu pointed out a jailer who kept the men and women separate, and would dress as a non-Jew to get information back to the Jewish people. (Note the contrast to the aforementioned turncoats.)

The story ends with Eliyahu pointing to two brothers who happened just then to pass by. Rav Beroqa approached the men and asked what they did for a living. They explained they they were jesters, their job was to cheer up unhappy people and to heal disagreements between people.

There is a time for Qatnus haMochin, for caution, for “yeah-but”, for facing our troubles and seeking Hashem’s support — but not Purim. The happiness that comes from hope, from focusing on opportunity, is an essential element of the day. The smoothing over of past grievances, the unity and happiness of mishloach manos. What is Purim about if not the story of redemption from invisible and unexpected places?

And so, a person is obligated to drink on Purim, but only if he is Rabba, where wine will bring out the joys of potential. Rav Zeira should follow the Rama’s advise, and spend the afternoon napping, in a vacation from his worries. Barukh Mordachai and Arur Haman.

Let me leave you with this litmus test for which approach to take:

If you find yourself reaching for a drink to celebrate Purim, drink, it’s a mitzvah!
But if you find yourself celebrating Purim because it’s a license to drink, don’t!

(For the curious: In Ben Asher, the mesoretic text considered more authoritative, the name is written “מָרְדֳּכַ֗י”, with a chataf qamatz under the dalet. For that reason I transliterated it “Mordachai”, with an “a” after the “d”, not the more common “Mordechai”. In any case, the first vowel is a qamatz qatan, closer to the long /ō/ sound of a cholam than the usual qamatz.)

Esther’s Modesty – Adar’s Joy (Anavah and Anvanus)

Yoshiahu’s Downfall

The only qinah, elegy, that we recite on Tish’ah beAv that dates back to the days of Tanakh (other than the Book of Eichah itself) is Yirmiyahu’s qinah for King Yoshiahu. Yoshiahu was raised by one of the more idolatrous of our kings, Menasheh. Menasheh managed to so suppress Torah that Yoshiahu was taken by the scroll he found in the Beis HaMiqdash. Yoshiahu lead a rather successful religious revival. The gemara describes the generation as one that even in the children knew greater details of tum’ah and taharah than did the rabbis of the Talmud. Successful, but imperfect. There were still homes where idols were worshipped. They would be hidden, for example (an example referenced in the qinah), they would paint an image on the backs of their doors, so that if anyone would inspect the home, it would be hidden between the door and the wall. The style was to have a split door, 1/2 opens on each side. Therefore, they could even honestly say, whenever the doors were open and therefore the image split, that there was no idolatry in their home.

Yoshiahu was unaware of this. He thought the revival was complete. When Par’oh Necho wanted to lead an army through Israel on the way to a war, Yoshiahu wanted to rely on Hashem’s promise, “a sword will not enter your land.” Yirmiyahu warned him, that no, we didn’t merit that level of protection. Yoshiahu didn’t listen to him. Egypt still needed to travel, so since they were refused safe passage, they attacked. Yoshiahu was fatally wounded, and confessed his error to Yirmiyahu in his final breath.

Why? What blinded such a righteous king, a man Rav Hillel thought merited to be the messiah, to the message of the navi?

Interestingly, in the qinah, Yirmiyahu refers to the wicked of the generation as “leitzanim”, ridiculers. Not as wicked, sinners or idolaters. Again, why?

Leitzanus, ridicule, is a lack of yir’ah. It’s an inability to accept the significance of the truly important, of dealing with the feelings of awe and fear that that engenders. Leitzanus is therefore a symptom of ga’avah, egotism. When someone has an over estimation of his own importance, he has no room to acknowledge anything else as perhaps being more important, he can’t accept the insecurity fear engenders. A natural response would therefore be leitzanus, belittling it.

Ga’avah also demotivates one to improve himself. I’m so good, my flaws are minor ones. I am reluctant to suggest this, but perhaps Yoshiahu, living in a culture that overly promoted in egotism, was tinged with some of that flaw himself. Therefore, he was incapable of believing that his religious reawakening was imperfect.

Shaul’s Downfall

In the haftorah for parashas Zachor, King Sha’ul fails in his duty to kill Amaleiq. He does not destroy all of their livestock, and leaves the battle before killing the Amaleiqi king, Agag. The navi Shemu’el takes Sha’ul to task for this shortcoming. “And Shemu’el said, ‘Although you are little in your own sight, aren’t you the head of the tribes of Yisra’el? And Hashem anointed you king over Israel.’” (Shemu’el I 15:17) Sha’ul eventually admits his guilt. “And Sha’ul said to Shemu’el, ‘I have sinned; for I have violated Hashem’s commandment and thy words; because I feared the people and listened to their voice.” (v. 24) Sha’ul, rather than acting like a king and teaching the people to follow Hashem’s will, allowed himself to be lead by his subjects. What does Shemu’el identify as Sha’ul’s failing? Sha’ul didn’t realize his own self-worth, and therefore does not live up to his potential and role in life.

Esther’s Success

In the story of Purim, Esther faces the same dilemma. Mordechai calls upon her to use her position as queen to save the Jewish people. She balks, and Mordechai counter-argues. “For if you are absolutely silent at this time, then will relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish; and who knows — im la’eis kazos higa’at lemalkhus, perhaps it was just for a moment as this you came to royalty?” (Esther 4:14)

There is a second link between Esther’s anavah and redemption in her repeating something in Mordechai’s name rather than get personal credit:

Torah is greater than the priesthood or sovereignty, for sovereignty is acquired with thirty virtues, the priesthood with twenty-four, and Torah is acquired with forty-eight qualities. These are: … and (#48) saying something in the name of its speaker. Thus we have learned: One who says something in the name of its speaker brings ge’ulah to the world, as is stated (Esther 2:22), “And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.”

- Beraisa, Avos 6:6

Unlike her ancestor, Sha’ul, or Yoshiahu, Esther rises to her calling. (Her first cousin, Mordechai, is described as a descendent of Kish, which the midrash presumes to be the same Kish as Sha’ul’s father.) What did Esther have that Sha’ul lacked?

If not for the Anvanus of Zechariah ben Avqulos…

To explain that, I would like to introduce one more story. In the progression of events that lead to the downfall of the second Beis haMiqdash, Nero Caesar presented a healthy calf to offer to the Beis haMiqdash as a test of their loyalty, but Bar Qamtza made some kind of blemish in it that invalidated it as an offering. The Rabbis wanted to offer it anyway, since the risk to life outweighs the halakhah. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos objected, saying that people would think that it means that blemished animals may be offered. Then they wanted to kill Bar Qamtza, so that he could not report back to the Romans. Again, Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos objected, as he thought it would teach people that the punishment for damaging an offering was death. Nero heard that his offering was refused, was convinced that the Jews were in rebellion, and after checking some portents, decided to attack. The gemara interrupts the story to give us Rabban Gamliel’s assessment, “Because of the anvanus of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos our Temple was destroyed, our sanctuary burnt, and we were exiled from the land.”

There is a fundamental difference between anvanus and anavah, the laudable trait of modesty. Anavah is an awareness of our true worth and potential. It’s modesty that comes from knowing how much more one is capable of accomplishing. Anvanus, on the other hand, is crippling. It’s a lack of self-esteem, so that one does not rise to the challenge. Sha’ul was “little in [his] own sight,” he shared Rav Zechariah ben Avqulus’s anvanus and failed to accomplish the whole mission of his reign.

Pesachiah is Mordechai

The Mishnah (Sheqalim 5:1) lists those appointed for special duties in the Beis haMiqdash, naming the appointees. (The Yerushalmi opens with a dispute as to whether these were the appointees at the time this mishnah was first composed, or exemplary holders of each job.) Among them:

 …פתחיה על הקינין. “פתחיה” זהו מרדכי. ולמה נקרא שמו “פתחיה”? שהיה פותח דברים, ודורשן, ויודע בשבעים לשון.

Pesachiah [was the appointee] over the birds [sold to those who needed tahor birds for their offering].

“Pesachiah” is Mordechai. And why was his name called “Pesachiah”? Because he opened [pasach] words [of Torah], expounded upon them, and knew [all] seventy languages.

The Yerushalmi (21b in the vilna ed.) elaborates:

Come and see how great the potential of this person is, that he could open words [of Torah] and expound upon them!

The Yerushalmi continues by discussing the mishnah’s praise that he spoke 70 languages, which, while remarkable, was far from unique – every Sanhedrin had to have such people. (And all members had to be able to understand, if not speak them.)

The gemara gives three examples of women who came to procure birds, explained why they were bringing sacrifices, and were misunderstood by all but Mordechai / Pesachiah. One said they were for “עינתי”, which they thought meant “my wellspring”, a reference to zivah bleeding (zivah, unlike regular niddah, requires a bird-offering afterward), and Mordechai realized she meant “my eye” — she wanted to thank G-d after being healed from an eye condition. Another said “ימתי”, which they similarly understood as “my sea”, and Mordechai explained she too was thankful, that she was saved from the sea. The third said “זיבתי”, which certainly sounds like “my zivah”, and Mordechai again realized she was actually saying “ze’evasi” — that she was saved from a wolf.

What was unique about Mordechai was not just the technical ability to speak many languages. It was the human ability to understand others. Mordechai realized that women would not go to the Beis haMiqdash and speak so crassly as it seemed, in public no less. He understood his listener.

Perhaps this skill of Mordechai’s is also an instance of modesty leading to redemption. There linguistic similarity between anavah (modesty) and la’anos (to answer). It is all too easy to spend the time someone is speaking to me planning my “brilliant” reply. An anav listens, and truly answers. Mordechai heard the person, not just their words.

*The Chida (Mar′is ha′Ayin Sheqalim ch. 41) provides an interesting gematria to buttress this idea. Each letter in the name Pesachyah (פתחיה), relates to the corresponding letter in the name Mordechai (מרדכי). Each of the first three letters is double in value to that in Mordechai:

פ 80 = 2 x   40מ
ת400 = 2 x 200ר
ח   8 = 2 x    4ד

(Each of the last two is half the value:

י10 x 2 = 20כ
ה 5 x 2 = 10י

(The root verb of the name is doubled (פתח to מרד) because Mordechai expanded himself by opening the words of Torah in a way the people were ready to receive. This required the humility and readiness to really listen implied in the last two letters – the humility that took the “כי”, the “because” behind life’s events, and revealed a name of G-d – “י־ה”.)

Defense Mechanisms

This lack of self-esteem is actually very related to ga’avah (egotism). Ga’avah is a defense mechanism for someone who feels a constant need to prove to himself and the world that he really does have value. It’s the insecure who have a need lie to themselves, magnifying their accomplishments, minimizing their imperfections. The need to constantly prove one’s importance would also explain the divisiveness and lack of tolerance of the flaws and errors of others by the masses of his generation.

Perhaps, therefore, one can suggest a common cause for the pathologies given in the elegy for Yoshiahu. Yoshiahu was one of a generation that was digging itself out of the depths. If they never shook off that self-image, then perhaps they too shared the “modesty of Rav Zecharia ben Avqulus”. This in turn led to ga’avah which fueled an inability to change on the part of those who hid their icons by ridiculing the efforts to spread change, as well as the inability of Yoshiahu to admit he might not have been successful. Leitzanus and ga’avah are both mechanisms for dealing with unhealthy anvanus.

Sha’ul also falls to ga’avah. Like many anvanim sought his validation from others, and so Sha’ul bowed to the will of the people, to prove to them he is worthy. Anvanus does not lead to anavah, in fact, his quest for approval he is lead to ga’avah, bragging.

Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulos tried to escape his anvanah through yet another tactic, the game of “Yes, But”. If the situation is unsolvable, then one can’t be blamed for failing. In this “game”, one person proposes solutions “Why don’t we…”, to which the anvan responds, “Yes, but…” “Why don’t we offer the sacrifice even though it’s blemished, since risk to life overrides the prohibition?” “Yes, but then people will think it’s permissible in all circumstances.” “Why don’t we kill Bar Qamtza, and save the Jewish People?” “Yes, but then people would think it is permissible in all circumstances.” Rabbi Zechariah ben Avqulus is so sure he is incapable of solving the problem, the problem grows to insolvable size.

Rav Zechariah ben Avqulus’s actions lead to Tish’ah be’Av. “Mishenichnas Av mema’atim besimchah — when the month of Av enters, we reduce in joy.” Anvanus leads to a diminution of joy.

Healthy Anvanus

We can also find positive examples of human anvanus. “And so, when Hashem’s aron was brought to the city of David, Michal bas Sha’ul looked out the window and saw king David leaping and dancing before Hashem; and she was ashamed of him in her heart.”

To Michal’s eye, it was not fitting for the king to leap and dance in public. David, on the other hand, didn’t overestimate his worth. Rather than “Who am I to do…?” he said “Who am I that I should not?”!

It is noteworthy that Michal is described as “Sha’ul’s daughter” when she mis-assesses the value of his actions. She thought she learned from her father’s error that anvanus is a mistake. But it isn’t always.

Yehoshua’ distinguished himself from among Moshe’s students by being the one to arrange the seating for the classes. (Bamidbar Rabba 21:14) He did not decide that since he was the next to lead, and the leader of our army, that such things were beneath him.

Rabbi Yochanan said: Everywhere that you find Hashem’s Gevurah [Might], you find His Anvanus. This is written in the Torah, repeated in the Navi, and a third time in Kesuvim.

It is written in the Torah, “For Hashem your G-d is G-d over all forces [E-lokei haElokim]” and it says right after it, “… Who executes the justice of orphans and widows.” (Devarim 10:17-18)

It is repeated in the Navi: “So says the High and Uplifted, Dwelling Eternally and Holy One” and it says right after it “…Who dwells with the afflicted and those of depressed spirit.” (Yeshaiah 57:15)

It is a third time in Kesuvim, as it says “Praise the One who rides on the heavens, Whose name is ‘Kah’” and it says right after it “… the Father of orphans and the Judge for widows”. (Tehillim 68:5)

I defined anavah as awareness of everyone one could be but aren’t. That is a “good thing”, in that it motivates person to constantly strive to improve. In contrast to the anvan, who thinks they are incapable and therefore refuse to act. A person can be an anav or an anvan. But neither make sense when speaking of Hashem. He is neither less than His Potential nor does Hashem underestimate His Worth. We are not speaking of a literal self-image, nor a motivator.

When we speak of Hashem’s Anvanus as opposed to His Gevurah, we can only be describing how His actions appear to us. Anvanus therefore means His willingness to do things even when it may not befit appearances of Honor, to perform acts of kindness even when the kindness does not fit our mental image of honor and authority. Gevurah is that authority, when power leads to away from activities of narrower scope.

When a person thinks of Might, he thinks of someone who moves amongst kings, not someone who helps the downtrodden, the orphan, the widow, the depressed. This kind of anvanus, being willing to help rather than think it beneath our station, is a Divine example we are to emulate. As a necessary prerequisite for chessed (lovingkindness) to those needier than us, it is presented in the gemara a balance to the strict towing-the-line of gevurah.

Anavah, the Path to Happiness

Anvanus therefore requires a fine line. Too much, and one believes every worthy act is above their abilities, too little, and they are all beneath his station. Anavah, an awareness of both one’s abilities and of how much more one can tap them, gives us a means to find that balance.

Purim, on the other hand, arose from Esther’s true, healthy, anavah. Esther started down the road of “Yes But”, but Mordechai’s words shocked her into the realization that “le’eis hazos higa’at lamalkhus”, that her royal station demanded action from her at this time. She did not rest on her laurels, but was motivated by knowing how much more she was capable of accomplishing. Anavah culminates in the victory of Purim. “Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimchah — when the month of Adar enters, we increase in joy.”

For the Jews, There Was Light

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשֹׂן וִיקָר.

For the Jews, there was light, happiness, joy and preciousness.

קִיְּמוּ וקבל [וְקִבְּלוּ] הַיְּהוּדִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְעַל זַרְעָם וְעַל כָּל הַנִּלְוִים עֲלֵיהֶם וְלֹא יַעֲבוֹר לִהְיוֹת עֹשִׂים אֵת שְׁנֵי הַיָּמִים הָאֵלֶּה כִּכְתָבָם וְכִזְמַנָּם בְּכָל שָׁנָה וְשָׁנָה.

The Jews established and accepted upon themselves, on their descendents, and on all those who join them, so that it would not fail, to make these two days as they were written and according to their times every year.

Purim as Part of the Jewish Year

The three upcoming holidays — Purim, Pesach and Shavuos — have each been compared to holidays in Tishrei.

The Gemara notes that Yom Kippur, or, as the Torah calls it, Yom haKippurim, could be read as “The day which is like Purim”. It is kind of hard to see how the day where one is required to “suppress your nefesh” can be compared to the day where “one is obligated to drink until one can not distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai”. Yet, the Gemara invites such a comparison .

Similarly, many of the laws of matzah and sukkah are derived by comparing Sukkos and Pesach. The grounds for this is the hermeneutical rule of “gezeira shava“, which is usually a comparison of two things described in the Torah by similar terminology. In this case it is the fact that both are on the 15th of their respective months that invites the comparison.

Last, the gemara consistently refers to Shavuos as Atzeres, whereas Shmini Atzeres is qualified as Atzeres HaChag, the Atzeres of Succos.

We can therefor look at the fall yamim tovim, and how they are structured, and learn something about their spring parallels.

Yom Kippur and Shmini Atzeres share a theme. On Yom Kippur we are judged to determine our fate for the next year. On Shmini Atzeres, the rain, and by extension our finances, are decided. (See Taanis 2b, where the “key to rain” is given as the source of all fiscal blessing.) One could think of Shmini Atzeres as a reprisal of the theme introduced by Yom Kippur. Sandwiched between them is Succos, presenting the mirror image of the same idea. Instead of focusing on earning sustenance, on Succos we celebrate those things Hashem already gave us.

By parallel, we see how Pesach and Shavuos present opposite side of the same idea. On Shavuos we focus on assuming the responsibility of getting and keeping the Torah. On Pesach, we celebrate the special providence Hashem gives us as Jews.

Purim and Accepting the Torah

This would mean that to find the theme to Purim, we should look at how it would fit into the same pattern, how it shares the theme of Shavuos.

“And they [Bnei Yisrael] stood under the mountain [Sinai]” (Shemos 19) — R. Avdimi bar Chama bar Chisa said, “This teaches that Hakadosh Baruch Hu flipped the mountain [Sinai] over them [Bnei Yisrael], like a barrel, and said, ‘If you accept the Torah, good, and if not, there will be your graves.’” R. Acha bar Yaakov said, “This provides a major complaint against the Torah.” Rava said, “Even so, the [whole] generation accepted it in the days of Achashveiros. For it says (Esther 9), “the Jews fulfilled and accepted”, they fulfilled that which they had already accepted.
Shabbos 88b

What the Jews accepted by force in the desert, was finally accepted willingly. Just as Yom Kippur is the complete judgment, and Shmini Atzeres is only a part, Purim represents the completion of what was started at Shavuos.

There are also textual parallels between the two acceptances of the Torah. At Har Sinai, we said “na’aseh venishmah — we will do, and we will listen.” Counterintuitively, we’re placing obedience to the mitzvos before listening to what they are. Similarly, “qiymu beqibelu haYhudim – the Jews fulfilled and accepted”, also placing the fulfillment of the mitzvah before accepting it. Both phrasings reflect the idea that Torah is “heard” by being performed. We internalize Hashem’s Will more by doing the mitzvah than by studying its laws in the abstract.

Second, at Har Sinai, we all stood as one. “וַיִּחַן שָׁם יִשְׂרָאֵל, נֶגֶד הָהָר — and Israel camped there, opposite the mountain.” (Shemos 19:2) Chazal note there that “vayichan — camped” is written there in the singular, and comment “like one person, with one heart.” In our verse in Esther too, “veqiblu — accepted” is read in the plural, but is actually written in the megillah in the singular — “veqibeil“!

Purim and Esther

“Where is Esther in the Torah? (Devarim 31) ‘I will hide in hiding (hasteir astir) My Face’.” (Chullin 139b).

This question is particularly valid since when Esther is introduced in the megillah (2:7) we are told her real name is Haddasah (cf Tr. Megillah 13a). Even further, Esther is the name of a pagan goddess. In all likelihood, like many American Jews today, Esther had two names, a religious name of Haddasah, and a legal name of Esther. This is consistent with the fact that we brought back with us from the same exile month names that are clearly pagan in origin. So why is does the megillah choose the name Esther?

A major theme of Purim is the fact that Hashem’s role is hidden, there are no overt miracles, just a steady string of what looks like fortuitous coincidences. Hashem is never named in the megillah. The Yom Tov is named after the lots Haman threw to choose a day, and ended up choosing a date as far ahead in the year as possible.

The book and the queen are called Esther because it brings to mind a pun, and recalls the promise that Hashem will never abandon us as a punishment, but merely hide.

But what about Purim and its relationship to Shavuos? Didn’t we say that the primary theme should be the acceptance of Torah that started at Shavuos?

Torah in a Mundane World

Purim happened at a critical time in Jewish history. The last people who remembered the miracles of the first Beis haMiqdash were already old and dying. Until Moshiach, we won’t see fire descend from the sky to consume the karbanos, the scarlet wool turn white on Yom Kippur, the Urim veTumim, light up prophetically. The last of the prophets (until the return of Eliyahu) were aged. Tzoraas no longer punished those who spoke lashon hara. But until then, all these miracles occured. And as in seifer Shofetim, the cycle of military threat followed by teshuvah followed by a shofeit and military success followed by contentment followed by sin which in turn motivates Hashem to provide the next military threat. This knowledge that acting badly will definitely get punished is — or at least should have been — compelling.

There is a famous gemara:

“And they [Bnei Yisrael] stood under the mountain [Sinai]” (Shemos 19) — R. Avdimi bar Chama bar Chisda said, “This teaches that HaQadosh Baruch Hu flipped the mountain [Sinai] over them [Bnei Yisrael], like a barrel, and said, ‘If you accept the Torah, good, and if not, there will be your graves.’”

R. Acha bar Yaakov said, “This provides a major complaint against the Torah.” Rava said, “Even so, the [whole] generation accepted it in the days of Achashveiros. For it says (Esther 9), “the Jews fulfilled and accepted”, they fulfilled that which they had already accepted.

Shabbos 88b

The Meshech Chokhmah (introduction to Shemos) explains that what the gemara means is that while the threat of punishment for sinning was tangible it was as if the mountain was held over their heads. And even so, the moment they came out from under the mountain, when they are bid to “return to your tents” (Devarim 5:27), they returned to the hum-drum world and that feeling that observance is self-evidence subsided. (In the Meshekh Chokhmah’s thought, free-willed observance is the ultimate purpose of existence. He therefore explains this gemara with a strong interest in explaining that free-will was not compromised.)

Then came Purim, with the appearance of happenstance, of Hester Panim, the Hidden Face. The Jewish people were taught a new way to relate to G-d. And the reaction — “the Jews fulfilled and accepted”. A new level of Torah observance was reached, one of trust and faith instead of miracle and prophecy.

Being Jewish

The exile to Bavel after the first Beis Hamiqdash was attributed to many things; one of the less intuitive (and therefore more discussed) reasons given was that they didn’t make a berakhah before learning Torah. What was so terrible? This period had problems with idolatry, with oppression of the poor and weak, and the destruction is being blamed on people who were even learning Torah?! In one way this makes sense. If even the righteous weren’t up to standard, who would the rest of the generation look up to? Who would motivate their change? But only up to a point; this lack of berakhah still doesn’t seem like a destruction-worthy flaw, even in the leadership.

The megillah is the first book to refer to us as Yehudim, Yidden, Jews. Even Mordechai, an “ish yemini“, from the tribe of Binyamin, is called a Yehudi. This new usage of the word was because the Jewish people now included only survivors of the Kingdom of Yehudah (Judea). The name “Yehudah” is itself significant. It comes from Leah’s words upon naming her son, “This time I will thank — odeh — Hashem.” It is no coincidence that shaped history to give us this name. We are a people of thanking. The first words out of our lips every morning are “Modeh ani lefanekha” thanking Hashem for allowing us to wake up. Rav Saadia Gaon (Emunos veDei’os 3:1) and the Chovos haLvavos (sec 2, intro.) hold that the driving force behind mitzvos is the recognition of the good Hashem bestows upon us.

“When Adar enters, we increase our simchah.” What is “simchah“?

Rav Dovid Lifshitz would have us hang a banner in the beis medrash that followed that quote with two more. “Ein simchah elah Torah — there is no [true] simchah except that of Torah.” “Vekhol hamarbeh harei zeh meshubach — and whoever does more, he is praiseworthy.”

There are three stories (Sanhedrin 101a) in which Rabbi Aqiva seems to laugh at an inappropriate time. First, when he, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya and Rabbi Yehoshua were walking on the road, and they heard the revelry and idolatry of the Roman army loud enough to be heard from a distance from 120 mil. They mourned — Jerusalem is in tatters, and the Romans thrive? And Rabbi Aqiva laughed — if this is the good Hashem gives the idolater, how much more awaits the righteous! Second, when they saw a fox leaving the place of the Holy of Holies, the other rabbis cried — isn’t this the place about which the Torah says “and the stranger who enters shall die” and foxes play there? And Rabbi Aqiva laughed — this is the fulfillment of the prophecy, which means that the prophecies of redemption shall too come to pass. When Rabbi Eliezer became ill, they went to visit him. The other rabbis were pained — we see a veritable Torah scroll in agony, can we not share it? And Rabbi Aqiva laughed — now I see that my rebbe is receiving his punishment in this world, and his reward still awaits him in the World-to-Come.R’ Saadia Gaon observed that laughter is the reaction people have to a sudden realization of an underlying truth. And so, when R’ Akiva suddenly saw the deeper truth, he laughed. R’ Saadia adds that “simchah” is the kind of happiness associated with laughter.”When Adar enters, we increase our simchah.” Purim is the story of G-d working behind the scenes, through natural forces, to redeem the Jews. That’s the time when one feels simchah, insight into the deeper truth.

And that’s the time one feels hoda’ah, thankfulness. It’s only through that inner truth that one sees the greatness in G-d allowing us to wake up, rather than taking it for granted. If you don’t even think about the marvel of having air to breate, you can’t thank G-d for giving us air! That’s why it’s at Purim that we’re first called “Yehudim“.

Seeing the Light

Toward the end of the exile to Bavel we have the story of Purim. At this point, Megillas Esther tells us “laYhudim haysa orah visimchah visason viykar — for the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and preciousness.” Rabbi Yehudah (Megillah 13b) explains that orah (light) refers to Torah, simchah (happiness) is Yom Tov, sason (joy) is beris milah, and yeqar (preciousness) is tefillin.

(Without the other four terms to provide contrast and specificity to the words “Torah” and “simchah”, they take on broader meaaning. Torah would include holidays, milah and tefillin — were we not given the Torah we wouldn’t have had any of them. And simchah would mean positive attitude in general, including light, joy and preciousness. “There is no simchah but Torah” is speaking in that broader sense.)

So why didn’t the megillah simply say “for the Jews there were Torah, holidays, milah and tefillin. Why the code words?

In the first beis hamiqdash we had Torah, but it was not or to us. This is why the berakhah was not made. We observed the laws of Yom Tov, but found no simcha in it. We kept milah and wore tefillin, but with no joy or sense of preciousness. This basic misdirection, that halakhah was fulfilled as a duty, not a love, was what made the leadership unable to direct the masses.

Rav Levi Yitzchaq, the Barditshiver Rebbe, writes in Qedushas Levi that this change even impacted how the Torah was written. It seems that the gemara’s conclusion (Sanhedrin 21a-22b) is that until Ezra’s day, the holy script was not in mass use among Jews. It was used in the first luchos, but not the second. (Aside from the script also being a reward to Ashur, the forefather of Assyria, for not participating in the Tower of Bavel, and thus is the Assyrian script.) In this generation, Torah was restored to Ashuris script. It was with the generation that saw G-d’s Presence in the mundane that was ready to see Hashem’s Word even in the limitations of specific shapes.

With Purim, with the simcha of seeing the deeper truth rather than the explicit reward-and-punishment of the First Temple era, Torah took on a deeper life. We experienced the message of the berakhah, “Who chose us from among the nations and gave us His Torah” thereby correcting the flaw that lead to the exile, and started the process of redemption. With the opening berakhah of commitment, Torah provides light, gratitude and happiness.

LaYhudim haysa orah visimchah visason viykar, kein tihyeh lanu” — so may it be for us!

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשֹׂן וִיקָר.

Amoraim and Amoraim

I am not a fan of the revadim (layers) method of gemara study. In short, this is a way of analyzing the gemara by teasing out the various layers of halachic discourse through the centuries we simply call “chazal”. My opposition isn’t so much that I think there is anything heretical or evil about it, just that this isn’t the way the gemara is meant to be studied. It’s focusing on a feature we should really consider incidental, in terms of the priorities of talmud Torah. Simply because we should be focusing on halachic authority, not history.

Still, it may be of interest that the voices in Shas can be divided into three eras, and one of those divisions actually has halachic significance.  My tutorial in this area was a PhD thesis by Joshua Even Eisen titled, “Stammaitic Activity versus Stammaitic Chronology; Anonymity’s Impact on the Legal Narrative of the Babylonian Talmud“.

It’s discussed in Doros haRishoinim (R’ Yitzchaq haLevi, Frankfurt, 189 – DhR) and Hischavus haTalmud beShleimuso (R’ Avraham Weiss, New York, 1943). DhR sets out three periods:

  1. The acceptance of Rebbe’s work as The Mishnah to Abyaei veRava (AvR). In this period, halakhah was discussed using Rebbe’s mishnayos as the structure, but not attempt at organizing.
  2. AvR to Rav Ashi veRavina (RAvR). I am preserving the name order used by the Rambam, as it’s likely this Ravina is R’ Ashi’s grandson, not the one of “Ravina veR’ Ashi”. New discussion and redaction of earlier conversations into the start of a formalization.
  3. The savoraim, under whom the basic gemara wasn’t changed much, it was more a cleanup and the insertion of a few notes that ended up in the final text. (To which I would add: whether by intent or not, I have no idea.)

I would also note that with Abayei’s death, Yeshivas Pumpedisa (which is today’s “Falluja“) moved to Mechoza and was taken over by Rava. So there is a geographical discontinuity between (2) and (3) as well.

There is halachic significance to each of these breaks, which is why I think this particular point goes beyond the general issue of revadim.

Halakhah kebasra’i — the halakhah is like the latter [authority]” is only miAbayei veRava va’eilakh (from AvR onward) and before that “ein halakhah ketalmid bemaqom harav — the halakhah is not like the student in the place of the rebbe” held sway. (See “halakhah kebasra’i” for sources.) The Mahariq (shoresh 84) writes that it’s because before AvR a student learned only “al pi qabalas raboseihem, kefi mah shehayu shonim lahem — according to what their rebbes received, what they [the mentors] repeated to them.” But from AvR onward “lomdu kol hadei’os — they learned all the opinions”. Which could be taken to be a change in teaching style, or as a standardization of set shaqlos vetaryos (question-and-answer dialectics) consistent with saying they compiled a proto-Bavli. But what’s important in terms of talmud Torah is the effect, the change in meaning in how we read statements before Abayei veRava, vs. those made by them or after.

And in fact it was in context of learning about when halakhah kebasra’i began from a public speaker (forgot whom) that I was first told of this idea of AvR’s proto-gemara. It was said en passant, not presented as the lecture’s focal chiddush. So I thought I had just filled a lacuna in my own knowledge. (Which was when I found the above-cited thesis.)

There are some who try to show that consistent with this statement, the Rambam never pasqens like material that is provably after RAvR over other positions from Chazal. As the Rambam writes in his introduction to his Code, “Rav Ashi veRavina sof hora’ah — Rav Ashi and Ravina are the end of halachic guidance [of some level].” Although it would seem that other rishonim place the line at the sealing of the Talmud, and thus would include as amoraic (in authority, not history) those opinions of savoraim that were deemed worthy of inclusion.

To compare to the sequence in producing the Yerushalmi… Tradition has it that Rav Yochanan and Reish Laqish authored the Yerushalmi. This can’t be taken at face value, because Rav Yochanan, a student of Rebbe, was the first generation of amoraim and Reish Laqish was his chavrusah — most of the Yerushalmi post-dates them. I would therefore suggest that they compiled proto-Yerushalmi, much the way Abayei and Rava later start the process that produces the Bavli. There is very little stam, unnamed text in the Yerushalmi, and very little editing of quotes. Part of this may be conceptual — the Yerushalmi places more emphasis in tracking and preserving quotes — but part of this is also because the Israeli amoraic tradition ends abruptly, with expulsion. The Yerushalmi is an unfinished book.

While discussing the Rambam and differences in authority in statements of amoraim, I wish to add one more idea. According to the Gra, the Rambam considered named opinions more authoritative than unsigned ones. Therefore, while in general the Rambam sided with the Bavli, he would rule like a named opinion in the Yerushalmi over an unnamed one in the Bavli. There are still a few unnamed passages in the Yerushalmi, which would be yet earlier than most of the Bavli. But even so, these passages do not — according to the Gra — get chosen by the Rambam over later named quotes in the Bavli. It’s not about historical sequence, but of exact citation.

Some dispute this, the matter of how much emphasis the Rambam gave the Yerushalmi is a matter open to debate. One point in favor of assuming greater value was that when the Rabam was 30 — years before writing the Mishneh Torah — he wrote all or part of Halakhos haYerushalmi — a collection of the Yerushalmi’s halachic conclusions, much the way the Rif addressed the Bavli. (Dr Saul Leiberman produced a critical edition of the extant portions.)

Either would stand in contrast to the Ri (Berachos 11b, Tosafos “shekevar niftar“), who explicitly dismisses any role of the Yerushalmi in halakhah where the Bavli states a position — even unnamed, stam.

And a middle road is taken by the author of the Shulchan Arukh (Kessef Mishnah, Hil’ Geirushin 13:18) . He too say the the halakhah is always like the Bavli over the Yerushalmi. But our understanding of the Bavli should be based on the assumption that its conflicts with the Yerushalmi are rare. Therefore, we must sometimes take an understanding of the gemara that would otherwise seem a stretch (dochaq) because assuming the two conflict is implicitly a greater stretch. According to the Shulchan Arukh, then, we need to refer to both Talmuds just to know what the Bavli is saying in order to follow it, even though in theory we are following the Bavli exclusively.

Upcoming Webinar: Building the Temple Within (A Tefillah Workshop)

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A Messenger of…

I became convinced two disputes are related. I am not 100% sure of the nature of the relationship, but as it’s related to parashas Ki Sisa, I want to post what I have so far while it’s still this week’s parashah.

Machloqes #1: Do kohanim serve as sheluchei didan (our messengers), representing us in our service of the Creator? Or are they sheluchei diShmaya (messengers of [the One in] heaven), a conduit of His Message to the Jewish People?

This question is posed on Nedarim 35b. They raise a pragmatic difference. If a Jew swears off getting benefit from a given kohein, can the kohein offer his qorban for him? If the kohein is acting on the person’s behalf in giving the qorban, then this assistance would violate the oath. But if the kohein is acting on Hashem’s behalf in receiving the qorban, then he could perform this service. The discussion goes on for over a page, but without resolution.

Machloqes #2: This section of the Torah is understood two ways. The Ramban assumes the narrative is in chronological order. We receive the Torah, the laws of parshios MishpatimTerumah, and Tetzaveh at Har Sinai, and then after those laws but Moshe had not yet descended from the mountain, we make the Eigel haZahav (the Golden Calf).

Rashi writes that the sin actually occurred before Terumah and Tetzaveh, that we were commanded to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle), uniforms for the kohanim etc… as a consequence of the sin. This is why the kohanim and leviim, the people who fought against the sin, are the ones chosen for service. Similarly, Chur dies resisting the masses’ pressing him into service to make the Eigel, and his son Betzalel is in charge of the Mishkan. Then there is the heavy use of gold, the bull — an adult calf — offered by Aharon, who does choose to make the Eigel rather than add his own death to their list of sins, show a process of atonement for the sin. The order of the text was thematic, not chronological.

The Overlap: The Eigel was intended as a replacement for Moshe, who wasn’t descending when they expected him to.

וַיַּרְא הָעָם כִּי בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן הָהָר, וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו: קוּם עֲשֵׂה לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ, כִּי זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה הָיָה לוֹ.

And the nation saw that Moshe delayed in coming down from the mountain, and the nation gathered against Aharon and said to him, “Get up and make for us gods who will go before us; for this man Moshe who took us out of the land of Egypt — we don’t know what happened to him.”

– Shemos 32:1

Moshe is described as a sheliach diShamaya to His People, not our messenger. In Shemos ch. 4, when Hashem appoints Moshe at the Burning Bush, He says “va’eshlachakha el Par’oh — and I will send you to Par’oh” (v. 10), “vezeh lekha ha’os ki Anokhi shelachtikha — and will be for you a sign that I am sending you” (v. 12) Moshe asks “ve’amari lahem, ‘E-lokei avoseikhem shelachani aleikhem — and when I say to them ‘the G-d of your ancestors sent me to you” they will ask for Your Name. (v. 13) And Hashem answers Moshe that he tell them, “This is what you should tell the Benei Yisrael, E-hyeh sent me to you.” (v. 14)

So, if the people were already told that there would be a Mishkan and kohanim before feeling they had to make the Eigel to fill the vacuum they thought was left by Moshe, then they had to believe that Moshe’s role was inherently different than that the kohanim would fill.

So, if they correctly understood that Moshe was Hashem’s messenger, then they clearly thought that kohanim were sheluchei didan.

But there is strong reason to believe that this it was exactly their error — they did not correctly understand the role of Moshe, and thought he was their messenger. After all, some kind of misunderstanding the role of Moshe had to underlie the idea that a teacher could be replaced by a Golden Calf. And after all, we already saw that the Eigel was in response to an appeal to “make for us gods to go before us.” Which would imply that they understood the kohanim as sheluchei deShmaya.

On the other hand, according to Rashi’s model that the Mishkan came after the Eigel and atones for it, then the two rules would have to be the same. But unlike in the Ramban’s case, where all we can deduce is how people would panic based on what they think is going on, here what is most relevant is how Hashem saw their actions, and how their sin impacted existence metaphysically.

Here two there are two possibilities:

The first would say that according to Rashi, since Moshe was a sheleiach diShmaya, the Eigel impinged on that level, and the Mishkan and kohanim would have to be a repair on the same level as well. And so, it would seem to me that the kohanim would have to be sheluchei diShmaya.

The other possibility (paralleling the second possible understanding in the Ramban) is that their whole sin was in misunderstanding Moshe’s role. And so even though their actions belied the role of  Hashem’s messenger, they mistakenly thought their own messenger needed replacing, and they sinned in how to appoint their sheliach didan. And so Hashem shows them the right way to do it, by showing us how to make the kohanim into sheluchei didan.

So, two disputes, and all four combinations are possible. But the reasoning in each of the four cases involves both:

 Kohanim as Sheluchei DidanKohanim as Sheluchei DiShmaya
Ramban: Historical SequenceMoshe is correctly seen as Hashem’s messenger, and so even with kohanim they feel a need to place him.Their whole error was that they thought Moshe was their messenger, so finding out Hashem was appointing His own messenger didn’t help their panic
Rashi: Mishkan as AtonementMoshe is mistakenly seen as sheliach didan, which Hashem corrected by teaching us about the Mishkan and kohanim. and constructively channeling that need. The Benei Yisrael demonstrate their panic about Hashem’s messenger being dead by making an idol to invest with His replacement. Therefore Hashem offers atonement through His true shelichim, the kohanim.

I explored the link between the eigel and the keruvim (via the Egptian cult of Apis the bull-god, the religion Yerav’am established for the Northern Kingdom, and the Chaldean bull-god Kirub, as well as the bull or keruv face on the chayos in Yechezqel’s vision) a few years back in “Angels and Idols“.