Yismach Moshe II

As an example for explaining the idea of tefillah behispa’alus, I raised a number of questions about the meaning of the phrase “Yismach Mosheh“. I wrote:

Yismach Mosheh — Moses will be happy bematenas chelqo — with the giving of his portion,
ki eved ne’eman — because a reliable servant
qaraso lo — You have called to him.

The line looks simple enough, however riches lie underneath, with a little concentration. Rather than spell out what they are, and my opinion on what they mean, I am going to list some questions to think about and give you a chance to find your own chiddushim, your own relationship to the text.

Well, some time went by, and during the intervening nine months, we raised a number of issues that shed some light on one of many kavanos possible when saying these words. But there is one last piece.

Why is Sukkos called in our tefillos “zeman simchaseinu“? Why is simchah associated more with Sukkos than with Pesach or Shavu’os? If anything, I would have thought the reverse: we still have the peoplehood granted us on Pesach, and the Torah given on Shavu’os. But the mun is gone, the cloud of glory that protected us have dissipated, Hashem’s guiding pillar no longer shows us the way. Yes, we can still get food, shelter and guidance from the natural means He gave us — but the same was true before the desert! What is so special about the things celebrated by Sukkos?

This past yom tov, R’ Ron Yitzchak Eisenman repeated an idea he saw in two very disparate sources: the Satmar Rav, and R’ Avraham Yitzchak haCohein Kook, a cousin of the more famous Rav Kook who is of this generation, but also of the same school of thought. (As Rabbi Eisenman put it — if the Satmar Rav and a Rav Kook agree, it must be true!)

As we say in the Yom Tov Amidah, “Atah bachartanu mikol ha’amim — You chose us from all the nations, you loved us and desired us…” Being the chosen people required national identity and freedom from servitude to Egypt. It required the Torah, the articles of our mission. However, it did not require being cared for during the trek through the desert. What did we get on Sukkos that was so special? We got the giving itself; the manifestation of Hashem’s Love and Desire. “It’s the thought that counts”, the act of giving is itself more precious than the thing being given. Especially when we find no other motive.

What then causes Moshe’s joy in our quote? Not only the portion Hashem gave him. Yes, “Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his portion.” But even greater was that Moshe was happy with the pure fact that Hashem gave him something. We analyzed ahavah using Rav Shimon Shkop’s idea that love is the unity between I and Thou, and extension of the idea of “me” to the realization that you and I are parts of one whole. The act of giving is the bridge across the wall between us. Giving is therefore both the embodiment of and the cause of love.

Yismach Mosheh. In the entry on Hebrew grammar, I presented the notion that the future tense in Hebrew is actually derived. The more primary idea is the imperfect tense. The “yi-” prefix is more about the fact that the simchah is not yet finished than when it began. Moshe’s joy is continuous.

Why? Because man is not a static entity. On parashas Mas’ei, we looked at “the journey as the name of G-d” and the existential idea that man has the ability to change his essence. The ideal is becoming, not being. See also the contrast between people, who walk, and angels, which are portrayed as only having one foot. Or, to again paraphrase the Kotzker Rebbe put it, man’s measure it not the height of the rung on which he stands, but whether he is climbing the ladder or descending it.

What is Moshe’s happiness? It’s the emotion we more specifically call simchah. In looking at idealism, joy and mourning, our focus was on Rav Saadia Gaon’s definition of simchah. To him, it’s related to laughter, which in turn is a sudden perception of the deeper truth. Simchah comes from a focus on ones ideals, on knowing that there is a reason why one has what one has, and a purpose to living through what one has to endure. In a different entry, we looked at how this focus provides a connection between one’s heart and one’s observance of halakhah.

We also looked at the burning bush, and why this moment was what marked Moshe as Moshe Rabbeinu. The anavah that it took to see Hashem similarly “constraining Himself”, an act of tzimtzum, to the center of the bush. That this anavah is what it took to hear the voice within rather than the original flashy image of a bush totally aflame.

When you combine anavah, a tzimtzum-like constriction of oneself to make room for another, with that notion of life as a journey, one gets avdus, a life of service.

How then can we say these words this Shabbos morning?

Yismach Mosheh — The ultimate humble one, who moves himself aside to hear the Divine calling, is continuously joyous, in a happiness that will continue into the future. That calling is the only true source of simchah, because it alone gives our lives meaning.

What causes this joy?

Bematenas chelqo — Hashem expressed his love of Moshe in giving him his portion in this world. Not only in the fact that we have lives that are scripted to fit that meaning and calling, but also in that Hashem Himself gives it to us.


ki ‘eved ne’eman’ qarasa lo — Hashem called Moshe His “reliable servant”. One who takes that continuous simchah and anavah and combine them into reliable and continuous service. But again, not only in the opportunity to have such a life, but also that Hashem called him such.

As such, the opening words of the berakhah are a very powerful statement. They are a realization that happiness only comes from a meaningful life. That a meaningful life comes from both anavah, which makes room to live for a higher purpose rather than the self, and simchah from a full awareness of that meaning. That such a life is one of constant progress and growth — and therefore of constant happiness, even through the struggles that growth often requires. And last, that such a life is lived in a partnership with the A-lmighty. Moshe is His eved in a relationship of Love and giving.

The Gift of Justice

In the past couple of weeks, I posted a number of essays showing that reward and punishment are the effects of the person’s action. First, that in order for history to progress toward the messianic age, good must reinforce and perpetuate itself, and evil must self-destroy. Then, we looked at sources that say that reward and punishment are consequences of who we are. Third, we saw that there are two groups of theories about how action impacts the self, and how that impact would impede our ability to receive Divine Good.And yet…Avraham pleads with Hashem to show pity on Sedom and Amora. Moshe repeatedly begs (and in one case demands!) pity for the Jewish people. We ask Hashem to reward the righteous and punish the wicked in separate berakhos of Shemoneh Esrei three times every weekday. Doesn’t all this presume that Hashem is personally meting out reward and punishment, that we can ask Him to temper it with Divine Mercy?The two perspectives co-exist in the Torah’s description of the generation of the flood.

And Hashem saw that the wickedness of man was great in the world, and that every dream of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all day. Hashem “regretted” that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His “Heart”. Hashem said, “I will erase this man that I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.” …
The earth was corrupt before G-d, and the earth was filled with violence. G-d saw the earth, and, behold, it was destroyed; for all flesh had destroyed their way upon the earth. And G-d said to Noach, “The end of all flesh has come before me, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; Here, I will destroy them with the earth.”

- Bereishis 6:5-7,11-13

The “end of all flesh” is described as occurring on its own, something which Hashem observes — punishment as a consequence. And yet, the actual destruction is something Hashem declares He will do Himself, due to His “regret” — meting out punishment.

The chapter asks us to hold both perceptions simultaneously, neither to the exception of the other.

The Sifri on parashas Re’ei notes that Hashem “placing before us a blessing and a curse; a blessing that you listen and a curse if you do not listen” implies that the blessing is inherent in the listening. Similarly, Hashem’s words to Qayin (Bereishis 4:6), “Why are you angry? And why are you crestfallen? For if you do good, you would be lifted up, and if you do not do good, your sin will pursue…” Here too, Qayin’s fate is described as being caused by his action, to the point that Hashem questions why Qayin turns to Him.

The Sifri presents two opinions. (And a personal point of satisfaction, the debate is between two sons of R’ Yosi haGelili. Brothers arguing, how familiar!)

Rav Eliezer b”R Yosi haGelili supports the “causal” position. In one version, he brings another supporting pasuq from Mishlei (18:21) “‘Death and life are in the control of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit (consume its dividends).’ One who loves [good] speech eats its fruits; one who loves evil eats its fruits.” In the second version brought by the Sifri, his proof is another verse (11:31), “The righteous in the world yeshulam are paid (in the passive, with no one named as repayer), even more so the evil and sinner!”

Rav Yosi ben Rav Yosi haGelili disagrees. “The Torah says (Mishlei 16:4), ‘All of Hashem’s actions are for His sake, and even the wicked for the day of evil.'” Punishing the wicked is Hashem’s action, not the wicked person himself’s.

As we saw in the essay “The Mechanism of Teshuvah“, caused punishments are more effective. Parents try to change an undesired personality trait in a child by teaching the child that the action has negative consequences. These consequences are broken down into two classes: they can be imposed, a punishment meted out by the parent; or they can be natural, the normal consequences by cause and effect. For example, a child could learn not to touch a stove by either getting slapped on the hand each time she reaches for it, or by touching it once and getting hurt. The first is safer, the other is more effective.

The causal approach also mitigates the problem of theodicy, “Why bad things happen to good people, a central religious issue and one that notoriously lacks a definitive solution. It is obviously desirable to remove G-d from being the direct cause of human pain.

On the other hand, a G-d who does not directly and personally punish evil and rewards good, appears far too distant and irrelevant. It is difficult to worship or pray to such a Deity. In fact, in order to become the kind of person who deserves better, we daven, engaging in a personal relationship with the A-lmighty. The causal perspective demands the personal one.

This could well be the key to why we have both perspectives.

And in truth, there are hints that the contradiction is an illusion created by the human perspective.

It’s kind of like the question of omnipotence and miracles: Since Hashem knows everything and can do everything, there is no reason for nature to be imperfect. Why then would He need to “tweak” things with nissim? Many answers are offered. The Ramban offers two answers in parashas Bo, the Maharal and R’ Hutner argue (in two very different ways) that nissim are not tweaks but actually part of the mechanism, etc… One of the Ramban’s answers is that nissim were written into the rules when they were created. (As I understand him, that the law is that fluids seek the lowest point except for the 22nd of Elul, when the Jews reached the Red Sea, and again 40 years later when they reached the Jordan.)

To apply the parallel idea here:

Hashem is the both the One Who created the system of supernatural law that would cause any automatic sechar va’onesh, as well as the One Who would be imposing it personally. When he set up the law, Hashem did it cognizant of every outcome of it. The law would include knowledge of each instance, no less than if Hashem intervened at each instance. The difference is merely when the decision was made. And since Hashem has no time, no “when”, do they really differ?

The same resolution that would explain how miracles can exist while the rules don’t need second-guessing would explain who personal reward and punishment can exist even while being automatic. Each option is a simplification of the Divine Truth whittled down to fit into the human mind. It seems possible to get a glimpse of how they could be describing the same reality.

The duality is one central to our perception of Hashem: The imminence of the personal Giver verses the transcendence of the One Who set up perfect rules of justice.

This, in turn, is the product of a basic paradox in the human condition.

“It is the nature of good to have someone to whom to be good.”

(Derekh Hashem 1:2:1.
The same idea is found in
Rav Saadia Gaon’s Emunos veDei’os.)

With these words the Ramchal explains Hashem’s purpose for creating man. In the Torah, Hashem introduces the idea of creating people with the words “let Us make man in Our Image, like Our Semblance”. The ultimate good the Creator has to share with us is His own “nature”. The gift of being free-willed, having the capacity to make meaningful decisions, and to create. On the one hand, man exists to receive good. On the other, he exists to be G-d-like, and therefore create it himself, to positively influence others. Man the creature, receiver of G-d’s Good vs. man the creator who lives in His Image.

Man the recipient sees reward and punishment, miracles, all the ways in which G-d interacts with us as things we get from Him. A gift perspective.

Man the creative being sees these things as the tools with which he works. Reward and punishment et al are systematic because only in that way can we use them as tools with which to create.

Of Empty Cups

In the past couple of weeks, I posted a number of essays about the causal nature of reward and punishment. In short, that sin causes a change in the self, which in turn causes punishment as the world proceeds along the path to Hashem’s desired final state for history.

In Mesukim MiDevash for parashas Haazinu, I relate this thought to Yishma’el being judged “as he is there”. Not for what he did or will do, but the state of his soul at the moment. Thus, teshuvah, by healing the soul, can make the person one who no longer deserves the punishment in question.

Now I would like to look more closely at exactly how sin effects the soul, such that the soul no longer receives maximal Divine Good.

If one puts a cup in the sink, and the cup doesn’t fill as it ought, it could be fore at least one of two basic reasons.

The first is that the cup’s mouth isn’t properly in the stream; this is the assumption that the utensil is fine, but not properly connected to the Source. Taking this approach to the human condition is suggested by the notion of the Ran (Derashos haRan ch. 10) and his student R’ Yosef Albo (Seifer haIkarim 4:13), who hold that the effects of sin are to dirty the soul and that the punishment of sin is that barrier blocking the soul’s access to Divine Good.

The implication is that the sinful soul itself is fine, but it made for itself a layer blocking it from the Light. And in fact, the Ramchal (in the opening paragraphs of Mesilas Yesharim), among many others, articulates this as the goal we seek to accomplish with mitzvos, that they are acts that bring us closer to G d. In contemporary terminology, we would call this a deveiqus (/dbq/ = attach) approach.

The other approach would be to assume the cup is flawed, perhaps its mouth could be widened, or there is a hole to repair. In this opinion, the purpose of life is to give us opportunities to perfect the self. Apparently this is the position of Rabbeinu Yona (Shaarei Teshuvah 4:1), who compares the soul of a sinner to someone who is sick. Just as a sick person suffers from his disease, so does a sinner feel the effects his deeds had on his soul. Teshuvah is a repairing or healing process. This leads to an approach to mitzvos, equally well represented (by R’ Yehudah haLevi in the beginning of the Kuzari as just one example) as the previous, the idea of man’s quest as temimus, or “sheleimus ha’adam”, the completion of man. Man’s goal in life is to strive for self-perfection.

Note that the rishonim cited, the Ran, R’ Yosef Albo and Rabbeinu Yona, all define punishment as a consequence of the imperfection or barrier created by sin. Both sides of this machlokes are within the context of a “following doctor’s orders” or “preparing on erev Shabbos so that one may enjoy Shabbos” understanding of the mitzvos described in the above mentioned Mesukim article.

The mitzvah of beris milah, the first mitzvah given to us as a people, is introduced with the words, “Ani E-l Shad-ai, his-halekh lifanai v’heyei tamim — I am E-l Shad-ai, walk yourself before Me, and be whole.” (Bereishis 17:1) How are we supposed to read this quote? Is the walking before G-d, deveiqus, that is primary, and being whole a side effect? Or, is being whole the focus of the pasuq, and walking before G d is a means to reach that temimus?

Similarly, we say in the Amidah for Shabbos and Yom Tov, “vetaheir libeinu le’avdecha be’emes – purify our souls to serve You in truth.” One can see this in two ways: We request from Hashem that He purify us, so that we may reach that deveiqus to serve Him truthfully and reliably. Alternatively, we could be requesting temimus, that purity which we are describing by its enabling us to serve Him.

On another level, these two approaches are different aspects of the same idea. To achieve wholeness, so that the entire person is working harmoniously, he would necessarily be walking in Hashem’s path. The converse is equally true. If one strives for deveiqus to a singular G-d who has a single goal, how could he be a chaotic battleground of warring urges? Cleaving to G-d forces His priorities to be yours, thereby causing temimus, a wholeness and harmony of self.

This is not to say that there is no distinction in approach. By stressing different elements, there are profound practical implications. For example, consider the debate between Chassidim and non-Chassidim on the importance of davening in the appointed times. (We should be clear that the Chassidic position is that one must invest time to prepare for davening, even if this is at the expense of timeliness — it is not blanket permission to ignore the clock.) Chassidus is a deveiqus-based hashkafah. Therefore, when weighing the relative merits, it is more important to be able to invest time to prepare one’s mind and heart for the act of tephillah, for relating to Hashem, than when the tephillah actually begins. To someone with a temimus orientation, however, zehirus, meticulousness, care in how each facet of the mitzvah is done, is the more important consideration. Zerizus, haste to do what’s right, is an important middah (personality trait). Both come into play when considering the timeliness of tephillah.

Contemporary Orthodox Jewish thought embraces a number of variants of these two basic approaches.

Most forms of Chassidus consider the route to deveiqus to be the experience of each act, with the focus on having one’s feelings in line with those we can perceive in the Creator. The Ba’al HaTanya, on the other hand, focused on Chaba”d (insight, comprehension and knowledge), to make one’s thoughts G-dly. In this he follows the Rambam, (Moreh Nevuchim III ch. 51) who writes that one’s connection to Hashem is strictly determined by the extent of one’s knowledge of Him.

Similarly, there has been variation in the understanding of temimus. The Vilna Gaon writes, “the whole purpose of the Torah is to shatter the [evil] middos.” (Even Sheleimah, title, ch. 1) The Ba’alei Mussar took the idea further, and committed themselves to character improvement through means beyond halakhah as well. In Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Neo-Orthodoxy, temimus translates to a well-rounded individual, using derekh eretz in service of Torah. To Rav Yosef-Ber Solovetichik zt”l, the goal of man is to maximize his creativity, to be in the image of the Creator (this is a major part of the thesis of Halachic Man; c.f. pg. 109)

Perhaps this plurality is the whole point of the Torah’s doubled phraseology. Because there many approaches to accomplishing the same end, Hashem didn’t specify one to the exclusion of the other. “Derakheha darchei no’am, its ways are ways of pleasantness” (Mishlei 3:17) – ways, in the plural. Each community or person can pick out a derech that best suits him — as long as the goal is “his-halech lifanai v’heyei tamim”.

What we see is that our basic lifestyles can be understood in terms of a causal nature of reward and punishment. We may have different approaches, but we share a common theme. Hashem tells us which acts keep “dirt” from blocking His Light from reaching us and cause disease to the soul. Someone who violates the “Doctor’s orders” is simply incapable of receiving Hashem’s Good.

Qedushas Beis HaKenesses, part II

In an earlier entry, I suggested that we take the feelings generated by seeing the shuls of Azza ransacked, and use them to motivate our behavior in our own synagogues. Including (but not limited to) cutting down on the talking.I since learned of a program produced by the Orthodox Union for this past Shabbos with exactly the same thought in mind. Here’s a snippet:

In recent weeks we have been witness to devastating images of burning synagogues in Gaza, flooded synagogues in New Orleans — and perhaps soon, although we hope not, in the Houston area as well. This is surely cause for mourning, for the synagogue is the backbone of any Kehilla Kedosha, a holy Jewish community. This destruction is therefore emblematic of the loss of Torah and kedusha in the world.

In light of these tragic events, both in Gush Katif and in the American South, the Orthodox Union is calling on all of its member synagogues across the United States and Canada to participate in a Shabbat program for the purpose of giving increased emphasis to the holiness of our shuls. We ask you to institute a Ta’anit Dibbur – a period free of conversation – during the morning davening of the last Shabbat of the year 5765, Parshat Nitzavim, October 1, 2005.

So it’s too late to join them. It’s still a good and necessary idea, and not a bad thing to try for Shabbos Shuvah. Here’s their advice:

Levity is forbidden in synagogues and batei medrash. Levity includes, among other things, joking, laughing and idle conversation. (Orach Chayim 151)Idle conversation even includes discussion of secular subjects that is permitted elsewhere, such as business matters, not to mention generally forbidden talk, such as Lashon Hara, rechilus and quarrelsome speech. (Mishneh Brura ibid.)

During the Chazan’s repetition of Shmoneh Esray the congregation must remain silent, concentrate and answer “amen” after each bracha. If there are not at least nine individuals concentrating on the brachos, then they are considered brachos levatalah. Therefore, each person should conduct himself as if there will not be nine concentrating without him. (Orach Chayim 124)

Even reciting Tehilim or other prayers and learning Torah are forbidden during the Chazan’s repetition of Shmoneh Esray. (Mishneh Brura, ibid.; Derech Moshe as quoted in L’sefer Hagan, section 28)

Conversation is strictly forbidden during the Chazan’s repetition of Shmoneh Esray. If one speaks at this time, his sin is too great to bear, and he must be reprimanded. (Orach Chayim 124) We have witnessed the destruction of a number of synagogues due to this sin. (Mishneh Brura, ibid., quoting Eliyah Rabba)

Once Krias Hatorah has begun, it is forbidden to talk, even words of Torah. It is highly questionable whether one may even learn Torah silently instead of following the Torah reading. (Orach Chayim 146; Beur Halacha, ibid.)

It is forbidden to talk or learn during any other part of davening, even during the recitation of supplementary piyutim that one is not accustomed to say. (Orach Chayim 68)

Idle conversation is forbidden even when the congregation is not praying, i.e., before and after davening. (Derech Moshe Hanispach L’sefer Hagan section 29, quoting Rambam)

A person must make it clear to others that he does not talk in shul, and he should do so in a way that makes them want to act as he does. (Sefer Peleh Yoetz)

Follow these halachos no matter what those around you say or do. Cultivate your personal sense of Hashem’s constant presence and acknowledge the fact that when you enter a shul or bais medrash you are, quite literally, in immediate proximity to the Shechina. If you do not believe this, cannot take it seriously, or feel indifferent to it, recognize that you have a serious problem of fundamental faith that is necessarily infecting all of your Torah learning and observance. Pray to the Ribono Shel Olam for help and seek guidance from an authentic Torah personality.