This Year in Jerusalem

The first Satmerer Rebbe, R’ Yoel Teitelbaum, writes the following thought in Vayo’el Moshe.

When Yaakov first meets Rachel, he is at a well with some shepherds, waiting for enough to come by to move the stone that protects the well. As she approaches, he asks the shepherds if all is well with his cousin Lavan, and they answer, “All peaceful, vehinei Racheil bito ba’ah im hatzon — and here is Racheil his daughter, coming with the flock.” (Bereishis 29:6)

A few lines later, “When he is still speaking to them, veRacheil ba’ah im hatzon — and Racheil came with the flock that belongs to her father.” (Ibid v 9)

Notice that one time “ba’ah” is used to mean that Racheil was on her way, the other that she had arrived already. Rashi clarifies with a grammatical point; it makes a difference which syllable gets the trop mark and stress. The first usage was “ba’AH“, with the stress (tipechah) on the second syllable, meaning “she is coming”. The second, “BA’ah” (revi’i on the beis)– “she came”.

Everyone assumes that the line said at the end of Yom Kippur and the Pesach Seder is “Leshanah haba’AH biYrushalayim — The coming year in Jerusalem”. But the Satmar Rav said this is a mistake.

We voice this desire at the close of Yom Kippur, shortly after the year began on Rosh haShanah, and on Pesach, shortly after the beginning of the year of months, the beginning of Nissan. We say it when a year just arrived. The line should not be said with the stress as “ha’AH” but rather say “BA’ah” — We are speaking of the year that just came!

Leshanah haBA’ah biYrushalayim habenuyah!
May the year that just began be spent in a rebuilt Jerusalem!

Pesach: Freedom from Preconceived Limitations

I appreciated this video from YU‘s Center for the Jewish Future.

Something to think about:

What does this notion of cheirus (freedom) say about the appropriate thoughts to have while cleaning the kitchen this Sunday?

What does it say about matzah, about something which is a symbol of both poverty and oppression yet also of the possibility of a sudden end to one’s troubles?

The Mishkan and its Utensils

The Gemara (Berakhos 55a) says that when Hashem told Moshe to appoint Betzalel to lead the building of the Mishkan, He first told Moshe to describe the building of the Mishkan itself, and then told him to describe each of the keilim (utensils) to be placed and used within it. However, when Moshe actually called Betzalel, he told Betzalel to first build the keilim, and then the Mishkan. Presumably not taking the order of Hashem’s instruction to imply a necessarily mean they should be built in that order as well.

Betzalel disagreed. The building must precede the items you place within it. He asked Moshe Rabbeinu if Hashem did not actually ask that they be built in the other order. Moshe complimented Betzalel, replying, “You must have been in the shadow of the A-lmighty [betzeil Ei-l] when He spoke to me.”

Tosafos clarify that this gemara is speaking of the actual appointment of Betzalel in Ki Sisa (31:7). The order there places the the Mishkan first. The longer description in Terumah has the keilim first.

So we see that while Betzalel was right in practice, the Mishkan needed to be first, Hashem actually utilized both sequences. The notion of building the keilim first is not “merely” Moshe Rabbeinu’s error, which itself would be a subtle mistake and therefore warrant study. It has intrinsic value which dictated the structure of parashas Terumah.

What exactly is the difference between Moshe’s perspective and Betzalel’s, and why was Betzalel’s perspective the proper one to use in practice?

A while back I explored the notion of viewing the chain of events from two directions. When we look causally, events progress from past to future. I let go of a ball therefore it falls and then it bounces a bit. Causes precede effects. However, when we look teleologically, the universe makes sense by looking backwards in time. I wanted to bounce a ball, therefore I let go of it. My final purpose determines my earlier action.

Shabbos, for example, represents both. It attests to Hashem as First Cause, Creator of the universe. And it is also “me’ein olam haba — in the image of the World to Come”, a foretaste of experiencing Him as Final Purpose. Shabbos is a window into creation’s ultimate meaning, and connects that Divine Plan to its very beginning.
Which is holier — cause or telos? Causality makes sense in the physical world, one need only invoke the laws of nature. Telos requires having a mind, being purposive. In fact, I have in the past defined qedushah as being set aside for a purpose.
What then is Moshe’s perspective? Moshe heard the commandment to build the Mishkan while atop Har Sinai, when G-d took heaven and stretched it down to the mountain. Even decades later, Moshe Rabbeinu says “Ha’azinu hashamayim va’adabeirah — Give ear, heavens, and I will speak, vesishma ha’aretz imrei fi — and the world will hear the e of my mouth.” As Chazal explain, the sequence and the choice of verbs reflect Moshe’s position of being closer to heaven than to earth.

From a heavenly perspective, teleology is primary. Things exist not from the laws of physical objects, but from the decisions of the A-lmighty or of souls. In Moshe’s worldview, the utensils for performing the avodah, the service, were logically first.

However, that is not how things work in this world. “Sof ma’aseh, bemachashavah techilah — that which is made last, was thought first.” Betzalel said that such sequencing is proper for heaven, but here on earth, we must plan, have all the peices ready, and build toward our conclusion.

In fact, Moshe Rabbeinu‘s plan would have been paradoxical. If the keilim are first because of their teleological sequence, they should have been made at the number one teleogical spot. The head of a line stretching backward from the future to the past would still be the last thing made. The two sequences should lead to the same result. Therefore, it is only when speaking of the Mishkan in theory, in parashas Terumah, Hashem mentions the goal first. When He commands Moshe to actually appoint people to build it, Hashem switches to normal chronological order. It was Moshe’s lack of focus on this world that caused him to miss the change, and required Betzalel to point it out to him.
This might be related to Rav Dessler’s position that the sequence of time, past to present to future, is a product of the human condition since Adam ate the fruit. And that Torah, being about eternal truth, can raise man above that until he, like Adam, could see “min haqatzeh el haqatzeh (from one end to the other)”. See my earlier entry, or better, Michtav meiEliyahu II:150-154 itself.

The Invisibility of Providence — How?

The fact is that Hashem hides His Presence from us. The question of why is an interesting one. Here I would like to look at part of the question of “How?” (I have no current plans for a part II, but I would be surprised if it never happens.)

For example, Rav Dessler asserts the well-known formula like the amount of hishtadlus (personal effort on the physical plane) one must invest is inversely proportional to the amount of bitachon (trust in Hashem’s Providence) one has. If someone has more bitachon, then their needs take care of themselves without much or even any hishtadlus. In the extreme case, R’ Chanina ben Dosa who saw Hashem’s hand in the fact that oil burns had vinager burn for him.

How is this possible? Don’t we have the basic problem of theodicy — tzadiq vera lo, good people often fare worse than evil ones? How can we assert such a formula in the face of so many counterexamples?

Similarly Divine Justice. We assert that Hashem is Just, yet we all enounter stories of two siblings, one becomes an upstanding, observant Jew, and the other not — and it is the ba’alas teshuvah who has the harder life. How?

I was asked this question about bitachon recently by email. Novarodok’s position is that bitachon is experimentally provable — if you have sufficient bitachon, everything will fall into place. As a lesson in this idea, they would put a student on a train without return fair, and the student would see how despite this, if they have bitachon, they would make it back. Things work out. The Alter of Novarodok signed his names with a trailing “ב”ב” for “Ba’al Bitachon” (Master of Trusting in G-d’s Providence). He explained that this is not bravado, but objectively established.

The Chazon Ish rebuts this position. He defines bitachon in a manner with which I am more comfortable. Not that it is trust that Hashem will provide what I want and what I think my needs are. Rather, trust that everything happens according to His Plan, and that plan is in my best interests. Of course, I am very ignorant of what it is that is best for me in the long run, what His plan holds for me, and what pitfalls my life could have hit that He steered me away from. So, I can only trust, not know experimentally.

Second, there is the issue of only looking at one goal at a time. We talk about bitachon, but what if what is in my best interest harms the masses? Or if it would be inherently unjust?
I would like to suggest this metaphor.

Since Newton, science has taught that there is a law: Anything in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Cars don’t suddenly stop when we take our foot off the gas pedal.

Why didn’t anyone notice this law before Newton?

Well, why don’t our cars continue moving forever? There is always an outside force. Wind drag. Friction between the axles and their bearings. Gravity, particularly when we reach a hill. Etc… There are always other factors.

Except for experiments performed in space, where the friction is negligible (and even there it isn’t quite zero), no one has actually seen a pure example of the first half of that rule.

And yet, the basic principle is true — even though we only catch very imperfect glimpses of it.

Hashem’s decisions involving human lives take into account far more factors what goes into determining the speed and momentum of my car. We shouldn’t be surprised that sometimes these other things occlude our ability to see the various components such as our ability to connect to His Providence through bitachon, Divine Justice, helping us reach our goals in life even without our deserving His help, etc… That’s not to say that they aren’t all in play. The fact that none of us (any astronauts reading this essay aside) have ever seen a real example of Newton’s First Law of Motion doesn’t shake our trust in its being true. We can see how it plays a role in the fuller picture. So too, the providence provided through bitachon.


Larry Lennhoff replied to the first part of this post:

So how does the second solution support hishtadlus? Is Hashem’s master plan influenced by the amount of effort I exert? If so, is it influenced positively or negatively.

As a practical matter, I prefer the solution of ‘pray to Hashem but row away from the rocks’. But I think a simple ‘everything that happens, happens for the best’ philosophy is incomplete unless it includes an element where people’s own efforts have an impact.

I started writing the following in the comments field, but as it grew, I decided to reply here.

Your question about hishtadlus and Hashem’s plan is that of free will vs providence. It’s unresolvable; at least in any complete way. My point was that we can get glimpses of solution, and there are vectors we can understand within the whole. Being able to only see partial manifestations doesn’t mean it’s untrue. Just as the fact that my car eventually rolls to a halt doesn’t deny Newtonian physics. It means that each pattern I see can only be understood as one factor that goes into the (so to speak) Decision.

Other observations:

Hashem gave us free will. That means that His plan must include a path from every possible set of decisions we make to the messianic era and the World to Come. Not a single path from Adam until the end of time; then there would be no room for human decisions.

It also means that many people don’t live up to the role they could have ideally had. History has an equilibrium state but an individual’s final outcome is up to them.

I suggested in earlier posts that the role of halakhah defining aveiros is to forewarn us away from self-inflicted pain. Punishments are not defined by the aveiros, but the aveiros are those acts which will cause pain. Just as parents prohibit a toddler from touching a stove. The punishment is the cause of the prohibition.

Hishtadlus can thus negatively impact the plan. Not prevent the goal ch”v, but complicate and delay it. However, there is a guaranteed end-state, and thus being an impediment is standing in the flow of traffic.

In my “Four Sons” essay, I attributed Rabbi Soloveitchik’s sentiment to the wise son:

R’ Joseph Ber Soloveitchikzt”l (”the Rav”) addresses the question posed by the Holocaust in his seminal work on religious Zionism, “Qol Dodi Dofeiq”. His position is that the question of why is there human suffering can’t be answered. Any attempt to address theodicy is going to insult the intellect or the emotions, and quite likely both. But “Why?” isn’t the Jewish question. Judaism, with its focus on halakhah, on deed, asks, “What shall I do about it?”

Anything I write in this Theodicy category of this blog should be taken in that light. One person’s grappling with the question, engaging my Creator in a relationship. Not a complete solution.