Saving One’s Own First

On Areivim, we’re discussing how history remembers or should remember Rudolf Kasztner. Yad Vashem is trying to rehabilitate his memory. Here is some of the metzi’us behind the question, from The Star:

Kasztner … headed the Relief and Rescue Committee, a small Jewish group that negotiated with Nazi officials to rescue Hungarian Jews in exchange for money, goods and military equipment.

In June 1944, the “Kasztner Train,” with 1,684 Jews, departed Budapest for neutral Switzerland. His negotiations also diverted 20,000 Hungarian Jews to an Austrian labour camp instead of a planned transfer to extermination camps, according to Yad Vashem.

But detractors accused Kasztner of colluding with the Nazis to spare his well-connected and wealthy Jewish friends, while hundreds of thousands of others were shipped to death camps.

The Israeli government sued Grunwald for libel on Kasztner’s behalf in a trial that lasted two years and riveted the nation. The court acquitted Grunwald of libel, concluding that Kasztner “sold his soul to the German Satan.”

Kasztner insisted his dealings with top Nazi officials, including Kurt Becher, an envoy of SS commander Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann, who organized the extermination of the Jews, were necessary to save lives.

Kasztner was demonized by the Israeli public. A year after he was killed, Israel’s Supreme Court overturned the lower court’s ruling in the libel case, clearing his name.

One last note:

Kasztner himself didn’t board his famous train to freedom, instead staying behind and negotiating the further release of Jews, risking his own life.

So Kasztner saved his people at the possible expense of others, but it wasn’t self-motivated. To discuss the question in general:

Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankel is the “bible” of a school of psychology called Logotherapy. The majority of the book is his recollections of life in the camps and his observations of the people there.

In it he claims that the Holocaust cost us our most idealistic people; that anyone who survived had to have the ability to place saving themselves and their own ahead of others.

Speaking halachically, if the same number of people are going to live either way, is it appropriate to try to save your own? In other words, is Frankel right in calling such people less moral or idealistic? Or did he inadvertently reflect a Christian ethic rather than a Jewish one?

In the introduction to Maqdishei H’ by R’ Tzevi Hirsch Meisels he tells the following heart-wrenching story. A man came, r”l, because his son, his only child, was among 1,400 children on a train which according to rumor was headed for the crematoria. He had the opportunity to bribe his son’s way out. Should he risk it; is he permitted to?

RADK refused to provide a ruling. How can anyone take on a question so great without being able to collect his thoughts, without access to his library? The story continues (as translated by R’ Yoel Schwartz). The father replies:

“Rabbi, I have done my duty as the Torah requires me to do. I brought my question before the rabbi. There is no other rabbi here. If His Honor, the rabbi, cannot answer that it is permitted for me to redeem my child, that is a sign that he is not completely sure that the halacha permits [it]. If it were permissible without any doubts, certainly you would tell me so. To me this means that according to the halacha it is forbidden to me. I accept this with love and joy, and I shall not do anything to redeem him, because that is what the Torah commanded…”

All my pleadings to him not to put the responsibility on me were to no avail. He only repeated what he had said, with heartrending weeping. He fulfilled his words, and did not redeem his son. That whole day, Rosh Hashana, he walked and spoke to himself joyfully, saying that he merited to sacrifice his only son to God, since even though it was in his power to redeem him, he would not, seeing that the Torah did not permit him to do such a thing. This would be considered by the Holy One, Blessed is He, like the Binding of our Father Isaac, which also had taken place on Rosh Hashana.

Speaking on a more philosophical plane, it’s certainly the implication of the Shaarei Yosher’s definition of chessed that it would be appropriate to save someone closer to you at the expense of someone with whom you’re less connected. Chessed is motivated by enlarging one’s “I” to include ever more people. Self interest is described by Rav Shimon Shkop as a positive thing, one to be leveraged in this way to create chessed (loving-kindness), not abnegated. A few paragraphs, just to motivate reading the whole thing. Note that his quote of R’ Aqiva is a halachic one — chayekha qodemin (your life comes first).

HOWEVER, what of a person who decides to submerge his nature, to reach a high level so that he has no thought or inclination in his soul for his own good, only a desire for the good of others? In this way he would have his desire reach the sanctity of the Creator, as His Desire in all of the creation and management of the world is only for the good of the created, and not for Himself at all. At first glance one might say that if a person reached this level, he would reach the epitome of being whole. But this is why our Sages of blessed memory teach us in this Midrash that it is not so. We cannot try to be similar to His Holiness in this respect. His Holiness is greater than ours. His Holiness is only for the created and not for Himself because nothing was ever added to or could ever be added to the Creator through the actions He did or does. Therefore all His Desire could only be to be good to the created.

But what He wants from us is not like this. As Rabbi Aqiva taught us, “your life comes first.” [Our sages] left us a hint of it when they interpret the scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself” in a negative sense, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your peers.” In terms of obligation, it is fitting for a person to place his own good first.

In this, Rav Shimon Shkop would seem to indicate that Frankel’s comment draws more from Christianity’s influence on Western Civilization than Jewish values. After all, Christianity phrases its ethic in the positive sense, “Do unto others…” And so, they would not reach Rav Shimon’s conclusion that when all else is equal, it is fitting to place one’s own good first.

There are also grounds for asserting that in the very foundation of the creation of Adam, the Creator planted in him a very great measure of propensity to love himself. The sages of truth describe the purpose of all the work in this language, “The Infinite wanted to bestow complete good, that there wouldn’t even be the embarrassment of receiving.” This discussion reveals how far the power of loving oneself goes, that “a person is more content with one qav [a unit of measure] of his own making than [he would be of] two qavin that are given to him” — even if from the Hand of the Holy One! — if the present is unearned.

From here it should be self-evident that love of oneself is desired by the Holy One, even though “the wise shall walk because of it and the foolish will stumble over it.”…

Something Else to Throw into the Bonfire

Saul Mashbaum wrote the following back during the “should we burn the wigs?” period a few years ago. I think it’s still quite apropos, a reminder of our priorities.


Sources close to several major poskim have claimed that they have declared a new chovat biur. “After examining the situation carefully, we have come to the conclusion that all Jews have an obligation to eradicate all sinat chinam in their possession” said the poskim “This obligation is more stringent than that of sheitels: it applies to all forms of sinat chinamvadai, safek, chashash, and taarovet sinat chinam – whatever its source. The obligation is incumbent on every Jew – men and women alike – at all times and in all places.”

Shortly after this announcement was made known, bonfires appeared in Jewish neighborhoods everywhere as masses of Jews rushed to respond to the gdolim‘s call. The crush was such that many had to wait hours on line for the opportunity to cast their sinat chinam into the flames.

Here and there tears could be seen in the eyes of the participants. “I hate to say it, but I’m really going to miss my sinat chinam” someone told our reporter. “It’s been part of me for so long, I can’t imagine being without it. But if the gdolim say it’s got to go, it’s got to go.”

Our reporter in the metivta d’rakea says that the famous tzaddik, R. Levi MiBerdichev, has already made an appearance before the Heavenly Court in response to this dramatic development. “Mi keamcha Yisrael“, said the ohev Yisrael with tears in his eyes. “Your holy people have gladly cast off a precious and intimate part of themselves for the sake of Your Divine Name. Surely You will have mercy on Your people.”

Halevai shenitzke l’kach.

The Last Tish’ah be’Av

I recall one year I had just started a new camp. I was davening in the evening, at the very beginning of Tish’ah be’Av, and I heard a shofar blow. After a moment, I realized it was the PA system, that this was the camp’s “siren” marking the beginning of the fast. I have no idea how deep my belief in the constant possibility of mashiach really runs today; I have no way of checking how far down it reaches. But for that one beautiful moment, I believed.

[28-Aug-2007] I was reminded of  a similar story R’ JB Soloveitchik tells from his childhood.

The story takes place in Chaslovitch on a seder night. Rabbi Soloveitchik was a boy of 6 or 7 at the time. The seder proceeds as expected, and they get to “Shefoch Chamaskha“. As is customary, Rav Moshe Soloveitchik sent little Yoshe-Ber to open the door for Eliyahu.

And there he was! Dressed in white, a long white beard, standing at the door. Eliyahu haNavi! The time for redemption was at hand!

Until the man asked if Rav Moshe was home, he had a question. There is a halakhah that the qorban Pesach must be eaten in a single place. And, if one eats some of the qorban and then falls asleep, if he eats more of it upon waking up it’s considered a “second place”, even if it physically is the same location. Well, this man, in his kittel with a long Lubavitcher beard (Chaslovitch’s Jews was primarily  Lubavitch, despite their insistence on a Litvisher rav), fell aslessp during the seider. Now he wanted to know: Is can he eat his afikoman, or, because it commemorates the qorban Pesach, the same law would apply?

(An aside: When Rav Soloveitchik retold the story to the rabbis and balebatim in Moriah, they asked what Rav Moshe answered. He replied, roughly: How do I know? I was a little boy! I probably didn’t even understand what was going on.)

But for that one beautiful moment…

Hilkhos Mashiach

On Avodah, Saul Newman gave the following summary of halakhos related to bi’as hamashiach from an article in the Yated. I found that the pragmatic halachic discussion gave some mamashus (tangibility) to the idea.

In conclusion, we may recite a total of eight special brachos when Moshiach arrives, in the following order:

  1. When we first hear from a reliable source the good news of Moshiach’s arrival, we will recite Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam hatov vehameiteiv.
  2. When we see the huge throngs of Jews assembled to greet him, which will no doubt number at least 600,000 people, one recites, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam chacham ha’razim.”
  3. When one sees the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash or rebuilt shuls or batei medrash, one recites, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam matziv gevul almana.” Theoretically, one might recite this bracha before the bracha Chacham ha’razim, if one sees the rebuilt Beis Hamikdash before one sees the huge throngs.
  4. When we actually see Moshiach, we will recite, “Baruch Atah Hashem
    Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam shechalak mikevodo lirei’av
  5. Immediately after reciting this bracha, we will recite the bracha, “Baruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam shechalak mei’chachmaso lirei’av.” According to some poskim, one may recite these last two brachos when aware that Moshiach is nearby, even if one cannot see him.

Michael Kopinsky noted on this item that it presumes that the melekh hamashiach will be a rabbinic figure as well as king. This was true for our greatest kings — David and Shelomo — but it is not a prerequisite for the job. As he asks, “Was Bar Kochva, for example, eligible for the bracha of shechalak meichachmaso?” and yet that didn’t prevent Rabbi Aqiva from deciding Bar Kochba qualified to be mashiach.

  1. When one actually sees Moshiach, one should recite Shehechiyanu.
  2. , 8. According to the Lev Chaim, on the anniversary of Moshiach‘s arrival, we will again recite Shehechiyanu to commemorate the date, and we will recite a long bracha mentioning some of the details of the miraculous events of his arrival. This bracha will close with the words, Baruch Atah Hashem Go’al Yisroel.

Hashem is Righteous

Eli Turkel summarized some thoughts from the 100 pages introduction to the sefer “The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways”, from the notes of R’ JB Soloveitchikzt”l. The format isn’t the usual for this blog, being more like his notes, but then, it wasn’t written for this blog either.


  • Many things are missing from the Tisha Ba’av tefila: Tachanun, Avinu Malkenu, Titkabel (in the morning), Neilah (unlike a taanit tzibur over rain)
  • We don’t sit on chairs only until noon unlike other dinei aveilut that apply the whole day. Nachem only in the afternoon.
  • A mourner is prohibited in all work while on Tisha Ba’av only work that disturbs ones concentration. One should cry on tisha ba’av but there is nothing equivalent for a mourner.
  • The kinot do not stress the absence of korbanot and other avodah in the Temple unlike musaf of Yom Kippur.
  • Moed” in the Eichah has nothing to do with happiness. How can Tisha Ba’av be considered a happy day.

Answer: The essence of Tisha Ba’av is “Sattom Tefillati” On Tisha Ba’av we mourn not the destruction of the Temple but rather the result that we are distant from Hashem. While between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur we are close to Hashem on Tisha Ba’av we are at the other extreme. Hence, it is not appropriate to add requests like Neilah, Tachanun, Avinu Malkenu or Titkabal. RYBS refused to say a request for a sick person on Tisha Ba’av. … [I]t is a day far away from approaching G-d with Teshuva. RYBS interpreted Moed in the original sense. Tisha Ba’av is an appointed time – for destruction and removal from this time. Thus we don’t say Tachanun because it is a holiday but rather because of our distance from Hashem.

We mention other tragedies like the Crusades since the essence is not the Temple but what can happen when G-d is distant.

A mourner is not required from the din to not sit on chairs. Hence the requirement on Tisha Ba’av is not because of aveilut which in fact would last the whole day and similarly for work. Rather we don’t sit on chairs because we are banned from Hashem and working would disturb are kinot. A mourner’s main obligation is “aveilut be-lev“. Inward and not crying. On Tisha Ba’av the mourning is not natural and so we force ourselves to cry. Similarly the 3 weeks build up to the highest level slowly as we learn intellectually about our distance from G-d. A mourner is emotional and begins with the worst and slowly acclimates to the world. Kinot and Eichah are central to Tisha Ba’av but not to a mourner because we must cause ourselves to feel the loss of the Temple while for a mourner it is natural.

After Mincha we begin Nechama. Paradoxically this occurs when the fire was set to the Temple. Hence we are comforted that G-d chose to destroy wood and stone rather than the nation. In the morning it was not clear what the punishment would be. [Emphasis mine. -mi] So the afternoon changes from stressing our distance from G-d to a more “normal” aveilut of other fast days though the 5 “iyunim” of a taanit tzibur continue but not sitting on the floor or titkabel and now we can say nachem.

Safeiq deRabbanan

R’ Aharon Rakeffet has a 10 year series on responsa literature and the art of making a halachic rulings. The classes are available on The following is primarily from his shiur of Dec. 19th, 1994 “Safek from Torah or Rabbanan” (starting at around 52 min. in). As is my norm, I add bits here and there.

The Rama writes that if one can not find a reason to choose one side of a machloqes (dispute) over another, he must use the rules of doubt. Which means that if the halakhah is fiscal, then the person holding the money keeps the money (hamotzi meichaveiro alav hara’ayah – he who wants to take from his peer has the burden of proof, “posession is 9/10 of the law”); when it is Torah prohibition or obligation, one must rule strictly; and in rabbinic prohibitions or obligations, one is supposed to be lenient. And thus much of responsa literature is about figuring out whether the prohibition is Torahitic or rabbinic. And once you find out it’s derabbanan, you can start adding up senifim lehaqeil, flaws in taking the law for granted, until one can consider the cumulative doubt sufficient to say safeiq deRabbanan lehaqeil.

But why do we rule leniently for a rabbinic law? Isn’t every rabbinic law really a Torah law of “do not veer from what they tell you, neither to the left nor to the right”?

1- Ramban (on Seifer haMizvos, shoresh 1): The same Rabbis who made the rabbinic prohibitions and duties made them only applicable in the case of certainty. They desired to make a clear distinction between Torah and rabbinic law.

2- [My own addition] R’ Shimon Shkop allows us to say the same thing, 180º off. In Shaarei Yosher, he asks the question of why a sefeiq sefeiqah (a doubt added upon a second doubt) is ruled leniently.

The Rashba (Shu”t 1:401) holds it’s a variant on the notion of relying on majority. If the first doubt is roughly 50:50, and the second doubt is roughly 50:50, the chance of violation is 1/4, and therefore ignorable. However, Rav Shim’on asks, why then do we have the rule “mi’ut bemaqom safeiq lo amrinan — we do not speak of a minority added to a safeiq“? After all, if the first doubt is 50:50, any minority to whittle away at one side would make a majority? And yet, a case of doubt plus minority is no more lenient than without the minority?

Rav Shimon explains sefeiq sefeiqa on other grounds. Who said that a doubt in Torah law must be ruled stringently? It wasn’t the Torah, it is rabbinic! And therefore, a second doubt on top of that first one is a doubt in a rabbinic law — and therefore we rule leniently.

(This reasoning also argues for accepting a sefeiq sefeiqa she’eina mis-hapekhes (an issue at the core of eating chadash), but that discussion would take us even further afield.)

So, rather than the Ramban’s limiting the specific prohibition to only cases where we are certain about the realia, it’s possible that we could limit the rabbinic enactment of ruling stringently on Torah law to have only been made about the other 612 laws. With the same consequent rationale.

3- Rav Meir Simchah haKohein miDvinsk (Meshekh Chokhmah, Devarim 17:11): A Torahitic prohibition describes something that is inherently wrong. The universe is made such that combining meat and milk is a problem (metu’af, meshuqatz).

A rabbinic prohibition lacks that reality. Chicken and milk isn’t inherently damaging, it is that it leads to error through habit or accident. Therefore, one needn’t the same care when dealing with rabbinic extension as when dealing with the damaging or refining thing itself.

4- Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Qunterus Divrei Soferim): Of course there is a reality to rabbinic statements. It is all revealed from the Creator, all the Ratzon Hashem yisbarakh (the Will of the Creator, blessed be He).  The difference between a derabbanan and a de’oraisa is the explicitness. Therefore it is less sacred, and violation involves lesser realities. A difference of quantity, not quality.

Rabbi Rakeffet links Rav Elchanan’s position to his belief in da’as Torah; both imply a belief that there is revelation of Hashem’s Will today through the rabbis.

5-  Shulchan Arukh haRav [another addition not in the lecture]: In a rare case of where the Shulchan Arukh haRav discusses the purpose of a law rather than just codifying practice, he discusses the significance of yom tov sheini shel galiyos, the observance of a second day of Yom Tov outside of Israel.

He explains that there is no time in the heavenly realms. The supernal “Pesach” is not associated with any particular time. Hashem made a connection between that Pesach and the 15th of Nissan, giving us a worldly manifestation within time. The SAhR continues that the 16th of Nissan is connected to the very same supernal Pesach. The seder on the 2nd night is a manifestation of the same metaphysical reality. What differs is  who draws down the connection, not what it is we are connected to.

Perhaps this is generalizable to rabbinic legislation in general. This would result in an opinion similar to Rav Elchanan’s in that it gives a reality to rabbinic law, rather than their just being pragmatics for how to keep Torah law. However, the opinions are also quite different in that it makes the rabbinic legislator a metaphysical engineer, building the reality, rather than a conduit of Hashem’s revelation of that reality.

And, to continue R’ Rakeffet’s thought, Chassidic attachment to the Tzaddiq is not the same as the Yeshiva World’s notion da’as Torah.

6- Seifer Me’iras Einayim (SM”A, Ch”M 67, #2): The berakhah that Hashem gives to those who keep shemittah , that they will have sufficient crops in the 6th year for the 6th, 7th and 8th years, is only when shemittah is mandatory by Torah law. (I.e. when the majority of the tribes are in their lands, and therefore there is a yoveil every 50th year.) Today, someone who keeps rabbinic shemittah gets no such guarantees.

7- Chazon Ish (Deshevi’is 18, #4): The blessing did apply during the 2nd Temple and after its destruction, for the heavenly court fulfills based on what’s decreed down below.

Rabbi Rakeffet identifies the SMA with the position of the Meshekh Chokhmah, and the Chazon Ish with R’ Elchanan Wassermnn’s. To my mind, it’s possible that his position is more like the Shulchan Arukh haRav.

However, this explains why the Chazon Ish was so willing to be stringent when it came to keeping shemittah. Had he felt that the observance didn’t come with insurance from the A-lmighty, perhaps he would have ruled leniently.

TIDE, variants on a theme

In an earlier post, I raised one very fundamental difference between Rav Hirsch’s “Torah im Derekh Eretz” (Torah with culture, hereafter “TIDE”) and Rav JB Soloveitchik’s attitude toward the secular, which YU titles “Torah uMadda” (Torah and other knowledge, “TuM”).

TIDE is a lifestyle that is wholly Torah and wholly derekh eretz, in that the Torah is what gives form and function to a cultured life, and culture is the substance to which one applies Torah.

Rabbi JB Soloveitchik, on the other hand, spoke in terms of unresolvable dialectics…. One of his few talks on TuM is commonly referred to as “Ramatayim Tzofim” — two peaks from which to look out over the landscape, using a phrase from Shemu’el I 1:1. Man is torn between two peaks, which stand distinct. And in fact, it is the free will that emerges from choosing between these alternatives that is man’s “image of G-d”, our entire calling.

… Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of theory, defining the ideal human being as one living a life that is entirely Torah and yet composed of Derekh Eretz, whereas Rav Soloveitchik describes the reality, and living with the conflicts that we actually confront. The ideal may be one of unity, but life is a process of reaching for an ideal; not actually ever getting there. Thus, the two perspectives need not be taken as contradicting.

(At least, not on this point. TIDE and TuM differ in other ways. A topic for another entry.)

This is “another entry.”

There is something deeply in common between TIDE and the Slabodka school of Mussar. Both focused on self perfection in all ways. Slabodka students took care in dressing with dignity and according to the latest style. (Students of other yeshivos would poke fun at it.) And while Slabodka did not have secular classes, it was presumed that students learned such things informally. Rav Avraham Elya Kaplan describes his peers’ heated debates on the merits of Kant, Hegel, Freud and Marx. The ideal Slabodka student had a character refined by Mussar, spent most of his day studying Torah, was admirable even in the secularly cultured person’s eyes, and dreamed of revolutionizing the world.
We also explored Rav Hutner’s notion of living a broad life. In the contrast made above, this idea is clearly more akin to Rav Hirsch’s unity than Rav Soloveitchik’s coexistence. Perhaps this is because of the similarity (and yet quite different!) between Slabodka, which was where Rav Hutner studied, and Hirsch’s TIDE.

A second fundamental difference is rolled into the definitions I gave above for derekh eretz and mada respectively – culture vs. secular wisdom. Rav Hirsch is idealizing a person who is a refined and upstanding member of his society. Rav Soloveitchik is speaking about knowledge. It was quipped on Avodah once that both want to produce the “Rabbi Dr.”, however TIDE wants an MD whereas TuM’s doctor would be a PhD.

Derekh Eretz’s refined member of society is not merely phrased in terms of taking the ennoblement that society has to offer. It also means contributing back to it. In Rav Hirsch’s ideal, the Jewish people are to be society’s moral voice. As Noach blessed his sons, “The aesthetics of G-d are with Yefes, and dwells in the house of Sheim.” We, carriers of Sheim’s mission, are to bring G-dliness into the social structures Yefes gifts to society.

This question isn’t directly addressed in R’ JB Soloveitchik’s TuM. Academics are known for their challenge of having to escape the ivory tower and live in the real world, and so this question isn’t central to the whole TuM formulation. However, we already discussed his brother Rav Aharon’s outspokenness on Vietnam and Biafra. I would therefore judge universalism to be part of the American Soloveitchiks’ worldview, but from the concept of kavod haberios (the dignity of man) and not necessarily a direct expression of TuM. (Or perhaps someone can show a significant rift between their understandings of TuM, something I am taking for granted is minimal.)

Then of course there are other “Torah and” models:The Chazon Ish promoted “Torah va’Avodah” (used to mean something different than the Bnei Akiva motto) — “Torah and productive work”. The fusion of Torah with earning a living. In his utopia, not everyone is in kollel.

The Chazon Ish’s notion is pragmatic. As the gemara puts it, there was a debate between R’ Yishmael and R’ Shim’on bar Yochai as to how to live. R’ Yishmael advised getting a job, and Rashbi advocated full time study. The gemara concludes “many tried to live as R’ Shim’on but few succeeded”. Life isn’t designed to be Torah only, thus it can’t be its Designer’s ideal that a full time life of learning is for all but those few.

The Vilna Gaon argued that all knowledge had essential unity. That it’s impossible to know Torah without knowing what one can of everything else — it’s all one thing.

It was usual (or perhaps: a pearl) in [the Vilna Gaon's] mouth, that a measure that a person is lacking in the treasured knowledge of the forces of nature, will be lacking 100 fold of the wisdom of Torah.

- Qol haTor pg 123

Thus theGaon’s ideal is also shaped by the pragmatic, but in a very different way than the Chazon Ish’s. The Chazon Ish speaks of how to succeed at living. Vilna Gaon is asserting that there is no way to succeed at Torah while pursuing a “Torah only” curriculum.

Perhaps related to the Gra’ position is the Rambam’s identification of ma’aseh hamerkavah (Ezekiel’s vision of the Divine Chariot) with metaphysics and theology, of a ma’aseh bereishis with the study of natural philosophy (roughly what we today would call “science”).

Rav Kook dismissed “Torah and” as being fundamentally illusory. Everything is from G-d and therefore inherently holy. There is only the obviously holy and that in which the sanctity is less visible. Everything one does that further’s Hashem’s goals are therefore of value. Even if the person doing it doesn’t realize his aims in those terms. This is how Rav Kook spoke of the holiness of the non- and anti-religious chalutz, who served Hashem’s aim of returning us to our land even while r”l denying His Existence.

And so, in Rav Kook’s worldview, harmony reigns, not Rav Soloveitchik’s notion of halakhah guiding one on how to choose between conflicting values. Secular knowledge is only seeming secular; in truth it is holy. Thus the conclusion is much like the Vilna Gaon’s — the unity is inherent in the material. However, Rav Kook provides a mystical explanation for the unity, whereas the Vilna Gaon’s was a pragmatic one about the nature of being knowledgable.

Rav Kook similarly sees that underlying holiness in participation in the best of contemporary civilization. Of course, he would say the best would be to do so in the context of developing Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, a factor not addressed by TIDE or TuM.

My own inclination, for what little it’s worth, is that the ideal is one of unity. I am not sure a human being can ever reach that ideal, but in any case, I am not there. And so I must recognize that to me Torah, mada and derekh eretz will at times yield conflicting priorities, and I must follow halakhah to decide among them.  Going beyond the Brisker outlook, I would say that I must also follow mussar, an awareness of where I need to grow at this point in my life, to provide guidance where halakhah does not.

I do not see how mada has value in and of itself, I am more inclined to value it as the Vilna Gaon does — knowledge is all one piece, and knowing more of one thing makes you more able to understand everything else.

Similarly, once one listens to mussar’s call to be a mentch and mada‘s call to be a knowledgable one even beyond the boundaries of the Torah, the call to derekh eretz to Yefes style refinement, has already been heard.

I am similarly unsure of the inherent value of derekh eretz. Derekh eretz, though, overlaps greatly with both with mussar and being a mentch and with mada. And in terms of high culture, much of it s mada

Noach and the Use of Wine

We were discussing on Avodah the origins of the idea of Qiddush. I argued that the notion of celebrating or thanking G-d with wine would seem to be one people would stumble upon naturally, arguing from Noach’s instinct to plant a vineyard.

Rn Toby Katz noted that I was making an unsupported assumption:

“Celebrating”? as Noach celebrating the “human condition” of having almost everyone you know dead in a world-wide catastrophe, and desperately wanting to escape the pain and grief of it all?

Interesting question: Was Noach drinking to forget, or to thank G-d for being saved? I really just assumed the latter. But looking at the context, I can see why I did so.Here is the sequence. Noach:
– gets off the ark,
– brings olos (entirely consumed offerings) thanking Hashem for being saved, and
– enters into a covenant with HQBH.

This covenant ends with “peru urevu … umora’akhem vechitekhem” (a repetition of the blessing to Adam to be fruitful, multiply, and dominate the creatures of the earth). In
short, the attention is firmly on rebuilding a future. As it is the introduction to the story about Noach getting drunk, where Hashem again lists those who left the ark, and introduces Kenaan.

So that explains why my mind went in that direction.

Looking at Rashi to answer this question, I also noticed the following:

Rashi makes a point of telling you that Kenaan is introduced because this story explains the root of Kenaan’s cursed state. Notice that it all starts with wine.

In saying Noach returned to his tent, the word “ohaloh” is oddly spelled with a final hei rather than ending with a vav to complete a full cholam, the usual suffix for “his”. Rashi tells us this is a reference to the 10 Shevatim, who were also called Ahalah — after the Shomeron. (A nickname for the Northern Kingdom that finds its way into Yom Kippur’s Qinos.) And why? Because the 10 Shevatim were lead astray through grape – “hashosim bemizreqei yayim — who drink wine from bowls and annoint themselves with the first of the oils, but are not pained by the downfall of Yosef (Amos 6:6)”.

There would seem to be an implied undercurrent of the 10 Tribes being accused of assimilating the attitude toward wine their Canaanite neighbors picked up from / demonstrated in this story.

And, judging from Amos, the problem with wine that Rashi is focusing on when explicating the story of Noach is inappropriate revelry.

Benching Gomel

I just wrote the following in an email to some friends. I thought it might interest others.

First, note that it’s called “gomel“, from a key word in the text of the berakhah. But it’s the same /גמל/ as “gemillus chasadim“. It means to support over time, rather than a single moment of loving-kindness. (The same root yields “gamal“, “camel”.) We make the blessing when we can feel G-d’s chesed, but the topic of the blessing is the continued chesed we get over an entire lives.

The gomel blessing is associated with life-saving situations. Which then raises the question of whether crossing the sea or the desert by airplane should really be on the list.

However, those who coined the berakhah were doing so as a stand-in for the qorban Todah, the Thanksgiving offering, which in turn was associated in particular with four kinds of rescue. In other words, anyone may offer such a sacrifice, but anyone who experienced one of these four were obligated to.

Rav Yehudah says in the name of Rav (Berakhos 54b): Four must express gratitude: Those who go down to the sea, those who cross the desert, one who was ill and was cured, and one who was imprisoned and was released.

(In Igeros Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:59) R’ Moshe Feinstein rules that the rule about saying gomel whenever crossing the sea is really about whenever one isn’t on land. Historically, this meant being over water, but today would include airplane flight. He therefore requires gomel after transcontinental flights even if no major bodies of water are crossed. Another modern debate is that many who do not rule like Rav Moshe Feinstein still require benching gomel when crossing the Great Salt Lake in Utah, whereas others do not. What is a “sea” for this purpose?)

This list is based on Psalms 107‘s descriptions of the times we called out to Hashem during the Exodus and He saved us. The connection to the Psalm is also cited by Rashi on the verse describing the offering, Lev. 7:12.

The Vilna Gaon spells out how Rav’s list occurred in the Exodus: (1) Going down into the Red Sea, (2) crossing the Sinai desert, (3) being cured from the whipping and other torture of the Egyptians, and (4) leaving servitude.

Connecting the sacrifice and therefore the blessing to the Exodus would make the fact that there are four items on the list more tantalizing. It echoes the four cups of wine at the seder, and the explanations and meanings given for them.

But what all this says to me (now for the personal observation) is that gomel isn’t only about being saved. The Exodus was a visible demonstration of the “Hand” of G-d in history and in human events. The visible demonstration which is placed at the foundation of Judaism. Gomel is particularly mandatory when we have a shadow (I already used “echoes” last paragraph) of that experience in our own lives.

Combining this with my opening thought about “gomel” and the idea that the blessing is really about the constant chesed in our lives that just happens to be more obvious at the moment, and we get:

Bentching gomel” is a recognition that all those little gifts from G-d that are all to easy take for granted are no less thanks-worthy than this major event which I can’t overlook, and teach me the lesson of the Exodus — that Hashem is constantly bestowing His Good to me.

Be a Jew Through and Through

Another guest entry. The following was originally submitted to (but not picked up by) Hamodia. Rav Hirsch’s quoted words are clearly the predecessor of R’ Breuer’s talk on “Glatt Yoshor“, which was also posted to this blog from an email by R’ Dr Levine.


Be A Jew Through and Through!
Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Stevens Institute of Technology
Hoboken, NJ 07030
[email protected]

A number of years ago we had a student from Stevens as our guest for the last days of Pesach. He came from a non-religious home and had become observant. At one point he confided in me, “My father once told me that every time he had business dealings with an observant Jew he felt that he was being cheated.” To put it mildly I was taken aback by what he had said.

I explained to him that what his father told him was clearly a broad generalization that could not be the truth about how all observant Jews behaved in their business dealings. I also pointed out that the Torah requires us to deal honestly and fairly with all people – Jew and Gentile.

Nonetheless, what he said has remained with me, and even now I find such a statement disturbing. Sadly, there are some “frum” Jews whose dealings with others are not in accordance with what Yiddishkeit demands from its adherents.

Recently I came across something from the writings of Rav Shimshon Rafael Hirsch that deals with this topic. In his essay “Tammuz I” found in the Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Rafael Hirsch, Volume I, pages 279 – 281, Rav Hirsch points out that one of the five tragedies that took place on the Seventeenth of Tammuz was that “The tablets [Luchos] were broken when Moshe descended from the mountain.” He then goes on to point out

“And the tables were written on both their sides, , on the one side and on the other were they written.” (Exodus 32, 15.)

The word from Sinai must not grip us only superficially and one-sidedly. It must penetrate us through and through, it must set its stamp indelibly on every part of our being, and whichever way we are turned the writing of God must everywhere be visible on us clearly and legibly. See the Divine tables of testimony! On them there was no above and below, no front and back. The writing pierced right through them, and yet they could be read on both sides. This must be a model for you. Be a Jew through and through. Whichever way you are turned, be a Jew. Do not engrave the Divine writing only on one side, one part, one aspect of your being, so that you will appear a Jew and a missioner of the Divine name and the Divine will only when regarded from one side and one aspect, but when you turn your back and enter into other relationships you will appear as anything but a Jew, a missioner for anything but the name and the will of God; or at any rate you will not be so completely a Jew, you will not be so clearly stamped as a missioner of God’s will. Be a Jew through and through on all sides and in all aspects. And do not esteem one side as facing more directly towards the Godhead. Do not imagine that you have received the stamp of the Divine word with more emphasis on this one side, and that you can allow the other side to be content with the after-effects of this stamp and with the mere traces of this imprint. Do not think that people as they look on one side can discern that the force of the Divine word has penetrated to the other, when you speak of what you call the main sides and the main periods and the main items and the main articles of your Judaism. In relation to God there is no reverse side and no opposite side; everything is turned to God and must be taken equally seriously, on every side the stamp of the Divine will is to be placed with the same force and care and directness. Let yourself be penetrated through and through from all sides with the Divine word!

We have recently observed the Fast of the Seventeenth of Tammuz and are now in the midst of the Three Weeks. It should be a time of introspection for all of us, given the calamities that we have experienced during this sad period. Perhaps each of us should now commit to striving to be a Jew through and through in all that we do.