Nine Qavim at the Buffet

 

אמר רב כהנא, “אדם רוצה בקב שלו מתשעה קבים של חבירו.”

Rav Kahanah would say, “A person desires one qav [a unit of volume; roughly 60 fl.oz.] of his own than nine qavim of his friend’s.”

-Bava Metzi’ah 38a

Rav Kahanah’s truism is an aspect of human nature that reflects our being in the “image” of G-d. The Ramchal explains (Derekh Hashem 1:2:1) that we exist in order to receive the ultimate good. However, since the Ultimate Good is the Creator Himself, receiving the ultimate good requires sharing in the task of creating it — in that way, being like Him. (The idea appears in other sources, dating at least as far back as Rav Saadia Gaon’s Emunos veDei’os, but Derekh Hashem is more available and has the more elaborate presentation.) This, the Ramchal explains, is why Hashem created two worlds for us: this world in which we emulate Him and create our reward, and the next world in which we can receive it without the distractions and filters that are a necessary part of this world.

 

Thus, humanity, made in the Creator’s “image”, enjoys one qav of self-made riches to nine qavim of handout.

The context of Rav Kahanah’s remark is to explain why someone who found someone else’s perishable grain would use his own and allow the other person’s to rot. The mitzvah of returning a lost item isn’t relevant if the item won’t survive long enough to be returned.

However, when we get to a smörgåsbord or qiddush, somehow this isn’t the evidenced behavior. People crowd the table, eat more than they ever would at home — perhaps eating a second helping of chulent while all the while criticizing its quality. Why? Shouldn’t the chulent at home, mishelo, be far more tempting than the chulent at the qiddush — shel chaveiro? Is there an exception to the rule when it comes to free food? But Rav Kahanah’s context was one of grain!

A co worker suggested that perhaps it is because of people’s need to horde food. The food at the qiddush is here now, and gone later. Thus, because mishelo is more desired, he is more loathe to spend it when there is an opportunity to eat mishel chaveiro instead.

But I am wondering if something more fundamental, and more damaging, may not be involved. This greater desire for qav mishelo requires the perspective of someone in the “image” of the Creator. It is uniquely human.

Perhaps the problem is that a “smörg” or a qiddush triggers the animal we (the soul) inhabits. That is why it doesn’t involve a creative being’s love of his own product. The is insane love of free food is simply the animal run amok.

Purim and Permanence

One of the questions that have pried on my conscience is exactly how we managed to let life return to normal in the past 6 years. 9/11 was supposed to make everything different, but no longer to we see all that much of the friendliness and helpfulness that was our culture for those first months.

And now, just two weeks ago, we again are immersed in tragedy. Who can blog on young boys killed, particularly on Purim? It would seem designed by the A-lmighty to have happened to boys whose death would echo across the whole Torah observant community. Boys from a Religious Zionist yeshiva, killed because they were the ones who needed to grab another few minutes in front of a seifer when everyone else was preparing to celebrate Rosh Chodesh Adar II. Thus awakening the chareidi sector with images of what they dream for their own sons.

Meanwhile, here in the Greater New York area we were morning a death that also seemed designed to unify the community. Of all people, Rav Zev Segal whose son is on the radio. And a type of death that left his whereabouts unknown, mobilizing many of the fine members of our various chesed organizations, and a crowd fathering worried about their radios as they wondered where his was throughout a morning’s show.

And just in case someone failed to see the unifying theme behind both events, the idea that we need to unify, there is an eerie element connecting them. Rabbi Segal was a survivor– and likely the last survivor of a previous attack on a yeshiva, the slaughter in the Chevron Yeshiva during the 1929 pogrom.

And so, the question that burns within me: How do we hold on to that unity? How do we not waste another opportunity for permanent change?

דברים כה:יז זָכ֕וֹר אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ עֲמָלֵ֑ק בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶ֥ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃
יח אֲשֶׁ֨ר קָֽרְךָ֜ בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּ֤ב בְּךָ֙ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִ֣ים אַֽחֲרֶ֔יךָ וְאַתָּ֖ה עָיֵ֣ף וְיָגֵ֑עַ וְלֹ֥א יָרֵ֖א אֱלֹהִֽים׃
יט וְהָיָ֡ה בְּהָנִ֣יחַ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֣יךָ ׀ לְ֠ךָ מִכָּל־אֹ֨יְבֶ֜יךָ מִסָּבִ֗יב בָּאָ֨רֶץ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר יְהוָֽה־אֱ֠לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵ֨ן לְךָ֤ נַֽחֲלָה֙ לְרִשְׁתָּ֔הּ תִּמְחֶה֙ אֶת־זֵ֣כֶר עֲמָלֵ֔ק מִתַּ֖חַת הַשָּׁמָ֑יִם לֹ֖א תִּשְׁכָּֽח׃

Devarim 25:17 Remember what Amaleiq did to you on your way out of Egypt.
18 When they happened upon you on the way, and you were tired and exhausted, they cut off those lagging to your rear, and they did not fear God.
19 Therefore, when Hashem gives you peace from all the enemies around you in the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you to occupy as a heritage, you must obliterate all reminders of Amaleiq from under the heavens. You must not forget.

Rashi on our verse identifies Amaleiq with a philosophy of miqreh, happenstance. Thus the use of the word qarkha — happened upon you. There is also frequent mention of the gematria of Amaleiq being the same as that of safeiq, doubt (240). They taught of a world of accident, not purpose. This is why, in the original war against Amaleiq, Moshe’s role was to sit atop the mountain with his hands raised, and “As long as the Jewish people looked Heavenwards and humbled their hearts to their Father in heaven, they prevailed.” (Rosh haShanah 2aa)

The word “qarkha“, is somewhat ambiguous, allowing Chazal (cited by Rashi on Devarim to also be taken as a derivative of “qar“, cold — “who cooled you off on the way”. Amaleiq is also identified with a cooling off of the spiritual high and prestige Israel had after all the miracles of the first half of the book of Shemos. To quote the Tanchuma:

Amalek cooled you off in the presence of others. This may be likened to a boiling hot bath, which no person could enter, for fear of being scalded. One roughneck came along and jumped into the steaming water. Although he became scalded, he cooled it off for others; now others will say that it’s possible to enter this hot bath. Likewise, when the Jews left Egypt, at the time of the Exodus, G-d split the Sea for them and all the Egyptians were drowned in it. At that time, the fear of the Jews – and G-d – fell upon all nations of the world, as is written, “Then were frightened the Dukes of Edom..” (Shemos 15:15)

Combining these two, we get an image of Amaleiq who allows our spiritual peaks cool by making up excuses, how the event we found so moving and inspiring at the time can be explained away as coincidence or a single odd event, nothing to cause us to rethink “real life”.

Amaleiq stands for that very thing that is so bothering me — the mindset which avoids holding on to permanent improvement.

And so, Purim’s fight against Haman can be viewed as a battle to see the meaning in the events of our lives, and to refuse to simply “cool off” after them. That purim, lots, aren’t random, they are expressions of the Will of G-d. Whether it is Hashem’s postponing Haman’s attack until we had a chance to do teshuvah or whether it is the difference between the goat chosen in the Beis haMiqdash on Yom hakePurim to be headed upward to G-d, or downward to ruin.

This notion that Purim explains the way to make a change permanent dovetails well with ideas we have discussed in the past. In a thought on parashas Pequdei I wrote:

There is a famous Aggadita that explains why Moshe Rabbeinu could not be the one to take us into Eretz Yisrael. Anything Moshe did is permanent. This is important, because if it were possible to abrogate one thing that he did, it brings into question the permanence of the Torah. However, Hashem knew that the time would come when the Jews would deserve punishment. By having Joshua bring us into Israel, it made the choice of exile a possible punishment.

… On the eighth day the assembly was done by Moshe. The eighth day also parallels the Third Beis Hamikdosh, which will never be destroyed. Moshe was not merely participating in the consecration of the Mishkan, but also was demonstrating the permanence of the Messianic age. The Temple will not fall again, there will be no more exiles.

But what gave Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions the power of permanence?

We find that Hashem uses two adjectives to describe Moshe. The first is anav, modest….

R. Yochanan Hasandler (Avos 4:14) describes what gives permanence to a congregation. “Any congregation which is lesheim Shamayim will end up existing, and congregation which is not lesheim Shamayim will not end up existing.”

Perhaps this too is the source of the permanence of Moshe Rabbeinu’s actions. Just as a congregation that is lesheim Shamayim endures, so too other activities.

In turn, when defining anavah we looked at Esther’s willingness to step forward “if it’s for this very time that you reached royalty” and how stepping forward and making something of herself required “ka’asher avadti avadti – as I am lost, so I will be lost. A balance between knowing who you are capable of being and who you aren’t.

And so, Esther too explains that road to real, permanent, change.

And, as we noted last week, Purim is permanent in a way the other holidays isn’t. It alone has a role that doesn’t end with the messiah.

And this would explain why the megillah’s story doesn’t end with the Jews’ victory in defending themselves. It continues on to tell us how to revisit the events of Purim each year. And then, the short chapter 10… After everything the king goes back to setting taxes, and Mordechai is liked by most of Jewry. Not all, this is no fairy tale ending. Everything is back to the same, but it isn’t… There is commitment for the future, and thus the journey to the second Beis haMiqdash began.

A while ago I wrote about Greek notions of circular time in contrast to Judaism, which gave the notion of progress to the world. Not that we deny circular time; each year at the seder, “a person is obligated to see himself as if he himself left Egypt”. However, in addition to the repetition of the shanah, we have the notion of incremental progress of the yom. Eis and zeman. We have the lessons we can take from that day’s new events, and the concept of chazarah, reviewing the lessons we would otherwise relegate to ancient history.

And so, to return to our opening question… How do we hold on to that unity that so clearly was engineered by the A-lmighty emerge from the tragedy of the past two weeks? First, take the lesson. Notice the unity and note how Hashem was teaching us something. Hislamdus.

Second, revisit it. Today is Purim. Take responsibility for the poor you give your money to, and when you meet them, treat them as people, not tzedaqah cases. When giving out mishloach manos, think about and appreciate the friends and neighbors who stop by. Think about renewing that friendship with the person who dropped off this year’s list but still had you among their names. And perhaps you might read this with time to still bring one last package to someone outside of your normal circle. Someone who approaches G-d differently than you do, who dresses differently and has a different social group. If enough of us bridge the gap, that gap could disappear.

Tziduq haDin

Tziduk Hadin
Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz

Yated Ne’eman
March 13, 2008

Yerushalayim in shock
Numb with grief
Frozen hearts
Disbelief

In the heart of Yerushalayim
A yeshiva under attack
Unarmed students
Shot in the back
Rifle blazing
No escape
Vicious death trap
Savage hate
Gunfire roaring
Young men falling
Massacred
No escape

On Rosh Chodesh
Adar Sheini.
Yeshiva bochurim

Close to eighty
The murderer sought
To kill them all
600 bullets
Blasted forth.

Innocent souls
Pure young men
Will never speak
Learn
Or laugh again
Victims so young
Leave us behind
To ponder the tragedy
Of how they died

Complacency shattered
Pow
Does nonsense still matter?
Bang
People misguided, divided
Boom

The first report announced
Terror in a yeshiva
All across the world
Headlines screamed
A yeshiva, a yeshiva
Under siege

Jews gasped,
Immediately asked,
Which yeshiva?
Where is the yeshiva?

Is it the yeshiva
Where my son learns?
My brother?
My cousin?
My friend?

We are all sons
All brothers
All cousins
All friends

Can it be that yeshivos, too,
are no longer safe?

Our teivas noach
In stormy waves
The teivah was breached
Bochurim slain
Wounded, bleeding
Searing pain

The Jewish heart punctured
Jewish souls bereaved
Across the world
United in grief

Yerushalmi Yidden
Broke down and cried.
For the yeshiva was taken
To the war’s front lines

All over Eretz Yisroel
As they assembled for Maariv
They said Yaaleh Veyavoh
for Chodesh Adar
And when they finished davening,
A silence so bitter
All they could muster
A tearful whisper
Hashem yishmor

How were there no guns that
day in Merkaz Harav?
Young boys died armed only with
their seforim
Mosru nafshom al kiddush Hashem

Gemaros soaked with victims’ blood
Seforim shot up, survivors numb
Friends gone forever, innocent youth
To their final rest in the world of Truth

Fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers
Trying to comfort each other
Sitting shivah, hearts rent
Grief that keeps flowing without end

As vast as the ocean is Jewish pain
The cycle returns in every decade
Hate and persecution take their toll
On a nation with an eternal soul

Down the corridors of history
From the days of Harugei Beitar
The eight crusades
Gezeiros Tach V’Tat

Crisscrossing the globe
The pogroms in Russia
Poland… Chevron.

Auschwitz
Birkenau
Therezenstadt
Treblinka

Naharia
Kiryat Shemonah
Munich
Sderot

The 12 bus
The 2 bus
Sbarro’s
Park Hotel
Netanya
Pesach night

When will it end?

Rain the first night of Sukkos
Signals G-d’s displeasure
What about the innocent
Snatched on the first night of Adar

Do we feel the pain in our
deepest soul?
Do we feel the hurt or are our
hearts cold?

A yeshiva.
Any yeshiva,
Is no longer safe!

The mizbei’ach is mechapeir
for avonos
The bais medrash became a mizbei’ach

What happened to “ein
moridim m’hamizbei’ach
”?
What happened to the
zechus haTorah?

Lechapeir al avonoseinu,
Chodesh nehepach misasson l’eivel

But the story will soon change
In the end of days
As love conquers hate
And comfort removes pain,
Truth will triumph over lies
Darkness will finally yield to light

Ohr chodosh al Tziyon ta’ir
The light of Moshiach will shine
Over Tzion
And Yerushalayim

When we learn to
Love
Care
Feel the pain
Of the exile

When at last we unite
As brothers and sisters
When love binds us close
Despite our differences
No one will defeat us
Armed with our oneness
No enemy can beat us

Amaleik’s power manifests in Adar.
Haman’s dice landed on Adar

Parshas Shekolim tells the secret
Of the machatzis hashekel
Its power to counteract our
eternal foes
Amaleik and Haman.

Machatzis — half.
Because without each other,
We aren’t whole

One half and another half
And another
And another
No longer separate
But part of each other.

Achdus brings us victory
It has no rival
The ‘magic bullet’
That ensures our survival.

Esther said to Mordechai,
Leich kenos es kol haYehudim.”
Bring the Jews together

Only if they are together,
Can I win the king over
Only if they are united
Can we triumph
Over Haman
And prevail over
Amaleik

Leich kenos es kol haYehudim.”
Only if we are together,
Can we defeat Yishmoel

When we are One
Echad
Without friction or fighting
No power can hurt us
No force is as mighty.

K’Ish Echad B’Laiv Echad
Under Hashem Echod.
May Hashem bring us safely
To that blessed day
Bayom hahu yehiyeh Hashem Echod
U’shmo Echod

The Efficacy of Prayer

Last Thursday morning, hours before the attack at Mercaz haRav, there was a tefillah rally at the kotel featuring a number of well known rabbis. On Avodah, R’ Eli Turkel repeated this provocative question:

My wife spoke this morning with a former terrorist victim (lost husband and 2 sons).
She asked my wife that thursday morning there was a public prayer at the kotel with important rabbis. That night was the tragedy at yeshivat Mercaz haRav.
What good is all these prayers?
What do you answer this woman?

The mishnah warns, “Al tehi ke’avadim hameshamshim es harav al menas leqabeil peras – Do not be like those servants who serve their master for the sake of getting rewarded.” In my humble opinion, this it true of prayer no less than any other mitzvah. Praying in order to get something misses the point.

Remember being a child, and your father just yelled at you, and you may not even be quite sure what you did wrong? But then, when the scolding is over, you need a hug just to know that everything is okay between you.

Tefillah in a time of troubles, is about reaching out to Hashem when you feel alone. If this closeness and acknowledgement of His role in what you need happens to eliminate the role of the pain or lack in one’s life, that’s a happy consequence. Not the purpose.

So, to answer the woman’s question in a way that is sensitive to her pain: The efficacy of the prayer is in the reaching out to G-d itself. Turn to Him to that you don’t have to shoulder it alone. So that your pain serves a higher purpose — remembering with Whom he is interacting. Remembering that the tragic has a role in His purpose and in our lives’ meaning. That it doesn’t defy a loving relationship but in some way we can’t understand comes from it.

This is why it is specifically when we are in the depths of pain that minhag Yisrael calls on the mourner to cry out the truth that everything serves a greater plan — the ultimate revelation of G-d’s Greatness.

Vera’isa es Achorai

After the Golden Calf, Moshe asks Hashem if he could see His “Face”.

Hashem then said, ‘I have a special place where you can stand on the rocky mountain. When My glory passes by, I will place you in a crevice in the mountain, protecting you with My power until I pass by. I will then remove My “Palms”, וְרָאִ֖יתָ אֶת־אֲחֹרָ֑י וּפָנַ֖י לֹ֥א יֵֽרָאֽוּ — and you will see my “Back”; My “Face”, will not be seen.

- Shemos 33:21-23

Even in the depths of hesteir panim, of Hashem hiding His “Face” from us, we can sometimes get a glimpse, a tantalizing hint, that there is more going on than it seems.

Last Thursday the Jewish world was shocked by the murder of eight boys who were studying in the beis medrash of Mercaz haRav.

Earlier that day, Rabbi Zev Segal was found drowned in his car in the Hackensack River. Friends of the Segals and numerous people who felt a connection to him from his years as a rabbi in Newark, in the leadership of the RCA, through his sons’ work teaching and on the radio followed the search closely. All the community help organizations were mobilized.

Unfortunately, this was not the first attack by arabs on yeshiva students in Israel studying in their beis medrash. The recent attack holds strong resemblance to the attack on the yeshiva students of Chevron during the pogrom in 1929, killing 23 boys. As Rav Yaakov Shapira, rosh yeshivah of Mercaz haRav, said between tears in his eulogy, “You are the holy of the holies, you are the yeshiva, the dear sons of Zion. This massacre is the continuation of the 1929 massacre, and the prophet’s blood is still boiling.” (There is much to be said about this reference, but I don’t know what it is yet. I did, though, pull out copies of Eikhah Rabasi and Kinos for Tish’ah be’Av to see what the rosh yeshivah meant. I invite people to post comments on the comparison to the killing of Zechariah.)

One of the survivors of the massacre in Chevron was Rabbi Segal.

I am not claiming I can understand the meaning of this “coincidence”, but I can’t help but believe this is a glimpse beyond the curtain. That even in days of darkness, Hashem makes sure we can see Him, if only from behind.

Mi sheBeirakh

When someone is found guilty of a crime, he may be sent to jail. But that person isn’t the only person who gets punished. His wife loses his companionship. His children lose access to their father. They and his parents are shamed. His employer loses out on an employee, and his customers on his services. The person he used to say “Hello!” to on the way to work every morning gets that much less joy in the morning. For that matter, the people they meet get impacted because the employer faces these people when he is more stressed. The impact of one person’s imprisonment ripples outward.

We are only human beings. We can’t take all that into account when deciding when and how to punish someone.

However, Hashem can. Every person impacted by some tragedy are impacted in some customized way appropriate for their life story.

Rav JB Soloveitchik uses this idea to explain how a “Mi sheBeirakh” works. It is hard enough to understand how someone’s own prayer can cause their fate to be modified. But how would we explain how a sick person’s health would be improved in response to the prayers of people he might not have ever met or ever learn of their prayer or perhaps never even know of their existence?

Rav Soloveitchik answers that the tefillah turns the personal tragedy into a communal one. Across the community, someone does not deserve to hear of the tragedy. Someone’s impact would be unfair. And the community itself, as a corporate entity, has merit that perhaps is greater than that of the sum of its members. The community’s standing is continuous since Avraham, touched by every person along the chain of tradition; its members’ standing dates back to their births.

Today, the day-long search for Rabbi Zev Segal ended when his body was found in his car submerged in the Hackensack River. He was on the way home from his son Nachum Segal’s radio show. Tragedy struck someone whose life is discussed on the airwaves. And due to the time it took to found him, for 24 hours talk and tefillos were at a peak.

I shared an apartment with Nachum in High School, where I knew his brother Yigal, and had Rabbi Zev Segal’s oldest son, Rabbi Nate Segal, as an NCSY Regional Directory.

But there aren’t too many other people or timing for whom the news would spread that rapidly or on that personal a level.

I can’t see a much more clear call for the Mi sheBeirakh effect — for the public to share in the Segals’ pain, evoking the sanctity of the eternal Jewish community.  If we are en masse sharing an individual’s suffering, we must each see what our share of the pain, how the event ripples out to us, impacts our lives. What lessons Hashem is imparting to us. It is neither appropriate nor within our ability to try to understand His message to those more closely impacted by the tragedy. However, looking at we can change, ourselves, given knowledge we have of our own actions and mindset, we can analyze our second hand pain and take lesson from it.

More so when, while trying to make sense of their loss, my daughter calls to reassure me, “I’m okay, but there was just an attack at Mercaz, down the hill…” Your heart leaps to your throat; it’s impossible to swallow. And I wonder, with all the sadness hovering around my life the past few days, what exactly am I doing that made this slew of news appropriate for me? In which ways can it motivate me to respond?

The Kindness of Hashem

For many years — from before my bar mitzvah until my marriage — I had the honor to learn with Rabbi Matis Blum (who was a teen when we started) on Shabbos morning. Yesterday I had the heartwrenching experience of attending his wife’s funeral. Rebbetzen Etty Blum was 45 at the time, a mother of ten children.

I just want to make one point that emerged from the hespeidim.

When Rn Blum was diagnosed with a brain tumor, 1-1/2 years ago, she brought the news to her oldest daughter, Binah, and her husband with the opening, “Let me share with you the challenge Hashem gave me.” Chasdei Hashem, she said — the kindness of Hashem.

Initially they thought she was diagnosed on time. It was Elul. She thanked Hashem for giving her the tools to pray that Rosh haShanah and Yom Kippur with real intent.

Then she learned that she would have to go for scans every three months to monitor the tumor. Rn Blum thanked Hashem for not giving her an opportunity to slip back into complacency after appealing to Him from within her crisis. Again, “Chasdei Hashem“, as she saw it.

Then the first scans came back, and the news wasn’t good. Again she thanked G-d,  “Chasdei Hashem” as she described it to her family, because He gave her the news piecewise. Had she heard how bad it was when she first got the news, would she have been able to accept it?

During her illness, Rn Etty Blum gave talks about davening, about accepting Shabbos just a little earlier even in the winter, about teaching our children that Shabbos is about more than a day to play ball. In particular, she herself took on the Jerusalem practice of lighting Shabbos candles 40 minutes before sunset rather than 18.

Two weeks ago, she and her sister  were in the hospital, but Rn Blum was unaware, staring off into the distance. The illness, after all, was attacking her brain. As Shabbos approached her sister told her it was time to light. Suddenly, awareness dawned. And they turned on the lamp together and started Shabbos.

Last Friday too she drifted off. And her sister tried again to tell her it was time for Shabbos lights. Her sister didn’t see her move, but the nurse noticed her eyes turn to look at her sister. So, her sister took her hand, and again they turned on the lamp together. A short while later, she was gone.

Rabbi Matis got the news before he began Shabbos. But he didn’t tell anyone. He carried through Shabbos giving his usual talks. He carried the burden and didn’t ruin anyone else’s Shabbos but his own. And as soon as havdalah was over, he called their children over, and  finally released the pain of a partner lost.

Many people say “chasdei Hashem — the lovingkindness of G-d”. How many actually feel it? Actually are capable of being happy with their lot,  both when enjoyable and even to have the opportunity of living through trials, through challenges?

“Moshe rejoices with the giving of his portion, for a trustworthy servant you have called him.”

תהא נפשה צרורה בצרור החיים