I was recently interviewed by Steve Savitsky, the president of the OU, for his radio show “Around the Dining Room Table“. Here is their description of the show:

Not excited about Jewish practice? Have trouble tolerating fellow Jews and their different practices? Steve Savitsky sits around the dining room table with Rabbis Benjamin Hecht and Micha Berger.

My goal in my interview was to explain what AishDas is, and to motivate people to contact us about programming. You can hear it here.

I saved my own interview on, just in case OURadio moves their archives at some point in the future. But you can hear the full show, including R’ Hecht’s interesting thoughts about what he’s trying to accomplish at Nishma at the OU’s original.

Last, here’s the review from the Audio Roundup on Hirhurim:

Beyond Tolerance, Above Rote – Steve Savitsky:

Rabbi Hecht’s formula for achdut – Learn other shitot and learn with those from other backgrounds (ok – that shouldn’t take much).

R’Berger quotes R’YBS on missing the erev Shabbat Jew (you know – the one who’s not jumping out of a shower 2 minutes before Shabbat) and discuss the aishdas program ( – changing the world one shul at a time).

Mr. Savitsky notes one shul where people are inspired and excited to come, he doesn’t note that this shul represents a self selecting audience (post hoc ergo propter hoc yada yada).

While on the topic of “what is AishDas?” we recently completed a new mission statement.

The AishDas Society


“Miymino AishDas lamo.” AishDas is read from the Torah as two words. Aish, the fire of faith, a soul aflame, striving for fulfillment, seeking its creator. Das, ritual, the precision of halachic law, understanding and grasping the details of the mission for which Hashem chose us. It is written as a single word, unique in Tanach, untranslatable. AishDas is the synthesis of the fire and the law, a whole that is greater than its parts.

If one is to reach this level, Torah must become the whole life. It is not enough to pursue the depths of the soul to reach the fire within. Das must not be limited to the synagogue or the tzedakah box, but must encompass define an entire lifestyle. Halachah defines all of our relationships – with Hashem, with our fellow man, and with ourselves. To build hislehavus we must reconnect our shemiras hamitzvos to the basic principles of Torah, Avodah, and Gemillus Chassadim.

To burn with AishDas means to learn from and grow with the mitzvos. To be observant not merely out of habit or upbringing, but to connect with every deed on an intellectual and emotional level.

Mission Statement:

The AishDas Society empowers Jews to
utilize their observance in a process for building
thoughtful and passionate relationships with
their Creator, other people and themselves.

To do so, we offer unique programs,
educational events and a supportive community,
and help other organizations develop programs and curricula.

Four principles underlie this vision:

First, “process”: Living a meaningful life requires developing the abilities and personality to live up to one’s ideals.  Mitzvos such as kedoshim tihyu – the pursuit of holiness, ve’asisa hayashar vehatov – to do the straight and the good, and vehalachta bidrachav – to go in His Ways, define what we must do by defining what kind of person we must be. Sadly, their lack of specific limits of actions and duties often leads us to relate to these mitzvos as mere platitudes, but in reality, they must be the very ideals that inform how we go about our avodah.

Second, “passionate”: Observance that does not grow into passion is perforce not a life led fully according to the Torah. One must have a passionate relationship with the Creator, one that isn’t an addition to the core shemiras hamitzvos and ameilus baTorah which comprise Judaism, but is rooted in it and flows from it.

Third, “thoughtful”: Jewish thought requires the same level of analysis that we bring to other areas of Torah study. Love requires knowing the beloved, and it motivates studying the beloved.  A life of striving to be an idealist requires an understanding of the ideals, which can only come through in-depth analysis.

Last, “relationships”: A Torah‑observant life touches what one is in all situations and in all spheres of life. It means paying as much attention to the ethics of Choshen Mishpat as to the rites of Orach Chaim or the guidelines of Yoreh Dei’ah and Even haEzer. In Dr. Nathan Birnbaum’s words, one must work toward da’as – an intimate knowledge of the Almighty; rachamim – an empathetic relationship toward others; and tif’eres – a mind totally shaped by and at harmony with the Torah’s way of thought and values.

Ben Chamishim le’Aitzah

בן חמישים לעצה

- יהודה בן תימא, אבות ה:כא

וּמִבֶּן֙ חֲמִשִּׁ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה יָשׁ֖וּב מִצְּבָ֣א הָעֲבֹדָ֑ה וְלֹ֥א יַעֲבֹ֖ד עֽוֹד׃

- במדבר ח:כה

שמייעץ את אחיו ומלמדם לשמור משמרתם

- רש”י שם

וְהִגִּישׁ֤וֹ אֲדֹנָיו֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהִגִּישׁוֹ֙ אֶל־הַדֶּ֔לֶת א֖וֹ אֶל־הַמְּזוּזָ֑ה וְרָצַ֨ע אֲדֹנָ֤יו אֶת־אָזְנוֹ֙ בַּמַּרְצֵ֔עַ וַעֲבָד֖וֹ לְעֹלָֽם׃

-שמות כא:ו

עד היובל או אינו אלא לעולם (קידושין טו) כמשמעו ת”ל (ויקרא כה) ואיש אל משפחתו תשובו מגיד שחמשים שנה קרויים עולם ולא שיהא עובדו כל חמשים שנה אלא עובדו עד היובל בין סמוך בין מופלג.

- רש”י שם

כִּֽי־אָמַ֗רְתִּי ע֭וֹלָם חֶ֣סֶד יִבָּנֶ֑ה שָׁמַ֓יִם׀ תָּכִ֖ן אֱמוּנָתְךָ֣ בָהֶֽם׃

-תהלים פט:ג

וְשֹׁמֵ֖עַ לְעֵצָ֣ה חָכָֽם׃

- משלי יב:טו

בֵּ֣ן חָ֭כָם מ֣וּסַר אָ֑ב

- משלי יג:א

שְׁמַ֣ע עֵ֭צָה וְקַבֵּ֣ל מוּסָ֑ר לְ֝מַ֗עַן תֶּחְכַּ֥ם

- משלי יט:כ

ודי לחכימא ברמיזה!

Happy anniversary to Aspaqlaria‘s two most loyal readers!


I was recently asked for help preparing material for a va’ad on heroism. Shirah Bell, one of the other recipients of the initial email offered this as a typical definition of heroism:

The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.

Nothing sprung to mind, so my first reaction was to wonder if perhaps that indicated that heroism simply wasn’t a Torah value.

A gibor, often translated a “hero”, is one who is “koveish es yitzro – conquers his desires”, is able to place duty ahead of desire, or perhaps one’s desire to lead a meaningful life over one’s baser desires. In Or Yisrael, “conquering the yeitzer” means the ability not to act on the inclination even though it still persists within me. (As opposed to tiqun hayeitzer, in which the inclination is repaired and exists in proper proportion and in response to the appropriate triggers.) Gevurah is the self-restraint of letting my 2 year old fall over her own feet because doing what comes naturally would never allow her to learn how to walk.

But replacing the original question with addressing gevurah is akin to saying that there is a Jewish heroism, it just happens to be something different than heroism as generally understood. I have seen writers take that approach; but to my mind, if it’s no longer the same idea, why use the same word and imply a parallelism that isn’t there?

Alan Morinis, another name on the email’s “to” list (published author of two Mussar books and founder of The Mussar Institute), suggested that perhaps the “space” that would normally be occupied by heroism play less of a role within a Mussar outlook. With sufficient bitachon , trust in Hashem that everything is going and will go according to His plan, one is attacking fear in that domain rather than lauding the person who overcomes fear.

However, the conversation eventually got back to the author’s original suggestion, the roots of the words chizuq and ometz. Which got me to Hashem’s charge to Yehoshua at the beginning of the book:

ו: חֲזַ֖ק וֶֽאֱמָ֑ץ כִּ֣י אַתָּ֗ה תַּנְחִיל֙ אֶת־הָעָ֣ם הַזֶּ֔ה אֶת־הָאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתִּי לַֽאֲבוֹתָ֖ם לָתֵ֥ת לָהֶֽם׃

6 Be strong and of good courage; for you will cause this nation to inherit the land which I swore to their fathers to give them.

ז רַק֩ חֲזַ֨ק וֶֽאֱמַ֜ץ מְאֹ֗ד לִשְׁמֹ֤ר לַֽעֲשׂוֹת֙ כְּכָל־הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר צִוְּךָ֙ מֹשֶׁ֣ה עַבְדִּ֔י אַל־תָּס֥וּר מִמֶּ֖נּוּ יָמִ֣ין וּשְׂמֹ֑אול לְמַ֣עַן תַּשְׂכִּ֔יל בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃

7 Only be strong and very courageous, to observe to do according to all of the Torah which Moshe My servant commanded you; do not veer from it to the right nor to the left, so that you would achieve wherever you go.

ח לֹֽא־יָמ֡וּשׁ סֵפֶר֩ הַתּוֹרָ֨ה הַזֶּ֜ה מִפִּ֗יךָ וְהָגִ֤יתָ בּוֹ֙ יוֹמָ֣ם וָלַ֔יְלָה לְמַ֨עַן֙ תִּשְׁמֹ֣ר לַֽעֲשׂ֔וֹת כְּכָל־הַכָּת֖וּב בּ֑וֹ כִּי־אָ֛ז תַּצְלִ֥יחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶ֖ךָ וְאָ֥ז תַּשְׂכִּֽיל׃

8 This book of the Torah shall not depart from your mouth, but you will contemplate it day and night, so that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will succeed in your ways, and then you will achieve.

ט הֲל֤וֹא צִוִּיתִ֨יךָ֙ חֲזַ֣ק וֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ אַֽל־תַּעֲרֹ֖ץ וְאַל־תֵּחָ֑ת כִּ֤י עִמְּךָ֙ יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ בְּכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר תֵּלֵֽךְ׃  {פ}

9 Have not I commanded you to be strong and of good courage? Do not be afraid and not not get discouraged; for Hashem your G-d is with you wherever you go. {P}

Chazaq ve’ematz” has a clear central role in Yehoshua’s success at his mission — Hashem uses the expression three times in His berakhah when Yehoshua takes leadership.

So, what do the words mean?

I think we can take a lead from the parallelism in pasuq 9: “חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ, אַל-תַּעֲרֹץ וְאַל-תֵּחָת – be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid and not not get discouraged…” Fear is something we experience when dealing with the unknown, the new. Discouragement sets in after someone tries an activity, and success is evading them. The verse would therefore suggest that chizuq is the strength to get something started whereas ometz is the ability to stick with it after the newness and the initial excitement fade.

The language of Tanakh being what it is, we could equally argue that the injunction is not to fear and not to get discouraged as not to act on any fear or loss of hope. In general, the concept of being obligated in a middah is difficult. We therefore often explain the mitzvah as an obligation in kibbush, not tiqun, hayeitzer. For example, this is a dispute between the Rambam (Gezeilah 1:9) and the Raavad (ibid) as to whether the prohibition “lo sachmod” is on the literal desire (Rambam) or acting on that desire such as persuading the owner to sell it despite the seller’s best interest (Raavad). Both only say a sin is committed upon action — but according to the Rambam, the violation is not punishable, as the essence of the violation was not the act.)

In which case, if chazaq ve’ematz means continue even when you are afraid or despairing, it does give us a concept much like heroism.

It also closely resembles zerizus (alacrity) as described in the Mesilas Yasharim. From the beginning of chapter 7:

THERE ARE TWO DIVISIONS OF ZEAL, one relating to the period before, and the other to the period after the beginning of the deed. The concern of the former is that a man not permit a mitzvah to grow stale, that when the time for its performance arrives, or when it happens to present itself to him, or when the thought of performing it enters his mind, he make haste to take hold of the mitzvah and perform it, and not allow much time to elapse in the interim, there being no greater danger; for each new minute can bring with it some new hindrance to a good deed. Our Sages of blessed memory awakened us to this truth through reference to the coronation of Solomon (Bereshith Rabbah 76:2), in relation to which David told Benaiah (I Kings 1:33,36), “…and take him down to Gichon,” and Benaiah answered, “Amen, may God say so .” “R. Pinchas asked in the name of R. Chanan of Sepphoris, `Was it not said (I Chronicles 22:9), “A son will be born to you and he will be a man of tranquility” ? The answer is: Many adverse occurrences can take place from here to Gichon.’ ” We were therefore warned by our Sages of blessed memory (Mechilta Shemoth 12:17), ” `Watch over the matzoth’ – if a mitzvah presents itself to you, do not permit it to go stale;” and (Nazir 23b), “A man should always advance himself towards a mitzvah, for because the elder daughter preceded the younger she was worthy of putting forward four generations of royalty in Israel;” and (Pesachim 4a), “The zealous advance themselves towards mitzvoth;” and (Berachoth 66), “A man should always run to perform a mitzvah,even on the Sabbath.” And in the Midrash it is stated, (Vayikra Rabbah 11:8), ” `He will guide us eternally ‘(Psalms 48:15), – with Zeal, as young maids ["eternally" and "young maids" are similarly constructed in the Hebrew], as it is said (Psalms 68:26), ‘…in the midst of young maids playing upon timbrels.”‘ The possession of Zeal constitutes an extremely high level of spiritual development, which a person’s nature prevents him from attaining at once. He who strengthens himself, however, and acquires as much of Zeal as he is able to, will, in time to come, truly attain to it. The Creator, may His Name be blessed, will present it to him as a reward for having striven for it during the time of his service.

The concern of “Zeal after the beginning of the deed” is that a man, after taking hold of a mitzvah, make haste to complete it; not for the sake of ease, as with one who wishes to relieve himself of a burden, but for fear that he might not otherwise be able to complete it. Our Sages of blessed memory have voiced many exhortations concerning this: (Bereshith Rabbah 85:4), “One who begins a mitzvah and does not complete it buries his wife and sons;” and (Ibid.), “A mitzvah is attributed only to the one who completes it.” And King Solomon, may Peace be upon him, said (Proverbs 22:29), “Have you seen a man quick in his work? He will stand before kings. He will not stand before low-life.” Our Sages of blessed memory paid this tribute to Solomon himself (Sanhedrin 104b) for having made haste in the building of the Temple, and not having idled and delayed it. They commented in a similar manner upon Moses’ zeal in the work of the Tabernacle (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:2).

So perhaps we can return to Dr. Morinis’s answer. Perhaps after all that, chazaq ve’amatz are not discussed very often in Mussar literature because the situations in which they arise tend to be discussed in terms of zerizus. Rather than discussing the power to overcome fear or discouragement, attacking the impediments in the way of accomplishing one’s goal, the talk was historically in terms of commitment and zeal for that goal. One could wonder how to overcome a problem; or one can have such a fire burning to get the job done that no problem would stand in one’s way.

Three Desires

In the last entry, I quoted part of Even Sheleimah, 2:1, by the Vilna Gaon. The full paragraph reads:

The sum of all evil middos are ka’as[1] (anger), ta’avah (desire), and ga’avah[2] (egotism), which are “haqin’ah vehata’avah vehakavod — jealousy, desire and honor”.[3] Each includes two [parts]. Of ka’as: ra (evil) and mirma (duplicity). Ra is revealed, and mirmah is “echad bepeh ve’echad beleiv — one thing in the mouth, and one thing in the heart”.[4,5] Ta’avah: ta’avah and chemdah (longing): Ta’avah is [for] the pleasure of the body itself, such as eating, drinking, and the like. And chemdah is like [for] silver/money, gold, clothing and houses. In ga’avah [the two subspecies are] gei’ah (conceit) and ga’on (snobbery). Gei’ah is in the heart and ga’on is the desire to rule over others.

All this is included in the tefillah of “E-lokai netzor leshoni meira usfasi midabeir mirmah.”[6] “Velimkalilai nafshi sidom — and may my soul be silent to those who curse me” is against ga’avah. “Venafshi ke’afar lakol tihyeh — and may my soul be like dust before everyone” is against ga’on. “Pesach libi biSorasecha — open my heart with your Torah” is the opposite of ta’avah, which wants to sit in his home in menuchah (rest) to fulfill his ta’avos, and also for Torah he needs to sit in menuchah. And they say in the medrash [7], “Before the person prays for Torah ideas that they should enter his innards, he should pray that food and drink shouldn’t enter his innards.” “Uvmitzvosecha tirdof nafshi — and my soul chase after your mitzvos” is the opposite of the people of chemdah, because it is their way to constantly run ahead, “for a person doesn’t die with [even] half of his ta’avah in hand.[8]“[9]

1- Nedarim 22a, 22b; Pesachim 66b, 113b
2- Sotah 4b, 5a; Sanhedrin 98a; Avos 4:2
3- Avos 4:21
4- Michlei 4:24
5- Pesachim 113b; Bava Metziah 49b
6- Beracho 17a
7- Yalkum Shim’oni 830
8- Koheles Raba 1:13
9- C.f. Bei’ur haGr”a Mishlei 1:11; 2:12; 4:24; 7:5; 12:25; 23:27; 24:11; 30:10

Even Sheleimah 2:6:

Someone who is drawn after the ta’avah [physical desires] also loses his good middos that was in his nature by birth [and these are called begadim -- clothes]. And one who is drawn after the chemdah [desire for wealth and power] loses the good middos that he acclimated himself in from his youth [and are called regalim -- as in hergeil, habit]. Because he doesn’t have opportunity to guide himself because of his business. All the more so he won’t break his middos to begin with.[22]


22- See Bei’ur haGr”a Mishlei 6:27,28

This dichotomy makes sense. Ta’avos are innate. Ta’avah operates on a biological level, and therefore occludes his better natural predisposition. A love of wealth and property has to be learned. Chemdah is for things we learn to value, so it runs counter to other learned behaviors.

On Mishlei 4:24, the Vilna Gaon writes:

I already wrote that there are two kinds of middos, which are those that are the middos which are born with him by nature, and those that he acclimated himself to. Those that were born with him are called “derakhav” [above called "begadav" -micha], for they are his derekh from the beginning of his creation. Those that he acclimated himself to are called regel, because he acclimated (hirgil) to them.

To those he acclimated to, he must guard and straighten them a lot. When he guards them, then they which were in his nature, they will of course be guarded. This is “paleis ma’gal raglecha – straighten the cycles of your feet”. Those which he became used to he needs to straighten and to pass little by little from the bad middos, like a peles, and not to grab right away the other extreme. Until he habituates himself and it will be to him like nature. (And it says “ma’gal” (cycle) because to those [middos] that he acclimated himself to he has to go around and revolve…)

Vekhol derachecha yikonu – and all your paths will be established” of course those middos that are his derekh since birth are established (yikonu), from the term of “kan ubasis”. If you don’t guard those [middos that are] from habit, even “derachav” won’t be established. For middos are like a string of pearls — if you make a knot at the end, then all are guarded, and if not, all are lost. So too are the middos. Therefore [the verse] says that if one straightens the circuit of his feet (raglav), then his ways (derachav) will be set.

As we saw, he relates chemdah to raglecha, and ta’vah to derakhekha; longing for power relates to habit, and physical desire to inborn makeup. Therefore it would appear that chemdah needs to be dealt with first, or else ta’avah too will fall apart.

(BTW, this pasuq in Mishlei just cries for hispa’alus.)

The Maharal, commenting on the same mishnah in Avos as my original quote from Even Sheleimah (4:21):

The Rambam z”l writes in his introduction to this tractate. Over there the head doctor (i.e. the Rambam) starts his book [with the idea] that there are three souls: tiv’is (natural), chiyonis (living), nafshis (spiritual) — as is explained above in ch. “Rebbe Omeir”. And he za”l writes that it isn’t so that the person has three souls, rather the soul is one, only it has separate abilities. He explains the idea of these three abilities (potentialities — kochos):

Koach tiv’i (the natural potential): this is the potential which can receive hazanah (readiness?)… It is certain that this brings the desire for sexual license, that this is through excesses of nature that this koach operates. All koach of ta’avah is from the koach that is called koach tiv’i. …

The second koach is the koach hachiyoni, from which there is life. Through this koach a person travels from place to place, and from it comes revenge, jealousy and hatred….

The third is koach nafshi. From this koach will come many kochos, like the kochos of the 5 senses, the koach of thought and imagination, memory and insight.

… According to this division they said “haqin’ah, hata’avah vehakavod take a person out of the world.” For the soul has these three potentialities as we explained above. If one leaves the proper amount in these three kochos he leaves the world, for a person is only within the world via these three kochos.

For a person is in the world via koach hanafshi, if he exceeds in this koach from the proper amount, he turns toward the negative. For a person’s soul has a limit in all things, and if he exceeds the limit in excess he is turning to the negative…. Therefore he says that qin’ah which comes from koach nafshi… and qin’ah is an extended action of the nefesh – for why should a person be jealous for something that isn’t his? — therefore qin’ah is an extra action and therefore turns for the person into negative and deficiency.

Similarly, ta’avah which is from koach hativ’i, for he desires for something which a person doesn’t need. Therefore this thing too is an excess, for this koach hativ’i left the border which is proper for it, and therefore will reach him as a negative….

And the kavod is for the koach hasikhli, for the level of this koach is what wants the kavod. For it is certainly worthy of kavod, and it says (Mishlei 3:35) “Kavod chachamim yinchalu.” Because kavod is something spiritual and isn’t something physical….

(BTW, note that anger is related to koach hanafshi/hasikhli, the spiritual layer, and “whomever gets angry, it is as though they served idols.”)

Note that the Maharal considers these flaws to be excesses. Implied is that there are flaws that are deficiencies, but they aren’t listed here.

On an earlier mishnah (1:2) the Maharal also discusses the three items in terms of three aspects of the soul.

He three pillars upon which the world stands as being about the three classes of relationship that a person is capable of: with HKBH (avodah – service [of G-d]), with other people (gemilus chassadim - supporting others through kindnesses) and with oneself (Torah). Each relationship is enabled by a different world in which a person lives. As the Maharal writes:

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

After that he says “on avodah“…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him – by serving Him…. With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.

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

He continues to explain that that if existence is based on three principles, then any act which takes an ax to one of these pillars should not be committed even under pain of death, existence itself would have a lower priority. Idol worship is obviously the antonym of avodah. Murder is the ultimate denial of chessed. The Maharal explains the link between Torah and sexual immorality:

The glory of the Torah is that it is separated from the physical entirely. There is nothing that can separate man from the physical but the Torah of thought. The opposite is sexual immorality, which follows the physical [chomer] until one is thought of like an animal or donkey [chamor], it is a creature of its flesh’s desires, in all things physical.

So the Maharal too finds three pairs of yitzrei hara. However, whereas the Gr”a finds active-vs-thought pairs, the Maharal implies pairs of excess-vs-deficiency. Also it appears that an excess of one feeds a deficiency of the other. An excess of koach tiv’i feeds the same ta’avah as a deficiency of Torah study — ko’ach sichli.

The association between yitzrei hara and the three yeihareig vi’al ya’avor (the three sins one must die rather than commit) is also suggested by the aggadita (Yoma 69b, Sanhedrin 64a) which discusses the imprisonment of the yeitzer hara for idolatry followed by the attempted imprisonment of that for sexuality. The attempt fails because the yeitzer hara is associated with sexual reproduction in general. Just as the yeitzer hara for idolatry is described as a fiery lion that emerges from the Holy of Holies — the destructive and constructive uses are one.

The Maharsha possibly suggests a different taxonomy on the well-known aggadita on Shabbos 30b-31a:

Our rabbis taught: A man should always be patient like Hillel, and not impatient like Shammai. It once happened that two men [31a] made a bet with each other, saying, “Whoever goes and makes Hillel angry shall receive 400 zuz.” Said one, “I will go and anger him.”

That day was erev Shabbos, and Hillel was washing his head. [The man] went, passed by the door of his house, and called out, “Who here is Hillel? Who here is Hillel?” [Hillel] wrapped on [his cloak] and went out to him. He said to him, “My son, what do you require?” He said to [Hillel], “I have a question to ask.” [Hillel] said to him, “Ask, my son, ask.”

“Why are the heads of the Babylonians round?” He said to him, “My son, you have asked a great question. It is because they have no skillful midwives.”

Maharsha: There is a question in this, since this question isn’t Torah ideas, just in things of the world, even though Hillel was patient he shouldn’t have answered these question, as Shelomo says about this, “al ta’an kesil ke’avloso — do not answer a fool according to his folly”. It therefore appears that we should say that because of his patience, Hillel never thought the man came to irritate him with these questions. Rather, [he assumed] that he was hinting to him associations with divrei Torah, and that with these three questions, he was thinking of the three evil middos that are ru’ach gavoha, ayin ra’ah and nefesh rechava — which are mentioned as those of students of Bilaam.

Which is, that which he asked, “Why are the heads of…” [Hillel assumed] he was thinking about the evil middah of ru’ach rechavah (literally: “wide” willed). According to what it says at the end of the ch. “Hayashein”, … Rashi explains that they lord over and are misga’im over their brethren. [Note the word "misga'im", in similarity to the Vilna Gaon (above). -MB]

What he meant was: That in Bavel their head wealthy people revolve, that the wheel returns them back down from their property. Why is it? Because of what sin? And Hillel answered him on this via hint that is because they don’t have easy lives, that is, … that gasos haru’ach is strong in them. For who ever has ga’avah is insane.

This evil middah is the one they have in Bavel as it says in ch. “Zeh Borear” that “chanufah and gasat haru’ach yardu leBavel — flattery and haughtiness went down to Bavel”….

[The man] departed, waited an hour, returned and said, “Who here is Hillel? Who here is Hillel?” [Hillel] wrapped on [his cloak] and went out to him. He said to him, “My son, what do you require?” He said to [Hillel], “I have a question to ask.” [Hillel] said to him, “Ask, my son, ask.”

“Why are the eyes of the Palmyrieans bleared?” He said to him, “My son, you have asked a great question. It is because they live amoung sandy places.”

Maharsha: Hillel thought that he was thinking about the second evil middah of ayin hara (literally: bad eyes). According to what it says in ch. “Cheilek”, the generation of the flood were only punished for gilgul ha’ayin (literally: eye rolling), and Rashi explains that they would lift their eyes. In a number of places, sexual license is euphamized with a term about eyes. As it says by Shimshon, that he followed his eyes… And [Hillel] replied to him because they live amoung the “cholos“, from the root “chol“, that they have no sanctity nor borders around eroticism as they have among the well-bred of Israel.

[The man again] departed, waited an hour, returned and said, “Who here is Hillel? Who here is Hillel?” [Hillel] wrapped on [his cloak] and went out to him. He said to him, “My son, what do you require?” He said to [Hillel], “I have a question to ask.” [Hillel] said to him, “Ask, my son, ask.” “Why are the feet of the Africans (Cathartans?) wide?”

“My son, you have asked a great question,” replied he. “It is because they live in watery marshes.”

Maharsha: Hillel thought that he was thinking about the third evil middah which is nefesh rechavah (literally: wide soul), to gather a lot of money. “Wide feet” as they say about what is written “‘all that they stood which is in their feet’ — this is money, which a person stands on his feet”. And he replied [that it is] because they live in betza’im, a hint to the idea that they live among nations that love betza and money. For the children of Afriki are among the children of Canaan who turned away from Eretz Yisrael. As it says in the beginning of ch. “Cheilek” … about Canaan that he commanded his sons to love theft and betza.

He said to [Hillel], “I have many questions to ask, but I am afraid that you may become angry.” [Hillel] wrapped his cloak, sat before him and he said to him, “Ask all the questions you have to ask.” He said to him, “Are you the Hillel who is called the nasi of Israel?”

He said to him, “Yes.”

[The man] said to Hillel, “If that is you, may there not be many like you in Israel.”

He said to him, “My son, why?”

[The man] said to [Hillel], “Because of you, I have lost 400 zuz!”

He said to him, “Be careful of your ruach! Hillel is worth it that you should lose 400 zuz because of him, and even another 400 zuz, yet Hillel will not lose his temper.”

In sum, the Vilna Gaon speaks of the three evil middos that take a person from the world:

  • QIn’ah = Ka’as – anger, which is either
    • suppressed and become mirmah (duplicity) or
    • expressed and becomes ra (destructive evil).
  • Ta’avah – desire, either
    • for pleasures, which is lazy and wants immediate satisfaction, or
    • for money and power (chemdah) which one pursues actively.
  • Ga’avah = Kavod – honor, either
    • expressed to others as snobbiness or
    • a conceit one fosters within oneself.

The Maharal works with a similar three, however to him they represent two different things. In terms of excess of longing for each world in which we live:

  • Qin’ah jealousy is wanting more than our place, not just walking the path to shmayim.
  • Ta’avah — too much longing for the pleasures of this world: food, sex, another hour’s sleep, etc…
  • Kavod — too much interest in the self yields egotism

In terms of deficiencies to how we relate those we encounter in each world:

  • Idolatry – the obvious antithesis of serving Hashem
  • Murder – the obvious antithesis of being kind to the other people we encounter in this world.
  • Sexual immoralityhere it’s not being described as too much desire for this world, but too little interest in refining oneself, the ultimate goal of Torah and the universe between our ears. After all, when looking at our actions’ impacts on others, the only ones harmed by consentual sex is the participants themselves.

(I must confess I find the Maharal’s model harder to understand how they fit than the other two.)

Last, the Maharsha’s three middos ra’os are those of Bil’am:

  • Ruach gavoha / gasas ruach — ego and ruling over others. This seems pretty similar to the Gr”a’s understanding of “ga’avah“, in particular “ga’on“, even down to terms each use.
  • Ayin hara — looking and chasing after things that aren’t theirs. Again, sounds much like ta’avah as described by the Gaon.
  • Nefesh rechavah – the pursuit of wealth, what the Gaon called chemdah.

It is important to note how all consider the basic human condition to come in threes, even if they don’t agree what the three are. The same is true of Freud’s Id-Ego-Super Ego, Adler’s Child-Adult-Parent, etc… Why?

When the alarm goes off, a person is conflicted. We can group his calls into two. One side realizes he has important things to accomplish that day, he has to get to shul, not be too late to his job, etc… The other just wants to hit the snooze button and get more sleep. Or, in choosing whether or not to sin, the yeitzer hatov says one thing, the yeitzer hara is recommending another. A movie or television show has a person making a decision, and they have a little image of him dressed as an angel on one shoulder, and another dressed as a devil on the other.

But you notice in those pictures, there are always three images of the person — the two angels, and the person himself. When I hear opposing callings from each yeitzer, or my body wants one thing and my sense of duty says another, there is always an “I” doing the hearing who has to decide between them. In the courtroom of my mind, there is a lawyer arguing each side, and a judge.

Decision making inherently conjures up three entities. And being a person is all about freedom of will.

In future posts I’ll have much more to say about this tripartite nature of man. In fact, it’s surprising I haven’t gone very far on this topic before now.


Do not hate your brother in your heart;לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ;
you should surely rebuke your neighbor,הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֨יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ
and do not carry a sin because of him.וְלֹֽא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃

- Vayiqra 19:17

There are a number of questions about this verse that need to be addressed before we can understand it.

First, is this verse describing one mitzvah, or two? Is it a commandment to rebuke others rather than hating them in one’s heart? Or are they two distinct mitzvos – hatred and rebuke being less related. On the one hand, they do appear in the same verse. On the other, there is no conjunctive between them telling us a kind of relationship Hashem would give them.

Second, is the prohibition against hating someone in one’s heart, and if one expresses it, they didn’t violate the verse? Does Hashem mean “don’t hate him, even if only in one’s heart”? Of course, if the two are connected, then the “in your heart” is in distinction to a verbal rebuke.

Last, “do not carry a sin because of him”? Because one didn’t stop him from sinning by rebuking him one shares in future sin? Or perhaps are we talking about the sin of hating him?

The Rambam (Seifer haMitzvos, lav #302; Hilkhos Dei’os 6:5-6) understands the prohibition of hating another in one’s heart to be specifically in one’s heart. It is interesting to note that in interpersonal mitzvos, the Rambam refers to other Jews as “qetzaseinu — our part”, so that here he is literally giving the prohibition of one part of the Jewish People hating another part. Hitting or yelling at him is not a violation of this sin. But he is understood two ways.

1- The Kesef Mishnah says that the Rambam is talking about hitting or yelling when not out of hatred. But certainly hating someone to the point of lashing out at them is worse than the explicitly prohibited act of hating them internally, without expression.

2- The Yad Qetanah disagrees. The Rambam is saying that hitting the person would not be a violation of “lo sisna“. It is instead prohibited by the next verse, the prohibition against taking revenge. This prohibition is about not expressing one’s anger and seething in it, letting it build into hatred.

3- Rashi (Eirkhin 16b) links the two clauses. The prohibition is to hate someone internally rather than give them tokhachah (rebuke). This is an extention of the Yad haQetana’s opion. The key issue is holding in the hatred rather than constructively using it, and then  Rashi adds the constructive use intended by the verse is tokhachah in particular.

The Ramban on our verse offers two suggestions for how to understand it.

4- Ramban first suggests that the mitzvos are not linked. It just happens to be the most common case that wrongdoing is followed by hatred and rebuke, in that order.

5- But then the Ramban presents what he feels is correct in his eyes, that the verse is giving a sequence. Hatred is defused through giving constructive criticism, which then gives him the opportunity to mend his ways. Thus agreeing with the Yad Qetanah’s understanding of the Rambam, and also with Rashi.

There is an important point here that is such an obvious part of emotional response I never stopped to consider its subtlety before. Anger is a response to an event or an experience. Anger leads to hatred. And although the Yad Qetanah doesn’t discuss it, hatred changes how I perceive future interactions with the person or thing, and therefore makes me more likely to get angry at them. The two emotions are not identical; first there is anger, and if it’s not properly managed, it becomes hatred.

This seems to be an exception to the normal rule with regard to mitzvos, that acting on idea reinforces it and embeds it further. As the Chinukh would say “a person is made according to his actions”. Anger must be constructively distilled; otherwise it grows.

The short techinah (personal request) we say after Shemoneh Esrei begins:

My G-d!אלוקי
Stop my tongue from evilנצור לשוני מרע,
and my lips from speaking duplicity.ושפתי מדבר מרמה.

(This is a variant of a verse from Tehillim that we say on Shabbos, in “LeDavid beShanoso es Ta’amo”, reconjugated into the first person for use as a personal request.) The Vilna Gaon discusses the first three lines of this techinah at length in Even Sheleimah. Something for another one of these essays. Here, I want to look only at what he says on this one line.

The sum of all evil middos are anger[1], desire, and egotism[2], which are “jealousy, desire and honor [remove a person from this world]“.[3] Each includes two [parts]. Of anger: evil and duplicity. Evil is revealed, and duplicity is “one thing in the mouth, another in the heart”.[4,5]

All this is included in the tefillah of “Hashem, stop my tongue from evil, and my lips from speaking duplicity.”[6]

1- Nedarim 22a, 22b; Pesachim 66b, 113b
2- Sotah 4b, 5a; Sanhedrin 98a; Avos 4:2
3- Avos 4:21, stated by Rav Elazar haKapar

6- Beracho 17a

- Even Sheleimah 2:1

We see the Vilna Gaon associates ka’as, anger, with two subtypes: ra, the evil of expressing one’s anger, and mirma, internal anger, which is not expressed, so that there is one thing in one’s mouth, words of duplicity, and hatred in one’s heart.

This notion is tied to the one we were discussing above. The Chafetz Chaim (Be’eir Mayim Chayim on the introduction, 7th prohibition), understands the prohibition in our verse “do not hate your brother in your heart” to prohibit mirma in particular. By keeping the sin’ah internal, you are dishonestly maintaining unwarranted trust from the other person — they won’t know your motives are not in accord. He is thus siding with the understanding of the majority of our rishonim, that this prohibition is about being silent when getting angry, thus developing sin’ah.

The Vilna Gaon clearly says that we ask Hashem to guide us in a way that avoids both — expressing anger and hatred is ra, and not expressing it is mirma. Similarly, those who understand bilvavekha to exclude expressed anger would still prohibit expressing anger under the terms of the next verse, “do not take revenge, and do not repay a grudge”. They are limiting the scope here because the see the pasuq as speaking of stewing in hatred, not of anger. The Gaon’s comment on the prayer is an interpretation of anger, and thus even if he sides with them on how to read the chumash (and I do not know), he would include both in this context.

A side point about rebuke.  The nature of the obligation to give constructive criticism differs depending on whether the verse is understood as linked, or as distinct mitzvos.

According to Rashi et al, the focus of tochakhah is to clear the air and avoid hatred. Thus, the primary mitzvah is on things the other did to wrong you in particlar. According to the Kesef Mishnah’s understanding of the Rambam, the obligation is broader — preventing future sin. Someone who could rebuke and doesn’t will “carry the sin for him” who wasn’t corrected. This can include rebuke for the sake of the wrongdoer learning otherwise, for making sure the sin doesn’t become an accepted part of the culture in general, or even just to reinforce one’s own’s resistence and avoiding emulating him. That too is a discussion among the rishonim, but too far off point.

One last point, the one which led me to write about this topic during the Nine Days.

If we assume the pasuq is spelling out a single concept, then the sin one is not to carry because of another is the sin of hating them. It’s not an issue of the person not deserving the hate — after all, I had something to rebuke him for that I didn’t. Rather, it’s about responding in a destructive manner.

We attribute the fall of the Second Beis haMiqdash to sin’as chinam. (The gemara suggests other sins as well, but it seems to be that one which subsequent rabbanim predominantly call our attention to to repair in ourselves.) To be overly literal, it’s “hatred for nothing”. The idiom is usually translated as “basesless hatred”, that chinam describes the cause. However, we see the Torah’s description of hatred focuses on that which has a basis. Perhaps we can instead translate it “purposeless hatred”, the goal is chinam.

This is more inclusive. Misplaced hatred is unproductive. However, it is possible to have valid reason to hate someone but because it serves no end, one should not.

Gender Differences: Oaths

The Torah uses two different words for husband: ish, in particular when used with the feminine possessive “ishahh” (her man); and ba’al. Interestingly, in the beginning of parashas Matos, the section on annulling vows, only ishahh is used (v. 8, 9, 11, 12, twice in 13, twice in 14, 15; observation made to Avodah by Akiva Miller), ba’al is not used at all.

This is noteworthy because ba’al is the term used for the owner of proper or the master of a slave.

וְהָיָה בַיּוֹם-הַהוּא נְאֻם-ה’, תִּקְרְאִי אִישִׁי; וְלֹא-תִקְרְאִי-לִי עוֹד, בַּעְלִי.

And it will be on that day, by the authority of G-d, that you will call Me “Ishi“, and will not call me anymore “Ba’ali“.

- Hosheia 2:18

“Ishi” is a language of husband and the attachment of one’s youth; ba’al is a language of mastery and awe.

- Rashi ad loc

By not using the term ba’al, the Torah here seems to be quite clear that the authority to annull vows has nothing to do with the man having authority over his wife.

Rav Hirsch writes (new translation of commentary on Bamidbar 30:4):

A man’s vow is binding on him from the outset. He can — and should (see ibid. 59a; cf. Commentary, Devarim 23:22ff.)  — submit his vow to the national community and its representatives, so that they should examine the vow and decide on its fulfillment. Only in this way can a man dissolve his vow. For a man creates his position in life independently, and if he binds himself with a vow that cannot be absolved, he introduces into his life a new element that is not ordinarily applicable. This element changes and individualizes his life, and, since he is independent, he is able to take this individuality into account when he shapes the conditions of his life.

Not so for a woman. The moral greatness of the woman’s calling requires that she enter a position in life created by another. The woman does not build for herself her own home. She enters the home provided by the man, and she manages it, bringing happiness to the home and nurturing everything inside the home in a spirit of sanctity and orientation toward God. The woman — even more than the man — must avoid the constraint of extraordinary guidelines in her life, for they are likely to be an impediment to her in the fulfillment of her calling.

From this standpoint, one can understand the prescriptions instituted here out of concern for the woman. The Word of God seeks to insure the vowing woman against the consequences of her own words, and therefore confers on the father and on the husband a limited right to annul vows — on the father, as regards vows of a youthful daughter still under his care; on the father and on the fiancé, as regards vows of a betrothed daughter; on the husband, as regards vows of his wife.

I think Rav Hirsch’s intent is better understood if we revisit his writings on gender differences. (The following is taken from an earlier post.) His translation of Tehillim 45:14 is “But the king’s daughter is all glorious within, more than the golden borders of her raiment.” As Michael Poppers pointed out (on Avodah), this better fits the hyphenation of “kol-kevudah” as well as the use of “kevudah” not “kevudas“. The commentary reads:

“But”, the singer adds with infinite tact and delicacy, “though the princess may appear glorious and splendid in public, she reveals her true glory in quiet, more private circles, and the splendid qualities she shows there are much greater than the exquisite beauty of the gold borders which shine at the hem of her garment.” Penimah “within,” is always used to designate an inner recess as opposed to the outer chambers.

What may better capture RSRH’s position is his comments on “peru urvu umil’u es ha’aretz vikvishuhah — be fruitful and multiply and fill the world and subdue it” in Judaism Eternal, ch 11 (The Jewish Woman).

Vikvshuha is read malei [full, ie with the vav], but written chaseir [deficient]. In other words, while it is read as though both should participate in conquering the world, it’s written “vikivshah“, that only one of them should.

… [T]he command to “subdue”, and with it to procure the means necessary for marriage and for founding a household, is addressed only to the male sex, to whose function it belongs to compel the earth through labour to serve the needs of man. Hence the command to marry and found a household has absolute force only for the male sex. Since, however, these commands are after all addressed to both sexes, it is obvious that for the performance of man’s task of building up the world the Law-giver reckoned on the harmonious and equal co-operation of both sexes. Further, by excusing the female sex from the hard labour of subduing and mastering the earth, … [H]e left it free to be devoted to the higher and more humanistic task of employing the products of man’s labour for the ethical purposes of building up a house and family, that is to say, in the service of his true vocation and his welfare as a human being.

R SR Hirsch explains this verse as being about the Talmudic aphorism that “man brings in the grain, and woman makes it into bread”. Man conquers and acquires, woman develops the raw material into a finished product. Man builds a society, woman gives it a religious backbone. Ideally it would be man who produces technology, and women who make sure we don’t dehumanize ourselves in the process.

This is akin to an observation by “Dear Abby” (Pauline Phillips, born Pauline Esther Friedman). She wrote that men are goal oriented, while women are process oriented. This is an alleged gender difference from a totally unrelated source, albeit one probably based on anecdotal evidence, that would fit the roles assumed above.

Rav Hirsch speaks in terms of “inside” vs. “outside”, community in service of its members, vs the expansion of the community’s domain, reach, and standard of living. (Until here the review.)

This partnership, between the man extending the reach of qibbush and woman making sure it is done in a sacred manner, that I associate with the notion of ish ve’ishah.

In contrast, this is how we described the concept of ba’alus in the past:

R’ JB Soloveitcik identifies of the root of “qinyan“, \קנה\, with the notion of manufacture and repair. That a qinyan is a means of exchanging ownership caused by developing one thing for the work someone else put into their object or service. I therefore suggested, “By making marriage assume the qinyan format we are acknowledging that the bride and groom were literally made for each other, and hopefully will remain together until the end of time.”

Thus, qinyan refers to the work and to the responsibility of repair. This would explain why many of ususe a qinyan sudar, a kind of qinyan involving handing over a small object, usually cloth, to delegate the job of selling our chameitz. The rabbi isn’t acquiring our chameitz, he can’t own it any more than the rest of us can. He is assuming the responsibility for its sale, to serve as our shaliach, our proxy.

In the same way, Boaz takes responsibility for marrying Rus (in a quasi-yibum) by the exchange of a shoe with the unnamed relative. This too is a qinyan, “vezos hate’udah beyisrael — and this is a contract in Israel”. Qinyan as accepting responsibility.

R’ Dovid Lifshitz was once approached before shiur by someone who had recently bought a co-op. The problem was that the co-op board didn’t allow him to change the appearance of the outside of his domicile from the co-op’s standard by hanging a mezuzah.

Rav Dovid suggested (warning: I can’t recall if this was his conclusion or a hava amina, a possibility raised to be rejected) that perhaps someone who doesn’t have the authority to hang a mezuzah lacks ba’alus, and therefore wouldn’t be obligated to. (In either case, he suggested moving to a friendlier venue.) Note the implication: even if this lack of ba’alus is not sufficient to remove his obligation, it remains that a renter who can hang a mezuzah has more ba’alus than an owner who may not. And in any case, a renter doesn’t own, but is a ba’al with respect to hilkhos mezuzah. Ba’alus is not the same concept as that denoted by the English word “ownership”. A ba’al is one who has responsibility. With responsibility comes authority, but that meaning of ba’al is the derived one.

And so, we have a means of making a distinction between the two terms for husban. Ishahh, her man, is her partner in mastering the world. The ba’al, however, is the one who accepts responsibility for her food, clothing and sexual needs, and because of accepting that responsibility also must have the authority to carry it out.

By explicitly using the term ishahh rather than baalah when discussing the anulment of vows, we see that the husband has the power of hafaras nedarim not in his role of provider and therefore holding control (as anyone who holds the purse-strings will), but because it’s his role in the partnership to be the one who sets new directions, just as It’s hers to insure that they are developed in a holy way.