Maimonidian Qabbalah – Part III

So, in the past two posts in this particular series (part 1, part 2) I hopefully established the notion that both sides of the Maimonidian Debate portrayed creation in terms of G-d causing something which causes something… etc… down to the physical world, which is a distinct way to view Creation than picturing that Hashem “poofed” various things into existence and then formed and moved them around to construct something. According to the Rambam, this “something” is a chain of intellects, and according to the Leshem it is a progression of worlds each filled with ever more substansive items as the Divine Light descends from one to the next. The substances of one world becomes the forms of the one below.

In Models of Creation, I mentioned the Rambam’s embracing both the “manufacture” model of creation as well as that of “atzilus“, both describing creation as Hashem making the universe, and has it being something He chooses to emanate. The Rambam describes the two as identifying Hashem as Cause vs identifying Him as Agens, and shows they are really identical in the Moreh Nevuchim I ch. 69.

THE philosophers, as you know, call God the First Cause (in Hebrew ‘illah and sibbah): but those who are known by the name of Mutakallemim are very much opposed to the use of that name, and call Him Agens, believing that there is a great difference whether we say that God is the Cause or that He is the Agens. They argue thus: If we say that God is the Cause, the coexistence of the Cause with that which was produced by that Cause would necessarily be implied: this again would involve the belief that the Universe was eternal, and that it was inseparable from God. When, however, we say that God is the Agens, the co-existence of the Agens with its product is not implied: for the agens can exist anterior to its product: we cannot even imagine how an agens can be in action unless it existed before its own production. This is an argument advanced by persons who do not distinguish between the potential and the actual. You, however, should know that in this case there is no difference whether you employ the term “cause” or “agens“; for if you take the term “cause” in the sense of a mere potentiality, it precedes its effect; but if you mean the cause in action, then the effect must necessarily co-exist with the cause in action. The same is the case with the agens; take it as an agens in reality, the work must necessarily co-exist with its agens. For the builder, before he builds the house, is not in reality a builder, but has the faculty for building a house-in the same way as the materials for the house before it is being built are merely in potentiâ–but when the house has been built, he is the builder in reality, and his product must likewise be in actual existence. Nothing is therefore gained by choosing the term “agens” and rejecting the term “cause.” My object here is to show that these two terms are equal, and in the same manner as we call God an Agens, although the work does not yet exist, only because there is no hindrance or obstacle which might prevent Him from doing it whenever He pleases, we may also call Him the Cause, although the effect may not yet be in existence.

Since Hashem doesn’t need anything but His own Will to create, there is no untapped potential that Hashem then taps, there is no difference between Hashem being First Cause or being viewed as the Agent. (We also find the Ramban opening his commentary to chumash with the beri’ah – yetzirah perspective of creation ex nihilo of substance, which is then given form during the six days, but he also refers repeatedly to the notion of atzilus and the descent of the Light through veils to lower and lower worlds.)


I mentioned only as an aside that angels not only cause an event, they actually are the event. The Rambam’s concept of mal’akh is not only as a link in the chain of intellects / forms from the Creator down to physical objects, they also mediate motion and change.

From the Moreh Nevuchim (II:6; tr. Friedlander):

We have already stated above that the angels are incorporeal. This agrees with the opinion of Aristotle: there is only this difference in the names employed — he uses the term “Intelligences,” and we say instead “angels.” His theory is that the Intelligences are intermediate beings between the Prime Cause and existing things, and that they effect the motion of the spheres, on which motion the existence of all things depends. This is also the view we meet with in all parts of Scripture: every act of God is described as being performed by angels. But “angel” means “messenger”; hence every one that is entrusted with a certain mission is an angel. Even the movements of the brute creation are sometimes due to the action of an angel, when such movements serve the purpose of the Creator, who endowed it with the power of performing that movement; e.g., “God hath sent His angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths that they have not hurt me” (Dan. vi. 22)…. It is also used of ideals, perceived by prophets in prophetic visions, and of man’s animal powers, as will be explained in another place.
When we assert that Scripture teaches that God rules this world through angels, we mean such angels as are identical with the Intelligences. In some passages the plural is used of God, e.g., “Let us make man in our image” (Gen. i. 26); “Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language” (ibid. xi. 7). Our Sages explain this in the following manner: God, as it were, does nothing without contemplating the host above.

Here we see the Rambam defines a mal’akh, a messenger (which is also what the Greek “angel” means), as an Intelligence that does G-d’s Will in this world. He explains the mal’akh with Aristotle’s terms of the intellects that mediate between Hashem’s world and actions in this world. This is much like the notion of steps in the flow of atzilus, but here they are Intelligences, not forms.

The need for intelligences to perform action is part of Artistotelian physics. Aristotle didn’t have a notion of momentum, which is conserved. Unsurprising, because in the real world momentum is generally turned into heat (the momentum of molecules) by friction, and thus we see motion dissipate. Instead, Aristotle taught that Intellects impart impetus to objects, which then continue moving until the impetus runs out. It is for this reason that the Rambam asserted that the spheres are intellects (Yesodei haTorah 2:7), since the stars and planets continue in motion eternally, there must be intellects repeatedly imparting impetus to them.

Thus, the Rambam’s conception of a mal’akh is a being of form without substance that is a step in the chain of Divine Atzilus by being the intellect that drives the actions of the next step in the chain, down to actions in this world.

In the next installment on this topic, “Forms and Information”, I intend to look at how the Rambam can see these two concepts as identical.

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:17-18

יז: לְעוֹלָם יַרְחִיק אָדָם אֶת עַצְמוֹ אֲפִלּוּ מִשְּׁבוּעַת אֱמֶת בְּכָל מַה דְּאֶפְשָׁר

A person should always distance himself however he can even from swearing the truth.

יח: מִי שֶׁחֲבֵרוֹ נִתְחַיֵב לוֹ שְׁבוּעָה, וְרוֹאֶה בוֹ שֶׁהוּא רוֹצֶה לִשָׁבַע לַשֶּׁקֶר, חַס-וְשָׁלוֹם–יִתְפַּשֵּׁר עִמוֹ כְּפִי הָאֶפְשָׁרִי וְלִא יַנִּיחֶנּוּ לִשָּׁבַע לַשֶּׁקֶר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, שְׁבוּעַת ה’ תִּהְיֶה בֵּין שְׁנֵיהֶם, וְדָרְשֵׁינָן, מְלַמֵּד שֶהַשְׁבוּעָה חָלָה עַל שְׁנֵיהֶם

Someone whose friends owes him an oath [to reinforce his claim in court], and [the claimant] sees that [the defendant] wants to swear to a lie, heaven forbid, [the claimant] should find a compromise with him in whatever way possible and not leave him to a false oath. As it says (Shemos 22:10), “the oath of Hashem should be between the two”, and we expound (Shevuos 47b), “it teaches that the oath falls to both of him” [even the other party shares some responsibility for it].

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:15-16

טו: כָּל עֵדוּת שֶׁיֵשׁ לְאָדָם הֲנָאָה בָהּ, וְאֵיזֶה צַד נְגִיעָה אֲפִלּוּ בְּדֶרֶךְ רְחוֹקָה, פָּסוּל לְהָעִיד

[Continuing on the theme of getting paid for testimony, we now look at a conflict of interest.] Any testimony that a person would get benefit from, or has some aspect of involvement even if distant, he is disqualified from testifying.

טז: כְּתִיב, וַאֲשֶׁר לֹא-טוֹב עָשָׂה בְּתוֹךְ עַמָּיו, וְדָרְשֵׁינָן, זֶה הַבָּא בְּהַרְשָׁאָה וּמִתְעַבֵּר עַל-רִיב לֹא-לוֹ. וְדַוְקָא כְּשֶׁשְּׁנֵי בַּעֲלֵי-הַדִּין הֵמָּה בָעִיר, אֶלָּא כְּגוֹן שֶׁהַלֹּוֶה הוּא אַלָּם וּבַעַל טְעָנוֹת, וְיָרֵא הַמַּלְוֶה לִטְעֹן עִמּוֹ וּמַרְשֶׁה לְאַחֵר, זֶהוּ מִתְעַבֵּר עַל רִיב לֹא לוֹ. אַבָל אִם הַנִּתְבָּע הוּא בְּעִיר אַחֶרֶת, וְהַתּוֹבֵעַ אֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְהַטְרִיחַ אֶת עַצְמוֹ וּמַרְשֶׁה לְאַחֵר, זֶה הַמֻּרְשֶׁה–מִצְוָה קָעֲבֵיד לְהַצִּיל עָשׁוּק מִיַד עוֹשְׁקוֹ. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, דְּהַבָּא בְהַרְשָׁאָה כְּדֵי לֵהָנוֹת מִן הַשָּׂכָר וְלֹא בִּשְׁבִיל אַלָּמוּת, מֻתָּר

It is written (Yechezqeil 18:18), “he did that which is not good among his people”, and they expound [this verse] (Shevuos 31a), “this is someone accepts authorization” to plead for another. This is specifically when the two litigants are in the city but, for example, the borrower is powerful and a person [who could create] difficulties and the borrower is afraid to complain against him and authorizes to another — [in that case, the person who accepts authorization is] someone who enters a fight which isn’t his. However, if the defendant is in another city, and the claimant is unable to bring himself and [therefore] authorizes another — this one who accepts authorization is doing a mitzvah, for he is returning a taken item from the person who took it. And some say, someone who comes with authorization in order to gain from the reward, and not because of [the other's] prominence, it is permitted.


Being someone else’s representation in court is permitted, but in general is looked upon unfavorably. Who wants to harm the other litigant?

That said, the Arukh haShulchan lists these cases in which harsha’ah, authorizing legal representation is commended:

  1. where the parties are so angry each other that they can not speak productively in each other’s presence (Ritva). The AhS adds that some only recommend representation for the defendant in this case.
  2. where one party lives far away and can not get  to the court (Raavad). We saw this case in the Qitzur.
  3. where the representative doesn’t find entertainment in being unyielding (Tosafos, as understood by the Rama).
  4. where the defendant is not known as being particularly unyielding. Because if someone goes up against an unyielding litigant, the representative is bound to get personally involved in the dispute (Tosados, as understood by the Shakh).

The Arukh haShulchan holds: 5. All of the above.

The Qitzur also appears to raise the Shakh’s case of the unyielding or difficult litigant who is bound to get into a major fight and excludes it as laudable grounds for agreeing to be representation. Although he does raise a “some say”, and excepts the case where it is a professional lawyer just accepting the job for a commission. Presumably because that eliminates the person who is doing it just because they enjoy a fight getting sucked in.

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:14

יד: הַנּוֹטֵל שָׂכָר לְהָעִיד, עֵדוּתוֹ בְּטֵלָה. וְדַוְקָא כְּשֶׁכְּבָר רָאָה הַמַּעֲשֶׂה, דִּמְחֻיָּב לְהָעִיד בְּחִנָּם. אֲבָל לֵילֵךְ לִרְאוֹת אֶת הָעִנְיָן שֶׁיִהְיֶה אַחַר כָּךְ עֵד בַּדָבָר, מֻתָּר לוֹ לִקַּח שָׂכָר, אֲבָל רַק שָׂכָר הָרָאוּי לְפִי הַטִּרְחָא שֶׁלּוֹ וְלֹא יוֹתֵר. וְכֵן אִם יֶשׁ לוֹ טִרְחָא לָלֶכֶת לִפְנֵי בֵית-הַדִּין, יָכוֹל לִטּוֹל שְׂכַר טִרְחָא כְּפִי הָרָאוּי בְּעַד טִרְחָא זוֹ, וְלֹא יוֹתֵר

Someone who accepts pay to testify, his testimony is nullified. But that is specifically if he already saw the event, for then he is obligated to testify for free. However, to go to see the matter so that afterward he could be a witness in it, it is permitted for him to receive pay — but only pay that is appropriate according to his effort, and no more. Similarly if he has [significant] effort to go before the court, he may accept pay according to what if appropriate for his effort, and no more.

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:13

יג: הָא דְּעֵד אֶחָד מֵעִיד, זֶהוּ דַוְקָא בְּדָבָר שֶׁבְּמָמוֹן, דְּמַהַנֵי גַם עֵד אֶחָד לְעִנְיַן שְׁבוּעָה. וְכֵן בִּדְבַר אִסוּר, אִם עֲדַיִן לֹא נַעֲשָׂה הָאִסּוּר, יָעִיד כְּדֵי לְאַפְרוּשֵׁי מֵאִסּוּרָא. אֲבָל אִם כְּבָר נַעֲשֶׂה הָאִסּוּר, לֹא יָעִיד עֵד אֶחָד. דְּכֵיוָן דְּעֵד אֶחָד אֵינוֹ נֶאֱמָן, אֵינוֹ אֶלָּא כְּמוֹצִיא ֹשֵם רָע עַל חֲבֵרוֹ

That where one witness testifies, that is specifically in a financial matter, since one witness is also of help with respect to requiring the defendant to take an oath [that he doesn't owe the money, whereas two would require him to pay]. Similarly in a matter of a prohibition, it the prohibition wasn’t done yet, he should testify in order to separate people from [possible] violation. But if the prohibition was already done, a single witness should not testify, since a single witness is not believed, it is as though he did nothing but slander his friend.

My Mesorah

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to actually find my place on the chain from rebbe to talmid. I then thought it might be of general interest, just to demonstrate how we can actually trace a contemporary Jew’s exposure of the Torah to back to Moshe Rabbeinu.

This is just a chain, artificially restricting each student to only one teacher. So, for example, regardless of how much the thought of the Rambam or the Ramchal might have influenced later generations, they do not appear. A complete graph of the flow of the mesorah would probably take so much time, it would replace the study of the mesorah itself. Because of the winnowing effect of following only one track, you can see as the list progresses how we narrow down to Ashkenaz, then Lithuania, then particular streams within Lithuania that influenced my rebbe.

An extreme instance: There were two academies in Bavel, in the cities of Sura and Pumbedisa (modern day Falluja). Each had their own Rosh Yeshiva, thus there were two ge’onim in each generation. However, my own stream is via Ashkenaz, and thus Rabbeinu Gershom Me’or haGolah (#94). He studied under Rav Sherira and Rav Hai Gaon, and so the Ashkenazi chain runs through Pumbedisa more than Sura. Do not take the absence of the ge’onei Sura in this list to mean their Torah didn’t reach us!

Similarly, how can we talk of the Torah of R’ Chaim Brisker (#126a) without the Rambam? But the Rambam wasn’t part of the single line of primary rabbanim within Ashkenaz. And so he too isn’t on this list.

The chain of mesorah follows that of the Rambam for the 40 generations from Moshe Rabeinu to Rav Ashi, the compiler of the gemara.

Dates up to that of the zugos are according to the Seder Olam.

Torah

1. Moshe (1392-1272 BCE, Har Sinai - 1312 BCE)

Nevi’im

2. Yehoshua (1354-1244 BCE)
3. Pinechus
4. Eli (929 BCE)
5. Shemu’el (889 BCE)
6. David haMelekh (876 BCE)
7. Achiah (800 BCE)
8. Eliyahu (870-726 BCE)
9. Elishah (717 BCE)
10. Yehoyada (695 BCE)
11. Zekhariah (680 BCE)
12. Hoshea (575 BCE)
13. Amos (560 BCE)
14. Yeshaiah (548 BCE)
15. Mikhah (560 BCE)
16. Yoel (510 BCE)
17. Nachum (510 BCE)
18. Chavaquq (510 BCE)
19. Tzefaniah (460 BCE)
20. Yirmiyahu (462 BCE)

Anshei Keneses haGedolah

21. Barukh (347 BCE)
22. Ezra (348 BCE)
23. Shim’on haTzadiq (400-300 BCE)
24. Antignus ish Socho (305 BCE)

Zugos

25. Yosi ben Yoezer & Yosef ben Yochanon (280 BCE)
26. Yehoshua ben Prachya & Nitai haArbelli (243 BCE)
27. Yehuda ben Tabai & Shimon ben Shetach (198 BCE)
28. Shmaya & Avtalyon (140 BCE)
29. Hillel & Shammai (40 BCE)

Tanaim

30. Rabban Shim’on (10 BCE)
31. Rabban Gamliel haZaqein (20 CE)
32. Rav Shim’on ben Gamliel (50)
33. Rabban Gamliel (90)
34. Rabban Shim’on (140)
35. Rabbi Yehuda haNasi (Rebbe) (135-219)

Amoraim

36. Rav (160-248), Shemuel, & Rabbi Yochanon (230)
37. Rav Huna (270)
38. Rabbah (310)
39. Rava (270-350)
40. Rav Ashi (420)

Savoraim

41. Rafram (443)
42. Rav Sama berei deRava (476)
43. Rav Yosi (514)
44. Rav Simonia
45. Rav Ravoi miRov (589)
46. Mar Chanan miAshkaya (608)
47. Rav Mari

Gaonim (Pumbedisa)

We do not have much literature from the ge’onim. This list is therefore more dense, not just giving rebbe to talmid, which I could not yet establish, but listing each ga’on. It is unlikely that each gaon studied under their immediate predecessor and were not already established teachers in their own right before becoming head of the academy. Odds are many of these ge’onim studied under someone two or three links ahead of him on this list, and some of the ge’onim here do not actually represent distinct generations.

However, having too many connections doesn’t disturb the primary point, that of tracing one Orthodox Jew’s perception of the Torah back to Sinai.

48. Rav Chana Gaon, 49. Mar Rav Rava, 50. Rav Busai (689), 51. Mar Rav Huna Mari, 52. Mar Rav Chiyah miMishan, 53. Mar Ravyah, 54. Mar Rav Natronai, 55. Mar Rav Yebuda (739), 56. Mar Rav Yosef (748), 57. Mar Rav Shmuel, 58. Mar Rav Natroi Kahana, 59. Mar Rav Avrohom Kahana (761), 60. Mar Rav Dodai, 61. Rav Chananya (771), 62. Rav Malka (773), 63. Mar Rav Rava, 64. Mar Rav Shinoi (782), 65. Mar Rav Chaninah Gaon Kahana (785), 66. Mar Rav Huna Mar haLevi (788), 67. Mar Rav Menasheh (796), 68. Mar Rav Yeshaya haLevi (804), 69. Mar Rav Kahanah Gaon (797), 70. Mar Rav Yosef, 71. Mar Rav Ibomai Gaon (814), 72. Mar Rav Yosef, 73. Mar Rav Avrohom, 74. Mar Rav Yosef (834), 75. Mar Rav Yitzchak (839), 76. Mar Rav Yosef (841), 77. Mar Rav Poltoi (858), 78. Mar Rav Achai Kahana, 79. Mar Rav Menachem (860), 80. Mar Rav Matisyahu (869), 81. Rav Mar Abba, 82. Mar Rav Tzemach Gaon (891), 83. Mar Rav Hai Gaon (897), 84. Mar Rav Kimoi Gaon (905), 85. Mar Rav Yehuda (917), 86. Mar Rav Mevasser Kahana Gaon (926), 87. Rav Kohen Tzedek (935), 88. Mar Rav Tzemach Gaon (937), 89. Rav Chaninah Gaon (943), 90. Mar Rav Aharon haKohen (959), 91. Mar Rav Nechemiah (968), 92. Rav Sherirah Gaon (1006), 93. Rav Hai Gaon (939-1038)

Rishonim (Ashkenaz)

94. Rav Gershom (Rabbeinu Gershom Meor haGolah) (1040)
95. Rav Yaakov ben Yakar (Rib ben Yaqar) (1064)
96. Rav Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi) (1040-1105)
97. R’ Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam) (1174)
98. R’ Yaakov ben Meir (Rabbenu Tam) (1171)
99. R’ Eliezer miMetz (1175)
100. R’ Elazar Rokeach (1238)
101. R’ Yitzchak miVienna (Ohr Zaruah)
102. Rav Meir (Maharam miRutenberg) (1293)
103. R’ Yitzchak miDuren (Shaarei Durah)
104. R’ Alexander Zusiein haKohen (Agudah) (1348)
105. R’ Meir bar Baruch haLevi (1390)
106. R’ Sholom miNeustadt
107. R’ Yaakov Moelin (Maharil) (1427)
108. R’ Yisroel Isserlein (Terumas haDeshen) (1460)
109. R’ Tavoli
110. Rabbi Yaakov Margolies (1501)
111. Rabbi Yaakov Pollak (1530)

Early Achronim

112. Rabbi Sholom Shachna (1558)
113. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (Rama) (1530-1572)
114. Rabbi Yehoshua Falk Katz (1614)
115. Rabbi Naftoli Hirsch ben Pesachya (1650)
116. Rabbi Moshe Rivkas (Be’er Hagolah) (1671)
117. Rabbi Avraham Gombiner (1682)
118. Rabbi Moshe Kramer (1688)
119. Rabbi Eliyahu Chassid (1710)
120. Rabbi Yissachar Ber (1740)
121. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman (1765)

Late Achronim  (Litta)

122. Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer (Vilna Gaon) (1720-1797)
123. Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner (1749-1821)
At this point I want to trace both sides of a split. These strands are spun back together by Rav Shimon Shkop, but both sides represent “Ism”s that deeply shaped Rav Shimon Shkop’s derekh:
Volzhin – Brisk
124a. Rabbi Yitzchok Volozhiner (Reb Itzeleh Volozhiner (1848)
125a. Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Beis haLevi) (1820-1892)
126a. Rav Chaim Soloveitchik (Reb Chaim Brisker) (1853-1918)
Mussar – Telz
124b. Rav Yosef Zundel Salanter (Reb Zundel Salant) (1786-1866)
125b. Rav Yisrael Lipkin (Reb Yisrael Salanter) (1810-1883)
126b. Rav Eliezer Gordon (Reb Lazer Gordon) (1841-1910)
127. Rav Shimon Shkop (1860-1939)

Post-Holocaust

128. Rav Dovid Lifshitz (Sulvaker Rav) (1906-1993)
129. Micha Berger

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:12

יב: כָּל מִי שֶׁיּוֹדֵעַ עֵדוּת לַחֲבֵרוֹ וְרָאוּי לְהָעִידוֹ וְיֵשׁ לַחֲבֵרוֹ תּוֹעֶלֶת בְעֵדוּתוֹ וְהוּא תוֹבְעוֹ שֶׁיָעִיד לוֹ בִּפְנֵי בֵּית-דִּין–חַיָב לְהָעִיד לוֹ, בֵּין שֶׁיֵשׁ עוֹד עֵד אַחֵר עִמּוֹ, בֵּין שֶׁהוּא לְבַדּוֹ. וְאִם כָּבַשׁ עֵדוּתוֹ, חַיָב בְּדִינֵי שָׁמָיִם. וְאָסוּר לְאָדָם לְהָעִיד בְּדָבָר שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ, אַף-עַל-פִּי שֶׁאָמַר לוֹ אָדָם שֶׁיּוֹדֵעַ בּוֹ ֹשֶאֵינוֹ מְשַׁקֵּר. וַאֲפִלּו אָמַר לוֹ בַּעַל-הַדִּין, בּוֹא וַעֲמֹד עִם עֵד אֶחָד שֶׁיֵשׁ לִי, וְלֹא תָעִיד, רַק שֶׁיִפְחַד בַּעַל חוֹבִי וְיִסְבּוֹר שֶׁיֵשׁ לִי שְׁנֵי עֵדִים, וְיוֹדֶה לִי–לֹא יִשְׁמַע לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, מִדְּבַר שֶׁקֶר תִּרְחָק

Anyone who knows testimony for his friend and is capable of giving that testimony, and his friend has a purpose in his testimony and calls upon him that he testify for him before the court, is obligated to testify. Whether there is another witness with him, whether he is alone. And if he suppresses his testimony, he is accountable by the laws [ie penal system] of heaven.

It is prohibited for a person to testify about something that he doesn’t know even if he was told it by someone who he knows that he never lies. Even if the claimant tells him, come and stand with this one witness that I have and don’t testify, just that my debtor shall worry and figure that I have two witnesses and therefore agree to me [ie my claim], don’t listen to him, for it says “stay distant from things of falsehood.”

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:11

יא: עֲיָרוֹת שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם חֲכָמִים הָרְאוּיִים לִהְיוֹת דַּיָּנִים, מְמַנִּים הַטּוֹבִים וְהַחֲכָמִים שֶׁבָּהֶם לְדַעַת אַנְשֵׁי הָעִיר, וְהֵם יָדוּנוּ אַף-עַל-פִּי שֶׁאֵינָם רְאוּיִים לְדַיָנִים, כְּדֵי שֶׁלֹּא יֵלְכוּ לִפְנֵי עַרְכָּאוֹת ֹשֶל גּוֹיִם. וְכֵיוָן שֶׁקִבְּלוּם עֲלֵיהֶם בְּנֵי הָעִיר, אֵין אַחֵר יָכוֹל לְפָסְלָן. וְכָל מַעֲשֵׂיהֶם יִהְיוּ לְשֵׁם-שָׁמָיִם

Cities that do not have within them sages worthy of being judges should chood the best and wisest from among them according to the knowledge of the people of the city, and they should judge even though they aren’t worthy of being judges, so that they shouldn’t go before the adjudication of the non-Jews. Since the people of the city accepted them upon themselves [as arbitrators], no one else may disqualify them. And all their actions should be for the sake of [the One in] heaven.

A Berakhah for Chassidus Spinka

כִּ֤י שֶׁ֨בַע׀ יִפּ֣וֹל צַדִּ֣יק וָקָ֑ם וּ֝רְשָׁעִ֗ים יִכָּשְׁל֥וּ בְרָעָֽה׃

When [asher] a leader sins and does one of the commandments of Hashem his G-d which he should not do, in error, and expresses guilt.

-Vayiqra 4:22

“אשר נשיא יחטא” – (ת”כ הוריות פר”ג) לשון אשרי אשרי הדור שהנשיא שלו נותן לב להביא כפרה על שגגתו ק”ו שמתחרט על זדונותיו:

When [asher] a leader sins” – a language of enrichment [ashrei], “Enriched is the generation that its leader gives heart to bring an atonement for his errors, ad a fortiori if he regrets his intentional violations.

-Rashi (ad loc)

Part of being human is having limitations. We have seen in the past year numerous rabbis charged with this crime or that. Usual responses range from blaming the antisemitism of the DA for prosecuting a crime most people get away with and isn’t so terrible to a tearful “Al Cheit” admission of regret.

Rarely do you find a man of such stature and such a love of spreading Torah that he stands up before the community and asks them to use his error as a cautionary tale in their own lives. Rav Naftali Zvi Weiss, the Spinka Rebbe, did just that before an audience reported as being “in the thousands” on the subject of financial integrity. The rebbe, his gabbai, and others were charged with committing tax fraud in order to fund the Spinka yeshivos. He pled guilty in court shortly before the event, which was triggered by other news of the summer. Even if reports were exaggerated (as is typical for partisan news sources in general),  the crowd was large. “[A]n overflow crowd of thousands packed the main building of the Vizhnitz community.” (Forward) You can hear his talk, given last July, here (at 26:50, Yiddish and English). In addition, the talks were available live on line in streaming audio.

The Spinka Rebbe started by gathering a team of accountants, lawyers and auditors to go through his own institutions’ records. Systems were put in place to prevent a repeat Then he collected the funds to subsidize their availability for other tzedaqos looking to stay on the straight and narrow. Glatt Yosher, as the Yekkes would put it.

Everyone fails sometimes. The question is how to respond to their failures. (With all due respect to the current genre of Orthodox hagiographies, which leave you thinking the righteous were perfect since birth.)

There is someone I greatly respect (who reads this blog, so I’m about to embarrass him) largely because he too responded so positively when he saw the cause of his firm’s crash in his own shortcomings. And rather than blame the market, the investors, bad luck, or whatever, he not only turned his own life around, but shared what he learned to help thousands. And has no problem saying, “I messed up” in order to do so. Placing others before his own kavod.

Getting back to Chassidei Spinka, let me close with the promised berakhah:

כִּ֤י שֶׁ֨בַע׀ יִפּ֣וֹל צַדִּ֣יק וָקָ֑ם וּ֝רְשָׁעִ֗ים יִכָּשְׁל֥וּ בְרָעָֽה׃

For a righteous man can fall seven times and rise, but the wicked shall stumble upon evil.

-Mishlei 24:16

The righteous are righteous because of how they get up after they fall. May Spinka’s coming rise be with the proverbial speed of Yaakov’s son Naftali, swift as a Zvi (deer) hastening our redemption.

אל תהי ברכת הדיותות קל בעינך

Qitzur Shulchan Arukh – 181:10

י: בְּנֵי הָעִיר שֶׁמַּעֲמִידִין לָהֶם בֵּית-דִּין, צְרִיכִין לֵידַע שֶׁיֵשׁ בְּכָל אֶחָד מֵהֶם שִׁבְעָה דְבָרִים אֵלּוּ, חָכְמָה בַתּוֹרָה, עֲנָוָה, יִרְאָה, שִׂנְאַת מָמוֹן אֲפִלּוּ שֶׁלָּהֶם, אַהֲבַת הָאֶמֶת, אַהֲבַת הַבְּרִיּוֹת לָהֶם, בַּעֲלֵי שֵׁם טוֹב בְּמַעֲשֵׂיהֶם. וְכָל הַמַּעֲמִיד דַּיָן שֶׁאֵינוֹ הָגוּן, עוֹבֵר בְּלֹא תַעֲשֶׂה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר, לֹא תַכִּירו פָנִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט, כְּלוֹמַר, לֹא תַכִּירוּ פְנֵי הָאִישׁ לוֹמַר, פְּלוֹנִי עָשִׁיר הוּא, קְרוֹבִי הוּא, אוֹשִׁיבֶנּוּ בַדִין. וְכָל דַּיָן שֶׁנִּתְמַנָּה בִּשְׁבִיל כֶּסֶף וְזָהָב, אָסוּר לַעֲמֹד לְפָנָיו אוֹ לְכַבְּדוֹ בִּשְׁאָר כִּבּוּד, וְעָלָיו דָּרְשׁוּ רַבּוֹתֵינו זִכְרוֹנָם לִבְרָכָה, אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם

A city wish establishes for themselves a court, they must know that each one of them [the judges] have these seven qualities:

  1. wisdom in Torah,
  2. modesty,
  3. fear/awe [of G-d],
  4. a hatred of money [as an ends], even their own,
  5. love of truth,
  6. the love of all creatures [i.e. people] is for them, and
  7. they have a good reputation in their deeds.

Whoever establishes a judge who isn’t upright, violates a prohibition, as it says “do not recognize faces [an idiom: show favoritism] in judgement”, as if to say, “do not recognize the face of the person, to say ‘so-and-so is wealthy”, or “… is my relative”, I will settle the judgement for him.

Any judge who accepts an appointment for silver/money and gold, it is prohibited to stand before him [for judgment] or honor him in any honor. About him our rabbis whose memory is a blessing expounded, “Gods of silver and gods of gold, do not make for yourselves.


For a mussar shmuess: Reread this se’if keeping in mind that each one of us assesses those around us in a “courtroom of our mind”. What qualities do we need to cultivate in our relationships to others?