Aristotle, Science and Halakhah

ר’ יצחק בי רבי אלעזר שאל זרק מרשות היחיד לרשות הרבים ונזכר עד שהוא ברשות הרבים. על דעתיה דר’ עקיבה יעשה כמי שנחה בר”ה ויהא חייב שתים. א”ר חונה לא חייב ר’ עקיבה אלא ע”י רה”י השנייה. רבי אבהו אומר בשם ר’ אלעזר בשם ר’ יוחנן היה עומד בר”ה וזרק למעלה מעשרה. רואין שאם תפול אם נחה בתוך ד’ אמות פטור ואם לאו חייב. והתני שמואל מרה”י לרה”י ורה”י באמצע רואין שאם תפול נחה בתוך ד’ אמות פטור ואם לאו חייב. תמן את אמר אין ר”ה מצטרפת. והכא את אמר ר”ה מצטרפת. א”ר חונה תמן שאם תפול קרקע שתחתיה רשות היחיד. ברם הכא שאם תפול קרקע שתחתיה רשות הרבים.

Rabbi Yitzchaq of Rabbi Eliezer’s beis medrash asked: If someone threw an item from a private domain to a public domain [on Shabbos, while unaware either that it was Shabbos or that he was about to violate Shabbos] and remembers before the item enters the public domain. By the reasoning of Rabbi Aqiva, it should be made to be like someone who put it down in the public domain, and he should be obligated in two [sacrifices for violating Shabbos through forgetfulness]. Rabbi Chunah said: Rabbi Aqiva would not obligate except if it went through a second public domain.

Rabbi Avohu says in the name of Rabbi Elazer, in the name of Rabbi Yochanan: Someone who was standing in a public domain and through an item above 10 [tefachim]. We see if it would fall. If it would come to rest within 4 amos , he would not be culpable [although he did violate Shabbos rabbinically -- patur aval assur]. And if it would not, he would be culpable [because enough was already done in error to require the offering].

But didn’t Shemuel recite the teaching that [something thrown] from private domain to private domain with a public domain between them, we look to see if it were to fall, whether it would be within 4 amos [of the first private domain, the thrower] would not be culpable, but if not, he is culpable? Over there [in our original case] you say the public domain does not connect [to the private one], but over here [in Rav Avohu's case] you say a public domain does connect?

Rabbi Chuna said: Over there is a case where if it were to fall, the ground under it is private domain. Whereas over here if it were to fall, the ground under it was [already] public domain.

Yerushalmi Shabbos 11:1, vilna 65a

The numerous amoraim in this gemara, most clearly Rabbi Chuna’s second statement at the end of my quote, assume  that when an object falls, it falls down to the ground it is directly over. Not as Newton showed, that a thrown object follows a trajectory, a parabola.

Which means that this page from last week’s daf yomi gives me an excuse to discuss Aristotelian physics and whether it should still play a role in Judaism. I visited the topic once before, in my discussion of the Rambam’s understanding of mal’akhim.

According to Artisotle, action starts with an intellect. The intellect moves an object by imparting impetus to it. Since no one had separated out the concept of friction (including air drag), there was no law of conservation of impetus; it’s not just another word for momentum. So, eventually impetus would run out, and the object would stop moving. This is why Aristotelians, including the Rambam, believed that the spheres (the stars, planets, sun and moon, or the transparent spinning shells in which they are embedded and which give them their paths in the sky) were intellects. Similarly, this is the role of angels — they are the chain of intellects necessary to turn G-d’s Will into physical action.

In the case of a thrown object, Aristotelian physics would expect the object to move diagonally upward in the direction thrown, go through a short curve as the impetus runs out, and then the object would fall straight down. Something like this:

A medieval study of the paths of various launched objects.

This  is clearly also what our amora’im expected when they discuss where the object would land if it would fall right then. As opposed to Newton’s model, where the object would continue along the parabola, landing beyond where it was at the moment the thrower remembered it was Shabbos.

“Cartoon physics”, the world as drawn by animators, also usually assumes that thrown objects — or characters who run off cliffs — follow Aristotelian trajectories, not Newtonian parabolic ones. Why is that relevant? Because it says something about Aristotelian physics and how it relates to instinct. Aristotle didn’t experiment and systematize the results. He made a system out of the results of how the world should work by speculation. He performed “Natural Philosophy”, not “Science”. Thus, many of his results match our instincts, particularly in cases where they don’t match reality.

How this disjoin between our expectations and reality plays out in professional baseball players is interesting.  On the one hand, they must have learned with some part of their minds the true path of the ball, because they do manage to be in the right place at the right time. On the other, they still slip into the language of “getting under the ball” as though being directly under the ball is relevant. Here’s a psychologist’s description, from “Going, Going, Gone! The Psychology of Baseball” by Ian Herbert in the April 2007 issue of the Association for Psychological Science’s journal, “Observer”:

Like hitting, fielding also seems like it should be a mental and physical impossibility — which makes it fascinating to psychology researchers. If you put a player in the outfield and make him stay put, he is actually quite bad at predicting where a ball is going to land, yet he will run effortlessly to that spot when allowed to do so. How?

One of the first theories developed to explain fly-ball catching was developed by physicist Seville Chapman, who hypothesized that fielders used the acceleration of the ball to help them determine where the ball will land. To simplify the problem for experimental purposes, balls were only hit directly at the fielders, who then moved either forward or backward in order to keep the ball moving at a constant speed through their field of vision — so, they started with their eyes on home plate and then moved in a way that kept their eyes moving straight up at a constant speed until they made the catch. If they moved too far forward, the ball would move more quickly through their field of vision and go over their head. If they moved too far backwards, the ball would appear to die in front of them.

This theory seemed too simple to Mike McBeath, a psychologist at Arizona State. For one thing, Chapman’s model predicted that fielders would use the same process for balls hit to their left or right, simply making a sideways calculation along with the basic speed calculation. But that would mean balls hit to the side should be harder to catch, and McBeath (and every sandlot outfielder) knows that’s simply not the case. Any outfielder will tell you that a ball hit directly at him is the most difficult to catch, so McBeath reasoned instead that, when a ball is hit directly at a fielder, the fielder lacks some crucial bit of information for making the catch.

He came up with a method that was similar to Chapman’s but included an extra piece: He hypothesized that fielders kept the ball moving through their field of vision in a straight but diagonal line. So if the outfielder is looking at home plate when the ball is hit, he then keeps his eyes on the ball and runs so his head moves along a constant angle until the ball is directly above him, which is when he snags it. To test this, McBeath had fielders put video cameras on their shoulders, and the cameras moved in this manner.

Yet ask any Major Leaguers about this, and you’ll get blank stares. McBeath did talk to pro outfielders, and responses ranged from “Beats me” to “You’re full of it.” That’s because there’s no conscious processing involved; it’s all taking place at the level of instinct, even though the geometry is sophisticated.

I see, therefore, two possible resolutions to how to deal with our gemara given the advances in science.

1- One can fit the amoraim to Newton. What causes the parabola? Well, there are three forces acting on the object: the throw of the hand, the pull of gravity, and the drag of the air it is flying through. If we are trying to isolate what the person did during the period of forgetting, we should mentally “shut off” the throw of the hand at the moment they remembered it was Shabbos. In which case, the remaining forward motion that happens after remembering isn’t part of the forgotten action, and could be ignored. We pretend as though it were to fall straight down, without the vector added by his hand. This notion that it’s a pretense isn’t in the gemara, but there is no reason to believe that such a fiction (pretend the momentum disappeared) vs. thinking it would really occur is relevant to the halakhah.

2- Taking a major step back, we can ask whether the halakhah actually depends on the science. After all, the role of halakhah is to refine our souls.  (Connect to G-d, ennoble ourselves, perfect our middos, our thought, however you define the refinement.) In the posts in this category I have argued that this implies that illusions are no less relevant than reality, and innate expectations of how the world works more important than how it really does.

If we are so hard-wired to think that objects move in a certain way, such that even professionals who rely on predicting where a thrown object would be cannot fully escape it — isn’t that the reality halakhah must address? Which approach to throwing an object in a public domain better relates to the person’s responses, more closely addresses the forces that shape him: Newtonian Physics, although more accurate in describing what actually happens; or Aristotelian Physics, which catalogs our expectations and our relationship to what happens?

Semag – why we’re still in galus

The Semag (Seifer Mitzvos Gadol; written by R’ Moshe from Coucy, France early 13th cent., one of the last Tosafosts, a student of R’ Yehudah haChasid, and an admirer of the Rambam) writes the following in Asei #74 (“Returning Stolen Items”):

כבר דרשתי לגלות ירושלים אשר בספרד ולשאר גלויות אדום כי עתה שהאריך הגלות יותר מדאי יש לישראל להבדיל מהבלי העולם ולאחוז בחותמו של הקב”ה שהוא אמת ושלא לשקר לא לישראל ולא לגוים ולא להטעותם בשום עניין ולקדש עצמם אף במותר להם שנאמר (צפניה ג, יג) שארית ישראל לא יעשו עולה ולא ידברו כזב ולא ימצא בפיהם לשון תרמית וכשיבא הקב”ה להושיעם יאמרו הגוים בדין עשה כי הם אנשי אמת ותורת אמת בפיהם אבל אם יתנהגו עם הגוים ברמאות יאמרו ראו מה עשה הקב”ה שבחר לחלקו גנבים ורמאים ועוד כתוב (הושע ב, כה) וזרעתיה לי בארץ כלום זורע אדם כור אחד אלא למצוא כמה כורים כך זורע הקב”ה [את] ישראל בארצות כדי שיתוספו עליהם גרים (פסחים פז, ב) וכל זמן שהם מתנהגים בהן ברמאות מי ידבק בהם.

I already expounded to the exiled from Jerusalem who are in Spain and the other Roman exiles that now that the exile has gone on far too long, it is appropriate for Israel to separate from the vanities of the world and gram onto the signet of the Holy One, blessed be He, which is truth, and not to lie neither to Jew nor to gentile. Not to mislead them in any way. To sanctify themselves even in what is permitted to them, as it says, “The remnant of Israel do not commit sin, do not speak lies, and one won’t find a false tongue in their mouths.” (Tzefaniah 3:13) And when Hashem comes to save them, the nations will say, “It was done justly, for they are a people of truth and the Torah of truth is in their mouths.” But if they act with the gentiles with trickery, they will say, “See what the Holy One, blessed be He did, that chose for His portion thieves and con-men.” Also, it says, “I will plant her [the Jewish People] for myself in the land…” (Hosheia 2:25) A person doesn’t plant a kur [of seed] but to produce numerous kurim. So too the Holy One, blessed be He, planted Israel among the lands so that converts will join them (Pesachim 87b) and every time that they conduct themselves with trickery, who will attach to them?

Not for the Seder Table

We say in the Hagadah

אמר רבי אלעזר בן עזריה: הרי אני כבן שבעים שנה ולא זכיתי שתאמר יציאת מצרים בלילות, עד שדרשה בן זומא “למען תזכור את יום צאתך מארץ מצרים כל ימי חייך”: ימי חייך – הימים, כל ימי חייך – הלילות. וחכמים אומרים: ימי חייך – העולם הזה, כל ימי חייך – להביא לימות המשיח.

Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah said: Here I am like 70 years old, and I didn’t merit [having a proof] that the Exodus from Egypt must be spoken about at night. Until Ben Zomah expounded “So that you shall remember the day you went out of the Land of Egypt all the days of your life’. ‘The days of your life’ — would mean daytime, ‘All the days of your life’ — [adds] the nights.”
But the sages say: “The days of your life” — this world, “All the days of your life” — includes the messianic era.”

The topic under dispute is the nature of saying the last paragraph of Shema. According to Ben Zoma and R’ Elazar ben Azariah (REbA), the pasuq “… asher hotzeisi eskhem meiEretz Mitzrayim — Who took you out of the Land of Eqypt…” as a fulfillment of the biblical obligation to discuss the Exodus at night. According to the Chakhamim, the obligation is rabbinic.

I recently encountered a Yerushalmi that has a different dispute between REbA and the majority of the  Chakhamim that I think dovetails with this one. But, as the subject line says, it’s not on a topic appropriate for the seder table.

If after relations semen emits from the woman’s body (as is true for a man), the woman is temei’ah. In the days of the beis hamiqdash, when there are mitzvos that depend on her being tehorah, she would have to go to the miqvah. However, in order for this law to apply, the semen still has to be fresh (viable?), and therefore must be within three days of intimacy. This is deduced from the instructions given to the Jews at Mount Sinai: “וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-הָעָם, הֱיוּ נְכֹנִים, לִשְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים;  אַל-תִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל-אִשָּׁה — [Moshe] said to the people, ‘Be prepared for the third day, do not [sexually] approach a woman.'” (Shemos 19:15) Thus implying that three days is sufficient to guarantee that no woman would be temei’ah (at least, not more so than tevul yom).

There is a four-way machloqes in the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 9:3, Vilna 59b) about how to define those three days; the result of two open questions:

  1. When Moshe Rabbeinu said “third day”, is this because one needs three entire days, or is overlapping with part of the day sufficient?
  2. What do we mean by “days”? Three daylight units of time, with the two nights between them, or 3 24-hour cycles? In other words, is the time specified 5 onos, i.e. 12-hour units, or 6?

There are tannaim with each combination of answers:

  • Rabbi Yishmael says that the time must cover at least parts of 5 12-hour units. So, if they had relations just before sundown, that counts as the first onah, then the next two days are another 4 onos, and if she emits semen a few moments later it is during the 6th onah, and she is tehorah. Altogether the minimum amount of time is just over 2 days. However, if they had relations just after sunset, then the first onah is pretty much the entire night, and the emission might be toward the end of the 6th onah, meaning a total of just under 3 days.
  • Rabbi Aqivah also holds that the relevant unit is the onah, not the day, but holds one needs 5 complete onos. Therefore, time limit is always 5 x 12 = 60 hours after they had relations. Regardless of the time of day of the relations or the emission.
  • Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah holds that we need parts (not whole durations) of three 24-hour days (not 5 onos). Therefore, if they had relations shortly before nightfall that’s day one, then if a day passes beyond the next nightfall, that’s already part of the third day, and she would be tehorah. This is the most lenient opinion — the minimum is only just over 24 hours. The longest possible time would be just under 2 days.
  • Last, the sages are quoted as holding that one needs three complete days, meaning 3 x 24 = or 72 hours.

Note that both R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Chakhamim consider the day and the night to be a single unit. When we speak of yom, by default we mean 24 hours.

How do they differ? REbA holds that something happening even on the edge of that day is enough to characterize the day. The Chakhamim hold that it must last the entire duration of the day.

Perhaps we can say the following:

According to Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Aqiva, the question of whether or not there is a Torahitic obligation to discuss the Exodus at night wouldn’t even arise. The verse telling us to speak of the Exodus says “yom“, which by default is the daylight onah.

However, between R’ Elazar ben Azariah and the Sages,  the point of dispute is whether something happening for a moment during the day is sufficient to characterize the day, or if the thing must last the entire day. According to REbA, then, there are two ways of understanding this obligation. Either as an utterance, an obligation that happens to occur daily, or as an obligation to make each day about remembering the Exodus.  If the latter, he would say that one utterance a day is sufficient, since an event during the day is part of the entire day’s character. Therefore, he is excited to learn from Ben Zoma that the obligation is twice daily. A mitzvah that is twice daily is simply a mitzvah whose schedule is twice daily, and not about characterizing the day as a whole.

The Chakhamim, however, say the mitzvah is to characterize the entire day. The mitzvah is thus once daily.

 

 

And You Shall Live by Them

This morning’s Torah reading, Acharei Mos, included the following pasuq (18:5):

שְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי, אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם; אֲנִי ה’.

Guard My statutes and My laws which a person shall do them and live by them; I am G-d.

Chazal expound “‘Vechai bahem': velo shayamus bahem — ‘and live by them': and not that you shall die by them.” The Torah’s obligations do not override the value of life, and by and large one is not permitted to perform a mitzvah that risks one’s own life. (And never when the life lost is someone else’s!)

But there are exceptions. War. Or when someone is being pushed to violate the Torah in public at a time when we are being oppressed in an attempt to get us to abandon it. Most famously, the three mitzvos that are “yeihareig ve’al ya’avor — get killed, but do not violate”: murder, idolatry and sexual immorality.

So it struck me when listening to leining that the very next words after this pasuq open a discussion about sexual immorality!

אִישׁ אִישׁ אֶל-כָּל-שְׁאֵר בְּשָׂרוֹ לֹא תִקְרְבוּ לְגַלּוֹת עֶרְוָה; אֲנִי ה’.

Every person must not approach his flesh to any near kin to reveal sexuality; I am G-d.

The contrast is jarring, and therefore must be significant. More so, the repeated closing “ani Hashem” reflects a connection between the two pesuqim. But why?

Taking a step back to look at the context:

17:10-16 The prohibition against consuming blood. Repeatedly invoking the notion that blood is associated with the animal’s nefesh. Quoting just the last three pesuqim:

כִּי-נֶפֶשׁ כָּל-בָּשָׂר, דָּמוֹ בְנַפְשׁוֹ הוּא, וָאֹמַר לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, דַּם כָּל-בָּשָׂר לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ; כִּי נֶפֶשׁ כָּל-בָּשָׂר דָּמוֹ הִוא, כָּל-אֹכְלָיו יִכָּרֵת.
וְכָל-נֶפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר תֹּאכַל נְבֵלָה וּטְרֵפָה, בָּאֶזְרָח וּבַגֵּר;  וְכִבֶּס בְּגָדָיו וְרָחַץ בַּמַּיִם, וְטָמֵא עַד-הָעֶרֶב וְטָהֵר.
וְאִם לֹא יְכַבֵּס, וּבְשָׂרוֹ לֹא יִרְחָץ וְנָשָׂא עֲו‍ֹנוֹ.

For any nefesh, the blood is in the nefesh, and I will tell the Benei Yisrael, do not consume the blood of any flesh, so the nefesh of any flesh is its blood, whomever consumes it will be cut off. And any nefesh which eats that which died of itself or was killed  by tearing, whether a native or a resident alien, shall launder his clothes and wash in water, and he is tamei until evening, then purified. And if he does not launder and does not wash, he carries his sin.

The elements I’m picking out is the use of the word nefesh, the punishment being kareis, and the facts that the sin causes tum’ah.

18:1-4 Do not act as they did in Egypt or would in Canaan — from which we learn the prohibition against lesbianism and homosexual marriage in general.

18:5 Note not only “vechai bahem“, but also the idiom of “es chuqosai ve’es mishpatai

18:6-23 A list of prohibited sexual partners: close relatives, male homosexuality bestiality.

17:24-26 We are warned about these prohibitions in a way that revisits the previous elements:

אַל תִּטַּמְּאוּ, בְּכָל-אֵלֶּה; כִּי בְכָל אֵלֶּה נִטְמְאוּ הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי מְשַׁלֵּחַ מִפְּנֵיכֶם.
וַתִּטְמָא הָאָרֶץ, וָאֶפְקֹד עֲו‍ֹנָהּ עָלֶיהָ; וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ, אֶת-יֹשְׁבֶיהָ.
ושְׁמַרְתֶּם אַתֶּם, אֶת-חֻקֹּתַי וְאֶת-מִשְׁפָּטַי, וְלֹא תַעֲשׂוּ, מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה: הָאֶזְרָח, וְהַגֵּר הַגָּר בְּתוֹכְכֶם.
כִּי אֶת-כָּל-הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵל, עָשׂוּ אַנְשֵׁי-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם; וַתִּטְמָא, הָאָרֶץ.
וְלֹא-תָקִיא הָאָרֶץ אֶתְכֶם בְּטַמַּאֲכֶם אֹתָהּ, כַּאֲשֶׁר קָאָה אֶת-הַגּוֹי אֲשֶׁר לִפְנֵיכֶם.
כִּי כָּל-אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה מִכֹּל הַתּוֹעֵבֹת הָאֵלֶּה, וְנִכְרְתוּ הַנְּפָשׁוֹת הָעֹשֹׂת מִקֶּרֶב עַמָּם.
וּשְׁמַרְתֶּם אֶת-מִשְׁמַרְתִּי, לְבִלְתִּי עֲשׂוֹת מֵחֻקּוֹת הַתּוֹעֵבֹת אֲשֶׁר נַעֲשׂוּ לִפְנֵיכֶם, וְלֹא תִטַּמְּאוּ, בָּהֶם; אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways; for in all of them these nations are made tamei, those that I throw out from before you. And the land was made tamei, and I revisited its sin on it, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.

And you shall observe my statutes and my laws and do not do any of these disgusting things, neither the native nor the resident alien who lives among you. For all these disgusting things were done by the people of the land that is before you, and the land made tamei. And the land will not vomit you out when you make it tamei, as it vomited out the nations which are before you.

For whomever does any of these disgusting things, the nefashos who do it will be cut off from among their nation.

And you shall observe my observances, lest you do any of these statutory abominations which were done before you, and you will not be made tamai though them; I am Hashem your G-d.

Looking then at this as a full section, here is a lesson I took.

The paragraph on not consuming blood establishes that living on the plane where animals live is the life of the nefesh and induces tum’ah. Later, when discussing prohibited sexual relations, the person who commits them is described by the term used for living animals, he is a nefesh. Someone who lives as a nefesh is cut off from the Jewish national soul, and the land of Israel will not harbor them.

However, the verse we’re looking at doesn’t use nefesh to speak of a life-force, it says “vechai bahem” — chaim, alive. By observing the Torah, one lifts above the plane of nefesh to purposeful existance. Transitioning from being a living animal, a nefesh, to actively chai. For a human being, chiyus implies pursuit of meaning, not merely breathing and procreating.

And so, I think the sequence may be teaching us the reason behind this limitation of choosing life — it is chayim, not merely possession of a nefesh, that holds that value. Acts which drag one down from the pursuit of meaning to an animalistic pursuit of the physical, turn one into being a nefesh, who is already inherently cut off. If sexual immorality, murder, and idolatry were allowed a higher priority than life, we would be speaking of the attribute man shares with animals, not our uniquely human selves.

Hagadah: Random Thought

וַיְהִי בַיָּמִים הָרַבִּים הָהֵם וַיָּמָת מֶלֶךְ מִצְרַיִם, וַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה, וַיִּזְעָקוּ; וַתַּעַל שַׁוְעָתָם אֶל הָאֱ-לֹהִים, מִן הָעֲבֹדָה.

It was in those many days and the king of Egypt died, and the Benei Yisrael sighed from the work and they wailed, and their crying reached to G-d from the work.

- Shemos 2:23

The cry of the Jewish People when cornered at Yam Suf was called a “tze’aqah” (14:10), with a tzadi, and Rashi their writes that the term refers to prayer. Here, the word is “ze’aqah”, a related root but with a zayin. The Jews at the Red Sea were articulate, they were able to turn their wailing into prayer. Here, still in Egypt, they were so oppressed that their cry was a ze’aqah, wordless wail. More like the cry of the shofar than the poetry of prayer. As the Rambam writes:

מִצְוַת עֲשֵׂה מִן הַתּוֹרָה, לִזְעֹק וּלְהָרִיעַ בַּחֲצוֹצְרוֹת עַל כָּל צָרָה שֶׁתָּבוֹא עַל הַצִּבּוּר, שֶׁנֶּאֱמָר “עַל הַצַּר הַצֹּרֵר אֶתְכֶם וַהֲרֵעֹתֶם בַּחֲצֹצְרֹת” (במדבר י,ט). כְּלוֹמַר כָּל דָּבָר שֶׁיֵּצַר לָכֶם כְּגוֹן בַּצֹּרֶת וְדֶבֶר וְאַרְבֶּה וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן, זַעֲקוּ עֲלֵיהֶן וְהָרִיעוּ.

There is a commandment of obligation in the Torah to ze’oq (wail) and to blare on the trumpets over every difficulty which comes upon the community. As it says (Bamidbar 10:9) “On the trouble which troubles you, and you shall blare on the trumpets”. As if to say, every thing that troubles you, such as drought, wild animals, locust and the like za’aqu (you shall wail) about them and trumpet.

- Taaniyos 1:1

Ze’oq, za’aqu, za’aqah – terms for wordless crying.

Perhaps then there was a particular point in associating this particular even with the mitzvah of sippur yetzi’as Mitzrayim, telling over the details of the story of being taken out from Mitzrayim. Where our ancestors before the Exodus were reduced to the wordless wailing of vayiz’aqu, we open up our Hagados, our books of “Retelling”, and articulate a complexly structured Symposium on the concept of redemption.

Two Birds

R’ Harvey Benton posted the following to Avodah:

What is the significance of dipping a live bird in the blood of its chaver (or at least a fellow bird/ of the same or similar species) and then setting it free?

What is Hashem trying to convey to us, because on the surface it seems cruel. At least by the Azalzel, the two goats don’t see each other after being separated…..let alone being dipped in one of the other’s blood…….

When a metzorah is purified from his tzara’as (a spiritosomatic illness that is most accurately left untranslated), he brings an offering of two birds. One is killed, and the other is dipped in the blood of the dead one, and then set free. Compare this to the scapegoat of the Yom Kippur service, where two identical kids are selected, one is slaughtered and offered for atonement, and the other is sent off the cliff.

RHB in effect asks two questions:

  1. When the live bird is dipped in the blood the dead one, the smell of blood is bound to cause panic. There must be some value to this distress, or else Hashem wouldn’t ask for it. What is it?
  2. Given that there is such value, why doesn’t it apply to the pair of goats selected for Yom Kippur?

The following is off-the-cuff, but I liked it enough to want to share it. (Especially since other obligations have kept me from blogging in quite a while.)

Yom Kippur only atones for since between man and his Creator.

In contrast, tzora’as is associated with interpersonal issues. Most famously speaking lashon hara, but Rabbi Shemuel bar Nameini (Eirkhin 16a) lists 6 others: murder, pointless and false oaths, sexual immorality, egotism, theft, and stinginess. The focus of discussion about tzora’as is how it spurs teshuvah for interpersonal mitzvos.

Perhaps the point of dipping one bird in the other’s blood is so that the person sees the panic of one bird over the death of the other, and takes from it a lesson in empathy.

The Yom Kippur azazel, being part of a service of atonment for sins between man and G-d, is less about empathy than tzora’as is.