Shaarei Yosher: Chapter Headings

An outline, according to how I presented it:

  1. Life’s Mission
    1. Making ourselves in the “image” of the Creator.
    2. The “image” of the Creator is to bestow good on others –
    3. because creation had to be for our benefit, as He has no needs.
    4. We therefore must commit ourselves, sanctify all we have, to the mission of bestowing good to others.
  2. Holiness (Thesis)
    1. “Be Holy for I am Holy” — creating good for others, because Hashem is the Creator.
    2. Chazal identify holiness with separation,
    3. but separation is meaningless in the context of Divine Holiness –
    4. which is what meant by “My holiness is loftier than yours”.
    5. But for us, commitment to giving will require separation from other goals, and by enjoying ourselves in order to perform this life mission, we can sanctify our enjoyment.
  3. Self-Interest (Antithesis)
    1. Despite the focus on giving to others,
    2. Hashem created us with a drive to have our own needs met, and wants us to have self-interest, “his life and your life, your life comes first”
    3. Similarly Qabbalists say, “The Infinite wanted to bestow complete good, that there wouldn’t even be the embarrassment of receiving”
    4. – even one’s knowledge. A desire to take credit can lead to denying Hashem’s help — but still Hashem values it more than the risk.
    5. “Moshe his happy with the giving of his portion because he was a faithful servant” — who didn’t need to deny Hashem’s giving.
  4. Connectionism (Synthesis)
    1. Commitment to giving must therefore flow from self-interest.
    2. A coarse person thinks he is his body (a physical “ani“).
    3. Beyond that is someone whose “ani” is body and soul,
    4. and beyond — to family, to neighbors, to the Jewish people,
    5. to realizing that I am part of the entire creation.
    6. “If I am not for this ‘ani‘ who will be? And when I am for myself alone, what am I?”
  5. Sharing
    1. So too, when Hashem gives us something, it is for “ani” as part of the community.
    2. Hashem sees those who effectively provide for the whole, and provide them with more to disburse.
    3. Just as Nachum ish Gamzu saw no value to his own limbs when he failed to use them to provide good to others.
    4. So too teaching merits that Hashem give you more wisdom to share.
  6. Refinement
    1. Being ready to acquire Torah requires preparation.
    2. The sinner who has Torah is worse than one who does not.
    3. We become the man-made “Second Luchos“, and refining our middos is carving them.
    4. This turns Torah into a process of perfecting ourselves as givers, our Torah knowledge,
    5. and even our financial success.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Conclusion

To my mind, one can use this idea to elaborate what our sages explained in Nedarim (folio 38[a]) on the verse “carve for yourself”. Moses didn’t get rich except through the extras of the Tablets. This is an amazing idea – [is it possible that] Hashem couldn’t find any way to make Moses wealthy except through the extras of the Tablets? But through what we said, we can explain this. Through this change of how Tablets are to be readied, there was given opportunity for those who receive the Torah to fear, to accept upon themselves the yoke of Torah. Through this it becomes appropriate for anyone entering the gates of Torah to separate themselves from all the preoccupations of his world. As they interpret the verse “‘it is not on the other side of the sea’ it is not found at salesman or importers.” However, if the first Tablets had remained, then it would be sufficient to establish an easy hour for Torah, and spend most of your time trading and buying. For this reason the Holy One showed Moses as a sign to all who accept the Torah that He would prepare for them their income through the making of the Tablet; any “extras that are carved away” will provide them with income.
ולדעתי יש להמתיק בזה מה שדרשו חז״ל בנדרים (דף ל״ח.) על הכתוב “פסל לך”, “לא העשיר משה אלא מפסולתן של לוחות”, והוא ענין נפלא שלא מצא הקב״ה, סבה אחרת להעשיר את משה רק על ידי פסולת של הלוחות, ועל פי האמור, יש לפרש ענין זה, שעל פי השתנות הכנת הלוחות, ניתן מקום למקבלי תורה לפחוד, לקבל עליהם עול תורה, שהרי על פי זה ראוי לכל באי שערי תורה להפריש את עצמם מכל עסקי העולם, וכדרשם על הכתוב “לא מעבר לים הוא”, שלא תמצא לא בסחרנים ולא בתגרנים, מה שאין כן שאם היו הלוחות הראשונים קיימים, שאז היה די לקבוע שעה קלה לתורה, ולעסוק רוב העתים במסחר וקנין, ולענין זה הראה הקב״ה שיהיה משה רבינו ע״ה לאות לכל מקבלי התורה שיזמין ה׳ להם פרנסתם בתוך עשית הלוחות איזה פסולת שעל ידי זה יתפרנסו.

The Torah as it was given in the Second Luchos on Yom Kippur requires much work to acquire and retain. Rav Shimon observes that this means that mastery of Torah requires an investment of time, and therefore a profession, or simply bitul Torah — not learning Torah by wasting time, will interfere that that goal.

Instead, we are to view life as the pursuit of middos and Torah, the tablets and the writing upon them. And any money we earn is a side-effect of middos work. This is what is symbolized by Moshe’s being supported through the shards removed when chiseling the luchos.


But I want to look at Rav Shimon Shkop’s statement from another angle, that of the majority of us who do lack the skills or opportunity to live as Rav Shimon did, and instead do end up spending much of their waking hours pursuing a career.

In the list of generations from Adam to Noach, the Torah gives this enigmatic summary of Chanokh’s life:

כא וַיְחִי חֲנוֹךְ חָמֵשׁ וְשִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד אֶת מְתוּשָׁלַח. כב וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ אֶת הָאֱ-לֹהִים אַחֲרֵי הוֹלִידוֹ אֶת מְתוּשֶׁלַח שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה, וַיּוֹלֶד בָּנִים וּבָנוֹת. כג וַיְהִי כָּל יְמֵי חֲנוֹךְ: חָמֵשׁ וְשִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה וּשְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה. כד וַיִּתְהַלֵּךְ חֲנוֹךְ אֶת הָאֱלֹהִים, וְאֵינֶנּוּ כִּי לָקַח
אֹתוֹ אֱלֹהִים

21: Chanokh lived 560 years, and he fathered Mesushelach. 22: Chanokh walked with G-d after he fathered Mesushelach 400 years and father [other] sons and dautghers. 23: All the days of Chanokh were 365 years. 24: Chanokh walked with G-d and is gone, for G-d took him.

To compare to the other men in the list of generations, the first “vayis-helekh Chanokh es haE-lokim” is instead of the usual “vayechi Mehalalel” or “vayechi Yered“, and the last verse replaces the one word, “vayamos — and he died”. Chanokh isn’t described as living and dying, but as walking with G-d while here and then walking away with Him to heaven.

An often quoted medrash, explains this uniqueness. The version found in Medrash Talpiot, written by Rav Eliyahu haKohein in 18th cent Izmir reads: “Chanokh was a cobbler, and with each stitch on a shoe he would say, ‘Barukh sheim kevod malkhuso le’olam va’ed — Blessed be the reputation of the glory of His rule until the end of time’.”

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter explains that the point of this medrash could not be that while he was sewing, he was not fully present, lost in spiritual thought. It is halachically prohibited not to pay attention to work others are paying him for. Rather, Chanokh’s spirituality was one with his concentrating on the quality of his work, that each stitch should be good strong and yield a comfortable shoe.

And it seems that he was so successful in unifying heaven and earth as he stitched the shoes’ uppers to their soles, that he entered heaven without it being described as “death”.

Man was made to earn a living, and man was made to perfect himself, to refine the tablet upon which he would write his Torah. Rav Shimon tells us that these are the same goal. That this is the lesson we are to take from the idea that Moshe supported himself through the pieces he chiseled off the sapphire that would become the luchos.


So concludes the philosophical portion of
Rav Shimon Shkop’s introduction to Shaarei Yosher.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 4

The beginning of the receiving of the Torah through Moses was a symbol and sign for all of the Jewish people who receive the Torah [since]. Just as Hashem told Moses, “Carve for yourself two stone Tablets”, so too it is advice for all who receive the Torah. Each must prepare Tablets for himself, to write upon them the word of Hashem. According to his readiness in preparing the Tablets, so will be his ability to receive. If in the beginning or even any time after that his Tablets are ruined, then his Torah will not remain. This removes much of Moses’ fear, because according to the value and greatness of the person in Awe/Fear of Hashem and in middos, which are the Tablet of his heart, this will be the measure by which heaven will give him acquisition of Torah. And if he falls from his level, by that amount he will forget his Torah, just as our sages said of a number of things that cause Torah to be forgotten. About this great concept our sages told us to explain the text at the conclusion of the Torah, “and all the great Awe Inspiring acts which Moses wrought before the eyes of all of Israel.” (Devarim 34:12, the closing words of the Torah)
ותחלת קבלת התורה על ידי משה רבינו ע״ה היתה דמות ואות לכל בני ישראל מקבלי התורה, שכמו שאמר הקב״ה למשה רבינו ע״ה “פסל לך שני לוחות אבנים”, כל כך הוא רמז לכל מקבלי התורה, שיכין כל איש ישראל לוחות לעצמו, לכתוב עליהם דבר ה׳, וכפי הכשרתו בהכנת הלוחות, כן תהיה קבלתו, מתחילה וכן גם אחרי זה אם יתקלקלו אצלו הלוחות, אז לא תתקיים התורה, ועל ידי זה לא יהיה מצוי כל כך ענין פחד משה רבינו ע״ה, שלפי ערך מעלת האדם ביראת ה׳ ובמדות, שהוא לוח לבבו, לפי ערך זה ינתן לו מן השמים קנין התורה, ואם יפול אחר כך ממדרגתו, לפי ערך זה תשכח התורה ממנו, וכמו שאמרו חז״ל שכמה ענינים גורמים לשכחת התורה ר״ל, ועל דבר גדול זה אמרו חז״ל לפרש את הכתוב בסיומא של תורה, “ולכל היד החזקה שעשה משה לעיני כל ישראל”,

We saw Rav Chaim Volozhiner describe middos work as building the silo in which we can hold our Torah. Rav Shimon here is using a similar metaphor — middos work is the carving of the luchos upon which our Torah may be written. And Moshe wanted us to receive the Torah this way, lest someone study Torah without what the Gra called “weeding the garden”, and that eternally remembered Torah would only nourish those maladjusted middos. In Rav Shimon’s hands, the two models — Torah for the sake of middos (as per the Gra’s garden) and middos for the sake of Torah (Rav Chaim’s silo) — become one.


R. Shimon said: When the Holy One, blessed be He [-- HQBH], came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties. Some said, “Let him be created,” while others urged, “Let him not be created.” Thus it is written, ” חֶֽסֶד־וֶאֱמֶ֥ת נִפְגָּ֑שׁוּ, צֶ֖דֶק וְשָׁל֣וֹם נָשָֽׁקוּ׃ — Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace kissed each other.” [Tehillim 85:11] Love said, “Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love”; Truth said, “Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood”; Righteousness said, “Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds”; Peace said, “Let him not be created because he is full of strife.” What did Hashem do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground. Said the ministering angels before HQBH, “Sovereign of the Universe! Why do You despise Your seal? Let Truth arise from the earth!” As it is written [in the continuing words], “אֱ֭מֶת מֵאֶ֣רֶץ תִּצְמָ֑ח — Let truth bloom up from the earth.” [v. 12]

-Bereishis Rabba 8:5

Man was created with Hashem’s knowledge that with the existence of free-willed beings, Truth would be submerged and have to emerge over time through the process we call history.

The Qetzos haChoshen has a beautiful comment on this medrash. He noted that here truth is described as tatzmiach, blooming. When we make the berakhah after an aliyah, we say “vechayei olam nata besocheinu — eternal life [or perhaps: life of the world{-to-come}] was planted within us.” The Qetzos explains: Torah is the seed from which our medrash tell us Truth blooms.

Rav Shimon is telling us that with the giving of the Second Luchos, the Torah was made a dynamic process. Rather than a Torah entirely contained in writing, external to the people for easy reference, it is now make part of the people, and part of our process of growth in both wisdom and in middos. We, living beings, become the “writing surface” of the Torah.

R’ Chaim Brisker (Derashah 17) writes something similar to Rav Shimon Shkop’s words on the second luchos. He says that the first luchos contained the entire Torah, even down to “a question a student will ask his rebbe in the last generation.” With the second luchos came the concept of Oral Torah and the need for Torah study. They entail Hashem’s choice to make Torah less well known but more internalized into the people.

Rav Chaim refers to the thought of Chazal which says that had we not made the Golden Calf, the redemption from Egpt would have been the complete redemption. That sin necessitated further exiles, a longer process to reach the ultimate ge’ulah, And this is why the first luchos could not exist in a post-calf world — for two reasons. First, because without the Torah being intimately tied to the Jewish People, our host nations would have co-opted it. And second, the unity of the people and the Torah would give us a self-definition that would enable us to survive as a distinct people.

The picture I am drawing using the concepts of Rav Shimon and Rav Chaim is of history as a process by which Truth, which had to be compromised by the creation of Man, is planted again in the Heart of the Jewish People as Torah, and through that Man is refined, the Torah is refined, and Truth sprouts forth from the ground, reconciled with the refined human being at the culmination of history.

It certainly sounds like a definition of ge’ulah, redemption, in the sense of describing the redemption of the universe and of the human condition.

Following his theory that phonetically related roots are similar in meaning, Rav Hirsch places the “ge’ulah” in the same family as \יעל\ (to progress), as ג and י are articulated in the same part of the mouth, as are א and ע. The meaning would also be shaded by other \גל\ roots that lack the middle א semivowel — \גלל\ (to revolve) and \גלה\ (to reveal). Our definition can thus be phrased as “a process for the the ultimate revelation of truth.”

And thus it is no surprise that the dips in the process, where it takes what looks like a step away from the embodiment of Truth in order to cause a greater revelation, is called “galus” (exile).

There is an interesting implication here. (The startling element is not in my embellishments, but in the original Qetzos.) Torah is not being described as Truth. Rather, it is the seed and process from which Truth blossoms.

One wonders if this is related to the Maharal’s explanation of machloqes (disputes in halakhah). In an earlier entry, I described his position as follows:

The Maharal’s position is that “divrei E-lokim Chaim — the word of the ‘Living’ G-d” is simply too rich and too complex to exist in this world. Therefore they are mapped to oversimplified models, related to Hashem’s words the way a shadow is a flattened representation of the original. And thus, different people looking at the problem from different directions will get different shadows — even though they are all accurate representations of the same thing.

To finish out the metaphor: The angle at which we look at Devar Hashem is our “derekh“, our path in how we . This derekh, just like the lamp, is determined by two things: mei’ayin basa, ule’an ata holeikh — from where do you come, and to where are you going? Where the lamp is, and the angle it points. Different people were put together differently, and can have different emphases in how they interpret the ultimate goal.

The complexity of Devar Hashem causes the illusion (to us) of paradox. It’s no more real of a paradox than the 5 blind men who argue about the nature of the elephant. The one who felt the elephant’s ear would argue an elephant is like a fan. The one who felt its leg would think it is like a tree. But it’s only because we can’t capture the full picture.

It is possible to say that history is the process of closing the gap between Truth in its full richness, and Torah as our ability to make it manifest. Or, as the mequbalim would say, “Lesheim yichud Qudshah berikh Hu uShechintei – For the sake of the unity of the Holy” — i.e. Remote — “one and His Presence” — i.e. as we Perceive her amongst us.

But the precondition to both holding the Truth and being able to make it manifest in our lives is to “carve for yourself two stone tablets”, to refine our souls upon which we hope to write.

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 3

The first Tablets were made by G-d, like the body of writing as explained in the Torah. The latter Tablets were made by man [Moses], as it says “Carve for yourself two stone tablets.” (Exodus 34:1) Tablets are things which cause standing and existence, that it’s not “letters fluttering in the air.” Since they were made by Hashem, they would stand eternally. But the second ones, which were man-made, only exist subject to conditions and constraints.
היינו דהלוחות הראשונים היו מעשה אלקים כמו גוף הכתב כמו שמפורש בתורה, והלוחות האחרונים היו מעשה ידי אדם כמה שכתוב “פסל לך שני לוחות אבנים”, וענין הלוחות הוא דבר המעמיד ומקיים שלא יהיו אותיות פורחות באויר, וכיון שהיו מעשה ה׳ היה עומד לעד, אבל השניות שהיו מעשה אדם אינם מתקיימים רק בתנאים וגדרים,

When Rav Shimon speaks of “letters fluttering in the air”, he is using an idiom our sages used describe the destruction of the first Tablets. When Moses came down the mountain and the Jews were worshiping the Golden Calf, the letters fluttered up to heaven, and the tablets became heavy, and Moses threw them down. (Tanchuma, Ki Sisa 30; Exodus Rabba 46:1)

The same expression also appears in a description of R’ Chanina ben Tradiyon’s martyrdom. He was wrapped in a Torah, which was set aflame. He was packed with wet wool, so as to prolong his suffering. His students asked him, “Rebbe, what do you see?” He replied, “The parchment is burning, but the letters are fluttering in the air.” (Avodah Zara 18a)

Also possibly relevant is the idiom’s use in contract law, describing the paper or parchment of a contract as a critical component; for example, if the husband refuses to relinquish ownership of the paper, his writ of divorce is invalid, merely “letters fluttering in the air.” (Gittin 20b) The writing surface is an essential element of the text, it is what gives the sequence of letters their permanence.

The difference between the luchos is who prepared the writing surface — Hashem Himself carved out the first ones, but Moshe had to provide the sapphire upon which Hashem wrote the second luchos. Because the writing surface denotes permanence, this explains why someone who studied Torah the first, divinely carved luchos, would never forget what he studied.


There is a famous dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva about what it is we commemorate with the mitzvah of sukkah.  The Torah reads (Vayiqra 23:42-43):

בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּֽשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵֽשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת: לְמַעַן֮ יֵֽדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֨בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהֽוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶֽם׃

You shall dwell in sukkos for seven days; every native in Israel shall dwell in sukkos. So that your generations will know that I made the Israelites dwell in sukkos when I took them out of the Land of Egypt; I am Hashem your G-d.

The gemara (Sukkah 11b) records the dispute:

ענני כבוד היו דברי ר’ אליעזר ר”ע אומר סוכות ממש עשו להם

“They were clouds of glory,” these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Aqiva says, “They made themselves actual booths.”

Among commentators on the verse, Rashi follows Rabbi Eliezer, that “I made the Israelites dwell” refers to the clouds of glory. Ramban quotes Rashi, and agrees. Rashbam and Ibn Ezra, on the other hand, focus on the word “basukkos – in sukkos” and understand the literal meaning of the verse to follow Rabbi Aqiva’s mention of physical booths.

In general, aggadic disputes are not decided by the rules of halachic pesaq. Here, however, the dispute has halachic outcome — the verse relays a halachic rule whether through its literal meaning or through a midrashic one. The Torah obligates us to sit in the sukkah “so that the generations will know.” At least lekhat-chilah (ab initio) one needs to have intent, to use the sukkah as a reminder of something. And therefore, which is it? Are we to sit in the sukkah and contemplate the sukkos our ancestors built in the desert, or to remember the clouds of glory Hashem provided us with?

The Tur, Shulchan Arukh, and Arukh haShulchan (Orach Chaim 525) side with Rabbi Eliezer, and we are told we sit in the sukkah to commemorate the clouds of glory. (My apologies to the rationalists.)

Why is Sukkos in the fall?

The aforementioned Tur says it’s so that we make it clear that we are sitting in the sukkah for the mitzvah, and not because it’s a comfortable way to spend a spring or summer day. (I’m not sure that in practice the underlying assumption holds for Israel’s climate.)

The Vilna Gaon gives an answer I found to be more profound, and related to the above dispute. When the Jews left Egypt, we were surrounded by clouds of glory. These clouds departed with the Golden Calf. After the Golden Calf, Moshe went up on the mountain for 40 days to obtain forgiveness for the Jewish People, and another forty days to get a second set of luchos. He returned with the second luchos on Yom Kippur, which is much of why the 10th of Tishrei is Yom Kippur.

On the 11th, Moshe instructed us about building the Mishkan. During the next couple of days people brought their donations, and on the 14th of Tishrei, Moshe had to tell them to stop — that they had everything needed.

So, as our sages compute is, on the 15th of Tishrei, the actual assembly of the Mishkan began. And, the Vilna Gaon notes, the clouds returned. What we commemorate by sitting in our sukkos is not the initial gift, but the return of the clouds after Yom Kippur.

The first luchos differ from the second luchos in a similar way to the distinction we just made with respect to the clouds of glory. The first set were like the clouds, given as a gift to the Jewish People with no effort on our part. The second required that Moshe make the preparatory step. And similarly, the clouds of glory returned after that same Yom Kippur on which we received the second luchos, but not until people took a step by themselves. We first started assembling the Mishkan and only then did Hashem respond by providing the protecting clouds.

Viewed at this level, the Vilna Gaon provides a partial synthesis of the positions of Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Aqiva. Yes, we sit the sukkah to remember Hashem providing clouds that protected us. However, those clouds did not come on their own — they were in response to the human effort Rabbi Aqiva places primary. The dispute then becomes whether we are to remember clouds obtained by the religious effort or physical walls we erected manually — and provided protection also because of our trust in the Almighty. But the notion of gifted protection is not part of either.

Yom Kippur was a renewal of the covenant based on the terms that we must take the first step, and Hashem responds.

In the case of aquiring Torah, we have to refine the writing surface through improving our middos and then study, and Hashem will grant us success.

For the Good

אמר רבי אבהו כתיב (תהילים ד:ב) “בְּקָרְאִי עֲנֵנִי אֱ-לֹהֵי צִדְקִי, בַּצָּר הִרְחַבְתָּ לִּי[; חָנֵּנִי, וּשְׁמַע תְּפִלָּתִי].” אמר דוד לפני הקדוש ברוך הוא, “רבון העולמים! כל צרה שהייתי נכנס לה, אתה הייתה מרחיבה לי. נכנסתי לצרתה של בת שבע, ונתת לי את שלמה. נכנסתי לצרתן של ישראל ונתת לי את בית המקדש:”

Rabbi Avohu said: It says, “When I called, You answered, my G-d of justice, when in trouble you released me[; show me grace and hear my prayer].” (Tehillim 4:2) David said before the Holy One, blessed be He, “Master of the universes! Every trouble which I entered into, You used it to release me. I entered the trouble with Bas Sheva [where David sinned in how he courted her], and You thereby gave me Shelomo. I entered the trouble with Israel [David counted the population, despite a prohibition], and You thereby gave me the Temple.”

- Yerushalmi Taanis 2:9 (vilna ed. 11a)

Notice the preposition in these two quotes of tannaim:

ואמאי קרו ליה נחום איש גם זו דכל מילתא דהוה סלקא ליה אמר גם זו לטובה זימנא חדא בעו לשדורי ישראל דורון לבי קיסר אמרו מאן ייזיל ייזיל נחום איש גם זו דמלומד בניסין הוא שדרו בידיה מלא סיפטא דאבנים טובות ומרגליות אזל בת בההוא דירה בליליא קמו הנך דיוראי ושקלינהו לסיפטיה ומלונהו עפרא כי מטא התם שרינהו לסיפטא חזנהו דמלו עפרא. בעא מלכא למקטלינהו לכולהו אמר קא מחייכו בי יהודאי אמר גם זו לטובה
אתא אליהו אדמי ליה כחד מינייהו א”ל דלמא הא עפרא מעפרא דאברהם אבוהון הוא דכי הוה שדי עפרא הוו סייפיה גילי הוו גירי דכתיב (ישעיהו מא) יתן כעפר חרבו כקש נדף קשתו הויא חדא מדינתא דלא מצו למיכבשה בדקו מיניה וכבשוה עיילו לבי גנזיה ומלוהו לסיפטיה אבנים טובות ומרגליות ושדרוהו ביקרא רבה כי אתו ביתו בההוא דיורא אמרו ליה מאי אייתית בהדך דעבדי לך יקרא כולי האי אמר להו מאי דשקלי מהכא אמטי להתם סתרו לדירייהו ואמטינהו לבי מלכא אמרו ליה האי עפרא דאייתי הכא מדידן הוא בדקוה ולא אשכחוה וקטלינהו להנך דיוראי:

And why did they call him “Nachum ish Gamzu”? Because for anything that happened to him, he would say “This too is for the good (letovah).
One time they wanted to present Israel’s gift to Caesar’s home. They said, “Who should go?” “Nachum ish Gamzu should go, because he is learned in miracles. They sent in his hands a chest filled with precious stones and pearls. He went, and spent a night in a certain inn. In the night, the proprietors arose and emptied the chest and filled it with earth.
When he arrived there [at Ceasar's palace] they untied the chest and saw that it was full of earth. The king want to kill all of them. He said, “The Jews are laughing at me.” [Nachum] said, “This, too, is for the good.”
Eliyahu came and [happy ending deleted...]

- Berachos 60b-61a

אמר רב הונא אמר רב משום רבי מאיר וכן תנא משמיה דר’ עקיבא לעולם יהא אדם רגיל לומר כל דעביד רחמנא לטב עביד כי הא דרבי עקיבא דהוה קאזיל באורחא מטא לההיא מתא בעא אושפיזא לא יהבי ליה אמר כל דעביד רחמנא לטב אזל ובת בדברא והוה בהדיה תרנגולא וחמרא ושרגא אתא זיקא כבייה לשרגא אתא שונרא אכליה לתרנגולא אתא אריה אכליה לחמרא אמר כל דעביד רחמנא לטב ביה בליליא אתא גייסא שבייה למתא אמר להו לאו אמרי לכו כל מה שעושה הקדוש ברוך הוא הכל לטובה:

Rav Huna said that Rav said quoting Rabbi Meir, and so too is the beraisa in the name of Rabbi Aqiva : A person should always be in the habit of saying, “All that the All-Merciful does, he does for the good (letav).”
When Rabbi Aqiva was traveling. He came to some city and wanted to stay at the inn. They would not let him. He said “All that the All-Merciful does, is for the good.” He went into the woods [to sleep], and he had with him a rooster, a donkey and a lamp. A wind came and extinguished the lamp. A cat came and ate the rooster. A lion came and ate the donkey. [R' Aqiva] said, “All that the All-Merciful does, is for the good.”
At night, a troop came and ransacked the city. He said to [his audience], “Did I not tell you, that whatever the Holy One, blessed be He does, it is all for the good (letovah)?”

- Berachos 60b-61a

It is notable that Rabbi Aqiva studied under Nachum ish Gamzu. For that matter, even in Rav Huna and Rav’s version, the idea is presented in the name of R’ Meir, a student of Rabbi Aqiva’s. This optimistic view of what befalls us shows a clear line of tradition.

But they do not say everything that happens is “tovah” or in Aramaic “tav“. The word is “letovah“, or “letav“, with the “le-” prefix meaning the preposition “for”. Rabbi Aqiva says that Hashem does is “for the good.” Nachum ish Gamzu’s position is more extreme; all that He allows to occur, even if by “standing by” as people commit atrocities (in possible contrast to R’ Aqiva’s reference to what the All-Merciful or Holy One does), is met with “this too is for the good.”

And I believe this is David haMelekh’s point in our opening Yerushalmi as well. Not everything is good, although everything does lead to good. History runs from chaos and confusion to a world full of knowledge of G-d, when all join together “to do Your Will with whole hearts”. Even as he acknowledges his errors, David haMalekh admitting not acting in alliance with the Divine Plan, he still sees how Hashem only permitted him to succeed in sinning because He was able to bring some good to the world through it.

(See also this related post on the Thermodynamics of History.)

Fast for the Sinners

תני כשם שמתריעים עליהן בשאר ימי שבוע כך מתריעין עליהן בשביעית מפני פרנסת אחרים מהו מפני פרנסת אחרים חברייא אמרי מפני פרנסת עכו”ם…

A beraisa: Just as we blow shofar [and make a fast day] for [a lack of rain] on the other days of the seven-year cycle, so too we blow shofar for them during shemittah for the income of others.
What is “for the income of others”?
The peers said: for the income of idol worshipers.

– Yerushalmi Taanis 3:1 (vilna 13b-14a)

This alone reflects more Universalist values than we are used to seeing in today’s Orthodoxy. When there is a drought during shemittah, even though Jews are not permitted to farm this year anyway, we are to be pained enough over the plight of the non-Jew that we fast to appeal to Hashem to bring them relief. But look at this second answer:

ר”ז אמר מפני פרנסת חשודים.

Rabbi Zei’rah [known in the Bavli as Rav Zeira] said: for the income of those suspected [of violating shemittah].

– Ibid.

Someone sins and farms crops despite it being shemittah. Because of the drought, it is likely that his contra-halachic business will fail. Rather than being happy the sinner got his just deserts, the whole community fasts so that the sinner will not suffer a lack of this-worldly benefit from his sin!

This sugya teaches us just how far our love of others has to extend.

Who fed the Egyptians?

During the second 3 days of choshekh in which the darkness was tangible and the Mitzriim could not move, how did they eat? After all, an oath not to eat for 3 days is considered suspect, and we wait in expectation that the person will need to violate it. (Which is less suspect than if the oath were three days without sleep, where we give them lashes immediately and it may be violated even at the beginning, since it is inevitable that they will sleep. Still, the implication is that most people, can’t live three days without food or drink, and certainly a whole nation didn’t survive that way.) So, if the Mitzriim didn’t die, how did they eat?

The Netziv (Haameiq Davar, Shemos 11:2) asks why is it that when Hashem promises in advance that the Jews would get treasures from the Egyptians, He says (3:22) “וְשָׁאֲלָה אִשָּׁה מִשְּׁכֶנְתָּהּ — and a woman will ask/borrow from her neighbor”, but now when it happens, He tells the Jews “וְיִשְׁאֲלוּ אִישׁ מֵאֵת רֵעֵהוּ, וְאִשָּׁה מֵאֵת רְעוּתָהּ — and a man will ask/borrow from his friend, and a woman from her friend”? Why the promotion from shakhein (neighbor) to reia (friend)?

The Netziv answers that during plague of choshekh, “Yisrael, who were a light in their homes, put out (hoshitu) before them food and everything they needed. And through this, Yisrael obtained a great grace in their eyes.”

Picture what this implies about our obligations to others. The Egyptians were not fellow Jews, they were sinners who worshiped idols, engaged in all forms of sexual immorality, were murderously cruel (all three of the “be killed rather than violate” sins), our tormentors. And yet, we showed them kindness. A lesson in how to treat the other, and a lesson in just how far we should take “do not take revenge and do not and do not bear a grudge.” (Vayiqra 19:18) The prohibition is only against “a member of your people”, but we shine as children of Abaraham when we go beyond the minimum loving-kindness the Torah demands of us.

I was thinking that perhaps this could answer another question I had… Hashem promised Avraham we would leave with “great wealth” (Bereishis ). I’m sure Avraham Avinu would be happy we would end up rich, but is this really the greatest thing a tzadiq would hope for? So, I once offered a chassidishe style answer, re-punctuating a pasuq from after Makas Choshekh (11:2): “Daber na be’zanei ha’am — speak please into the ears of the nation” that they should ask, every man of their neighbor and every woman of her neighbor, gold utensils and silver utensils. And Chazal say that Hashem said “na” (please) because He “needed a favor” (so to speak) in order to fulfill His promise. So my earlier suggestion was to read the verse “say ‘please’ into the ears of the nation”, teach them to say please. Avraham, the maste of lovingkindness, would hear the words “great wealth” and expect Hashem to lead his children to kindness. The wealth was that Moshe put the word “na” in the ears of the people — teaching them to say “please”, even in this situation.

But now I could answer without playing with the punctuation or taking phrases out of context: that Avraham’s “great wealth” of lovingkindness was what the Jews learned by sustaining the Mitzrim during the plague of darkness! We refrained from vengeance when they were down. The Mitzriim didn’t come help (at least not in numbers enough to be recorded in the Torah) when we “cried out from all the work”, but we came when they needed us. As we say in Havdalah, Hashem bestowed on us a difference “between light and darkness, and between Israel and the other nations.”

Shaarei Yosher, sec. 6: Refinement – Part 2

One can use this to explain the whole notion of breaking the [first] Tablets, for which I have not found an explanation. At first glance, understanding seems closed off. Is it possible that Moses our teacher would think that because the Jews made the [Golden] Calf they should be left without the Torah? He should have just waited to teach them until they corrected their ways, not break them altogether and then have to fall before Hashem to beg for a second set of Tablets. Our sages received [a tradition that] there was a unique ability inherent in the first Tablets. As it says in Eiruvin (folio 54[a]), “What does it mean when it is says, ‘engraved on the Tablets’ (Shemos 32:16)? Had the first tablets not been destroyed, the Torah would never have been forgotten from Israel.” Which is, they had the power that if someone learned them once, it would be guarded in his memory forever. This quality Moses felt would cause a very terrible profaning of the holy to arise. Could it happen that someone destroyed and estranged in evil deeds would be expert in all the “rooms” of the Torah? Moses reasoned a fortiori from the Passover offering about which the Torah says “no foreign child shall eat of it.” (Shemos 12:43) Therefore Moses found it fitting that these Tablets be shattered, and he should try to get other Tablets.
ואפשר לבאר על פי זה ענין שבירת הלוחות שלא ראיתי ביאור ענין זה, שבהשקפה ראשונה הוא ענין סתום, היתכן שמשה רבינו ע״ה היה חושב שבשביל שעשו ישראל את העגל, ישארו בלי תורה ח״ו, והיה ראוי לו להמתין מללמדם עד שיתקנו מעשיהם, אבל לא לשברם לגמרי ואחר כך להתנפל לפני ה׳ לבקש לוחות שגיות, והנה חז״ל קבלו שסגולה מיוחדת היתה בלוחות הראשונות, דאמרינן בגמ׳ עירובין )דף נ״ד.) “מאי דכתיב ‘חרות על הלוחות’, אלמלא לא נשתברו הלוחות הראשונות לא נשתכחה תורה מישראל”, היינו שהיתה סגולה בהם שאם למד אדם פעם אחת, היה שמור בזכרונו לעולם, וענין זה הרגיש משה רבינו ע״ה שעלול על ידי זה להיות חלול הקודש נורא מאד, שאפשר שיזדמן שיהיה איש מושחת ומגואל במעשים רעים, בקי בכל חדרי התורה, ולמד משה רבינו ע״ה קל וחומר מקרבן פסח שאמרה תורה “וכל בן נכר לא יאכל בו”, ולכן מצא משה רבינו ע״ה שראוי שלוחות אלה ישתברו ולהשתדל לקבל לוחות אחרים,

The Torah describes the words on the first tablets as “engraved on the tablets”. The gemara takes this homiletically; the Torah is emphasizing the permanence of the words on the first luchos because Torah studied from the first tablets stayed with the person. Read once, they were internalized and never forgotten.

However, if “no foreign descendent may eat” of the Pesach offering, one mitzvah, how must more so must it be wrong for the Torah to be possessed by someone who isn’t merely an outsider, but evil! Therefore, Moshe ended this period of simply knowing the Torah through a single study by shattering the luchos. Now, one needs to work at Torah in order to receive it.

In the terms we saw in the previous installment… The Golden Calf and the Jewish People’s rush to sin “in order to permit for themselves prohibited relations” (Rabbi Yehudah, quoting Rav, Sanhedrin 63b) showed Moshe that with the first luchos, it was too easy for someone to simply “water their weeds”, as the Vilna Gaon put it. That a Torah that didn’t require prerequisite work was an invitation to nourish their imperfections with religiosity, rather than first weed out their negative middos and then quench their souls’ thirst with Torah. He therefore forced us to accept the Torah on the terms of the second luchos. Requiring effort, Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s model of building the silo in which one could store the grain.

Precondition for a Fast

דלמא: ר’ בא בר זבדא, ורבי תנחום בר עילאי, ור’ יאשיה נפקוי לתעניתא. דרש ר’ בא בר זבדא (איכה ג:מא) “נִשָּׂא לְבָבֵנוּ אֶל כַּפָּיִם, [אֶל אֵ-ל בַּשָּׁמָיִם.].” “נשא לבבנו אל כפים” — ואיפשר כן” אית בר נש דנסב ליביה ויהיב גו ידיה? אלא, מהו נשא? נשוי ליבינן לכך ידינן, ואחר כך “אל א-ל בשמים.” כך אם יהיו השרץ בידו של אדם, אפילו טובל במי שילוח או במי בראשית אין לו טהרה עולמית. השליכו מידו מיד טהר.

A story: Rav [Ab]ba bar Zavda, Rabbi Tanchum bar Ila’i, and Rabbi Yoshiah went out [to speak] at a [public] fast.

Rabbi [Ab]ba bar Zavda expounded on “Let us raise our hearts with our hands [toward the G-d in heaven].” (Eikhah 3:41) “Let us raise our hearts with our hands” — and is this possible? Can a person take his heart and put it in his hands? Rather, what does he lift? He pays attention [idiomatically: give heart] to his hands [his fiscal dealings] and then [he can turn] “to the G-d in heaven.” Similarly, if a person is holding an impure breed of house-pest, even if he immerses in the waters of Shiloach [the pool from which the Beis haMiqdash's waters were taken] or the very waters of creation, he will not have eternal taharah. If he sends it from his hand, he is pure immediately.

– Yerushalmi Taanis 2:1 (vilna ed. 8a-b)