The Value of Money

There is an often-cited dispute between Rabbi Yishma’el and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

ת”ר ואספת דגנך (דברים יא:יד) מה ת”ל לפי שנא’ (יהושע א:ח) לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך יכול דברים ככתבן ת”ל ואספת דגנך הנהג בהן מנהג דרך ארץ דברי ר’. ישמעאל ר”ש בן יוחי אומר אפשר אדם חורש בשעת חרישה וזורע בשעת זריעה וקוצר בשעת קצירה ודש בשעת דישה וזורה בשעת הרוח תורה מה תהא עליה אלא בזמן שישראל עושין רצונו של מקום מלאכתן נעשית ע”י אחרים שנא’ (ישעיהו סא:ה) ועמדו זרים ורעו צאנכם וגו’ ובזמן שאין ישראל עושין רצונו של מקום מלאכתן נעשית ע”י עצמן שנא’ (דברים יא:יד) ואספת דגנך ולא עוד אלא שמלאכת אחרים נעשית על ידן שנא’ (דברים כח:מח) ועבדת את אויביך וגו’ אמר אביי הרבה עשו כרבי ישמעאל ועלתה בידן כר’ שמעון בן יוחי ולא עלתה בידן

The Rabbis repeated: “And you shall gather your grain” (Devarim 11:16) What does this come to tell us?

Because it says “Do not let this Torah book be absent from your mouth” (Yehoshua 1:8) Could it be that these words are to be understood literally [i.e., that one must study Torah perpetually]? No, since the Torah writes ‘And you will harvest your grain…’ (in other words) practice the way of the world (i.e., earn a living) alongside (the words of Torah) – these are the words of Rabbi Yishmael.

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says: Could a man plow when it’s plowing time, plant when it’s planting time, harvest when it’s harvest time, thresh when it’s threshing season and winnow while there’s wind? What would become of the Torah? Rather, at a time when the Jews do God’s Will, their labor will be done by others, as it says (Yeshaya 61:5): ‘And strangers will rise and shepherd your flocks…’ But at a time when Israel does not do God’s will, they will [need to] do their labor themselves, as it says (Devarim 11:14): ‘And you will harvest your grain’. And that is not all: they will be forced to do others’ labor as well, as it says (Devarim 28:48): ‘And you will serve your enemies…’

Abaya said: Many have acted like Rabbi Yishmael and it worked; like Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai and it did not work.

I think I just encountered a Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 8:8, vilna 43b-44a) that might shed light on why Rabbi Shim’on was so reluctant to endorse working for a living. This is his opinion of human psychology when it comes to money:

תני רבי חייה במחתרת אין לו דמים חוץ למחתרת יש לו דמים תני ר”ש בן יוחי אפילו חוץ למחתרת אין לו דמים לפי שממונו של אדם חביב עליו כנפשו.

Rav Chiyah repeated: [If a burglar is killed while still] in a tunnel [to rob someone and possibly attack the people within and kill them], he has no blood [i.e. the killer is not held guilty of murder. If it is outside the tunnel [and the threat he poses to life subsided], he does have blood.
Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai repeated: Even outside the tunnel he has no blood [a person isn't guilty for killing him], because a person’s money is as dear to him as his living soul.

So, in Rabbi Shim’on bar Yochai’s eyes, money is so all consuming it is up there with threat to life, and a person could not be blamed for killing a potential burglar.

With that opinion of how much wealth can distract someone, is it surprising Rabbi Shim’on assumes that having a job would naturally lead to total neglect of the Torah?

Tools and Goals

The chorus of a song we used to sing in my day, decades ago, in NCSY began:

Torah and mitzvos, these are our goals

Serving Hashem to strengthen our souls…

If we truly thought Torah and mitzvos are our goals, then we wouldn’t be looking beyond them to suggest we “serv[e] Hashem to…” something.1 The lyrics initially sound true in an obvious way, but actually each line describes a slightly different worldview, and the clash between them raises fundamental questions about how we should be viewing our life work:

Is observance the ends, the purpose, of our lives, or is it the means and the goal lies beyond it? And if they are the means, do we need to consciously frame the purpose of our lives, or should we just concern ourselves with following the halakhah, and rest assured that the goal will take care of itself?

Continue reading

  1. I don’t intend to critique a song written for a teens to sing at Shabbatonim by nit-picking over details of word choices as though I thought the song was intended to be a philosophical treatise. I do realize the primary goal was rhyming scheme and singability, not precision. I am just using these lines illustratively. []

Eilu va’Eilu part II

[Updated 1/9/2014. The story so far: In part I I gave a survey of opinions from rishonim discussed in essays by RM Halbertal and Rav Michael Rosensweig.]
RMHalbertal spelled out three approaches to machloqes: (1) retreival — all machloqes are about recovering forgotten laws, attributed to many ge’onim; (2) accumulative — Torah is built analytically, which means different people can reach different legitimate conclusions (eg the Rambam); (3) constitutive — the halakhah is constructed by the poseiq.
As I noted in the last section, I am not sure the latter two categories are necessarily different. But in any case, the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 4:1, vilna 21a-b) seems to assume at least one of them:

Rabbi Yanai says, had the Torah been given clear-cut [predecided] there would be no place for the leg to stand. What is the source, “Vayedaber Hashem el Moshe leimor — and Hashem spoke to Moshe to say”.

Usually this is taken to mean “… saying”. But it can also, and perhaps more grammatically, taken to mean that Hashem told Moshe and the sages to say something. The verse implies rabbinic development of the initial revelation. Continuing:

[Moshe] said before Him: Master of the world! Please let me know how the halakhah should be.
[Hashem] said to him: “Follow after the majority. It the majority find merit, then merit, if the majority obligate [either a duty or a punishment], obligate him. So that the Torah is expounded 49 ways tamei and 49 ways tahor. From where do you know [the number]? It is the number [of the gematria], “vediglo” [and His flag].
Similarly [Tehillim 12:7] says, “The words of Hashem are tahor words, as silver tried in a crucible on the earth, refined seven times.” And [Shir haShirim 1:4], “they love Him meisharim — sincerely.”

As the Penei Moshe explains, the verse in Tehillim is taken as proof of the 49 ways by being read as “seven times seven”. And Shir haShirim is cited to find balance, meisharim, through the conflicting opinions. The Yershalmi is advocating a dialectic approach, in which the Torah’s truth is in the process as much or more than the conclusion.

But in any case, the entire discussion starts from and elaborates on Rabbi Yanai’s idea that the Torah does not give one true ruling for us to recover.

My personal inclination is close to the philosophy of the Maharal’s. If I can use a variant on Plato’s metaphor, we are like people looking at shadows of an object. Since reality can not capture all “three dimensions” of “divrei E-lokim Chaim“, we see what looks like conflicting “two dimensional” shadows. Shapes that accurately represent the whole, but only from the direction from which we are shining the light. The process of pesaq is that of deciding how we should grow and develop given where we stand; what are angle ought to be in relation to that 3 dimentional object and therefore what shadow it casts.One can’t adopt two conflicting positions, neither leniencies (as would the Conservative movement do) nor stringencies (as per the insufficiently fictional “Chumrah of the Month Club”). That would be combining two different angles, to produce a “shadow” the object could never really cast. One is no longer representing the “object”, the Word of G-d.True pluralism (within a range of valid positions) seems to be a compelling conclusion from the Gemara (Hagigah 3b) is concerned about the person who will note when “those [Rabbis] prohibit, yet those [authorities] permit [the very same thing]… how can I possibly learn Torah today?” The answer is found in the words of Koheles 12, “Nasnu meiRo’eh echad – both views were given by the same shepherd.”

Rav Tzadoq haKohein (Resisei Laylah sec. 17), defines a different kind of logic when it comes to thought than when it comes to action, and uses this to understand the nature of pluralism.

Whenever a new thing found about the Torah by any wise person, simultaneously arises its opposite…. When it comes to the realm of action (po’al) it can not be that two things true simultaneously. In the realm of the mind (machshavah), on the other hand, it is impossible for a man to think about one thing without considering the opposite.

This model differs from the Maharal’s. The Maharal assumes that truths can’t contradict. Rav Tzadoq denies the applicability of the rule of contradiction. The two ideas can coexist: Man’s thoughts are designed to be able to handle conflicting truths because it is the best way to approximate a full understanding of the Divine Truth. Like the famous parable of the blind men and the elephant: the elephant is not a fan, a wall, a rope or a tree trunk, and the complete picture is closer to the contradiction as a whole than any one position.

This is actually the literal meaning of the word “teiqu“. When the gemara’s debate can not reach a conclusion, it says teiku. Most students are taught the medrashic meaning, that it’s an acronym for “tishbi yetzareitz qushyos ve’ibayos — Eliyahu the Tishbi will answer all questions”. But the word itself means “let it stand”. Not that there is a question left unanswered, but that both positions stand — despite the contradiction.


For the mathematically inclined, then there’s Goedel’s Theorem. Everyone else may choose to stop at this point.In short and without lots of formula and Greek letters, Kurt Goedel presented a set of theorems that boil down to showing that any sufficiently robust finite formal system that is consistent (i.e. does not claim both something and its opposite — A and not A) must be incomplete. This includes all systems that have formal rules from getting from a finite set of givens to an infinite set of conclusions, and are robust enough to be used to describe mathematics. All such systems must either be able to produce contradictory conclusions, or be unable to produce conclusions that are known to be true.According to the Malbim (intro. to Vayiqra), all of the Oral Torah could be reconstructed from the Written Torah and 613 rules of logic and derashah. Even if we add the halakhos leMosheh miSinai, to fit the understanding of most that these have no source in the written Torah (the Malbim’s statement would imply they do), this is a finite number of postulates and a finite set of rules for elaborating on them. What about Goedel’s Theorem.Given eilu va’eilu The question could be resolved on a number of levels:

As Rav Tzadoq haKohein writes, Divrei E-lokim Chaim are not consistant. Either inherently so, or — as the Maharal takes it — our comprehension is limited to inconsistent approximations. Divrei E-lokim Chaim can therefore be complete.

Halakhah as ruled would have to be constitutive, Rabbanim given the power to define which position is correct. If we took a “retrieval” (Rabbanim try to reconstruct the forgotten) or “accumulative” (deductions from the known) model without a constitutive component, then when we rule out contradictions we would necessarily create areas in which no ruling could be produced.

Compassion for Our Enemies

Updated 1/8/2014.

We have a minhag to pour out 16 drops of wine, once at each mention of a makah that befell the Egyptians. The earliest mention of this custom is in the Maharil (according to R’ Joseph Tabory, on Avodah), who says the reason is that we are promised “any distress which I placed upon the Egyptians I will not place upon you”. As the cup of wine represents Jewish redemption, thus the drops are us asking Hashem to spare us these troubles and send them to our enemies. It is also documented in numerous places that those who remove the wine with their index finger are commemorating the Egyptian mages’ description of the plagues, “it is the ‘Finger’ of G-d”.

The most common reason we pass around, however, is that we’re diminishing our joy out of compassion for the suffering of other human beings, even the Egyptians. This reason is relatively new, but it is found in such authoritative locations as the hagaddah of R’ SZ Aurbach and appears as a “yeish lomar” (it could be said) in that of R Elyashiv (pg 106, “dam va’eish“).

So the question arose on both Avodah and soc.culture.jewish.moderated whether the value of compassion for our enemies is authentically Jewish, and more relevant for those who saw the references to these hagados, the origin and history of it.

The search seems to center on the question of why we say Chatzi Hallel (an incomplete Hallel; hereafter CH) on the 7th day of Pesach.

The gemara (Eirukhin 10b) gives the reason that from the second day onward, the qorban for that day was the same as the one before. The days of Pesach lack a newness that those of Sukkos have, and therefore there is CH on all but the first day of Pesach, but full Hallel on every day of Sukkos.

The Pesiqta deRav Kahane (Mandelbaum Edition, siman 29, 189a) gives us a different reason. It tells the story of the angels singing/reciting poetry at the crossing of the Red Sea, which was on the 7th day of Pesach, and Hashem stopping them saying “Ma’asei ‘Yadai’ tov’im bayam, va’atem omerim shirah — the work of My ‘Hands’ is drowning in the sea, and you say shirah?”

The Jews, on the other hand, sang “Az Yashir” unimpeded. It would seem to me therefore that we were allowed to rejoice, but there is a limit or a sadness mixed into that joy.

This is midrash is quoted by the Midrash Harninu and the Yalqut Shim’oni (the Perishah points you to Parashas Emor, remez 566).

The Midrash Harninu or the Shibolei haLeqet (our only source for the Midrash Harninu) associate this midrash with “binfol“. This is despite the fact that the pasuq of “binfol” would literally mean not rejoicing at all, and here it’s being used to argue for ambivalence — merging the joy of the neis with the sorrow of what was necessary to be done to the Mitzriyim.

The Beis Yoseif (O”Ch 490:4, “Kol“) cited the gemara, then quotes the Shibolei haLeqet as a second reason.

שבלי הלקט (סי’ קעד סט:) כתב בשם מדרש הרנינו פרשת סוכה שהטעם שאין גומרין ההלל כל ימי הפסח הוא לפי שנטבעו המצריים וכתיב (משלי כד יז) בנפול אויבך אל תשמח.

And in the Shibolei haLeqet it is written in the name of the Midrash Harninu that the reason why we do not finish Hallel on all the days of Pesach[, only on the first] is because the Egyptians drowned. As it says “Binfol oyivkha, al tismakh” (Mishlei 24:17).

The topic of CH was discussed in a column in Jewish Action by R’ Ari Z Zivitofsky. Here are some of the sources he identified.

The Taz gives this diminution of joy as the reason for CH on the 7th day (OC 490:3), as does the Chavos Ya’ir (225).

The Kaf haChaim (O”Ch 685:29) brings down the Yafeh haLeiv (3:3) use this midrash to establish the idea that we mourn the downfall of our enemy in order to explain why there is no berakhah on Parashas Zakhor (remembering the requirement to destroy Amaleiq).

R’ Aharon Kotler (Mishnas R’ Aharon vol III pg 3) says that the gemara‘s reason for CH (that the qorbanos are the same as for the previous day) is meant to address only chol hamo’ed, and our medrash is the primary reason for the 7th day of Pesach.

Which exhausted what I found on CH and R’ Zivitofsky’s column.

Back on Avodah, R’ Jacob Farkas found the Meshekh Chokhmah (Shemos 12:16uveyom“), who uses “binfol” and our medrash as an argument for disassociating Purim and Chanukah from their military victories. We celbrate our salvation, not their downfall. He also cites R’ Shelomo Alkabetz (Manos haLeivi 9:20 “Vayikhtov Mordekha“) who writes that because “HQVH does not rejoice in the downfall of the evil”, we too should not rejoice at their downfall — imitatio dei. We therefore celebrate Purim only for our deliverance.

R’ Dov Kay points us to the Netziv’s into to HaEimeq Davar, Bereishis. He defines “Seifer haYesharim” as the book about those who showed concern even for the wicked, that this quality is what defines being yashar. He holds up Avraham’s atittude toward the people of Sedom as an example for us to follow.

So, regardless of whether this is the reason for CH on Pesach day 7 or for spilling wine at the seider, or just a lesson one can learn post-facto from one or both of these, I think we have succeeded in well establishing the Jewishness of the idea that we have compassion for the death of even evil people.

(In an earlier devar Torah I suggest that this mixture of emotions is a necessary element before an event is called a “yeshu’ah” in Tanakh. That it is in common between Noach getting saved, and why the rainbow is a mixed message, why Lot’s wife was punished for turning back when she was saved, and our case of the mal’akhim at Yam Suf, who had no right to sing praises since people had died and it wasn’t they who were saved.)

Similarly, this recognition of the role of ambivalence is found in the halakhah that someone who is left a large inheritence must say both the berakhah of “Dayan emes“, mourning the death, and “hatov vehameitiv” on becoming wealthy.

Here, the balance must be struck between two verses: “binfol oyivkha al tismakh — when your enemy falls do not rejoice” (Mishlei 24:17) and “ba’avod reshaim rinah — with the destruction of evil there are shouts of happiness” (11:10). The Zohar writes that the happiness is only when the destruction is to cure the evil, and therefore comes with their atonement. When they die because they are oyevim, enemies, who need to be eliminated to save the good rather than in the right time for their own sake, there is no joy. The gemara‘s resolutions (Sanherin 39b) is that while Hashem does not rejoice, He does call upon others to rejoice. However the Maharsha relates this back to the story of “the work of My “Hands’ is drowning…” The others rejoice at being the beneficiary of G-d’s good, even while recognizing the loss necessary for us to be saved from the wicked.

Interesting is one of the gemara’s prooftexts, found also in the Yerushalmi parallel at 4:9, 23b, is from a battle in Hodu Lashem, ki le’olam chasdo — Sing to Hashem, for His lovingkindness is eternal.” Rav Yochanan notes that two words are missing compared to the version in Hallel, “ki tov — for He is Good”. Because we do not consider the death of the wicked good. It is important to note that this is about the death of non-Jews, of longstanding enemies of the Jewish people since the Exodus! In the Yerushalmi, this is held in contrast to “ba’avod resha’im rinah — one should rejoice at the loss of the wicked” to yield a different resolution than the Maharsha’s understanding of the Bavli. The loss of the wicked through teshuvah would have been a source of joy, their downfall through death is to be mourned.

One can’t say (deapite the idea’s popularity in some circles), it’s an assimilated liberal or Christian value that was brought in through liberal Judaisms, or promoted by kiruv workers who want a more palatable Judaism to sell.

So why doesn’t “mi shemeracheim al ha’achzarim… — one who is merciful to the cruel will in the end be cruel to the merciful” apply? Perhaps it is because we aren’t talking about ignoring the very real need for their destruction. Unlike Sha’ul, who inappropriately saved Agag, we are not saying the Mitzriyim should have been spared. Rather, that it’s sad that things had come to this.

Someone who r”l needs to have a leg amputated should have it removed. He’ll mourn its loss and the loss of everything he could have done with it, but will still give his okay for its removal. “Mi shemeracheim” is the doctor who lets the patient die because he had pity on the leg.

Bread, Meat and Wine

Rav Aharon Rakeffet recently noted a contrast in wording between the Rambam and the Rama, and mentioned that someone might find “a whole pilpul” in the difference. (Listen to the shiur on YUTorah.org: Responsa Literature #14 – “Rav Baruch Ber Leibowitz” 12-30-13, the observation starts at 8:24, in the opening review of the prior shiur.) Here’s my attempt.

Rambam, Hilkhos Yesorei haTorah 4:13:

… וַאֲנִי אוֹמֵר שְׁאֵין רָאוּי לְהִטַּיַּל בַּפַּרְדֵּס, אֵלָא מִי שֶׁנִּתְמַלָּא כְּרֵסוֹ לֶחֶם וּבָשָׂר; וְלֶחֶם וּבָשָׂר זֶה, הוּא לֵידַע בֵּאוּר הָאָסוּר וְהַמֻּתָּר וְכַיּוֹצֶא בָּהֶן מִשְּׁאָר הַמִּצְווֹת. …

And I say that one isn’t fit to stroll through the Pardeis except someone who filled his belly with “bread and meat”. Which is to know what is permitted and what is prohibited and the like from among the rest of the mitzvos.

Rama, Yoreh Dei’ah 246:5, citing this Rambam:

… ואין לאדם לטייל בפרדס רק לאחר שמלא כריסו בשר ויין, והוא לידע איסור והיתר ודיני המצות.

… and a person should not stroll through the Pardeis until his belly is full of “meat and wine”. Which is, to know prohibition and permission and the laws of the mitzvos.

There are differences in grammar, but I want to focus on the difference R’ Rakeffet pointed out. The Rambam describes Jewish Thought and secular knowledge as “bread and meat“, but the Rama changes it to “meat and wine“. Why?

As I noted in the past (see The Rambam’s Philosophy and Mesorah, and The Rambam, Knowledge and Akrasia), the Rambam’s philosophy is unique in emphasizing knowledge over character. It is the subject of Rav Samson [ben] Raphael Hirsch’s criticism of the Rambam in Nineteen Letters (letter 18). The Rambam opens the Moreh discussing how the ideal, pre-fruit Adam, chose between truth and falsehood, and the need to choose between good and evil was part of man’s decline due to the sin. He closes the book with a discussion of four planes of human perfection, the lowest being wealth, then health, morality, and the final highest level — intellect. In between he attributes prophecy to mental perfection, to the point that he considered Aristotle a near-prophet; individualized Providence (hashgachah peratis) is proportional to man’s understanding of G-d; mitzvos are defined as a means to learn about Him, unlearn the mistakes of idolatry, and setting up a stable society so that we have the peace and time to study; the Rambam requires knowledge of G-d by philosophical proof, not ecstatic experience or relying on trusted sources; etc…

So the Rambam’s notion of mastering Judaism would be very intellectual, and therefore would be to the mind much like bread and meat are to the stomach — the staples.

If the Rama understands Judaism as would the majority of Jewish tradition, then he would understand Judaism as having more of an emotional or middah component. Therefore, instead of bread, the Rama invokes putting into our “stomachs” something more connotative of emotion — wine.

This might also explain the difference in sequence. The Rama could have simply been repeating the idiom as it appears in the gemara‘s discussion of the laws of Yom Tov, “there is no joy except through meat and wine”. Or, perhaps the Rama — or even the original thought about Yom Tov joy — could not put emotions ahead of intellect, wine ahead of meat. We do not know because we are passionate, we are passionate about what we know.