Texualism and the Mishnah Berurah


Dr Haym Solovetichik, in his famous paper “Rupture and Reconstruction“, describes a difference between the the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan as follows:

This dual tradition of the intellectual and the mimetic, law as taught and law as practiced, which stretched back for centuries, begins to break down in the twilight years of the author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan, in the closing decades of the nineteenth century. The change is strikingly attested to in the famous code of the next generation, the Mishnah Berurah.6 This influential work reflects no such reflexive justification of established religious practice, which is not to say that it condemns received practice. Its author, the Hafetz Hayyim, was hardly a revolutionary. His instincts were conservative and strongly inclined him toward some post facto justification. The difference between his posture and that of his predecessor, the author of the Arukh ha-Shulhan, is that he surveys the entire literature and then shows that the practice is plausibly justifiable in terms of that literature. His interpretations, while not necessarily persuasive, always stay within the bounds of the reasonable. And the legal coordinates upon which the Mishnah Berurah plots the issue are the written literature and the written literature alone.7 With sufficient erudition and inclination, received practice can almost invariably be charted on these axes, but it is no longer inherently valid. It can stand on its own no more.

6 Israel Meir ha-Kohen, Mishnah Berurah. This six volume work, which has been photo-offset innumerable times, was initially published over the span of eleven years, 1896-1907, and appears contemporaneous with the Arukh ha-Shulhan. Bibliographically, this is correct; culturally, nothing could be farther from the truth. Though born only nine years apart, their temperaments and life experiences were such that they belong to different ages. The Arukh ha-Shulhan stands firmly in a traditional society, un-assaulted and undisturbed by secular movements, in which rabbinic Judaism still “moved easy in harness,” R. Israel Meir Ha-Kohen, better known as the Hafetz Hayyim, stood, throughout his long life (1838- 1933), in the forefront of the battle against Enlightenment and the growing forces of Socialism and Zionism in Eastern Europe. His response to the growing impact of modernity was not only general and attitudinal, as noted here and below, n. 20 sec. c, but also specific and substantive. When asked to rule on the permissibility of Torah instruction for women, he replied that, in the past, the traditional home had provided women with the requisite religious background; now, however, the home had lost its capacity for effective transmission, and text instruction was not only permissible, but necessary. What is remarkable is not that he perceived the erosion of the mimetic society, most observers by that time (1917-1918) did, but rather that he sensed at this early a date, the necessity of a textual substitute. (Likkutei Halakhot, Sotah 2 la [Pieterkow, 1918].) The remarks of the Hafetz Hayyim should be contrasted with the traditional stand both taken and described by the Arukh ha-Shulhan, Yoreh De’ah 246:19. One might take this as further evidence of the difference between these two halakhists set forth in the text and documented in n. 7. One should note, however, that this passage was written at a much later date than the Mishnah Berurah, at the close of World War I, when traditional Jewish society was clearly undergoing massive shock. (For simplicity’s sake, I described the Mishnah Berurah in the text as a “code,” as, in effect, it is. Strictly speaking, it is, of course, is a commentary to a code.)

7 Contrast the differing treatments of the Arukh ha-Shulhan and the Mishnah Berurah at Orah Hayyim 345:7, 539:15 (in the Arukh ha-Shulhan) 539:5 (in the Mishnah Berurah), 668:1, 560:1, 321:9 (Arukh ha-Shulhan) 321:12 (Mishnah Berurah). See also the revelatory remarks of the Arukh ha-Shulhan at 552:11. For an example of differing arguments, even when in basic agreement as to the final position, compare 202:15 (Arukh ha-Shulhan) with 272:6 (Mishnah Berurah). This generalization, like all others, will serve only to distort if pushed too far. The Mishnah Berurah, on occasion, attempts to justify common practice rather unpersuasively, as in the instance of eating fish on Sabbath, (319:4), cited above n. 3, and, de facto, ratifies the contemporary eruv (345:7). Nor did the Arukh ha-Shulhan defend every common practice; see, for example, Orah Hayyim 551:23. (S. Z. Leiman has pointed out to me the distinction between the Arukh ha-Shulhan and the Mishnah Berurah is well mirrored in their respective positions as to the need for requisite shiurim in the standard tallit katan, noted by Rabbi E. Y. Waldenburg in the recently published twentieth volume of his Tzitz Eliezer [Jerusalem, 1994], no. 8, a responsum that itself epitomizes the tension between the mimetic culture and the emerging textual one.)

R/Dr Haym Soloveitchik focused on the MB’s more textualist slant vs the AhS giving weight to those positions that were accepted as common practice. Which was the paper’s thesis, the idea R/Dr Soloveitchik was using that particular comparison to illustrate. But I do not believe it’s the primary difference between them.


I would suggest this is not a difference in attitude toward halakhah, but an effect of a difference in function. The AhS was written by a community rabbi to present halakhah as it should practiced (halakhah lemaaseh). The MB was written by a tzadiq and a gaon as a survey of later shitos that weren’t available to most people trying to learn halakhah (halakhah velo lemaaseh). The author places no focus on rulings to be followed in practice. (See below, though, about what others later do with the work.)

Here is how the Chafeitz Chaim describes the purpose of the Mishnah Berurah on the original title page (this image is from vol 1 (Warsaw 1884), but the same text appears in volumes 2 (Warsaw 1895), 3 (1891), 4 (1898), 5 (1902) and 6 (Pietrekov 1907):


I called my biur by the name MB since within it is explained (misbareir; c.f. “berurah”) the words of the SA, every law by its reasoning and origins in the gemara and posqim that it not be like a sealed book.
Also I will collect in it all the dinim, halakhos and biurim scattered amog the books of the acharonim, meforshim of the SA who are known (like MA, PMG, Birkhei Yoseif, Maamar Mordekhai and many such.) There have been many of them since the Be’er Heitiv and they are not utilized in responsa because they are somewhat scattered in various places. All of these [opinions] are compiled here, and all is in a straightforward and easy language and in proper order, with Hashem’s help.

And the Beiur Halakhah:

Also, I appended on its side some necessary ideas titled under the name Biur Halakhah — and as the name, so it is. For in it I sometimes explained the words of halakhah which are brought in summary in the MB without proof, and here I show (be”h) its source looking inall of gemara and the posqim. Also in it are sometimes explains the words of the SA at length in places which need explanation.

Similarly, the from the introduction (tr. Rabbi Seth Mandel, posted here):

First is that the SA by itself without learning the Tur is not comprehensible, because when he wrote the SA it was the BY’s intention that people should first learn the sources of the halokho in the Tur and the BY, so that he would understand the reasoning and logic of each shitta and the practical differences between each… Many times it happens that the SA combines in one s’if something that is only l’khat’hilla with another that is b’di’eved and l’iqquva, something that is d’orayso with something d’rabbonon, and there will be a difference if there is a safeq etc… But learning every din in the SA with its sources and reasons from the Tur and the SA is too great a task for most people nowadays… since in this way one medium siman may take several days and sometimes a few weeks…

The second reason… is that it is difficult to know the halokho l’ma’aseh because of the multiple disagreements brought by the acharonim… and even if he would want always to be mahmir in the matter, that is also not a safe way, because sometimes it will be a chumra that leads to a kula. I also see that from the time the B’er Heitev summarized the Taz and the Mogen Avrohom and others and responsa about 150 years have passed, and in the meantime there have been very many famous g’onim who have dealt with the matters, such as the Elya Rabba, the Matteh Y’hudah, and many others, and the Sha’arei T’shuva only brings a little bit of this in some places. In particular, the Pri M’godim, which is a great work and deals in each siman with new questions l’ma’aseh, and whose conclusions have been accepted is almost not quoted almost at all in the Sha’arei T’shuva… and similarly many many other famous g’onim whose views have been accepted after the Sha’arei T’shuva was printed, such as R. ‘Aqiva Eiger, Derekh haHayyim… So that now if a person wants to understand some halokho l’ma’aseh that is not fully discussed in the SA, he will have so search in many acharonim… Therefore I have strengthened myself with the grace of G-d to fix these matters. I have written an explanation to the SA that is sufficient in my opinion… and explained each din in the SA with its reasons and logic from the g’moro and posqim… and in each matter where there are disagreements among the posqim I have presented the conclusions of the acharonim (gathered from the BaH, the D’risha, the Elya Rabba, the G’Ro the P’ri M’godim…)

The author of the Mishnah Berurah is clear: the purpose of the book was not to provide his own ruling, but to survey the later posqim who have added complexity to the field so that someone looking to reach a decision knows who wrote on the matter.

Yes, the CC (or his son or other students who worked with him) often gave his own opinion, including our “ba’al nefesh yachmir“, but it is unclear to me he intended that opinion to be a pragmatic ruling rather than a theoretical statement. This would explain why the Mishnah Berurah’s rulings diverge from accepted practice so much more often than the Arukh haShulchan (a contemporary work from the same region). Halakhah lemaaseh, pragmatic rulings, need to take such precedent and continuity into account; discussions of textual theory do not.

As further evidence that the Mishnah Berurah was not intended to be a practical law guide, we have a lot of testimony that shows that its own author often followed the common Lithuanian practice over his own “ruling”. Despite the origin of wearing one’s tzitzis strings out being in the MB, the CC did not. His qiddush cup doesn’t hold as much wine as the MB would require. (It is still in the hands of the Zaks family and has been checked repeatedly.) He advocated for building city eiruvin for carrying on Shabbos despite BH 364 “ve’achar. The Chafeitz Chaim did not say “Berikh Shemeih” when taking out the Torah. Etc…1

I am suggesting that the CC’s textualist and formal stance in the MB is simply because the MB was a book for studying texts. And he did not intend to deemphasize mimetic tradition (the flow of practice transmitted culturally) when it comes to deciding practice, as we see from his own practice.

However, the way the Mishnah Berurah was utilized shifted when the Chazon Ish in Israel and a number of American rashei yeshiva (such as R’ Aharon Kotler) promoted the idea of using the Mishnah Berurah as a poseiq acharon.

In contrast: R YH Henkin testified about his famous grandfather (Avodah v 17 n 28 quoting his own Bnei Banim vol. 2 page 31):

AH saw the MB; see 11:22; 12:4; 28:23; 62:4; 268:6; and other places where he mentions Mishnah Berurah by name. In 79:11 and 319:22 and elsewhere he disagrees with him by name and in innumerable places he disagrees with him without mentioning his name: for instance, in 55:20 he is writing against the Mishnah Berurah and similarly in 370:13 — this is obvious anyone who looks carefully. So it is a mitzvah to let people know that AH is not only a Sefer Halacha but also a response to the Mishnah Berurah.

Similarly R [Shmuel] Yaakov Weinberg (Ner Israel) considered the AhS the more authoritative. And minutes before my chupah (while waiting for the paper to burn to have ashes for my head), R’ Dovid Lifshitz asked if I had one for my new home, because it was closer to halakhah as my ancestors held. (RDL knew my family back in Suvalk.)

As for Rav Moshe Feinstein, his sons Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven Feinstein both testified that Rav Moshe gave priority to the AhS because R’ Yechiel Michl Epstein had a community, and therefore the more practiced poseiq of the two.


Three more methodological differences between the Mishnah Berurah and the Arukh haShulchan:

The AhS’s idea of understanding the halakhah is being able to analyze how the pesak evolved from gemara (and Yerushalmi) to Rif, Rambam, Rosh to the Tur, Beis Yoseif, Shulchan Aruch & Rama, and finally to the acharonim since. The MB is surveying halakhah in the acharonic period, and how to decide amongst them; he is more “lateral” than historical.

Fourth, the AhS is willing to leave the halakhah fuzzy, and often comes to a range of conclusions rather than one clear-cut pesak. Or, he will pasken one way in one se’if, but in a slightly different case in a different se’if reopen the question: … but if you hold like…

Last, in 1998 I suggested that the MB, having been written by the Chafeitz Chaim, reflects an attitude where the line between halakhah and personal improvement is intentionally blurry. (Which would also be more textual than mimetic, but in a different way than R/Dr Soloveitchik discusses textualism. Shifting from common practice as needed for ideological reasons is just as non-mimetic as shifting from it because of formal legal arguments in a “clean room” study.

To a ba’al mussar (although the CC was not an adherent of the movement), halakhah can be viewed as the required baseline of a mussar regimen. Mitzvos exist to hone oneself, but someone who is serious about this task would try to harness them consciously toward that end, would commit to other practices toward that goal, etc… So, we can view “ba’al nefesh yachmir” as mussar advice, but that doesn’t stand entirely separate from pesaq.

  1. Some attribute these differences on the presence of other authors. However, as can be seen from the title page, the Chafeitz Chaim calls the commentary his own. And of all our sages, the Chafetz Chaim is the one we would least associate with robbing credit through careless or imprecise speech! Whatever contributions students made were both as per their rebbe’s teachings and approved by the CC before publication. The content must entirely have been his ideas, even if they were as explained by someone else. I could believe some things were overlooked, but it stretches credibility to think it happened often enough to create a pattern. []

The Question on the Quiz

During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. “Absolutely,” the professor said. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

– JoAnn C. Jones, Guideposts

Seen on Facebook, originally posted by Senator Corey Booker (NJ, Dem), shared by R Moshe Yehuda Gluck (Lakewood, don’t know his party affiliation).

Halakhah and Virtue Ethics

In 1967 Phillippa Foote raised a thought experiment philosophers call the Runaway Trolly Problem. Here is how wikipedia describes it:

There is a runaway trolley barreling down the railway tracks. Ahead, on the tracks, there are five people tied up and unable to move. The trolley is headed straight for them. You are standing some distance off in the train yard, next to a lever. If you pull this lever, the trolley will switch to a different set of tracks. However, you notice that there is one person on the side track. You have two options: (1) Do nothing, and the trolley kills the five people on the main track. (2) Pull the lever, diverting the trolley onto the side track where it will kill one person. Which is the correct choice?

Rav Aharon Rakeffet-Rothkoff tells a horrifying real life parallel from the first Lebanon War. The IDF cleared out a building, and sent some soldiers in to make sure it was entirely empty. The few soldiers make it to the top of the building, radio back that all is clear. The commanding officer then sends in dozens of soldiers to use the building as a base of attack. The enemy was waiting for just this moment and implode the building. The commanding office now has a choice: he could save the few soldiers at the top of the heap, but in the time it takes to do so, the far greater number of soldiers underneath would die. On the other hand, he could bulldoze away the few, and thereby be able to save far many — but by literally killing some of his men. He turns to you, the rabbi on the scene. What do you advise?

These kind of questions differentiate the three biggest families of ethical theories:

Consequentialism proposes that the moral choice is the one that gets the best consequences possible. In the case of the runaway trolley (the Lebanon story is just too painful to think about), it would choose actively killing one person over standing by and letting five people die.

The problem with this approach to ethics is that it would advise stealing from the rich to feed the poor, as what the rich lose by taking their money is far outweighed by providing the poor some much-needed food. A many of us would not accept as ethical. (Unless, perhaps, we were convinced the wealth was ill-gotten.)

The other common general approach is Deontology — the idea that ethics is based on right behaviors. If the consequentialist is looking to minimize the number of victims, the deontologist wants to minimize the number of criminals.

A third and distant runner up is Virtue Ethics, that ethical choice is the one that fosters virtue. Here, we are trying to minimize the human capacity to commit crime. Because both Deontology and Virtue Ethics look at ethics from the perspective of the person committing the act, the resulting decisions are often the same. For example, both would advise against pulling the switch on the Runaway Trolley, and both would be against stealing from the rich to support the poor.

The textbook case in halakhah that of Sheva ben Bikhri (Shemuel II ch 20). Sheva ben Bichri rebelled against King David. Yoav led David’s army to besiege the city where he was hiding. Some women in the city convinced their peers to save the rest of the city by killing the rebel and turn over his body to the army — thus ending the siege.

From it, the gemara (Sanhedrin 72b, Y-mi Terumos 8:4) concludes that if attackers come to a caravan and demand that a particular person be turned in to them or all will be killed, you may. According to Reish Laqish, only if he is deserving of death according to halakhah, as in the case of Sheva ben Bichri. According to R’ Yochanan, as long as the attackers name any particular individual. But if they do not specify a person, forcing the people in the caravan to choose, you do not.

This defies pragmatic reasoning. After all, by not choosing whom to turn over, everyone gets killed, including whomever would have been turned in.

Apparently, the halakhah is deontological; it cares more about not taking part in someone else’s murder more than how many people die. Within that, Rav Yochanan and Reish Laqish argue over how much of a hand in a person’s death warrants choosing one’s own death rather than being involved. Reish Laqish does not allow any participation, barring the named person deserving death anyway. The Rambam (Yesodei haTorah 5:5) holds like Reish Laqish. Rav Yochanan holds that choosing a victim is a problem, but being forced to play a part in someone else’s murder scheme without making any decisions of one’s own is permissible.

The Rama uses this idea to explain why it is permitted to abort a fetus when leaving the child alone they would both die. (See also Rashi on Sanhedrin ad loc. ) A non-viable child is like one the attackers already singled out for death..

This is probably a consequence of the conflict between personalized Divine Providence and free will. Does Abe’s actions determine Ben’s fate, or does Ben’s life run exactly as per Hashem’s Will?

In order for a consequentialist approach to make sense, we would have to say that whether or not Abe succeeds in stealing from Ben depends on Abe’s choices. Which is why Abe has to decide whether or not to inflict that on Ben. And there is a famous Ohr haChaim cited to show that to some extent that’s true. He says that the brothers threw Yoseif into a pit rather than kill him outright to give “room” for Divine Justice to save him if their decision was unjust. Implying that had they just killed him, he could have died despite Providence. The Rambam also discusses a sliding scale relating how much Providence a person receives to the quality of their knowledge of G-d (Moreh 3:18).

But most rishonim believe that every event in a person’s life is the product of Providence. And contemporary Jewish thought (as elaborated by both the Baal Shem Tov and the Gra) goes further and suggests this is true even of events that do not touch people’s lives. But this notion of Providence creates a disconnect between my choice of action and its impact on others. I must do what I must do; it’s Hashem’s job to script how that changes others’ lives, whether I succeed or fail, unintended consequences, etc…

Therefore I cannot judge an act by its consequences on others, I instead judge it by how the act impacts me — whether because of a deontological notion of rules or a the self-reinforcing ways of expressing or violating virtues.

Hillel famously told the conversion candidate, “That which you loathe, do not do to others. That is the entire Torah. Now go and study!” One obviously can’t figure out on their own the laws of separation on Shabbos from the simple value of not doing to others of things things you wouldn’t like.  There is a lot of “Go and study.”

The vast majority of halakhah is like this. We are not given a set of laws, we are given an Oral Torah, a process for decision-making. The debates of the tannaim, of the amoraim, the understandings of the Rif, the Rambam, the Rosh, the Tur, the Beis Yoseif, the Shulchan Arukh and Rama, Shach, Taz, Rabbi Aqiva Eiger, Chida… down through the ages draw a complex picture. A set of conflicting tendencies more than a definitive law. This is why we study the gemara rather than the Rif’s selection of its conclusions.

The Torah’s nature is inherently dialectic; there is the value in the study of the dialog that leads to the rulings, the conclusions are not definitive statements that stand on their own. We are invited to consider nuance and alternative. To submerge ourselves into the process. The Maharal objected to the Shulchan Arukh’s codification of the law because it took the masses away from that discussion, from trying to understand the why behind the ruling. But once the page of Shulchan Arukh itself became a discussion, the objecting voices ceased.

This speaks to halakhah having more of a Value Ethical basis than Deontology. We aren’t asked to become rule-following beings. We are asked to internalize the reason and motive of the laws. Clarity of the directives are less important than illustration and internalization of the underlying virtue.

We find this in Shaarei Yosher as well. What is a text about how to decide dilemmas in halakhah, cases where it is unclear how to apply the law has an introduction that is a discussion of virtue — “that it be the greatest of our desires to benefit others”. And then he proceeds to analyze conflicts in virtues — holiness and commitment to the other vs. “chayekha qodmin — your life comes first”, that in the case of only have enough water in the desert to save one, you are supposed to place yourself first, and when it comes to disbursing tzedaqahaniyei irekha qodmin — the poor of your own city come first.” As Rabbi Binyamin Hecht puts it, the obligation to feed the poor doesn’t mean that until every child on the planet has food on their plate I should be putting my money there rather than ever buying my child a toy.

Values conflict. Or, as R JB Soloveitchik would put it, we need to engage in the dialectic between these conflicting values; and halakhah gives us the tools to do so. Once the Torah was given to man, “lo bashamayim hi — it is not in the heavens” to be decided by miracles or angelic voices. Part of the redemptive power of halakhah is our grappling with the issues of its underlying values, so that we do not obey a deontological ethic, but internalize a values one.

Webinar: Work and Holiness — from the teachings of Rav Shimon Shkop

The Mussar Institute

Webinar 7 – Featuring Micha Berger

Founder of the AishDas Society, TMI Teacher

Work and Holiness — from the teachings of Rav Shimon Shkop
Sunday, May 3, 2015, from 12:00 to 1:00 pm Eastern time

In this webinar, Rabbi Micha Berger will be teaching about the connection of work and the concept of holiness in the Jewish tradition. His webinar will be based on the teaching of Rav Shimon Shkop (1860-1939), author of Sha’arei Yosher (The Gates of Honesty). Micha Berger is a teacher of Jewish thought and Mussar. He is a father and husband and sees in those roles much of the expression of his Judaism and his Mussar work. He was a student of Rav Dovid Lifshitz, the Suvalker Rav, who in turn, was a prize student of Rabbi Shkop. Micha Berger founded the AishDas Society and is a computer programmer by profession. He collaborated with Alan Morinis on Every Day Holy Day.

Advance registration is required to reserve your place in a webinar and to receive webinar instructions.

Register for Berger webinar

All webinars will be recorded for later playback.


For further information on
The Mussar Institute, visit www.MussarInstitute.org

Email address: [email protected] |
Phone: 305-610-7260


HaRav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l

When someone passes away, I try to find a life-lesson from their lives that I can incorporate into my own. This is rather easy with regard to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, as the rosh yeshiva left the Centrist / Modern Orthodox / Religious Zionist community with a cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of our communal soul. Things that he saw we as a community need to look at and improve.

See “By His Light: Character and Values in the Service of God” by R’ Reuvein Zeigler, notes of shiurim by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, pp 220-252, which is available on-line at Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash, as the email shiur from the series “Developing a Torah Personality” Lecture 12: Centrist Orthodoxy: A Spiritual Accounting. Listing the rashei peraqim (subtitles):

  • The Shift To the Right
  • The Need for Soul-Searching
  • Commonalities and Differences With the Right
  • Shaking Our Confidence In General Culture
  • The Complexity of Experience
  • Literary, Psychological and Historical Sensitivity
  • Attitudes Toward Zionism
  • “Torah Only” or “Torah And”
  • The Possibility of Integration
  • Theory and Practice
  • Dialectical Tension or Tepid Indifference?
  • Instilling Passion
  • The Need for Spirituality
  • Diffusion and Dilution
  • The Ascendancy of the Moral Over the Intellectual
  • “Do Not Fear Any Man”

Here’s one piece near the end, that stays with me each time I read the article:

… Perhaps much of what I have said in relation to culture, quoting Arnold and Yeats and others, seems very rarefied. People may be asking themselves, “What does this have to do with us? We have to deal with children in elementary school or high school; this is not our concern.” Nevertheless, I have related to culture at its apex, because the kind of vision which is maintained at the pinnacle has an impact, and should have an impact, upon what is done at lower levels. In this respect, the awareness of the evaluation of culture does have practical consequences for whatever level of education we are dealing with.

Granted that, our challenge is to see to it that indeed we maintain our position with depth and gusto. Given our constituency, of course, we cannot instill many of our students with the optimal level of love of Torah; we know from where they come. But, within our overall community, and surely within its leadership, such a level should exist. Woe unto us, if the only choice lies between tepid compromise and arrogant kana’ut.

A couple of years after we moved to Yerushalayim, I was once walking with my family in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood, where R. Isser Zalman Meltzer used to live. For the most part, it consists of narrow alleys. We came to a corner, and found a merchant stuck there with his car. The question came up as to how to help him; it was a clear case of perika u-te’ina (helping one load or unload his burden). There were some youngsters there from the neighborhood, who judging by their looks were probably ten or eleven years old. They saw that this merchant was not wearing a kippa. So they began a whole pilpul, based on the gemara in Pesachim (113b), about whether they should help him or not. They said, “If he walks around bareheaded, presumably he doesn’t separate terumot u-ma’asrot, so he is suspect of eating and selling untithed produce…”

I wrote R. Soloveitchik a letter at that time, and told him of the incident. I ended with the comment, “Children of that age from our camp would not have known the gemara, but they would have helped him.” My feeling then was: Why, Ribbono shel Olam, must this be our choice? Can’t we find children who would have helped him and still know the gemara? Do we have to choose? I hope not; I believe not. If forced to choose, however, I would have no doubts where my loyalties lie: I prefer that they know less gemara, but help him.

If I can refer again to my experience over the last several decades, I think that one of the central points which has reinforced itself is the sense, in terms of values, of the ascendancy of the moral over the intellectual — with all my love for and commitment to pure learning. But, when all is said and done, you have to be guided not by what you love; you have to be guided by Torah. And the Torah tells us what is good:

הִגִּ֥יד לְךָ֛ אָדָ֖ם מַה־טּ֑וֹב וּמָֽה־ה֞ דּוֹרֵ֣שׁ מִמְּךָ֗ כִּ֣י אִם־עֲשׂ֤וֹת מִשְׁפָּט֙ וְאַ֣הֲבַת חֶ֔סֶד וְהַצְנֵ֥עַ לֶ֖כֶת עִם־אֱלֹקֶֽיךָ׃

He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God. (Mikha 6:8)

Talmudic Sources for Avoiding Qitniyos

Here are two possibilities for the source of the minhag.
The Yerushalmi makes the same statement that we have in the Bavli, that dough made from rice and water undergo a sirchon, not chameitz. Then it continues (Pesachim 2:4, vilna 17a):

רבי יוחנן בן נורי אמר קרמית חייבת בחלה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ ורבנין אמרי אינה באה לידי מצה וחמץ ויבדקנה על עיקר בדיקתה הן חולקין רבי יוחנן בן נורי אמר בדקו’ ומצאו אותה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ ורבנין אמרין בדקוה ולא מצאו אותה שהיא באה לידי מצה וחמץ.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri said: Qarmis (millet or something similar) requires [giving] challah [from the dough to a kohein] because it can become chameitz or matzah.

And the Rabbis say it doesn’t because it can not become chameitz or matzah.

So check it!

They disagree about the essence of the check: RYBN said they checked it and found it can become chameitz or matzah. The Rabbanan said they checked it and they didn’t find it can become chameitz or matzah.

I would suggest that the argument may not actually be about the chemistry of the findings, and we can avoid saying this is a machloqes in metzi’us. Because if it were, it is easy enough for later generations to repeat the experiment, rather than the dispute. I think the word “iqar” in “al iqar habediqah hein cholqin — they disagree about the essence of the check”. Why “essence”?

I think they found something that wasn’t textbook chameitz-style leavening, and RYBN disagreed about where the line is drawn. They disagreed about the meaning, the essence of the check, not the results themselves.

Either way, eating chameitz is not “merely” an issur (prohibition), it is an issur kareis, a prohibition whose punishment (for the fully culpable; I am not G-d’s judge) may involve losing one’s physical place in the Jewish People by their line not being born or dying out and/or by losing one’s spiritual eternal life. So it is not unrealistic to think a custom would arise to not entirely ignore a rejected opinion in the Yerushalmi.

As for my own favorite theory, this year it’s the Gra’s. He invokes Pesachim 40b:

רב פפי שרי ליה לבורדיקי דבי ריש גלותא לממחה קדירה בחסיסי אמר רבא איכא דשרי כי האי מילתא בדוכתא דשכיחי עבדי א”ד רבא גופא מחי לה קידרא בחסיסי:

Rav Papi allowed the exilarch’s manor’s kitchen staff to thicken the stew with lentils.
Rava said: is there one who permits this activity in a place where servants are common?
Others say: Rava personally allowed lentils in the stewpot.

The two variants of describing Rava’s position agree in content. The first says it in the negative — when dealing with kitchen staff, one shouldn’t allow cooking with lentils. The other in the positive — when dealing with himself, Rav would permit.

Still, we see there is an opinion in the gemara that prohibits cooking with lentils, at least by people less likely to be careful. If a community worries that its observance may be closer to the meticulousness of the exilarch’s kitchen staff than to Rav Papa’s, following this gemara would have them avoid cooking with lentils and anything else that shares this concern. The Gra suggests this is exactly the minhag of avoiding qitniyos.

The Great Seal of the United State of America

Resolved, That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America.

– Journals of Continental Congress, July 4th, 1776

Rabbi Meir de Soloveitchik (as the rabbi of the Spanish Portugese Synagogue jokingly calls himself) recently mentioned this committee and the resulting seal when introducing a discussion at Yeshiva University featuring Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, and himself. (Video on YouTube, here, and audio from Soundcloud, here.)

What made this committee relevant is that the suggestions for design were examples of how much the Exodus from Egypt played a role in American self-definition.

Thomas Jefferson wanted the front to depict the Children of Israel in the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of cloud at night.

Benjamin Franklin kept his reference to the Exodus to the reverse side (quoting a handwritten note from here):

Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.

Motto: Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.

At some point the two compromised with Jefferson’s picture with Franklin’s motto for the reverse side:
Lossing realization (1856) of Du Simitiere's sketch
and for the front, something more reflecting Adams’ proposal, which is of less interest to us:

Lossing realization (1856) of Du Simitiere's sketch

The United States itself never ends up getting its own seal, although you might recognize the eye-and-pyramid design from the front of this proposal on the reverse side of the seal of the president of the US (check the back of a $1 bill):

Reverse side of Great Seal on the exterior of a U.S. post office

There is a religious subtext to all this.

Jefferson called upon the citizens of the new nation to follow G-d through the desert. G-d provides direction and protection for his people.

Franklin expects more autonomy. While he shows G-d drowning the Egyptians, he adds a motto to tell us this an example for us to follow “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God”. Man is expected to redeem himself.

But the design that actually emerged from all this is neither the G-d saving man image of Jefferson nor the man partnering with G-d to redeem himself image of Franklin. The God of the final design is that of a Deist. It depicts well-designed but incomplete world, represented by the pyramid. God is depicted as an eye, watching from above, but not acting. It is man’s job to complete the pyramid on his own.

The evolution of the seal is emblematic of a basic value conflict between Judaism and the message of the book of Shemos and the values of American culture. Americans value the person who stand up for what’s theirs. The gemara:

אמר רבא: כל המעביר על מדותיו מעבירין לו על כל פשעיו

Rava said: Whomever is “maavir al midosav“ [forgives others when he is slighted –Yuma 23a], they [the heavenly court] passes [ma’avirin] over all his sins for him.

Shabbos 17b

America places human autonomy as the primary value, to the extent that it grapples with the entire concept of a moral code that goes beyond being able to do what one wants that doesn’t encroach on others’ opportunity to do the same. This is the battle between the Christian notion of needing God to save you, as per Jefferson’s original proposal, and the Enlightenment value of the self-made man.

As I wrote at more length in the past, American law is based on a social contract that guarantees rights in contrast to halakhah which is based on a covenant.

A successful contract is one where the outcome is a win-win. Each party takes away what they need from the deal, in exchange for giving up something that didn’t matter as much to them.

A covenant, however, creates a new community. A marriage is not a contract, an exchange of favors. It creates a new unit, the married couple, and each enters the marriage covenant with the commitment to contribute to the wellfare of that community of two.

Yetzi’as Mitzrayim, the Exodus, is thus not just a historical prelude to the Beris Sinai, the covenant forged at Sinai. It gave the Jewish People, who until then were slaves who were not given room to contribute, a taste of what it means to be a partner — to only merit the splitting of the sea or leadership and protection through the desert by being willing to follow Hashem’s moral lead as well. Hashem did not split the sea until we showed the faith to enter the water. (There are two opinions as to who went in first — either Nachshon, the leader of Yehudah, or that there was a fight over which tribe would go first, which Benjamin won.) Moshe promised that Hashem would save us: “ה’ יִלָּחֵם לָכֶם וְאַתֶּם תַּחֲרִישׁוּן — Hashem will fight for you, and you will remain silent.” (Moshe, as quoted in Shemos 14:14) But He asked us to take initiative, to show some ownership of our own need for redemption, and only then He stepped in.

Without taking responsibility, we would not have been ready for participation in a covenantal community.

Marbim beSimchah

Esther’s life was overall a very tragic one. The story ends, and we’re told about Mordechai’s rise to political power and the taxes and all. Meanwhile, she is still married to a non-Jewish drunkard who killed a previous wife on a whim. No happily ever after for her!

And I think this is what Esther was thinking of when she said

לֵךְ֩ כְּנ֨וֹס אֶת־כָּל־הַיְּהוּדִ֜ים הַֽנִּמְצְאִ֣ים בְּשׁוּשָׁ֗ן וְצ֣וּמוּ עָ֠לַי וְאַל־תֹּאכְל֨וּ וְאַל־תִּשְׁתּ֜וּ שְׁלֹ֤שֶׁת יָמִים֙ לַ֣יְלָה וָי֔וֹם גַּם־אֲנִ֥י וְנַעֲרֹתַ֖י אָצ֣וּם כֵּ֑ן וּבְכֵ֞ן אָב֤וֹא אֶל־הַמֶּ֙לֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־כַדָּ֔ת וְכַאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָבַ֖דְתִּי אָבָֽדְתִּי׃

Go, gather all the Jews who can be found in Shushan, and fast for me; do not eat nor drink for three days — night and day — and I and my maids will similarly fast; with that, I will come before the kiing in a manner against the law —
and however I am lost, I am lost.

Esther 4:16

Esther realized that her life was lost either way. As Rashi (ad loc) puts it, “וכאשר התחלתי לילך לאבוד אלך ואמות — just as I started to be lost, I can [equally] go to death.” But rather than despairing of everything, she used it as motivation to shift her life from a pursuit of happiness to a pursuit of meaning. Since I am lost either way, let me see what I can do to save the Jewish people.

Esther brings this attitude forward through the rest of her life. Rashi (on Ezra 4:24) portrays her after the story of Purim, after the death of Achashveirosh, as an active Queen Mother, still meddling, this time with her son, Daryavesh (Darius), on behalf of the Jewish people. It is from Esther’s prodding that Daryavesh agrees to let us begin to build the second Beis haMiqdash.

In contrast, we have Haman. Haman had everything. Private parties with the royal couple. Power second to the king himself. There was even a law requiring everyone to bow to him! He had everything, that is, except one local dignitary from a small ethnic group, who refused to bow.

וְכָל־זֶ֕ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ שֹׁוֶ֖ה לִ֑י בְּכָל־עֵ֗ת אֲשֶׁ֨ר אֲנִ֤י רֹאֶה֙ אֶת־מָרְדֳּכַ֣י הַיְּהוּדִ֔י יוֹשֵׁ֖ב בְּשַׁ֥עַר הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃

And all this is worthless to me whenever I see Mordachai the Jew sitting in the king’s gate.

Esther 5:13

Haman has little reason to be sad, but he can’t see past the one flaw in his otherwise perfect picture. Eeyore style, he can only see life’s problems. Esther commits to fixing the problems, and therefore gets a measure of value and contentment out of a life that appears destined for personal misery. More inheres in what each chose to look for in life, than what life actually gave them.

Two Temidim a Day

One Purim at the se’udah, when people were feeling a little levity, Rav Chaim Volozhiner asked his Rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, for a berakahah. The Vilna Gaon blessed him that he would merit to bring two temidim daily. Rav Chaim was thrown — we do not bring the tamid, the twice-daily offering, today as there is no beis hamiqdash!1

The Shulchan Aruch, section Orakh Chaim opens2:

יתגבר כארי לעמוד בבוקר לעבודת בוראו, שיהא הוא מעורר השחר.
הגה: ועכ”פ לא יאחר זמן התפלה שהצבור מתפללין (טור).
הגה: שִׁוִּיתִי ה׳ לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד (תהילים טז:ח), הוא כלל גדול בתורה ובמעלות הצדיקים אשר הולכים לפני האלקים, כי אין ישיבת האדם ותנועותיו ועסקיו והוא לבדו בביתו, כישיבתו ותנועותיו ועסקיו והוא לפני מלך גדול, ולא דבורו והרחבת פיו כרצונו והוא עם אנשי ביתו וקרוביו, כדבורו במושב המלך. כ”ש כשישים האדם אל לבו שהמלך הגדול הקב”ה, אשר מלא כל הארץ כבודו, עומד עליו ורואה במעשיו, כמו שנאמר: אִם יִסָּתֵר אִישׁ בַּמִּסְתָּרִים וַאֲנִי לֹא אֶרְאֶנּוּ, נְאֻם ה’ (ירמיה כג:כד), מיד יגיע אליו היראה וההכנעה בפחד השי”ת ובושתו ממנו תמיד (מורה נבוכים ח”ג פ’ נ”ב), ולא יתבייש ב מפני בני אדם המלעיגים עליו בעבודת השי”ת. גם בהצנע לכת ובשכבו על משכבו ידע לפני מי הוא שוכב, ג ומיד שיעור משנתו יקום בזריזות לעבודת בוראו יתברך ויתעלה (טור).

[One must] make himself as strong as a lion to get up in the morning for service of his Creator, that he should wake up at dawn.

Ram”a: At least, one should not delay beyond the time when the congregation prays (Tur).

Ram”a: “I have set Hashem before me constantly” (Psalms 16:8); this is a major principle in the Torah and among the virtues of the righteous who walk before God. For a person’s way of sitting, his movements and his dealings while he is alone in his house are not like his way of sitting, his movements and his dealings when he is before a great king; nor are his speech and free expression as much as he wants when he is with his household members and his relatives like his speech when in a royal audience. All the more so when one takes to heart that the Great King, the Holy One, blessed is He, Whose glory fills the earth, is standing over him and watching his actions, as it is stated: “‘Will a man hide in concealment and I will not see him?’ – the word of G-d” (Jeremiah 23:24), he immediately acquires fear and submission in dread of G-d, may He be blessed, and is ashamed before Him constantly (Guide for the Perplexed 3:52). And one should not be ashamed because of people who mock him in his service of G-d, and should also go modestly. And when he lies on his bed he should know before Whom he lies, and as soon as he wakes up from sleep he should rise eagerly to the service of his Creator, may He be blessed and exalted (Tur).

Orach Chaim concludes with the laws of Purim. The very last se’if3 reads:

יום י”ד וט”ו שבאדר ראשון אין נופלים על פניהם, ואין אומרים מזמור יענך ה’ ביום צרה, ואסור בהספד ותענית; אבל שאר דברים אין נוהגים בהם; וי”א דאף בהספד ותענית מותרים.
הגה: והמנהג כסברא הראשונה. י”א שחייב להרבות במשתה ושמחה בי”ד שבאדר ראשון (טור בשם הרי”ף) ואין נוהגין כן, מ”מ ירבה קצת בסעודה כדי לצאת ידי המחמירים; וְטוֹב לֵב מִשְׁתֶּה תָמִיד (משלי טו:טו) (הגהות מיימוני בשם סמ”ק).

On the 14th and 15th of Adar I [in a two Adar year] we do not fall on our faces [to say Tachanun], and we do not say “Mizmor: Yaankha Hashem beYom Tzarah” and eulogizing and fasting are prohibited. However the other things [of Purim] are not practiced on them, and some say even eulogizing and fasting are permitted.

Ram”a: And the practice is like the first reasoning. Some say that there is an obligation to have a lot of feasting and happiness on the 14th of Adar I (Tur in the name of the Rif) and we do not practice this. In any case, he should increase somewhat in his meals in order to fulfil the position of those who are stringent — “and a good heart is constantly celebrating” (Mishlei 15:15). (Hagahos Maimoni in the name of the Semaq)

The first thing I wish to note is that Orach Chaim, the guide to hand washing, tzitzis, prayer, blessings, Shabbos, other holidays, and in general a lot of ritual, opens and closes with a discussion of middos! The first halakhah is about zerizus (alacrity), which the Rama ties to yir’ah (fear/awe) by citing “I have set Hashem before me constantly” and it closes with a discussion of simchah, happiness!

Rav Aharon Rakeffet Rothkoff discussed this in a shiur he gave at the Gruss Kollel a few years ago.4

To explain his intent, the Vilna Gaon referred Rav Chaim Volozhiner to the glosses of the Rama that we quoted. The Rama opens with a quote from Tehillim “שִׁוִּיתִי ה׳ לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד — I have set Hashem before me constantly” and he ends with a quote from Mishlei “וְטוֹב לֵב מִשְׁתֶּה תָמִיד — and a good heart is constantly celebrating”. These two appearance of “tamid“, constant yir’ah and constant simchah, are the two tamid offerings one can bring daily!

  1. Should I deduce from this that Rav Chaim was a kohein? After all, it was possible there would have been a third beis hamiqdash in his lifetime, but being a non-kohein would rule out the possibility in any eventuality. []
  2. 1:1 []
  3. 697:1 []
  4. A recording is available on YUTorah.org here. []

A Lion of Fire

“And they cried out in a great voice to Hashem their G-d”1 – what was said?Rav, and others say Rav Yoshanan, said [that the Anshei Kenese haGdolah cried out]: Woe, woe, it is [the yeitzer hara for idolatry] who has destroyed the Beis haMiqdash, burnt the Heikhal, killed all the tzadiqim, driven Israel from their land, and is still dancing around among us! You have given him to us for nothing but our receiving reward through him. We do not want him, nor do we want the reward.
A note fell to them from the heaven, upon which was written “Emes”. (Rabbi Chanina said: from this we hear that the seal of the Holy one is “Emes.”)
“וַֽיִּזְעֲקוּ֙ בְּק֣וֹל גָּד֔וֹל אֶל־ה֖׳ אֱלֹקֵיהֶֽם” —מאי אמור?אמר רב, ואיתימא רבי יוחנן: בייא, בייא! – היינו האי דאחרביה למקדשא, וקליה להיכליה, וקטלינהו לכולהו צדיקי, ואגלינהו לישראל מארעהון, ועדיין מרקד בינן! כלום יהבתיה לן אלא לקבולי ביה אגרא. לא איהו בעינן, ולא אגריה בעינן.
נפל להו פיתקא מרקיעא, דהוה כתב בה “אמת”. (אמר רב חנינא, שמע מינה: חותמו של הקדוש ברוך הוא אמת.)
They sat in fasting three days and three nights, and then he was given over to them.He came forth from the Holy of Holies like a fiery lion cub. Thereupon the prophet said to Israel: This is the evil inclination for idolatry, as it says: “And he said: This is wickedness!2אותיבו בתעניתא תלתא יומין ותלתא לילואתא, מסרוהו ניהליהו.נפק אתא כי גוריא דנורא מבית קדשי הקדשים.
אמר להו נביא לישראל: היינו יצרא דעבודה זרה! שנאמר: “וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ זֹ֣את הָרִשְׁעָ֔ה!”
When they grabbed it, a hair of its mane fell out. [The drive for idolatry] raised a cry, and his voice reached 400 parsa.They said: What shall we do? Maybe, ch”v, they will be compassionate for him in heaven?
בהדי דתפסוה ליה אשתמיט ביניתא ממזייא, ורמא קלא, ואזל קליה ארבע מאה פרסי.אמרו: היכי נעביד? דילמא חס ושלום מרחמי עליה מן שמיא?
A prophet said to them: Trap him in a lead cauldron and seal its mouth with lead. Because lead absorbs sound. As it says [in the rest of the verse]: “… ‘This is evil!’ So they threw it into the middle of the eifah [a unit of measure], and placed the lead stone to its mouth.”3
אמר להו נביא: שדיוהו בדודא דאברא, וחפיוהו לפומיה באברא, דאברא משאב שאיב קלא. שנאמר, “וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ זֹ֣את הָרִשְׁעָ֔ה וַיַּשְׁלֵ֥ךְ אֹתָ֖הּ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ הָֽאֵיפָ֑ה וַיַּשְׁלֵ֛ךְ אֶת־אֶ֥בֶן הָעֹפֶ֖רֶת אֶל־פִּֽיהָ׃” …

A very enigmatic gemara, basing itself on quotes from Nehemiah and Zekhariah as hints to a story about the end of the drive for idolatry. (The story continues with them trying to do something similar to get rid of the yeitzer hara for sex. But because heaven doesn’t grant favors in half-measure, that was far less successful. The world can survive without idolatry, but not without procreation.) They don’t kill the desire, they left it trapped, its voice muffled by a led cauldron, soldered closed.

But why would the desire for idolatry live in the Beis haMiqdash, that that is where it would emerge from when summoned? Why does it look like a lion cub? Or of fire? And the whole thing about losing a hair from its main… What does it mean? Why does it hurt so much to lose a single hair? Why did they trap the yeitzer hara rather than eradicate it? And what’s the significance of the 400 parsa from which the desire’s scream could be heard?

A navi recognized the fiery lion’s cub, as anyone would an old enemy. By placing the yeitzer hara in the Beis haMiqdash, we are being told that there is a holy component to the desire. When we muted the call of idolatry, we ended the spiritual battle whose victory could earn one the power of prophecy. Thus, as the gemara says, “We do not want him, nor do we want the reward.” They volunteered to lower the stakes in our battle for spirituality, even knowing it would cost us our nevi’im.

The leaders of the generation at the time were the Men of the Great Assembly. And the events happened within a generation of those of Purim. And not only did idolatry cease to be the Jewish People’s greatest distraction from our calling in that generation, that generation also saw the last of the prophets and overt miracles. Something of profound significance changed in how the Sinai Covenant expressed itself.

The Ya’aros Devash4 relates the fire in our gemara to pride. And it emerges from the Qodesh haQadashi just as human haughtiness lives in the heart. Fire also has a connection to prophecy – it is the centerpiece of Moshe’s first vision in his unique quality of prophecy. ” וַ֠יֵּרָא מַלְאַ֨ךְ ה֥׳ אֵלָ֛יו בְּלַבַּת־אֵ֖שׁ מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַסְּנֶ֑ה וַיַּ֗רְא וְהִנֵּ֤ה הַסְּנֶה֙ בֹּעֵ֣ר בָּאֵ֔שׁ וְהַסְּנֶ֖ה אֵינֶ֥נּוּ אֻכָּֽל – An angel of Hashem appread to [Moshe] in a fiery flame within the bush; he looked, and here the bush is burning in fire, and the bush is not consumed.” Moshe turned to look why and Hashem Himself now calls him “מִתּ֣וֹךְ הַסְּנֶ֗ה – from within the bush.”5 When Moshe can perceive that the angel, the fire, and now G-d confine themselves to within the bush, not a fire that burns larger than the wood, he truly becomes Moshe. Constraining the fire is emblematic of tzimtzum, the Qabbalistic idea that Hashem “constrains” Himself to create room, opportunity for us. Similarly “וְהָאִ֥ישׁ מֹשֶׁ֖ה [ענו] עָנָ֣יו מְאֹ֑ד מִכֹּל֙ הָֽאָדָ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה – And Moshe the man was very humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.”6 The fire is the fire of pride.

A lion is a natural animal to represent pride; in English we even use the same word “pride” to refer to a group of lions. But the yeitzer hara appears as a lion cub, a youth, a symbol of potential growth rather than something in completion. A yeitzer hara stands to tempt us so that we can overcome him. The lion cub serves Hashem by making the internal battle and thus the potential growth, possible.

Prophecy requires the constraint of pride, in imitation of Hashem’s tzimtzum; getting one’s own perceptions and biases out of the way so that one can “hear” Hashem’s call, and “see” what He shows the navi of reality. In contrast, the idol offered man gods who would tell him what he wanted to hear. They are both the same battle.

Rav Yaaqov Emden relates the hair of the lion’s mane to one in another gemara.7 At the end of history, Hashem will slaughter the yeitzer hara, and show it to humanity. To the righteous, it will look like a large mountain, and they will weep in wonder that they could possibly have scaled it. To the wicked, it will look like a single hair, and they will cry in shame that they couldn’t overcome a single hair. The Yaavetz explains that the wicked stumble on the one hair that escaped being trapped in the cauldron. Or, as we have been developing this aggadita, on the one element of prideful distortion of our spirituality whose call was not muffled. The righteous may face more ego, but because their spirituality is intact and unadulterated, they “placed the lead stone to its mouth.”

This one hair has a call that could be heard 400 parsa. 400 x 400 parsa of Israel shook when Rav Yonasan ben Uziel started his targum of Navi and Hashem demanded “Who is revealing My secrets?” He was revealing truths to people unready to hear them undistorted; the egotist couldn’t hear the targum over the cry of the lion’s hair. At the end of the Second Temple, when a pig dug its hooves into the wall of Jerusalem, again an area of 400 x 400 parsa shook. We are told that when Amaleiq come to attack the Benei Yisrael in Refidim, it’s not because we were a nearby threat; in fact the Amaleiqim came from 400 parsa away! These are not merely cases of egotism, but egotism inferring with spirituality. In medrashic terms, 400 amos is as far as an ego inflates, as far as the spiritual dimensions of Israel.

And so they silenced the call of gods who tell us what we want to hear, whose service is thinly disguised feeding of one’s ego. “We do not want him, nor do we want the reward.” No struggle to keep one’s voice in check meant no one developing the skills necessary for prophecy. No more overt national miracles.

Even prayer changed. As R’ JB Soloveitchik writes in Lonely Man of Faith, “Prayer is the continuation of prophecy . . . . While within the prophetic community God takes the initiative — He speaks and man listens — in the prayer community the initiative belongs to man.”

Man, in taking the initiative climbed out from under the mountain.

“And they [Bnei Yisrael] stood under the mountain [Sinai]” (Shemos 19) — R. Avdimi bar Chama bar Chisda said, “This teaches that HaQadosh Baruch Hu flipped the mountain [Sinai] over them [Bnei Yisrael], like a barrel, and said, ‘If you accept the Torah, good, and if not, there will be your graves.’”

Acha bar Yaakov said, “This provides a major complaint against the Torah.” Rava said, “Even so, the [whole] generation accepted it in the days of Achashveiros. For it says ((Esther 9)), “the Jews fulfilled and accepted”, they fulfilled that which they had already accepted.8

Purim, the holiday of apparent happenstance, is reflective of this new changed life.

And on Purim, our entire national identity shifted. In the book of Esther, we are no longer called “Benei Yisrael”, the children of the one the angel named “יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃ — for you have battled with powers and with people and succeeded.”9 “אִ֣ישׁ יְהוּדִ֔י הָיָ֖ה בְּשׁוּשַׁ֣ן הַבִּירָ֑ה וּשְׁמ֣וֹ מָרְדֳּכַ֗י בֶּ֣ן יָאִ֧יר בֶּן־שִׁמְעִ֛י בֶּן־קִ֖ישׁ אִ֥ישׁ יְמִינִֽי׃ — A Jewish man was in Shushan the capital, and his name was Mordachai the son of Ya’ir, the son of Shim’i, the son of Qish, a man of [the tribe of Ben-] Yamin.”10 We are not Yehudim, Jews, after the dominant remaining tribe, who was named because “הַפַּ֙עַם֙ אוֹדֶ֣ה אֶת ה — this time I will thank / acknowledge G-d.” The focus is no longer on the struggle to encounter G-d, but the accepting His presence within our limited ability to do so.

And, after all, as Yaaqov blessed his son, “גּוּר אַרְיֵה יְהוּדָה — Yehudah is a lion cub.”11

  1. Nechemiah 9:4. The gemara’s quote is corrected here to match verse. The standard text reads “ויצעקו אל ה’ אלקים בקול גדול”. []
  2. Zechariah 5:8 []
  3. Yoma 69b, Sanhedrin 64a []
  4. 1:6 []
  5. Shemos 3:2-4 []
  6. Bamidbar 12:3 []
  7. Sukkah 52a []
  8. Shabbos 88b []
  9. Bereishis 32:29 []
  10. Esther 2:5 []
  11. Bereishis 49:9 []

Why Chumash Has Subtly Different Duplications

The Arukh HaShulchan (OC 431:21) writes:

…והנה לדינא: חמץ ושאור – הכל אחד, שהרי מצינו שני פסוקים המתחילים ב”שאור” ומסיימים ב”חמץ”, דכתיב: “[שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ] אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם [כִּי כָּל אֹכֵל חָמֵץ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן עַד יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי.]” וכתיב: “שִׁבְעַת יָמִים שְׂאֹר לֹא יִמָּצֵא בְּבָתֵּיכֶם כִּי כָּל אֹכֵל מַחְמֶצֶת [וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעֲדַת יִשְׂרָאֵל בַּגֵּר וּבְאֶזְרַח הָאָרֶץ.]”
הרי שדין אחד להם, ואצטריכו תרווייהו דמחמץ לא ידענו שאור, שאינו ראוי לאכילה, ולכן על אכילה כתיב “חמץ” ולא “שאור”. ומ”שאור” לא ידענו חמץ, מפני שחימוצו קשה, וראוי לחמץ בו גם עיסות אחרות, מה שאין כן בחמץ. וכך דרשו במכילתא, והביאו רש”י בחומש שם על פסוק ד”לא ימצא בבתיכם”, עיין שם.

… And for [practical] law: Chameitz and se’or (leavened dough and leavening agents like sourdough starter) are all one. For we find two verses that begin with “se’or” and end with “chameitz“.

  1. As it is written, “… but on the first day you shall take a break from all se’or in your home [for whomever eats chameitz]…” (Shemos 12:15)
  2. And it is written, “Seven days no se’or should be found in your home, for whomever eats leavening [that soul would be cut off from the Congregation of Israel, whether a convert or a native of the land].” (v. 19)

Behold they have one law, and we need both because from chameitz we couldn’t know se’or, because se’or isn’t edible. Which is why when it comes to eating it says “chameitz” and not “se’or”. And from se’or we couldn’t know chameitz because it’s leavened to hardness and is capable of leavening other doughs, which isn’t true of chameitz. And so they darshened in the Mechilta, and Rashi brings it down in the chumash there on the verse “do not find in your homes. See there.

There is only one law for both chameitz and se’or. The Torah mentions se’or because otherwise I would only be able to deduce that foods are prohibited. In reality, a sourdough that is edible only to dogs but not people is also se’or and therefore still prohibited. And the Torah mentions chameitz because otherwise I might think it only applies to very leavened things, and not regular dough which is still edible and can’t be used as started for other doughs.

After explaining Chazal’s derashah, the Arukh haShulchan continues (se’if 22) by proposing explanations for the other textual differences between the pesuqim:

וטעם השינוים: נראה לעניות דעתי דהנה בגמרא (ה ב) ילפינן “בתים” מ”גבולין” ו”גבולין” מ”בתים”, עיין שם. וקרא דשאור “לא ימצא בבתיכם” – דרשינן שם לחמצו של אינו יהודי שהפקידו ביד ישראל, והישראל קיבל עליו אחריות, שעובר ב”בל יראה” ו”בל ימצא”, עיין שם. ולכן לא כתיב “לך”, דאפילו אינו שלך – הוי כשלך. ולכן כתיב “בבתיכם”, דדרך הפקדון להפקיד בבית, במקום השמור. ולכן כתיב “לא ימצא” ולא כתיב “ולא יראה”, משום דדרך הפקדון להצניעו במקום שאינו נראה לעין.
ולכן כתיב “שאור”, משום דלחם חמץ שנצרך לאכילה – אין דרך להפקידו ביד אחרים, מה שאין כן שאור. ושלא לטעות דאיסור “בל יראה” ו”בל ימצא” אינו אלא בבתים, ולא בגבולין, לכן כתיב: “ולא יראה לך… בכל גבולך”.
כלומר: אם הוא שלך – אסור לא לבד בבתיכם, אלא בכל מקום גבולך, באיזה מקום שהוא. ושלך אי אתה רואה, אבל אתה רואה של אחרים ושל גבוה – אפילו בבתיכם, אם לא קבלת אחריות. דלמדנו זה מזה. ושלא תאמר: דדוקא בראייה תליא מילתא, להכי כתיב “לא ימצא” – דאפילו אין אתה רואה, אלא הוא מצוי בגבולך, אתה עובר.
ובדין אין חילוק בין חמץ לשאור, ובין בתים לגבולים, והכל אחד. ודיני פקדון יתבאר בסימן תמ בסייעתא דשמיא.
(ובזה ביארה התורה כל הדינים של איסור חמץ. ולכן ב”משפטים” ו”כי תשא” וב”אמור” שהזכירה המועדים – לא הזכירה ענין חמץ כלל. ורק במשנה תורה, שהיא חזרת הדינים, כתבה בקיצור בסוף “ראה”: “לא תאכל עליו חמץ, ולא יראה לך שאור”, והזכירה שניהם, ואיסור אכילה ואיסור “בל יראה”. וזה שבגמרא ובמכילתא הקדימו “לא יראה” קודם “לא ימצא”, אף שלא ימצא כתיב קודם, אך זהו דרך לא זו אף זו: “לא יראה” אפילו “לא ימצא”. ובזה בארנו בסייעתא דשמיא כל דיני בל יראה. ודייק ותמצא קל.)

And the reasons for the differences:

It seems to my poor intellect that behold the gemara (Pesachim 5b) derives “homes” from [within one’s] “borders” and “borders” from “homes”, see there.

The verse about se’or “should not be found in your homes” [v. 19] — they expound there as about the chameitz of a non-Jew which was left as collateral [or the like] in the control of a Jew and the Jew accepts responsibility on it. He violoates “bal yeira’eh” and “bal yeimazei” (“do not have visible” and “do not allow to be found”), see there. Therefore:

  1. it is not written [in v. 19] “lekha — for you”. Even if it is not yours, it is as though it’s yours.
  2. And it says “in your homes” because it is the way of collateral to be set aside in the house, in someplace secure.
  3. So too it says “lo yimatzei” and not “lo yeira’eh“, because the normal way of a collateral to hide it in a place where it isn’t seen to the eye.
  4. And so too it says “se’or“, because chameitz bread which is needed for eating is not usually left as collateral in the hands of others. Unlike se’or.

So that there is no error that the prohibition of “bal yeira’eh” and “bal yeimatzei” only applied to homes and not [other areas inside your] borders, it therefore says “do not leave to be seen for yourself .. within all your borders.” That is to say, if it is yours, it is prohibited not only in your homes but in any area in your borders, wherever it may be. And if it is yours you may not see it, but you can see others’ [chameitz and se’or] of of On High’s [i.e. sanctified], even in your homes — if and only if you didn’t accept responsibility for it. For we learn one from the other.

So that you should not say that the matter depends on sight [i.e. that unseen chameitz is okay] for this it says “lo yimatzei — do not allow to be seen” [even in potential]. Even if you do not look and see, if it can be found in your borders, you are in violation.

And in law there is no distinction between chameitz and se’or, or between homes and [within one’s] borders, it is all one. And the laws of collateral will be explained in sec. 440, with [the One in] heaven’s help.

Notice how cleanly the verses reflect the meanings assigned to them in the derashah, even beyond the limits of the difference the derashah itself addressed.

How someone can point to such repetitions and differences in style as being better explained as the results of redaction from multiple texts is beyond me. But for someone who kept Pesach based largely on these and similarly derived laws and found it meaningful to think that their practice is consistent with such explanations is totally inexplicable.

Why the Altar?

It makes a lot of sense that the first mitzvos the Torah teaches after the Aseres haDiberos would be the interpersonal mitzvos of parashas Mishpatim. And many rabbis have given sermons on this point. The only problem is — they aren’t. There is this brief interlude between the description of the national revelation and Mishpatim (20:18-22):

יח וַיֹּאמֶר ה’ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אַתֶּם רְאִיתֶם כִּי מִן הַשָּׁמַיִם, דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם. יט לֹא תַעֲשׂוּן אִתִּי אֱלֹהֵי כֶסֶף וֵאלֹהֵי זָהָב, לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ לָכֶם. כ מִזְבַּח אֲדָמָה תַּעֲשֶׂה-לִּי, וְזָבַחְתָּ עָלָיו אֶת-עֹלֹתֶיךָ וְאֶת-שְׁלָמֶיךָ, אֶת-צֹאנְךָ וְאֶת-בְּקָרֶךָ, בְּכָל הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר אַזְכִּיר אֶת-שְׁמִי, אָבוֹא אֵלֶיךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּיךָ. כא וְאִם-מִזְבַּח אֲבָנִים תַּעֲשֶׂה לִּי, לֹא תִבְנֶה אֶתְהֶן גָּזִית: כִּי חַרְבְּךָ הֵנַפְתָּ עָלֶיהָ, וַתְּחַלְלֶהָ. כב וְלֹא תַעֲלֶה בְמַעֲלֹת עַל-מִזְבְּחִי, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִגָּלֶה עֶרְוָתְךָ, עָלָיו.

18 Hashem said to Moshe, this is what you should tell Benei Yisrael:

You saw that from the heavens I spoke with you. 19 Do not make alongside me gods of gold, and gods of silver do not make for yourselves. 20 An altar of dirt you should make for me, and sacrifice upon it your burnt offerings and peace offerings, your flocks and your cattle — in any place where I will make a memorial to My reputation, I will come to you and bless you.

21 And if you make for me an altar of stones, do not make them hewn, for you have lifted your sword against it and profaned it.

22 And do not go up upon steps on my altar, so that should shall not reveal your nakedness upon it.

Why is it the altar, and why specifically these mitzvos related to the altar, that warrant first mention after the Aseres haDiberos?

Aside from the obligation of how to build the altar itself, three other laws are relayed in this description of the mizbeiach:

  1. Do not make with Me gods of gold and gods of silver
  2. … [D]o not make them hewn, for you have lifted your sword against it and profaned it.
  3. And do not go up upon steps on my altar, so that should shall not reveal your nakedness…

Notice that these are references to the three sins that we are obligated “yeihareig ve’al ya’avor – one must be martyred rather than violate” – avodah zarah, shefichas damim vegilui arayos – idolatry, bloodshed and sexual immorality [literally: revealing nakedness]. Each of these mitzvos takes an ax to one of the pillars upon which the world stands. As I posted a number of years ago:

The three pillars upon which the world stands as described by Shim’on haTzadiq (Avos 1:2) are Torah, Avodah and Gemillus Chassadim. The Maharal (Derech haChaim ad loc) writes that this is in turn because man lives in three worlds: this one, in which he interacts with other people, the world of his mind, and heaven, which gives him a connection to G-d.

Therefore, the g-dly tanna writes that one pillar that the universe stands upon is the Torah, for the pillar completes man so that he can be a finished creation with respect to himself.
After that he says “on avodah”…. For from this man can be thought complete and good toward He Who created him — by serving Him….
With regard to the third, it is necessary for man to be complete and good with others, and that is through gemillus chassadim.
You also must understand that these three pillars parallel three things in each man: the mind, the living soul, and the body. None of them have existence without G-d. The existence of the soul is when it comes close to Hashem by serving Him…. From the perspective of the mind, the man gets his existence through Torah, for it is through the Torah that man attaches himself to G-d. To the body, man gets his existence through gemillus chassadim for the body has no closeness or attachment to Hashem, just that Hashem is kind to all. When man performs kindness G-d is kind to him, and so gives him existence.

There are three relationships around which the Torah is structured: self-refinement, closeness to G-d, and loving-kindness toward other people. The altar here is being described in those cosmic terms, requiring attention to purity on all three levels.

Immediately after the singular event of their national revelation from G-d, Hashem continues by emphasizing that the religious experience does not stand alone. It is not an escape from “daily reality”, but part of a life-long process of self-refinement. A prelude to the interpersonal laws of parashas Mishpatim.

There is a lesson here in the burial of these fundamentals among the laws of building a mizbeiach.

One week someone sponsored bringing a famous Carlebach-style singer to serve as chazan in our shul for a Shabbos, as well as have kumzitz-style experiences at communal Shabbos meals, havdalah and melaveh malkah. The energy was high. We really felt moved.

But one thing I noticed: between the songs and the dancing, people were talking during davening about how great it all was. The energy was so strong, it was hard to harness and guide correctly.

What is a qorban? In Chassidic terms, it’s “feerin tish” with the Aibishter — sitting at the Almighty’s “table”, “breaking bread” with Him. It is the ultimate religious passionate experience. The word qorban itself refers to the emotional closeness it both expresses and generates.

The pasuq mixes the introduction to sacrifices with the most fundamental laws of Judaism — laws that speak to the very basics of our relationships with Hashem, other people, and mastery of ourselves. The Torah makes it clear that our spiritual experiences must come from halakhah, not despite it.

An Altar of Earth

We just looked at the section on the mizbeiach as being more about the role of the religious rite in a life of Torah. We don’t offer qorbanos — or daven, or shake lulav and esrog or… —  to rertreat from the world and find solace with G-d, but as part of our engagement with the world, a life-long process of self-refinement.

There are two comments by Rashi on this section that each offer a pair of perspectives on the question they address:

כי מן השמים דברתי: וכתוב אחד אומר “וירד ה’ על הר סיני” בא הכתוב השלישי והכריע ביניהם (דברים ד) מן השמים השמיעך את קולו ליסרך ועל הארץ הראך את אשו הגדולה כבודו בשמים ואשו וגבורתו על הארץ (מכילתא) ד”א הרכין שמים ושמי השמים והציען על ההר וכן הוא אומר (תהלים יח) ויט שמים וירד

From the heavens I spoke to you: And one verse says “Hashem ‘descended’ onto Mount Sinai”. A third verse comes and decides between them — “from heaven He let you hear his ‘voice, and upon the earth he showed you His great fire in heaven and his fire and might on the earth”. (Mekhilta)

Another thought: He stretched out the heavens and the heavens of heavens, and extended them onto the mountain. And so it says “He extended the heaven and ‘descended’.”

How do we picture the revelation at Sinai? Did Hashem “come down to earth” or did we get a glimpse of heaven? The Mekhilta suggests the latter. But Rashi also offers a second opinion — that heavens were stretched down until heaven and earth coincided at Sinai.

מזבח אדמה: מחובר באדמה שלא יבננו על גבי עמודים או על גבי כיפים (נ”א בסיס) (מכילתא) ד”א שהיה ממלא את חלל מזבח הנחשת אדמה בשעת חנייתן

An altar of earth: Attached to the earth. That you should not build it upon pillars or domes [another variant: or atop a foundation]. (Mekhilta)

Another thought: That you filled the hollow of the bronze altar [of the Mishkan] at the times they camped.

Two understandings of what an “altar of earth” would mean: either an altar that must be on or attached to the earth, or a reference to the earth that filled the mizbeiach of the Mishkan.

It is possible the two comments are two reflections of the same dispute. Note that both offer one opinion by the Mekhilta and then a second interpretation. For this to be true, we would have to view the concept of mizbeiach as a recreation of Sinai. Which would explain why this mitzvah in particular is explained in relation to the three pillars upon which the world stands. The mizbeiach is not only the place of worship, it is also the reconnection to the revelation of how to perfect the three classes of relationships in our lives.

The Mekhilta views Sinai as a glimpse of heaven from down here on earth. And so the altar of earth is one placed firmly on the ground. The gap between heaven and earth must be clear — as is the wondrousness of being able to experience Hashem across it.

In Rashi’s other opinion, heaven and earth met at Sinai. Therefore the recreation of it at the altar is when we take Hashem’s altar and fill it with earth.

Parashas Naso opens with a discussion of oaths and vows. The Torah writes, “A man, when he makes a neider LaShem [oath to HaShem], or gives a shevu’ah [vow] to prohibit something al nafsho [on his living soul].” (30:3)

It is a fundamental principle of Torah study that not a single word is wasted. So, while this pasuq appears repetitious, it isn’t. There must be some subtle distinction between a neider to Hashem and a shevu’ah on one’s nefesh.

The gemara (Nedarim 2b) describes a neider as “when he prohibits an object to himself.” It changes the state of the object, or in Brisker jargon, the cheftza. A shevu’ah, however, is “when he prohibits himself from an object” (ibid). Here, it is the gavra, the individual, who is affected.

For example, if a person were to say, “This thing shall be a qorban for me,” it would be a neider. With his words, he is sanctifying the object, and thereby prohibiting it to everyone. On the other hand, if he were to say, “I will not eat this thing,” he made a shevu’ah. He changed himself, by giving himself a new prohibition. To the rest of the world, the animal may be eaten.

As I already mentioned, the distinction between gavra and cheftza is used frequently in Brisker lomdus. For example, is the gavra exempt from sitting in a sukkah in the rain (or any other circumstance one wouldn’t stay at home through) , or is the cheftza of the booth not technically a sukkah when it’s not in a condition that you would live in? The difference would be whether one accomplishes anything by sitting in a sukkah the first night of Sukkos. If the rain exempts the gavra, then one is fulfilling a non-obligatory mitzvah. A beraskhah would be appropriate, and someone who doesn’t want to miss out on the mitzvah may wait up until midnight in case the rain stops, and sit in the rain for qiddush and hamotzi if it does not. Whereas, if the rain turns the cheftza into a non-sukkah, then the act of sitting in the rain is empty.

With this dialectic between bringing heaven down to earth vs. elevating this world up to heaven, we can get a philosophical perspective on the gavracheftza divide. A neider, or any other obligation on the gavra, takes the angle of improving the self. Admittedly not bringing heaven here, but still — improving the one charged with following Hashem’s Torah and Moral Law in this world. The Sinai revelation as “from heaven I spoke to you“. When we speak of obligations on the chefza we talk about changing the world, elevating it. An altar made of the earth, Mt. Sinai as unifying earth and heaven.

Two Kinds of Time and Shabbos

We say in the Friday night Amidah:

אַתָּה קִדַּשְׂתָּ אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי לִשְׁמֶךָ, תַּכְלִית מַעֲשֶׂה שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ, וּבֵרַכְתּוֹ מִכָּל הַיָּמִים, וְקִדַּשְׁתּוֹ מִכָּל הַזְּמַנִּים, וְכֵן כָּתוּב בְּתוֹרָתֶךָ: וַיְכֻלּוּ…

You sanctified the seventh day for Your Sake, the culmination of the making of heaven and earth,

and You blessed it from all the days

and You sanctified it from all the times.

And so it says in Your Torah, “And He culminated…”

So, trying to think about what I’m saying, I started wondering about the near-repetition. Presumably the value of sharing the concept as a couplet is because each shines light on a different nuance of the same idea. Why is beirakhto the more appropriate verb for Shabbos as a yom, and qidashto the right verb for Shabbos as a special time? Why is a day blessed, but a time sanctified?

Around 10 years ago, on parashas Miqeitz, I contrasted the cyclic and linear views of time. Much of this thought is a development on that theme, so here is some extensive quoting:

The parashah opens “Vayhi mikeitz sh’nasayim yamim — and it was at the end of a pair of years of days”….

This duplication of terms for time is echoed in next week’s parashah, when Ya’akov describes his age to Par’oh as “The days of the years of my travels…” as well as at the beginning of parashas Vayechi, in counting out Ya’akov avinu’s lifespan, “… And the days of Ya’akov was, the years of his life…”


Most ancient societies viewed time as cyclic. Among the motivations suggested for the building of the Tower of Bavel was the fear that the flood was part of a 1,656-year cycle, and they would need to prepare for a second flood.

The position is understandable. Plato concludes that since our means of measuring time was the cyclic movement of astronomical objects so must the time they define be cyclic. The month and its cycle of phases, the year and its cycle of seasons define a cycle of time. The seasonal cycle also shapes the farmer’s lifestyle into cycles. Time cannot be measured without a predictable repetition of events, be it the falling of grains of sand, the swing of a pendulum, the escapement of a clock, the vibration of a quartz crystal or the waves of light emitted by cesium atoms.


This mindset is alien to modern man. The contemporary western view of time is linear, a dimension — a progress from the primitive to the advanced. This notion that history progresses comes from Judaism, from our view of time as running from First Cause to Ultimate Purpose, a history spanning from Adam to the Messianic Era and beyond. … Linear time gives us a view of man in which he can redeem himself; he is not doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over. On the other hand, Judaism simultaneously embraces a cyclic view of time. As the Hagaddah phrases the purpose of the seder, “A person is obligated to see himself as though he himself came out of Egypt.” Every Shavuos we are to accept the Torah anew. Our holidays not only repeat the cycle of the Exodus, they are tied to agricultural events and thereby the cycle of seasons. The holiday is both reliving the Sukkos of the desert as well as celebrating bringing in our crops.


… “Yom” represents a unit of progress. It is a unit of linear time, a progress from birth to death. The culmination of history is notably called “acharis hayamim” and in the navi, “yom Hashem”.

In contrast, “shanah” is from the same root as “two”, “to repeat”, “to learn”, or “to change”,….


R’ Aharon Kotler zt”l commented to a student on the occasion of the birth of the student’s son about the phrase “The bris should be be’ito ubizmano”, using both “eis” and “z’man” to denote its proper time. Rav Aharon explained the difference. If the baby is healthy, then the bris is at the pre-decided time, on the eighth day. If not, then it will be at the right time for that individual baby. Ideally the bris would be at both.

A z’man is a time that comes according to a pre-scheduled appointment, ready or not. It is a point in a shanah, in cyclic time that runs its celestial heartbeat regardless of human action. And so, the repeat of the exodus is “Z’man Cheiruseinu”, our time of freedom. An eis is a landmark in the course of progression. And so, one is “kovei’ah ittim baTorah”, one sets aside times for Torah.

So when call Shabbos a “yom“, we are emphasizing what new it brings to the world. It therefore makes sense to speak in terms of berakhah. “Berakhah is a term denoting increase”.

But when we call Shabbos a “zeman”, we aren’t speaking of its place in linear time, but Shabbos as a point in the cycle. Rather than speaking of progress, zemanim speak of reinforcing and rededicating what we already have. Returning back to that post on Miqeitz:

Shanah speaks of a retreat. A person can actively embrace that retreat, use it as a chance to build on what one already has. Or, it can be a time when he simply is a victim of circumstance.

While there is a need for progress, there is also a need to step back, to review, to develop the idea into something we can incorporate within ourselves and can use as a basis for future growth. It can be a time to regain a balance between technological progress and one’s basic humanity and values. If he embraces and uses the time, then he has achieved productive review, “years of days”.

So, Shabbos as a zeman, as a feature of the Shanah, is about sanctification, qedushah.

My principal my last year of High School, R/Dr Nachman Cohen, once said “Shabbos is an island in time which is the eternal present.” But in truth, it’s an island in both kinds of time. Shabbos is when we find spiritual focus to bless the progress of the week to come with meaning, and sanctify that which we already have.

Shaarei Yosher Meaning of Life Poster

Shaarei Yosher Mission

If you would like this picture as a PDF to print for hanging in a school, shul or home, it is available here.

We often complain that  we spend so much time on the halachic trees, we lose sight of the forest. I hope someone finds this reminder helpful.

Seiver Panim Yafos

שַׁמַּאי אוֹמֵר, עֲשֵׂה תוֹרָתְךָ קֶבַע. אֱמוֹר מְעַט וַעֲשֵׂה הַרְבֵּה, וֶהֱוֵי מְקַבֵּל אֶת כָּל הָאָדָם בְּסֵבֶר פָּנִים יָפוֹת:

Shammai would say:

Make your Torah a fixture [of your day].

Speak little and do much.

And be accepting of all people with a pleasant facial expression.

– Pirqei Avos 1:15

Rav Yisrael Salanter says that we do not own the right to walk around with a grumpy expression. A smile is infectious, and therefore our smiles are not entirely our own, they impact the mood of everyone in our environment.

23 years ago, on the first day of chol hamo’ed Sukkos, Siggy gave birth to a little girl we named “Aliza Kayla”, for two beloved great-aunts.

The typical infant (if there were such a thing) learns to smile socially at around 6 to 8 weeks.

23 years ago, today, the 4th of Teves, I had a hard day at work, and my day was ending early. Siggy was putting Kayli to sleep, but I asked to hold her first and say good night. And as I played with her, I smiled and Kayli smiled back to me. For the first time.

Kayli never woke up that night. It seemed to me her soul might have been brought down to earth just to learn how to share a smile.

So how could I be stingy with mine?

עליזה קיילא בת מיכה שמואל

The Baal Teshuvah and the Tzadiq

I commented on Gratitude:

What does “todah” mean? As it stands, it means “thanks”. The same root conjugated as “vidui” means to “confess”. Last, when the mishnah wants to stress that something is outside of a dispute, “hakol modim” — “all agree”. What do thanks, confession and agreement have in common?

When I thank someone, I acknowledge his actions had an impact on me. When I confess, I am admitting that my actions had an impact on him. And when we are modim, we realize that an idea isn’t mine or yours, but ours. The point in common in the three uses of the root is a realization of connectedness.

Yehudah was named for hoda’ah with more of a connotation of gratitude:

תַּהַר עוֹד וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן, וַתֹּאמֶר “הַפַּעַם אוֹדֶה אֶת ה׳”; עַל כֵּן קָרְאָה שְׁמוֹ “יְהוּדָה”; וַתַּעֲמֹד מִלֶּדֶת.

And [Leah] became pregnant again, and said “This time I will thank [odeh] Hashem”; therefore she called his name “Yehudah”; and she finished birthing children.

Bereishis 29:35

And yet, Yehudah may be most noted for his readiness to do teshuvah and confess his mistakes — the vidui sense of the root for which he was named. Tamar held out his signet ring, cords and staff, and identified Yehudah to himself as the one who had gotten her pregnant, while still keeping his guilt a secret from others. Yehudah, however, confesses his guilt — and her innocence — in public.

וַיַּכֵּר יְהוּדָה, וַיֹּאמֶר “צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי! כִּי עַל כֵּן לֹא נְתַתִּיהָ לְשֵׁלָה בְנִי, וְלֹא יָסַף עוֹד לְדַעְתָּה.”

And Yehudah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than me! Because I didn’t give her to Sheilah my son, and I did not allow anyone else to know here.”

Bereishis 38:26

The gemara [Makkos 11b] merits this example as teaching Reuvein the art of confession. A merit that Moshe hints at in his blessing in veZos haBerakhah (33:6-7), ” יְחִי רְאוּבֵן וְאַל יָמֹת, וִיהִי מְתָיו מִסְפָּר. וְזֹאת לִיהוּדָה…. — Let Re’uvein live and not perish, that his number not become few. And this is for Yehudah…” Phrasing the opening of Yehudah’s blessing so that it can also be heard as referring back — “and this” Re’uvein’s blessing “is for Yehudah…”

Yehudah’s path in Torah observance, for which his tribe is named, the Kingdom of Judea (Malkhus Yehudah) was named, and for which we today are called “Jews” is as much about the centrality of gratitude as the importance of confession

The story of Yehudah and Tamar (ch. 38) is adjacent to that of Yosef’s servitude in Potiphar’s home, and his resisting Potiphar’s wife’s attempt to seduce him (ch. 39). This placement invites us to compare and/or contrast the two stories. Yehudah succumbs to temptation, but confesses and repents, becomes an exemplar of a ba’al teshuvah. Yosef is tested and stands up to the challenge, and the Zohar states (1:194b) it is for this that Chazal call him “Yosef haTzadiq“.

Both rise to royalty. Yosef, in the house of Par’oh, and in his eventual descendent, the mashiach beis Yoseif who is destined to lead the war against Gog uMagog, and fall in battle. But it is Yehudah from whom the Jewish People’s true royal house descends, and from whom the mashiach who brings world peace will be born. Perhaps it is an example of Rav Avahu’s famous words (Berakhos 34b):

דאמר רבי אבהו: מקום שבעלי תשובה עומדין – צדיקים גמורים אינם עומדין, שנאמר: (ישעיהו נז:יט) “שָׁלוֹם שָׁלוֹם לָרָחוֹק וְלַקָּרוֹב” — “לָרָחוֹק” ברישא, והדר “לַקָּרוֹב”.

… As Rabi Avahu said, “In the place where baalei teshuvah stand — the fully righteous cannot stand. As it says “Peace, peace, to those who are afar, and those who are near.” (Yeshaiah 57:19). “To those who are afar” — initially, and after, “to those who are near.”

Yehudah’s progeny are not only given a position Yosef’s family is not as suited to fill, but it is the matter of war vs peace that distinguishes the two mashiachs — as per the pasuq Rav Avahu quotes — “Peace, peace, to those who start out afar, and come near!”

Desire and Will

A gett must be given willingly, and for the past 1,100 years (among Ashkenazim, eventually reaching Sepharadim as well) received willingly as well. However, when a husband is obligated to dissolve the marriage, beis din is authorized to compel him using excommunication, economic sanctions, prison and even corporeal punishment as necessary. Today in Israel, the batei din for divorce are empowered to imprison people for this reason, and in a few more extreme cases, even to have the husband put in solitary confinement until he authorizes a gett for his wife.

Is this really willingly?

The Rambam explains it as follows (Hilkhos Geirushin 2:20):

מי שהדין נותן שכופין אותו לגרש את אשתו, ולא רצה לגרש – בית דין של ישראל בכל מקום ובכל זמן, מכין אותו עד שיאמר, רוצה אני; ויכתוב הגט, והוא גט כשר. וכן אם הכוהו גויים ואמרו לו, עשה מה שישראל אומרין לך, ולחצו אותו ישראל ביד הגויים, עד שגירש – הרי זה כשר; ואם הגויים מעצמן אנסוהו עד שכתב – הואיל והדין נותן שיכתוב, הרי זה גט פסול.

ולמה לא בטיל גט זה – שהרי הוא אנוס, בין ביד גויים בין ביד ישראל: שאין אומרין אנוס, אלא למי שנלחץ ונדחק לעשות דבר שאינו חייב מן התורה לעשותו, כגון מי שהוכה עד שמכר, או נתן; אבל מי שתקפו יצרו הרע לבטל מצוה, או לעשות עבירה, והוכה עד שעשה דבר שחייב לעשותו, או עד שנתרחק מדבר שאסור לעשותו – אין זה אנוס ממנו, אלא הוא אנס עצמו בדעתו הרעה.

לפיכך מי שאינו רוצה לגרש – מאחר שהוא רוצה להיות מישראל, רוצה הוא לעשות כל המצוות ולהתרחק מן העבירות; ויצרו הוא שתקפו. וכיון שהוכה עד שתשש יצרו ואמר, רוצה אני – כבר גירש לרצונו.

לא היה הדין נותן שכופין אותו לגרש, וטעו בית דין של ישראל, או שהיו הדיוטות, ואנסוהו עד שגירש – הרי זה גט פסול: הואיל וישראל אנסוהו, יגמור ויגרש. ואם הגויים אנסוהו לגרש שלא כדין, אינו גט; אף על פי שאמר בגויים, רוצה אני, ואמר לישראל, וכתבו וחתמו – הואיל ואין הדין מחייבו להוציא והגויים אנסוהו, אינו גט.

Someone who by law must give [a gett], we force him to divorce his wife. And if he doesn’t wish to divorce [her], a beis din of Jews [i.e. not a secular court] anywhere and at any time [in history] beat him until he says “rotzeh ani — I want”. Then you write a gett and the gett is valid…. And why is this gett not nullified, for it is compelled… We only say “compelled” about someone who is forced to do something that he is not obligated by the Torah to do. Such as someone who is beaten until he sells or gives [something]. But someone whose yeitzer hara overtakes him to ignore a mitzvah or do an avreirah, and is beaten until he does that which he is obligated to do, or aandones something that is prohibited to do — this is not compulsion…

Therefore, someone who does not wish to divorce, since he wants to be among Israel, he wants to do all the mitzvos and avoid the aveiros and it’s his yeitzer [hara] which overtakes him. And since he was hit until he silences his yeitzer and says “rotzeh ani”, he divorced accorsding to his ratzon.

The husband wants to do the right thing, because every Jew on some level wants to do the right thing. The problem is, he has other wants which — on their own or together — distract him from that. Since he won’t act on that desire on his own, it isn’t actionable in court. The compulsion isn’t to create a desire — that’s already there — it’s to get him to express it to the judges so that there is grounds to act on it. (Human courts, unlike the heavenly one, aren’t capable of reading minds.)

The failure to give the gett is similar in dynamic to (although far more extreme than) the person who has a desire to diet, but lacks the will to actually follow through and lose the weight.

The word ratzon has two meanings, much the way the word “want” does: there is the desire to do something, which — like in this case of the reluctant divorce — may be counterbalanced by other desires. Then there is will, the coordination of many desires until it becomes a goal that the person actually works toward.

Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (Bishvilei haRefu’ahvol. 5, Sivan 5742 [1982], pp. 57-90) has this description of how to coordinate middos and desires. (I have a translation of the entire section of the article in question, here.)

Middos and Intellect

What is this process of alienation? There isn’t any power in the soul which is specifically evil (Naftali Wessley, Sefer haMidos part I, ch. 4). Every power has some place in the World of Yedidus. Even egotism and anger are necessary sometimes. When you use each power in its proper place and time — it is good, and every force in the soul is necessary. However, in order to build the World of Yedidus, there has to be coordination of all the forces together, so that they work together in cooperation and a proper distribution of their duties.

The ruling power, which sets each of the other powers in their proper place, is the intellect, which is therefore the central power of yedidus in a person. (C.f. Kuzari, Rav Yehudah HaLeivi, 3:2 onward.) Without the rule of the intellect, there is no World of Yedidus. When any power from among the powers of the soul exceeds its boundaries and requires excessive satisfaction or even total control — this power alienates itself from the other powers and rebels against the intellect. This is where zarus begins, and that power thereby changes to become “evil.” This process is depicted in the Talmud quoted above with the example of anger. Elsewhere the Talmud depicts the same process of alienation with regard to sexual lust (which the Gemara describes as “[Rav said:] someone who intentionally stimulates himself [should be excommunicated. And why is it prohibited? Because he incites the evil inclination against himself.]” – Niddah 13b)

Free Will

Here we reach the question of free will. We explained that there is no power in a person that is specifically evil. We are able to use our powers to build the World of Yedidus, through the coordination of those powers by the intellect. The excessive use of one power or a rebellion against the intellect cause the destruction of the World of Yedidus. This choice is in the person’s hands, whether to choose yedidus or alienation. Indeed, he can choose.[1]

In the Talmud we find an example of this (Shabbos 156a): “A person born under the sign of Mars will be a person who sheds blood — a blood-letter, a thief, a ritual slaughterer [for meat] or a mohel.” A person cannot change the basic attribute, in this example — the inclination to shed blood. But this attribute can be used for good, and the spectrum of possibilities is broad: he could be a doctor, a slaughterer or a mohel. Only the thief who won’t flinch from murder uses his attribute in a manner of alienation. Here we have an example of an extreme inclination, and there is still nothing that compels a person to be evil because of it. He has the choice to use it for more beneficial ends.

For the sake of completeness, we will give a historical example from our Sages on this topic (Yalkut Shim’oni, Samuel I, 16:124):

When Samuel saw that David was “red,” he grew fearful. “This one will shed blood like Esau!” The Holy One said to him, “With beautiful eyes” — Esau killed by his own decision, but this one kills by the decision of the Sanhedrin!

In any case, there is a limit to choice; the basic inclination cannot be changed! In the above example, someone born with the inclination to shed blood cannot uproot this inclination. The only choice in his control is whether to use it for good or for evil, to build the World of Yedidus or to destroy it.[2]

Torah and Middos

Here the Torah comes to the aid of the intellect, to strengthen the person to choose good….

I would liken Rav Wolbe’s message to an orchestra. The intellect is the conductor, whose job it is to make sure that each instrument comes in at the right time and with the right tempo. Over in the back we can see temper, playing the tympani, on the left,  empathy is on the first violin and sadness is over there on the left, among the oboes and bassoons. Joy is behind them on the trumpets. Each middah has its role, and through the intellect they are coordinated into a harmonious whole.   One can make beautiful music with just one violin, but in a symphony it combines with all the other instruments to make something far richer.

The intellect is the conductor, the Torah — his sheet music. (Sadly, it is possible to have the sheet music, and never pick up the baton.) And while the Torah tells us what music should be played, the conductor has room within that for his own interpretation.

It take intellect and a measure of self-mastery to turn a set of conflicting desires into a will, a bunch of musicians playing their own tunes into a symphonic orchestra.

One desire among many can be acted upon or not, but when the soul is coordinated in the pursuit of a spiritual goal, one can see the true measure of human will.


Rabbi R Yitzchak Eisenman recently wrote a “Short Vortessay that asked:

Many of us recall with horror the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School which occurred almost two years ago….

What ever happened to Sandy Hook Elementary School?
Is there a memorial somewhere in the school?
Are children still learning the ‘three R’s’ there?

No, there are no children learning at Sandy Hook; indeed, the building no longer exists.

Construction crews completely demolish former Sandy Hook Elementary School, 01/02/14 02:30 PM-By Michele Richinick MSNBC…


Compare this fact with what happened at the Shul in Har Nof where a week ago today we awoke to the news of the horrific massacre.

Mispallelim Return to Har Nof Shul to Daven Shacharis 24 Hours After Massacre, Wednesday November 19, 2014 6:40am, Matzva.com


Why the difference?
Why the need to return to the Shul the next day while in Sandy Hook there was a need to “completely demolish” the building?


Perhaps the reason is simple.
Often when terrible things occur, the ‘normative’ human reaction is to repress and even erase the incident from the collective consciousness of the public.
Who wants to face and deal with horrific and evil acts?

Our mesorah teaches us not only to never forget the past, no matter how unpleasant it is; indeed, quite the opposite, we are implored to embrace the memory of the tragedy.
Only by dealing with the tragedy head-on can we attempt to learn some of the lessons from the horror and attempt to rectify ourselves and the situation for the future.


We do not erase buildings as if they never existed.
We do not raze the sights of mayhem and murder; we embrace them as vehicles and as reminders for constant improvement and for our own spiritual betterment.


We also state unequivocally that evil and its pumps can and never will deter us from doing what we know is correct.
The Har Nof Shul is not only a place not to be avoided, it is a place to be embraced; a place of where holiness resides even more so now than before and it is a privilege to be able to daven and learn there.


The Rambam instructs us to learn from all and Chazal have taught us “Chochma (wisdom) B’GoyimTaamin” (You should believe that there is wisdom among the nations of the world).


There is no doubt that one can apply this instruction of our sages to the wisdom of the Spanish Philosopher George Santayana (December 16, 1863 – September 26, 1952) who so insightfully stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

To me, the question reminded me of the explanation Rabbi Ephraim Becher once gave at a Mussar Kallah to the question new students of Mussar often ask: What is the difference between Mussar and Self Help?

Self Help is working on becoming the person you wish you were. Mussar is working on becoming the person the Torah tells us Hashem made you to be.

And Rabbi Becker said one of the fundamental pragmatic differences that arise from this distinction. We do not want impediments, problems, difficulties in our lives. So Self Help teaches someone how to avoid them, how to put them behind you. They may repeat the urban legend about how the Chinese word for “challenge” — 危机 wēijī — is a combination of the symbols for “danger” and “opportunity”. But that’s only for when you’re in the maelstrom, or when one is unavoidable. (Wēijī means something more like danger + crisis-point. While “opportunity does involve the root “jī”, it is a specific kind of jī, jīhuì 机会.) The general approach is to teach you how to avoid those crisis.

In contrast, in the rabbinic lexicon such problems are called yisurim, growth exercises. (There is a collection of primary sources about yisurim here, on the more authoritative Aspaklaria.) The Torah does not teach us to only accept life’s challenges when unavoidable. We aspire to embrace yisurim — except in the rare case we could find another route to the same growth. And so on Yom Kippur, after confessing, we ask Hashem “ומה שחטאתי לפניך] מחק\מרק ברחמיך הרבים, אבל לא על ידי יסורים וחליים רעים] — and that which I sinned [before You] erase in Your great Mercy, but not through the means of yisurim or terrible diseases.”

But the default is to accept them as guidance from the Almighty. While the following words do not help us understand the death of righteous people, perhaps this quote from Hallel (Tehillim 118:17-23) can help us relate to our own crisis of surviving them:

לֹא אָמוּת כִּי אֶחְיֶה וַאֲסַפֵּר מַעֲשֵׂי יָ-הּ.
יַסֹּר יִסְּרַנִּי יָּ-הּ וְלַמָּוֶת לֹא נְתָנָנִי.
פִּתְחוּ לִי שַׁעֲרֵי צֶדֶק אָבֹא בָם אוֹדֶה יָהּ.
זֶה הַשַּׁעַר לַה׳ צַדִּיקִים יָבֹאוּ בוֹ.
אוֹדְךָ כִּי עֲנִיתָנִי וַתְּהִי לִי לִישׁוּעָה.
אֶבֶן מָאֲסוּ הַבּוֹנִים הָיְתָה לְרֹאשׁ פִּנָּה.
מֵאֵת ה׳ הָיְתָה זֹּאת הִיא נִפְלָאת בְּעֵינֵינוּ.

I shall not die, for I will live and speak of the Acts of G-d.
G-d will surely try me with yisurim, but he hasn’t given me over to death.
They [the yisurim] open for me the gates of righteousness, I shall enter them, I shall praise G-d!
This is the gate to Hashem, the righteous will enter it.
I will thank you for you answered me, and it was a salvation.
The stone which the builders derided became the cornerstone.
This is from Hashem, it is amazing in our eyes!

There is no glory in suffering, until we utilize the yisurim to enter the gates (c.f. Rashi vv. 1819), to carve our “stone” to be better fit to serve His Temple. We praise Hashem for only answering us after we pass through the gate and the stone is accepted into His service.

We do not put the event behind us and move on, we sanctify our response to it and move up!

Tzadiq ben Rasha

וַיֶּעְתַּר יִצְחָק לַה לְנֹכַח אִשְׁתּוֹ כִּי עֲקָרָה הִוא וַיֵּעָתֶר לוֹ ה וַתַּהַר רִבְקָה אִשְׁתּוֹ

And Yitzchaq pleaded with Hashem opposite his wife, for she was sterile, and Hashem responded to his pleas, and Rivqa became pregnant.

Bereishis 25:21

“לנכח אשתו” – זה עומד בזוית זו ומתפלל וזו עומדת בזוית זו ומתפללת (יבמות סד.)
“ויעתר לו” – לו ולא לה שאין דומה תפלת צדיק בן צדיק לתפלת צדיק בן רשע לפיכך לו ולא לה

“Opposite his wife” — he stood in one corner and prayed, and she stood in another corner and prayed. (Yevamos 64a)

“And [Hashem] responded to him” — his and not hers. For there is no comparison between the prayer of a tzadiq ben tzadiq (a righteous person the child of a righteous person) to the prayer of a tzadiq ben rasha (a righteous person the child of someone evil). Therefore [the verse tells us] “his” [were responded to] and not “hers”.

– Rashi ad loc

If it were not for our tradition, a natural translation would have been that Yitzchaq prayed on behalf of his wife. However, Chazal tell us that “nokhach” here should be taken as “opposite” — they were praying in opposite corners of the room. Which then raises the question of why Hashem only responded to Yitzchaq and not Rivqa. And they answer that his is because the son of Avraham’s tefillos, those of a tzadiq ben tzadiq are incomparable to those of Rivqa’s, the daughter of Besu’el, the rasha.

And the simple take on this idea would be simply fiduciary — Yitzchaq has more merits in his spiritual “bank account” than Rivqa because he has an inheritence from Avraham. That makes his prayers incomparably superior, and that is why Hashem responded to him rather than Rivqa.

There is a problem with any implication that reward or punishment can be inherited, that one person gains or suffers for the deeds of another — even a parent. It lacks justice. We grapple with this problem in the 13 Middos haRachamim, “נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים … פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבוֹת עַל בָּנִים וְעַל בְּנֵי בָנִים עַל שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל רִבֵּעִים — He preserves lovingkindness for thousands [of generations]…. He remembers this sins of the parents on the children, on the grandchildren, and on the great-grandchildren.” And yet Yechezqeil (18:4) asserts “הֵן כָּל הַנְּפָשׁוֹת לִי הֵנָּה כְּנֶפֶשׁ הָאָב וּכְנֶפֶשׁ הַבֵּן לִי הֵנָּה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַחֹטֵאת הִיא תָמוּת — Behold all the souls are Mine, like the soul of the parents and the should of the child; it is the soul who sins that dies.” Children do not die for the sins of the parents. Chazal’s resolution is in accord with the words of the 10 Diberos (Shemos 20:4-5), “פֹּקֵד עֲו‍ֹן אָבֹת עַל בָּנִים עַל שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל רִבֵּעִים לְשֹׂנְאָי. וְעֹשֶׂה חֶסֶד לַאֲלָפִים לְאֹהֲבַי וּלְשֹׁמְרֵי מִצְו‍ֹתָי — I remember the sin of the parents on the children, the grandchildren, and on the great-grandchildren to those who hate Me. I act with Lovingkindness to thousands [of generations] to those who love Me and keep My mitzvos.” The descendants who get punished for the sins of their parents are those who continue on with those sins.

The (or at least “a”) point of it all is that even though the tinoq shenishba, the child kidnapped and raised by his captors, or anyone who sins as a product of their upbringing, isn’t fully culpable for their sin, Hashem will still punish them as necessary for their own improvement. It isn’t that the punishment is inherited from their parents acts, but that the broken attitude that needs correction could be passed down.

So it’s not speaking of punishment for the tzadiq ben rasha. 

It may be easier to analyze Yitzchaq in contrast to a different tzadiq ben rasha. There is far more material analyzing Avraham’s spiritual development than Rivqa’s. But Avraham, Terach the idol-maker’s son, is also a self-made person who grew despite his upbringing, rather than because of it.

Rav Elazar (Pesachim 88a) contrasts the way in which each of the forefathers encountered G-d. When Avraham encounters Moriah, he calls it “Har Hashem Yeira’eh — the Mountain Where Hashem Will be Seen” (Bereishis 22). Yitzchaq goes “lasuach basadeh — to pray in the field”, an entirely different perception of Moriah. Yaaqov later calls the name of the place “Beis E-l — the house of G-d”, yet a third way of seeing Moriah; Yaaqov encounters G-d in a home.

I’m setting aside Yaaqov for the moment, as he doesn’t relate to this particular contrast. See my post of 2006, “Parshas Vayeitzei: Mountain, Field, House” for a discussion of all three. Here I will just look at the mountain vs the field, and omit the home, the model of the synthesis.

Avraham, the tzadiq ben rasha, meets the Creator atop a mountain. Every step of the way is a climb, rising above his past. He starts with “lekh lekha — leave for yourself your homeland, your birthplace, your father’s home.” It’s a life of yisurim, 10 tests, each one a growth experience, an ascent.

In contrast, Yitzchaq’s biography in the Torah is quite short. And much of it is Yitzchaq following in his father’s footsteps. Returning to Gerar, re-digging the old wells. The tzadiq ben tzadiq doesn’t struggle to leave the past, his task is to nurture the legacy he was given. To water the plants of the field, care for them, so that they grow.

Notice that Chazal do not say that the tzadiq ben tzadiq‘s prayer is more likely to be answered “yes” because he is incomparably greater. There is no discussion of quantity. Just that they are incomparable.

I would suggest that the difference is the value of a “yes” or a “no” answer in each kind of life. Rivqa’s life is that of climbing a mountain; the skill a tzadiq ben rasha develops most is to fight and grow through adversity. When Rivqa makes a request of G-d, there is more value to her getting a “no” than there would be for Yitzchaq. Yitzchaq has zekhus avos, a seedling inherited from his father that he must tend to. Challenges are more likely to stifle that work. Thus a “yes” is more likely to be the correct response to the tzadiq ben tzadiq.

The difference isn’t “simply” fiduciary — that Hashem owes Avraham’s son. Nor is it “only” causal, that Avraham put forces into play that aid Yitzchaq. It is purposive; each person getting the life best suited to their life’s mission.

My Dream Synagogue

Here are things my dream Growth Oriented Shul would provide that normal shuls today do not:

  • Qiddush after leining, before mussaf, combined with a devar Torah or text learning. Our attention spans have shrunk. Rather than fight it, and ending up with people who come late, talk, walk out for Kiddush Club, we build the service around this limitation. It requires hitting the history books and finding out how the yeshivos in Lithuania did it when they broke for morning seder between leining and mussaf — there is ample halachic precedent.
  • Short vort before Barekhu on the meaning of the words of the upcoming davening. Have a new kavanah for some part of the siddur each week!
  • Chessed programming — something that involves some subset of the membership hands-on (not fundraising) in an at least weekly basis. Shuls provide both Torah and Avodah, why not be a full Judaism Center and provide opportunities for Gemilus Chassadim too? At least if the shul sponsors something, there is a different atmosphere about what a shul and Yahadus are.
  • Mussar Ve’adim — one for each gender, although given the Ahavas Yisrael Project‘s presence in Passaic, the men’s va’ad would be more critical. The idea isn’t just to have a chaburah in a mussar sefer, but to have a group that actually works together on their middos. (AishDas set up a few groups that meet weekly going through the ve’adim and doing the exercises in Alei Shur vol II.)
  • Along similar lines as the ve’adim — a Teshuvah Workshop with a wider audience every Elul. Speakers giving actual techniques for change. Rather than being all motivated and well intended, if we’re having a good year, on Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, but not having a strategy to actually get anywhere. (And then we wonder why our list of things to fix is the same year after year…)
  • The membership agreement would include an ethics and dina demalkhusa clauses. In the “Shomerei Shabbos” type shuls of 70 years ago, those who were fighting upstream to retain their Shabbos observance created a supporting atmosphere by creating synagogues in in which only shomerei Shabbos could retain full membership in the shul. We need something similar to shore up what’s weak in today’s observance.

    This is largely unenforceable, as we’re not going to have accountants check people’s books. But it combines with the chessed programming and the ve’adim. I realize both of those programs would in the real world be limited in population; but to the majority of the membership, they make a statement. There is secondary involvement — helping out once, donating money, just reading about it in the shul email — that make an impact on everyone, they set a culture. As would knowing this is in the by-laws / membership agreement.

The Time of Our Joy

Why is Sukkos called in our tefillos “zeman simchaseinu – the time of our joy“, or the Torah tell us at this holiday in particular “vehayisa akh sameich – you should only be happy” ? Why is simchah associated more with Sukkos than with Pesach or Shavu’os? If anything, I would have thought the reverse: we still have the peoplehood granted us on Pesach, and we still delve in the Torah given on Shavu’os. But the mun is gone, the cloud of glory that protected us have dissipated, Hashem’s guiding pillar of fire and smoke no longer shows us the way — nothing we commemorate on Sukkos is still in our hands. Yes, we can still get food, shelter and guidance from the natural means He gave us — but the same was true before the desert! Chag haAsif, Sukkos in its role as the holiday of gratitude, is also “Zeman Simchaseinu — our period of [greatest] joy” because only through being grateful can we handle being recipients with simchah.

Rav Shimon Shkop writes in his introduction:

In this way one can explain that which is said, “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” [Shabbos Morning Amidah] There is no joy in receiving a bit of wisdom unless he is a reliable servant who possesses nothing, that it is all his Master and Lord’s. Only then there is complete joy in acquiring wisdom. Without this [attitude] it is possible that there is no happiness in acquiring wisdom, for it through it he is capable of reaching heresy.ועל דרך זה יש לבאר האמור “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו”, היינו שאין לשמוח במתנת חלק החכמה, רק אם הוא עבד נאמן שחושב שהכל אינו שלו ורק לרבו ואדונו, אז שמחה שלמה בקנין החכמה, ולולא זאת אפשר שאין שמחה בקנין החכמה שעל ידי זה ח״ו יוכל להגיע לידי כפירה ח״ו,

We say in the Shabbos morning Amidah, “ישמח משה במתנת חלקו כי עבד נאמן קראת לו” which I translated here as “Moses will be joyous with the giving of his portion, because You called him a reliable servant.” There are two interesting elements with the grammar of this line.

While the siddur reminds us of Ben Zoma’s words in the mishnah:

… איזה הוא עשיר? השמח בחלקו. שנאמר “יְגִיעַ כַּפֶּיךָ כִּי תֹאכֵל, אַשְׁרֶיךָ וְטוֹב לָךְ.” (תהילים קכח,ב)

… Who is wealthy? One who is happy with his lot. As it says, “When you eat the labor of your hands, you are enriched and it is good for you.” (Tehillim 128:2)

there is a critical difference. Ben Zoma speaks of happiness “בחלקו — with his lot”, but the siddur talks of Moshe’s happiness “במתנת חלקו — with the giving of his lot”. People generally are happier with things they made themselves, which is even implied in Ben Zoma’s proof-text, which speaks of “the labor of your hands”. Moshe could have been happy with his portion without this second level, being happy with the fact that it was given. Moshe Rabbeinu could have emphasized his own role in the reception of what Hashem was even willing to call “Toras Moshe avdi — the Torah of Moses My servant”, but he did not.

And this is what we actually received on Sukkos. We may be living in houses, just as we did before the Exodus. And we may be receiving food and protection, just as we did before the Exodus. But now we experienced the fact that they were given. When we commit to work in partnership with Him, we can acknowledge that what we get is also from partnertship with Him. We connect with Hashem and others through reception, rather than being belittled by it.

Q&A: Whither Sarcasm?

The following is the inaugural article (October 2014 issue) in a new column in Yashar: the Newsletter of The Mussar Institute.

(Unlike Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, I wrote most of my piece before being told of the space limit. I lament not knowing what else R’ Feldman would have said had he known they would carry something longer. On the other hand, the point of a good shmuess is to have one solid take-away point. Not what I did.)

Inquiring Hearts and Minds:
Whither Sarcasm?

Each month, Yashar will send a question to one or two Mussar teachers on an idea, practice, text, middah, or other Mussar-related challenge that someone is confronting. Email your question to [email protected] .

I’m working on not being sarcastic. It’s so ingrained in our culture, as a form of humor. Whole careers are made on it. One doesn’t want to be known as “too serious,” yet sarcasm can be so hurtful. Do you have suggestions?

Jakov FeldmanResponse No. 1, from Rabbi Yaakov Feldman:
First off, there is no trait that is inherently wrongful. After all, what trait is more annoying than chutzpah—audacity, cheek? And yet Rebbe Nachman of Breslov encourages “Holy Chutzpah” — righteous bravery and pious out-and-out good intentions. So sarcasm can be a good thing, too. In fact, a rabbi was once asked how atheism could ever be considered good and he offered that when a poor person comes to you, don’t wait for God to feed him, as any believing person is sure will happen; act like an atheist and feed him on your own. Besides, I only wish many more people had been sarcastic about Hitler in his time!

That having been said, sarcasm can hurt innocent people, which is apparently your take on it, too, so we will address that. The solution comes to this, to my mind, and I will base it on what I once heard a vegetarian remark about why he will not eat animal meat. He said, “I just refuse to eat anything with a face,” meaning to say that he will not eat anything that is as expressive and distinctive as himself. So keep in mind that what is often wrongful about sarcasm is that it is rooted in reducing a good person to a faceless blob and wanting to “devour” him or her for something or another. Look full-face at people and see them as just as humanly foolish as yourself and you are likely to hold back.

Micha BergerResponse No. 2, from Rabbi Micha Berger:
The problems with sarcasm are SO fundamental, Tehillim (Psalms) opens with it. The very first verse reads: “אַשְׁרֵי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב — Enriched is the person who has not gone by the advice of evil people, nor stood in the path of sinners, nor stayed in the hangouts of the sarcastic.” (tr. mine, if “hangouts” wasn’t a giveaway.) Evil, sinful, sarcastic — great company!

Sarcasm, being snide, scorn … what is called in Hebrew leitzanut, comes with a great emotional payoff. I can dismiss something or someone in a way that short-circuits rational thought by hitting the gut directly, by having enough humor for us to want to believe it. And once I can convince myself I am greater than those around me, it takes the heat off all those things that bother me about things I myself do. As it says in Mishlei (Proverbs 9:8), “Do not give constructive criticism to the sarcastic, lest they hate you; give it to the wise, and they will love you.” A cynic cannot accept constructive criticism; not wanting to feel that pressure to improve is a driving force behind leitzanut. As the Ramchal writes in Mesilat Yesharim (Path of the Just, Ch.5), “Like a greased shield which wards off arrows and drops them to the ground, not letting them reach the bearer’s body, so too is sarcasm in the face of critique and rebuke. For with one bit of sarcasm or laughter a person can throw off the lot of awakenings and impressions ….” Sarcasm can undo our Mussar work.

There were two people on safari, when suddenly they saw a lion. One of them starts running. The other looks hopelessly, “What’s the point? You’ll never outrun that lion!” “Well, I don’t have to outrun the lion; I only have to outrun you!”

Being the best you can be does not work that way.

Sarcasm is a means of “winning” at being good. It means we see goodness as a competitive sport.

So, perhaps the trick to overcoming it is to take a more cooperative approach to how we relate to other people. A belief that “a rising tide lifts all ships.” My neighbor doing something benevolent is not the other team making points, but an example I might learn from. I do not need to put down the work of others or the ideals they are aspiring to: good is not a zero-sum game!

Practice: Try finding three things each day you see other people doing that you would want to emulate. Any time you see someone doing something right that you could learn from, whether live, on the news, something you read — anything but fiction — suppress the urge to minimize the accomplishment or the ideal they were working toward. Instead, make a mental note. And when you open your daily journal, write about how you might be able to learn from their examples.

Newsletter Home
Through a Mussar Lens: TMI in Transition – by Sandra Leif Garrett
Inquiring Hearts and Minds: Whither Sarcasm?
Kallah XII: Creating Space for Transition – by Nina Piken Yarus
At Sukkot, Harvesting the Best in Ourselves – by Julie August

Copyright 2014 © The Mussar Institute

And with what? With a Shofar – II

אמר רבי יהודה משום רבי עקיבא … אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: … ואמרו לפני בראש השנה מלכיות זכרונות ושופרות. מלכיות: כדי שתמליכוני עליכם. זכרונות: כדי שיעלה זכרוניכם לפני לטובה. ובמה? בשופר.

Rabbi Yehudah said an idea from Rabbi Aqiva …: The Holy One, blessed be He said, “… say before Me on Rosh haShanah, Malkhios, Zikhoronosand Shoferos.
Malkhios: so that you shall make Me King over you;
Zikhoronos: so that your memories shall come before Me;
“And with what? With a shofar.”

– Rosh haShanah 16a

Hashem as King is an important concept. But it can’t remain a concept. Similarly, it is important to realize that He Remembers us when we were young, when we entered into a covenant with Him, before we buried our potential under a pile of missed opportunities and other mistake

But the ideas cannot remain ideas, concepts held only in the head. People make decisions all the time knowing we made the wrong choice, but unable to resist temptation. As we quote every day in Aleinu, “וְיָדַעְתָּ הַיּוֹם וַהֲשֵׁבֹתָ אֶל לְבָבֶךָ — and you will know today, and you will respond to your heart.” (Devarim 4:39) There are things we know already and yet still have to work to get fully in our hearts.

When the Jewish People at Mount Sinai proclaimed “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע — we will do and we will listen”, a voice from heaven demanded to know who revealed to us the angels’ great secret. (Shabbos 88a) What brings an idea the one ammah from head to heart is to do, and then to listen to what the experience tells us.

Rabbi Aqiva teaches us the same thing: We contemplate Malkhios, we discuss Zikhronos. But through what do we make Hasme our King, and bring ourselves before HQBH? Through the non-verbal experience of the shofar.

Related posts:

  • And with what? With a Shofar“: Rav Dovid Lifshitz’s shmuess on the same gemara.
  • Emunah Peshutah vs. Machashavah“: How do we maintain a personal, first-hand relationship with G-d while still having a well-developed theology (which will inevitably emphasis the distance between uns)? Also on the gap between intellect and emotion.

A Mishpat for the G-d of Yaaqov

תִּקְעוּ בַחֹדֶשׁ שׁוֹפָר, בַּכֵּסֶה לְיוֹם חַגֵּנוּ. כִּי חֹק לְיִשְׂרָאֵל הוּא, מִשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹקֵי יַעֲקֹב.

Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the fullness for our holiday. For it is a choq [a trans-rational statute] for Yisrael, a mishpat [just law] of the G-d of Yaaqov.

– Tehillim 81:4-5

The Malbim (ad loc) writes (tr. Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner):

We do not analyze the reason for this mitzvah of blowing shofar; for Israel it is a choq, without any reason other than a decree from G-d. But it is a mishpat for the G-d of Jacob; Gd knows its reason, and for Him it is mishpat, not choq.

When seeing the Malbim, two questions leaped to mind:

1- The poetic doubling of Tehillim often involves the use of synonyms. But why is the name of the Jewish People who cannot understand the law of shofar “Yisrael”, but the ones who are associated with the G-d who could understand it called “Yaaqov”?

2- Why is this point made specifically with regard to shofar? Since no mitzvah is arbitrary, every choq is meta-rational, not irrational; they all must have meaning and purpose, even if incomprehensible to the human mind. Isn’t this statement that for Hashem it is a mishpat more about the nature of choq than about shofar in particular?

It seems Tehillim is being intentionally ambiguous when it says “hu — it is a choq…” What of the prior verse is the “it” — the blowing of the shofer, or “our holiday“? Since this is poetry, the answer would well be both. There is some indication that this verse refers to both Shofar and the holiday from its two appearances in the Mussaf for Rosh haShanah. Yes, the full quote, verses 4 & 5 are among the 10 citations from Tanakh used to buttress Shofaros. But pasuq 5 appears alone in the text of Zikhronos as well. “This day is the beginning of Your Deeds, a memorial of the first day. For it is a choq for Israel, a mishpat for the G-d of Yaaqov.” Our prayers actually utilize both possible references of the pronoun.

I would suggest that King David chose to discuss the theology of choq with respect to the shofar of Rosh haShanah is because the general point that our incomprehensible choq is Hashem’s rational mishpat is an important one for Rosh haShanah.

We are judged and the curriculum Hashem presents us with during the following year, the triumphs and the lessons we are to accumulate from the year’s challenges, are decided. We know that, and yet it’s hard to see when looking at the particular events of the year. Even without taking into account course changes we make during the year which may lead to an early re-assessment on Hashem’s part.

Remembering that nothing Hashem does is irrational is an important part of accepting Him as King on Rosh haShanah. My fate for the year might not make sense to me, but I have to understand that that’s only to me, with the limitations that come with my humanity. But there is a meta-rationality, a very logical reason for every facet of the King’s judgment, even if on a level I cannot hope to understand.

According to the Chazon Ish, this is true bitachon, trust in G-d. He rejects the prescriptive notion of bitachon of many mussarists, that define it as trusting in Him as a way to get desirable results. Rather, bitachon is descriptive, the belief that everything, every tragedy and difficulty in life (as well as the happy things) are part of a bigger plan. It all has a point and value.

Yaakov is born predestined to supplant his brother. When he learns that his berakhah was given to another (Bereishis 27:6) Esav complains to Yitzchaq, “הֲכִי קָרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב, וַיַּעְקְבֵנִי זֶה פַעֲמַיִם — Did you not correctly call his name ‘Yaaqov’, and he supplanted me (vaya’aqveini) now twice!” This is the name Yaaqov, the fate that someday right will win out over might.

He gets the name Yisrael, however, after spending the night fighting the angel. According to one opinion, the same Esav’s angel. In this battle, he gets complemented, he is told that the mission was advanced, but in terms of visibility — all we see is that the angel wins. Yisrael leaves limping, the angel returns to heaven unharmed. Yisrael doesn’t passively get brought to his fate, he has a destiny he has to work toward. And therefore life will necessary lack things that we must get for ourselves, contain challenges we must overcome, and force us to be shaped by tragedy.

“Blow the shofar at the new moon, at the fullness for our holiday. For it” — the message of this holiday — “is a choq [a trans-rational statute] for Yisrael, a mishpat of the G-d of Yaaqov!”