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 gavra-cheftza 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
תנצב״ה

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.

Yisurim

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. 18-19), 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] .

Question:
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!”

Kallah XII: Finding Joy in Everyday Transitions

An intensive exploration into living life more skillfully

forest_path_smWhat if you could …

  • find joy in everyday transitions?
  • get beyond judging the good and bad of transitions?
  • bring order to the chaos of change?
  • direct your growth with greater intention?
  • live all of life with an enthusiastic heart?

You can learn all this and more by joining a warm, supportive community for deepening your Mussar journey at our Annual Mussar Kallah, November 13–16, 2014.

The Teachers
Faculty will include Alan Morinis, Avi Fertig, Micha Berger [me], Chaim Safren, Efrat Zarren-Zohar, and Cyndee Levy. Read about our teachers.

Expand your mind, nourish your soul. Join the growing Mussar community in learning and celebration.

The Annual Mussar Kallah
The annual Mussar Kallah is a true retreat. The Mussar masters emphasized the need for personal spiritual practice and for that we will lead sessions to teach and practice meditation, contemplation and visualization. But they also stressed the importance of learning and action, and so the contemplative sessions will be interspersed with sessions focused on the middah [soul-trait] of nosei b’ol im chaveiro [bearing the burden with your friend] and rachamim [compassion] as well as chevruta and group interaction. This Kallah will provide comprehensive tools to introduce and guide you in the Mussar ways to cultivate the soul in the context of community, inwardly and outwardly.Sessions will be experiential, include text study and offer practical lessons that can be taken home to enhance and deepen your spiritual life and practice of Mussar.

“I am so grateful I was able to attend this wonderful weekend. I am now doing ten blessings with my son every morning when I drive him to high school.”

What level of knowledge do i need to have?
The Mussar Kallah Retreat Is open and suitable only for people who have already had some exposure to Mussar, whether through courses of The Mussar Institute or other forms of Mussar learning and practice. One does not need to be an expert, however. Every speaker will focus on issues that affect ordinary people in everyday life, because that is precisely what Mussar is meant to do.

“I enjoyed the high degree of interactive practice through the weekend.”
When and Where
The Kallah will begin with dinner on Thursday, November 13 and end before noon on Sunday, November 16. As in recent years, the Kallah will be held at the Illinois Beach Resort on the shores of Lake Michigan outside Chicago.
Registration fee: $499 until September 12, 2014. After September 12, the registration fee is $559. Includes all programs and glatt kosher meals and snacks from Thursday night dinner through Sunday breakfast.
Accommodations are not included. Hotel rooms must be booked directly with the Illinois Beach Resort and Conference Center by calling 847-625-7300. We have a special rate of $104.50 per night for up to 4 people in a room. Book your room by October 1 to ensure the special rate and availability.
“This was an inspiring, life-changing experience for me. I am so grateful to have met so many wonderful people and learned so much from them all.”
Register now!

For questions or to discuss your participation in this retreat, email [email protected]

One Person

As far as we can tell, Bar Qamtza comes off as something of a jerk. He is personally offended, so he actually joins with the enemy to take down his own people. A bit of a problem with anger and vengefulness. So it’s quite likely that the host actually had sound reason from previous interactions not to want him around, why the sages didn’t empathize with him.

The gemara gives us numerous reasons for why the Second Beis haMiqdash was destroyed.

Important tangent: R’ Jack Love notes a pattern. There are numerous explanations of why Nadav and Avihu deserved death, what sin(s) lead to tzara’as, why the First Beis haMiqdash fell, the second, etc… He suggests that this in itself is the lesson. We grapple with why bad things happen, we look for meaning, but even Chazal don’t reach consensus, do not suggest they have the reason for the tragic.

But of all the reasons the gemara gives, the one that captured the Jewish People’s attention was the idea that it was our sin’as chinam, our pointless hatred of each other, that led Hashem to end the Second Commonwealth. Perhaps because we realize that of the issues raised, it’s the one that we need the most work on.

But how does the gemara illustrate this point? Not by spelling out the animosity between this group and that group. But with the fact that we were able to give offense to a single, likely unsavory, individual and not even care. We held a debate over whether to offer an animal with a blemished lip or eye. How would the story have ended had the debate been over which sage would go to apologize?

Walking the Path

As long as we continue teaching our kids halakhah (הלכה)
without investing the same effort to give them a derekh, a path,
we are literally teaching them how to walk (איך ללכת)
but not helping them figure out where to go.

Achdus

My dear brothers and sisters,

One thing that struck me is how heavily Hashem pointed out to us the concept of achdus, of unity, in how this tragedy unfolded.

First, note the communities each of the boys come from: Eyal YifrachHy”d spoke his Hebrew with a Yemenite accent, Gil-ad ShaarHy”d was a Sepharadi whose family was from Morocco, Naftali FraenkelHy”d was an Ashkenazi, the child of Anglos. Three boys, each returned from different centers of the diaspora.

Second, what were these three young men doing? Would anyone here in the US advise their teens to hitchhike? But no, Israel is in general different. After all, you could always count on your sisters and brothers to share an empty seat to help you get to where you’re going. The fact that “taking a tremp” is part of Israeli life is beautiful evidence of our underlying unity.

As was our common hope. And our common mourning. In how many communities, aside from the Jews, do people across the globe stop their lives because three young men they never met had their taken?

I have no problem with our heated disagreements over ideas. And among legitimate ideologies I consider such debate healthy. For individuals, we need a variety of approaches to Torah to aid a variety of personalities. On the national level,  a healthy body needs a variety of organs. And if we are going to be passionate about our beliefs, argument is going to ensue. Even if unproductive, the debate is a sign of health compared to dispassionate silence.

And of course it is nearly impossible to run a country or a community without disagreements over priorities in how we spend our resources, over proper tactics for reaching our aims, and sometimes even over those goals themselves.

But when we make these disagreements personal, it’s frightening.

After all, Hashem wants our unity. And since we do unite in times of trouble, He has a quick way of getting that unity if we’re not going to do it ourselves. I am not saying this is the reason for the current tragedy, or even a reason for the current tragedy. But it is something glaring that can be learned from it, a lesson we cannot afford to ignore.

Now that we are united, we cannot risk letting it go.

המקום ינחם אתנו, אבלי ציון וירושלים, ולא תוסיפו לדאבה עוד!

Torah Lishmah and Nefesh haChaim

Nefesh haChaim, 1st edition

Nefesh haChaim
Cover Page, First Edition

Nefesh haChaim is a collection of Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s writings organized posthumously by his son and successor, R’ Yitzchak. We can see this in the self-description in the title page of the early editions of the Nefesh haChaim which opens, “Yir’as Hashem – for Life! Notebooks of holy writings of the true genius who was famous for his Torah and righteousness, and whose deeds proclaim before him.” The choice of title of the book “Nefesh haChaim” is explained that it is “based on the quote in the Jerusalem [Talmud], Sheqalim pg 6 [2:1, vilna ed. 10b], ‘Rabbi Shim’on ben Gamliel repeated: we do not make monuments [nefashos] for the righteous, for their words are their memorials.’ And the memory of the righteous is a blessing.” Thus the title means “Rabbi Chaim’s Memorial”, in addition to “The Living Soul”.

Being that it’s a compilation of multiple texts, Nefesh haChaim can be a challenge to combine into a single picture of how Rav Chaim believed we are to serve Hashem. Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein, in his essay Nefesh ha-Hayyim and the Root of the Musar Controversy (in Yirat Shamayim: The Awe, Reverence and Fear of God, ed. Marc D Stern), notes how the questions in this regard are more clear than the answers.

I mentioned this in my previous post, and suggested my diagnosis of the underlying issue:

… [T]his phenomenon is common. It explains the diversity of paths attributed to the Vilna Gaon, the varieties of Chassidus produced by the Baal Shem Tov’s students, and their students, the different schools of Mussar, the different takes of Rav Kook’s teachings among different communities of followers, or more recently the various very different takes on how to continue R’ JB Soloveitchik and the approach to life he taught.

In each case, the mentor was a brilliant, complex, and subtle thinker. So much so, that the students only had the capacity to relate to part of the mentor’s message and connect to it. They accurately see the rebbe, but only a much as they can hold. And so, like the blind men’s description of the elephant, the results diverge. But each is accurately teaching a way the rest of us can understand the original message.

But to discuss a specific approach to this particular text…

Overall Structure

First, because each section is really a pamphlet, called by the both the author and the editor a “qunterus“, in its own right, its topic was also originally expected to stand on its own. The amount of significance given to Torah study in the pamphlet that became section 4 does not change the significance given to (e.g.) tefillah in section 2. Rav Yitzchaq’s placing them in an overarching structure only has limited value in understanding the meaning of section 2 as it was written.

The first section of Nefesh haChaim speaks of the nature of the soul and man’s role in creation; how being in the image of E-lokim, G-d as Master of all the forces, means that we have the ability to change the world(s).

The second addresses prayer, and it gives people the ability to connect this world back to its Source. Section three is about unity and duality, and how the One G-d is present in creation. Then there are some chapters that about the yeitzer hara and its strategies, and how acting without full commitment to lishmah, to doing a mitzvah for its own sake, will lead to lishmah and thus vanquishing the yeitzer hara.

But the yeshivos focus on — in fact, most exclusively learn only — section four. There he discusses the special nature of Torah, its work on the soul, and how Torah study is central to the task of self-refinement. Obviously for those of the Yeshiva Movement, this is going to be the central piece to their worldview.

Rabbi Norman Lamm (in his book Torah Lishmah: Torah for Torah’s Sake) identified the basic problem with the resulting structure. Rabbi Elyakim Krumbein wrote his essay using Rabbi Lamm’s work as a foil. R’ Lamm took the yeshivish position, Rabbi Krumbein doesn’t so much provide a clear alternative reading, his goal is more to set out to prove that focusing on only the fourth sha’ar is incomplete, that we simply haven’t gotten to the full subtlety of Rav Chaim’s position.

But just looking at the overall structure myself, I think the section that is not like the others is the third one, actually. Section one explains how our actions in this world have metaphysical repercussions, and section two addresses prayer, and thus the power of human speech. Section four, is about human thought. But section three is about G-d, about the nature of tzimtzum and in what way is Hashem present in creation and what way is creation an independent entity.

The Introduction

The most logical place to find the author’s intent is his introduction. Here we can’t entirely do so, as Rav Chaim didn’t write one — Rav Yitzchak did. But since his father did leave him the essays and instructions for publication, this is still of some use. And besides, Rav Yitzchak Volozhiner’s own opinion is of sufficient import to be interested in his worldview.

In that introduction, Rav Yitzchak describes Rav Chaim Volozhiner with a long description of his love of Mussar. For example:

This is what he would constantly say to me: that no person was created for himself. Rather, [we were created] for helping others in any way he has the ability to do.

Rav Chaim “with the breadth of his understanding would carve and grave the ideas, the light matters and significant ones, and attach them to the way of the Torah, Avodah, and Yir’as Hashem”. This list of three items recurs in the introduction — Torah rarely appears alone. Also, as we noted above and explained in the introduction, the book was named for the concept of yir’as Hashem, not Talmud Torah.

Looking at the introduction, then, we would be hard pressed to find any description of the book as leading up to the fourth section, or giving Torah study primacy in the meaning of living. Actually, given his repeated instruction to his son, it would seem that such meaning would be found in mitzvos that aid others.

Section 3: Tzimtzum

As I opined in the opening section, it’s section three that really stands out. The other sections are anthropological; discussions of what it is to be a person and the abilities people have to impact creation. Section three, though, deals with Hashem’s relationship to creation, it’s theological.

I understand Rav Chaim Volozhiner’s position on tzimtzum differently than many readers. But then, this whole essay is my own take on a subject numerous others more informed than I am have disagreed about.

Tzimtzum is the Ari’s model of creation in Hashem “contracts” in order to make conceptual space, a possibility (we do not mean literal physical spacial contraction), of other things existing. The Yosher Levav understood this literally. However, that’s very problematic as it implies that Hashem Himself changed. And  both Chasidus and the Gra consider that notion heretical. In the Tanya, the noun is still the Ein Sof, the Infinite One Himself, but the verb tzimtzum is only an illusion. In the Vilna Gaon’s thought, the  tzimtzum is real, but he modifies the noun — it is not a “contraction” of Divine Essence, but something else, Hashem’s Ratzon (the expression of His Will). ((According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Gra speaks of the tzimtzum of the Or Ein Sof, but that is not the terminology used in Nefesh haChaim, the Leshem or Michtav meiEliyahu — all spiritual heirs of the Gra.) )

Much of the second half of section 3 describes tzimtzum in terms of distinguishing between miTzido, from Hashem’s “perspective”, and mitzideinu, from ours. And therefore it is logical that many understand R’ Chaim Volozhiner’s position as being more like the Tanya’s than the Gra’s. But I believe his position actually sits in a middle ground, a synthesis that might even fully include his rebbe’s understanding.

In sec. 3 ch. 2 Rav Chaim explains that calling Hashem “haMaqom” is a rather limited metaphor. A literal maqom is a place or holder of an object without being the cause of its existence. However, if Hashem were to retract his Ratzon from anything, it would cease to exist; He is the Cause of existing. Thus the understanding that his position is like the Tanya’s.

But in chapter 4, Rav Chaim discusses the literal absence of Kevod Hashem, and the first appearance of the word tzimtzum, at the beginning of ch. 5, reads “…צמצם כביכול כבודו ית’ שיוכל להמצא ענין מציאות עולמות וכחות ובריות נבראים ומחודשים — He ‘constricted’, as it were, His Blessed Kavod that He could bring into existence the idea of existing worlds, forces/potentials, and creatures that are created and newly made.”

It seems to me that Nefesh haChaim is describing a literal tzimtzum of Hashem’s glory which then causes the illusion of an absence His Essence. Tzimtzum is something that actually occurred, but not to the Ein Sof — like the Gra, avoiding the problem of saying Hashem could change by making tzimtzum about a different noun. Rav Chaim does differ from the Gra about which noun; according to Rav Chaim, any absence of Hashem’s Ratzon, His Will, is part of the illusion. It’s His Kavod that is absent. Although I’m not sure how either the Vilna Gaon or Rav Chaim Volozhiner define “Ratzon” vs “Kavod“, so it is possible the difference is more in terminology than in substance. In any case, the point I want to emphasize to explain how I understand Nefesh haChaim and the concept of Torah lishmah is that Rav Chaim is giving us that duality: the real absence of Kevod Hashem (3:5) and the illusion of the absence of Hashem Himself (3:3).

The “Chapters”

According to Rabbi Krumbein’s analysis, much rests in the material R’ Yitzchaq Volozhiner placed between sections 3 and 4, so I will also visit them. The additions begin:

Pleasant reader! Here I have guided you with God’s help in the paths of truth, in order to show you the way to go assuredly, so that you may train yourself bit by bit by order of the aforementioned levels… You will see for yourself that the more you habituate yourself to each of these levels, your heart will increase in purity. … I also would like to discuss, in writing, the greatness of the obligation of Torah study…

Rabbi Norman Lamm (pp 61-62)  explains these lines as introducing section 4. This would place the entire explanation of Mussar (sections 1-3) as a preliminary to Torah study. The Yeshiva Movement apparently took this approach, which makes the pursuit of yir’as Hashem as something that is primarily obtain on its own from the total immersion in Torah that section 4 advocates.

However, R’ Elyakim Krumbein finds it more plausible that they are meant as a closing to the prior sections. To this, he cites two elements of the insertion that suggests this:

First, it only refers to section 4 once. It would be odd for an introduction to a section to overwhelmingly point to the rest of the book and only mention that section once.

Second, note those opening words “I also would like to discuss…” such discussion is an add-on. This is the Mussar Movement’s take on Rav Chaim’s teachings. Yir’as Shamayim is a goal in and of itself which must be pursued consciously in and of itself.

But within the description I gave above, in which sections 1, 2 and 4 deal with action, speech and thought, respectively, the “chapters” found between three and four serve as a prelude to the last section. They address the yeitzer hara and how to refine thought and motivation, and are thus speaking of the same domain as the section on Torah.

Section Four

In sec 4 ch. 3, Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains that  the “lishmah“, the “it’s own sake”, of Torah study is unique. (He has a longer description in Ruach haChahim on Avos 6:1,) Rav Elazar beRav Tzadoq says, “עשה דברים לשם פעלן ודבר בהן לשמן — do things for the sake of the One Who caused them, and speak about them for their own sake.” (Nedarim 51a) Rav Chaim cites the Rosh, who notes the difference in language: when it comes to mitzvos of action, we do them lesheim Pa’alan — for the sake of G-d; but when it comes to learning, we learn leshman — for their own sake.” And Rav Chaim points the reader back to something he wrote at the end of sha’ar 1, that the primary effect of the mitzvah is in the action itself, which is why kavanah (intent) is not an obligatory component of the mitzvah, but one that allows it to effect repairs in higher worlds than otherwise. But as he explained previously in ch. 2, the role of lishmah is different in kind for Torah, for immersion in and internalization of Torah is identification with Hashem’s Thought. One is not relating to Hashem-as-Maker of a world we’re trying to refine, but directly with Him. For the Torah’s sake is for the sake of becoming shaped by His Will. It is this that Rav Chaim identifies with communion with the A-limighty, rather than deveiqus, cleaving to Him. Chapters 4 – 7 discuss the relationship between yir’ah and Torah. To Rav Chaim, yir’ah is something you work on for a few minutes in preparation for learning. It is the silo that enables one to retain Torah. But the focus is on the Torah.

This is unlike the Chassidus, where deveiqus is seen as a personal relationship with G-d. And in the Tanya, yir’ah is the purpose of learning, rather than a prerequisite, and he recommends that one should pause occasionally during learning to remember G-d and insuring that the study is leading to yir’ah 

Rav Chaim seems to be asserting that “Torah lishmah” means that that learning is supposed to be an end in itself. But before R’ Chaim, this was FAR from consensus. A simple reading of either Talmud (TY Shabbos 1:2, vilna 7b, TB Sanhedrin 99b) would conclude that Torah lishmah is learning in order to know how to observe, how to decide future questions, or to teach. And assuming the amoraim aren’t really arguing, any of these three motives is “lishmah”. The Yerushalmi goes as far as to say “One who learns but not in order to do, would have been pleasanter that his umbilical cord would have prolapsed in front of his face [and he never came into the world].” The Meshekh Chokhmah (Devarim 28:61) explains that this is because it the goal were to get Torah into the soul, full stop, then that is more easily accomplished before birth, as an intellect unencumbered by a body. (I translated this comment in the Meshekh Chokhmah: part I, part II [where this point is made], part III.)

And a bigger problem with thinking that he means that Torah lishmah is an end to itself is that the introduction to the book tells us that Rav Chaim made a point of teaching his son that people were created for the sake of others. Refining my own knowledge doesn’t fit that worldview, unless it’s not actually the end in itself.

Conclusion

So, how do I understand Nefesh haChaim overall? With trepidation; after all I opened with the assertion that people far more knowledgable than I am only captured the aspects of Rav Chaim’s teachings that fit their abilities and perspectives. So, the following is merely yet another person’s incomplete picture.

I think the distinction between real tzimtzum of kevod Hashem and the apparent absence of G-d Himself parallels the the two types of lishmah, and the concept underlies Rav Yitzchaq’s decision of how to organize Nefesh haChaim.

Section 1 speaks of man’s ability to improve the world, that this is what it means to be in Hashem’s “image”.  Section 2 speaks about prayer, drawing G-dliness down into the world, and identifying the world and its problems with His Ends. (We do not pray for our health, we pray for the health that Hashem wishes He could give us.) Until sec. 3, we are dealing with things that are to be done lesheim Pa’alan. We are told in sec. 3 that the Maqom (the illusion of Hashem’s Kavod being absent) refers to Hashem causing existence — and thus Hashem as Pa’alan.

With sec. 3 we are taught there is a second facet, the actual tzimtzum. This allows us to start discussing the lishmah of Torah, which is also Rav Chaim’s conception of deveiqus: to internalize His Thought, His Will.

Then the “chapters” complete this shifting of gears. The lishmah of mitzvos enhances them, but the lishmah of Torah is part of its essence. And so before discussing the power of talmud Torah, Nefesh haChaim includes a description of how to fight the yeitzer hara and achieve lishmah. There is a positive feedback cycle  between performance and attitude — performance generates lishmah (“מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה — from doing it not lishmah, one comes to do it lishmah”, Sanhedrin 105b) and lishmah heightens performance.

By making Torah study the identification with Hashem’s Will, and making this lishmah part of its essence, Rav Chaim is defining  Torah study and the cognitive  acquisition of knowledge as value not for its intellectual accomplishment but for its ability to change the self. Nefesh haChaim describes learning a cognitive approach to middah modification. Which is why yir’ah, is a prerequisite to being able to acquire Torah. Cognitively getting facts doesn’t require yir’ah, but being changed by those facts does demand an awareness of the magnitude of what and Who one is confronting.

To Rav Chaim Volozhiner, Talmud Torah is the primary means  for fulfilling the advice of Rabban Gamliel III (the son of Rav Yehudah haNasi) in Avos 2:4, “עשה רצונו כרצונך — make His Will like your will”. It’s a cognitive approach to middah modification. All of the power to repair the world (sec. 1) through our actions and to draw Hashem’s shefa into it with speech (sec. 2) only has value if we first turn our wills into His Will (sec. 4), so that our attempts to perfect the world actually improve it.

And so, Rav Chaim isn’t entirely denying the traditional understanding of Torah lishmah. It is still meant as being for the sake of others, just as Hashem “Acts” on the behalf of others. And this other-focus is a central theme in how the author raised his son. But its lishmah is not for the sake of doing or the Doer, but for the sake of acquiring the Torah itself, the Will of the Creator (as explained in sec. 3), to be capable of repairing the world (sec. 1 & 2) in the future.

The Mussar Dispute

Rav Yisrael Salanter wrote to Volozhin, the flagship yeshiva of the yeshiva movement. He offered the Netziv his services as a mashgiach ruchani. The Netziv said that he was welcome to come, but if Rav Yisrael came, the Netziv would have to leave. Rav Yisrael Salanter was a brilliant talmudist and overqualified for the job, but the Netziv felt he couldn’t operate in the same institution as Mussar.

Rav Yisrael’s student, Rav Itzele Petersburger, similarly offered in 1881. R’ Nasan Kamentzky weaves together three versions of the story to create a single plausible narrative about how his offer was received (starts at about 87 min in on this recording).

Rav Nechamiah Goldberg tells that while Rav Izele was turned down, he did get permission to give a mussar shmuess. The thrust of that talk was based on the thought from our sages that Hashem created the yeitzer hara and He created an antidote — Torah. Rav Itzele explained that the Torah cures us of evil desires the way a segulah cures a sick person. The person must perform the act or recite the text exactly, and if the segulah is to say it 7 times, there will be absolutely no effect if he only says it six. Similarly, in order for Torah to fight the yeitzer hara, it most be studied perfectly lishmah, with pure motive and no distractions. Mussar, however, is like medicine.  Even if you do not follow instructions perfectly, it will still work. Not as well, but there is still improvement. Thus, unless you are already capable of perfect Torah study, Mussar is the appropriate solution to the problem of yeitzer hara. R’ Chaim Brisker, who also taught at Volozhin at the time, was sitting near the exit. As Rav Izele left the room after his talk, Rav Chaim told him, “So mussar is for someone who is sick, but we in Volozhin aren’t ill!”

R JB Solovetchik, in Ish haHalakhah, quotes Rav Itzele Petersburger using a different idea from our sages. There is no reason to believe he didn’t actually used both, or that they are quoting the same talk.  The gemara advises: If the yeitzer hara comes upon you, sent the yeitzer hatov after it. If that succeeds, good; if not, learn Torah. If that works, good; if not say, say qeri’as shema. If that works, good; if not, remember the day of death. So you see that the final, most effective way to win out over the yeitzer hara is qeri’as shema and remembering the day of death — Mussar, not Torah study! Rav Chaim Brisker (R’ Soloveitchik’s grandfather) replied that the study of Mussar is listed is a last choice because Mussar is like castor oil — for sick people it cures, but if you don’t need it — it’s sickening! A healthy person would not need to get bayond learning Torah to vanquish his inclination.

The third version: When the Netziv found out the purpose of Rav Itzele’s visit, he expelled him from Volozhin. One detail found in Dov Katz’s Pulmus haMussar (The Mussar Dispute) that R’ Kamentzky did not retell is that students from the yeshiva bodily carried R’ Itzele Petersburger out of the building. Either this too could have been a different visit, or perhaps continues the story after the above conversation.

Where did this split come from? After all, R’ Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin, the Netziv, was married to Rav Chaim Volzhiner’s granddaughter, Rav Yitzchaq Volzhiner’s daughter. He inherited the yeshiva from them. Clearly he represented a tradition from Rav Chaim Volozhiner. On the other hand, Rav Yisrael Salanter was publicizing the version of Judaism he learned from Rav Zundel Salanter, who in turn was a student of the very same Rav Chaim Volozhiner! How did their two traditions diverge, and what exactly was the original point of conflict?

One can say that what happened was that Rav Chaim’s successors in Volozhin took to heart the fourth section, and therefore they pulled Volozhin to ever more exclusively focus on total immersion intellectually in Torah. (Along the way, his rebbe‘s title changed from haGaon haChassid Rav Eliyahu miVilna to just the Vilna Gaon — mentioning his brilliance in Torah, but omitting his chassidus.)  The Yeshiva Movement reads Nefesh haChaim as having 3 sections discussing the value and power of the soul, and how to develop yir’ah so that one can understand the sanctifying aspect of immersion in Torah.

Meanwhile, R’ Chaim Volozhiner’s pupil, R’ Zundel Salanter, placed more emphasis on the lessons captured in the first three sections. And so, when he spotted young Yisrael Lipkin — the future Rav Yisrael Salanter, father of the Mussar Movement — spying on his private spiritual exercises in the woods, Rav Zundel yelled out to him, “Yisrael, lern mussar zal tzuzain a yarei Shamayim!” (Yisrael, learn mussar so that you can be one who feels the awe of heaven!”) A call to work directly on one’s middos in order to live a life of yir’ah; not a reliance on metaphysical effects of immersion in talmudic dialectic. According to Mussar’s understanding, the book is about internalizing the Torah’s values. To achieve this, one must develop the soul and yir’ah and only then one’s Torah can be retained within one’s being.

(Please do not take either of the previous two paragraphs as caricatures, all-or-nothing contrasts.)

In the next post I hope to explore the text. But in the meantime, I want to note that this phenomenon is common. It explains the diversity of paths attributed to the Vilna Gaon, the varieties of Chassidus produced by the Baal Shem Tov’s students, and their students, the different schools of Mussar, the different takes of Rav Kook’s teachings among different communities of followers, or more recently the various very different takes on how to continue R’ JB Soloveitchik and the approach to life he taught.

In each case, the mentor was a brilliant, complex, and subtle thinker. So much so, that the students only had the capacity to relate to part of the mentor’s message and connect to it. They accurately see the rebbe, but only a much as they can hold. And so, like the blind men’s description of the elephant, the results diverge. But each is accurately teaching a way the rest of us can understand the original message.

Baal Nefesh Yachmir

Continuing on the prior post… A recurring topic on Avodah is the Mishnah Berurah’s use of the concept of ba’al nefesh yachmir, that while the halakhah itself allows for some leniency, “one who masters their nefesh should be stringent”. (By the way, the idiom only appears 24 times in the MB, although the general notion of going beyond the letter does come up more frequently.)

What is a ba’al nefesh, and why are some chumeros more related to this ideal than someone else’s?

Rav Chaim Volozhiner (Ruach Chaim on Avos 3:1); see also Nefesh haChaim 3:1) defines the ba’al nefesh as:

This is what our Rabbis (Chagiga 12a) intended by: Adam was as tall as from the earth to the sky. And when he sinned, HQBH places His “Hand” on him and reduced him, standing him on two levels.

If he wants, like at the time when he has a neshamah [the higher aspects of the soul], even though he has feet on the ground, his body and essence are planted in the storehouses of on high. And when he sins, the Holy One blessed be He places His “Hand” on him and reduces him etc… two levels — it means to say two steps: nefesh [the soul’s more animalistic functions] and ru’ach [its spiritual functions].

והנה הבחירה חפשית באדם ברצותו מהפך חומרו המגושם להיות רוחני, וכן להיפוך חס ושלום פוגם הרוח ושבה כבשרו, ובדור המבול הרעו לעשות, ופגמו הרוח ושב כבשר, ולזה אמר הכתוב (בראשית ו’) “לֹא-יָדוֹן רוּחִי [בָאָדָם לְעֹלָם, בְּשַׁגַּם, הוּא בָשָׂר; וְהָיוּ יָמָיו, מֵאָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה].” לא יהיה עוד הרוח בתוך הגוף בשגם הוא בשר נהפך לגשמי.
והאנשים המהפכים הבשר והיו לרוח נקראים בעלי הנפש…

A person’s free will turns his physicality into ruchani according to his will. Similarly in the reverse (chas veshalom) he can damage the ru’ach and reduce it to his flesh. In the generation of the flood they made their actions evil, they damaged their ruach and reduced it to flesh. It is about this the scripture says “My ‘Soul’ shall not put up with man for ever, for he also is flesh and blood; therefore his days shall be 120 years.” (Bereishis 6:3) There will no longer be a soul in a body, because [the soul] too is flesh — turned into something physical.

The people who change their flesh so that it becomes spirit are called “baalei nefesh”.  However, because of our many sins, these people who have the ruach within them are few. Rather [only] at a time when they have some merit, they lower it down into their bodies. This is what is written (Iyov 32) “And so it is ru’ach in man, and nishmas Sha-dai will understand them.” The ru’ach at times is in man — in him literally! — and the neshamah isn’t in him. Rather, it sends to him from on high a response to the ru’ach, the “Ru’ach Hashem, ru’ach chochmah ubinah … — the spirit of Hashem, the spirit of wisdom and understanding…”

So, the sinner obsesses with physicality until his nefesh, the “lowest” aspects and functions of his soul, is entirely about flesh and is physical. Whereas the baal nefesh is someone who can take even his body, and elevate it to being a pure vehicle for his nefesh. (Rav Chaim Volozhiner continues to explain how this is related to both reward and punishment in general, and how sin naturally caused the original fall from Gan Eden.)

This idea is also found in the Yerushalmi (AZ 5:4, vilna 33b). R’ Shimon ben Lazar went to a town in Shomron, and it seems he really wanted wine. The problem was that the locals were Kusim, not Jews. (The Kusiim were a tribe who presumably converted to Judaism, but as time progressed doubt arose as to their original sincerity. So, while they were initially treated as Jews, at some point the matter was treated as one of doubt, then probably not, until eventually they were considered non-Jewish.) At this point in history, it was permissible to drink a sealed barrel in a Kusi town. But an open barrel was too likely handled by someone capable of using the wine for religious libations. The town did hire a Jewish schoolteacher. RSBL asked him if there was any kosher wine available. The teacher offered him some water from a spring. Rav Shimon ben [E]lazar asked again, and the teacher replied:

אין את מריה דנפשך הא מבועא קמך שתי ואין נפשך מרתך “שַׂמְתָּ שַׂכִּין בְּלֹעֶךָ, אִם בַּעַל נֶפֶשׁ אָתָּה” כבר נתקלקלו הכותים

If you are the master of your nefesh, then the spring is before you — drink!

But if your nefesh is your master, “they placed a knife at your throat if you are a person of nefesh” [a glutton] — the Kusiim already ruined it.

The pasuq’s ba’al nefesh is a glutton, and therefore not quite the same usage as a modern description of someone who chooses stringency. Or is it? Perhaps the point is that someone who knows they have an internal tendency toward gluttony, hedonism, or the like is the one who needs to work on it — and therefor a “ba’al nefesh” should adopt extra practices to harness this tendency in a positive direction.

However, it is more consistent with what we saw from Rav Chaim Volozhiner to assume that the more recent Hebrew usage of “ba’al nefesh” actually derives from the Yerushalmi’s Aramaic, rather than the Biblical coinage. That the ba’al nefesh of today is the marei denafshei — master of one’s nefesh, the more animalistic functions of the soul — who turns his flesh and nefesh into something more spiritual (ruach, ruchnius).
Although this wouldn’t change the scope of ba’al nefesh yachmir. Rather than prescriptively advising the glutton to adopt the practice to sublimate his instincts, the phrase would be descriptive — the stringency would naturally fit the temperament of a spiritual idealist. (And of someone who wants to be one.)
This definition fits the older examples I found.
Shulchan Arukh (OC 240:8) discusses tzenius even during marital relations, and concludes “these are further separations, and a ba’al nefesh must be stringent in these”.
And in Yoreh Dei’ah (116:7), the Rama writes that an animal that was ruled kosher by the force of reason rather than established tradition is permissible, a baal nefesh shouldn’t eat it.
But the Mishnah Berurah (27 s”q 44) advises every ba’al nefesh to teach his shul-mates how to wear tefillin correctly. And similarly (32 s”q 189) that a ba’al nefesh would make the titura, the part of the tefillin base that the strap runs through, at least 2 fingers wide. Similarly, as we mentioned before, the MB (301 s”q 141) that a ba’al nefesh would not use a neighborhood-wide eiruv.
It would seem usage broadened by his day. Still, it’s possible that the MB does exclusively use the idiom for someone more focused on working on becoming in touch with his own soul than our other ideals –anavah (modesty), ahavas Hashem (Love of G-d), etc…. (Appointing oneself in charge of others’ tefillin poses a challenge with regard to anavah, actually.) So it is interesting to contrast the stringencies appropriate for the baal nefesh to that motivated by other ideals. I am not capable of a broad survey of this sort, so if you notice any that fit or violate this pattern, please leave a note in the comments.
To get the list going, let me open with what I feel is a glaring example:
The Chasam Sofer (YD 39) discusses the shocheit peeling off adhesions from the lungs and testing them for holes in warm water. If the adhesion can be removed without tearing the lung, the adhesion is external enough for Ashkenazim to still consider the animal kosher, albeit not glatt. He concludes that if done by a proper shocheit, “yokhlu anavim veyisbe’u — the modest will eat and be satiated” (Tehillim 22:27). However, “shomer nafsho yirchaq – one who guards his soul should stay away.” There are conflicting priorities here. The person working on his estimate of his own self-worth in relation to others’ should trust the shocheit to have checked correctly. But the person working on subduing his physical side should avoid all questions involving food and is advised by the CS to make a policy of only eating glatt.